Kutaisi, Georgia offered us some much needed rest after city-hopping for the previous few days. The minibus dropped us off at a random bus station, which was of course, not even on the Lonely Plant maps. It would be so difficult traveling without that book, but it is a love-hate relationship as you read and look through it occasionally wondering why they wasted space and why they gave you worthless information when there was so much more to write about. Lucky for us, the Caucasus have been so easy to travel around in. After China and Central Asia, we were expecting mind numbing conversations as you walk from bus to bus asking to go to a certain city and then each person points in a different direction. Azerbaijan and Georgia have been completely different. Baku was simple to navigate and using public transportation was a cinch. Georgia was a great breath of fresh air. Leaving Central Asia behind and entering into a new world of Judeo – Christian values, we found no endeavor to result in a headache. People were friendly, curtious, helpful, and seemed to have ethics matching our own. In the previous town of Gori, we talked with the owner of “The Man Bar” and he gave us our meal and beer on-the-house just for being American and talking to him and his friends. This was the first time in all of my travels that being a foreigner actually resulted in a direct benefit within the culture.
Back in Kutaisi, we painlessly enlisted the help of a local taxi driver who drove way out of his way, after several roads were closed – up winding streets and hills to where we wanted to stay for the night. We were greeted at the gate by a very friendly young girl who spoke fluent English. She took us through their beautiful compound home that was over 100 years old. The two storey building didn’t look like much on the outside, but the interior was ornately decorated with a classic Russian feel. As we walked around the side of the home, which was probably once a sanitarium, we noticed grape vines hanging down around our heads. The whole house was surrounded with a vineyard. Around the back, a huge greenhouse took up most of their backyard. Inside were tomatoes, lime trees, and an assortment of other vegetables. With the exception of meat, I would say that the family was practically self sufficient.
After meeting Emily, a young solo traveler from the U.K., we walked around the side streets and back alleys of hilltop Kutaisi. Less than 1 km away, the Bagrati Cathedral – early 11th century – sits in ruin. However, reconstruction was underway while we were there. The cathedral was destroyed by the Turks in the early 17th century, it was still awe inspiring to stand underneath the now dome-less ceiling. To the East of the cathedral are the ruins of a medieval palace, complete with wine cellars and a chapel, also gave great views of the city below. The palace was destroyed by Russian artillery bombardment from the opposite bank of the river. We returned and had dinner with Emily, and enjoying the comfort and company so much, stayed an additional 2 days.