It is our last day, Sunday, and we all celebrate a final Eucharist together in the Tbilisi hotel - a fitting way to end our pilgrimage. Then we have the morning free to do what we will. I head to Rustaveli Street and those parts of the huge Georgian National Museum collections that are housed in the impressive building there. This museum is quite simply fabulous and really needs far more than the couple of hours which I have available. The collection of pre Christian gold and silver is totally absorbing and I spend a long time poring over the display cases, well displayed and mostly with English translations. The gold and silver work is astonishing in its craftsmanship - for example a tiny gold lion with the most intricately detailed mane dates from 2600-2300 BC, the early Bronze Age. Next door I spend some time in the sobering new Museum of Soviet Occupation, with just a little time left for the display of weaponry used in the wars with Persia and Turkey in the 19th and early 20th century. Sadly when I finally make my way to the shop hoping for some sort of guide to take home with me the door is firmly closed - the shop has shut for lunch!
Even a long weekend would be scarcely enough time to explore Tblisi to the full. It is such a shame that it is a long journey to get there from America and the UK.
Lunch is not included today, and most of us find the excellent supermarket near the hotel, where picnics are clearly big business at the deli counter. Our individual choices from a fantastic selection are then beautifully wrapped and supplied with plastic forks and spoons as necessary.
There is a hiccup on the flight home - a very large bang wakes us up out of our dozing making us all jump. It is turbulence or air pocket we are variously told when we inquire of the staff, but the captain makes no announcement at all from the cockpit - that would have been reassuring. In all my many flights over the years I have often experienced turbulence, but never like that!
|arriving tired and wet and cold at Gergeti church nr. Kazbegi|
|arrived at Udabno (desert) monastery, tired, hot and happy!|
It didn't always feel as much like a pilgrimage as did our previous trips last year, to the Holy Land and then to South East Turkey. But then in Turkey we stayed for several days in two different monasteries which enabled us to really get into the spirit of the liturgy and the mystery of the Orthodox religion. And of course the Holy Land is a very special place for followers of all three Abrahamic faiths, with so many of the significant places to visit within a small area. The long distances we had of necessity to travel in Georgia, tempted us at every turn into becoming tourists rather than pilgrims. I have covered the Holy Land and South East Turkey pilgrimages in previous blogs on this site.
I would like to express heartfelt thanks here to both Rosemary Nutt and her team at McCabe Pilgrimages, who organised such a splendid trip for us, and Southwark Diocese, particularly The Very Revd. Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark Cathedral, and his supporting team, who so ably led us with such good humor throughout. And of course thanks to our two wonderful tour guides from Visit Georgia, Maka and Levan.
My guidebook throughout the trip was Georgia, in the Bradt guide series, this one by Tim Burford, updated by Laurence Mitchell, fourth edition published June 2011, and I am grateful for much superb information supplied therein which enriched my visit to Georgia.
I think it appropriate that we should let God have the last word, and so I return to that old Georgian myth that I found on the comtourist website:
"When the God divided the Earth among the people, Georgians were late because of their traditional feast, and by the moment of their arrival the entire world had already been divided. When the God asked them to what they had drunk Georgians just answered: "To you, oh Lord, to us, to peace". The God liked their answer. So told them that although all lands were taken, he reserved a small plot for himself and now he decided to give it to Georgians. According to the God the land was incomparable in its beauty and all people would admire and cherish it forever."
I say Amen to that!