The domed ceiling of the Pantheon in Rome is an incredible structure that has stood the test of time. Completed around 126AD, almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 142 feet (43 m).
Another weekend, another trip…we were with Adrenalin Hiking Club again. But there wasn’t to be much hiking. We went to the Algeti National Park, 60 km South West of Tbilisi, where a number of hiking clubs were celebrating the beginning of the hiking season. Our transport was a mix of Ford Transit Minibus over the roads, then a Mitsubishi Delica for the off road part.
We made a brief stop en route for those who wished to pick daisies, before heading to the campsite.
I hadn’t camped since my first honeymoon in Norway, way back in 1992. This would be interesting. The clouds, when we arrived looked grey and ominous. As the tents went up the rain started to come down slowly at first, then more heavily. The campsite felt a bit like a music festival, plenty of mud and a bass beat could be heard in the background but the only live music I saw was from singing and acoustic guitars.
The first task was to fetch wood, a reminder of my scouting days, where one of the prime duties at camp was “wood and water”,
The Algeti National Park stretches over the woody southern slopes of the eastern Trialeti range. There was plenty of wood mostly Caucasian Spruce and Nordmann Fir. The rain did look pretty on the pine leaves.
Club Adrenalin trips are known for impressive supras and group photos. Three new members were welcomed to Club Adrenalin: Natali, Mariam and my wife, Khato. The new members were given badges and a T Shirt and had their photo taken with other members.
The rain didn’t deter the fire makers. The fire was essential for the requisite Mtsvadi (Sashlik). The smell of woodsmoke reminded me very much of Scout Camps a few decades ago.
The rain got heavier, the thunder rumbled, the lightning flashed. We went to bed. The tent walls were damp, a lot of our stuff got wet. In the morning the sun shone and we hung out our wet stuff to dry.
More feasting this time including grilled mushrooms with sulguni cheese.
There wasn’t much hiking but I did wander about having a look in the forest and at the views.
We left for Tbilisi, early in the afternoon in our trusted Delica.
We assemble at 8am by Marjanshvili Metro, a group of 29 of us with Hiking Club Adrenalin, too big for one minibus, so we will ride out in an additional vehicle, a seven seater Honda Stream. On the map Dashbashi Canyon doesn’t look too far but the roads are twisty and uneven.
It will be a long day. First stop along the route is Manglisi Sioni, an important Georgian architectural monument and one of the oldest Christian centres in Georgia. The first church was built in the 4th Century, today’s cathedral dates back to the seventh century, renovated in 1002.
Arriving around 11am, there was a church service being celebrated but in Georgian churches it is not unusual for people to amble in and out of the church during a service.
Next stop on the journey was Lake Tsalka.
Near Tsalka lake we visited “Fathers Region a Monastery of Three Priests” with its trout and holy water.
A second lake, Paravani Lake is located 2,073 m (6,801 ft) above sea level and has a surface area of 37.5 km2.
Near to the lake was the Convent of St Nino in Phoka village with a small shop selling artisanal cheese, jam and liquor.
Finally at 6pm we reached our main destination, Dashbashi Canyon. A canyon carved in the volcanic rock by the river Ktsia.
We descended to the river where we gaped at the waterfall and had some fun splashing about in the river.
No Georgian excursion is complete without a supra (Georgian feast). Having climbed out of the canyon, we gathered around a fire, where Georgian Mtsvadi (Sashlik) was grilled and consumed.
We got home at 1.45 am!
We took a bus from Ankara on the day of the Turkish referendum (April 16 2017), south to Göreme in the heart of Cappadocia. My wife had wanted to visit Cappadocia for a long time, many saints revered in Georgia like St Nino and St George had come from that region. In both directions our bus was stopped at police/army checkpoints so the authorities could check everyone’s ID.
The bus stopped at Nevşehir, where we took a smaller shuttle bus to Göreme. The Göreme National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985. After we had found a hotel (a cave hotel) and booked a tour for the following day. We headed out to the Göreme Open Air Museum.
The churches and other dwellings in the rocks are reminiscent of Vardzia Cave City in Georgia . Entrance to the Museum was 30 TL with an extra 10 TL if you wished to visit the “Dark Church”. The Dark Church has the best examples of seccos (like frescoes but painted on dry rather than wet plaster): multicoloured angels cover the pillars and vaulted ceilings, along with scenes such as the birth of Jesus, with an ox and ass poking their noses into the manger. As the church’s name suggests, the lack of light has preserved the representations, which still look fresh and vivid after a millennium.
Volcanic eruptions created this surreal moonscape: the lava flows formed tuff rock, which wind and rain sculpted into sinuous valleys with curvy cliff faces and pointy fairy chimneys.
Capadoccia means “the land of beautiful horses”, there were certainly a few about but we didn’t go for a ride. There were some other interesting fauna: birds like the Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), for example.
After the sights of the Göreme Open Air Museum, we had a meal in a cafe in Göreme and retired to our cave hotel (Coco Cave Hotel). On the second day we took a tour with Insider travel, there were three tours to choose from we chose the “Green Tour”.
Our tour began with a stop at The Göreme panorama with a view over the area, before a visit to the local onyx factory. Here we had a demonstration of how onyx is shaped and also a chance to peruse some local jewellery. The sultanite jewellery was impressive as it changed colour according to the light from brown to red to green (Its gemological name is diaspore. It contains traces of chromium, iron, manganese and titanium.).
Then it was a long ride to the Ihlara valley, where we had a 4 km hike along the valley to work up an appetite for our lunch taken at a restaurant along the river. It is believed that the valley housed more than four thousand dwellings and a hundred cave churches decorated with frescoes.
We just visited one church along the route, Agacalti Kilise (the Church under the Tree).
At the end of the walk was the Selime Monastery, an impressive cluster of buildings carved out of the rocks.
Then it was back into the bus to the impressive Underground City of Kaymakli, discovered in 1964. It is believed to have housed thousands of people from the 6th to 9th Centuries. Five of the eight levels are open to visitors.
Here our guide, Alli, decided it would be fun to film a video clip for the “Mannequin Challenge”, we had to freeze in interesting positions while he filmed us, I was impressed by the results (here is the link): Mannequin Challenge inside Kaymakli Underground City
Our final stop was for some Turkish Delights of a sweet nature, a chance to try some local specialities, as well as loukum there were dried fruit, nuts and dried apricot kernels.
A room at the Coco Cave Hotel cost 100TL a night and the Green Tour with Insider Travel was 100TL per person. Cappadocia is an amazing place.
This might become an annual trip, last year we visited Bakuriani (A Trip to Bakuriani ) and this year too.
Bakuriani is one of three Georgian ski resorts (the others are Gudauri and Mestia). We left Tbilisi on Friday morning with some of Khato’s colleagues and 3 children, in a Mitsubishi Delica dependably driven by Dato. I don’t ski, but I can still enjoy the snowy landscape of Bakuriani.
We took Ana, our granddaughter; Bakuriani has a park with numerous activities, Ana liked being flung into the air on an aero-bungy maxi trampoline thingy…
Bakuriani has three ski lifts, last year we went up to the first level, this year we went to the top for the inevitable photo opportunity.
Back in Bakuriani, Ana had a lot of fun descending a small slope on a snow sled.
We had fun walking in the snow, breathing the fresh mountain air and taking lots of wintry photos.
On the return to Tbilisi on Sunday, we made a detour to visit Zedazeni Monastery, located on the Zedazeni mountain in the hills of Saguramo overlooking Tbilisi. The monastery dates back to the 6th century.
It was a pleasant break, a chance to see some snowy vistas and have some rest, away from the daily hustle and bustle.
This week’s challenge is Quest.
I’m on an alphabetic quest around Georgia.
Travelling in Georgia: A,B, C.
D next…maybe Dmanisi…
This post follows on from A trip to Racha: Day 1
Because some of our group were enjoying the previous night’s supra (Georgian feast) until 3am, Sunday didn’t get off to an early start. After we’d breakfasted and got everything ready, we finally left the guest house at 1pm. The weather on the Saturday had been hot and dry, on the Sunday it was cooler and more overcast with some rain.
Stalin’s first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, was born in Racha, tragically she died of typhus at the age of just 22. Stalin reputedly said ‘This creature softened my heart of stone. She’s died and with her have died my last warm feelings for humanity.’ Stalin allowed her funeral to take place in an Orthodox church despite his atheism.
Our first visit would be to another church, the chapel of the Virgin at Barakoni in the village of Tsesi built in 1753.
The grass around the church is still cut with a scythe.
The church was closed and desecrated under the Bolshevik rule. It suffered further damage, though not serious, in the 1991 Racha earthquake, but was quickly repaired.
After Barakoni we took a long unpaved muddy track up into the Khikhata range to the church of St George in the mountain village of Mravaldzali. The views over to the peaks of Svaneti were awesome. We passed another vehicle, whose driver suggested we had just another 2km to travel, half an hour later we finally reached Mravaldzali church. Nika’s driving was exemplary.
The interior of the church felt holy. A sanctuary from the outside world.
We didn’t stay long at the church and returned along the muddy track admiring the view until we came out by the River Rioni.
Then, as is the Georgian custom another supra, I sat out most of this feast, my stomach is not Georgian.
We finally got on the road home at 9pm, arriving in Tbilisi around 1 am.
Tbilisi is stiflingly hot in July, it seemed like a good time to head to the cooler mountainous regions of Georgia. This trip was taken over two days with “აბოდიალებულები” (which roughly translates as “the wanderers”) in a Mercedes Sprinter driven by Nika. We met at Marjanshvili for an early 7.10pm start (true to form this was later than the scheduled 6.30pm).
Racha is a highland area in Western Georgia. Our first stop was by the scenic Shaori Reservoir. It would be even more scenic if previous visitors hadn’t left their litter.
After a short pause by the water, it was back in the minibus to visit Nikortsminda Cathedral, originally built in the reign of Bagrat III in the 11th Century, the inner walls are painted with frescoes dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.
Continuing the religious theme we went on to visit the ruins of the monastery complex at Chelishi, which involved a short walk along a very muddy path.
After the monastery we ventured to the source of the Sharaula River. This path involved negotiating some piping; Khato had no problems with this, I managed okay (although I was fearful my legs might start shaking, like on my third failed driving test) but some of our party needed a helping hand.
The source of the river proved a photo opportunity for some of the group to pose with the “Adrenalin Hiking Club” banner. You can check out their Facebook page here : Adrenalin Hiking Club Facebook Page
After the source of the Sharaula, it was time to find an ice cave, which was cool in both sense of the word.
We finished the day with a dip in the reservoir for the brave.
Then made our way to a guest house in Ambrolauri for the obligatory Georgian supra (feast).
I left the supra at 11pm, but many of the Georgians more conditioned to such feasting, continued toasting each other, eating and drinking until 3am.
Continued: A trip to Racha: Day 2
The final city on our tour of Italy was Florence. The heart of Tuscany and the cradle of the Renaissance. The Duomo is the city’s iconic landmark and one of the Italian “Big Three, the others being the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So our first destination was Il Duomo (or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore).
Unike the ornate churches in Rome, the interior of Il Duomo is relatively bare, the relative bareness of the church corresponds with the austerity of religious life, as preached by Girolamo Savonarola.
There is an impressive patterned marble floor and the interior of the dome is decorated with an impressive fresco, started by Giorgio Vasari and finished by Federico Zuccari and a number of collaborators in the mid 16th Century.
The lines to scale the dome were long and I didn’t fancy clambering up 463 steep stone steps, so after the Duomo we headed to the Archaeological Museum. The Museum houses an impressive Egyptian collection and also many artefacts from Greek, Roman and Etruscan civilisations.
We also visited the garden of the museum, which shows tombs and burial mounds of ancient times. The Etruscan tomb, looked a little like a hobbit house.
When the museum was created in the late 19th century, its director felt that it would be incomplete without the actual tombs from which many Etruscan objects were removed, so he had a few of these dismantled and put back together right there in the garden of the museum. We were able to see the great variety of funeral monuments used by the Etruscans. There are tumulus, chamber, and “dado” tombs. The garden is open for visits only on Saturday mornings (and only if it is not raining), but if you can get in, it’s worth the price of admission (4 euro).
We then wandered to the Piazza della Signora with the Uffizi Gallery and a copy of the statue of David, the actual statue by Michelangelo is in The Galleria dell’ Academia. For us the copy would suffice.
Eating at one of the restaurants, on any of the principle piazzas of Florence, was going to be expensive, but we ventured into one, negotiated not to pay the 4 Euro cover charge and tried the Tuscan speciality soup called Ribollita (a thick vegetable, bread and bean dish) in a fancy restaurant on the Piazza della Republica.
The soup was very tasty, even if the price of 18 Euro was a little hard to swallow. After eating, we strolled around Florence marvelling at the medieval architecture, we finally slumped footsore in the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, where we watched the world go by and listened to a guitarist singing some popular pop covers.
They say if you stroke the snout of the bronze boar on the south side of Mercato Nuovo, you will return to Florence, we hadn’t thrown a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome but Khato was game to stroke the boar’s snout.
The Saturday we visited Florence was our last full day in Italy. We returned by train to Bologna. On the Sunday morning we had a last look at Bologna and almost got lost on the way back to the hotel. We flew out of Bologna airport after a two hour delay, not that we minded, we got a free snack and had less of a long wait at Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen for our connecting flight to Tbilisi, which arrived as is usual in Tbilisi at stupid o’clock (4.30am).
This continues from my earlier post: Italy part 1
For our week in Italy we had booked three nights in Rome and three in Bologna. Why Bologna? Well for several reasons: firstly, Bologna is conveniently located between Venice and Florence, where accommodation is more expensive, secondly, Pegasus have only three flight destinations in Italy: Rome, Milan and Bologna, thirdly because there is a lot to see in Bologna and finally because Bologna is reputedly the culinary capital of Italy (and I love Italian cuisine).
Bologna is nicknamed La Rossa because of its colourful red building and its history of left-wing militancy.
It took a little over two hours to reach Bologna on a fast train from Rome, which reached speeds of 300km/h (186mph) along the way. Arriving at the station, we bought tickets for Venice for the following day, left our bags at the hotel and headed to the centre to see what Bologna had to offer. Bologna has miles of colonnaded walkways, which provide shelter from rain, traffic and summer sun. In the centre there is Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune’s Fountain), a striking bronze statue of Neptune sculpted by Giambologna stands atop the fountain at the corners of the fountain are four buxom sirens representing the four continents of the pre-Oceania world.
We also discovered that it isn’t just Pisa that has leaning towers. Bologna has a pair of leaning towers from the 12th Century. The taller of the two is the Torre degli Asinelli, 97.6 metres high and leaning 1.3m off the vertical, the shorter is the Torre Garisenda, 48m high and leaning a drunken 3.2 m off the vertical.
The following day (Friday), we took a slower and cheaper train to Venice. 35 years after I had originally planned to visit Venice, I finally arrived. As had the rain. Our first action was to buy a Vaporetto Pass and take the Vaporetto (water bus) to the island of Giudecca.
We wandered around hiding from the rain in the colonnades around St Mark’s Square, before hopping on a vaporetto to the Rialto Bridge, which spans the Grand Canal. After a lunch comprising of a couple of slices of pizza, which the pigeons ended up fighting over, we took another vaporetto to the island of Murano. Murano is world renowned for its glass.The tourist shops make a point that their glass is made in Murano and not imported from China. Unfortunately, we arrived in Murano too late for a demonstration of glass blowing but we saw many of Murano’s celebrated wares.
Then, we hopped back on a vaporetto to Ferrovia (the train station stop) and returned to Bologna.
Continued in Italy Part 3 : Florence