Frontline, Tbilisi

Every city has its Journalist hangout.  In Tirana it was Fideli’s, a strange cross in décor and ambiance between Beethoven’s opera and Fidel Castro.  There were few working landlines in Tirana at the time, and no mobile phones.  If I wanted to meet a journalist I always went to Fideli’s and usually would find him or her.  My office, effectively, was there.  That bar is long gone, cleaned up when Mayor Edi Rama reclaimed Tirana’s parks.  In Prishtina it was Tricky Dick’s, named after Holbrooke not Nixon, although there is a famous autographed picture of Dick Holbrooke being led into … Continue reading Frontline, Tbilisi

Khor Virap Monastery, Armenia

Khor Virap is the Armenian monastery closest to the sacred Mt. Ararat.  Because of a combination of fog and cloud we were only graced with fleeting glimpses of the mountain and never got its picture.  But when we got to the Monastery a man pushed pigeons into our hands (he said they were doves) and told us to release them with our fondest dreams so they could fly off to the holy mountain (which is in Turkey, behind barbed wire and watchtowers that the clouds did not obscure from the monastery).  Apparently, by releasing doves we were following the example … Continue reading Khor Virap Monastery, Armenia

Tbilisi from my window and other views, Sept. 2013

Working in Georgia is like being on a vacation; I stay in a luxury hotel, with a spa equipped with a pool, hot tub and sauna.  It has nice food and my room has a wonderful view over Freedom Square, up the hill to the Citadel and across to the Presidential Palace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.  St. George is constantly in the act of slaying a dragon on a pedestal just above eye level right outside my window. On weekends I get to go to see interesting places; walled cities, monasteries, mountain scenery; and on weekday evenings I walk through … Continue reading Tbilisi from my window and other views, Sept. 2013

Sighnaghi, Georgia

Sighnaghi, with only 2,100 people, is a mountain top architectural gem.  Its name comes from the word siginak, Turkish for “shelter.”  It was built in the 18th century as a fortified town on the frontiers of Moslem Azerbaijan and Dagestan.  It main industries are wine making, carpet making and, now, tourism.  The town is circled by about 4.5 kilometers of wall with 23 defensive towers.  The wall winds around the mountain side.  I walked along the top for about a half a kilometer between several of the towers with great views of vineyards running down the mountain. Continue reading Sighnaghi, Georgia

Bodbe Monastery (St. Nino’s Convent), Georgia

Bodbe, about two km from Sighnaghi, has a 5th century convent that shelters the remains of St. Nino, who converted the King and Queen to Christianity in the 4th Century.  The convent was rebuilt between the 9th and 11th centuries.  George tells me that all that remains from the 5th century is the foundation.  It, and St. Nino’s spring, a constant source of holy water a few hundred meters away are pilgrimage points.  The chapel’s frescoes are from the 1820s.  The Soviets plastered them over and used the building as a hospital.  Some of the frescoes have been restored.  The … Continue reading Bodbe Monastery (St. Nino’s Convent), Georgia

Alaverdi Monastery and Cathedral, Georgia

At Alaverdi, on the other side of the pass we visited a monastery that has a cathedral within its walls.  Until the new Tbilisi Cathedral it was the tallest Georgian church.  It, like the Tbilisi church, has a soaring feeling of light even though the walls are decorated with frescoes.  These frescoes were covered with whitewash or plaster by Moslem invaders, restored, and covered again by the Communists.  A monk Joseph (Yoseb) Alaverdeli founded the cathedral.  But Alaverdi has another meaning in Arabic “God Provides.”  God provides good grape and Alaverdi Monastery is at the center of Georgia’s wine industry. … Continue reading Alaverdi Monastery and Cathedral, Georgia

Gombori Pass, Georgia.

On Sunday I took another road trip.  I was the passenger in a Japanese, steering wheel on the right, Mitsubishi 4X4.  So I was the one facing traffic.  The pass other vehicles the driver pulled out into the oncoming lane so he could see if there was any oncoming traffic, and if needed quickly duck back in to avoid the head on.  I, of course, being in the “driver’s seat” saw it all coming — head on.  On broad curves to the right the driver pulled to the right to look around the truck in front.  If he didn’t see … Continue reading Gombori Pass, Georgia.

Rike Park Theater and Exhibition Hall, Tbilisi, Georgia.

I walked back to the hotel, down steep streets toward the glass domed presidential palace.  A lot of the streets on my map were closed for security so I followed several dead ends but got to where I wanted to be, the upper entrance to the Rike Park Theater and Exhibition Hall.  I have described this building as looking like two tubes, or perhaps jug mouths, pouring culture down into the river from just below the presidential palace.  There’s been enough progress on the building that I can tell that the main entry is at the bottom of the hill … Continue reading Rike Park Theater and Exhibition Hall, Tbilisi, Georgia.

Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral, Tbilisi, Georgia

I had waited for the number 4 minibus for a long time so I decided to spend 10 times the amount and take a cab to the Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral.  Georgians say it is the largest Orthodox Church in the world.  Serbs dispute that saying St. Sava is bigger.  Sameba Cathedral has a tall tower with a gilded cupola that reflects sun in the day and floodlight at night.  It dominates Tbilisi.  As the cab followed the route the mini-bus would have taken I discovered the problem.  Police were rerouting traffic.  The mini-bus was not going to stop at … Continue reading Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral, Tbilisi, Georgia

Gergetis Sameba Monastery, Georgia

The 14th century Gergetis Sameba (Gergeti Trinity) walled monastery sits above Kazbegi and below Mt. Kazbeg at 7120 feet above sea level – and reflects light from a glacier that hangs 2,800 feet above the monastery. The monastery was a place of refuge for icons and relics from the Mksheka Cathedral (Perhaps including St. Andrew’s foot) when southern Georgia was overrun by Turks, Persians or Arabs.  In 1988 the Soviets built an aerial tramway to the monastery but when Georgia broke away from the Soviet Union the residents tore it down.  For them pilgrimage should not be easy.  The tramway … Continue reading Gergetis Sameba Monastery, Georgia

Stephantsminda (Kazbegi), Georgia

The town closest to the Russian Border on the Georgian Military Road is Stephantsminda.  Most people still call it Kazbegi.  The town itself is not particularly pretty with rundown buildings, jumbles of electric wires and a jungle gym of above ground natural gas pipes typical of old Soviet towns. The natural setting makes up for the open infrastructure.  It sits at the foot of Mt. Kazbeg which rises to 16,512 feet.  However the town’s main attraction is not the mountain but the 14th century Gergetis Sameba (Gergeti Trinity) walled monastery that sits above the town and below the big mountain … Continue reading Stephantsminda (Kazbegi), Georgia

Jvari Pass, Georgian Military Road

I rode up The Georgian Military Road 6 months ago in the March snows.  The Russians built it in 1799.  Watch towers on hills provide line of sight communication from the border to Tbilisi.   We drove across Jvari Pass, at 7815 ft.  A Soviet monument of mosaics highlights Russian and Georgian history, celebrating the military road that carried Russian troops to help protect the Georgian kingdom from Moslems, and then helped them impose Russian rule in 1801.  The road was crucial to the economic development of Georgia. The road in the pass is under reconstruction.   Many of the tunnels, lined with … Continue reading Jvari Pass, Georgian Military Road

Georgian Military Road in the Summer

tThe Georgian Military Road connects Tbilisi with the Russian Border.  It was started in 1799.  In 1801 Russia annexed the Kingdom of Georgia.  I rode up the Georgian Military Road last March and took pictures of some of the same watchtowers, churches and mountainsides in the snow.  Now you can see them in the summer.  These pictures are taken south of Gudauri, which is the ski area where I traveled last March.  I did not get north of the ski area.  I missed a lot.  The next post has pictures from North of Gudauri Continue reading Georgian Military Road in the Summer

Ananuri Citadel and the Church of the Assumption, Georgia

Ananuri, a citadel used to sit on a ridge above a river that has been dammed so now sits on a point in the Zhinvili Reservoir.  The town that it towered over is underwater.  The Church of the Assumption was used as a barn in Soviet times and the frescos were whitewashed.  Some have now been uncovered.  The carvings on the outside walls of the Assumption Church include a huge cross visible from the highway and grape vines loaded with fruit.  Nicholas says the reason Georgians greet guests with wine is in commemoration of the Eucharist.  Each greeting is a … Continue reading Ananuri Citadel and the Church of the Assumption, Georgia

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mksheka, Georgia

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mksheka is the mother church of Georgian Orthodoxy.  St. Nino converted the King and Queen there.  I posted pictures from here in May but I had no pics from inside the church.  Nicholas, my cab driver, spoke good English and he arranged permission for me to take pictures if I did not use a flash.  There was a service in progress.  It was conducted in Russian but the choir sang Georgian hymns.  Nicholas pointed out one very strange and old fresco with three concentric circles.  The Trinity sat in the bull’s eye, between the inner and middle circles, the … Continue reading Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mksheka, Georgia

Tbilisi Funicular Railway

The key to overcoming jet lag is to keep pushing.  I arrived in Tbilisi at 3 AM Saturday morning and was in bed by 4:30.  I forced myself to get up at 11:30 AM even though it was bedtime in Sitka, (12 hour difference) and tried to figure out something that would keep me interested and awake until bedtime in Tbilisi, which is just when I would be getting my second wind because it’s time to get up in Sitka. I hopped on a marshruka (mini-bus) at Freedom Square and headed up to the lower terminus of Tbilisi’s funicular railway.  … Continue reading Tbilisi Funicular Railway

Mtskheta and Jvari Church, Georgia, 2013.

Jvari (Holy Cross) Church is near Tbilisi, about a three hour walk or half hour drive.  It looms over Mtskheta.  Before Georgia became reasonably prosperous it used to be a full day excursion, now it a common picnic spot for people wanting to get out of town for an hour or two.  It is the spot where the King Mirian, who was converted to Christianity by St. Nino and, in turn made Georgian a Christian nation (Georgia was a “Christian” country before Rome) erected a cross to mark his, and his nation’s conversion.  The church itself was built to shelter … Continue reading Mtskheta and Jvari Church, Georgia, 2013.

Georgian Road Trip, May, 2013

Georgia has beautiful countryside.  In spring rolling green fields lead to the still snowcapped Caucasian Mountains.  Flowers and flowering trees are in bloom.  Between towns there are citadels and castles in varying degrees of decay and on hilltops monasteries and churches.  In contract to the countryside Georgian towns can be less than picturesque, with abandoned Soviet factories, an industrial wasteland, on town outskirts oddly punctuated with massive works of Socialist Realism art, including a huge mural of Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.  Georgian towns, like many former Soviet towns, have utilities above ground, including the pipes … Continue reading Georgian Road Trip, May, 2013