Packed and ready to go, waiting at the bus stop for the marshrutka to Akhaltsikhe, I met a lovely young couple from Argentina, going in the same direction. We waited for quite a while, no mini bus! One of the taxi drivers offered us a very cheap price to take us there. He picked up a young couple from Germany as well. Of course the hitch was, yes, this taxi is very cheap, but do you want to go to Vardzia, a famous cave city in the area! This of course drives the price up! There is no competition, no bargaining power, he sets the price, and you either accept or not! I just wanted to be dropped off in the city centre, as I am planning to stay here for a few nights. I found a lovely guest house, where I was immediately offered tea and lunch. A lovely elderly couple from Armenia run it. Just around the corner from the magnificent castle!
Akhaltsikhe actually means ” new castle” in Georgian. The castle dominates the town! It was built in the 12th century. Most tourists go to Vardzia and don’t bother to stop here. After an afternoon mini nap, I walked up the old road and spend over six hours exploring this magnificent place. The Rabati, or old town, is just fabulous. Rare examples of darbazebi( traditional Georgian houses) cluster around the castle.
The castle, which houses amongst other things a mosque from 1752, the ruins of a medrese ( Islamic school) and the marvellous Ivane Javakhishvilli Samtskhe-Javakheti History museum. One of the most impressive museums I have ever seen, and believe me, I see a LOT of them!
It has jewellery, pottery, manuscripts, coins and weaponry. There is one room full of antique carpets as well. Very friendly staff, willing to chat, unable to believe, that I, little old lady, travel all the way by myself. One of the staff members was studying Italian on line and dreamt of going to Italy one day! She was fascinated by Peru, and her eyes lit up when I confirmed her question if I had been there!
I DO realise how fortunate I am, to have the health and money to travel. People in Georgia, unless very rich, don’t have that opportunity, they watch the discovery channel and talk to tourists. The far away dreamy look of this wonderful women, dreaming of far away places she would love to visit one day, will stay with me forever. I am incredibly grateful, to be able to visit all these wonderful places, meet all these gorgeous people, and have a look into the history of other countries.
The Rabati (old town) also has a synagogue, an Armenian church and a Catholic Church! Lit up at night this would have been magically, like fairy land! Just a shame it closes at 9.00pm, which is when it starts getting dark. The next day I planned to see the cave city of Vardzia.
I took a local marshrutka, which took two hours to get there. The drive was just amazing. Stunningly beautiful landscape. Very little is known about Vardzia. It was build in the X th century. The Persians invaded and broke it down in the XV th century. They took all the treasures, including all the old manuscripts, which were destroyed, all but one! This old manuscript was brought back by a Georgian man, who stole it while in Iran. It is now in the state museum in Tbilisi!
Earthquakes also have damaged the outer walls of the cave city. My main interest was the old church, which still has beautiful frescoes. One of Queen Tamar. I must read up about this marvellous Queen.
Queen Tamar brought wealth and prosperity to the country and you will find statues of her every where you go. The old fresco is from Queen Tamar, BEFORE she was married! You can tell by her maiden headdress. I actually missed the church at first, as a group of tourists climbed into the hidden, secret passage ways. I was caught up in the stream, and when I got out at the other end, I realised I didn’t see the church at all! Luckily there was an English -speaking guide, who pointed me in the right direction. So fortunate she did, as it was just amazing. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with the beauty of history. I was in awe!
As I left the church, my name was called out, I was surprised, as nobody knows I am here! It was Filip and Ewalina, from Poland! What a wonderful surprise! They had decided to do a day tour before going on to Tbilisi, and return to Poland! Meeting them for the third time means we are now family, and decisions were made for me to visit Poland, and for them, when they finish their studies, to come to Australia!
Two hours back to Akhaltsikhe , and totally exhausted, but thrilled by all I had seen that day, I went to have a sleep! I wanted to stay another night, which was not possible as the hotel was booked out. I could have looked for another place, but according to the owner, I could visit the monastery complex in the morning, then catch the marshrutka to my next destination. After an hour nap, I decided that I wanted to see the castle lit up at night, and also visit the statue of Queen Tamar in town. After a cold shower, I started again. My legs complaining after all the steps and walking I had done that day! But boy, oh boy, it was so worth it! It was magic, just absolute magic. I had a fabulous night sleep and rose very early the next morning.
It was early when I arrived at Sapara monastery complex, that only the monks where there. No tourists as yet! I sneaked a few photos, again breaking the rule of no photography! I know, discussing habit! Sometimes places are just too beautiful, and I want to record them! If postcards were available I would have bought them for sure, but this is not the case at most places I have visited! A real gap in the market!
Sergei, the owner took me to Sapara, then dropped me off at the bus station. I had ten minutes to organise myself, buy water, toilet etc. up to the last place in Georgia, Akhalkalaki, before crossing into Armenia. What a trip, what an amazing trip! I feel incredibly blessed, grateful and happy. Hope to have a bit of a rest, as the body is complaining bitterly about all the stairs, up hill walking, and cold showers!!