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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: 41.7549, 43.5205
Two days rolled into one post here. Thursday 24th woke early in Kazbegi to find a beautiful clear morning and managed to get a couple of shots of the mountain peak framed against blue sky, by 8am the cloud had rolled in shrouding the peaks. We had a lot of travelling to do, back down the military highway, East along the excellent motorway to Gori and beyond and then South again into the southern mountains and ski area at Bakuriani, President Sakashvally 's favourite ski area it seems, though he doesn't stay in a hotel like common mortals, he has commandeered a Tsarist era palace which used to be a tourist attraction as his private ski lodge (that will get me ejected from the country).
Gori was the birthplace of Stalin, son of an alcoholic cobbler it seems. They have a museum in his memory, we Didn't go in, just stopped to see his childhood home and his railway carraige which are in the grounds.
We also visited the Uplistsikhe Cave Town, it lies on one of the branches of the Silk Road and was already a trading centre in rhe 5th century bc, there was a rock-hewn theatre
dating to 2nd century ad, a pharmacy and lots of other stuff, all involving some scrambling over rocks and up and down steps. It was destroyed by the mongols in the 13thcentury and has been rather damaged by erosion and earthquakes since. We also went to the church of Ateni Sioni, famous for its frescoes, only to find it smothered in scaffolding inside and out. Architects were in the process of recording onto a 3D scan, on their computers, the condition of every stone used in the construction, so the scaffolding may be there for some time.
Today, Friday, we drove about two and a half hours to another cave city, this one in a cliff face at Vardzia, only a few miles from the Turkish border. There used to be over 3000 caves but only some 700 are left (erosion and earthquakes again). The most famous cave city in Georgia because it was established by their most revered monarch, Queen Tamar - think Queen Elizabeth 1 - in the 1150' s when she made it the chief monastery of South West Georgia. The name Vardzia means 'here I am, uncle' which is what she shouted when they were looking
for her in the maze of caves.
So a long way, but stunning scenery with strategically placed castles and fortresses on hill tops. We had lunch in a great place by the river, salad, fried potato, cheese pie (traditional), bbq fish, beer all for £4. And very peaceful too until a noisy coach load of israelis turned up. Can't work out why so few English come here, lots of Germans, Dutch and others but everyone very surprised to find I am English.
My guide is a delight, I discovered today she is only 22 (we were doing one of those age guessing games, they said they were surprised I was over 60,ego boost. The driver, though, I have christened Mr Grumpy, even though he speaks no English it is obvious he is grumbling and he is totally inconsiderate as a driver, always the other person's fault for wanting to be in Georgia, let alone on the road.
On the way back up to the ski resort where lies our hotel the heavens opened and the road quickly became a river.
Tomorrow to Kutaisi and then back to Tbilisi, a day there and then back up the military Highway to get
Photos will be added later, dinner calls!
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