My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Holy Georgia: towards St Nino's tomb via Ananuri

view from our hotel of the Caucasian mountain range
hats for sale at Ananuri!
fine exterior of the Assumption of the
Mother of God Church, Ananuri
This is the story of our pilgrimage to Holy Georgia back in May this year, with Southwark Diocese and McCabe Pilgrimages. It is Ascension Day, Thursday 29th May, and we have our usual morning prayer on the bus as we set off south from our hotel high in the Caucasus mountains and then eastwards towards Bodbe Monastery, one of the major pilgrimage spots for Christian Georgians, where St Nino is buried. St Nino was a slave from Cappadocia. She so impressed the Georgian Queen Nana and later her husband King Mirian with her miracles that they both converted from paganism to Christianity, and this became the official state religion in AD 337, making Georgia the world's second Christian nation. St Nino's tomb is a sacred place for many Georgians. But it wasn't until the arrival in the sixth century of the so-called Syrian Fathers, missionaries from Antioch, who worked to found several monasteries here, that the religion became firmly established in Georgia. We will visit a few of these monasteries in the next day or so.

Old Georgian script? What does it say?
Our first important stop today is at the 17th century Ananuri fortress, already closed for the day when we came by in the evening two days before, on the Georgian Military Highway. We saw its stunning setting then, but up close it really is very beautiful indeed. As we climb out of the coach the warmth of the sun is welcome after the bitter chill we experienced yesterday up in the mountains. Within the protection of the crenellated stone walls here are two churches, a 12th century watch tower, a 17th century bell turret looking out over the lake, and at the top of the slope a solid tower known as "The Intrepid".

Our guide Maka has the Dean's attention!

Bell tower overlooking the reservoir

The lower of the two churches is really the jewel. It was built in 1689 and is dedicated to the Assumption of the Mother of God. Our attention is immediately drawn to the fantastic external carved decorations, particularly those on the south wall. Inside, and also on the south wall are frescoes of the Last Judgment and of various saints, including thirteen Syrian Fathers, other fine frescoes having been destroyed by fire in the 18th century during the church's turbulent history. By the bell turret I see some steps going down to what I learn was a hiding place for soldiers to lurk and take intruders by surprise in the turbulent past.
the hiding place for soldiers
The smaller of the two churches, the Hvtaeba church, is early 17th century, with frescoes badly damaged, sadly, by graffiti, mainly Russian. It is dark in there but with someone's torch we are able to make out some of that dreadful graffiti on the underside of a frescoed arch.

sad graffiti over frescoes

The tranquil setting belies the history of this site, involved as it was in many past wars. It is hugely photogenic here and we become tourists as we are anxious to take the ultimate beautiful shot!
We meet an English couple in the car park here. They have a motor home and have spent a couple of months exploring Turkey before coming into Georgia and will eventually drive back to London to see their son. I mention the shame of the litter. He shrugs; it's a fact of life, he says. Why do we all have to be so defeatist? Let's stem the flow of litter and not accept the trashing of God's beautiful planet, in Georgia or anywhere else!
view over the reservoir
It is time to say goodbye to Ananuri and move on, towards the fortified town of Sighnaghi and the Church of St Nino at the Bodbe convent

Monday, 28 July 2014

Holy Georgia - the tough climb to Gergeti (Trinity) Church

Looking back on our climb
 Visiting the Holy Trinity Church high above the Georgian villages of Gergeti and Kazbegi, and at 2170 meters the highest Orthodox Church in the world, should be the high point of our pilgrimage in more ways than one; for me and I think for many others it is in fact the lowest point!
It is cold - not surprising in view of the altitude - but we are unconditioned for this after the lovely warm weather of the last few days. Many of us are not dressed adequately for this climb. And we get colder as we hang around for quite a while waiting for our picnics which we will have to carry up to the church with us (if I had looked in the picnic bag before setting off I don't think I would have wasted energy carrying it to the top - a whole cucumber, a tomato, a hard boiled egg and a small and stale corn bread were my rations…)
beautiful flowers along the way were
some consolation to flagging spirits
As we set off from the center of Kazbegi, it starts to rain. The track starts off as a lane leading to some dwellings on the lower slopes of the mountain, but it soon degenerates into a rough and difficult narrow path, single file only and with plenty of uneven rocks to make the way hazardous. And the rain has now set in; it is the sort of rain that soaks you very quickly. I feel really cold and miserable but I try to motivate others who are finding the walk as trying as I am.
We stop to sing to cheer our damp spirits!
nearly there!
Then just as we think it cannot get any worse, it does! Those who cannot make the walk can be taken up to the church by four wheel drive vehicles, which wait in the valley below for their fares. The problem is that these vehicles use the same lane that we walk on for much of the climb. And with the excessive rain that the area has recently experienced, the lane has been churned by these vehicles into nothing short of a glutinous mud bath, requiring all the skill and more of the drivers as they slither and slide along, skirting around walkers, going perilously close to the sheer drop on one side of the track, avoiding the bank on the other. It is hard for us to stay on our feet as we dodge the taxis. It must be just as hard for the drivers. And then, half way up and just in time for our flagging spirits, the sun tries to come out. We gather together and sing as much as we can remember (not very much as it turns out!) of that lovely hymn by Leonard E Smith, "How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him, who brings good news, good news, announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness… with the refrain: Our God reigns, our God reigns" sung out with great gusto.
The shocking pun cheers us up and we press on!
the scars of the mud tracks - such a shame!
After the most grueling walk I have done for quite some while, we finally come out into the open at the top of the mountain and there ahead across the green pastures is the church, our destination. It is actually a monastery, albeit with only a few monks living there. They stay up there through the winter and can be cut off completely. Services are held daily and are regularly attended by local villagers and those further afield, weather permitting. This is an especially sacred space for many Georgians. It is a popular venue for weddings and our guide says she does this hike a few times a month; no wonder she is so fit!
This church and its separate bell tower were both built in the 14th century. During the invasion by Tbilisi Persians in the 18th century, it is said that this remote church was used for the safe keeping of precious artifacts from Mtskheta, including Saint Nino's Cross. The church is now an active place of worship in the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic tradition.

To our shame, the pilgrim in many of us turns to tourist as we make a bee line to the blazing stove just inside the church before even noticing the interior or feeling the spirituality of the place. I don't even have any photos of the interior.
The weather has turned for the worse again, there is a biting cold wind up there and it is trying to rain again. I have little appetite for my picnic, yearning instead for a hot cup of tea and a huge piece of comforting but forbidden cake. No chance of either! I certainly have no energy reserves at all to even contemplate the walk back down, and with several others load into one of the 4WDs to take us back down into the valley. That was quite some experience I can tell you!
It has turned into a lovely afternoon and evening. While waiting for the fragmented party to regroup in Kazbegi, we find an excellent little café/restaurant where we can warm ourselves up with hot drinks. The hot chocolate is delicious, very like the drink they serve in France which resembles hot thick chocolate custard; very comforting.
view from the top!
I have no appetite for the meal back at the hotel that night. My sweet tooth is desperately missing puddings and desserts, made all the more tricky by the enforced wheat free diet, more restrictive by a long way than having to stick to "gluten free." And the small cuts of fruit and even smaller squares of cake that count as "pudding" at this hotel just don't hit the spot, they are so uninspiring and soon disappear anyway. I slope off early and wearily to my bed....

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Holy Georgia pilgrimage: the Georgian Military Highway and trip to Kuzbegi

"I believe you have seen the Georgian Military Road, too. If you have not been there yet, pawn your wives and children …and go. I have never in my life seen anything like it. It is not a road, but unbroken poetry, a wonderful, fantastic story written by the Demon in love with Tamara." Thus writes Anton Chekhov to N. A. Leikin, from "The Letters of Anton Chekhov" which he wrote to his family and friends.

Zhinvali Reservoir
We are pilgrims on a journey, and we are travelling towards the north on that very same Highway, from Kutaisi via Tbilisi in Georgia, so I have no need to pawn my children, husband or anyone else! There is certainly much to see on the journey and there is some very beautiful scenery. We're following the course of the River Aragvi flowing fast across the plain to our right. A calf has just been born, wobbling uncertainly on its gangly legs as it searches for its mother's milk. (My father, a research scientist and agnostic dairy farmer, never failed to be moved by the wonder of new life arriving in this way). Soon we approach the place where the river has been dammed, to create the massive Zhinvali Reservoir.
mountain view from our hotel
We climb high above the dam and the road gets very twisty before coming down again at the north western tip of the reservoir where there stands the idyllically situated 17th century fortress complex of Ananuri. Amazingly, this was going to be destroyed by the flooding when the dam was built. The hamlet itself, which stood below the fortress, was largely destroyed and relocated further north, but common sense and local campaigning saved the fortress with its churches and watchtower - and what a good job. The complex is now closed so we cannot stop to see it, but we will pass this way again in a couple of days.
Caucasian Shepherd Dog
Today we continue our climb in the coach, past the Ananuri church complex into the mountains. It is a fantastic hairpin road at this point, with sloping green meadows on either side looking just like green felt in the evening sunlight. Someone corrects me on this. No, he says, green felt looks like the mountain sides here; God's Creation came first! How true. We climb higher and higher with stunning views to the valley below and the pink tinge of the setting sun contrasts with the brilliant white of the snow sitting on some of the highest peaks. The recent heavy rain this area has experienced is not only evidenced in the muddy appearance of many of the rivers, but also now by a large landslip which has been cleared away from the road ahead of us.
We arrive extremely tired after a very busy and long day. But the hotel we are to stay in for two nights is a fabulous ski resort hotel with huge rooms, many on two levels, and all with varying views of the mountains around. Most people also have a balcony. I don't! There are already 6 coaches parked around the front of the hotel. But the hotel can cope admirably with these numbers. We are strictly too late for the evening meal but they have kept a table for us in the restaurant and there is a large buffet-style spread of what may be described as "international" food. This is the first time on our trip that we have not had traditional Georgian fare, and this is a shame. It is clear that the hotel caters for large groups from Austria, Germany, and the rest of Europe and in trying to please everyone ends up perhaps pleasing very few? Some go so far as to describe the food as "woeful." They certainly cater little for vegetarians. There was never a veggie option among the hot dishes and I always had to make the best I could from the salad buffet range. When I asked the serving staff for a "veggie" option I was offered pasta and potato - in all seriousness!! And they had not heard of gluten free or wheat free diets. I gave up on that one and brought my supply of rice cakes and oat cakes down to the dining room for each meal.
It must be said that I was getting a little tired of my continual diet of tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese and hard boiled eggs for both breakfast and supper! Never mind. We certainly don't have to go hungry, and the accommodation is superbly comfortable. and we certainly never go hungry.

appalling litter at the Friendship Monument
I am wide awake at 6am, after an excellent night's sleep, to the sound of a cuckoo flying around the valley below, his distinctive call loud and clear. I walk out into the grounds and marvel at the meadows around the hotel thick with wild orchids - I don't know which ones…
The itinerary for today tells us that "we walk up through beautiful valleys and woodland to Gergeti (or Trinity) Church, at 2170m." This makes it sound like a stroll, and does not in any way adequately prepare us for what lies ahead! Our guide, who is considerably younger and fitter than many of us, tells us to wear comfortable shoes, carry walking poles if we have them and for the ladies to wear skirts as the church/monastery is very traditional and trousers will definitely be frowned upon. It is a 2 1/2 hour climb up, we are told, to the highest Orthodox Church in the world. Coming down will take us just 1 1/2 hours (assuming we have the energy!).
The Friendship Monument
So as soon as we have finished breakfast we all pile into our coach again heading for Kazbegi and the beginning of our walk. We take the road north towards the Russian border, the only direct route linking Russia in the north with Armenia to the south. It is just 18km from Kazbegi to the Russian border. This road is now normally very busy with huge trucks transporting products south to Armenia, but at the moment a large landslip has blocked the way further north and the trucks are temporarily idle - we saw quite a few parked up in the valley below on our way here last night - good for us but not for trade.

Panoramic mountain view from the Friendship Monument

huge flocks of sheep are common here
We soon stop to see the Friendship Monument, erected in the early 1980s as a symbol of 200 years of friendship between Russia and Georgia. I am not really sure what to make of this monument, given for example the 2008 South Ossetia War between Russia and Georgia and the huge numbers of Georgian citizens displaced by Russia into refugee camps which we have seen along our pilgrimage route. The central female figure in the monument represents Russia, holding the child Georgia. The Georgians like the Russians, our guide tells us, and they welcome the Russians visiting on holiday here. But it is the Russian government that no-one likes! More information on the scenes depicted on the monument can be found elsewhere. Whatever our personal views, it's a great lookout point for the surrounding Caucasian Mountains. We are now above 2000 meters, in the alpine zone, and the views around are stunning. But the litter tumbling down the slopes away from the monument is appalling. What a blot on the otherwise beautiful landscape, and offensive to my eyes. Some don't even seem to notice it. I take photos and resolve to write to someone about it. But who do I write to?
The sheep farmers here use horses to control the large flocks. The horses have very colorful saddles and make a pretty picture against the mountain back drop. Today must be sheep market day as we see many different flocks all being shepherded into one large enclosure, presumably in preparation for auction.
the shepherd with his horse
If it were not for the housing one could think we were in Switzerland, the scenery being so similar. But the housing here is mostly poor, in sharp contrast to the pristine chalets we see in the Swiss and Austrian Alps, and at least in Switzerland I was struck earlier this year by the litter free and clean towns and villages.
Leaving the monument, we climb to 2395 meters, the highest part of the pass we have been over. Our guide is disappointed that we cannot see the Kuzbegi mountain peak, covered in cloud. There can be up to 2 meters of snow up here in the winter and tunnels are built across the roads to help protect the roads from avalanches. The snow melts clearly bring down much debris, seen in the scree and large boulders along the road side. There are some fantastic geological formations, some resembling the basalt Giant Causeway in Eire. And big black birds of prey wheel high above us. We descend again towards Kazbegi and will soon be taking that walk "up through beautiful valleys and woodland to Gergeti (or Trinity) Church, at 2170m"….Many of us are hardly prepared for what is to come! ....

Monday, 21 July 2014

Holy Georgia - The Cave City of Uplistsikhe

Sculptures(?)  in a field near Gori

The River Mtkvari on the way to Uplistsikhe
The Cave City of Uplistsikhe dates back to the 1st millennium BC and is built horizontally into the sandstone over an area of approximately 10 hectares, making full use of the original natural cave system. It sits on a hill overlooking the Mtkvari river and was an important trade center from at least the fifth century BC, later part of the historic Silk Road until the 12th century AD, linking with other Silk Road settlements such as those of Gori, Kaspi and Mtskheta. This was a pagan city originally, the pagan temples destroyed when Christianity came to the area and so Pagan and Christian architecture coexists here. It was at one stage in its history inhabited by monks, until it was destroyed in the 13th century by the Mongol raids. There was some earthquake damage in medieval times and the ravages of weather and tourism have both taken their toll - but there is still much to see, rewarding us for the slightly challenging climb in the late afternoon heat … remnants of a theatre, wine cellars, a water reservoir, the main street, and a basilica all created out of the rock. On top of the hill is a 9th - 10th century stone and brick Christian Basilica. Many fine archaeological artifacts found here, including silver, bronze and gold jewelry, are safely held in the Tbilisi National Museum, which I visit on our last day here in beautiful Caucasian Georgia.

Our intrepid Dean leading the way at Uplistsikhe!

We are Christian pilgrims from the Anglican Diocese of Southwark in London, following in the steps of St Nino and the Syrian fathers.

Looking up towards the Basilica on the hill top
Tamar's Hall
We now have a long drive to our hotel for the next two nights to be spent high up in the Caucasus Mountains. Fortunately the weather is kind, the evening sunshine beautiful, the scenery endlessly fascinating. Here between Gori and Tblisi we see quite large herds of cows being led back from milking. There are still no obvious field boundaries except where clearly demarcated by the different arable crops being grown, mostly "greens" of some sort including plenty of spinach for the delicious dishes they make out of that humble but nutritious leaf. Some of these plots are quite large and yet are still being worked by hand; men are to be seen hoeing and weeding between rows. Cows wonder seemingly unconcerned along the edge of the fast main road, perilously close to the traffic. As we approach Tbilisi some fencing off of fields can be seen and the farming seems to be on a larger and more mechanical scale. Large flocks of sheep are seen, the first I have observed here. There are several huge irrigation bars in one of the fields - for covering large areas of arable crops. I hope these are for water, not for pesticides and weed killers - as this would not be good for the wonderfully rich biodiversity for which Georgia is renowned. Curiously, although pork is a popular meat in the restaurants, I have seen no pigs at all. Some of the long low farm buildings we have seen along the way may be housing pigs. I do hope not, but fear it is so. There are many welfare issues surrounding the farming of pigs for meat - much more about this can be found at the website of Compassion for World Farming. If you enjoy pork and bacon please visit this site!

wine store at the caves
The river view at Uplistsikhe - but oh dear look at that litter in the tree!
another river view from Uplistsikhe
We soon approach Tbilisi and turn North onto the beginning of the Georgian Military Highway, with 94 kilometers or c. 60 miles to our destination in Gudauri. It is getting late and we are travelling at some speed. I have to say that I am not comfortable doing these high speeds in a coach without seat-belts. In Georgia the law only requires the front seats to have belts. Few others seem perturbed by this, some almost hostile to my voiced concern. Our coach that met us at the airport in Tbilisi on arrival had seat belts throughout so I know they are available. Tour operators and guides please note! But our driver is certainly skillful and knows his coach, his country and his roads pretty well…

As we drive away from the caves - note the cows!
We relax and enjoy the scenic drive northwards …

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Holy Georgia - from Kutaisi to Gori

I have no need for alarms to wake me up at the Tskaltubo Resort outside Kutaisi. The birds do the job more than adequately with their loud and exuberant dawn chorus - a joy to wake up to.
As we leave Kutaisi behind, we pass the all-glass parliament building (symbolic, as I said before, of the avowed openness now of Georgian government following their Independence), some wonderful sculptures, and a bustling and colorful flower market, before finding ourselves out of town and speeding back towards Gori on the main highway we came in on just two days before. Because of the mountainous nature of the country, the relatively few main highways between towns, and the fact that all main routes seem to radiate out from Tbilisi, we have to do a fair amount of retracing our own tracks if we are to see as much as we can of the different regions of this varied and fascinating country.
Snickerse, honey and pots for sale along the road 
The scenery is beautiful on this drive, much of it missed on our journey out to Kutaisi two days ago because of the torrential rain and storms we drove through. The pastures are lush, thick with wild flowers, and being enjoyed by the many cows wandering freely as they graze. They are a special breed, sure footed and able to deal with the sometimes mountainous terrain. Distant mountains to the South are dusted with snow on their caps. We drive through woodlands - a significant area of Georgia is still covered with deciduous and evergreen forest - many trees here are leaning over towards the South west, a clue that the prevailing winds here are from the North East. A wide river, the River Kvirila, meanders to our right, amidst marshland, and a man has driven his car into the shallows and is washing it! We pass large breeding kennels for the popular Caucasian Shepherd Dog, or Caucasian Ovcharka, an ancient breed popular as a guard dog and for bear hunting.
This is a big sweet corn growing region, used for the corn bread of this area, bread with a dense texture which is not to everyone's taste but which suits me fine when it is well made. This is also the area for wicker goods and pottery, evidenced by the many roadside stalls selling these goods. These are not for the benefit of the tourists, we are told, but are essential household items for the Georgians. The special clay for this pottery comes only from this region, the pots are all hand made and are used for both cooking and serving; the clay imparts a distinctive flavor to the food. On the far, Eastern, side of Zestaponi we stop at one of these stalls to buy souvenirs to take home. They seem so inexpensive. I am always worried about weight, in this age of airline restrictions, and have to resist some of the attractive clay vessels which I would have loved to buy.
There are also the Churchkhela or Georgian Snickers for sale, the lovely sweets made with nuts coated in grape juice- nutritious and calorific and for me delicious! 

Our first pilgrim stop of the day is at the little church of St George, in a delightful situation down near the river in the small village of Urbnisi (Ubisi). There are some beautiful and well preserved 10th century frescoes, most noteworthy being the ones depicting the Last Supper and the Annunciation. The church is only big enough for one coach party at a time and another group are arriving as we leave. Beehives are lined up beneath the almond trees near the entrance to the church. There is a churchyard slightly separated from the main church grounds, as is the Georgian custom, each grave surrounded by elaborate iron railings, the whole area somewhat overgrown with tall bracken. The priest sees us arrive and comes across to say hello to us; for some reason his eye is caught by my black tea shirt from Thailand with a striking elephant on the front!

beehives in the churchyard

entrance to St George's church

Leaving the church behind we soon go through the 2.5 km road tunnel marking the divide between East and West Georgia, thereby avoiding the scenic but tortuous old road over the Rikoti Pass, with 4 km of tight hairpin bends. We drive through Surami, famous for its pine tree forests and a popular resort for those with respiratory disorders.
We approach Khashuri. There are hammocks for sale everywhere here, around the town, at roadside stalls and small shops, popular purchases apparently for those heading West to the beach resorts on the Black Sea. The poppies are fantastic in the fields on either side of the road, and many calves are tethered in the pastures - destined no doubt for the veal market. At least they are not suffering the fate of many of their less privileged brethren who are destined to live their life in veal houses, where there are often issues surrounding their welfare.
Biliki handicraft for sale
Finally we arrive in Gori, and after the poshest "comfort break" of the whole trip, in a brand new and very modern "service area" with a fantastic range of food and drinks, we make our way into town. Our first stop here is at the Society Biliki (in Georgian this means path, or way forward), an NGO founded in 1997 to work with refugee children from conflict zones around Gori, Internally Displaced People (IDP) and those from poor local families. It began with 15 "street children" and now has more than 80 children on its register, offering them both education and medical support. It has a special focus on street children who are begging or trying to trade simply to survive.

Biliki handicraft for sale
McCabe Pilgrimages founded the McCabe Educational Trust in 1991, to help those in need encountered by pilgrims in their travels with the company. And so wherever the pilgrimages go, there will be an organisation grateful for the support of the pilgrims that we can visit and see how well our contributions are being spent. This also gives such places much needed moral support as we extend our hands of friendship to them. The Trust now distributes about £200,000 annually in grant aid. At Biliki we are given a presentation about their work and leave a gift for them. Before waving goodbye the ladies among us cannot resist buying some of the beautiful jewelry and felt work made there for raising funds.
Gori block of flats - many show scars of the 2008 conflict
There has been a settlement here at Gori since the early Bronze Age and it has been a military stronghold since the 12th century although the fortress may have been in use already by the 7th century. Gori has had a turbulent history, due to its position at a strategic crossroads of major transit routes. It suffered its most recent attacks with aerial bombardment from the Russian Air force from the outset of the South Ossetian War in 2008. Perhaps Gori is best known as being the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, although its fortress is also famous, towering above the central part of the modern city. It is a city of contrasts - some of the stark communist blocks of flats clearly still showing the damage of the 2008 invasion, whereas there were big gardens to large houses on the outskirts, often with cool looking arbors over them draped with vines, offering welcome shade against the excessive summer heat.
Poppy field along the way

Stalin's birthplace
We arrive in Gori at the time of the "Last Bell" - the last day of school for students until September - before then they have study leave and exams - if they survive their celebrations! Because it seems that the revelry primarily involves getting all your friends to sign your white T Shirt, then piling as many students as possible into each car and travelling at break neck and suicidal speeds through the town's streets and out of town to as many local and ancient monuments as can be managed, all the while leaning out of the side windows, standing up through sunroofs, taking up both sides of the road and generally behaving stupidly! Our coach meets a few such convoys, and in the circumstances I think our driver is very restrained.
Inside the Stalin museum
Driving a little way out of town for lunch we see more settlements for IDPs, with some productive looking "allotments" where food is clearly being grown. Then we go to the Stalin Museum. We were shown around by a guide who went through the many exhibits in several rooms at breakneck speed and the whole experience left me quite cold. I rather wish I had followed those who instead explored the Gori fortress and the fantastic sculptures below it. But it is certainly an incredible collection and display for those interested to delve more deeply into Stalin the man and his place in history. Sadly the captions are mostly in Georgian and Russian, with little attempt at English translations, which limits the value of the visit.
Stalin's Railway Carriage
It is a shame that we didn't have time to visit the nearby 7th century church of Ateni Sioni, said to be one of the loveliest churches in Georgia, and with some famous frescoes. It's perhaps good to leave some places to come back to on another trip! We have to move on as there is still a long drive ahead of us, once we have visited the Cave City of Uplistsikhe ………….