Tuesday, January 24, 2023

December Expenses and next update

 Holidays

 With the holiday season behind us, we have officially spent our second Christmas/New Years in another country; the first of course was in Slovenia in 2016.  Although it is exciting and interesting to spend time in another culture for the most important times of year you also can't help but feel a bit lonely being far away from friends and family and all that you are familiar with.  It's hard to jump onto facebook and see the pictures everyone is posting of the times spent together  Just like everything in life, there are sacrifices to be made for the choices that you make and as hard as it is, I think we're both still happy with our choice.  

Christmas lights in Tbilisi, Liberty Square

 December was a bit of a whirlwind with many events happening in the city and our attempts to keep ourselves busy.  We both felt great and the weather was mostly co-operating with what we were hoping for in a winter abroad.  We had only seen snow once at this point (although that has changed now) and minus temperatures were a thing for some overnights only.  All in all...a win in our books.  

Christmas lights along Rustaveli Avenue
 

Celebrations

In case you don't know, Georgia is orthodox Christian which means that they do not celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December.  Christmas is 7th of January with the Orthodox New Years on 14th of January.  Oddly enough though, December 31st is the day where people celebrate New Years and is an absolutely massive holiday; more on that later.  So, our 25th of December was definitely a bit strange; shops were open, people were out and about and the Christmas market had only opened on the 22nd of December so it didn't feel very Christmas-y.  We did manage to celebrate on that day though with a party that we had been invited to by an Iranian student studying in Georgia that we had met.  It was a great night filled with a lot of laughter and, as with every party with Iranians we've since learned, way too much dancing.  Our Mennonite fathers would have been very disappointed in us. 

Winter snow in Tbilisi.  I'm sure it will all be gone within a week. 

New Years

Christmas lights in the downtown Christmas market

New years in Tbilisi is THE event of the year and we were told that the fireworks are unrivaled anywhere else in the world.  It's a bold claim as we've been in Beijing for Chinese New Years and that kept us awake for almost the entire night so we was excited to see Tbilisi could do.  As we got ready to head out for New years we were dreading the crowds of people.  However, upon leaving our apartment we were greeted with.....quiet....aside from the fireworks that would go off all day of course.  Barely any people on the streets..."well, maybe it will be busier in the metro".  Nope....dead quiet there too.  What is going on?  Well, it turns out that New Years is a family holiday and plays the part of Christmas as well.  Families will have their big holiday meal on New Years, spend their entire day together and then after midnight the younger ones will go out to party.  Even Christmas presents are opened on New Years instead of Christmas.  Georgia's communist history meant that religious holidays were not allowed, so they celebrated on the secular ones instead and this has now become the norm.  Although there are still celebrations on orthodox Christmas and New Years, they aren't nearly as popular as December 31st.  

Dolma.  Grape leaves wrapped around a mixture of meat and rice.  Usually topped with a yogurt sauce

We started the night with a visit to restaurant Kneina where we were treated to a delicious feast of Georgian specialties of which I only remember a few dishes and was too busy devouring everything in site to bother with photos.  I will not hesitate to return as it was extremely delicious and the owners were great hosts.  In fact, one owner was so disturbed by my lack of an alcoholic drink order that he insisted I have a drink of his home-brewed chacha, which is the Georgian home brewed alcohol.  I was informed that not ordering an alcoholic drink, especially on an important holiday, is extremely strange. I was happy to discover though, that he hadn't been lying, and his chacha was ACTUALLY good and didn't just taste like fire, like every other time I had drank it.  So, hats off to Kneina on being able to trick me into one more attempt at liking the stuff.  I guess I'm a slow learner.  


The moment of disaster!

We spent the rest of the evening in our friend's bar "The Tipsy Bee" chatting with friends and playing games.  Shortly before midnight we made the trek 5 minutes up to Betlemi rise, which is a little park on the hill below the Mother of Georgia statue.  It overlooks the city and gives a great viewpoint for the fireworks.  They had already started as Georgians really really love their fireworks but the closer it got to midnight, the more it appeared as if the entire city was setting off fireworks all at once.  It definitely was in contention with Beijing for just as impressive and is one of my favorite memories so far of our time here.  The sound was deafening and the sight was something to behold.  

Bedoba

January 2nd is known as Bedoba, another holiday in the Georgian calendar.  Bedoba literally translates to 'luck' and has become somewhat of a superstitious way for Georgians to gamble on what their next year will look like.  On Bedoba, they will attempt to spread positive cheer or do the things that they want to do more of in the coming year.  If you want to relax, you will relax on Bedoba, if you want to party more you will go out and party, if you want to spread positivity....you get the idea.  It's a day to shape your entire next year.  We definitely took a more relaxed view of Bedoba and spent the day inside and wandering our neighborhood; hopefully a view into what our next year looks like.  

Our crispy Chebureki.  A pastry filled with meat and spices.  DELICIOUS!

 

Orthodox Christmas and New Years

We got to do all of the celebrations over again in just a week so by the time they rolled around we were rested and ready.  In case you don't know, the reason that Orthodox Christmas and New Years are on different dates is because they still celebrate these days according to the Julian calendar.  Non-orthodox Christian countries currently use the Gregorian calendar which caused the shift to celebrations on December 25th and December 31st. 

Even though the celebrations are much quieter on these two days, there are still some celebrations happening throughout the country.  January 7th in Tbilisi is the alilo parade which has Georgians walking through the city to the Sameba Cathedral chanting and singing while dressed in robes and carrying Georgian flags.  They collect donations along the way to the cathedral to later distribute to people in need.  

Orthodox New Years we honestly had even forgotten about.  January 14th came and we were safely at home lounging in our living room when the normal fireworks started to get a little louder then 'normal'.  As it got closer to midnight it really started to kick off with fireworks exploding literally outside our window.  After midnight it started to die off much quicker and within a half-hour it was back to the normal amount of fireworks for a Tbilisi evening.  

Update: 

At this point we had scheduled our trip to Armenia and have just returned.  I will be writing our Armenia update shortly and have way too many photos of our time there.  

Till the next time!

December Expenses

Here's our breakdown for the month of December.  Our expenditures went up a bit but mostly related to Raeleen's unexpected hospital stay.  

Housing - 1580.40gel

Food - 1570.55gel

Personal (Medical, hair, etc) - 1658.60gel

Transportation - 96.20gel

Entertainment - 50gel

Total - 4955.75gel - $2476.39 Canadian dollar.  

Now, as you can see it was a pretty slow month with Raeleen's hospital stay and her getting better.  We made up for it a lot by going out for food and drinks with friends which is why our food expenditures are so high.   Raeleen's costs in the hospital were about $780CAD or 1500gel, so if you remove that one time charge we would have done the whole month for about $1750CAD. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Things about Georgia...

Observations on Georgia - Work in Progress



So, I've been thinking about writing this one for a while but I don't think it's one that I'll be able to just write in one go and so it has sort of sat on the sidelines.  With my lack of activity on this blog though, I think it's time to put it into action.  

I wanted to write a post about the things I've noticed about Georgian culture and things in the day to day that are different; not good or bad, just different.  I may write about them in a negative sense because they bother me but it's not that it's wrong, it's just not what I'm used to.  These are in no particular order.  

- Every road is an F1 race.  We had read that Georgian roads are some of the most dangerous in the world.  We have seen that this is very true, and it's not because of the conditions of the road....well, it's not JUST because of the conditions of the road.  Georgians speed EVERYWHERE!  

- Be prepared to never be listened to when offering directional advice.  It doesn't matter if you're asked to look up directions on google maps...they won't listen to it/you anyways.  

- Have you ever wondered what a car with no bumpers looks like?  Well, come on down to Georgia and see for yourself.  Maybe as a sign of how often there are traffic accidents, seeing cars driving around without any bumpers at all is something you get used to pretty quickly. 

- When ordering at a restaurant, food will come out when it is ready, not all together.  So be ready to eat parts of your meal all at different times.  This also means that at big meals, you should not fill up on a dish you like; there is always more and better dishes coming. 

- As a part 2 to the previous one, when you believe the table is full and there can't possibly be more dishes coming....there are...and they're the best ones.  Except for ajapsandali (an eggplant stew)...it's always been the highlight every time we've had it.  

- When we moved to Slovenia people always asked us how the food was and we always said "meh".  It wasn't bad...it just wasn't memorable aside from 1 or 2 things.  This is not the case with Georgian food because it is FANTASTIC!

- Georgians are very proud of their water.  If you ask if you can drink the tap water, they will say yes of course.  Rae and I most definitely had a different experience and so many of the people visiting that we spoke to also had mystery stomach bugs when they first arrived.  I think this is location specific but if your place is a new build in a good part of the city you're probably fine but bottled water is super cheap so if you're here for a short time it might not be worth it to risk it. 

- Cashiers will mostly refuse to take money from your hand.  You must place it in the money dish on the counter, they will pick it up and then put your change in the same dish after.  We've heard this is not related to covid but because of superstitions around handling small coins. 

- There is a real love for firecrackers and fireworks here.  You WILL hear them every single day, it doesn't matter what time of year it is.  We've also been told to not try and sleep early on new years because it won't happen.  The city becomes a war-zone with all the firecrackers going off.  

- A horn honk can not go unanswered.  It must be answered by a longer, more aggressive honk.  

- Do not wait at lights when driving....for any reason whatsoever.  Every single other car on the road will begin honking at you the second the light turns green and if you delay...cars will come from miles around just to honk /s.  

- Georgians are not an early morning people.  Restaurants open for breakfast later, work starts later, rush hour starts later, etc etc.  It takes a bit to get used to but I honestly love it.  

- A bit of a follow up to the last one; because they aren't early morning people it would make sense to think that they are late night people and this is very correct.  Go to any restaurant late day and it will be packed.  Go to Mcdonalds at 10pm for a snack on your way home and it will be full of families with toddlers.  

- Have you ever gone to a pharmacy and wanted to buy just one pill, bandaid, whatever.  Well, in Georgia, you can!  It always shocks me when you go in for something and they ask how many you want.  Want just one bandaid?  They'll pull it out of the box and give it to you.  Want just one pill?  They have the scissors handy to cut out one.  Although to be fair it has definitely come out handy for us and I have started to really appreciate this.  

- Walking anywhere is a minefield...with all the street dogs, there is a lot of dog crap all over the city.  As i'm gawking at everything around us, Rae is constantly reminding me to watch out where i'm walking.  It's a real issue of making sure you don't step in a nice surprise.  

 - Districts.  So, you've just arrived to the city and your glasses break...shoot, well now what?  How about you go to the eyeglasses district!!!  We're not sure if it's purposefully set up this way but it seems like when you find one store selling a certain type of item, there will be another 50 stores on that street selling the same thing.  We've started calling it districts after the Simpsons when Homer goes to the "Hammock District".  You find one glasses store, there will be another 50 within 3 blocks.  You want your car oil changed?  Well, just go to the car oil change district.  Lighting for your home?  Go to the home lighting district!  It makes it quite easy to find an item and then compare prices.  

- Which brings me to pricing...doing due diligence is a must.  Never buy on the first sighting.  So many times we bought things when we first arrived only to find the exact same item very close for half price.  It pays to shop around.  

- Have you found an item that you like in the grocery stores?  Normally, you're like 'oh great, I'll grab the same thing next week.'  That kind of attitude will leave you unhappy since here if you find something you like you'll never know if it will even be there next week so STOCK UP!  Who cares what it looks like when you walk out with 8 bags of your coffee grounds...you can't take those chances. 

I will post more and edit this as I notice them through our time here. 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Good weather?

A long time coming

So, it's been way too long since I last updated this post and for that i'm sorry but honestly, this is my blog so just back off ok!  

the view from a hike above the city

 Our October was pretty full of stuff to see and do around our temporary home and we got to see a lot of the central and eastern part of this country.  It is NOT like Slovenia though where you can drive across the country in 2 hours and I think that people believe that it's small only because its beside monstrous countries like Russia and Turkey.  I can tell you though, that this country is deceptively large.  We have started to look at some locations in the western half of the country and realize that the drives to some of these locations will definitely necessitate overnight stays at the very least.  I guess this is one of those things that we just didn't really think about beforehand as we assumed that travel would be much quicker than it is, especially with Georgian drivers believing that they are in an Formula 1 race at all times.  

 

Rae and I in front of Gergeti Trinity church in Stepantsminda

As full as our October was though, our November was the exact opposite.  We were very quiet in November, only making small excursions around the city and enjoying the beautiful fall weather here.  Speaking of the weather, there are definitely things about the weather here that we haven't been enjoying.  For one thing, the WIND!  It is unlike anything we've experienced before and I imagine it's like living in Lethbridge but much worse (as bad as living in Lethbridge already is).  On the days that its windy, it is relentless.  It seems that it comes and goes for now but when its windy, it can easily sustain 70km/h for days at a time and it definitely takes our enjoyment of the country down a few notches.  On one of the days that it was so windy I was talking with our neighbour who mentioned that this was nothing yet and to wait for February and March where it's worse...so I guess we have something to look forward to!?!?

Our meal on one of those windy days.  You can see the cucumber and tomato salad with walnut sauce on the right along with a dish with the spoon thats called Ghomi.  A cheese dish with chicken. 

On one of those windy days we decided to spend the day inside at a museum suggested to us by a friend.  
    
  

Traditional Georgian swords and a royal garment (recreation from a movie)

Mtatsminda Park

While in Tbilisi, you can look up at any point in the city pretty much and see a large ferris wheel and tv tower.  This is Mtatsminda Park, a popular location for people in Tbilisi to spend the day.  There are loads of restaurants and rides for families and just a nice park to chill out in and spend a day.  The park is accessed by a funicular, bus, or hiking.  We had kept on saying that we were going to go and check it out but had still not made it up until late November.  So, on November 20th with a beautiful 20 degree day, we decided to finally head up to Mtatsminda park and see what the fuss was all about.  It was nice to chill out in the sun in a fall that was warmer than normal.  It was definitely a plus to be able to see that we had escaped a terrible start to a canadian winter with all the pictures we had been seeing of the snow that western canada had already been hit with.  

The ferris wheel in Mtatsminda park

Monthly breakdowns: 
I promised with my last update that I would post our tracked expenses per month.  It's been a while since I wrote that but I now have data from two months and they couldn't be more different from month to month.  October was the month that we moved into our apartment though and so there were a lot of costs of buying things for the apartment to make it feel more comfortable; better cooking utensils or things that were missing, better bedding, water filter, etc.  We also did a lot of traveling around in October which adds to the monthly costs.  I think it is a good look at what it costs to move to a country with a cheaper cost of living then Canada and can show how accessible it is to move somewhere else if you have the ability to make a bit of cash while traveling. 

I've broken it down into multiple categories based on the type of purchase.  
Housing - includes rent, cell bills, all related bills for the apartment (gas, electric, internet) and supplies that we purchase for the house.  
 
Food - This may have some overlap with housing as sometimes we purchased items for the house along with our groceries but they weren't edible but we tried our best to keep it separate.  This also includes nights out for drinks with friends.  
 
Personal Care - Medical, hair, clothing, skin care, or other personal costs. 
 
Transportation - Includes metro, airline fees if we had any, private drivers, and car rentals (uber/bolt/yandex)
 
Entertainment -  Includes trips, movies, live theater, and other types of things.  

NOTE: All prices are in Georgian Lari but the conversion is around 2gel for 1cad. 
Here's the breakdown for October: 
Housing - 2050.79
Food - 1864.25
Personal Care - 167.20
Transportation - 427.40
Entertainment - 890
This is a total of 5399.64GEL which translates to 2648.52CAD at the current exchange rate.  
We spent a bit too much on food as we were eating out a lot at first and we spent a lot on housing as we bought the things needed for day to day life but as you can see, it still is less than you would spend monthly in Canada. 

Here's the breakdown for November: 
Housing - 1576.25
Food - 1019.33
Personal care - 95.77
Transportation - 69.10
Entertainment - 10
This is a total cost of 2770.45GEL which translates to 1358.91CAD.  You can see that November we slowed down a LOT.  We got COVID and that put us on our butts for 2 weeks and the days where it was very windy or colder we didn't do a whole lot.  

And that's it for this time! 



Thursday, October 13, 2022

Part 3 - Down with the Sickness

Tusheti and Beyond

After our bout with whatever fun parasite decided to ride along with us, we thought it would be a good idea to get out of the city.  Initially we had wanted to get to a place in the north of the country that is very famous called Stepantsminda, but an opportunity presented itself that we did not expect.  In the very north-east of the country there is a region called Tusheti.  The only road into the region is usually closed starting in Sep-Oct and doesn't open again until May-June.  It just so happened, with it being a relatively mild fall, that the road was still open and there was an organized tour making a late season trip.  We quickly jumped on that, not thinking about the how.  

The How...

 
Our trusty steed

Tusheti is a protected area in the very northeast of Georgia, only accessible by one road built in the 70s.  The road winds through a gorge and over a narrow mountain pass at a height just under 3000m over a distance of 70km.  With the condition of the road, it would take 5 hours to drive those 70km's.  We loaded into our 4x4 Delica with our driver Bacho and our tour guide Gurleen and began the journey. 

The view looking down at about the halfway point

To say that we didn't properly mentally prepare ourselves would have been an understatement as we wound through the countryside from Tbilisi to the Khaketi region of Georgia oblivious as to what was to come.  As we stopped in the last village before the infamous road, I pointed to a sign that said "Omalo 70km" and asked Gurleen if that was our destination, 'Yes', the quick response.  Well, how long will it take us?  5 hours....how is that possible?  


That's how...

If you have Amazon prime, I suggest you go and watch the "Most Dangerous Roads" episode on the road to Tusheti.  The series is only 6 episodes and it does a pretty good job showcasing the insanity of this 'road', a term I use to describe it rather tentatively.  A single gravel track switchbacking its way up and over the mountains.  It's used heavily by tourists and locals to get to the remote region of Tusheti and is filled with memorials to people that weren't so lucky on their journey.  The destination though cannot be outdone as the raw, natural beauty is second to none.  

The view from our guesthouse in lower Omalo

Arriving at our destination of Omalo on the first day, we were so glad to be out and walking around on solid ground.  Surrounded by massive peaks on all sides, you really can see the appeal of living here.  One almost hopes that the road stays as it is to keep the masses of tourists out.  

Our guesthouse

We stopped for a few minutes to get oriented with our guesthouse and store our things in our room and we were off again for the highest permanently settled village in Europe.  The town of Bochorna has one permanent resident, a doctor in his 80's who stays because of a lack of medical care in the Tusheti region.  He stays year round, using horse in the summer and homemade skis in the winter to traverse the mountains and trails between each town providing the necessary care for the residents of Tusheti.  
 

Rae in the village of Bochorna

Rae still maintains that the road to Bochorna was the worst part of the whole driving trip...I'm not sure that I can make that decision; it was all terrifying.  

The road to Bochorna

In Bochorna, the rain that had been coming down all day finally started to let up and we were treated with the first break through of sun and a double rainbow.  After spending around 20 minutes in Bochorna we loaded back into our van and Bacho took us to our next location, an overlook of the town of Dochu, accessibly only by horse or walking.  

Rae on the overlook trying to get that perfect shot of Dochu below

As it was getting dark, it was now time to head back to Omalo.  We just hadn't thought about the 'how'...we came out on this road, and it's obvious we have to go back the same way.  Of course, that makes perfect sense, but where do you turn around when the road is one lane on a steep drop?  Right in the middle of that road obviously.  It was at this point, backing up towards the edge when everyone in the van was yelling "NO NO NO" over and over that Bacho learned his favorite line of the weekend.  From this point on, until we arrived back in Tbilisi 2 days later, every time we'd hit a scary section of the road Bacho would yell out "NO NO NO" mocking our lack of trust and even though you can't help but laugh, I'm still not sold on the comedy of it.  

Dartlo
 
Our second day started early with a trip to the town of Dartlo and the valley and villages beyond.  We were worried about the weather as it was forecasted to rain the entire day but we were greeted with a beautiful morning and hoped for the best.  The trip to Dartlo took around 45 minutes and we made a quick stop to survey the town before continuing on down the valley to the village of Girevi, passing herds of cows and sheep as the shepherds were busy pushing them out of the mountains before the winter hit.  



The village of Dartlo and the location of our lunch in Dartlo later in the day

Arriving in Girevi, we were greeted by the local Georgian shepherd dog who hadn't quite yet grown into his job.  We were also given a few warnings:
 
1. The women would not be allowed to wander the town; they could wander around but not inside it. 
2. Careful how you take your photos as there is a military base. 
3. Do not approach the church.  

We learned that this region has an interesting mix of religious beliefs that include a mix of both pagan and orthodox teachings.  Interestingly enough, they also do not eat pork while in the mountains.  


The Georgian Shepherd pup and the village of Girevi.  Only 5km's from Chechnya, Russia.

After climbing up to the stone towers, we made our way back to the village and back towards Dartlo.  It was at this point that the weather decided to turn and the rain started and did not let up for the rest of the day.  
 
We made it back to the village of Parsma and stopped for tea while a couple of us hiked to the stone towers overlooking the village.  



The towers of Parsma.  The tea house below Parsma on the left.  Valley behind Parsma

By the time we arrived back in Dartlo, it was raining very hard and we quickly scrambled into a guesthouse for our lunch and a reprieve from the rain.  In our entire time in Tusheti, this guest house was by far the most attractive that we had visited.  They had beautifully redone the exterior and interior of their home and the garden entrance had obviously received a lot of love and care.  The food matched as well and was by far the best food we've had so far in Georgia.  That is not a slam on other food in Georgia as honestly, the food here has been great, it's just that the pair of ladies running this place could seriously cook!  One thing you learn here as well when eating; never fill up on what is first offered because there are ALWAYS dishes still coming that weren't on the table when you started.  



More views of Dartlo

After dinner we were treated to some amazing folks songs, sung by our driver and one of the ladies that ran the guest house.  She had an amazing voice and it was beautiful to listen to.  With the rain pounding down outside, we were unable to hike to the castle over-looking Dartlo and it was decided to return to Omalo for the evening where we would be treated to another amazing meal with dish after dish.  

Upon arrival at our home base, we realized that we were no longer the largest group there as a large Polish tourist group had arrived for a few days and were very excited to have arrived (no doubt, excited to have avoided death on the road in).  The supper quickly devolved into a dance party in the dining area with us being forced to macarena with them as they wouldn't take no for an answer.  Rae got to put her amazing mennonite dance skills to the test and I can only say that they were all very impressed.  I must say though that one of the girls was obsessed with Raeleen and how young she looked; she couldn't believe Rae was 35.  At the point when I found them, she was busy trying to convince Raeleen to leave me and come back to Poland with her and she would find Rae a good Polish lover.  After a few more songs and some wine we decided to retire for the evening, and were serenaded to sleep to the sounds of a Polish dance party.  

Day 3

It had rained the entire night but we woke up to a clearing sky and we were hopeful that we'd have a beautiful, final day in Tusheti.  With the amount of rain, we had to change our itinerary again as the roads were becoming less than ideal.  We would visit the fortress of Keselo and the goat panorama before heading back through the pass and back to Tbilisi.  

Keselo Fortress is a fortress overlooking the town of upper (old) Omalo and was used to defend against raids on their villages and was constructed during the mongol invasions in the 13th century.  After that, it was also used as defense against Dagestani tribal attacks as well.  At one point there were 13 towers, but now only 4 are left standing and have undergone some restoration.  



Rae trying for that shot from Keselo.  From the fortress.  View of Keselo from old Omalo. 

After that it was off to the Goat Panorama; a massive gorge with an overlook where you can sometimes see the native mountain goats to the region.  Supposedly, these goats can be quite tempermental and are known to be aggressive.  Unfortunately, we did not get to see any but the view was still very much worth it.  

Goat Panorama

It was now the dreaded time...to make our way down the mountain back to Tbilisi.  Another 5 hours of clutching the handles, trying not to pay attention to the cliff; we all joked about how beautiful the rocks looked on the side up against the wall of the mountain.  Bacho made sure we were safe, but still always made sure to mock us with "NO NO NO" around every few hairpin curves.  



Full cloud at the top of the pass.  Our group.  The road descending out of the cloud. 

Our Apartment

We managed to secure an apartment before the Russian mobilization announcement, luckily, and moved into our place on October 1st.  I truly believe that if we had not found this place we would have had to leave Georgia, as rental prices are insane right now.  Price increases of 100-200% are commonplace.  
 
Our landlord has been amazing so far, helping us figure out how to pay bills, driving us over to the place with all of our things, and checking on us every few days to make sure that everything is alright. We also took the next few days to stock up on stuff for our apartment to make it a bit more comfortable.  Visiting smaller bazaars, we were able to find some reasonably priced items.  I'm trying very hard to keep track of every dollar spent from October 1st going forward and will be providing a breakdown of overall expenses per month.  Mostly this is for my interests but I'm sure the information will be useful to others.  With all of our purchases for the apartment in October, it probably also means that the amounts will be inflated.

The return
 
Just before we moved into our apartment, whatever it was that had been causing us to feel unwell made a resurgence and put a stop to some of our plans.  We went back on medication for a week and are feeling much better again at this point and are hoping that we're finally past that point where it returns again.  We bought a brita filter in case it was water, have cleaned as much as possible, threw out some food that we weren't sure of, and taken some other precautions just in case.  Hopefully that's the last of it.  We have a couple of trips planned in the near future and are excited to head out again and I will update this as days allow.  Again, I'll add random photos at the bottom of stuff I didn't include.  

"Dirt Dog"!  as we've affectionately started calling him.  During the day he's sleeping in the dirt outside the metro station.  At night, he's up and active and protecting people crossing the streets.  If a car honks at the pedestrians he's quick to run at the car barking like crazy!
One of the bazaars in Tbilisi. 
Khachapuri.  A bread bowl filled with cheese, butter, and an uncooked egg on top.  You then mix it all together and then break off the bread and scoop out the insides and eat.  It is incredibly tasty! 






Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Part 2 - Mtskheta, Gori, and Uplistsikhe

 Overcoming!

It seems that we have finally triumphed over whatever microscopic being was making our lives a living hell and with that it meant that we needed to get out of Tbilisi as soon as possible.  It's not that we don't like it in the city, but we felt that we had done such a poor job of exploring so far.  So, we hired a driver for the day to take us on an extremely popular route as an introduction to the country.  

 

Itinerary 

1. Jvari Monastery - where Georgians believe that Saint Nino erected a wooden cross (Georgian word for cross is Jvari) on the site of a Pagan temple.  The cross was able to perform miracles and therefore became a pilgrimage site.  When the small church became inadequate as a pilgrimage site, the current church was built around the original from 590 to 605AD.  Saint Nino is also responsible for converting her husband, the king, to Christianity; her husband is then responsible for making Georgia a Christian nation. 

2. City of Mtskheta - The old Georgian capital and home to the most important religious site in the entire country: the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.  

3. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral - The most important religious building in Georgia.  Georgian orthodoxy believes that the robe Christ was wearing at his crucifixion is buried in this building.  It is also the burial ground for Georgia's kings.  

4. Samtavro's Convent - The burial place of King Miian III of Iberia; Saint Nino's husband.  The King responsible for bringing Christianity to Georgia. 

5. Shio-Mgvime Monastery - Literally translates to "the cave of Shio" who was a monk that came to the area as a missionary.  It now is a large Monastic complex in the mountains 30km's from Mtskheta. 

6. City of Gori - A smaller city west of Tbilisi, most notably known for its Fortress overlooking the city as well as being the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. 

7. Uplistsikhe - An ancient town cut directly into a slightly sloping/inclining mountain close to Gori.  It is known as one of the oldest urban settlements in all of Georgia; earliest traces of humans dates back to the 2nd millenium BC.  

The deets...

Our driver picked us up early in the morning on what would be a blisteringly hot day...for us.  He assured us that it was not hot at all though, so, obviously we'd be fine.  

While driving up to Jvari, he explained the importance of the site to Georgians and the history around it.  It is set at the top of Jvari mountain and looms over the town of Mtskheta.  

 
The Jvari Monastery - view from the top of Jvari mountain.  
 
Rae beside Jvari monastery, looking down on the city Mtskheta and the confluence of two rivers.  

Of course, we decided to plan this trip for a Sunday which means Sunday services are in effect.  I'm not sure if you're aware, but orthodox services are LONG!  So, even though we got to see the inside and listen to the beautiful singing, we did not get to view as closely as we would have liked.  Oh well, it's very close to Tbilisi so we will be back. 

Off to Mtskheta itself where the same problem would play out...good job Matt and Rae...way to really plan ahead.  
 
Rae on the main square in Mtskheta...notice we're sticking to the shade
 
We arrived in Mtskheta before any major tours arrived, which was great.  The city was just waking up and even the hawkers on the main street were barely open.  It's one thing we've learned about Georgian culture that really resonates with us...they seem to dislike mornings, as everyone seems to be very slow to begin in the day.  Things usually don't get moving until around 9am.
 

As much of the cathedral as I could get in one picture along with the entrance
 
However, where they aren't slow to begin for the day is church services on Sunday.  We arrived at the amazing Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and managed to view inside for a few minutes before a nice priest asked us to step outside until after the service was over.  Oh well, the structure itself is amazing so we walked the fortified walls and sat and had a leisurely cup of coffee before continuing onto the next site.  

Our view of the fortified Cathedral from our cafe.  

Now onto the last religious site in Mtskheta, Samtavro's Convent.  Of course, its still Sunday, so we got to view inside while being a part of the service and listening to the amazing singing, but we didn't get as much time as we would have liked and unfortunately, I didn't take any photos of this place although Rae got some on her camera so you'll have to take my word for it that the site is beautiful.  
 
Shio's cave
 
From here it was a short 30km jaunt to Shio-Mgvime Monastery through the winding mountain roads making me nauseous with the aggressive Georgian driving.  
 
The buildings of the monastery with the main church at the top
 
This monastic complex is right up against a cliff face in the mountains and has a number of buildings. It is one of the lesser visited sites in the area, which is a shame because its location is spectacular and the buildings themselves are beautiful.  I was finally able to take out my drone for the first time of our trip here after struggling to ask one of the monks if it was ok.  Eventually a Georgian, noticing my struggles, interceded and helped translate and I was given the go-ahead after the monks were finished eating. 

The entrance to the complex

As you know though, I struggle with procrastination so I'm sure that you'll get to see the footage from my drone sometime in 2024...

The final approach to the main church building

Onwards
 
With our driver, Otar, at the wheel, we drove back down the mountain and made our way to the city of Gori.  

The city of Gori with the castle overlooking

Although there is nothing specifically wrong with Gori, its not exactly a tourist destination aside from one notable exception.  Gori is the birthplace of Joseph Jughashvili...also known as Joseph Stalin.  The city has created a museum in the center along with a building protecting house where he was born and a massive park.  We had heard very mixed reviews of the museum itself so to save time we decided not to go into the museum and instead just viewed the outer locations. 

View of Stalin museum in the back along with his birth house in the foreground
Stalin's birth house
Stalin's armored train car. 
Stalin Museum

We were famished at this point and decided it was a good place to stop for lunch, it just so happened that every other tour group decided it was a good idea as well and the restaurant that we picked was slammed so our food took forever.  It was incredibly tasty though and gave us a chance to cool down a bit from the heat.  

Uplistsikhe 
 
Like every other location in this language, please don't ask me to pronounce it.  There are a lot of back of the throat type of sounds and I tend to get made fun of when I attempt it so I'll just leave the pronunciation to your imagination.  

Rae at the main entrance to the city.  I would hate to attack that.

Although there are cave cities all over Georgia, this is the oldest and probably the most accessible with its location near Gori. 

View from just inside the main entrance upwards into the city.  The first of the carved houses. 
View out from the main entrance. 

We had done a bit of reading before heading to this location and even then, we still got lost and missed a bunch of the caves.  We spent about 1.5 hours exploring as many nooks and crannies as we could in this massive complex and even though it was super hot, we managed to duck into the caves and relax from time to time.  Also, Uplistsikhe is known for its wind so by the time we were at the top of the city the wind was fierce and doing a pretty good job cooling us down.  

Rae at the midway point up the city looking out to the west. 

One of the main halls.  You can see the support beams placed to protect from further degradation. 
The lower city.  A lot of the city has collapsed with time but you can see how intricate it was.  The church of the Prince was added in Medieval times. 
I'm assuming the remains of the city where the 'poors' lived outside the protection of the main city. 
Inside one of the better preserved rooms.  You can see how intricate it was with carved columns. 
Boulders fallen from the roof and notice the carved 'beams' to give the appearance of lumber.
The main roadway into Uplistsikhe.  

I was a bit surprised with how much was left here to see.  I had assumed from what I'd read that it wouldn't be as interesting as some of the other cave city complexes but I was pleasantly surprised.  I do recommend if you visit that you buy an audio guide, otherwise you're just randomly wandering.  It really helped us to understand it all.  There is also a wine tasting at the end with the payment of your ticket, so you can walk around in the heat and get dehydrated and then start drinking.  That has never caused issues, right? 

We were exhausted at this point and let Otar know that he could take us home.  We used a service called gotrip.ge which is a car hire service and I have to say it was well worth it.  We entered our itinerary, picked our driver/car, and then our driver, Otar picked us up in his car at the desired time we chose, drove us around while explaining the history/importance, waited for us wherever we wanted to stop for pictures and just was generally around to help with whatever we needed.  At the end of the day, he dropped us off at our place and we paid him in cash and went our separate ways.  It is a really great system here in Georgia and we'll definitely use it again.  

Our home for the time being

So, we have some great news as we were able to secure a place to live.  We were extremely worried about this as the situation in Russia is spiraling a bit and Georgia is inundated with Russians trying to escape the situation.  Prices in the rental market are exploding and we were worried that if we didn't find anything quick, we would have to leave the country and go to a back-up location.  With our contract signed, we have a place to live for the next 6 months which gives us a bit of a chance to actually settle in.  Our landlord seems like a good guy and seems excited to have us in his place as he's very interested in why two Canadians just up and moved to Georgia.  When we first saw the apartment we asked questions through a translator and thought it would be like Slovenia where conversation would be difficult with no common language.  After we left the apartment, we happened to run into him in a store next door and it turns out his English is really good so I guess its good we didn't badmouth him or his apartment, haha.  Either way, we're in on October 1st and looking forward to actually being able to fully unpack for the first time in a month.  It also gave us the ability to buy a subway pass for 6 months instead of just reloadable cards and a contract gives us the ability to open up a bank account so big things on our end.  I'll upload pictures of our place after we're in.  Until next time! -

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