I left the unloved Hotel Delisi this morning. Curious that the departure breakfast was the worst, probably as a punishment: cold pasta, salad, stale bread, hot-dog. I took a taxi over to the Hotel Classic which was much better located near to Rustaveli.
I left my luggage and headed off to find a marshrutka to Mtskheta with fingers crossed that the weather would hold despite the forecast. Took the metro to Dududi minibus station and was welcomed by a cloudburst. It lifted after a quarter hour and I hopped aboard the minibus to Mtskheta, the birthplace of Christianity in Georgia.
UNESCO-protected Mtskheta is stunningly set at the confluence of two rivers with mountains rising in the distance.
The highlight is the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral dating from the 11th century.
Unlike in France where the most celebrated cathedrals are filled almost exclusively with tourists, Svetitskhoveli was the Grand Central Station of Orthodox Christians. There were groups of adults, of kids, couples and more men than you usually see worshipping in Catholic churches. There was a lot of contemplating and kissing of icons. Priests strolled the aisles like rock stars dispensing blessings and accepting hand-kisses.
I felt awkward as I approached realizing I had neither skirt nor head scarf. Fortunately there were plenty of women without skirts and there were a pile of scarves outside the entrance. There was a lot to look at inside including the tombs of several Georgian monarchs. I noticed that the icons are somber and the frames are simple unlike ornate frames in Catholic churches. Here, the emphasis is on the face, always somber, almost severe, and ethereal.
Christ’s robe is supposed to lie beneath the central nave. Dunno about that but the frescoes were extraordinary.
After visiting the cathedral I ducked in a local eatery for katchapuri and grilled eggplant with walnut sauce which I liked and stewed mushrooms which I didn’t. I was debating whether to spring for the cab ride up to Jvari church perched precariously on a high hill. As the place where the Georgian King Mirian converted to Christianity in the 4th century, it is considered the holiest of Georgian sites.
In the end I did pay the 15GEL.The church itself is small and simple, beautiful but without much to see.
Truth told the church more impressive when gazing up at it but the views made it worth the visit
On the minibus back I fell into conversation with a Georgian guy living in Spain and back for a holiday. “Conversation” meant me trying to dredge up my Spanish to understand the political troubles that caused his family to flee the country.
We arrived back in Tbilisi late afternoon under threatening skies and wandered around looking for a cafe to drink a Coke. I hate Coke but there’s no Coke Light or Coke Zero anywhere to be found. We discussed a possible plan to head up to Ushguli where his brother has a hostel but I was leary of the weather.
By this point in the trip I was tired, cranky and glad to relax in my large, comfortable room at the Hotel Classic.
As it thundered outside, I spent the evening trying to decide how I should arrange my itinerary to avoid the rain and storms pelting away at Georgia..