Top 10 Things to do in Tbilisi

Tbilisi is fast becoming one of the top cities in Europe to visit. With a mixture of grand Soviet buildings blending in with Tsarist architecture and avenues which surround the old town, which is little changed since the 18th century, Tbilisi is a great place to explore.

Crossing Borders. How an Illegal Immigrant travelled to the UK

I have spent the last few weeks crossing over 10 borders as I traversed the countries that both surround and make up the old Yugoslavian Republic. Having both a UK and Australian passport meant the border checks for me were mostly cursory and, apart from long queues, not that stressful.

Celebrating a Local Hero, Josef Stalin. Gori

Josef Vissarionovich Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia, in December 1878. His birth put the city on the map and was one of the first places to erect a statue to the Soviet leader. And it may well be the last city in the world to still have a statue of him in place. Despite his many atrocities and the destruction of any reminders of him elsewhere in the former Soviet bloc, Gori still remembers its local hero.

The ancient caves of Uplistsikhe

15km north of Gori in central Georgia lies the cave dwellings of Uplistsikhe. Situated high above the River Mtkvari, and surrounded by rich agricultural lands, it is one of the oldest settlements in Georgia, with archaeological findings showing that there have been signs of habitation for over 3,000 years, since the Bronze Age.

Hiding from the Mongols inside a mountain. Vardzia

In the twelfth century, the Mongol hordes were threatening to overrun Georgia, as they had already done to so many other countries. The warrior Queen Tamar ordered the construction of a hidden city, to provide safety and as a place of resistance should the Mongols succeed in their invasion, and the secret city of Vardzia was born.

Riding Stalin's Cable Cars. Chiatura

Manganese was in short supply in the Soviet Union after the Second World War. Important for steel making, and vital for the military, Stalin wanted to increase productivity in the largest Soviet mine in Chiatura. To get the miners to and from their homes, built across many hills with poor road access, required something a little unusual, cable cars. In 1954 the first of 17 lines opened with much pomp and ceremony, as it was the first cable-car in the whole of the Soviet Union. And it is still operating today.

The House of Stalin. Tbilisi

On a leafy street on the outskirts of the Georgian capital Tbilisi is a small nondescript house hidden behind a wall. It is not featured in many top tens of things to do in this vibrant city, but I found it to be one of the most interesting places I visited in Georgia. For this home was the base of a Bolshevik effort to spread revolution and topple the Tsar of Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the main protagonist being one Joseph Stalin.

A short-cut over the mountains to the Katshki Pillar

I did not want to retrace my steps. All the transport from Ushguli went back to Mestia. But there was an alternative, a mountain pass to the city of Kutaisi and on to the Katshki column, a rather unusual church set on top of large pillar. A difficult journey, as it would be on a track built by the Georgian national electricity company erecting pylons to connect electricity to the Svaneti region, but it would also save me a day in travel time.

A rough road. Travelling from Mestia to Ushguli

Mestia is the gateway to the Svaneti region, is becoming a massive tourist town. It is clearly enjoying a boom time as hotels spring up everywhere, and construction trucks rumble by on its small roads. For me, it was just a pit stop on the way to Ushguli, only 45 km away, or 5 hours on a jarring rough road.

Ushguli. A village at the edge of Europe

Ushguli, situated at a height of 2,100 metres (6,900 feet) is the highest settlement in Europe. Isolated for most of the year, its defined by its ancient stone towers and the muddy paths joining them. A place that, except for a couple of months in summer, you will encounter more livestock than people.

Flying North to the Caucasus Mountains

One of the main reasons for me coming to Georgia was to visit Ushguli, a remote village which, at a height of 2,100 metres (6,900 feet) is one of the highest inhabited places in Europe. It is also somewhat difficult to visit, with the only road to the settlement open in the summer months.

Halfeti. Black Roses on the River Euphrates

I had managed to sprain both my ankles, not easy to do I can assure you, and it requires an expertly timed trip and a twisting fall into a roadside drain. Something a stuntman would be proud of. Unfortunately, I'm no stuntman and the pain meant I could barely walk, and could only just drive. I needed to rest up. Not far away was Halfeti, a place I had heard mentioned as being a beautiful destination on the River Euphrates.

Göbekli Tepe. The oldest temple in the world.

In the hills outside of the Turkish city of Sanliurfa lie the recently discovered remains of an ancient temple complex. So old that it predates Stonehenge by at least 6,500 years and, based on our previous understanding of the development of human civilization, it should not really exist.

Arsameia. The ancient capital of the Commagene Empire

An ancient city, over two thousand years old, with exceptional stone reliefs would normally be a major tourist attraction. The abandoned city of Arsameia in southern Turkey gets only the occassional visitor, as it totally overshadowed by the wonders of nearby Mount Nemrut (XXXX).

Mount Nemrut. The resting place of a God

I have travelled to many historic sites, but until recently I had never even heard of the colossal statues of Mount Nemrut in Southern Turkey. It was on a trip to Cappadocia that I picked up an old copy of the Lonely Planet in a cave hotel which had one of the weathered heads on its cover. Since then I have been planning to visit.

Top 10 Things to do in Gaziantep

A city of two million with a history that goes back many thousands of years before it became an important trading post on the Silk Road, with incredible museums and unique tasty food, Gaziantep should be swamped by tourists. The reality is that is almost completely devoid of them. Why?