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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Georgia - 18 September, 2002

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Tbilisi (Hotel Adjara) N4143.111' E04446.683' 436 meters .
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral . . . .
Gori . . . .
Uplistsikhe . . . .
Gori . . . .
Finish Tkibuli (private home) N4218.113' E04257.998' 342 meters

271 km

Total Leg 3:

2,278 km

Total Leg 2:

2,153 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

7,449 km

 

Weather: Mostly clear, sunny and very hot.  Late afternoon mostly cloudy, with occasional rain and cool.

 

 

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We have an early start this morning - or at least the hotel things so.  They think we are very uncivilised wanting breakfast at 7 AM.  Anyway, we do get breakfast, but this time without a smile.  We have lots to do and see today as we make our way up into the Georgian mountains on the border with Russia.  It is a wonderful drive.  Along the way, we pass a number of churches up on the surrounding hills - a Georgia hallmark.

 

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Our first stop, after about 30 minutes of driving, is at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.  This cathedral is on the site of the oldest church in Georgia, built in the 4th century. The current cathedral was built in the 11th century and until today it is still the largest church and a national treasure.  Many Georgian kings were crowned and buried here.  Legend has it that Christ's robe is buried here, brought back by a Georgian Jew who was at the crucifixion.  Another interesting story is that the architect did such a good job on this church, that the King had his hand cut off so that he could never better it.

 

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We wander into the church, which is really beautiful inside with the shafts of light coming in from the scattered windows competing with the shadows cast by the columns and various chambers.

 

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The exterior has excellent stone work and we wander around the entire exterior.

 

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From the cathedral, we head further west until we get to Gori.  While Gori has a long history, the thing it is best known for is much more recent - the birth place of Iosif Visarionovich Jugashvili, otherwise known as Josef Stalin - the Man of Steel.  He was born here in 1879 and lived here for the first 15 years of his life in one rented room of a two room house and eventually he went on to assume supreme power over the Soviet Union.

 

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We went to visit his house where he was born and lived with his parents.  It is a tiny little thing.  His father had a workshop under the room.  While the whole slum area around the house was leveled, the house was preserved and encased in a Greek temple like structure.

 

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From the house we went to go and check out the railway carriage that Stalin used to travel around the country.  This was quite nifty.

 

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It has a simple, but elegant interior.  We could see where the guards slept, where the food was prepared, and where Stalin took a bath.  He even had his own toilet.

 

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At the back of the car is a conference room, where we sat around and pretended to make Earth-shattering decisions.

 

As we were leaving, the guide was kind enough to offer to show us Stalin's death mask.  It is at the end of the museum and is set up in quite a spooky manner.  It is dark and you walk up onto this circular platform from which you can view, at a distance, the death mask lit up by a single spotlight.

 

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From Gori we head on west even further to Uplistsikhe.  This is an amazing place - being one of the oldest settlements in the Caucasus.  It was founded in the late Bronze Age around 1,000 BC.  The city has been carved into the rock and at its peak it had over 700 caves in the inner city alone.

 

The first place we go and visit is the ancient theater, where they used to put on some form of productions or pagan rituals.  It has an octagonal ceiling in a style that is similar to the Caracalla's Baths in Rome.

 

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Another fascinating place is the big hall known as the Tamaris Darbazi.  It has been carved from the rock with two columns remaining to hold up the ceiling.  The ceiling has been cut so that there are beams that look like wooden ones.  There is a hole to let out smoke and let in light.  It is hard to imagine what this place looked like when the four walls were all standing - it must have been amazing.

 

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We also get to see an underground prison, a pharmacy, a temple dedicated to the sun (which was alter used as a church), an animal sacrifice spot and the ruins of  a goldsmith shop.  We also can see how they have carved steps, water drainage and roads into the rock face.  At the top of the site is a 9th century church.  We exit the site by walking through a long tunnel that has been carved into the rock.  In the old days, the entrance outside the city was below the water level of the river, so enemies could not spot it.

 

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Back at the truck we have a quick bite to eat and then head on.  We have to head back through Gori, where we make a quick stop at a statute to Stalin.  Lonely Planet says that this is the only remaining statute of Stalin in the former Soviet Union - we will discover two more in addition to this one.

 

We carry on and drive for the rest of the afternoon, making one stop at a lay-by where there are dozens of pottery stalls.  Pottery is everywhere and we spend some time looking around, but in the end we buy nothing.

 

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When we reach the Tkibuli Reservoir, we start to look for a bush camp.  We see a possible spot and drive off the main road onto a dirt one.  We drive along for a while and then disaster strikes - we get stuck in the mud while trying to go around a really bad stretch in the road.  This looks bad, as the ground is sloping and it is sloping toward a swampy area - we would not want to get stuck there.  It is just before 7PM, darkness is coming on and rain is threatening.  We work hard to get the truck unstuck and while this is ongoing, a former Soviet Army truck comes by.

 

After a brief chat and some hesitation, they offer to help us.  While we are sure that we can get out on our own, this would make things faster and easier.  It takes a while and it involves filling ditches with rocks and breaking up some huge by sledgehammer that are in the way, but we finally make it back onto the solid bit of the road.  It had started to rain while we were getting out, so we were very soaked and very muddy.  It was messy but we got out in just under two hours.

 

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While we were getting out, there was another local that drove by in his jeep.  He started chatting with us and asked us where we were staying.  We told him that we were going to camp.  He said nonsense - it is starting to rain - and offered us a two room house to stay in that was very near by.  So when we got out of the mud and had back-up to the main road, he lead the way there.

 

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It was a very basic place, but it was dry, and took the place right over.  In the first room we set up our kitchen and the cook group got into action and prepared our dinner.  The rest of us helped out or just hung around in the second room.  While dinner was underway, we had a pleasant surprise.

 

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The guys who owned the truck that got us out of the mud showed up and had brought ten liters of wine with them - and they wanted nothing for it.  It was a very nice gesture and symbolises the Georgian hospitality.  After a dinner of chicken stir fry and rice, we washed up and then emptied out the second room and got all the sleep gear in there.

 

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It was cozy and a few choice words were thrown here and there as we were getting settled in, but we eventually all got a space.  A few others slept in a third room that was attached, but had a separate entrance.  We slept pretty well, except for the noise made by a few people who snored.  Luckily we were at the other end of the room and were able to sleep through most of it.

 

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