This weekend I went with TLG on an excursion. This is a trip they put on to some of the big historical places in the country to help thank us busy teachers see the history Georgia has to offer. Friday I headed over to Tbilisi on a marshutka after finding out the night train was full. After 6 hours of not quite as bad as I was expecting travel, I made it to the capital and headed to McDonald’s for some Americana and internet. I woke up at 7:30 the next morning and grabbed a hot shower and headed on over to the meeting place. I met a bunch of TLGer’s I hadn’t before as well as seeing two people from my group, which was nice. I sat by a woman who is teaching in Tbilisi and actually owns her own ESL recruitment company, and a guy that was in her group that is an avid photographer. She is here checking out the program personally and because she loves teaching and travelling. We all three had a great time talking about our Georgian experiences, life back home, and having random debates on ethical issues to pass the time (it’s a looooong drive, but the bus is very nice).
First we went to the Green Monastery which is nowhere near Vardzia but on the way. It’s a nice quiet place when it isn’t overrun by us tourists and the building on the left is a bell tower as well as a chapel that contains relics of martyred monks from the 16th century. There was also a beautifully scenic creek behind the photographer’s view in that picture.
Next we stopped at Khertvisi Fortress, which was originally built in the 2nd century BC. Supposedly Alexander the Great destroyed it when he swept through the region, but it was rebuilt later. It was a pretty nice spot and had a wonderful view. It started to rain though so we ran back to the bus. The rain was cold and the wind made it even worse. Next stop, Vardzia!!
Vardzia was an extensive cave city many centuries ago. The top picture shows what is left of it, but those caves would have actually been fairly deep in the cave complex. As you can see parts of it have been restored by the monks that reside there. There is a working church in Vardzia with some spectacular art covering the walls and ceilings. It’s a pretty big climb up and I was winded by the time we got there, but it was worth it. After getting an intro to the place from our wonderful guide (seriously, great guy, good sense of humor and infinitely patient). He told us that the name comes from the famous Queen Tamar. When she was a girl she ran away from her uncle in Vardzia and as he was calling for her she would reply აქ მე ვარ ძია!/aq me var, dzia!/Here I am, uncle! After we all saw the church together I snuck away from the group and explored on my own. Climbing around on the carved out steps was cool and trying to figure out which rooms were used for what. I got out ahead of the group fairly well when it started to drizzle again so I vamoosed towards what looked like a tunnel that went down to the ground to another point and I guessed right. The tunnel was pretty long and totally dark in some places (usually right when it turned sharply, no faceplants though). I made it back to the bus before everyone including the driver so some guys that were building a new restaurant invited me in out of the rain and they offered me some of their lunch. So I sat for about 30 minutes drying off and having some bread and sausage with them, until everyone else got back down absolutely soaked. From there it was a four and a half hour ride back to Tbilisi. Everyone had a great time, but it had been a long day so we grabbed a quick bite of some Turkish food and then I headed back to the hostel. I saw two more people from my group there, which was great. They had come in for some R&R and to watch some playoff hockey over the hostel’s internet.
Sunday morning I woke up and headed back to the village and I feel reinvigorated and inspired to dive into the week. LET’S DO THIS!!!