A trip to Racha: Day 2

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.


Khvanchkara, a rich red wine said to be Stalin’s favourite

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.




Barakoni Chapel (Interior)

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.


Khato prays at an icon in Mravaldzali Church.

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.


River Rioni

Then, as is the Georgian custom another supra, I sat out most of this feast, my stomach is not Georgian.


Supra by the roadside sheltered from the rain.

We finally got on the road home at 9pm, arriving in Tbilisi around 1 am.


A trip to Racha: Day 1

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).


Welcome to Racha!

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.


Ana and Khato by the Shaori Reservoir.

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.


Ice Cave

We finished the day with a dip in the reservoir for the brave.

Khato takes a dip in the reservoir

Khato in the Shaori Reservoir (photo by Ana Xurcidze)

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

Italy: May 2016: Part 3: Florence

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).


Facade of Il Duomo with St John’s Baptistry to the left

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.


Il Duomo interior

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.


Inside the dome

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.


Etruscan Tomb in the garden

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.


Il Porcellino

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).

Italy Part 1: Rome and the Vatican

Italy Part 2: Bologna and Venice


In Memoriam: David Bowie

Shortly after waking this morning, I saw an old school-friend post on Facebook  “David Bowie. RIP”. My first reaction was to ask “is this for real?” I checked the BBC website and it hadn’t broken there at that time. I Googled and saw it had been reported in the Hollywood Reporter.

The deaths of Elvis, John Lennon, Ian Curtis, Freddie Mercury, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and just recently, Lemmy were all sad and shocking but I feel Bowie’s death more keenly.

I never saw David Bowie live. I saw Lemmy three times (once with Motorhead and twice with Hawkwind). At 69, he wasn’t particularly young, close to the three score and ten years of our allotted span. But I still feel in a state of shock.

Only yesterday, I was chatting with another friend on Facebook about Bowie’s new album “Blackstar”, which has only just come out.

The first 12″ Single I bought was “Let’s Dance“. In the mid eighties, when I used to list my favourite songs “Life on Mars” was invariably in the top five, it is such a brilliant song, I don’t have the words to express…here is a link to the video… Life on Mars

Time may change me
But I can’t trace time.

from “Changes”

Untitled ‪#14

There is a fountain I pass most days in Liberty Square (Tavisuplebis Moedani), taking my granddaughter to school. I have been playing around with different angles of view. If I get down low, I can have St George and his horse on top of the fountain. Here the hydraulic arm of a fire truck looks to be impeding the flow of the water…which is in fact responding to high gusty winds…


My First Moleskine

‘Le vrai moleskine n’est plus.’ lamented Bruce Chatwin in Songlines, when he heard the French manufacturer of the Moleskine had gone out of business in the 80s. He would use one for all his travel notes.

Harry Hole the maverick cop in Jo Nesbo’s crime fiction uses one.


Moleskine logo

“a simple black rectangle with rounded corners , an elastic page holder, and an internal expandable pocket: a nameless object with a spare perfection.”



an internal pocket

The legendary notebook used by artists  and writers over the past couple of  centuries.

A Milanese publisher revived the notebook in 1997. I found mine at the Winter Fair in Tbilisi, I’m not sure what I’ll use it for, notes , sketches or a mix of ideas….

I have a lot of cheap notebooks I carry around with me, now I also have a legendary Moleskine.



Microincidents…every day there are small things, which are different from the norm…we go about our daily routine mechanically and we see something or hear something, which we aren’t expecting, maybe something we haven’t seen before.

Sunday: I saw a bearded man accompanied by a child of about ten, rip an advertsing poster off a metro carriage advertising board.

Monday: I saw a dead cat by the side of the road 😦

Tuesday: The escalator on the metro stopped, at first people looked around, as though they were wondering what had happened to their reality and then they started walking down.

Wednesday: a large old woman in front of me couldn’t get onto the bus unaided, with other passengers I had to help push/pull her on.

Today: let’s see what happens…

This post I am leaving as “uncategorized” as I don’t want this to be a broken link.