Woke with a slight hangover. Only had five beers with the American guy but my resistance must be at an all time low. I haven’t been drinking booze at all since I left home and haven’t missed it. I made my way up to the Kazakhstan embassy and spoke to the duty consular official, a pleasant young woman who spoke pretty good English. She told me that the 30 day tourist visa was $40 but would take 5 working days to process.However, she also said that if I apply in Baku the cost is the same but it only takes 3 working days and I can apply on Monday. I decided to wait and apply in Baku. I took an application form from her and went back to Xtours to give them my passport. I was told by the girl on the desk at Xtours to come back tomorrow at 5pm to collect it with the visa inserted. This means I will be on the road to Baku on Friday morning if all goes to plan.
The whole invitation letter thing is a complete farce and appears to be a completely out dated method of vetting people which is being used now purely as a business opportunity to fleece tourists. It’s about time the embassies all got together and developed a better method of obtaining and submitting references. So far I have had to purchase invitations for Russia and Azerbaijan at a combined cost of around $280.
I have been looking for a post office to send my damaged laptop home using the box of my new one but haven’t spotted one. Internet research suggests it will cost around 50 – 60 Lari to send to the UK. It rained heavily all evening so I stayed at the Hostel, mucked around on the internet and slept. I wish I had done some basic Russian tuition before I left home. It would have been really useful here and I suspect also in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and of course Russia itself.
Thursday 31 May – Day 28
Awake early and had to plug the internet router in again on the managers desk. I think the owner un-plugs it to save power but he hasn’t complained about me plugging it back in yet.
I can’t believe I have been on the road for 4 weeks. I am slightly behind schedule but hoping to make up some time once I get into Kazakhstan. I updated my blog to include some comments about this Hostel and showed the owner using the Google translation tool. He was made up and 5 minutes later he came and offered me some ‘very special Georgian wine’. I had to decline his offer as I was riding later and it was only around 10.30am.
In the afternoon I went to Gori to see Stalin’s home town. I used the ATM and had coffee in a cafe opposite the impressive Town Hall. The locals seemed rather suspicious and I guess this has something to do with the recent history of the town with the Russian occupation and bombing.
There was previously a huge statue of Stalin infront of the town hall but it was removed as part of the Georgian de-sovietisation process.
I needed fuel desparately and the parking attendant directed me to a garage where I filled up. The guy pumping the gas was really interested in the bike and kept saying ‘Harley Davidson, Harley Davidson’. I laughed and tried to explain that a Harley might struggle to get through Siberia. I set off back to Tbilisi. About five miles down the road the bike developed a really nasty knocking noise and it felt like I was doing some serious damage to the engine. I could only think that this was due to c**p in the Benzine but the symptoms were totally different to the problem I had in Albania.I thought about the Harley Davidson pump attendant who had sold me the fuel and really wished I could get hold of him. The only thing to do was to press on and hope I could nurse the bike to the next town, or possibly to turn round and go back. I decided to press on and fortunately, the knocking gradually eased and after about 35 miles of nervous riding things were back to normal. I am definitely going to get some fuel additive when I next see some at a petrol stop.
I got back to Tbilisi for around 5pm and went straight to Xtours office to collect my passport with the priceless 30 day Azerbaijan visa inserted. No hitches, so I can head for the border in the morning.I had arranged to meet Babek at 9pm in the Hangar Bar so I set off to walk there around 8.30. I knew vaguely where it was and wasn’t expecting it to be difficult but nobody that I spoke to could direct me. Eventually I gave up and stopped for a beer in a pub called the Dubliner. They wanted 8 Lari for a small beer so I had just the one and moved on. I was only paying 3 Lari last night and the bars around the Radisson Hotel seem to be aimed at tourists and foreign workers and are definitely more expensive than the more Georgian bars.