The trip to Kutaisi was made special because of the lovely Hungarian family I met. Bogi, who lives and works in Holland, spoke excellent English, and time flew by as we chatted away. Meeting new and interesting people is one of the highlights of travelling. Everybody has a story to tell and this fascinates me. So Hungary was put on my list of countries to visit in the future! We shared a taxi on arrival in Kutaisi. My guesthouse was near the fabulous Bagrati cathedral and I was welcomed with open arms. Giorgi lives in a house that is over a hundred years old. It is fascinating. Very high ceilings, an antique chandelier and a fabulous garden. Giorgi is one of the best hosts I have ever had. On arrival a cup of tea with a piece of home made cake and an invitation to meet the other guests later at night.
Niklas and Gesa, a couple from Germany and Jesper from Denmark were going on a day tour the next day to explore Prometheus cave and the two of the canyons. We all had breakfast together and left on our next adventure. The Prometheus cave was first. Twenty kilometres northwest of Kutaisi this 1.2 km- long cave is more beautiful and impressive than I have ever seen. It was only opened to tourists in 2011. Slippery, colourful and mightily impressive. The four of us stayed away from the main group of Russians and enjoyed the silence and impressive beauty by ourselves.
The next place was the main canyon. ( the name escapes me at this point in time)This has a boardwalk along the top of the cliff. I was fortunately not the only one who was shit scared of heights! Shared fear diminishes! We were thrilled to make it to the platform. Due to the heavy rains the boardwalk was not only very high and scary, to top it of it was incredibly slippery! (My fear of falling seems to have increased since my very nasty fall in Tanzania.) the view from the platform was stunningly beautiful. My legs were killing me, as there were a million steps going up. It was lunch time and a shared khinkali lunch in a local restaurant was delicious.
The next canyon was a bit of a rip off, I thought. As hundreds of boats went on a short boat ride on the canyon, the whole experience took a short time. Although the canyon was stunningly beautiful, the A$15 charged was over the top for what it was. The it was home time. We had an incredibly crazy driver, who attempted at every opportunity to kill us all. Speeding is the norm in every country I have been to so far, but cutting corners, over- taking in corners were you have no sight of the oncoming traffic, while speeding like mad, seems to me foolish indeed. Often the driver would be on the mobile as well! We made it back safely and Giorgi was waiting with supper as was his daily habit.
The next day, when I was supposed to do my washing, I caught up with Bogi. We visited the museum, had lunch and ended up doing “girly” stuff! In the most expensive salon in town! Bogi had hoped to get her hair cut but ended up with just a pedicure! I had my wild and woolly eye brows tamed. Mind you to be honest, I thought the price included a facial! No such luck, so I paid the same price as I would have at home!! This is what happens if English is barely spoken, and my Georgian has not as yet extended past three words!! Not to worry we felt terrific!
Georgians have always chosen beautiful locations for their churches and monasteries. Gelati is no different! Nine kilometres out of Kutaisi, on a hillside full of pine trees this complex was amazing. I was dropped of at the bottom of the hill and the hike up was steep and hard. Of course it was raining as well, but the pine fragrance and the silence made it all worth while. Gelati was founded in 1106 as a centre for Christian culture and Neoplatonist learning. According to written records of medieval times it was a second Jerusalem. Many of the Georgian rulers are buried here, including King David the Builder and Queen Tamar. It was burned down by the Ottoman Turks in 1510. Then restored by Bagrati III of Imereti. The communists closed it down in 1922, but the churches were reconsecrated in 1988 and president Saakashvilli was inaugurated here in 2004.
The interior of the main cathedral of the Virgin is amongst the brightest and most colourful in Georgia. The frescoes were painted between the 12th and 18th century. It has a painting of the emperor Constantine and his wife, Helena. There are many restorations going on, mainly on the roofs. There is a smaller church, the church of St Nicolas. I was conscious of the fact that a marshrutka would be going back to Kutaisi soon, or I would have to walk all the way down the hill again! Walking five to ten kilometres a day seems to be the norm, but when raining, not a pleasant activity! I was fortunate, the marshrutka was waiting, and would go past Motsameta.
Motsameta is a small monastery on a spectacular cliff top promontory above a bend of the Tskhaltsitela river. The river’s name means “red river” which derives from an 8th- century Arab massacre. Among the victims were the brothers David and Konstatin Mkheidze, Dukes of Argveti. Their bodies were thrown into the river, but the story goes that lions brought them up to the church where their bones were kept afterwards. If you crawl three times under the side altar where the bones are kept, your wish will be granted! ( information from the Lonely Planet) as there was a wedding ceremony going on I was unable to try this!
At Gelati, on the marshrutka, I met Filip and Ewaline from Poland. Two lovely young medical students, who were fun to be with! We spend the rest of the day together, visiting the markets, were a woman was chanting her Georgian chant, ” chacha, vodka, vino”! I turned this into a song, and before we knew what was happening we were chatting away to the women at the market, tasting their delicious homemade wine, feeling guilty, I bought a bottle, and so my year of no alcohol ended after six months!! Two new friends were made, and later that evening both young Polish people walked all the way up to the hill, where the Bagrati was lit up displaying all its glory! Filip and Ewa were introduced to my wonderful host, Giorgi, while I went to bed! What a country! What a magnificent country.