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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Georgia - 16 September, 2002

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Bush camp near Gremi, Georgia N4202.195' E04542.302' 706 meters .
Gremi . . . .
Tsinandali winery . . . .
Akhali Shuamta Monastery . . . .
Finish Tbilisi (Hotel Adjara) N4143.111' E04446.683' 436 meters

253 km

Total Leg 3:

1,977 km

Total Leg 2:

2,153 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

7,148 km

 

Weather: Clear, sunny and very hot.

 

 

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Today we are off to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, but we have lots to do before we get there so we have an early start.  First off, we drive back down into the village and drop off the wine container that we had borrowed.  We also stop at the old poster of Stalin that hangs in the village center - it is amazing that it is still in such good condition after so many years (we will be going in search of other Stalin images and there are quite a few left).

 

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Some of the people hanging around this little "square" are classic and they are very happy to have their pictures taken.

 

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The lady in charge of the small kiosk, well, it seems like she has been in mourning for a while.

 

Then we go in search of the home of the family that invited us over.  We have some trouble finding it, going out of town and then back in.  Finally, after asking a number of people directions, we find the lane they live on and walk down to see if they are home.

 

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They are and welcome us in.  Except the mother, who is a school teacher, was just about to leave for school.  She decided, instead of heading off to school, to show us some great Georgian hospitality.  We are welcomed in and shown seats up on the terrace on the second floor.  While we wait, we notice an elderly couple down in the garden below (they must be the great-grandparents).  We communicate with the usual sign language and they welcome us to the house.

 

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The food and drink they start to arrive.  Fresh donuts and jelly watermelon and white wine.  Remember that this is nine in the morning.  The wine is flowing freely as they encourage us to drink.  They also ask if anyone wants Turkish coffee - which soon follows.  We chat and have a good time.  They find out that one member of our group is celebrating her birthday, so they go and cut some fresh flowers and present it to her.  We end up spending a bit over an hour there, soaking up their hospitality.

 

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On the walk back to the truck, they and the old great grandfather accompany us.  We chat through our local guide and they ask us to come again whenever we pass through the village.  We are all hanging out the window as we leave, waving our goodbyes and thanks.

 

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Our second stop for the day is at the bottom of a hill, on which is perched a 16th century church.  It is an impressive sight, but one that we will learn is a common one in Georgia.  We drive on towards our third stop - a local winery  (wine seems to play a big role in Georgian culture).

 

Along the way we see policeman and soldiers deployed everywhere.  They stop us every once in a while to see who we are.  We stand out and there are not many foreign vehicles passing through.  We learn that we are near the border with Russia and Chechnya.  There have been a number of border skirmishes and the Georgians allege that the Russians attacked their side of the border.  Tensions are high - therefore the show of force.

 

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At the Tsinandali winery, which was established in the 19th century, we go in to taste some of the wine.  Along the walk we notice another huge contingent of soldiers and police.  Not sure if the winery is a strategic asset to be defended or just a good place to be posted.  Anyway, we are led to the tasting room - a large room decorated all in wood.  They begin to put the bottles out on the table for us to taste.

 

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The tasting goes pretty well - not bad stuff.  Some of us even take it fairly seriously.  But things go wrong when they start telling us some of the prices.

 

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We can get better wine at home for cheaper prices.  In fact, the wine we had in the Georgian homes was better and much cheaper.

 

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So, we walk away disappointed as we purchased none of the local wine but still feeling merry from all the wine we have drunk so far (and it is not even lunch yet).

 

We head on at exactly noon and head further up into the mountains arriving at the Akhali Shuamta Monastery just before 1 PM.  We get ready to proceed inside.  The rules are strict (and they are laid out clearly on a sign at the entrance) - we dress conservatively and are prepared to not say a word.  This is a nunnery that dates back to the 16th century.  It was closed from 1921 to 1996 due to the Soviets, but since then there have been 16 nuns living here.

 

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We ring the doorbell and a nun arrives to show us around the church.  We cannot go and visit the residential area.  The church is simple and nice.  There are a number of frescoes on the walls, but many have been whitewashed by the Soviets.  We take a look around, spend a quiet moment, light a couple of candles and then head back to the truck.

 

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At the truck, lunch as been prepared for us by Lotta and Rick.  After a quick bite, we head on towards Tbilisi.  It has been decided that we will take the scenic route through the mountains - shorter, but slower going.  Some of us get to sit on the roof seats.  But it is a short drive.  After about 45 minutes we come upon a section of the road that is impassable.  Some of the ditches could swallow a man.  So, we turn around and head back to join the main road to Tbilisi

 

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It takes another five hours of driving to get to the capital city and our hotel.  The hotel is actually quite nice - the lobby is run down and dark, but the rooms are very comfortable.  We are a bit later then planned, so we need to delay our dinner reservation in order to give us time to check-in, change some money and wash-up.

 

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Then off to dinner at one of the local restaurants.  Here we will experience a true Georgian meal.  We sit down at a long table that is already laden with food and dig right in.  We order some drinks and they start to flow.  The wine comes by the pitcher and we need to re-fill them often.  We eat and eat and eat, only to find out that there is more food coming.  In the end, they must have served us five courses in addition to all the food already laid out on the table.  We finish off with a massive cake.

 

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After that, things seem to get out of control.  It is decided that the fruit can only be eaten in one way - by taking a bite and passing it on to the next person without using your hands.  This goes from being a bit messy to being very erotic.  A couple may have even been formed based on this fruit passing trick.

 

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Then people attempt to feed other food by catapulting it from a spoon.  Well, as you can imagine, our aiming was not too good at this point in time.  The waiters must be happy to see us leave just before midnight.  We go out and try to find a night club worth hanging out in, but they seem pretty boring and too expensive so we head back to the hotel.  Just one problem when we get back to our room and get in bed - the floor attendant has her boy friend or whoever over and they start blasting their boom box.  Well, that did not last long - we could not quite understand each other, but pulling the power cord out of the wall made it clear what the problem was.

 

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