Georgia - Ikalto Monastery to Tbilisi

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July 28th 2019
Published: August 2nd 2019
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On my last day, I woke up fairly early, though breakfast here does not start until 9. My friend had told me that things don't start until later here, and it was funny to note the truth of that. So, I took a shower, packed and right at 9 I walked down for breakfast, eating my favorite dish of chicken with cream sauce (I asked what the name of this was, and the girl looked at me like I was crazy. Chicken with cream sauce) and soaking it with bread. Then I went upstairs to finish packing and decided to check out. I brought my luggage downstairs, then started to walk to the Ikalto Monastery close by just before 11am. Soso said he would pick me up at 1pm to take me to Tbilisi, basically for about a third of my first day's taxi driver.

I was a little nervous because I had asked Soso about safety walking around by myself. He was a bit confused, and said it could be dangerous because there were foxes, wolves and bears in the mountains and foothills. I didn't really think about animals attacking me, but I was wary the whole time. It was about 30 minutes and 2 miles to the monastery, half of it through the outskirts of little Ikalto village, where I saw little kids playing in the streets, making me feel much better. The second half was straight uphill along an isolated road between the hills and a wash. I kept hearing noises in the brush, but on the way down, thankfully I saw that it was probably a bunch of cattle grazing in the wash. They seemed confused by my presence.

Other than a few random guys just hanging out on the side of the road, and a few cars whizzing by, the walk was pleasant but so much hotter than I expected - I forgot to bring water. I was sweating hard by the time I reached the top. There were a lot of people hanging out in the monastery grounds and I felt like an intruder. It was Sunday after all. So, I walked around the grounds a bit, mostly hugging the backside of the church where most of the ruins were located. It was another church that seemed to be under restoration, but the stoneworks were so beautiful. I hung around for about 20 minutes, then crossed the parking area to a kind of facilities location (where the unused bathrooms were). Here there was one of those water spouts where you can get water for free. Deciding not to use the proffered cup, I cupped my hands and drank some of the cool, clear water, and splashed it on my face and neck. It was so refreshing!

I started back across the parking area and noted a landslide had cut through the road and some of the facilities, following in places the drainage line. I am such a dork, but for so long I studied and worked on landslides, so I felt in my element. I continued the hike down, passing the cows, and another water spring spout where I had earlier seen a couple of men filling water bottles. Soon I heard the beautiful chimes of the church bells and had noted a marked increase in the number of cars heading up to the monastery.

I made it down a little faster and as I was entering the driveway to the hotel, a white taxi pulled in and beeped at me. It was Soso! He drove me the rest of the way and asked if he was early. I laughed and said yes, but I was ready to go. So, I went in, grabbed my luggage, a bottle of coke, said goodbye to the lovely staff, and then we took off. He drove mostly the same way as my first day, driving through another small village that was having their annual neighborhood celebration that afternoon (I think that was why he was early - he wanted to be back to participate). We stopped at the mountain pass again, a little less windy this time and slightly different viewpoint. We also stopped to get some honey from a roadside vendor. It seemed a bit pricey, but it was delicious. The honey sellers were all over the area and I just could not resist anymore.

The rest of the ride was pretty smooth and he pointed out a few villages and other items of interest along the way. He was not a huge fan of Tbilisi, preferring the small town life. I felt bad because my hotel was in the old part of town which apparently had very steep, very narrow streets. But we finally found the hotel and I gave Soso a good tip and my promised recommendation for if anyone comes to visit (let me know and I can give you his number).

The hotel, Amante Narikala Hotel, was very nice and the reception area was super impressive. It was stepped down from the steep streets and incorporated some of the rock of the mountain into its back wall (man! I think I forgot to take a photo of it!). The staff was super nice and my room card envelope had a little bracelet with my name on it in block letters. So cute. So, it was an excellent start. The room itself was small, basic, but nice, tasteful and with a fantastic view of the city. The only problem I saw was that it was right across the elevator on the fourth floor, and just next to the stairs to the rooftop bar (the elevator only went up to the 4th floor). I was worried that I would hear drunk people in and out all night.

While I was tired, I decided I needed to see the city and take advantage of the few hours I had here. So, at reception she gave me a map, a couple of recommendations, and scheduled a taxi for 4 in the morning for me. The streets were so steep and it was so incredibly hot, but I made it up the steep streets to the Narikala Fortress, got harassed a few times by street vendors, walked up to the skyline gondolas but didn't take it, and saw the large statue of the "Mother of Georgia". I walked back to the fortress where it looked like they had just had a wedding at the church there; there were multiple cars trying to make their way through the narrow gate and down the steep slope while tourists were trying to work their way up. I almost thought about skipping it, but I was already here, so I waited patiently for the cars to leave and went up top. I was not overly impressed - the view was not much different as the place where I had been waiting. I didn't go into the church though.

I made my way back down, down, down through the streets, past the thermal baths area, and had a late lunch at the restaurant the hotel hostess recommended to me: The Bread House. I loved how the accent was so different to what it was - I thought she called it the "Breithaus" or something similar, so when I saw the name, I cracked up. She had told me that the restaurant served a variety of Georgian dishes and both names did not really indicate that to me, but it had a large outdoor patio that overlooked the river, Metheki St Virgin Church, and the nearby bath houses. I ordered more of the minced walnuts wrapped with roasted eggplant (cold dish) and khinkali, a staple Georgian dish which is basically dumplings filled with minced pork / beef (hot dish). The khinkali took a while to come out, but it was yummy.

At this point, I was tired, so I made my way back up, up and up to my hotel, stopping at a souvenir shop or two along the way, and grabbed a cup of blueberries for a snack / dessert for later. At my hotel, I took a nice, long shower - the toiletries were fantastic. Then I went upstairs to the rooftop bar for sunset. I was shocked to see that the bar was completely empty except for the bartender and his two friends. The wine was good and the views were phenomenal. I could not believe that no one else was here! I looked over at a nearby hostel with a rooftop bar and it was kicking. So, I enjoyed having the place all to myself, writing postcards, reading my book, messaging friends, and sipping my wine until the sky was dark and I needed to get some sleep.

I will try not to end this blog by complaining too much but.... the taxi driver was early (good), good price (good), airport checkin was extremely crowded with only 3 counters for our very full flight (bad), ticket agent was very nice (good), clean empty lounges (good), and the flight itself... I shudder. One of my worst experiences honestly. Of course someone was sitting in my seat, and rather than politely asking me if I would switch seats (mine was window, hers was aisle on other side) so she could sit next to her husband, which I probably would have done, they told me that this was their seat and they would not move and refused to show me their ticket until I got the flight attendant and then they started yelling at her. Finally I said I would sit in the aisle seat (next to a British couple) - I did not want to sit next to either one of the couple at that point, and then the kid in front of me running around the aisle, even during takeoff, throwing tantrums, hitting his father... It was a 5am flight and I had hoped to sleep before I had to go straight to work.... Ok, that is my complaint and I soon will make it official... My blood pressure is up again and it's not worth it.

Other than the flight experiences it was a fantastic trip! 😊

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3rd August 2019
Ikalto Monastery

Ikalto Monastery
Gotta love those Georgian monasteries. I've posted some of your pics in TB's "Cathedrals, grand churches, mosques & places of public worship" thread in the Photography Forum. Check 'em out.
6th August 2019
Ikalto Monastery

So may monasteries so little time

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