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|
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|
|Biliki handicraft for sale|
|Gori block of flats - many show scars of the 2008 conflict|
|Poppy field along the way|
|Inside the Stalin museum|
|Stalin's Railway Carriage|