Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Part 2 - Mtskheta, Gori, and Uplistsikhe


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.  



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

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.  

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! -

Monday, September 19, 2022

A Rather Late Start


A Rather Late Start

As is always the case with my attempts at documenting our trips, I've taken a bit longer than expected to get started.  I'm not entirely sure that I can be held to account this time though as there have been extenuating circumstances.  I fear that this post may be a bit longer than I intended, as I'm trying to catch up on 2 weeks of missed memories...so buckle in folks...this could be a doozy. 

What are you going to do with all your stuff? 

We heard this question over and over when we were telling friends and family that we were leaving the country again.  The last time we did this, we got rid of what we thought of at the time was a lot of stuff and stored the rest with family.  Packing up this time though, we put our 2016 selves to shame and liquidated everything, including all of those boxes that had never been unpacked after coming back from Slovenia.  Our stupid sucker of a nephew...I mean, our lovely/helpful nephew and family is again storing the few meager possessions we have on this earth for when we return.  

So, after liquidating everything and begging our friends to let us stay with the them for the last few days, we packed our belongings into 4 bags and set off for Tbilisi, Georgia on August 30th, 2022.  

I don't think it really hit us what we were doing until we were at the airport saying goodbye to our friends and their boys.  It was way harder than I was expecting.....although it was too late to back out now.  

There and back again.... 

We were extremely nervous about how our transfers would work as we had been hearing that airports across the world were a mess...especially in Toronto, so it came as no shock when we arrived and were told that we needed to sit on the tarmac to wait for deplaning for an extra 45 minutes.  Our flight to Istanbul was going to leave in 2 hours and it was in the international terminal across the entire airport so we were a bit nervous.  We finally deplaned and found the nearest departures board only to realize that our flight to Istanbul was already delayed by another hour.  Oh well! It was the first time we'd ever been excited about that...it gave our checked luggage time to get put on the right plane.  We finally boarded our next flight only delayed by 2.5 hours!  Good thing we had a 10 hour layover in Istanbul.  

Istanbul airport is HUGE and since we got almost no sleep on our flight to Istanbul, we opted to pay for a stay in a lounge.  The lounge was around $80 CAD per person and provided free drinks (alcoholic and otherwise), food, lounge areas with sleeping chairs, massage, balconies, billiards, showers, wifi, and storage for luggage.  Since our layover was so long in Istanbul we considered it money well spent and it was nice to be able to clean up a bit.  We lounged our day away and waited for our last flight to Tbilisi.  Side note: If you get a chance to fly Turkish Airlines in an overnight flight, don't hesitate!  The personal care baggy, food (quality and portions), and entertainment options were something I hadn't seen in a long time from a North American carrier...Rae is still using her Turkish Airlines provided slippers here in Tbilisi.  

After being sent literally across the entire airport 3 times for gate changes for our flight to Tbilisi, we boarded 1 hour late and were on the way to our final destination.  


We arrived in Tbilisi at 5am on September 1st and got our first view of the city.  After apprehensively waiting for our luggage (which all managed to arrive, YAY!), we were mobbed by Taxi drivers all attempting to take us into the city.  We had been told this was an issue and had pre-downloaded the Bolt app (equivalent of Uber) and were about to use that when an older man who spoke no english, aside from "Ok, Ok", agreed through translation to transport us to our airbnb for a fair price.  It was only after we got to his car that we realized he had no ability to use cards and we had no Georgian Lari yet.  "Ok, Ok" was used again and he insisted we get in.  Are we being kidnapped?  Rae and I shared an unsure glance but I was pretty sure that Rae and I could 'take him' if he started driving in the wrong direction.  True to his word, he took us to a gas station where I paid for his gas in lieu of the fare.  After struggling to find our apartment we were able to arrive at our first 'home' in one piece and were ready to sleep the day away.  

The First Days...

To say our first apartment underwhelmed us would have been an overstatement.  It was less than clean (which we have so far seen is pretty common), dark, and....just less than ideal.  What it lacked in good apartment space, it made up for in loud street dogs and a tortoise that chased you around the yard attempting to headbutt your foot.  

We wanted to immerse ourselves into the food as quickly as possible so our first supper in country was to Klike's Khinkali. Khinkali is the Georgian pierogi/dumpling and is filled with any number of things including a mix of pork/beef, just pork, some greens, mushrooms, potatoes, or cheese.  They are then boiled and served piping hot at anywhere from 1Gel (50cents) to 1.4Gel (65 cents) per Khinkali.  Usually, 5-8 khinkali is enough for a meal depending on how hungry you are but of course there is a scoreboard in Klike's with the high score currently at 28 Khinkali in one sitting!  We opted for the mushroom, pork/beef, and pork and greens khinkali and it was delicious.  This will become a staple of our food here, I'm sure of it.   

We spent the next few days figuring out the subway system (which is incredibly easy I might add), and exploring the old town of Tbilisi.  Just like every other city, the hawkers are out in FORCE so be prepared to turn on that RBF and ignore, ignore, ignore.  The only positive here is that there is so many Russians in country at the moment that everyone assumes we're Russian...it's a whole lot easier to ignore someone when they speak to you in Russian and you don't understand anyways.  

                                                              One of Tbilisi's subway stops

Old Town Charm

I have been fawning over pictures of old town Tbilisi for longer than I can remember at this point so to actually be here was an emotional feeling.  Standing on the Peace Bridge for the first time it was exciting to realize that we'd made it and it was every bit as beautiful as we'd imagined.  We toured until our feet begged us to stop and felt like we barely made a dent...

                                                                      Liberty Square
                                                   Old Town looking up at Narikala Fortress
                                           View from the Peace Bridge on the Mtkvari River
                                        View from Rike Park with Sioni Cathedral on the right
 View of Narikala and old town at night from Metekhi Bridge

 Moving Day

It wasn't until day 3 that we started to realize that maybe the current airBNB wasn't tenable for an entire month.  Coming back late at night one day, we opened our door to a small creature scuttling across the floor...Rae's love of small critters kicked into high gear and he was quickly squished underfoot.  On closer inspection...a cockroach.  Hmm, that's not good.  Our search for a new place had begun, airBNB was extremely good to work with (although slow), and within a day we had we had a new place only a few blocks from our current place.  Much cleaner and higher up so the roaches couldn't reach us, right?  

The Lada right outside the entrance to our apartment.  It hasn't moved once. 
Late edit: The building pictured above is NOT our new residence for the month.  I wanted to add this comment after Raeleen informed me that I made it sound like it might be.  Our building is behind the camera and not pictured. 

With the temperatures hitting almost 40 degrees for a week straight, we spent the next week exploring outside for a few hours at a time and then retreating to shade and air conditioning; the heat was just straight up oppressive.  It didn't help that I had of course left my hat on one of our planes over, and as you all know...there isn't as much coverage up there anymore.  It made it very hard to explore our first new location in 5 years, but we did what we could by spending a day going up the gondola to Narikala Fortress and exploring even more of the old town.  

                                         In front of Narikala Fortress, looking down on Tbilisi

It really is amazing to see the diversity in the area, from Mosque, to church, to bathhouse, to cobblestone streets, to a beautiful canyon right in the middle of the city, there is so much to see. 

                What we believe to be 'Svan' towers on the backside of the hill that Narikala is on. 

We continued our day by escaping to the relative cool of the canyon just behind Narikala.  This is the stream that fed many of the bathhouses in the old town in earlier times.  Looking at older photos, you can see that not much has changed in terms of the architecture in this area.  People would come down to the streams to bath themselves monthly, weekly, or even daily as the water was incredibly clean and had/has supposed healing properties.  Georgians are incredibly proud of their water sources in general and the high mineral content is supposedly very good for you. 

                                        Leghvtakhevi Waterfall (don't ask me to pronounce it)
Just a bit further down from the waterfall.  Notice on the left, the domed bathhouse.  On the right, a                                                         mosque repurposed into another bathhouse. 

Of course, we had to take many breaks for drinks and as much new food as we could stuff into our faces.  A word of caution, as we've been caught off guard numerous times now, make sure you pay attention to portion sizes at other tables when in Georgia because they are almost always HUGE.  More than a few times now we've ordered separately and then realize that just one of the dishes would have been enough for both of us. 

Rae's dish called Mkhlovana.  Stuffed with spinach, beet greens, and cheese.  Topped with spinach,                                                                 barberry, and cottage cheese. 


It's literally impossible to search Tbilisi on google and not see pictures of this cathedral.  Since it seems to be such a big deal, we figured it might be best to take a trip up to see what all the fuss was about.  Turns out...it's a pretty impressive cathedral.  Its the 3rd tallest cathedral in the world, and one of the largest religious buildings in the world.  

                                                        The impressive Sameba Cathedral. 

                                The view overlooking the city from Sameba Cathedral grounds

Deserters Bazaar

The Deserter's Bazaar is a large Bazaar in Tbilisi.  It is absolutely massive and has stalls selling EVERYTHING and I mean absolutely everything.  Rae and I spent a few hours exploring and got lost many times in the twists and turns.  The 4 pictures included are all of the Bazaar and do a horrible job explaining the breadth of things you can find here.  The nice thing though is that all items of one kind are sold in the same area, so if you have a general idea of what you're looking for you can easily go to the proper area of the bazaar.  


Bad luck? 

As I've already told lots of people back home, it was around day 5 that Rae started to feel unwell with me following not too long after.  At first we thought it was just food poisoning and tried to wait it out although it was calling all the shots.  This meant that our plans were heavily placed on hold and were down to the whims of the closest washroom.  With that in mind, the days where we woke up feeling a bit better we tried to do as much as possible.  On one of those days we managed to head up to "The Chronicles of Georgia".  This Soviet built monument was to commemorate 3000 years of Georgian statehood and 2000 years of Georgian Christian dissemination.  Sadly, it was never finished as the fall of the Soviet Union meant that there was no funding for the project.  Even still, it is an impressive site overlooking Tbilisi and sitting right on the edge of the city.  

             Looking out over the 'Tbilisi Sea' from the Chronicles of Georgia.  A man-made reservoir.   

By around day 10 though of not feeling any better, and having tried multiple things already we realized maybe it was something worse than food poisoning.  After a bit of reading, we 'believe' that we may have had giardia as all the symptoms aligned so after a consultation with my medically aligned family it was off to the drug store for a dose of antibiotics...which handily enough, you don't need a prescription for.  You just tell them what you need and how much and you're good to go.  

From here, it was only looking up as we were very excited to be done with this feeling of sickness and to be able to properly explore outside the city.  We have just finished our first excursion outside of Tbilisi and will write about it shortly and have another planned for this coming weekend.  In the meantime, here are some random photos that I couldn't fit in anywhere else.  I feel like I've rambled on long enough.  

       Art piece in Tbilisi.  We aren't influencers though, so you won't have to see this on our instagram :P
                    View of the riverbank with some of the houses built on the cliffs over the river. 
                                                                    Pedestrian Area

Our absolutely delicious meal at Mapshalia.  Definitely a contender for some of the best Georgian food                                                                     we've had so far.  

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