Archives for posts with tag: Kutaisi

I kept delaying this post as I tried to get the names of villages from a friend who was keeping track, but that never happened and it’s now embarrassingly late to post about last summer’s travels, so let’s call this an anniversary “throw-back” post, with a little less detail than originally planned. This trip was to the Lechkhumi portion of the Raja-Lechkumi and Kvemo Svaneti Region of Georgia which is in the north and center-west of the country and part of the Greater Caucasus. I visited in July 2016. #TBT

 

We started the weekend with the drive to Kutaisi, from whence we went into Lechkhumi via the village of Rioni, mostly following the Rioni river. This route was beautiful, but the roads were bad (we had car trouble in a Delica!), so I wouldn’t recommend it for independent travel. We stopped at a few waterfalls along the road, and visited a variety of village churches, some with beautiful frescoes. One of the last towns we stopped in featured a cemetery with nicely decorated gravestones and a treehouse which was fun to climb. Down the road a bit was a beautiful panoramic view, where we could apparently see into Svaneti. The only village name I remember on this route is Lailashi, which I remember because we ran out of time to go there. At the end of the day, we arrived in Tsageri to a cheap home-stay that let some members of our group camp in the yard for free while the rest of us paid for beds in the house.

The next day, we woke up and headed to the Tsageri museum which was EXCELLENT–one of the best curated museums I’ve visited in Georgia. It housed taxidermy, ancient artifacts (coins, statues, and weapons), photography, and other bits and bobs all labelled in understandable English. The director of the museum (I think…the man who showed us around) is also, apparently, an artist and he showed us some of his work as well. The whole town of Tsageri was really impressive. The locals clearly care for their town; everything looked well-maintained and tidy. I’ve since met someone who grew up in Tsageri and he agreed with my conclusion, saying people only leave because there are so few jobs there. I’ve seen plans to re-build the airport and build a football stadium to international standards in the town, so maybe that trend will stop.

Our next stop was the fortress overlooking Tsageri, which guarded the crossroads between the different principalities in the medieval period. At this time, the weather was starting to turn for the worse, so we spent a lot of time fiddle-faddling around deciding whether or not to go up to the summit of Khvamli Mountain. We actually went halfway up, decided to turn around and visit Tskaltubo instead, and then went back all the way to the top the next time. The view from Khvamli was incredible, and the clouds causing the poor weather made the view mystical and magical, but I really could have done without all the indecision and time-wasting. We did end up with some nice photos, though.

Then we were back on the road to Kutaisi via Tskaltubo and then home to Tbilisi, tired after a busy weekend and a lot of fresh air. Unlike the other road, this road was very good quality. It you’re flying into Kutaisi and want to visit the mountains, Tsageri and Khvamli might be a good, accessible option. It’s certainly a beautiful corner of Georgia.

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I wasn’t planning on doing any traveling last weekend since the elections were Monday and there was plenty of excitement at home in Tbilisi (My planning skills are also beginning to assimilate to the Georgian norms, so planning a trip is becoming rather complicated).  But when my friends called and asked if I wanted to go with them to Kutaisi, who was I to say no?  Kutaisi has been at the top of my list of places to visit (I’d never been before, and was interested to see the new Parliamentary city).  Even better, these friends had access to a car, making Kutaisi a feasible day trip. If you’re taking a marshrutka between Kutaisi and Tbilisi, you’ll likely need to spend the night, especially since the sites in Kutaisi are geographically spread across and around the city.  There are also trains between the two cities, I believe you can choose either an overnight train or a day journey.

Like good Americans (and their American-influenced Georgian friend), our first stop was the Kutaisi McDonalds.  McDonalds is the only tourist attraction in Kutaisi that’s well-signed, so enjoy it while it lasts.  The preferred method of finding the other attractions was asking a resident of Kutaisi.  From this crude navigation strategy, we learned that (apparently) everything in Kutaisi is located straight ahead!

Bagrati Cathedral (note the glass structure to the left)

Our first stop was the newly (and controversially) renovated and reopened Bagrati Cathedral.  The exterior was beautiful—combining stones salvaged from the ruins with new stones in better condition, and of course a bit of steel and glass (Misha likes steel and glass).  Inside, though, I was quite disappointed with the renovations—the building felt quite soulless to me.  All white walls, and dirty carpeting—it felt more like the fellowship hall or community room of an American church, not the mystical and mysterious Georgian temples of God that I’ve become used to visiting.

Bagrati Cathedral

Fortunately, our next stop was the Gelati Monastery, an exquisite example of Georgian ecclesiastical architecture.

Gelati Monastery

The frescos in Gelati were the best I’ve seen, and the building had the feeling of a traditional Georgian church: a bit dark and smoky with lots of color and incense.

Flowers and Frescoes in Gelati Cathedral

Also impressive was the view: from the grounds of Gelati you could see snow-capped peaks off in the distance.

Our last stop was Sataplia National Park.  Sataplia has also been subjected to recent renovations.  Like at Bagrati, some of these renovations were fantastic, and others were not to my liking.  The building housing the dinosaur footprints is clearly a positive step towards protecting this attraction, and educates visitors about Georgia’s prehistory.  On the other hand, the “Jurassic Park” was just plain silly—the animatronic dinosaurs were puny, and the small explanatory signs didn’t offer much information that wasn’t in the footprint exhibit.

Sataplia “Jurassic Park”…I warned you it was hokey.

The caves themselves were…well, caves: dark, and damp, and plenty of stalactites and stalagmites.  The glass viewing platform offered an excellent view of Kutaisi, but Kutaisi itself doesn’t have the world’s most majestic skyline.  The most interesting fact about Sataplia was one that was largely ignored: the place gets its name (სათაფლია–Place of Honey) from the bees who use the cliff face itself as their hive (or so I gather).  Honey drips from the stones themselves! (though I was unable to confirm this myself)  (Admittedly, I’ve been thinking more about bees and honey than I ever have before because my friends Cat and Claire have been in town doing research on beekeeping in the Caucasus).

Entrance of Sataplia Nature Preserve

On our way out of the city we drove past and got a glimpse of the new Parliament building, which may open soon.  Other nearby sights, for those not racing the sunset back to Tbilisi, include the Prometheus Cave, and the town of Vani where a working replica of the Argonauts’ ship is displayed.  Kutaisi isn’t the most stunning place I’ve visited in Georgia, but the plethora of things to do there and its prominent place in Georgian history (and current events) make it well worth a quick trip.

Georgian Parliament decorated with Christmas lights

Last weekend there was a protest in front of Parliament—this happens often, and this one was quite small (I’m not sure exactly what it was about.  The placards helpfully said “For Georgia”).  Still, it made the trip to the metro more difficult than usual.  You see, Parliament is located smack dab on Rustaveli Avenue.  Rustaveli Avenue is still a major traffic and pedestrian thoroughfare, as well as the symbolic Main Street of Georgia, a major shopping district, and a tourist destination in and of itself.  It is of course, not just a major road, but a major road of Tbilisi—the capital city where the bulk of other business takes place.  The Georgian Parliament building doesn’t have the benefit of a space akin to the National Mall where crowds can gather and protest—the sidewalk is slightly wider in front of the building, but really that’s all the space available in which to protest.  There is no convenient place for events, including protests, to take place.  Because of the lack of space, any gathering drawing tens (much less hundreds or thousands) of people can cause a disruption to life in the city.  The protest last weekend was small (I doubt there were more than a hundred people) but there were enough of them to make walking along the street difficult.  Police were there, forming a human barrier between the protesters and the traffic so that no one would be injured and the street would remain clear,  while also assisting pedestrians in their attempts to walk down the street.  They were quite helpful and I didn’t find them at all threatening.  In my experience, their presence was honestly for safety rather than control.  But think of the manpower this takes, just to prevent traffic fatalities. And the disruption to the city is not insignificant when there are enough protesters to block the sidewalk, who can cause serious delays when they spill into the street and prevent access to Rustaveli Avenue.  Now, I haven’t seen if the plans for the new Parliament to be opened in Kutaisi (Is that still this weekend?  I’ve heard rumours both ways) contain some sort of public space where protests can be held with less disruption of daily life, but I really hope it does.  Surely I can’t be the only one who has noticed this problem.  In any case, the move to Kutaisi will help alleviate the problem of a very small number of protesters having a disproportionate effect on the country.  Citizens will be able to picket Parliament and be noticed by politicians and the media, but it will be more difficult for them to bring the entire country to a pause by virtue of disrupting the everyday rhythms of Tbilisi.

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