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Today’s excursion was to the cave city of Uplistsikhe and Stalin’s birthplace at Gori.

I headed to minibus station around 9.30 to hop a bus for the one-hour trip. The minibuses left from an obscure part of the Didubi station but I just kept asking people “Gori?” “Gori?” and eventually found it.

The minibus dropped me off at the friendly tourist office where I got a map and decided to take a taxi to Uplistsikhe rather than another marshrutka as the forecast was not good for the afternoon. She told me to pay about 30GEL (€14) return which I did.

Passing along the river on the way to the site, I noticed that the water was quite high, like all the rivers I passed on this trip. It’s not surprising given how frequently it’s been raining.

Walking up the road to the site, I was grateful for the cloudy skies as it would have been a long, hot walk in summer.

Now this site is not Agrigento even though it also dates back to around the same time. Uplistsikhe was a pre- Christian city filled with temples, built between the 6th century BC and the 1st century AD. The soft stone hasn’t stood up well to the wind and rain which have clearly battered down the original structures. Still, it was fascinating.

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I was not alone! Clearly this is a spot for school field trips. The kids were in high energy mode, leaping off rocks and running through caves.

In this pre-Christian temple, known as the Hall of Queen Tamar, the stone roof has been carved to resemble wooden beams.

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A similar effect is visible here in the “Throne Hall”

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Walkways made it easy and safe to climb around and view the complex from different angles.

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 My favorite was Blackberry Hall. Curiously, it was set apart from the walkways despite its striking exterior.

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Was this a place for human sacrifice? The walls inside were charred black and there were  four steps leading up to a back room which was even blacker. Very weird.

Leaving the complex was through a tunnel that led down to the bottom of the cliff. Along the way I wondered why this site has not made it onto UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

The sky was darkening as I wandered around looking for my taxi. I finally found it and hopped inside just as fat raindrops started to fall. By the time we got back to Gori the sky opened up. The tourist office pointed me to a place a few yards away. I peeked in and saw it was filled with a half dozen chubby red faced guys. (Pretty much everybody over the age of 30 is chubby). Thunder, lightening , rain, hail. While I was trying to decide what to do, one of the guys ushered me inside and to a table. Immediately they set me up with a plate of khinkali , some home brewed beer and shots of chacha, Georgia’s spirit of choice. They were all a bit tipsy and made a great fuss over me trying to get me to drink more and more.

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Selfies, Facebook exchanges, lavish complements, more beer (quite good) and some insanely good spiced potato wedges followed until I finally stumbled out to look for the Stalin museum in the poring rain.

The museum was in a majestic building bit didn’t amount to much in the end. I walked the wide streets of Gori back to the minibus station. There were few cars, fewer people and some shops. Rain continued to pour as I made my way back to the hotel for the night.

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