A Visit To Georgia
Being members of the Sky High Mountaineers, my girlfriend and I took our first ever out of the country trip to Georgia, Europe. We went there during summer along with another group of mountaineers who aim to summit Mount Kazbek. I pre-arranged everything, from the tour package, up to our mountain climbing permits and we planned out our itinerary for this 7 day adventure. At the airport we met up with 6 other mountaineers and braced ourselves for that 15 hours flight from New York to Tbilisi, Georgia.
Our tour started in Tbilisi Old Town (Alstadt), a historic old town with magnificent structures of the past and present. The narrow, winding lanes were peppered with shops, restaurants, bars, colorful balconies and old buildings. I was impressed because I found out most Georgians were warm and friendly. We did not get lost around as everyone welcomed us with a smile and gave directions when we asked them. We walked into the Sioni Cathedral Church. The wall paintings were really impressive. The striking Bridge of World was undergoing repairs while were there... I liked the musical fountain in the Square of Europe. As evening came, the musical fountain looked magical, with the colors overflowing... There was a wine festival when we got there. Live entertainment, traditional folk dances as we sip 800 year old wines, truly spectacular! Tourists joined the locals as they stomp grapes while dancing to the music. We spent the rest of the night taking the Aerial Tramway; a 20 minute cable ride that gives a great view of Tbilisi. It started from The European Park, all the way up to the Narikala Fortress. We had a good shot of the Mother Georgia Monument. The views were great once we reached the top.
The next day, our group took a four hour bus ride from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda, Georgia where Mount Kazbek is located. I was in awe upon seeing from my bus seat the beautiful peaks of the Caucasus. We started early morning; weather was great and the air so fresh. Along the way we passed by some alpine pastures with flowers in bloom. We climbed the hills that lead to the Gergety Holy Trinity Church. This church stands as a charming edifice on top of its solemn and tranquil surroundings. We passed through a small village called Dzhuta and found beautiful lakes as we head to our trail. When we got hungry we stayed at Lela’s Guesthouse and were served an authentic Georgian food. We persevered for the grueling rope climb off the Maili Plateau. Our expedition took three hours to reach the summit but it was all worth it. The view of the church, the peaks of Caucasus and the whole Mount Kazbek was magnificent! By afternoon, we finished our expedition with a 3 - hour trek back to the base camp in Kazbegi. It was great to admire a panoramic view of Georgia from the top of the mountain.
Next stop was a visit to the Adjure Region, in Batumi Boulevard. It’s a long boulevard overlooking the Black Sea and Bakmaro Mountain as backdrop. Because of its wide cycling road; we rented mountain bikes from one of the many bicycle stations. The boulevard was lined with cafes, trees, beach bars and a huge Ferris wheel at the southern end. We also took time to check the Batumi Botanical Garden. It is a garden situated at the slope of the mountain. We chose to ride a small electric car in going up, which costs about $ 1.5 dollars per passenger. Each plant and tree was clearly named. The garden is home to a thousand species of tropical plants. After here, we took a dip at the pools of Aquapark. We had a great time even if the park was small. It has four different pool sizes, lots of water slides and cafes. Then we head off to the Batumi Archaeological Museum; it houses artifacts of historical importance to Georgia. The gift shop offered expensive gold replicas. There was not much crowd and entrance was inexpensive.
Our fourth day was a visit to Gori, located along the Shida Kartili Region. We started off at Uplistsiche; a massive fortress with ancient ruins and caves. Once inside I felt like I stepped back in time. The caves cover a slope on top of sandstone near the edge of the Mtkvari River. Some of the caves have ornately carved ceilings while some have triangular shaped roofs. I felt odd walking along ancient walkways and stairwells because the place looked eerie as we traversed the roads. The best part was climbing up the stairs through the 40 meter tunnel to access the site. There were safety rails but they are not everywhere they should be. A small, modest church can be found inside. Then we head off to the Stalin Museum. It showcased the life and times of Joseph Stalin. Outside is his actual house where he grew up. At the back is his train car where he planned his mass atrocities to Russia. Walking up to the palace I led to a large chamber full of portraits and sculptures of Stalin. The journey ends in a darkened room where one of his death masks is on display.
On the fifth day we took a train to Telavi, found in the Kakheti Region. We explored the Gremi Citadel and Church of the Archangels at Gremi Village. Being one of the major landmarks it is impossible to miss. I was amazed that it still stands on its original condition with most of the interior still intact. My girlfriend and I climbed the tower and got a beautiful view of the mountains from the top. The Royal Tower is situated on top of the hill. One area featured ruins of the aristocratic and commercial quarters of the ancient city of Gremi. The ruins of the domed church were still present. Then we checked out Alaverdi St. George Cathedral situated in a picturesque location in the Alazan Valley. There was a religious holiday when we visited as the church was teeming of worshippers. The interior of the church was breathtaking but photography is not allowed inside, only outside. We dare not miss the Shuamta Monasteries; it’s a remarkable medieval Christian monument divided in two ensembles, Dzveli (“Old) and Akhali (“New”). Dzveli Shuamta has simple and severe interiors while Akhali Shuamta is a larger domed church complete with a bell tower.
Next day we drove a rented car and head off to Arsukidze along the Mthsketa – Mtianeti Region, to visit the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. It is the second largest and most important cathedral in Georgia. Here is where the kings and queens of Georgia were crowned. The church and its ground attract many tourists and locals. We had pictures with a nice carriage pulled by two trotting pinto colored horses. After here, we passed by the Jvari Church, which has a wonderful view of Kura and Aragva rivers coming together and overlooking the whole town of Mthsketa. The Jvari Monastery or The Church of the Holy Cross is small and there is not much to see inside but it was worth a visit. I find it rough and simple, yet it suggests peace and calmness once inside.
My Georgia Tour is something I cherished because I learned that Georgians value their history, even if a ruthless dictator came from their country. Looking back I could say it was the best priced journey of the world. I had the opportunity to be one with nature when I climbed the mountains, strengthen my faith and admire the beauty that is Georgia.