31st October 2019
For many of my well-travelled team the morning views of the 5047m Mount Kazbegi and the 400m ascent to the Gergeti Church from our hotel in the town of Stepantsminda below has been the highlight of this fast-paced tour across the Caucasus
But there have been many highlights over the past 10 days. In Baku, having seen the petroglyphs of Gobustan in the morning, we gazed in wonder at the Heydar Aliyev Building as the sun set. Designed by ¨Queen of the Curve¨ Zaha Hadid it was hard to take our eyes off it even to view an incredible outdoor expedition by National Geographic Iranian French Photographer Reza Deghati, that graced the steps leading down to the city center.
Heading west we explored the picturesque mountain village of Lahic en route to Sheki, our base for two nights. Having admired the wonderful intricacies of the craftsmanship in the Khan´s Palace we travelled by ancient Lada taxi up to the 12th Century church in Kis. Here 2 meter plus skeletons from the bronze age lay in rest under glass in the graveyard.
Crossing the border near Lagodekhi into Georgia, it was not long before we were enjoying true Georgian hospitality in the garden of a local family. Mountains of Khachapuri (cheese bread) were laid out on our table as Alex our guide toasted our arrival with excellent Georgian amber wine.
Via Telavi and the hilltop town of Signaghi, we took a short detour into the capital Tbilisi to visit the National Museum. The Archaeological Treasury cannot be missed; a tortoiseshell necklace fashioned long before the birth of Christ and a 4500 year-old one-inch high lion sparkle in a room of scintillating golden exhibits. But a full afternoon there would hardly be enough. It was not easy rounding up the team from the Soviet Occupation Hall and the display of Roman mosaics.
The infamous town of Gori was next up, birthplace of Josef Jughashvili, aka Stalin
We had been well warned what to expect at our hotel, the Victoria, but it is a lodging not to be missed. It is caught in a time-warp pre-Perestroika, and I was not surprised that plugging in the bedside lamp blew everything in the room. Head torches are handy in Gori.
We joined another WF tour the following morning at the Stalin museum. While Nadia the guide was extolling the virtues of the Great Leader, we dutifully followed from the exhibition halls to hut and birthplace that his shoemaker father once rented and on to the railway carriage used for his visit to Yalta.
The picture displays, artifacts and gifts from foreign leaders were all fascinating but we did note that the banner which apparently once hung over the entrance, ´This museum is a falsification of history` has now been removed.
We have four more days to explore the region and we travel south tomorrow to the border.
Neighbour Armenia has two very hard acts to follow.