BURTON FAMILY - WORLDWIDE TRIPS travel blog

 

 


From the call to prayer in the morning to monks chanting in the afternoon means we have crossed a border not just to a different country but to a vastly different culture.

We have left behind the wandering shepherds and their flocks roaming in solitude in vast mainly treeless brown fields of northern Azerbaijian and transitioned into the milder Eastern Georgia landscape of forest, vinyards and mountain-top churches.

There also seem to be less cows now eking out a meal on the verges oblivious to thundering passing traffic. It seems there was insufficient decent grazing land in Azerbaijan to meet their collective needs. Traffic remains largely clapped out ancient Russian Ladas, more modern Mercedes and tractors.

Tbilisi, Georgia's capital city sits more or less in the centre of this small country of 3.5 million people in an attractive setting surrounded by pleated grey hills. Planning rules must have been rudimentary since the Russians finally pulled out in 2003 as the overall impression is of a hodgepodge of buildings, overlooked by the scenic ruins of the Narikala fortress with cable-car connection. Some of the outlying suburbs are less picturesque with grimy depressing Soviet-style tenement blocks surrounded byq yet more ancient grimy Russian Ladas.

While there is no shortage of ancient orthodox churches in the capital, one of the most well known in Georgia is located four hours north of the capital a few miles from the Russian border up what is known as the Miliary Highway, the major route across the Caucasus mountains separating the two countries. We encountered no Russian tanks heading south today and after an intimate visit to the exquisite hilltop Gergeti Trinity Church overnighted in the nearby gloomy remote local town before heading back south to visit Stalin's birthplace (he was Geogian of course) in Gori. Not sure if the locals are proud or embarrased by their famous son. The guide left out quite a bit of his contribution to history.

No visit to Georgia would be complete without a visit to sample one of the ubiquitous wineries to taste one if the few bottles not exported to Russia or increasingly now to Europe. Not to my taste, but we only tried three of the 500 grape varieties (1/3rd of all the world'swine grape types) from one of the oldest wine-growing countries in the world.

Footnote: we are travelling with friends we met in Mozambique, encountered a university contemporary in the group and then by chance came across fellow travellers we last met in Guatemala five years ago. It's a small mall world.

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