In Telavi

Internet access is proving problematic in the last week, especially since I was all over western Georgia. Uploading pictures is not easy either, but I did get some good photos north of Zugdidi, in Poti naval base, in the tank base in Gori, and near Senaki. I am now in the north east of the country, in the town of Telavi, Georgian wine country.

I have tonnes of photos taken, I hope to upload some soon.

Here is a sample for now:

The bombed Georgian tank base in Gori:

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The naval base at Poti, where Russian soldiers destroyed most of Georgia’s navy:

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And the border of the Russian buffer zone, about 3km north of Zugdidi. You can make out an armoured vehicle on the right. There was no international presence near Zugdidi or at the border post. I was told Russia is trying to force the people in the occupied town of Gali to take Russian passports.

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It’s been a safe trip mostly. Though Ossetian fighters attacked Turkish road builders between Tbilisi and Gori on Wednesday. And we nearly got arrested near Abkhazia, more of that anon.

More when I get reliable internet and some time!

Day two in Georgia – Mtskheta

Today ended up being largely confined to a lengthy and very interesting conversation via translator with Georgian Times founder Malkhaz Gulashvili. We talked about a wide range of issues, but mostly about the war and regional politics. The discussion then moved into Malkhaz’s personal interest in Irish history and politics and his personal desire to see closer connections between Irish and Georgian people. I will be coming back to that discussion later.

For the rest of the day we visited the UNESCO world heritage site at Mtskheta, ate more Georgian food on the banks of the Mt’k’vari river and visited a monastery site just above Mtskheta.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, built in the 11th century in Mtskheta was incredibly impressive. Its status as a world heritage site is well deserved. And fortunately for me on this occassion I was able to get photos and video from inside the church. The wikipedia page simply does not do it justice, but it does give some insight into the story I was told today about the architect of the cathedral having his hand cut off.

When entering I was forced to try on a traditional hat from the region:

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Yes it does not suit me.

In order of how they took them here is a tour of the Cathedral.

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This is one of the damaged interior walls:

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The huge and spectacular image of Christ at the rear of the cathedral

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As seen from the entrance:

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An exterior detail:

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At sunset:

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Front detail:

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As for the food, I tried out a variety of Georgian staples. I can’t even begin to translate their names, but here is a picture of the selection of food.

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And here is a sample of the menu, for those of you interested in language. Georgian is an entirely distinct and unique language, and it is not the easiest to understand or read.

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Well except on the right after the numbers is the Georgian word for Larri, the currency… which looks like this:

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Tomorrow morning it is on to Gori with my guide, who knows much about the conflict given his first hand role as a captain in the Georgian army, and a veteran of the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan. My conversations so far (albeit frustrated by translation) with him, have been very interesting.

Sightseeing in Tbilisi

I spent the entire day today travelling around Tbilisi. I guess getting the tourist thing out of the way first is a good thing. But even while doing the tourist things there are signs of the recent conflict. We passed a communications antenna damaged by Russian bombing (no good photos), and a few places where refugees from Ossetia (will be returning to some of those later) are temporarily residing. One school down the road is housing refugees, with the inevitable images of clothes drying on the school railings.

As for sightseeing, it was wide ranging. I can’t even recall the names of some places, but we spent a good deal of time driving around the outskirts of the city, including to that big lake to the east. There are a lot of churches, as the city is reputed for, and they are built in the Byzantine/Orthodox style as you would expect.

This one is within some fortifications on a hill. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take photos inside. The interiors are stunning, with every inch of the walls and ceiling painted in colourful intricate detail. (For all photos click on the photo and when in Flickr.com click on “All sizes” on top of the image to see them in closer detail)

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Just across the city is Tbilisi’s newest and Georgia’s biggest church. My guide, Khveecha, told me that it has taken 10 years to get this far. The picture does not really do the scale justice, as well as the fact that beneath the church is another underground area for worship, mostly in marble.

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Since it was a Sunday, many couples were getting married, and unlike in western Christian traditions, these ceremonies are carried out with several couples at a time. Here I caught a picture of the orthodox priest blessing one groom, as another looks on.

Orthodox wedding

Orthodox Christians worship in an entirely different way. All praying is done standing up, and images and candles play a critical role. Most physically kiss the images, as well as buying candles to light in front of specific images of certain saints. Here a woman kisses the image of the virgin Mary. Like in Ireland decades ago, it is traditional for women to cover their heads when in a church.

Reverence

Amazingly, because the church is new (10 years in the making), the interior has yet to be decorated. The ceilings and walls are entirely blank. In the future this picture will be filled with colourful religious imagery, but for now it is a blank canvas:

Blank canvas

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This might give a better idea of scale:

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Tomorrow it is on to more sightseeing, and later in the week a trip into the Caucus mountains. Later again will be a trip westward.

Incidentally we also passed the Russian and American embassies. The Russian embassy had rubbish deliberately strewn around its entrance, with anti-Russian slogans painted on a wall opposite the building. We drove by the US embassy, and it is enormous. It really did look vast. I grabbed this quick picture:

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Some more photos in the Flickr set.