We’d have been fine if we hadn’t decided to say goodbye to friends departing for the airport the night before. (Is anyone else getting fed up with this fiasco?) We’d have been even finer if we hadn’t stayed in the Beatles Club until bidding them farewell. We’d have been OK, if a little groggy, if yours truly had woken up before switching off the alarm that morning.
As it was, our plans for an eight-o’clock start on Saturday morning fell by the wayside. It was twelve thirty before we made it to Isani bus station, and by that time our hopes of getting to Gremi and back were looking forlorn. Our friend had already visited the Telavi area, so we opted to jump on a red Icarus bus to Kvareli. Big mistake.
There’s nothing especially wrong with Kvareli itself. When we planned our tour in Georgia it looked a logical choice. A typical Kakhetian village, it houses the house-museums of two of Georgia’s greatest cultural figures: the “secular saint” poet and writer Ilia Chavchavadze (runner-up to Rustaveli in the Georgian Of The Millennium stakes). But, like many Kakhetian villages, there’s no publicised hotel or guesthouse. As one of our fellow-passengers put it: “You have to find someone to be guests with.”
The bus was chugging along through the ice and snow from one anonymous hamlet after another, and Kvareli seemed no closer than an hour before when we’d passed a sign bearing the legend “Kvareli 17km”. The sun was beginning to set, and we weren’t relishing the prospect of trying to find someone to be guests with. British and American pride may not match that of most Georgians, but knocking on doors begging for somewhere to stay puts you well into the humiliation zone – whoever you are.
“The last bus to Tbilisi has already gone,” the driver confirmed. There was something encouraging in those words – he could have said that there were no more buses. As it was, there was a fair chance of catching the last one to Telavi. That was good news: we knew there were hotels in Telavi.
The bus turned off the icy track onto the main road, which meant we were entering Kvareli. A little yellow bus to Telavi came the other way, and our driver flashed at it to stop. It did.
I know the twenty seconds it took to cross the road didn’t do justice to Kvareli, but the Chavchavadze and Marjanishvili house-museums had long since shut. Right now the only thing that mattered was to find somewhere warm for the night. The yellow bus was decidedly more draughty than the Icarus, but at least it was sticking to the main road and was taking us in the direction of a hotel. It even took us through our originally-planned destination of Gremi, giving us a few seconds to snatch shots of the fortress (or was it just a church?) as dusk began to fall.