Saturday, November 17, 2018

Gori - Stalin's Birthplace - Five Days of Quiet

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We departed Tbilisi at noon and less than two hours later were in Gori.  The entire country is a bit smaller than the state of Virginia so transfer days for this month are going to be a snap.  The drive we chose was off the main road and we found ourselves winding through foothills and small villages.  It was overcast the whole day and the drive was relaxing.  Gori is a really small town and looks like something leftover from Soviet Russia circa 1960.  Streets are lined with common Soviet style apartment blocks and simple stone and cement two story homes.  Our apartment is above a large garage that we get to use for our car and its decor is right out of a 1040s Russian novel.  Sparkling clean and furnished with old world style furniture, we are going to have a very nice and relaxing five days.  Once we've visited the local museum en-homage to Joseph Stalin, we will be hard pressed to fill our days with more than long walks through the neighborhood.  

Our first day out was spent walking around the small town.  With only 40,000 people and a very small city center, we covered most of it in a few hours.  First stop was the Stalin Museum.  A bit too austere with tons of photos of the vile guy.  A bit of memorabilia, his death mask, and his family home reconstructed on site.  The one thing we were looking forward to seeing was the rail car used used as his "oval office" during his many campaigns of terror.  Unfortunately it was closed to viewing.

Then we wandered around the city center, circled the old fort, and stopped into a few shops.  Wow, the number of thrift and second hand stores is amazing.  The day sorta turned into cloudy, cold and wet and we headed home for a bowl of hot soup and some rest.

We took a day off and vegged out, read books, and worked on some art.  It was a really cold day.  Bobbie took a few shorts walks, discovered some fresh veggies, and a bottle of wine.  Interesting to learn is that there are no large grocery stores...lots of corner markets but no big supermarkets...anywhere, and we looked and ASKED.  Guess they have a moratorium to protect the little shop owners.  Nice.

We got the car out of our garage the next day and drove a short distance outside of the city to visit the ancient ruins of a rock cave city - Uplistsikhe, over 3,000 years old and built on a high rocky left bank of the Mtkvari River, it contains various structures dating from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages, and is notable for the unique combination of various styles of rock-cut cultures from Anatolia and Iran, as well as the co-existence of pagan and Christian architecture.  The church is from the 5th century.  We climbed up through a nature water tube to the top of the rocks and then wandered around for a couple of hours.  It was a nicer day with patches of blue...but the end of our visit the clouds and some rain had come back.

On the way back to town we gave a ride to a fellow who had obviously stopped off somewhere for a few glasses of wine.  He  happily talked to us for 15 minutes in Georgian before he realized we didn't understand a word he said.  When we dropped him at the main road he was so very grateful for the ride and blessed us a half dozen times...again probably the  It was sweet.

Instead of sleeping in on our last day, we got up early and then vegged out for the entire day.  Bobbie took a nice solo walk in the neighborhood and I worked on a couple of projects, did some work for Great Nepal Treks, and tweaked our travel plan for the next few months.  Tomorrow we head to Kutasi for four nights.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Month in the Republic of Georgia - First Stop - Tbilisi

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We landed quite late with the two hour time difference and got our rental car.  The Thrifty rental desk at the international airport was totally manual and it took a while.  There were no phone sim card stores open at the airport that late so we had to guess at how to get to our apartment...and once there we could not open the email to get the code.  Luckily this 68 year old brain remembered it from four days back.  I can't believe after all this time traveling that I forgot to open those damn confirmations before we left the last hotel and copy everything down...LOL.

Our home for the next week is this lovely find on Airbnb...everying we need for $18 a day...OMG.  Thankfully I booked it over a year ago.  We crashed and slept well into the next morning.

With daylight on our side and directions finally downloaded on stellar WiFi service, we set out to find a major grocer store and mall.  We found a Carrefour (big European supermarket chain) and a "Home Depot" in a mall on the outskirts of the city.  $121 bought enough food and supplies to last a couple of weeks.  A few plastic bins at the hard ward store will service as our traveling supply store as we move on to the next few cities.  The balance of the day was resting, doing the blog, catching up on bills and stuff...and planning a full day of exploring this beautiful city over the next several days.  Tbilisi is a modern European city with all signs in both Georgian and English.  Most folks we have spoken with speak great English and we feel very comfortable.

For our first day out we drove to the central district and parked the car.  From there we took the rope-way |(cable car) up to the fortress that overlooks the city.  The fortress walls date back to 500AD, there's an old church on the grounds from 800 AD and the statue of Mother of Russia in gleaming aluminum overlooks the city below.

 We descended the hill and into the botanical gardens and then past the mosque and wandered the streets of the old city a bit.

 After a short rest we crossed the river and climbed the embankment to see the cathedral recently built on the site of the old one that was destroyed in the 1996 earthquake.  It was quite a structure designed to match the older architecture but totally modern in other respect,

 We passed through a neighborhood wall gallery of great murals before returning to our rental car and back home for the day.

 Our second day of exploring started again at the parking garage at the river.  We passed these two magnificant buildings designed to look like auditory canals and home to two concert halls.  Across the Freedom Bridge we wandered the old city streets.

 This is the president's palace from across the river.  The huge glass dome is new.
 In the old city we found this orthodox church from 400 AD.  A service was going on so we did not enter.  It reportedly had original frescoes from the period.  Alas, we can't see everything.

 A whimsical clock tower is the entrance to the puppet theater.
We then walked the promenade to Liberty Square to see the national statue of St. George and the Dragon.

 At the parliament house we saw and interesting demonstration taking place.  They had beds in place so sleep on the steps.

 We took the funicular to the top of another hill where there was an amusement park.  There we enjoyed the views and had a great lunch of Georgian specialties.

We got front row seats for the ride down.

Back to the car we decided to enter a building that has caught our eye for a few days not.  A modern building in the shape of a mushroom patch, this is the Public Service Hall.
 The main floor are over two-hundred kiosks, each individually staffed.  The entire purpose of the building is to issue passports, driver licenses, health certificates, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other official documents.  They can issue a passport within on hour of application.

Our third day was a short road trip to the ancient capitol of Mtskheta.  It is at the confluence of two rivers and contained the original city walls and a very old cathedral, both dating back to the third century.  Being Sunday we were not allowed to enter the church during service.

The nearby nunnery was pleasant with lovely gardens and a few retired nuns working the grounds.
 A drive up the nearby hill brought us to the Jarvi Monastery, built in 360 BC and still open today for services.  The starkness of the building inside and out was interesting.  The view of the city below was stunning.

Our last two days were raining and overcast and we had planned to drive to the Azerbaijan border to view a series of cave dwellings form 500 BC only to get within a 30 miles when the paved road disappeared and a dirt track lay before us.  We opted to not go any further in the rental car and return to town.  We stopped off at the big shopping center for a few supplies.

Our last day in Tbilisi was spent at home reading and catching up on some projects.  I edited ten pages from the Great Nepal Treks and Expedition website and submitted them for uploading.  Bobbie did a lot of reading an napping.  It was a good rest day for us both.  Tomorrow we head to Gori, birthplace of Joseph Stalin.