Travelling overland from Russia to Georgia

There are a couple of options for crossing the border between Russia and Georgia. The most direct route goes through Abhazia but requires a visa, which we didn't have. Instead, we went to North Ossetia and crossed the border from Vladikavkaz to Tbilisi via the famous Georgian Military Road AKA Invasion Highway that Russian troops have used since 18th century. The scenery was breathtaking and worth the detour.

From Sochi to Vladikavkaz

Our journey begun from Adler (Sochi) on the Black Sea coast. We couchsurfed in Krasnaya Polyana, an alpine ski resort that hosted the Alpine and Nordic events of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and enjoyed awesome hikes with our host. The surrounding mountains are beautiful, air fresh, and there was plenty of sunshine.

From Adler we took a train to Vladikavkaz. There is one connection every other day and the trip takes about 20 hours. It is a slow and pleasant ride, although you will miss most of the scenery because the train goes at night. The majority of the passengers got off well before the last stop and there was only a handful of us left in Vladikavkaz. The city is not among popular Russian tourist sites, although there is a must-see for those practising fashionable dark tourism: Beslan school hostage crisis cemetery, which is located 15 km from Vladikavkaz. When you get off from the train, all the marshrutka drivers will want to take you there.

Invading Georgia  2016

Vladikavkaz is a rather typical Russian city. There are some architectural gems, while most other buildings are dilapidating. We stayed in Vladikavkaz only one night near the railway station in a very clean and spacious gostinitsa called Amran, where we bargained the price of a double room to 1700 rubles. In the reception, there was a friendly blond lady who spoke English and arranged us a shared taxi for the next day to Tbilisi for 1000 rubles each. Buses go seldom and locals mostly use minivans to cross the border.

The shared taxi system worked well. The driver was promptly on time and patiently waited for us when one of the Russian border guards wanted to have a little chat with us before returning our passports. We were a bit afraid that the border guard would ask us about visa registration, which we didn't do. Registration is a Soviet relic that some officials misuse for extorting bribes. Originally, it was designed for the Soviet union citizens only, but now they want foreigners to have their Russian visa registered within seven working days upon arrival. We had stayed in Russia 2.5 months without registration, but fortunately nobody asked anything. Ten years ago we had some problems, but only in Moscow. It seemed that the border guard simply wanted to practise his English with us. He didn't seem to have many opportunities for that as the Georgian Military Road mainly serves truck drivers and locals. Truck queues were several kilometres long, but fortunately passenger traffic had priority. We spent half an hour at the Russian border and five minutes at the Georgian border.

Georgian Military Road

Georgian military highway is roughly 200 kilometres long. It crosses the Greater Caucasus Mountains and passes through narrow gorges that are squeezed between colossal mountains. The highest point is the Jvari Pass at 2,395 meters. The scenery is magnificent. We travelled the route in late November and expected rain or snow. Instead, we got plenty of sunshine, blue skies, and beautiful white snow on mountain slopes. It was like from a fairytale with picturesque mountain villages and churches, and herds of sheep and cows wandering around.

In total, the trip from Vladikavkaz to Tbilisi took about five hours, border formalities included. We changed minivans after the border, and both drivers were professional and the ride comfortable. There was plenty of space as there was only one other passenger, an elderly Georgian lady with us. Despite numerous warnings on the Internet, we recommend travelling this awesome route.

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