Georgia Part 1 – Tbilisi and Gudauri

Day 130: July 20, 2018

We had to wait quite a while for check in and then the line moved quite slowly. At boarding time we were all kicked out of the waiting area and then had to line up to get through again. I don’t know if they didn’t have enough staff, but it seemed very inefficient. Our flight to Kiev had everyone in the wrong seats. Two people had the same seat number. Luckily, there was still an open seat.

We slept a bit on the flight then had to go through security again in Kiev. The people weren’t overly friendly. On our flight to Tbilisi we slept a bit again. We arrived and got through customs easily. On the other side we found a place to buy a SIM card: 4GB for about 4 CAD. We obtained some cash: Georgian Lari (GEL) from an ATM.

Outside, we found a cab to take us to our Airbnb. The driver was very chatty and pointed out different sights along the way. When we arrived, our host’s friend was waiting to meet us. She showed us the one bedroom apartment with a stove top for cooking. It is a nice little place. The staircase up is a bit sketchy though and smells like “cat poop hill” (under the deck at my parents it is dirt and the cats used to poop there so my mom always called it cat poop hill).

We unpacked then found a place to eat across the street called “Old City Wall” restaurant. It was very cool looking inside and had old timey tables and chairs. We shared a “royal” khachapuri with three layers of cheese then had a beef stew and wine. The wines of Georgia are delicious.

After supper we went to the grocery store which was very busy. Our walk back took us through a small park with tons of flower vendors. We unpacked our groceries then went to bed.

Day 131: July 21, 2018

Last night Danny booked a free walking tour that started at noon. I slept in a lot then we had yogurt for breakfast. We walked down to Freedom Square where there was a huge statue of Saint George riding a horse and stabbing a dragon with a spear.

Freedom Square, Tbilisi

The square used to be named Lenin Square in Soviet times. It is tradition in Georgia to name your first son after Saint George. The other famous Saint in Georgia is Saint Nino who many girls are named after. She was a young girl from modern day Turkey who brought Christianity to Georgia. She used grape vines and her hair to fashion a cross.

We met our guide and were in a group with about 40 others. We were told how Freedom Square used to be outside the city walls and was a very popular caravanserais for the Silk Road.

Tbilisi was founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali. He was hunting with his falcon who never returned. He ended up finding his falcon with a pheasant dead in a hot spring. He decided this was the perfect location for a city. Tbilisi means “warm location”.

Around 93% of the population in Georgia considers themselves religious. Most of the population is Christian. We visited a Catholic Church built in 1804. During the Soviet rule it was used to store vegetables.

We then visited Jvaris Mama or Father Cross Church which is a Georgian Orthodox Church. The church was very different inside than the Catholic Church. Orthodox churches have no seats and pay homage to icons rather than statues.

We saw a statue of the Tamada or toastmaster. A tiny statue of him was found dating to the 7th century BC. He holds a goat’s horn for drinking. He is a symbol of Georgian supras or feasts. Typically, Georgians have 10 toasts where you have to down your entire drink.

Tamada statue, Tbilisi

We had a break on the tour and were able to go down to a bakery. I bought a sweet cheese khachapuri that tasted similar to my mom’s butterhorns.

Next we were told about the Holy Trinity Cathedral constructed between 1995 and 2004. It is the third tallest Eastern Orthodox Church in the world. It was built partly on an Armenian graveyard. The church was on the other side of the city so we did not visit it.

On our walk we visited a lady selling churchkhela, nuts dipped in thickened juice. We crossed the Bridge of Peace constructed in 2010 following the 2008 war with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Across the bridge was Rike Park where there was a cable car to the top of the hill that we planned to take the next day.

Kutaisi, an area in Georgia, is the land where Jason and the Argonauts searched for the Golden Fleece. The idea of the Golden Fleece is thought to have come from an ancient tradition in the area of using sheep fleece to collect gold pieces in rivers.

We walked to a waterfall in an area that was previously closed off due to floods. There were people with parrots, peacocks and monkeys with which you could take pictures.

Dzveli Tbilisi Sulphur Waterfall, Tbilisi

Georgia has a long history of wine making. There are 500 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia. We passed an old wine press and then after almost 4.5 hours the walking tour was at an end.

Old wine press, Tbilisi

We walked back to our Airbnb and Danny made supper. After, we walked to Rike Park where our guide had told us there would be a concert of traditional Georgian dancing. It was scheduled to start at 8:00 pm, but our guide had said that likely meant 9:00 pm. We arrived around 8:15 pm then walked around the park a bit. There was a giant piano monument and views of the Peace Bridge.

Peace Bridge, Tbilisi

In the 1990s there was civil war in Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2004, the Rose Revolution occurred marking the end of Soviet leadership. Michelin Saakashvili stormed the Parliament with red roses. He took power, fired the entire police force and imprisoned many corrupt politicians. He was later barred from seeking re-election then wanted by the new government under criminal charges. The new political party in power, the Georgian Dream, was created by businessman, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who owns a giant villa on the hill in Tbilisi.

Saakashvili started many construction projects in the city including the Peace Bridge. We checked out the steel tubes also built by Saakashvili that were supposed to be a theatre, but now sit empty.

Steel tubes, Tbilisi

The concert started around 9:15 pm and we were close to the front. Some singers started and then the dancers came out. They performed many different dances. One near the end included short swords and shields. You could see the sparks flying when they hit. The men would bounce on their knees then up again.

Traditional Georgian dancing, Tbilisi

At times they were on their toes like in ballet, but without special shoes. We ended up staying until the end of the concert at 10:30 pm. Our legs and feet were sore from standing so long. We took some pictures in the park then walked home to go to bed.

Day 132: July 22, 2018

We woke up at 8:30 am then had to rush to eat breakfast to get to our bath house appointment at 9:00 am. We arrived and they showed us to the sitting room attached to the bathroom. Inside there was a hot sulphur pool, showers, marble beds and a washroom attached. It was much larger than we had anticipated. A private room cost us 100 GEL ($54 CAD).

I dipped my leg in the hot pool, but it was scalding hot. Eventually we slowly lowered ourselves in and got used to the heat. We paid 10 GEL extra for the scrubbing. A lady came in for me and scrubbed me with a exfoliating mitt then rinsed me with hot water. Then she soaped me. I kept sliding around and almost slid off. She caught me and we laughed. She finished rinsing me once more.

I covered in my towel and a guy came in to scrub Danny. After we went back in the hot pool, but it was just too much heat to stay in too long. We finished our hour with a cold shower then got dressed.

When we walked out a man offered us some tea so we sat and relaxed for a bit. I was still super hot and my face was red. We paid then walked up the street to take some pictures of the bathhouses with their brick spherical roofs.

Sulphur bathhouses, Tbilisi

We stood in front of the falcon fountain where I practiced my “Falcon Punch”. Super Smash Brothers!

Falcon Punch, Tbilisi

Then we walked across the river to the cable car. It only cost 2 GEL each for a one-way ride, but we had to pay an additional 4 GEL for a transit card. It was a quick ride to the top with quite a view down to the city.

View of Tbilisi from the cable car

We walked to the Mother of Georgia (Kartlis Deda) statue which was erected in 1958. In her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to show if you come as a friend she will share her wine. In her right hand she holds a sword to show if you come as an enemy she will fight.

Mother of Georgia, Tbilisi

We continued down to Narikala Fortress which was built by the Persians in the 4th century. The Mongols named it Narin Qala or Little Fortress. Within, is St. Nicholas Church built between 1996 and 1997. We climbed up the fortress then around and back down.

Narikala Fortress, Tbilisi

We returned home and had bread, cheese, cucumber, tomato and carrots for lunch. Danny and I went for a run afterwards. We passed a whole bunch of interesting buildings on our way back along Shota Rustaveli Avenue: Art Museum, Opera House, Kashveti St. George Church and the Georgian National Museum. We headed back home and then did some yoga.

We were both feeling hungry so we walked to a restaurant our host had recommended. It looked a bit fancy so we went to the other he suggested right across the street: Zakhar Zakhariah. We had a bottle of wine for 15 GEL ($8 CAD), a lamb dish, a veal dish and khinkali (Georgian dumplings). It was all so different, but yummy. They have some different spices that we don’t use such as fenugreek.

We walked to the Dry Bridge to see the Flea Market, but most people were closing up. We returned home and did some FaceTiming before bed.

Day 133: July 23, 2018

We had breakfast then walked up the street to the rental car place. The guy came down with us and went through the vehicle. It is a Mitsubishi Pajero. We had read that a 4×4 is recommended in Georgia as some of the roads aren’t the greatest.

I went and bought groceries for the next couple of days and then we tried to navigate our way out of the city. We couldn’t cross a main road so we ended up going the wrong way for quite awhile until we could do a u-turn. Finally we were heading in the right direction. We had to stop for gas as the tank was nearly empty when we received it.

Just north of Tbilisi we stopped at Jvari Monastery. It was built in the 6th century in the location that Saint Nino erected a large wooden cross in the early 4th century. The cross was said to work miracles. There was a beautiful view from the monastery.

Jvari Monastery

We continued our drive to the ski resort town of Gudauri. We found the building our Airbnb was located in, but could not find anyone at the reception. We walked around the building complex and found a sales office. We asked about the reception and a lady came out to give us the keys.

The place is a bachelor suite, but quite spacious. The building is new, but it already seems like things are falling apart. We decided to go north to Gergeti Trinity Church. The roads are so good and then you hit a section that isn’t paved or they are working on. That is when we are glad we paid for an SUV. On our drive we found the cows especially like sitting on the highway bridges, blocking at least one lane.

Cows blocking the road

We followed Google Maps directions to a small village northwest of Stepantsminda. We drove through the village then reached a washed out road. There were lots of people hiking up so we figured the road up was closed. We decided we would try the hike tomorrow.

Georgian roads

We returned to our Airbnb and it rained on the way so we didn’t stop at any of the sites on the way back. Danny and I tried to find the gym in the building complex, but it appears nothing was open because it was the off season. We went for a little run then did some yoga instead.

Danny made pasta for supper. Sitting on the couch I dropped some pasta and decided it was better to sit on the floor. Then Danny spilled his wine so we both ended up sitting on the floor. We watched some World History videos on YouTube then went to bed.

Day 134: July 24, 2018

We slept in this morning. I got used to staying up late and sleeping in in Germany and now being two hours ahead I really want to sleep in. We had breakfast then drove back up to climb to Gergeti Trinity Church.

Danny and the Pajero on the drive to Gergeti Trinity Church

We went the steep way to start. There were many others climbing up as well as coming down. The beginning part was quite steep and then it was just a little steep. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the top and my feet were blistered.

Hike up to Gergeti Trinity Church

The disappointing thing upon reaching the top was that there were tons of vehicles up there. We discovered that there was a new road to the church just a bit up the highway from the village we had driven through. We did work for the view so maybe we appreciated it a bit more.

Gergeti Trinity Church was built in the 14th century. I was given a wrap to wear around the grounds as I had shorts on. We went up a hill to the side and sat to eat our salad lunch. The view of the mountains was spectacular. There are very little trees on the mountains, but lots of grass. Cows are ranging everywhere on the mountainsides.

Gergeti Trinity Church

We enjoyed the view then hiked down a different way. It was much more steep and I was glad it wasn’t the way that we climbed up. The trail eventually led to the new road which we took down until it reached a trail leading through the village. It was an interesting walk through the village back to the car. The houses were quite different.

We went back to the highway and drove north to Kazbegi National Park. We reached a narrow point in the road with construction then further down we could see what looked like Georgian customs for the Georgia-Russia border. Time to turn around.

Kazbegi National Park

We saw the Dariali Monastery built between 2005 and 2011 then drove back south stopping every so often to take some pictures.

Dariali Monastery

We stopped at the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument which was built in 1983. The inside shows Georgian and Russian history in murals. There were many booths in the parking lot selling honey and fruits. We sampled three different types of honey and bought a small jar for 10 GEL ($5 CAD). I also bought a plastic cup full of watermelon. In the supermarkets and at many stalls along the roadside there have been huge watermelons for sale.

Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument

We continued our drive back to our Airbnb. We had supper at a restaurant up the road. We had a veal skewer with walnut sauce, bread and adjarian khachapuri. Adjarian khachapuri is an open boat shaped bread with cheese inside topped with a raw egg and butter. You mix in the egg and butter with the cheese. It was amazing, but so filling. After supper we returned to our Airbnb for sleep.

I loved the atmosphere of Tbilisi and almost wish we could have stayed there longer. I usually don’t enjoy staying in cities, but Tbilisi had a different charm. Gudauri and Kazbegi National Park had the most beautiful views. We stopped every five minutes to take pictures. Tomorrow we are heading west in Georgia to Bakuriani with some interesting stops along the way so stay tuned!

M

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