Our stay in Tbilisi marked our longest time away from cycling since leaving Istanbul six weeks ago. The main reason for our long stay was that we planned to apply for both our Iranian and Chinese visas in the city, thus beginning the annoying Central Asian visa quest circuit. China is actually a new addition to the list of countries whose visa processing is long and frustrating. Only recently have they added much stricter requirements for obtaining a tourist visa. They now ask for things like a list of complete hotel bookings for the duration of your stay in China, a flight in and out of the country or sometimes even a letter of invitation from a tour company with whom you will be travelling. The embassy in Tbilisi also listed the additional requirement of “being Georgian or having residency status in Georgia” (how did we miss that?). Despite this, we made our way to the Chinese consular services office to see if we might be able to secure a visa. We were told that with a letter of invitation we could apply for a visa. About 30 e-mails to Chinese tour companies later, we abandoned the idea of getting a visa in Tbilisi.
Getting our Iranian visa on the other hand was a relatively smooth process. We had applied for “authorization codes” through an Iranian travel company before leaving Canada. These codes are sent to the embassy ahead of time and we were theoretically pre-approved for the visa. Other than the embassy staff momentarily not finding our codes, we had our visas in one working day (we applied on Friday and had them on Monday) after filling out an application form and giving them all ten of our fingerprints (they didn't ask us for our knuckle prints but there was space for them on the form).
At the embassy were two other cyclists, British friends Imran and Jon, doing basically the same route as us (but at twice our speed). We met up with them twice in Tbilisi while we spent the weekend waiting for our visas. We also had two nights with our American friends Amy and Brian who happened to be staying in the same Tbilisi hostel as us. Brian is a terrific cook and on his initiative we made cheese burgers, baked potatoes and glazed carrots for dinner on our first night in the city. As Americans, they are unable to cycle through Iran, so they are taking the “Northern route” across the Caspian Sea. We expect to cross paths with them again somewhere in China or Southeast Asia (we'll never catch up to Jon and Imran). Showing off our Iranian visas at the Tbilisi embassy with Jon and Imran
Tbilisi doesn't really have a week's worth of sight-seeing, or maybe we didn't have the energy to devote a week to sight-seeing. Whatever the reason, with the exception of a few strolls through Old Tbilisi and a half-day trip to the neighbouring town of Mtskheta we concentrated our energies on finding good cheap meals. Georgian food is pretty heavy but delicious and inexpensive. Yann would eat khachapuri (cheese stuffed bread) three times a day if had the choice but our favourite dish was badrizhani nigvzit (fried eggplant with walnut sauce) which we bought every time we saw it on a menu. View of Old Tbilisi from the top of the cable car
Backstreets of Old Tbilisi
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta
Tbilisi's biggest problem is general lack of consideration for pedestrians. There are virtually no traffic lights and crosswalks are completely ignored. Pedestrians are either forced to use unlit, urine-soaked underground walkways or make their way across multiple lanes of high-speed traffic. Around our hostel we memorized the best (least scary) places for street-crossing but getting around the city on foot was extremely unpleasant (forget getting around on a bicycle). Aside from the food, we weren't particularly torn about leaving the Georgian capital. No traffic, a rare sight in Tbilisi
Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop Expedition Support