Rope Roadways of Chiatura, Georgia (plus Odessa, Batumi and Tbilisi)
Let me guess – you found me via a Chiatura-related search engine term. I knew it!
This post is peppered (peppered!) with links to information about travelling (and climbing) to/from/around Georgia, especially Chiatura, and amazingly scenic photos (plus an actual picture of a children’s craft idea, which probably makes more sense to regular followers – whom you are definitely invited to join). I’ll happily update with any new knowledge on Chiatura (or disentangling children from string) you may have.
Did you know Stalin – yes, that Stalin – built a system of rope roads in Georgia? Well, it was news to me, and the first thing I had to do with this news (being a transport-obsessed travel nerd with a vague disinclination towards taking my children on high things) was construct a fantasy holiday out of it. It’s not like I’m really going up there, at least not until after the expected 2014 replacement of Tramway 25. “Only one non-fatal accident since 2008!” is not an inspiring-enough safety record for someone who has trouble with the newly-refurbished Sentosa Cable Car, which hasn’t seen a fatal accident since 1983, and they assure us they’ve fixed that now. Nevertheless, riding the rope roads of Georgia still sounds like a fabulous journey in my imagination.
Intended for: One 2yo, one 5yo, and their fearless parents.
Overview: A journey through a few somewhat-less-frequented parts of Eurasia, taking in beaches, mountains, and historical places, as well as ferries, overnight trains, scenic railways, funiculars, and ropeways.
Strengths: The cables, I hope. Also, I haven’t spent much time exploring this part of the world, whose history is both all its own, and part of the story of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I suppose I just feel a Caucasus-shaped gap in my knowledge of things. Boats, trains and cable cars will help keep the little ones amused. There is plenty of escape from the bustle of the big city. The food (cheese-stuffed bread?) sounds like exactly the sort of thing my children would eat a lot of without question, which would worry me more if there weren’t so many mountains to climb and beaches to frolic on.
Forseeable difficulties and mitigating strategies: The Georgian language is not only unique and in a foreign script, but it consists mainly of consonants, and the usual fallback is Russian. This sort of thing would once have delighted me, but I’ve come to value speedy and accurate communication a lot more since I started travelling with children, especially when it comes to things like finding public toilets or knowing what sort of drinks I’ve just ordered. English is on the rise, however, so this may not actually be a problem. Part of me is sad about that. The sixty-hour ride across the Black Sea by vehicle ferry is a total feature so I will not discuss it here.
Estimated Price Bracket: Expensive, because of airfares. Otherwise moderate.
- Fly overnight Singapore -> Odessa, Ukraine (14hrs/1stop). You can fly into Tbilisi, but it’s about 20hrs with one or two stops, and you wouldn’t have the pleasure of trekking over the surface of the Earth by boat and train. (Those who are dubious about my reasoning here are welcome to spend an extra six hours on the plane/at the gate lounge with my children.)
- Arrive Odessa just after breakfast, find hotel
- Make for the illusive Potemkin Steps and associated funicular, which should be a good way to stretch the legs after a long flight and get the transport nerds off to the nerdiest possible start.
- Lunch, followed by more walking around Odessa, if only because lack of sleep and jet lag should be catching up with people by now, and it’s probably better to embarrass ourselves mildly in front of many than catastrophically in front of a few. Move along, people!
- Overnight in Odessa
Days Three, Four, Five
- Taxi to Ilyichevsk (20km/40mins)
- Ferry to Batumi, Georgia (about 60 hours with UKR Ferries – no trust me, this is more fun than flying – who sail this route about once every ten days)
- Overnight in Batumi
- Explore Batumi, hang out on the beach by the Black Sea
- Overnight in Batumi
- As for day six, but with an overnight train to Tbilisi in the evening (which apparently exists, even if I can’t find it on the Georgian Railway website)
- Travel Tbilisi to Chiatura, possibly by train (again, can’t find details on the railway website, but the blogger at Work & Travel reckons you can get there by train from Zestafoni (which is 4hrs from Tbilisi by train – that one’s on the website!) so I’m hopeful (even if his/her description of Chiatura isn’t). If not, a local marshrutka (minibus) might be the go. Update: rockclimbers are awesome people, because they leave great directions lying around for others to follow. Apparently, bus or marshrutka is recommended. Alethe (in the comments) also recommends a private guide/driver.
- Overnight in Chiatura
- Explore Chiatura and its rope roadways
- Possibly a little rock climbing? Anyone? Update: if you’re here about the rockclimbing, try these guys instead: Rockclimbing In Georgia (Chiatura page), which contains good directions in English; or this site on the Best Trails in Chiatura, which is mostly not in English but has pretty maps.
- The region is also known for its monasteries, including the famous Katskhi Pillar (also pictured at Curious Places), currently frequented by the last of the Stylites, Maxime Qavtaradze.
- Overnight Chiatura
Day Ten, Eleven
- Train back to Tbilisi
- Overnight flight Tbilisi-> Singapore (because my enthusiasm for ferries will probably only get us one way)
Update: If that all sounds too exhausting, you can always visit via youtube instead.