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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tbilisi and Mtskheta

The other tour we signed up for in Georgia was one of Tbilisi and Mtskheta.  We had signed up for it mostly because it presented an easy way to visit Mtskheta, a very old city whose monuments have been designated UNESCO world heritage sites.  But we thought it would be a chance to learn more about some of the sites in Tbilisi, also, even if we had already visited them or planned to return on our own.

The day probably got off to a questionable start the night before, when Nikoloz suggested we get a later start in the morning.  In retrospect, that probably should have clued us in to the fact that we weren't going to get to see everything we had planned on, but part of the reason to hire a guide in the first place is to let someone else do most of the thinking and planning.

The first thing we planned to see on the tour that morning was the open air ethnographic museum in Tbilisi. turned out to be a holiday in Georgia, so it was closed.  Again, we hired a guide in part to let someone else do most of the thinking and planning....

After that, we took a walk around Turtle Lake in Tbilisi, which was pleasant, but perhaps not a top must-see with limited time.

On the trail around the lake, we found this advertisement for ajari khachapuri, one of Scott's favorite Georgian foods.  It's a bread with cheese and an egg in the center, and you mix the egg with the cheese before eating it.

Then, for reasons I still don't understand, we were driven up one mountain to this weird theme park.  It was closed that day because of the holiday, but we could walk around.  It looks like a theme park that nightmares are made of.  Not a place I would recommend, especially not without exhausting sites in old Tbilisi and museums.

It was clear that most of the Tbilisi old city portion of the tour was falling by the wayside, but we insisted on taking the cable cars to see the Narikala fortress, which is something very worth seeing.  Nikoloz, meanwhile, was flipping out because so much of the day had passed and he was still supposed to take us to Mtskheta.

Picture taken from below.

Picture taken from cable car.

And a view from the top!

Mother Georgia in the trees

Narikala fortress

Another view of Narikala fortress
 We then visited a modern cathedral in Tbilisi.  On the way out, a group of people were taking wedding pictures, and were using a drone to get an aerial shot.  I had never seen a drone up close before (evidently Nikoloz hadn't either, as he stood transfixed for several minutes despite his worries about the time), and I have to say that at best, I think they're a very annoying technology, with the buzzing noise they make.

A drone shattering the tranquility of the day.  I've seen videos of animals trying to knock these things out of the sky, and I think I understand why now.

To Nikoloz's dismay, we insisted on stopping to buy some khachapuri (a cheesy bread) before getting on the road to Mtskheta, as it was getting way past any sort of normal lunch time, and we had sites to see there before eating our scheduled lunch around dinner time.

Mtskheta was almost magical looking, especially with the clouds and the mist rolling in.  Mtskheta on its own made up for the somewhat slapstick nature of the tour up until that point.  I wish we could have spent closer to a whole day there.  Maybe on a future trip to Georgia!

We visited the Jvari monastery first, and saw amazing views of the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, as well as the monastery itself.  While we were inside the monastery, someone's phone rang, and the ringtone was the theme music for Mad Men.  I was simultaneously entertained to hear the theme music to an arguably rather irreligious show in such a context, and relieved that someone besides me was probably committing the worst faux pas at that moment.

Then it was on to the town itself, where we saw the Svetitskhoveli cathedral.  I think we all could have happily wandered longer if it hadn't been relatively late in the day and if we hadn't been hungry.

Looking up at Jvari monastery from below.
Dinner was next!  We went someplace famous for lobio (a Georgian bean dish), and khinkali (large dumplings filled with broth and filling.  You are supposed to take a small bite, slurp out the broth, and eat the dumpling).  Someone innocently asked if we could get wine at dinner, to which Nikoloz replied that we'd had our wine tour the day before.  This prompted someone else to (quite accurately) ask what wine tour he was referring to.  This act of resistance proved too much for Nikoloz's ego.  He left his father Lado to eat with us and proceeded to passive aggressively order large pitchers of wine to our table from somewhere else.

After a very tasty dinner, we rode back to our hotel in Tbilisi--women in Lado's car, and men in Nikoloz's car.  When we arrived, the guys were already there, and one of our traveling companions was throwing up on the side of the road.  The last we saw of Nikoloz that evening was him dashing across the street, pretending not to see.  So, if anyone wants to visit Georgia, I have plenty of recommendations of foods to eat and sites to see, and one recommendation of a place not to say and a guide to not tour with.

Fortunately, our friend felt well enough to do some site seeing the next day.  Also, that evening, Scott surprised me with an early birthday cake!  It was possibly the tallest birthday cake I've ever seen, and was delicious.  I only regret not having time to eat more of it before we had to return to Kazakhstan.

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