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Kutaisi to Gori & Monastery to Monastery

sunny 25 °C

Day 20 Tuesday 13 June 2017
Kutaisi to Gori / 213 KM

  • It's been said before, but what a difference a day makes! The sky is blue, the sun shining and Kutaisi today looks a very different place.
  • After breakfast we walk into the town centre which has been well renovated. Tree lined boulevards, parks and flowers and old buildings scrubbed clean. We happen to pass the small hotel where we should have stayed. 'Old Town Hotel'. Strike it off your list of options. They cancelled our booking just 3 days prior to our arrival. Excuse: 'unforeseen circumstances'. Real reason was they wished to sell our room at a higher rate than they receive through booking.com.
  • As usual booking.com have given tremendous customer service: they rebooked us in the nearby Best Western and will refund the price difference. It's a lucky escape since the Best Western is far superior - it was only opened 3 months ago. The staff are trying really hard to give great friendly service & there is a delightful roof top restaurant overlooking the city.
  • We have driven independently to Georgia, a country we know very little about. We have no guide. This means we must work out the answers to the questions that inevitably present themselves about a foreign culture. Sometimes the penny drops through logic and common sense, sometimes you have to ask, on other occasions we must 'Google'.
  • We locate the large covered market which is rated in Lonely Planet.
  • In the market there are familiar & unfamiliar foods. AG is team taster - if he likes it & lives, SG might try! Not that he's more adventurous, but he does eat all meat, SG doesn't. The first challenge is the candle shaped candy called Churchkela which is made from flour, grapes & nuts. It does not look like a typical sweet delicacy, nor does it taste particularly tempting. AG samples & gives the OK signal to SG so that she can also try.
  • Nearby, there is Tklapi for sale. It resembles pieces of leather. In fact it is puréed fruit pulp that has been dried in the sun to form thin flat sheets. Tklapi tastes better than Churchkela, but neither compare to Turkish delight or Iranian nougat.
  • Another puzzle are the stray dogs roaming around Kutaisi with yellow ear tags. They may not be in the greatest condition but the tag means they are safe - they have been given a rabies shot and perhaps injections against other nasty canine diseases too.
  • And what about the overhead pipework we have been seeing in certain villages & small towns? - we thought it might be water. The elevated pipework would be cheaper and easier to repair than if underground. But walking around Kutaisi suburbs we see a gas meter connected to the pipe network and realise that they are gas pipes.
  • Whilst on our walk about we visit the National History Museum ( another one ). Upstairs there is some signage in English but it's not really worth much more than a very quick glance. Georgia does not seem to have spent much effort in modernising its museum displays. It's all a bit dull & uninspiring.
  • Mid morning we leave Kutaisi to drive to Gori but we first visit two beautiful & historic monasteries that are located a few KMs away in NE direction.
  • First stop is Motsameta Monastery, perched high up above a bend of the Tskhaltsitela River, known colloquially as 'Red Water' because of an 8C Arab massacre that took place here.
  • Sadly the sun is in the wrong direction and too high to take exterior shots. But our interior experience more than compensates. A priest is conducting the morning 'service' and is chanting in harmony with a lady who stands outside the holy altar area. The acoustics in this small chapel are wonderful. It is a very special moment.
  • Gelati Monastery is a short distance away. In fact you can walk from one to the other if you have an hour spare. We don't. Restoration work is very much in progress but the interior frescoes can still be appreciated.
  • The monastery complex was founded in 1106 by King Davit as a centre of Christian culture & learning. Many Georgian rulers are buried here. Including King Davit himself. His tomb lies just inside the South Gate. Presumably it was the original main entrance. And why was he buried here? Well, King Davit wished for everyone who visited Gelati to step on his grave. Ironically it is cordoned off nowadays. You are not allowed to pass over the tomb. King Davit will surely be turning in his grave!
  • In the principal church of the monastery, there is a renowned mosaic of Virgin & Child with Archangels Michael and Gabriel either side dating from the 1120's. The frescoes seen at Gelati were painted between 12C-18C. They are light, bright and impressive in their detail - not at all dark and gloomy. This is indeed why Gelati is famous. Regardless of whether you appreciate its spiritual significance, you cannot fail to be impressed by the quality of artwork and sheer creativity of the craftsmen all those centuries ago.
  • At Gelati we are fortunate to watch a professional photo shoot of two young women dressed in traditional costume.
  • Now it's time to hit the road again. It is the most hazardous we have driven to date. This is especially nerve wracking since we have no insurance. Lots of HGVs, single lane highway, dangerous overtaking manoeuvres, oh and wandering cattle grazing untethered on the grass verges. No herdsmen are in sight.
  • We have another picnic lunch today. The Turkish yogurt we bought ( a very big pot ) is still going strong. It's been a couple of days since we last opened the fridge. Now we discover it has been working too well - we must eat frozen bananas and deep chilled yogurt.
  • By seeking a quiet spot well away from the busy road, driving down to the river on a dirt track, we unwittingly put ourselves at risk. We are in a stray dog's territory and he is not ear tagged. We are at his mercy. As it happens we are able to bribe him with some cheese & bread. He then lies down, watches & waits. But it's a lesson worth remembering.
  • Instead of going straight to our B&B in Gori we decide to make the most of a fine afternoon and visit Ateni Sioni, another in a long list of ancient & beautiful churches in Georgia. It lies 12 km South of Gori in gorgeous rural countryside in an area known as the Tana Valley. This could also be named grapevine valley since grapes are being grown in abundance. We pass several wineries & cellar doors.
  • Ateni Sioni was built in 7C and modelled on Jvari Church which we will see tomorrow in Mtskheta.
  • Lonely Planet 2016 ( so it would have been researched 2015 or even earlier ) mentions that the interior of Ateni Sioni is being renovated and that the 'Forest of scaffolding' makes it difficult to see the frescoes that date from the 11C. They are considered to be some of the finest medieval artwork in Georgia.
  • Well it's good to know that Lonely Planet is up to date! Sadly the work is still very much in progress. We are becoming used to this state of play. It begs a couple of questions: Firstly whether it is worth the journey from Gori to see very little? Secondly is Georgia spending all this money restoring its beautiful churches and monasteries in anticipation of a booming tourist industry?
  • It is interesting to note that the people high up on the scaffolding and doing the restoration work are young & female. Possibly students?
  • As well as the interior frescoes, which we can't see, the church is famous for the reliefs of stags & hunting scenes carved into the exterior stonework.
  • For us making the journey out to Ateni Sioni is easy and gives us an opportunity to see rural Georgia and an area of viticulture - which we always find interesting! But if you do not have your own transport, it might be good idea to check whether the scaffolding is still up before you head out here.
  • Last on today's sightseeing agenda ( are you exhausted too?!) is the Gori Fortress which is a mere 10 minute walk from our charming little B&B. It dates mostly from the Middle Ages with a few later additions. There's nothing much up there nowadays except some walls in rubble and a large flat area from where you get spectacular 360 degree views.
  • We are too hungry to wait for sunset ( yogurt lunch ) and so walk into town to a local restaurant adjacent to the Stalin Museum which the B & B owner has recommended. Spinach soup, grilled vegetables topped with melted cheese and of course a Katchapuri ( without runny egg ) to fill us up. It works a treat.

What is this Elevated Pipework All About?

What is this Elevated Pipework All About?

Riddle of Overhead Pipework Solved!

Riddle of Overhead Pipework Solved!

Renovated Street of Kutaisi

Renovated Street of Kutaisi

Boulevard Cafe

Boulevard Cafe

Tklapi in Kutaisi Market

Tklapi in Kutaisi Market

Churchkela in Kutaisi Market

Churchkela in Kutaisi Market

More Familiar Food at Kutaisi Market

More Familiar Food at Kutaisi Market

Some More Familiar Food in Kutaisi Market

Some More Familiar Food in Kutaisi Market

Potato Lady at Kutaisi Market

Potato Lady at Kutaisi Market

Note the Old Scales at Kutaisi Market

Note the Old Scales at Kutaisi Market

Let Sleeping Dogs with Yellow Tags in Ears - Lie

Let Sleeping Dogs with Yellow Tags in Ears - Lie

A Special Moment at Motsameta Monastery

A Special Moment at Motsameta Monastery

Work in Progress at Gelati Monastery

Work in Progress at Gelati Monastery

Gelati Monastery

Gelati Monastery

World Famous Fresco of Virgin & Child & Archangels in Gelati Church

World Famous Fresco of Virgin & Child & Archangels in Gelati Church

Frescoes in Gelati Monastery

Frescoes in Gelati Monastery

Dancers in Traditional Costume at Gelati Monastery

Dancers in Traditional Costume at Gelati Monastery

We're Being Watched by a Stray Dog.

We're Being Watched by a Stray Dog.

Tana Valley en Route to Ateni Sioni

Tana Valley en Route to Ateni Sioni

Cellar Doors in the Tana Valley

Cellar Doors in the Tana Valley

Ateni Sioni - Work in Progress

Ateni Sioni - Work in Progress

A Forest of Scaffolding in Ateni Sioni

A Forest of Scaffolding in Ateni Sioni

External Stone Work Carvings of Hunting Scenes

External Stone Work Carvings of Hunting Scenes

Suburban Skyline in Gori Resudential Area - Gas Pipes, Vine Trellis & Satellite Dish

Suburban Skyline in Gori Resudential Area - Gas Pipes, Vine Trellis & Satellite Dish

Posted by sagbucks 11:10

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