Friday, 19 December 2014

Memories of Georgia

We crossed the border into Georgia via a ferry ride to Batumi on 29 April where we met our guide, Zaza, who introduced us to his beautiful country (with a side trip to Armenia) before heading across the border to Azerbaijan on 18 May. Again, a bit of distance between when I took these photos and when I am adding memories as it is just before Christmas 2014.

Georgia is a predominantly Christian country surrounded by Islamic neighbors.  It is quite clear how their religion identified their national identity, even within the former Soviet Union that closed most churches and denied religious expression.

It is a land of contrasts.  Lush farming areas in the south bump against rugged mountains in the north dividing it from Russia.  Conservative religious beliefs and modern big cities that feel European rather than of Asia. A desire to be independent but tied economically to the former Soviet Union.

Our first border crossing was pretty easy.  While waiting on the Georgia side
for Calypso and our guide, we had a bit of a snack while exchanging
USD and TL for the local currency.

Lunch outside an old (like the time of the crusades) fort.
Checking all the wildlife.  Not pictured were our first
herd of cattle strolling down the highway.

First night in Batumi.  One of several group meals organized
by Zaza.  This one was on a ship.

We felt right at home - the table was loaded with dishes that we
helped ourselves to.  There were Georgian names for everything, but it was
similar to the Ukranian cooking we are familiar with in Alberta. 

This variation on the Georgian flag only flies at Batumi.
Can anybody help me with the reason that seemed so obvious when Zaza explained it?

Art along the harbour front.

I mentioned the tight work to get Odyssey in her spot for the night.
Mikkel is giving Nico directions as he creeps past with no room to spare.
The first of many tight spots.
Old towns were built for people to pass in the street, not vehicles.

Heading to the mountains of Mestia.
Only 2500 meters, but we started at sea level.

All the rooms in our homestay had crosses like this to
protect us.

Only a few km from the Russian border.
Mestia has been a first line of defense for centuries.

Newly discovered set of caves near Stalin's birthplace.
Lighting and specially composed classical music
 (by a local boy now internationally famous)
Pretty impressive.

Bagrati Cathedral.  Every country had its own ideas about restoration
(how much and how) and here the decision was to restore what was needed to maintain the
structure, but not try to make it look like it was the original.

The Georgian Cross (above) indicates the state of Georgia.
The bent cross represents the bent branches that Saint Nino (a lady by the way)
created the first cross as she brought Christianity to Georgia very early on.
So, Georgia divides Church and state on the basis of what cross is used as a symbol.

Stalin as a young man.  It was rather surreal visiting the museum at his
birthplace which was built by the Russians just after his death and is now in a country
wishing to remain independent.

The first of many sheep flocks passing our way.

Service was on but we were welcome to visit and take photos.
As long as I was wearing a head scarf.

Saint Nino's tree with grapes.  Georgia was one of the first places to
ferment wine (before Christianity, even) and when you saw grapes on a building
it indicated that it was a Georgian community.

Lemonade (of various flavours) followed us from Georgia to China, I believe

Kazbegi on the military highway.  Russia is just over those mountains.
Note the dining tent attached to Odyssey.
The night before the big wind that whipped it into the stream.

Rescuing the tent from the stream the next morning.

Walls created without mortar.  Similar process was used by crofters
in northern Scotland. People build with what they have.

We stopped at this cool mosaic for a group photo.
Built by the Soviet Union to commemorate Soviet Georgia cooperation.
Just before Georgia declared independence.

Infant baptism at the oldest cathedral in Georgia (and one of one or two churches allowed
to remain open during the soviet years).  Parts date back to third century.
What was fascinating was the ladies who had very fancy and very short tight skirts on
 while we had to  wear sarongs over our full length pants.
Baby got fully immersed in the water.

Checking out Tblisi from our second floor

Another group meal

At the end of Zaza's tour of Tblisi.  We wandered the nooks and crannies.
Talked politics and religion (he was part of the independence protests in the 1970s)

This beautiful waterfall is down a back street in the old town

The local dog who followed us all day around town.
Later in the afternoon, he followed Mark back to where we had first seen mim.
Clearly he had a home but was just out fo

Tblisi's patron.  With a bowl welcoming visitors.
And a sword for enemies.

This little old house didn't look like much from the outside.
But Zaza brought us in to see the fantastic stained glass

Zaza letting us know about the artist.

This lady is the artist's wife.  I purchased a number of postcards
but wished I could have bought a print.  Sigh.

Across the street was a shop with hand woven and embroidered linen.
I asked the owner for an autograph to remember her by and gave her a Canadian flag pin.
Her response was that she wished she could afford to travel too.
This was the first of many times when I was reminded of how fortunate we are.

Setting up camp in the hills on our way to Armenia.  These sheep
(or their relatives) left lovely bits of wool on the bushes that I
harvested for felting and creating a quilt block.

One thing about camping
You get to see the most beautiful sunsets.

After Armenia, we headed toward the border with Azerbaijan,
stopping first for more food and wine tasting.

My wayward quilt square

Monastery.  Here it was nuns not monks.

It was hot and it had been a couple of days since our last shower.
The stream was lovely.This national park was developed to give
a bit of a buffer between restless neighbors (Dagestan is just a few km away
and Azerbaijan is around the corner)

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