Despite the tents having had the opportunity to dry out when we arrived at the Bushcamp, a heavy early morning dew rendered them equally wet by the time we got up on Tuesday morning. Yuk!
Nevertheless we were packed up and ready to go by 9.00. Our route took us back through Gori, which – in addition to its Stalin connection – is a large train intersection. There was a network of tracks and goods trains sitting around. At least it provides an employment opportunity – unemployment is very high in Georgia. I guess we see this reflected in the poor housing which seems pretty universal.
As we left Gori and moved out onto the highway there were lots of fruit stalls, all selling the same thing, clustered together by the side of the road. How you are expected to choose between them I am not quite sure. At least the cabbage man showed a bit of differentiation.
Large fields of crops and vines came into view and more towns in the distance. The wide landscape then shrunk down to a narrow valley as we followed a river along. Narrow, precarious looking footbridges spanned the river that gurgled over stones and boulders a long way below us. Eventually the valley broadened out and houses appeared on the steep banks of the river with even steeper paths going up the hillside. Larger houses were coming into view with verandahs down several sides.
A new development was the appearance of basket stalls by the side of the road. The baskets looked home made affairs and quite jolly.
We continued to follow the river for a couple of hours before we crossed it (on a more substantial bridge!) and the landscape opened out again, before it narrowed and steep rocky scrubland reared up either side of us again. A number of abandoned or derelict buildings came into view, then tall Russian apartments with their usual appendages and abandoned factories. A rusting power station appeared sending equally rusting electricity pylons marching across the landscape and then we were in the industrial outskirts of a town. We had reached Kitaisi.
We were to stay in Kitaisi overnight, but initially stopped in order that we could leave the truck and find ourselves some lunch. We stopped near the town square which had the most amazing fountain with mythical gold horses in the middle of it. Off to the side of this was a lush tropical garden with palm trees amongst others in evidence. It looked a modern and enterprising town. Office workers were obviously equally looking for grazing. I think we always look like a load of scarecrows leaving the truck at these times. Inevitably we are muddy and grimy from rolling up wet tents and I am not sure I will ever be able to walk in normal shoes again having spent nearly three months in walking boots. I will cut quite a dash on my return to London Society……..!
After lunch we set off to the Prometheus Caves at Kumistavi on the outskirts of the town. Now I have to report that I am not really a cave person, but not wanting to miss out, I went along with the others and was surprisingly impressed. The cave was vast.
The cave was found following an earthquake in June 1983. A man apparently lost his dog down a hole and when looking for it found himself in a large cavern. The whole complex is 1 kilometre long and has been very tastefully opened up with concrete paths and railings taking you through the amazing stalactites and stalagmites artfully up lighted with classical music playing. It was all very tasteful and only marginally spoiled by the testosterone toting party of teenagers who came around with us……..
We opted to come out of the cave by boat. A very upmarket, electrically propelled, craft picked us up at the underground landing stage and silently took us along the underground waterway. Snazzy red crash hats were supplied to prevent concussion as the route twisted and turned along a very low ceilinged and rocky tunnel.
Before long we came out in the bright sunlight and were transported by a small minibus back to the start of the tour where there were some lovely persimmon trees. (In an effort to capture a picture of these trees, I stumbled down a water gully and banged my elbow – I have never personally found the ‘funny bone’ at all amusing…. (I am a true martyr to my art!) Overall the caves were a good diversion. Yet another first for the trip, it doesn’t cease to surprise
It was by now late afternoon and we had to get to our home stay up on the hill overlooking Kataisi. This is a very old part of the town and the truck noisily climbed the steep hill over the cobbles. The home stay was painted a very pristine white.
Off to one side we could see the turquoise roof of the famous cathedral and Helen and I soon took off to investigate it further. Some will not be surprised to learn that Keith is a bit churched out……..
Bagrati Cathedral was originally built in 978 on what was a very important historical site. It is surrounded by four foot thick walls, still evident in parts, which would indicate there has been more than religious buildings there in the past. In the 17th century explosives were stored there and the whole thing blew up, demolishing the cathedral in the process. The debris from the cathedral was scattered over the top of the hill and over the years the local people stole some of the carved stones to incorporate them into their own houses round about. In 1960 it was decided to restore the cathedral. Efforts were made to retrieve the stolen materials (I bet that was popular) and an architect was appointed by the then president to draw up a reconstruction plan. There are two schools of thought about the outcome. Some have ’embraced the metal columns he incorporated others (including UNESCO) were hoping for a more traditional approach. As a result UNESCO took over the restoration.
Although the work is still in progress (they are still laying the floor) the Cathedral is open again. in addition to its internal ironwork and turquoise metal roof (the original roof had turquoise ceramic tiles) it is the proud owner of a whole collection of saints bones which are very much to the fore thus adding to my tally of saints body parts that I have come across over the years…….
It is a popular place. Head covered locals and tourists jockeyed for position, trying not to trip on the hazardous flooring. The Angelous rang out from the bell tower, tolled by a black robed member of the clergy while we were there. Young lovers sat on the grass. We stood on the old walls and looked down on the new city below.
Turning back to the home stay we were rewarded with Georgian food served under the glare of bright neon lighting. It was a bit clinical but served in pristine conditions. I beginning to get a taste for Russian salad. There was also a very exciting moment when I thought we were being served smoked salmon – but it proved to be ‘ruched’ carrot……