A Church on a Mountain and Back Down to Tbilisi

Community Highlights Photography A Church on a Mountain and Back Down to Tbilisi

May 21

I had a hard time getting to sleep after the midnight fireworks show but then slept right through until my jazz began playing. My first thoughts when I woke up were about the weather. Everything had been covered in fog and rain the day before. Would I get to see anything this day? Or would it be more of the same?

I had encountered lots of rain at the beginning of my Georgian tour but was lucky to wake up in Mestia on my second morning to see the sun and a great view of the mountains. And, just like that morning, I jumped out of bed, opened the curtains, and looked out at a fabulous view of the mountains. I could see the Gergheti Trinity Church on the hill.

I quickly finished packing and messaged Sergio to see if we could try to get going a little earlier than the planned 10:00 am. He agreed to 9:45, a small victory, although he was limited in that he had to organize my ride up the hill.

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I went downstairs and found a table with a breakfast already set up.

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"Yes, that is for you. Do you want some eggs?" I had been given many awful breakfasts during my trip, but I was more than pleased this morning. I was sorry that I could not really do justice to all the food that they served me. There was only instant coffee, but they almost made up for it with fresh pear juice.

I was most impressed with the Hilltop Hotel. I had received a warm welcome the day before, was provided with a great breakfast, and was given a warm goodbye as I checked out. I walked through the hotel gate and waited for Sergio.

We drove across the river and parked at the bottom of the hill, where we waited for my driver who would take me up to Gergheti Trinity Church. The town looked much better with the mountains in view, quite a contrast from the day before.

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Sergio was not permitted to drive me up the hill. The options for getting to the church were walking or taking a tour. I assumed that the rules were to control numbers and perhaps to provide local employment. This was the view from where we started up the hill.

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It only took a few minutes for the van to get us to the top. Although it was rough in places, the road was paved the entire way. The four-wheel drive was not necessary. I was told that I had 30 minutes for my visit. I asked the driver if they would leave me if I was late to get back to the van. He laughed and said no. I still moved as fast as I could. I walked around the back of the church. The views were spectacular.

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The church was built in the 14th century and sits at 2,170 metres (7,120 ft) in front of Mount Kazbek, the highest mountain in Eastern Georgia at 5,054 meters (16,581 ft). Since it is still is in use, visitors were asked not to take photos or record. I stood inside for several minutes and listened to the chanting. It was quite moving.

I reported back within the allotted time but asked that we stop at a parking lot down below so that I could get a better photo of the church against the mountains. I thought about the incredible things that I had seen over the past few weeks. It was a magical moment.

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Our next stop was the Dariali Monastery, which is located next to the border with Russia. It seemed a bit strange to be going to the border, but it appeared that it was one of the regular tourist stops. A few tour groups arrived as we were leaving. The border is located in the Dariali Gorge which has been a key crossing point through the Caucasus Mountains for centuries and has been fortified for over 2,000 years.

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Our official visit was to the monastery, which unlike the earlier churches I had seen, is a new structure, having been built in 2005. I walked around the church, looking for a good angle for a photograph against the mountains.

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Sergio then brought me to the Gveleti Waterfalls, a popular hiking destination. There were two drop off points, one for taxis and cars and the other, about ten minutes down the trail, that was for the four-wheel tour vans. Sergio parked at the first one and sent me on my way. I was really happy to be hiking.

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I soon reached the second lot where I found a few tour vans along with the drivers. They had sent their clients down the trail. One driver was looking up at the mountain cliffs. I asked what he was looking at. After a minute of me struggling to see, he took my camera and snapped a photo. Luckily, I was using my zoom lens. He gave me back the camera with this image. There is no way I could have ever seen that on my own.

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There are two waterfalls, but it seemed that everyone was heading to the more distant one. Two Swiss ladies and I wondered how much longer we had to walk. The younger one and I shared our memories of climbing sand dunes in Namibia, although she had climbed the Big Daddy dune, one that I had skipped, choosing instead to take photos down below and occasionally gazing up at the long line of hikers struggling up the steep dune. This climb was not nearly as difficult as that one, but we still had not reached the top.

The walk became a bit of a scramble, and I decided to put my camera into my pack to free up my hands. That delayed me a bit. When I got to the top a few minutes later, I was congratulated by the Swiss ladies, who had wondered if the old guy was going to make it to the end. My pride was a bit hurt that they had doubted me, but that was quickly forgotten when a lovely young woman offered me a piece of dark chocolate. That was followed a minute later by her equally lovely friend offering me a piece of white chocolate.

I took a photo with my phone and had one of my fellow hikers take my photo.
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It was easier going down.

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I chatted with my new friends. One typed her contact information into my phone so that I could send her the link to this blog when it was posted. That was many months ago. I had told her that it might take awhile. It did.

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Shortly after leaving the waterfall area Sergio turned off the Military Highway and pulled into a field that had several sculpted stone heads done by a local artist named Merab Piranishvili. The stones come from the area. The sculptures depict different figures from Georgian history or the arts. The project is mostly self funded. I put some money into his donation box.

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It was then back on the highway, headed to Tbilisi.

This is Kanobi, a village on the other side of the Terek River.

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We stopped at the Jvari Pass Travertine Natural Monument. According to Wikipedia, “This limestone was formed when carbonate minerals precipitate out of ambient temperature water.” It was like a mini-Pamukkale, one of stops during my Turkish travels.

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I asked Sergio to pull over at a marble cross marker at Jvari Pass, which is at 2,400 metres. There were some tourists playing in the snow. I was not so excited about that as I will get lots of chances to play in the snow later this year when I have to shovel it off my driveway. One can only imagine the conditions on stormy winter days. It was messy enough the day before and that was just a bit of rain.

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Just below the marker is the Gudauri Friendship monument, also known as the Gudauri Panorama or the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument.

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There had been nothing to see in the fog the day before, but as I had suspected, the views were amazing.

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The irony of the monument is also amazing. The monument was built in 1983 (Soviet times) to celebrate the bicentennial of a treaty between Georgia and Russia, a treaty which Russia blatantly ignored at first as they were supposed to support Georgia against invasion from Persia and shortly afterward Russia just annexed Georgia. From everything I had learned, Georgians do not consider Russia a great friend.

But the panorama is remarkable.

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Some men were flying a drone. They had a baby in a car seat set up beside them. I spoke to the baby (from several feet away), telling her that she was facing the wrong way. The man noticed and moved her away. I guess he did not want strangers talking to his kid.

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I walked out to the viewpoint.

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A woman suggested that I might want my photo taken. How did she know that I was not going to just do a selfie?

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I bought a nice cheese pastry.

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Traffic was busy going back down, but we were not delayed. There were constant lines of trucks waiting to get up to the border.

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We were about an hour and a half away from Tbilisi when things got a big awkward. I was quite tired. It had been a long day of driving and hiking. I was anxious to get to my hotel. Sergio asked if I wanted to stop to get something to eat. I did not. He then said that since I was not interested in eating that he would stop at an Indian restaurant since that was his preference. He said that he had not eaten anything for breakfast, so he really needed to eat and was going to stop whether I was hungry or not. The question was only to determine the type of food. I might have been more sympathetic if he had simply asked if he could stop instead of posing the question to see if I wanted something. I also thought that he needed to look after himself better. He had chances to eat something earlier. I had eaten breakfast and then the pastry. He pulled up to a restaurant and asked if I was going to join him. I did not and walked along the river until he returned to the car. We did not talk during the remainder of the drive. Perhaps it was also a bit of guide fatigue. This was our ninth day together.

We fought the Tbilisi traffic and arrived at my new hotel. As requested, Sakura had changed it for me. I was now going to stay in a Ramada.

The first thing I did was to take everything out of my suitcase. I calculated what I needed to get home and did my final washing, everything except for my sweatshirt. I had to think about that since I knew that it would take a long time to dry.

I was still technically in the old part of town, at least my hotel was called the Ramada by Wyndham Tbilisi Old City. I went out to find a restaurant. Google Maps suggested that it would be a long walk. I was not happy. At my last hotel (the one I did not want to see again), I could choose from dozens of nearby restaurants. I began walking and only saw cars, very fast cars. I felt that I was really being punished for complaining.

I finally gave up and went back to the hotel restaurant which was full of European Union people. Their coats said something about civil protection. Not that I have anything against the EU, but I missed all my Korean tourists.

I saw lots of pricey western food on the menu and only a few Georgian options. The waiter came to help when he saw me checking things with my phone. I finally ordered Lobiani, a traditional Georgian dish of bean-filled bread. I thought that I had also ordered a soup but that never arrived. It was a disappointing meal which might have been better with the soup. I thought an ice cream would be good since the bean paste had left a bad after taste. But the waiter told me that I could only get ice cream with the apple strudel, which I did not want. I ordered a cappuccino.

My great day had gone downhill fast.

I thought a lot about communication. I could have had better communication with Sakura about the hotel. I had liked the area of my first Tbilisi hotel, just not the hotel itself. I did not really want a Ramada. Sergio and I had not been communicating. Language might have been a big part of that. The waiter and I could have communicated better. I missed out on my soup which would have gone well with the Lobiani.

I was a bit sad, so I took it out on my sweatshirt which I decided had to be washed and then just had to dry before I left. Because I was busy, I missed my call with Po and only got her message. It was now too late to call. That made me even sadder.

At least my fancier hotel had air conditioning. The room had been hot but was now cool as I went to bed on the first of my last three nights in Georgia.

This featured blog entry was written by Bob Brink from the blog Searching for Magical Moments.
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By Bob Brink

Posted Thu, Nov 30, 2023 | Georgia | Comments