14.06.2017 - 14.06.2017 20 °C
Day 21 Wednesday June 14 2017
Gori to Mtskheta / 64 km
- Our little bed & breakfast, Savane, is another oasis, the kind we like. Basic, clean, quiet & comfortable. Set in the middle of a residential area and walking distance from the city centre and the fortress..
- Gori claims credit for two famous sons. There are probably many more, but these are the two that we have heard of: Joseph Stalin & Eduard Shevardnadze. More about Stalin in a minute. People of our age will remember the name Shevardnadze - he was Mikhail Gorbachev's Foreign Minister during the Soviet policy of 'Glasnost & Perestroika' ( meaning 'open' & 'listening' )
- This political movement unleashed simmering national tensions in the Caucasus region and in 1991 all 3 countries that we are visiting on this trip declared independence from the Soviet Union. Shevardnadze returned to Georgia to politically manage his country's emergence as a Nation State. But he was blamed for continued corruption and rising crime and was himself 'overthrown' by what is known as the Rose Revolution in 2003.
- After breakfast served in the 'hall' ( we are now brewing our own coffee almost daily) we visit the Stalin Museum with great expectations. It is located in the centre of town, on, where else, Stalin Avenue. But it disappoints big time. The building is 'stalinesque' - large empty spaces, marble flooring & walls & very austere . Exhibits are mostly photographic or in the form of letters & documents. The majority of the explanatory signage is only in Russian & Georgian. So we have little clue of what we are looking at and sadly leave none the wiser. There may be a possibility of organising an English speaking guide but the cost or length of tour is unknown. And in any case the exhibits would still be dull!
- Back briefly to Stalin. If that's possible. He was born Iosif (Joseph) Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in 1879 in Gori. His family was poor, his father an abusive character and his mother religious. She had ambitions for her son to become a priest. But as so often happens, children rebel - it's just that in Stalin's case he took it a lot further.
- Instead of studying scripture at college he used his time & energy to read the secret writings of Karl Marx. He joined a local socialist group and became active in the revolutionary movement against the Russian monarchy. By 1899 he was thrown out of college & declared himself an atheist. And that was just the beginning.
- By the way Dzhugashvili's adopted name Stalin ( which is easier to prononce ) means 'made of steel' . It was quite common at that time to use an alias name, especially if you were likely to get into trouble. It helped to protect your family from direct connection. Lenin did the same.
- Initially Stalin served under Lenin as General Secretary of the Communist party. After Lenin's death in 1924 he promoted himself as his natural successor. He governed the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Ideologically both a Marxist and a Leninist, his own policies and theories became known as Stalinism.
- His historical notoriety is due amongst other things to the Great Purge he organised between 1934 -9 during which time millions of so called "enemies of the working class' were interned in Gulag run prisons, exiled, executed or simply vanished without due process. His historical accolade is based on his defeat of Hitler and the transformation of the Soviet Union from a feudal economy to an industrial power that ultimately also became a superpower.
- A couple of memorable Stalin quotes:
'A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.'
'It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.'
- On a lighter note & a more contemporary one, Georgia also has a daughter who is now well known in Europe: singer Katie Melua. She has recently toured UK with the Gori Women's Choir. Our B&B hostess used to sing in the very same choir when she was young. Check out YouTube for Katie Melua's rendition of the 'Little Swallow' accompanied by the ladies of Gori. It's hauntingly beautiful.
- Hoping for a more positive experience than Stalin's museum, we drive 11km out of town to Uplistsikhe - a cave settlement that developed from 6C B.C. to become a cave city of 20000 people by around 7C A.D. It became an important trade centre on the main caravan route from Asia to Europe. As often happens to great cities, decline set in during the 12C. Then the Mongols arrived in 1240 and finished the process. It was later simply abandoned. The ruins seen today are entirely as a result of archaeology research since the second half of 20C
- If it is a little blustery in the car park, by the time we scale the rock face through the old city gate up into the inner city area, it is blowing a gale. Uplistsikhe is also a Windy City! It's hold onto your hats windy. We do our best to work out the details of the various numbered cave dwellings. It's not easy and signage could be much improved.
- As we exit the cave city we are eager to find the 'escape ' tunnel which was also used for quick access to the river. It is Impressive engineering that dates back milennia.
- By midday we leave Gori in the direction of Tblisi. Some 65 km away. However the capital of Georgia is not yet our destination. Actually not until the end of June. Instead we are stopping in Mtskheta which is often incorporated, for sightseeing purposes, as a day trip from Tbilisi. We hope to enjoy this former capital in peace & quiet once the day trippers have gone.
- Mtskheta, located on the confluence of the rivers Aragvi & Mtkvari, is the spiritual heart of Georgia and the Georgian Orthodox Church. It has been ever since Christianity was established in this country around 327 A.D.
- On our approach the motorway winds past a hill on top of which stands Jvari church, one of most iconic sights in Georgia. It is visible for miles around and at night is beautifully illuminated.
- Jvari is also called the Church of the Holy Cross. It was built between 586-605 A.D. on the site where first the Christian King of Georgia, King Mirian , erected a large wooden cross to commemorate his conversion to Christianity. The octagonal base of the 4C of cross is still preserved in the centre of the church.
- Outside there are gorgeous 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside.
- In Mtskheta there is another significant place to visit - Svetitskhoveli Cathedral which dates dates from 11C. Architecturally it represents the golden age of Georgian Ecclesiatical buildings. But it also draws the crowds because it is believed that Christ's Crucification robe lies buried beneath the central nave under a square pillar decorated with frescoes. Check google for the details of this story & see what you think. Suffice to say many of the visitors bow, kneel or prostrate themselves in reverence.
- Finally we pay a brief visit to the little nunnery of Samtavro and then head back to our hotel to catch up on home news. And yes we are aware of yet another terrible tragedy to hit the city of London. We have a feeling that this time around it is the public who have had enough. Somebody or some organisation has been criminally negligent. A public enquiry will not suffice. Heads must roll Mrs May, even if it's yours.
- We head out downtown for early supper. We have already identified a restaurant. As we do so it starts to rain. Then the cats & dogs arrive - for several hours. We are in the midst of a ferocious thunderstorm, the kind you only see in movies. The road turns into a river. We are at the mercy of car drivers. A soaking is inevitable.
- In the scheme of things we are close to Noah territory. Remember that Georgians claim to be directly descended from one of Noah's great great grandsonns. He probably had quite a few. And we all know what happened to Noah!
- We abandon plans to walk to the restaurant on the edge of town - we dash into the nearest place serving food.
- The restaurant is empty save for a couple of Czech travellers. They are also sheltering from the rain. They have a distinct advantage over us - as do many travellers from Eastern European countries or former Soviet Union States - they had to learn Russian at school and can communicate directly with the waitress.
- We choose a peasant's salad dressed in a delicious walnut sauce, a Katchapuri to share ( it's so large even AG agrees to that ) and a couple of clay pots of Lobio ( a local delicacy ) which is a spicy bean stew. It's all very delicious, even with Borjomi water, and extremely filling.
- Fortunately, as we return to our hotel, although still raining, the thunderstorm has passed. Another busy day has ended.