Gorgeous Georgia – Day 9

Did someone say last day? I had no idea time could pass so fast and so slowly all at the same time. Thanks to the incredibly long days we’d done so much and had still managed to get back to the hotel before sunset each day, and yet somehow before we knew it we’d already spent more than a week away from home.

We had the morning to ourselves so instead of sleeping in, we decided to make the most of it. We had an early breakfast and checked if we could possibly get our checkout extended since our pickup was at 2pm. Unfortunately the hotel was packed, so we resigned ourselves to a 12pm checkout with a two hour wait in the hotel lobby. We spent the morning after breakfast walking around the hotel, this time avoiding the main street choosing instead to wander around the back alleys of Revaz Tabukashvili, or as I liked to call it- Beverly Hills 9002100.

20180727_082611

Welcome to Beverly Hills

I think life is more interesting in the less “posh” areas of town because everything seems much more lived in. I’m sure we must have walked past the house we had seen from our hotel window- the one that looked like it had a tree growing out of its roof, only to find on closer inspection that it was a tree growing in the courtyard of a house. We walked past decaying doors with shattered glass and colourful paint jobs, past cars with their windows down in the parking lot and graffiti and stickers decorating dull and rusting grey metal enclosures possibly housing meters.

20180731_081122

Going down or coming up?

We got back to the hotel room with enough time to tidy away, eat some snacks, check and recheck cupboards and watch the news. We checked out on time, left our luggage with the concierge, roamed around a bit more, exchanged our currency and then just lounged around in the lobby, people watching.  Our guide came right on time, and we were all set to go to the airport. It was not a very long drive and our guide had laughingly promised us on the way back from Gudauri that he could make it shorter and more exciting if we were in a hurry. We were hoping for a more relaxed ride so we could kill time and our guide obliged by pointing out all the sites we’d missed out on.

We passed the Bridge of Peace, saw the Narikala Fortress from afar and the strange architectural phenomenon known as the Wedding Hall, which from certain angles could be considered an eyesore. We eventually reached the airport and it was at least larger than Batumi. We headed in with our luggage only to find a luggage scanner right at the entrance, and no help. We managed to ask one of the security guards for a hand with one of our bags and thankfully he obliged. I’ve resolved not to take any luggage that I can’t carry myself next time because I can never be sure if there will be any porters available at the airport to lend a hand. We finally found a counter – the very last one- and stood in line, because there didn’t seem to be any separate counters for online check-ins. Some people were turned back because they hadn’t packed their drinks in their luggage, so we watched as the poor chaps tried to figure out how to pack bottles without breaking them. When we reached the counter, there was again no help for weighing the bags so I struggled to put our one bag on the conveyor. Ma decided to lend a hand, even though she shouldn’t have and ended up falling down as she pushed the bag. Thankfully, she didn’t get hurt but I’m really beginning to wonder- what sort of support is available at airports for sick or elderly travellers? Is support only available if arranged with the airline or are there facilities that the airport itself provides? I must look this up.

We finally checked in, resisted the temptation to buy vending machine socks covered in khachapuri and khinkali and instead ended up buying some chocolate before heading up to passport control. They didn’t want to process families together, so I left mum and one counter and waited in line at another counter- I’d picked the smiliest looking person around, and eventually we were both let through.

20180831_090758

Socks!

Our gate number wasn’t printed on our boarding passes and there were no large screens with any airline information, so we spent some time wandering around aimlessly until we found a small TV screen with the gate numbers displayed. Ours was still not up, so we headed into the duty free, where oddly enough, everything was priced and overpriced in Euros. I’ll never for the life of me understand how a duty-FREE store, is more expensive than a store that has to pay duties. We ended up buying a postcard, some dried fruit and gave in and bought some churchkhela to give away at the office.

When our gate was finally announced, we headed downstairs and boarded a bus, where I met a university colleague who I hadn’t seen in more than 5 years and his family. As luck would have it, they’d be seated right behind us on the plane. As we got off the bus, some overenthusiastic psycho decided he had to rush to board the plane, or risk being abandoned, so he pushed and shoved and got off the bus after elbowing the glasses off ma’s face while we waited in a corner. Again, we were lucky that she didn’t get hurt and that the glasses weren’t crushed under anyone else’s feet.

After all that unnecessary drama, we were finally ready to go. We’d tried the night before to order our food and pay online, but all our futile attempts came to nought precisely when we reached the payment screen and so we were at the airline’s mercy when it was time for snacks. I was utterly famished and as luck would have it, there were no nice simple cheese sandwiches so I ended up sharing glucose biscuits again with ma while dreaming of Burger King.

Three hours and a bit later, after a wonderfully smooth landing, we’d finally come home. First stop- Burger King.

Gorgeous Georgia Day 8

Day 8 – Time to hit the streets of Tbilisi. After a long drive on Day 7 and a fabulously filling dinner, we had called it a night and decided to sleep in since we had the whole day to ourselves. After breakfast, we went down to the lobby to see if we could arrange a walking tour for ourselves, but no one ever came to the tour desk and we eventually asked the concierge what would be the best option. Since the hotel is in a pretty prime location, they suggested we just head out ourselves and pointed us in the right direction. And so, off we went, onto Rustaveli avenue.

The weather had thankfully taken a turn for the better, despite the heat, with cloudy skies that were conducive to long walks. Rustaveli avenue is lined with buildings with stunning architecture and I spent most of the day looking around and above, rather than looking ahead. We came across the Opera and Ballet Theatre of Tbilisi, with stone ballerinas pirouetting in fountains in the courtyard, an audience of dogs and old men resting on benches and lounging on the pavement, listless in the heat. I’ve never come across so many stray dogs before, as I had in Georgia, and never ones this big so it was a bit unnerving at times but for the most part they were just happy to sleep under the sun and not bother anyone.

20180726_110110

Opera and Ballet Theatre

As we walked, we came across a series of seemingly endless sculptures of men and women all along the pavements. These, as it turned out, were no ordinary accident- rather the work of a Georgian sculptor Levan Bujiashvili commissioned in 2008. The sculptures were absolutely wonderful- a wide range of humanity captured in stationary figures, from the lady with her umbrella, to the rotund gentleman who’d probably had a pint too many. What better way to showcase one’s art, than to bring it to life on the streets, rather than keeping them in the confines of a cold white gallery.

20180726_110203

Time for a diet

We walked on, past the Rustaveli Theatre, with its box office sign next to a gate of black and gold, before stumbling across the 9th of April Park, behind the Art Museum of Georgia. The dark green canopy covering the sky was too alluring to resist so we spent some time under the shade people watching and admiring statues, before responding to the call of the AC in the form of the museum gift shop. We escaped from the heat and picked up some pretty souvenirs as well. We were hoping to find a restroom too, so we could freshen up but it seemed as though the restrooms would only be accessible if we had purchased entrance tickets, so we moved along, not wanting to spend the day inside a museum when there was so much life outside to discover.

20180726_112708

The Painter- Davit Kakabadze

Past the Kashueti St. George Church, we found the Museum of Fine Art, a bus load of tourists waiting outside for their bus to pick them up. It reminded me of us in Japan. The architecture seemed to be quaint mix of old and new, in the form of bright reflective glass windows and while we were slightly tempted to go in, as the gallery was celebrating 100 years of Georgia, we decided against it and rested outside on a bench looking at Georgian Star Wars posters instead. We later learnt that the Soviet Occupation Museum was near the area, and in hindsight, that would have been my museum of choice had we decided to pick one.

20180726_113015

Museum of Fine Art

A short walk later, we had finally reached Pushkin Park and the famous Liberty Square. Instead of walking back the same way we had come, we headed down to the Underground Retail Zone which doubled as an underground pedestrian crossing leading up to the other side of the road. We weren’t sure what we’d find down here, and were pleasantly surprised to find handmade Georgian cloisonne enamel jewellery being made and sold there. Mum picked up a lovely locket while I picked up a bracelet, after much convincing, I might add and we finally emerged from the underground and in front of – a mall! It was time to head in to the comfort of the air conditioning which presented itself to us in the form of Galleria Tbilisi.

This has to be the first mall I’ve come across that has a theatre inside as well as a cinema. We didn’t end up watching anything, though now that I think of it, I wish we had. We spent some time browsing jewellery stores and then hit the familiar stops – Levis, LC Waikiki, Wrangler, H&M… it would appear that skinny jeans have taken over the world. Not even here in Georgia, could I find one decent bootcut. What has the world come to. As we were looking around in H&M, a couple of ladies approached us in a quiet corner in the most suspect of manners, and after making sure no store clerks were around began asking us where we were from and finally offered us a flyer before hurrying away away from the prying eyes of other customers. It turned out to be a religious flyer urging conversion. First the South Koreans and now the Georgians… we must be some sort of flyer magnet. I’m not one to throw away flyers and especially not one with religious scripture, so we left it on a table instead hoping some interested person would pick it up instead of throwing it away, and headed straight for the food court.

All that walking had left us super starving and we were torn between a familiar lunch at Mado or a Georgian lunch at Sakhachapure No 1. After much debating, we figured that we couldn’t leave Georgia without sampling the famous Khachapuri, so Sakhachapure No 1 it was. Since eggs aren’t our best friends, we opted for the Megruli Khachapuri which has cheese both inside and outside. Being unsure of the portion sizes, we only ordered one and it turned out to be a really good decision. We’re not big eaters- actually some would go so far as to say we’re not eaters at all, so when we were presented our lunch- the size of a medium pizza- we were already making takeaway plans before our first bite. The khachapuri was not bad, but it was not all that either which meant on a hungry tummy, it was kind of a letdown. It was a rather oversized cheese fatayer meets cheese pizza- with no salt. Between the two of us we struggled to finish half of it and finally just got it packed to go.

Before we left mum treated herself to some Pandora goodies and we spent forever and a day trying to pick out a colour for a T-shirt for dad. With that tiny shopping haul, it was time to hit the streets again. As we left the mall, we came across a couple of people holding up some signs in some sort of protest, but since everything was in Georgian we had no idea what it was all about and moved along. We came across a pop up second hand bookshop and being the bookworms we are so wished there was something we could buy, but everything was either in Georgian or in Russian sniff so we contented ourselves by looking at interesting book and magazine covers as we walked along past the Garden of the First Republic of Georgia.

20180726_143617

Books, books and more books!

Just next door was a lovely building in white, with the most interesting plaque on it. This, apparently, was the site where Georgian Independence had been restored back in 1918. Further research showed that the building, now the Youth Palace of Georgia, was erected by the Russians and is also known as Vorontsov’s Palace. After seeing the splendour at Tskaltubo, I can only imagine how gorgeous the interior of this building must have been back in the day.

20180726_143806

Vorontsov’s Palace

We took a quick break in front of the fountains of the Parliament and debated whether it would be okay to take a picture there or not. We’re always careful about taking pictures of government buildings, particularly ones that are in use, as rules differ widely from country to country. There wasn’t anyone around to ask, except the one security guard at the entrance to the parliament and with the language barrier, we decided better safe than sorry even though the building was so beautiful it was begging for its picture to be taken.

Past all the museums and the parliament house and life went back from serious and sombre to light and lively, with coffee shops and random halal restaurants, funky statues popping out of the walls, souvenir stores packed with so many things inventory must be either a nightmare or non-existent, and clothing stores with fashion so outrageous you’re tempted to try at least once.

20180726_145337

Well hello Man In The Wall!

We had fun popping in and out of stores on the way back to the hotel… and then realized we hadn’t noticed a single pedestrian crossing that would take us back to where we started. We figured there would probably be another underpass somewhere nearby and walked on ahead. We discovered a Zara which had almost exactly the same things as back home and another souvenir store where they were making handmade enamel jewellery right in front of us. No pedestrian crossing yet. We left, passed a lady yelling at some elderly gentleman, past a child offering to read futures on tarot cards, and found ourselves in front of an outdoor market in front of the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, where people were painting portraits and selling all sorts of things. At last we found our subway and made it across the street, only to realize we need to find yet another one to take us to the hotel.

20180726_152706

Georgian National Academy of Sciences

We went into a sinister hole in the wall, the farthest thing from an obvious entrance to the underground, and found ourselves in a narrow underground alley lined with mostly empty shops. A shop or two seemed to be running, but there was no sign of any person around, so we hurried our way across and out of the spooky claustrophobic tunnel, past graffiti on the walls and emerged at last on the right side of the road.

20180726_153335

The only colour on dreary grey walls

After 5 hours of walking, we were finally back, ready to rest, relax and pack for the flight home. After much unpacking and repacking, it was time for our standard vegetable pasta dinner, and we decided to mix it up and order a Greek salad as well- the khachapuri had long since disappeared and our takeaway hadn’t fared too well in the heat back to the hotel. It was a fun and filling dinner as we discovered the magic of pickled capers and we were finally ready to call it a night.

 

 

Gorgeous Georgia Day 7

In all the rushed planning for this trip, which seemed like it was never going to happen, the only thing I really wanted to make sure of was that we came back filled with different shades of greens and blues, that we could trace in our memories the shapes of majestic mountains, lazy rivers and ever watchful clouds, that we brought back with us the sounds of the forests and the smell of the fresh air. And all this I had planned for Day 7. We were supposed to head out nice and early for our day trip to Jinvali, Ananuri, Gudauri and Kazbegi.

We woke up to our room with a view, and by view I mean much more that the view of the city outside. It turns out that Radisson Blu Iveria in Tbilisi has a strange concept of privacy – the entire shower and bath area being completely exposed to anyone else who may be in the room. That’s right. No blinds, not even some nice decorative glass tint that could afford you the slightest semblance of privacy. Unless you’re a couple, the bathroom arrangements are quite problematic but we managed to sort ourselves out by taking turns while the other person lounged in bed grateful for the few extra minutes wrapped in comfy blankets.

Breakfast was lovely and we filled up on an assortment of bread, fruits and of course Georgian tea. We packed up some snacks for the day and were all set to go. While waiting for our guide, we had just enough time to pop by the supermarket next door, except that we entered through the back, and then decided against it and didn’t actually go in. By then our guide had arrived and we piled in our Prius and set off.

Since it was going to be a long day we decided we’d try not to encourage our guide to  talk tooooo much since we wanted to spend most of our time looking out at the beautiful mountainous terrain. Whatever we did, or didn’t do, it seemed to work and our guide was less talkative than he had been on our drive down to Tbilisi. Or perhaps he’d just run out of things to say. Highly likely. Since we’d covered Mtskheta on Day 6, we made it to the Jinvali Reservoir in about an hour and what a sight it was.

20180725_102435

Jinvali Reservoir

The turquoise blue water (yes I know the picture doesn’t quite do the colours justice) lay still under a cloudless sky and we found a place to stop to take in the view. It was a rather interesting place to stop, not just because the view was so lovely you felt like you could pitch a tent and camp out right there on the highway, but because of the horses that were there ready for the perfect picture opp, and because of the traditional felt clothes that all the tourists were trying out for a more comical photo. The sun was relentless so we passed on the thick felt costumes and just stood for a while admiring the view. How strange that something so calm can be so destructive given the right conditions, or the wrong conditions rather if you want to look at it like that. Much like people I suppose.

20180725_102648

Camera shy

There wasn’t much place to park and with more people coming, we decided to make room and head onwards towards the Ananuri Fortress. The fortress was pretty packed with tourists particularly at the entrance where there were lots of souvenir stalls set up and a number of stalls selling freshly pomegranate and orange juice… and of course churchkhela. We made it in to the fortress complex where we saw a church and more interestingly, an underground escape route. I wonder, what must life have been like back then. How many people had lived and died in those walls. Back then, when there had been no reservoir, what must the view have looked like… If only the walls could speak how much more they’d have to tell us than a historian’s attempt at recreating the past.

20180725_104617

Looking up

Perhaps the most fascinating part for me, were the inscriptions on the stone walls. How different life was back then- things were built to last forever and built in harmony with nature, whereas these days everything seems to be designed to be used and disposed of and environmental impact is less than afterthought. Will we have anything left to show the future generations I wonder.

20180820_135251

Windows Wallpaper

After our stop at Ananuri we headed on towards Gudauri, where we were hoping to buy some fresh mountain honey. Our guide told us that most people had begun setting up artificial honeycombs to increase the honey yield so they could sell more to tourists. This, in his opinion, was not real mountain honey and he knew someone who could provide us “the real deal”. The lady in question turned out to be the same person his mum buys from and his mum, in his words, is a veritable bear who downs honey by the bottle so she would know where to get the best honey from. Well… we couldn’t argue with that. Mum does know best. The winding roads went past gushing rivers, picnicking couples and river rafters and we finally left the bumpy roads that were under maintenance as we moved further up the mountainous terrain. The lanes were narrow, as most mountain roads are, and the heavy traffic in the form of trailers was rather unnerving for the uninitiated- us. The trailers, as it turned out, represented a significant portion of the trade between Georgia and neighbouring Russia and this mountainous path was a major trade route. We couldn’t imagine ever making the journey through the mountains in winter but our guide assured us it was not as treacherous as we were imagining- the routes were kept clear through regular salting and it was the damage from all that salting that’s regularly repaired in the summers.

We finally reached our destination, a small little house right on the side of the road with a table set up outside with jars of different coloured honey. We walked in to the yard and waited as our guide went to find his “source”. She came out with her little kids in tow, and began opening up a number of bottles for us to taste. There were so many varieties, we were spoilt for choice and after a fun time, quite reminiscent of sensory testing back  in the days when I used to work in a chocolate factory, we eventually ended up buying three small bottles, each with its own unique taste – one sweet, one sour and one creamy. With our little haul, we got back in the car and finally realized that we’d left the hot sticky weather behind us and that we could at long last roll down the windows and enjoy the cool fresh air.

20180820_135335

View from above

We continued our journey up the mountain and as I later told my mum, everything we saw was worthy of a picture, it was like living in a postcard, but no picture would be able to truly capture the beauty of the place, so I gave up for the most part and just let the beauty sink in. We had about an hour more to go before reaching Kazbegi, but we weren’t very interested in going all the way up to see the church- the jeep ride up had served to dissuade us sufficiently, so instead of going all the way to Kazbegi and rushing back down, we decided to skip the place altogether and instead take time to stop at different places on our way back down so we could experience everything without all the rush.

20180820_135458

Stopping to stretch our legs

It was around midday when we started making our way back down, past honey sellers their colourful bottles piled high on blue plastic tables, past the Taj Mahal (a restaurant with potentially suspect hygiene practices we were told), past sour plum trees that spoke of traditional Georgian sauces and the age old traces of rivers carved in the face of the mountains, a reminder of Georgia’s fresh water fortunes. As we spiraled down, we met those familiar trailers making their way up cautiously, frustrate drivers honking furiously at the herds of cows who’d decided to simultaneously sunbathe and take a toilet break on the highway and the rivers that had accompanied us all the way.

20180725_130303

That’s quite the tan you’ve get there

Now we couldn’t just pass those lovely brooks that were bubbling and beckoning us at every turn and so we stopped, made our way down to the riverbank and dipped our hands in the cold flowing water while the burning sun beat down on us. I didn’t want to leave the place and would have been more than happy to stay the night there, listening to the sounds of the river and the leaves as they rustled in the light wind. I think I’d love to live next to a river, just as long it doesn’t have any mood swings.

20180725_132853

Rivers by the road

By the time we left the river, it was half past one and we were famished. We had around 2 hours to go before reaching Tbilisi and we began to ponder our lunch options. Our guide insisted we try a good Georgian lunch, none of that touristy crap. He suggested we head down to the posh part of Tbilisi, home to some of their most famous minds, away from the tourist crowds. It sounded like a plan and the rest of the way was spent discussing Georgian cuisine, from khachapuris to the delicious even to the imagination eggplants with walnut paste. As we got closer to the city though, our options began to diversify and it had boiled down to Georgian vs Turkish vs Lebanese. After much lobbying and back and forth we settled on Georgian… only to change to Lebanese right at the last second because the Georgian place was more of a bar and without our guide we’d have trouble figuring out what to order. Luckily, the Lebanese place was right down the street, so we got off, bid our guide farewell and went in for a much delayed lunch.

20180725_161259

Best baklava everrrrrrrrr

Like the famous Urdu proverb, der aye durust aye, our lunch was oh so finger licking good. We gobbled down our shish taouk, fattoush and hummus and finished off with tea and baklava. A word about the baklava… while the food had been great… the baklava was absolutely divine. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so if I ordered seconds for takeaway you have to believe me when I say it was good. The waitress was nice enough to book us a taxi back to our hotel and feeling full and full of happy memories, we got into our Mercedes taxi heavily weighed down on one side by the driver, radio on and windows down… just how I like it… not the tilted part of course. We reached the hotel in about ten minutes and were all set for a night in, watching news of the election results rolling in and having our packed lunch for dinner… baklava et al.

Gorgeous Georgia Day 6

It was finally time to say goodbye to Tskaltubo. We had till lunch to relax and enjoy the woods, until someone came to pick us up. We decided to sleep in and have a tea-filled breakfast- there is really no black tea quite like Georgia’s Gurieli which leaves you craving more of that subtle goodness.

After breakfast we stepped out into the woods to relax in the hammocks and take in more of the fresh air. We would be heading to Tbilisi next and were reasonably certain we wouldn’t find any of this natural beauty anywhere near our hotel. I think hammocks are designed to make you fall asleep, even if you’ve just woken up, and swinging ever so slightly in that striped red hammock, I just wished we had some more time to do absolutely nothing amidst such beauty and such silence. After a while we figured it would probably be best to settle our hotel bill early and ask reception how they’d reach us when our driver got here. We had a name and a number but no clue what he looked like.

We had a list of all the room service we’d ordered and had put on the tab, but the hotel was either too lax or simply too understaffed and overcrowded to tally up our bill correctly. They were about to undercharge us and I stepped in and gave them a complete breakdown of what we’d had so they could recalculate. We paid our bill, had some dollars changed to lari and went back up to our room for some last minute packing checks.

We were wondering how we’d be able to recognize our driver and if he had our contact details, when I stumbled upon the great idea of adding the number to my Whatsapp contacts to see if he had a profile picture that would help us. It did! My mum was able to spot him right away when we went back down to the hotel lobby and we were finally all set to go. Unlike Batumi, our driver was also our guide this time and much like our previous guide, he too had some surprises up his sleeve.

The drive from Tskaltubo to Tbilisi would take 4 hours or so, so we made ourselves comfortable in the Prius and settled in for the long ride. Except, we had a  pitstop in Kutaisi after less than 20 minutes for a cigarette break (not us!) and because he had to pick up his luggage from his uncle’s place where he’d spent the night. He invited us in for some coffee which we politely declined because unlike the most die-hard coffee lovers, I don’t think coffee is an afternoon drink, quite unlike tea. Tea is forever. (You can see where my loyalties lie). In any case, after our first surprise stop, we finally got back on the road accompanied by a lot of random conversation. Our guide was super talkative so we struggled to get any sort of shuteye and after a while concluded that we couldn’t compete with the non-stop stories about him, his life, his friends and his business aspirations. After only a couple of hours we pretty much very well-versed in all things him and caught a break when we stopped at a rest house, overlooking Gori’s giant wind turbines in the distance. If I had known Gori had been so close, I would have tried to convince our guide to take a detour, but it had been hard to get in a word edgewise even earlier at Shrosha so I’m not sure my attempts would have succeeded. We got off to stretch our legs, took a restroom and one-sided conversation break and loaded up on some snacks for the ride. We were finally able to exhaust our balance on our pre-paid tourist card, so we were pretty pleased with ourselves.

As we drove on our guide told us that we’d be passing through Mtskheta so it would be possible to shift some things from our schedule planned for Day 7 to today. It seemed like a good idea and so with the change of plan agreed upon, we got off next at the the second largest cathedral in Georgia- the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. The day had become searing hot, so we were glad for some relief in the form of mist sprays in the souvenir area leading upto the cathedral. Our guide assured us that here in the market we could find some of the best lemonade, but empty stomachs and lemonade do not make for good company so we had to pass on both the lemonade and on the surprising sign of chai karak and opted instead for a cold bottle of water.

20180724_154705

Did someone say Chai Karak?

The architecture of the cathedral was a familiar sight, as most churches and cathedrals of the time had been built on a similar model. We went inside for a look and found ourselves surrounded by paintings and frescoes on the wall, some faded, others more recent standing out in colour against the grey stone walls. There were also a number of graves within the cathedral itself, a number of which belong previous rulers of Georgia. I find it a bit unnerving to have to walk on gravestones, so after a quick look around, we headed back outside, this time to get a glimpse of Georgia’s ancient wine-making tradition. Just outside the cathedral in a smaller building you can find the well-preserved remains of giant clay pots which were once used to store wine.

20180724_155951

Familiar stone architecture

The weather by now had become more than unbearably hot, no thanks to the heat wave that was currently affecting the whole of Europe. We made a run for it, letting sleeping dogs lie (literally) but even the heat can’t stop us from shopping for souvenirs, so after we picked up a beautiful hand-made painting, we headed for some much-needed AC love in the car. It’s amazing how quickly the weather can change. We went from bright blue, cloud-free skies to a lovely grey cloud cover in less than 20 minutes which is the time is took for us to reach the next site- the Jvari Monastery snuggled up high on a peak. The ride up was interesting to say the least, with two way roads and speeding cars and no roadside barriers to ensure no one takes a tumble down. We reached safely enough and were grateful for the cool breeze and clouds that had saved us a sunburn.

20180724_165153

Jvari Monastery

According to our guide, it was really the view from here that was worth the stop. The path up is an initially slippery, gravelly slope so mum decided she’d stop halfway up and get some rest while I made my way up to determine whether it was really worth the climb. It was indeed. It’s a very short walk up and past the initial gravelly bit are stairs which is great. The view from the top was really something else. Not only can you see the city spread out before you, but also can witness the confluence of two rivers- the Aragvi (on our right) and the Mtkvari. The Mtkvari, as we learnt, originates in Turkey where it’s known as the Kura river, passes through Georgia, traverses the entire country of Azerbaijan where it eventually connects to the Caspian Sea having covered a massive distance over 1500 kilometers.

20180724_164952

Where Aragvi met Mtkvari

The view was breathtaking and a refreshing change from the cities we’re so used to. I ran back down to help mum up, only to find she’d come up most of the way already. We headed up together and spent the time breathing in the fresh mountain air and admiring the river that seemed to go on forever through the mountains. It was eventually time to head back down and to our final destination – the Radisson Blu Iveria in Tbilisi in the heart of the city. We declined an upgrade and went straight up to our room to get some much-needed rest. As we entered we realized that glass facades are only really useful when you have views as beautiful as this. From our hotel room we could see the mighty Mtkvari lined with green making its way through the crowded city.

20180724_174118

Hello again!

We were famished, having skipped lunch, and since the menu was the same as Batumi we decided to try our luck and request a vegetable pasta. There seemed to be some confusion between what constitutes a vegetable pasta and a vegetarian pasta but we eventually came to a consensus and had a pasta filled with veggies sent up to our room. I have to say, it was no match for the pasta the chef had whipped us up in Batumi, but it was definitely filling so we loaded up and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and admiring the night view of the city from our vantage point, the St. Trinity Cathedral a golden speck in a grayed out town, but still no match for the brilliantly bright moon.

20180724_205102

Night View

Since we’d already covered some of the Day 7 sights today, we were hoping for a less exhausting day up ahead and with that thought we finally hit the sack.

Gorgeous Georgia Day 5

Day 5 also known as the day of doing absolutely nothing for the simple reason that we could. A day to sleep in, eat at odd hours and to do things whenever we felt like, if at all we felt like. I sure could use more of these days- they’d be more than welcome squeezed right into the middle of my work week.

We woke up nice and late, although our definition of late is the subject of much debate and went off to enjoy our breakfast- an assortment of bread, fresh vegetables and some wonderful Georgian tea that made you reach for seconds. Breakfast at the Tskaltubo Spa Resort is not a personal affair- seats are arranged around huge round tables meant for sharing, which means you’re offered the rare opportunity to be able to observe people’s dining habits up close. There’s nothing quite as fascinating as watching how people behave and we were treated to some interesting scenes of subterfuge- maybe nothing quite that dramatic but deception nonetheless. We were sharing a table with a couple, the wife looking rather miserably bored and the husband too busy eating to notice. As we sat and sipped our tea, we watched as the husband got up for seconds, perhaps thirds, returned back to his seat with a plate full of baked potatoes piled high and a number of fresh whole vegetables. For a moment I wondered how anyone could actually eat that many potatoes but when his backpack came up onto the table, that’s when I understood- the buffet breakfast was in the process of being magically transformed into a buffet lunch and dinner which would appear in their room out of their enchanted bag. And all this despite the blatantly obvious sign on the dining hall door saying no food allowed out. So much for signs. sigh

20180802_084619

Roses

After all the drama, we figured it would be best to walk off the bad taste in the beautiful woods. The roses that we could see from the balcony in our room were even lovelier up close, the result of beautiful grafts. The incessant conversation of crickets chirping accompanied us as we strolled under the pines and past a rainbow of flowers in all sorts of unexpected places. The most beautiful flower we chanced upon would have to be  Queen Anne’s lace – a flower I’ve never seen before. It was like looking at a snowflake in the middle of summer.

20180723_101937

Secrets in stone

The grounds were absolutely lush green and I can understand why this had once been a resort for the Russian Ministry of Defense back in the forties. We walked on, picking paths arbitrarily, willing to go wherever they would lead and decided to take a break once we reached a fountain. We sat there in silence and wondered what sorts of scenes this place had once seen. What whispered conversations had been overheard by the old pines, whose footsteps had walked these same pavements alongside Stalin and what secrets were kept by the silent stones.

20180723_101147

Looking back

The sun played hide and seek with the clouds, and we went on ahead discovering new paths as we walked. We neared what now seemed to be housing for the staff and watched a lone gardener tend patiently to the lawns, the morning silence broken only by the sound of gardening tools and leaf blowers.

20180723_104612

We’re being watched

We were tempted to stay out longer, but we were getting tired and not all walking paths were open to the public, probably for fear that we’d get lost somewhere in the 16 hectares that make up the woods, so we decided we’d get some rest in the colourful hammocks that had been strung up between the trees close to the entrance. We lay down, swinging gently under the cloudy sky and I realized how little time we spend looking up at the vast expanse of a sky that’s been drawn over us. We’re always too busy with life that moves too fast, in buildings that are too high and set too close and the sky is a sliver between the silver of skyscrapers and a stamp of faded blue outside our windows.

It was so relaxing, just watching the clouds move at their own pace overhead and eventually we too decided to drift away back into the hotel room. Lunch today would be at the hotel and we were hoping to find something filling. We walked into the crowded hall, looked around to find some staff to whom we could give our room number, but there was no one there. I navigated the crowd until I found someone who was busy refiling the trays, but they didn’t speak English so we were back to square one. She called someone to help us and eventually we got them to take down our room number so they could add the lunch to our bill. Lunch was nothing fancy and I settled on the beetroot salad and french fries to keep me going till dinner.

We spent the rest of the afternoon putting our bags together since we were planning on going to Tbilisi on Day 6. There wasn’t much to pack and since our mud-stained trousers from Day 4 were finally dry we were good to go. We had exhausted our stash of pistachios, but still had plenty of snacks for the long ride and really… thank God for KitKat- keeping us company on our travels since Korea.

20180723_191535

In need of some love

We set out again in the evening to take in as much fresh air as we could and to empty our minds as much as possible. We came across so many buildings that were decaying from disuse and despite the evident signs of renovation in the form of fire alarms, CCTV cameras and piles of wood and refuse, there is still much work to be done. If the chest high sink and waist high light switches for the toilet are anything to go by, I’d say the current renovation would need renovation. If only the place could be handed over to a chain perhaps more experienced in retrofits, they might be able to restore the resort to its former glory. What a magnificent sight that would be. Until then, we must be grateful to our imaginations which fill in the blanks quite nicely.

20180723_192019.jpg

Hidden sheds

We wrapped up the day with a vegetable sandwich, yet again, and hit the sack. Day 6 would see us with a new guide taking us to Tbilisi.