GENIAL GEORGIA – TBILISI AND COUNTRYSIDE
"First we eat...and then we do everything else." This restaurant billboard has my husband, Rick, chuckling, "Hey, my motto!" And this order of things is good advice with Georgia's delectable traditional cuisine. We especially can't get enough khinkali; twisted knobs of steamed dough stuffed with meat or cheese or mushrooms!
The narrow alleys of Tbilisi's Old Town bustle with shops and eateries below carved wooden balconies at rakish angles. Our favourite spot to indulge is a small cafe that rises above the "I ? Tbilisi" sign, a popular backdrop for posing tourists. Further out in all directions from this advantageous perch we see the capital city's points of interest, and are soon on the move for close-up viewing.
The new Presidential Palace with its egg-shaped dome is a showy landmark. A structure below resembles two gigantic horns-of-plenty. Construction seems to be halted on this behemoth that locals say will be a cultural centre. A short distance away we tromp over the elegant glass and steel Peace Bridge spanning Mkvari River.
Nariqala Fortress stands like a sentinel on the highest hill surrounding Tbilisi. We make our way to the cable car service and are soon riding upward to mill about where a 4th century Persian citadel once stood. The present fortress walls and palace were built by Arab emirs in the 8th century...or what is left of them after the 1827 explosion of Russian munitions stored here when Georgia was part of the USSR.
From the fortress we follow a path to the statue of Mother Georgia. This 20m aluminum lady holds a sword in one hand and a cup of wine in the other, symbolizing the countrymen's character of warmly welcoming guests and passionately fighting off enemies.
There are churches a-plenty in this city of 1.1 million. One day we climb up to the Metekhi Church. Alongside the church is an equestrian statue of 5th century King Gorgasali, the first of a series of kings to build a palace and church on this spot. The current church dates back to the late 13th century, with many reconstructions since. The interior, lit only by the flickering glow of offertory candles, is uncannily beautiful with paintings of Mother Mary, saints and a rustic old cross. A Baba (Grandmother) in black garb holding a donation cup wins my heart.
The newest church is the enormous Tsminda Sameba Cathedral (Holy Trinity Cathedral); consecrated in 2004 after a decade of building. We climb (yes, this hilly city is climb-after-climb) to the soft golden-hued exterior of brick and granite rising 84m from foundation to its central dome cross. The pillars on the inside emphasis the vertical dimensions pulling our eyes upward towards this huge dome. Stunning!
A day-trip out of Tbilisi to a famed monastery and for a taste of village life is enticing! We are in good hands with our driver So-so and guide Jonah for the 100 kilometres to Davit Gareja Monastery, named after one of thirteen ascetic Syrian fathers who came back from the middle east to spread Christianity and founded this monastery in the 6th century. Fifteen monasteries eventually spread over this vast remote area, targeted over the millennia by various invaders who murdered monks and destroyed treasures. We climb the three levels of Lavra, the only monastery inhabited today; its buildings dating from many periods. Our eyes feast on 1,000 year-old murals of saints. Descending to the lower courtyard we linger before the caves once occupied by Davit and his main disciple so long ago – a fitting finale.
The village of Badiauri is next to see ladies pounding dough into oblong shapes then pressing it to the sides of a piping hot cylindrical clay oven to bake. While this traditional bread is browning nicely, we line up at a small nearby stall to purchase a variety of homemade cheeses to compliment the warm crusty loaf that we are soon devouring with gusto. I can't even imagine mana-from-heaven topping this! Our last tour stop is the city of Sighnaghi, founded by the ruling king in 1772 with a high defending wall, which we clamber up for a spectacular valley view.
Back in Tbilisi it's more great fun and food, and to take a turn flaunting my best tourist pose in front of the sign expressing love for this city, a shared sentiment for all of Georgia. We leave with fond memories. And for sure we're more physically fit.
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Photo Credits Rick Butler
#1 Old Town row of eateries
#2 Presidential Palace above Cultural Centre
#3 Fortress as seen from Old Town
#4 Mother Georgia watches over city
#5 Metekhi Church circa 13th century
#6 Holy Trinity Cathedral
#7 Davit Gareja monastery caves
#8 Clay oven baked bread
#9 This sign says it all!Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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