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Day trips from Tbilisi

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With mutual support, Mag and I had decided upon a couple of forays from the city the next day so it was an early start with no daylight until 9. The first priority was a marshrutka ride out to Mtskheta, another UNESCO destination to scratch off the list, and one noted for its superb and massive cathedral ringed by excellent defensive walls. We checked out another smaller carbon copy church in the village and then found to our dismay that though the door to the museum was open the museum itself was apparently not. There was not a soul around. The evocative Jvari Church standing like a beacon on the summit of a distant hill was the quintessential fairytale destination, and despite the disappointing gloom we shared a taxi fare up to it and contemplated the village and river confluence below. I was bitter about the weather and damned the Iranians for my visa delay debacle one more time. Though the classicly Georgian shaped church in itself was nothing, in sunshine this would have been beauty beyond comparison and a sight to epitomise Georgia, what a shame.

With no bus or train to take us onwards, it was back to Tbilisi just to come back out the same way again, then farther on to the town of Gori. Its majestic wide boulevards and hilltop castle put it a touch above the other towns I had seen but what really put this place on the map was the story of a man. This had been the home town of a certain Joseph Djugashvili who later rose to become better known as Stalin (Man of Steel). Though pretty much now universally condemned elsewhere as the worlds greatest mass murderer, Gori had nevertheless found it hard to let go of the fact that one of its sons had grown to command the largest nation on Earth. His statue still stood in Stalin Square and you walked down Stalin Avenue to visit the very large and plush palace-like Stalin Museum, purpose built as a backdrop to the small preserved shack where he lived with his parents until the age of 15. It still lay as was in situ, the whole town's layout had been carved out around it. It was actually a sub-let, whereby the Djugashvilis had made do with a single spartan room, furnished sparingly with a single bed. Nobody knew for sure but the boy must have slept somewhere on the floor. The young honey of a guide sprinted us round the place while rattling off a heavily inflected set piece monologue, scouring over big Joe's life story in photos. There were lots of personal effects and gifts he had received from around the world. The piece that struck me most was the long grey trenchcoat uniform and peaked cap I had seen him in many times. The compulsory tour was too limited, too restrictive and certainly much too one-sided a presentation, but hey when you're still living in the Soviet good old days what do you expect? Outside we also squeezed through Big Joe's train carriage. He never flew and used it to go everywhere, including the Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam conferences. It was very plainly decked out with ordinary cabins for his head honchos and a double cabin with bath for himself. The simple table and chairs at one end must have held the contemplation of many an atrocity.

In what had now ironically turned out to be quite a nice day we climbed up to get views of the castle with what I thought were unusual but impressive spiral shaped fortifications. It seemed to me that the walls went on for miles but only the castle itself was secure, the walls merely channeled its approach in a circular fashion I hadnt seen before. With the last of the day it shone down on us in a most appropriate rose tinted light. Back to the city and I bought myself a couchette ticket for that nights train back to Batumi, meeting Japanese guy Yoshi in the process. We ate together and in gaining a new travel mate I said goodbye to another. Mag was staying on to see some of the mountains and much as I wanted to it was time I just couldnt afford. Perversely the day I met Mag we spoke only French, the next day only English. We had barely known each other a day but it really was a pity, we were on the same wavelength.

Remarkably Yoshi was planning on going all the way to Gaziantep the same as me and for good measure we met another Jap guy Kai on the platform whilst boarding the train. We all headed off to Batumi in the plush American Express owned train and I ended up getting sidled into a piss up with Yoshi and his cabin mates, 2 Georgian boys (1 ethnic Azeri) and a Turkish guy, replete with Georgian wine, vodka and beer. Too bad.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Georgia

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