With only one day left, it’s time to finally visit the sight that dominates all of Tbilisi, the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Also known as Tsminda Sameba Cathedral, it was only consecrated in 2004, yet its physical presence is something that can’t be ignored and it is well worthy of the 30 minute walk from the Old Town to reach it.
Our last days in Georgia are upon us. We’ve spent four weeks in this gorgeous country and had a blast and most especially the last three days that we spent with friends from the UAE who met us for our final days. Seeing the faces on Emily and Alayna when they met up was, to paraphrase Big Chris out of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, emotional. It also was a reminder that in this day and age, distance is of no matter and that the world really is too small a place. I mean, if an Irish family and a New Zealand family can arrange to catch up in Georgia, then anything is really possible.
We’ve traded in the Georgian interior for Georgia’s Black Sea coast, which forms part of the Caucasian Riviera. Specifically, we’re in Batumi, capital of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara which is a political-administrative region within Georgia. The city has close to 150,000 people and exhibits a distinctly different feel from the rest of Georgia. There are noticeable influences from its southern neighbour, Turkey and a much larger Muslim population, which is estimated to be approximately 30%.
I recall when travelling last through Europe (22 years ago!), that we constantly used the acronym ABC, meaning Another Bloody Church and Another Bloody Castle. As I’ve got older, I’ve found my capacity for churches, cathedrals and castles to be infinitely higher. Which is just as well, as there are plenty in Georgia, with a high proportion being absolutely stunning. Kutaisi is no exception to the rest of Georgia and we managed to visit three of historical significance while staying there.
Having seen both where Stalin was born and more importantly Fraggle Rock, we headed to George’s third largest city, Kutaisi. Kutaisi has historically been the capital city of a number of Georgian Kingdoms, including the Kingdom of Colchis in the 5th to 6th century BC, Kingdom of Lazica from 1st century BC, Kingdom of Georgia in the Middle Ages and the Kingdom of Imereti shortly thereafter. Looking to recapture some of its past glory, it was even briefly made the seat of the Parliament of Georgia from 2012 to 2018 until this was returned back to Tbilisi in 2019. Nowadays, Kutaisi seems happy enough with simply being the capital of the western region of Imereti and content to watch the world go by from the banks of the Rioni River.
About 15 kilometres to the east of Gori, cut deep into the surrounding natural rock, is the 12th century BC settlement of Uplistsikhe. One of, if not the, oldest urban settlements in Georgia, during its heyday between the 9th and 11th century AD, it is thought to have housed up to 20,000 people due to its strategic location along a main caravan road from Asia to Europe. The town lasted up until the Mongols invaded the country in the 14th century, after which it was virtually abandoned before being “rediscovered” in the 1950’s. It’s importance to Georgian culture is such that it was placed on the UNESCO Heritage Tentative List in 2007.
You may or may not know that Joseph Stalin originated from Georgia and that Stalin wasn’t his original name. Born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (and more commonly called Iosif Jughashvili) into a poor family, the man who would go on to become one of the most powerful figures in the 20th century, suffered a lifelong disability to his left arm as a child due to an accident with a horse drawn carriage. This may have had some bearing on his desire to be portrayed as a hard man when rising through the Soviet ranks, which resulted in him changing his name to Stalin, meaning “Man of Steel” in Russian.
We’re not much of mountain people. Neither Veronica nor I are interested in skiing, we don’t get into home brewing moonshine and nor are we any good at growing beards. So the idea of heading up to the mountains might see a bit strange. But when researching Georgia, the town of Stepantsminda and the iconic Gergeti Trinity Church kept popping up as one of the things that had to be seen when visiting the country.
We’ve made it to Nana’s place. Actually, her real name is Louisa, but she’s just like your Nana who runs around fussing after you making sure you’ve constantly got cups of tea or coffee and snacks to nibble on at all times of the day. The only difference is that this Nana doesn’t speak a word of English, although she makes up for it by humming what sounds like the equivalent of Georgian boy-band songs. She’s actually our driver Zura’s real Nana, so maybe he got his love of music from her. Regardless, she’s an absolute godsend when you’ve got no luggage and a little bit stressed out about when it might actually arrive.
We’ve made it to Georgia! Home to Lay’s Potato Chips, southern hospitality and Coca-Cola. Oops, wrong Georgia. We’re actually in the country of Georgia in the South Caucasus. Depending on how you want to view it, you can make a case as to whether Georgia is in Europe, Asia or the Middle East. Having been ruled by different European and Asian powers for centuries (primarily Mongols, Arabs, Persians and Russians), it can legitimately claim to having a foot in all three camps. Geographically Georgia tends to placed in Asia, but culturally and due to the practising of Christian Orthodox religion, it definitely feels like Europe.