Georgia

An Excursion to Uplistsikhe and Ateni Sioni with not one but two Georgian Supras (feasts)

Our group

Our group at Uplitsikhe

Uplistsikhe is a cave city complex like Vardzia, the destination of my first trip with this group of Khato’s colleagues. As is usual with these trips, we got up early, we had been told to meet the minibus at 8.30am at Didube in Tbilisi. With true Georgian timing the minibus didn’t actually leave until 9.15am, when the last of the stragglers arrived.

Our first stop was Gori, a town famed as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, Georgia’s most famous son. Our stop was not for sightseeing but to pick up some fruit for our supra (Georgian Feast) later.

Gori Castle

Gori Fortress

There used to be a statue of Stalin in the main square but it was taken down in 2010. Here is a statue of a different “hero”.

“Lomkatsa” or ” lionman”, a fictional Georgian adonis, sculpted by Elguja Amashukeli in 1986 .

 

Uplistsikhe is 10 km from Gori, and sits scenically on the banks of the Mtkvari. It has been a settlement since the early Iron Age and is possibly the oldest urban settlement in Georgia, the main development was from 6th Century BC to 1st Century AD. It has a strategic position on the Silk Road, linking east with west, archaeological digs in the area have revealed artefacts from east and west. The city was an important religious centre in pagan, pre Christian Georgia and magic ceremonies were still practised here until the 18th century. Archaeological studies show that from 4th Century AD to 6th Century AD there was a struggle between the Christians and Pagans. The Kings of Kartli took residence at Uplistsikhe when the Arabs took Tbilisi in the 7th Century. The city declined after David the Builder retook Tbilisi in 1122, and large parts were destroyed by the Mongol hordes in 1240 and later by Tamurlane (or Timur) in the 14th Century. Settlement of the caves was finally abandoned in the early 19th century.

Our first stop was the museum, showing artefacts and a slide-show about the history of the caves. The slide-show was in Georgian but with English subtitles.

Museum at Uplistsikhe

Museum at Uplistsikhe

After our brief visit to the museum, we started to explore the cave complex.

Uplistsikhe

Uplistsikhe

The heat of July meant there were a lot of lizards about.

lizard

lizard

The 10th century church at the top of the complex is Prince’s Church (Uplistsulis Eklesia). It was built over a pagan temple.

Prince's Church

Prince’s Church framed by Tamaris Dabazi

As with many Georgian sites, health and safety precautions are minimal compared to sites in the West.

Beso, Tamuna and Khato on an old wall.

Beso, Tamuna and Khato on an old wall.

Some first aid needed to be applied when Tamuna took a tumble.

P1290977After touring the cave city we headed to Ateni a village where our friends Spartak and Nona live. Spartak has his own wine cellar with his own “champagne”.

Spartak distributing champagne in his wine cellar

Spartak distributing “champagne” in his wine cellar

I’m no wine connoisseur, before coming to Georgia, I didn’t really drink alcohol and now I will only drink wine at Supras (Georgian feasts), but the Georgians were full of praise for he “champagne”. We had our first Supra, before heading out to a warm mineral pool in the beautiful Tana Valley.

Georigan Supra al fresco, where food is abundant and the wine flows freely.

Georigan Supra al fresco, under a mulberry tree, where food is abundant and the wine flows freely.

Our second destination was Ateni Sioni (ატენის სიონი) a seventh century church currently being restored, but still used for services.

Ateni Sioni

Ateni Sioni

Ateni Sioni interior showing extensive scaffolding

Ateni Sioni interior showing extensive scaffolding

Architecturally Ateni Sioni is modelled on the Jvari Church at Mtskheta.

The eleventh century frescoes are among the finest medieval art in the country.

The eleventh century frescoes are among the finest medieval art in the country.

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stags, hunting scene in the brickwork of the church

stags, hunting scene in the brickwork of the church

Then we return to Spartak’s for a second and lengthy supra under a mulberry tree.

Other trips made with this group or “აბოდიალებულები” (which roughly translates as “the wanderers”) :

Vardzia March 2015

Davit Gareja May 2015

Prometheus Cave June 2015

Kutaisi June 2015

Khevsureti trip August 2015

A Trip to Prometheus Cave and Kutaisi: Part One: Prometheus Cave

Inside Prometheus Cave

Inside Prometheus Cave, Tsakhaltubo

This is the third trip I have made with my wife, Khato’s lovely colleagues. (Previous trips: Davit Gareja and Vardzia Cave City)

Kutaisi was the furthest we’ve ventured with this group. We had planned to leave from Didube Bus Station in Tbilisi at 6am, usually we arrive on time and wait around for the others. This time they were waiting for us. It was going to be a long day.

Map of Georgia with Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Tsakhaltubo highlighted.

Map of Georgia with Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Tsakhaltubo highlighted.

There were fifteen of us and the minibus driver, Levan.

rest break en route

rest break en route

Sundays in June aren’t the best time to visit the Prometheus and Sataplia Caves, as there are several school excursions with the same idea. When we reached the Prometheus Cave Complex the car park was full of minibuses and we were told we would have to wait at least an hour before our group could enter the caves.

We hung around in the lush green vegetation around the caves taking photos of each other.

P1280335

The wait was worth it, the caves were incredible. The caves can be seen from a 1420m long walkway which goes through  17 “rooms”. You can only enter the caves in groups with a guide. The caves were only discovered in 1984 and are full of stalactites, stalagmites (the mites go up and the tights come down), curtains and petrified waterfalls. At the end of the walkway visitors can take a boat out of the caves.

The caves were fabulous, aided by clever lighting. (click on an image to see the gallery bigger)

Our planned itinerary for the day was :

  1. Prometheus Cave
  2. Satuplia Cave
  3. Bagrati Cathdedral
  4. Gelati Monastery
  5. Motsameta Monastery
  6. Restaurant for a Georgian Feast (Supra)

Because of high visitor numbers we had to cancel plans for Satuplia Cave, we were told they were fully booked until 6pm, so we proceeded to our third destination Bagrati Cathedral….which I will cover in the second part of this post…

Eurovision

Ok, I admit it, I enjoyed Eurovision last year, the show, the songs, the banter on Twitter and Facebook. I was disappointed The Linnets (Netherlands) didn’t win, but once the bearded lady got her momentum, nothing was going to stop her. Eurovision 2014.

I intend to watch again this year. Georgia’s entry “Warrior” by former model Nina Sublatti is a little scary and it is difficult to make out the words. I still hope she does well.

I haven’t heard all the songs yet but of those I have heard my favourite is funky Guy Sebastian’s “Tonight Again” from Australia. If Australia win it will be a shock for the geographically challenged. I’ve been teasing people on Youtube who ask why Australia is in Eurovision, by telling them that they won last year….yes I DO know Australia isn’t Austria (one gave us Kylie the other gave us Hitler).

Eurovision is as much about politics as the music, Armenia’s entry is blatantly drawing attention to the “Genocide” with their song “Don’t Deny” (I wonder if Turkish TV will cut to an advert break when that airs) and Russia after the booing in 2014 has a song promoting inclusivity “A Million Voices”.

The UK entry “Still in Love with You”  by Electro Velvet sounds like a song from Chicago great for a party.

The UK doesn’t have enough friends in Europe to score highly, everyone loves Sweden (even Denmark in the voting but not in football) so they’ll probably win.

Other predictions: http://suzie81speaks.com/2015/05/23/eurovision-2015-grand-final-predictions/

http://talkaboutpopmusic.net/2015/05/23/eurovision-song-contest-2015-the-grand-final-predictions/

http://hughsviewsandnews.com/2015/05/23/eurovision-song-contest-2015-here-are-the-votes-from-the-hugh-jury/

…and the winner was Sweden (bookies’favourite)

A Trip to Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja is one of the most remarkable historic sites in Georgia. Founded in the 6th Century AD by Saint Davit Garejeli, who retreated from Tbilisi for the solitude of the rocky semi arid landscape in South East Georgia, today bordering Azerbaijan. In May, the site is resplendent in wild flowers, in contrast to the aridity of drier months.

wild flowers

wild flowers

We met up at Isani Metro with others on our trip. The weather forecast wasn’t great so there were just eight of us going, rather than the usual dozen. The sky was mostly overcast but it only rained close to the time we were leaving.

Davit Gareja isn’t far from Tbilisi, but the journey is slow as the roads are rough and full of potholes. The Davit Gareja complex comprises 15 old monasteries, Lavra is the only one inhabited today. On the hill above it is Udabno, with beautiful frescoes.

Lavra Monastery

Lavra Monastery

Church of the Transfiguration

Church of the Transfiguration

St Davit Garajeli's grave

St Davit Garajeli’s grave

Natia

Natia “Katniss” climbs a tree

The route to Udabno isn’t signposted, sometimes tourists take the wrong route and have to backtrack.

P1260947Many school groups visit the site and now seem keen on creating that original photo to add to their social media accounts.

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Photo Opportunity at Larva Monastery

The Lonely Planet Guide warns to “Watch out for poisonous vipers on this route, especially from April to June.” We didn’t see any.

Through the vegetation...

Through the vegetation…

On top of the hill is Udabno Monastery founded in the 9th-10th centuries, a branch of the Larva Monastery. It was closed when we arrived.

Udbano Monastery

Udabno Monastery

at the top, Azerbaijan behind us

at the top, Azerbaijan behind us

When we pass the top of the hill, we enter into Azerbaijan but there are no border controls, the frescoes on the Azeri side are badly damaged. During the Soviet era, the area was used for military exercises and the monasteries were neglected and vandalised.

P1270074P1270075Graffiti in Russian, Georgian and even Polish.

“POLSKA”

Refectory

Refectory: The frescoes were painted in the 11th Century, here the monks had to kneel to eat at low stone tables.

The monasteries were destroyed by the Mongols in 1265, revived by Giorgi V in the 14th century, sacked by Timur and sunk to their nadir on Easter night 1615 when Shah Abbas’ soldiers killed around 6000 monks and destroyed many artistic treasures. The monasteries never regained their importance after this but remained functional until the end of the 19th century.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper on the wall of the refectory.

The plains below to the left are Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan

It takes two to three hours to explore the site at a leisurely pace. We stopped many times to take photos of the site, of the flowers and of each other.

Tamuna, Natia and Khato at the top of the hill

Tamuna, Natia and Khato at the top of the hill

some kind of raptor, any ornithologists able to identify this impressive bird?

Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)

After Davit Gareja, we visited the ruins of  Ninotsminda Cathedral in Kakheti.

Entrance to Ninotsminda Cathedral

Entrance to Ninotsminda Cathedral

Remains of the Cathedral

Ruins of the Cathedral

The cathedral founded in c 575 AD was destroyed by two massive earthquakes in the nineteenth century (1824 and 1848).

Only part of the eastern apse and a portion of the Western wall remain.

Eastern Apse

Eastern Apse

The brick belltower from the sixteenth century with an intricate brickwork pattern is still standing.

Intricate

Intricate

To round off a Georgian excursion we had a supra (Georgian feast) with khinkali and wine chez nous.

Supra with Khinkali (Dumplings containing meat and spices)

Supra with Khinkali (Dumplings containing meat and spices)

A Trip to Vardzia Cave City

28 March 2015: I hadn’t been further out of Tbilisi than Mtskheta this year, so it was great to go on an excursion to Vardzia a cave city in Samtstikhe-Javakheti,

Samtskhe Javakheti

Samtskhe Javakheti

a region in the South of Georgia bordering Turkey, three hours from Tbilisi. We went with my wife’s Police Academy colleagues. We got up really early (5.45am), we had been told to meet the minibus at 7.30am at Didube in Tbilisi. With true Georgian timing the minibus didn’t actually leave until 8.15am.

Our first stop, not counting a rest stop, was at the castle in Akhaltsikhe (literally New Castle). The castle dating from the 12th Century is a mix of styles and might be described as a Georgian Alhambra, having a Mosque and many Islamic elements.

Entrance to Akhaltsikhe Castle

Entrance to Akhaltsikhe Castle

Rabati, Akhaltsikhe A mix of styles.

Rabati, Akhaltsikhe
A mix of styles.

The mosque was built by Haji Ahmed-Pasha Jaqeli.

heads through the turrets

heads through the turrets

View from the top of the tower.

View from the top of the tower.

The town has a reputation for tolerance in addition to Orthodox Churches and the Mosque, there is also a synagogue, an Armenian church and a Catholic church. There is an interesting museum Ivane Javakhishvili Samtskhe-Javakheti History Museum on the site partly funded by BP, a company which uncovered many interesting artefacts when building their pipelines through Georgia. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside the museum, which contains a large collection of pottery, manuscripts,  arrow heads, clothing and carpets.

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Group Photo

After the castle we took the road that follows the upper Mtkvari river through some spectacular scenery to Vardzia.

The road to Vardzia following the Upper Mtkvari river valley.

The road to Vardzia following the Upper Mtkvari river valley.

At Vardzia we had a welcoming committee of 4 dogs, they were friendly employing their soulful eyes to extract some tasty titbits from tourist parties.

The welcoming committee.

The welcoming committee.

The cave city of Vardzia was the highlight of the trip, during Tamar Mepe’s reign (1184-1213) the city was inhabited by as many as 2000 monks with 409 rooms carved out of the rock. A massive earthquake in 1283 shook away the outer walls of many caves.

Vardzia: Cave City

Vardzia: Cave City

Vardzia Gallery, click on an image to open the gallery:

On our way back to Tbilisi, we stopped at a roadside restaurant to feast with a Georgian “supra” (literally “table” but applied to Georgian style feasts with plenty of food, wine and toasts).

supra

supra

Maybe there was a little much wine at the supra, some of the party were dancing in the minibus on the way home.

Georgian dancing in the minibus

Georgian dancing in the minibus

We got back to Tbilisi around midnight after a great day out. Emma also blogged about the trip https://cookiesandthecaucasus.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/postcard-from-vardzia/

Blogging Statistics

I am quite an avid follower of my blogging statistics. I have two blogs, this one and a specialist  diecast blog. Both began around the same time in November 2013.

This one is about many things but mainly for sharing my photos (especially responding to the “Weekly Photo Challenge”), reviewing books I’ve read and trying to make sense of living in a foreign land (Georgia…the language and customs etc…). This is the 207th post, the blog has 126 followers (hi y’all!). Views peaked in March and have gone down slowly since.

Blog views by month.

Blog views by month.

The diecast blog statistics are quite different. There I have made 147 posts, I have just 23 followers but the views are going up month after month.

diecast blog monthly view graph

diecast blog monthly view graph

The geographical distribution for the two blogs differs, too.

For the main blog:

  1. USA                 777 views
  2. Georgia           545
  3. UK                     502
  4. Germany             90
  5. Canada                75
  6. Philippines           65
  7. Czech Rep           65
  8. Russian Fed       53
  9. Australia             47
  10. Turkey               42
  11. Spain                 35
  12. Azerbaijan          33

A large gap between the top three and the rest.

With my diecast blog USA is still number one:

  1. USA                    780 views
  2. UK                       558
  3. Philippines           516
  4. Romania              293
  5. Australia              261
  6. Brazil                   227
  7. Georgia              185
  8. India                    160
  9. France                102
  10. Singapore             96
  11. Indonesia              95
  12. Germany               76

No surprise seeing USA and UK, first and second, but Philippines in third is interesting, I know a few Filipinos through Facebook who are very keen collectors of Hot Wheels cars. In my adopted country Georgia, there isn’t a big diecast scene.

Thanks to all my viewers and followers any comments appreciated.