(the country of Georgia in Caucasus)
Title came to mind when I set way out of capital Tbilisi. Marshrutka (minibus) didn’t have to drive more than an hour when Greater Caucasus mountain range was already providing stunning views.
@ Stepantsminda. Night descends to a small town in a deep mountain valley. Cows are leisurely walking in yards and roads, in their never ending quest for something to munch. Its mid summer, and snow rivers are still visible but quickly fading, glaciers at mountain tops withdrawing. Evenings even now are pretty chilly, but afternoon sun combined with exhaust of trekking is sweaty affair in the mountains. Glancing up from village, silhouette of Gergeti Trinity Church at 2200 meters starts to fade away as light diminishes, and behind, the mighty 5000 meter tall Kazbegi shines in orange and purple hues of sunset. I climbed today to see the church and surroundings, two hour ascend is tedious exercise for leg muscles, and one hour tap dance down is hard on knees. But it was well worth the trouble, views overlooking the mountain, the ancient church and the views back to town were gorgeous.
Photos do pale justice to the scenery visitor can see in real life.
My guesthouse had lovely old gramophone and some records. Wonder when machine delighting listeners last time?
@ Borjomi. Am sitting on a porch of my guest house. Its been exhausting hot day, as I visited Vardzia, near Turkish and Armenian borders. Vardzia was medieval stone town carved to a side of steep cliff. Famous Georgian Queen Tamar who presided over golden age of her kingdom, sent off her armies for conquest from here. Wikipedia:
The chronicler of Tamar describes how the army was assembled at the rock-hewn town of Vardzia before marching on to Basian and how the queen addressed the troops from the balcony of the church.
Borjomi is famous for its healthy mineral water and springs. Health tourism started already in early 1800’s, when Tsarist Russia started developing the infrastructure. Town is situated in charming narrow valley, surrounded by lovely lush jungle growing on both sides of narrow river valley.
In its early years, Borjomi was reserved for blue blooded. Nowadays the attractions has been democratised for everyone interested.
@ Mestia and Ushguli. Scenes of Svanetia region in north west of Georgia are like from Hobbit movies. For centuries, region was protected by its difficult accessibility. Even Mongol’s weren’t interested in spending resources to capture it, easier targets were elsewhere. Svanetia is famous for its tower houses, green valleys and beautiful white capped mountains.
Svaneti region, north west of Georgia.
Katski Pilar near city of Kutaisi.
Today, traveler comes first Mestia as its better connected with the rest of country. Ushguli is further 40km by the road. Mestia has more modern infrastructure, paved roads, shops, banks, restaurants and cafes, but its remoteness is still evident especially at winter time. I personally liked more of Ushguli, mainly because of its originality. Chatted with fellow traveler, an Austrian alpinist. We both agreed that region was under rapid transformation and in five-ten years time Ushguli could hardly be recognised from its past or even current self. Unpaved jumpy road would be paved. Hotels, restaurants would spring up to cater growing numbers of visitors. Rusting Soviet era equipment of trucks, tractors that still stand in where they broke off, would be cleared out of sight. Some of the magic of remoteness and originality would no doubt be lost. This writer also describes the changing situation in Svaneti.
Pigs, horses and cows are bumming around everywhere.
Georgian driving culture can be rough experience for new comer. Drivers often straighten the curves even when there is no clear visibility of opposing traffic. Speed limits are nonexistent, and cows can be standing middle of road in curves and dimly lit tunnels.
@ Gori. Day started with sweaty train ride from Kutaisi, aircon in wagon just wasn’t sufficient enough against the sun and 35-40 Celsius outside. As we approached the Gori, rain front started to grow in horizon. Am writing this in my room at darkening evening, its still pouring rain outside. Couldn’t help but comparing the weather with thunderous son of the city. Joseph Vissarionovich Jughashvili was born in Gori 18 December 1878, to a poor family of drunk father and devout Orthodox mother, Keke. Parents regularly beat their children, and following quote is telling of what kind of childhood the son had: Wikipedia: “N. Kipshidze, a doctor who treated Keke in her old age, recalled that when Stalin visited his mother in October 1935, he asked her: “Why did you beat me so hard?” “That’s why you turned out so well”, Keke answered.”
Two years later when Ekaterine Geladze died in Tbilisi, her son was too busy orchestrating the Great Purge in Moscow, and couldn’t or wouldn’t attend the funeral.
Grave of Keke, Stalin’s mother, in Tbilisi.
Stalins armored train wagon he used to travel to three famous conferences during WW2: Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam. The Generalissimo was afraid of flight and paranoid about sabotage, so he traveled on land even as far as Iran.
Stalin museum of Gori.
Visited Stalin museum in city center was one of most rewarding museum visits I’ve done for a while. It was this because of contemporary Stalin-cult era information. Iron Joe, as many other dictators, built a personality cult around him. Gori was one of pilgrimage sites for diehard Stalinists. City’s main avenue is named after him. Stalin museum is in best place in the city, and from its park can be found humble birth home of Stalin, protected by neoclassic columns and covering. Photos, paintings and items of the dictator have long since disappeared from displays elsewhere, but here museum preserves and displays them as before. Visitor can grasp how seriously the man was taken in his time. Museum can also give a rare glimpse of nowadays-disappearing mindset of Soviet people.
Stalins cap and overcoats.
Stalin supermarket in Gori.
@ Tbilisi. Back in capital after tiring but very eye opening and rewarding trip around the country. Met many nice travelers from Poland, Austria, Korea, Japan. Tasted Georgian traditional foods like khinkali (meat dumplings) and khachapuri (cheese-filled bread). Country had a shady reputation during its first years of independence after collapse of Soviet Union, but since the Rose Revolution in 2003, new governments have managed to root out corrupted officials and mafia from hardening peoples lives. Like many former Soviet countries, Georgia is still in transition phase from this past, but things are changing rapidly. For travelers Georgia can provide experiences of beautiful nature, fascinating history and friendliness of local people. Wikitravel describes it better:
The Georgians have exceptionally strong traditions of hospitality, chivalry, and codes of personal honour. They believe that guests come from God. Friendship is prized highest among all the virtues. … The Georgians are proud, passionate, and fiercely individualistic, yet deeply connected with each other by a shared sense of belonging to a greater Georgian family.