Friday – the Khans Palace and on to Georgia

We woke up to a dull and miserable day. Last nigh’s rain had stopped but it was still very damp and there was a chill in the air. It felt very autumnal. Season of mists and all that.

We breakfasted in our room on nuts and Pringles and the goats cheese purchased for our Caspian crossing, there being no breakfast supplied. There was good news of Sarah and Wendy though. Sarah is out of the clinic and they are hoping to catch us up in a few days. Very good news.

We then set off for the Khans Palace, just a few hundred metres up the road. Here I have to make a correction on yesterday’s publication. I talked of the Sheki windows being jewel coloured glass held in by wrought iron. It is not. It is held together by wood. I only realised this on close inspection at the palace, where every window is made of small pieces of jewel coloured glass set in a nail free wooden fret work. They are stunning,

The palace is dated 17th century and regrettably photographs could not be taken on the inside. We arrived to be told to put on j cloth foot coverings before we could cross the threshold….

It was worth it. The interior was incredible. Every wall and ceiling was covered in hand painted pictures. Battle scenes, flowers, dragons, trees. All were there, meticulously painted on every surface stone surface. The frustration of not being able to record the wonders photographically was immense. We wondered through the rooms spell bound by the pictures.

We eventually emerged to the outside by giant stone steps (these Khan types must have had very long legs) and wondered back to the truck, resisting the opportunity to buy a pot of hand knitted roses at the craft stall on the way.

We left the wooded hills and Sheki after our brief stay. It seemed dryer as we descended into the valley. We were back into the countryside and heading for the Georgian border as Penelope’s 72 hours in Georgia was running out. Our drive took us deep into rural Georgia. It was a chilly day , the coldest so far. The big fields we passed were ready for planting. The route was lined with trees and there were people with bags picking up hazel nuts from the copsed hazel nut trees.

Our route was lined by green grasslands and much more greenery that we recognised. There were chestnut trees, blackberries in the hedgerows and stinging nettles. We saw turkey’s, ducks and horses grazing by the side of the road. There were also signs of the oncoming winter with horse drawn carts stacked high with wood for winter fires. We passed small settlements with lots of cars parked haphazardly and large groups of men around, often the indication of a stock market of some kind. There were very few women or children about. As we drew near to the border the road became more bumpy and it seemed a very far cry from the sophistication of Baku.

The Azerbaijan/Georgian border was a dream compared to the others we have crossed. There are no visas required for Georgia. The only thing to comment on really were two long corridors. The first came after we had been ‘stamped’ out of Azerbaijan. Picking up our bags that had eventually passed through the broken X-ray machine, there was a long cream painted outside corridor with steps. As you walked along it, to the right was a brick wall. To the left a glass window. The path gradually climbed up to the office to receive the Georgian entry stamp, after which there was a similarly lengthy corridor which, after a similar length of climb, brought you out on a bridge guarded by a man with a gun. After walking over the wide expanse of the bridge looking down onto a stoney riverbed with very little water in it, you were in Georgia. As I said, a very easy and quick crossing, but I could not help feeling that if you had a false passport or were trying to smuggle something through, you would have a very long tramp with your heart pounding wondering if you were going to get away with it…. As neither of those things applied there were no such fears, but I could not help but ponder on the topic during my lonely walk into Georgia.

The border behind us, we set off with our Georgian guide – ZsaZsa (a bit unlikely I know and even more unlikely if you saw him! ) – to find our camp site. It was by now pouring with rain, so to say enthusiasm was low was something of an understatement! We were headed for a town called Lagodekhi and it’s nearby wooded parkland. Here Penelope skidded to a alt under dripping trees. We had arrived. In the distance we could see one or two large buildings through the trees – a nature centre project funded by UNESCO. We were to find that this housed a wonderful clean loo – what more could we ask for!!?! Perhaps to camp indoors……

As we are made of sterner stuff, the Ritz was set up and we retrieved our sleeping equipment from the truck, trying to keep it dry as the trees and the heavens continued to pour.

ZsaZsa (mid 50’s sporting a hunters waistcoat under his jacket, grey moustache and hair and glasses on a cord around his neck) then produced a huge plastic container of his friend’s home brewed red wine, which it seemed rude to refuse. Keith, now nominated fire monitor, set about building a fire with very wet wood and we all huddled under the shelter of Penelope’s awning. Up until now this has been our sun shade – now it is the rain tent.

A thick vegetable stew was produced for supper which was good and we sat around chatting and drinking our home brew wine and some ventured out in the rain around the fire, but overall it was a very early night and we went to sleep with the sound of rain ringing in our ears.

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