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Gudauri - Gori - Uplistsikhe - Abastumani

Stalin, Cave Towns and the Moon

all seasons in one day 12 °C
View In Search of the Golden Fleece - Armenia and Georgia 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

My deodorant decided it didn't like the altitude, and exploded on me this morning – the roller ball shot off across the room, spraying sticky, but nice smelling goo all over me, the floor, the settee, the bed, the table..... At least this room won't have a BO problem for the foreseeable future.

We had a very disturbed night, one way or another, what with the dog opposite the hotel who went barking mad every time a car passed and the heavy rain on the metal roof outside our window, the huge hailstones, the thunderstorm, the lightning briefly kicking out the electricity several times in the night (thank goodness for the surge protector plug!) and the seven visits to the loo with diarrhoea. That'll teach me drinking mineral water straight out of the ground!

With all the rain we had, it is not really surprising that there was a landslide in the night. The road to the pass (that we took yesterday) was closed, which meant a long line of traffic (mostly Russian cars and trucks) at the police post.

The new president brought in a police reform in 2003 after the Rose Revolution, and decided all police stations should be made of glass for transparency. Shame the same thing didn't happen in the prisons.

Gori

On the way to Gori we passed very close to the South Ossetia 'border' and the huge refugee camps for displaced Georgians after the August War in 2008. EUMM vehicles can still be seen patrolling the area to monitor the situation.

Joseph Stalin Museum

The museum was built during the Soviet era, and the local guide was quick to point out that there were no displays covering the 'Dark Times' of Georgian history, although the cultural minister is in the process of adding further exhibits to show a more balanced picture to counteract the propaganda and falsification of historical events. The museum is dedicated to the life of Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, who was born in Gori. The museum is a fascinating time capsule of Soviet propaganda in similar style to other communist idol-worship museums we've seen (think Kim Jung il).

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The exhibits are divided into six halls in roughly chronological order, and contain many items owned by Stalin, including some of his office furniture, his personal effects and gifts made to him over the years. There is also much illustration by way of documentation, photographs, paintings and newspaper articles. The display concludes with one of twelve copies of the death mask of Stalin taken shortly after his death. The mask is much smaller than natural size, as the size diminished a little with each copy.

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In the grounds is a small wooden hut, in which Stalin was born in 1878 and spent his first four years. Stalin's family only occupied one half of the small house, with his father,a local shoemaker, having a workshop in the basement.

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To one side of the museum is Stalin's personal railway carriage. The green Pullman carriage, which is armour plated and weighs 83 tons, was used by Stalin from 1941 onwards, including his attendances at the Yalta Conference and the Tehran Conference. It was sent to the museum on being recovered from the railway yards at Rostov-on-Don in 1985. From the outside it is very inconspicuous and it was considered much safer for Stalin to travel this way, almost incognito, than to fly. Inside it is really quite comfortable, although not luxurious.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

The name literally means "the lord's fortress", this ancient rock-hewn town
contains various structures dating from the 2nd millennia BC and is notable for the unique combination of various styles of rock-cut cultures from Anatolia and Iran, as well as the co-existence of pagan and Christian architecture. Mostly bare inside, you can still make out the theatre, pagan temple, private houses with gardens etc.

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Scrambling up over smooth rocks dotted with modern staircases, we were really grateful the rain had stopped, although it was still very, very windy.

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Lunch

Another amazing lunch in Gori, where we were able to watch the local stone baked bread being made in huge kilns – fires are lit in clay pots, and when the charcoal is just glowing at the bottom and the sides of the pot are very hot, bread dough is stuck on the inside walls, a lid put on and after 15-20 minutes, delicious fresh bread is brought out.

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Borjomi Park

On the way to Abastumani we stopped in Borjomi Park, part of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park for a walk. The area has long been known for its curative waters, and is full of beautiful old buildings which once housed sanatoria. Now you can buy empty flagons outside for filling with the healthy water, although there is a huge factory producing 561,000 bottles of the stuff annually. The volcanic water comes from 1.5 kilometres under ground, and on its way up passes through soil enriched with many minerals.

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Sanatorium

Still having the runs, I have spent the day testing out the various toilets of the area, and had a very urgent mission to see the inside of the facilities in the park. I could hear the lady door attendant shouting something as I rushed in, but I was in no state to stop and find out what she wanted. Just as I was crouched over the hole in the ground and let rip, I heard the word “madame” and saw a hand appear under the door with toilet paper. Perfect timing!

Political Rally

We'd seen the 41 signs on hillsides, houses and cars, but never understood what it was. 41 is one of the political parties – there is a general election on October 1st – and today there was a major rally. Dozens of cars, from party 41 as well as 5, and they were driving two abreast on the dual carriageway, lights flashing, horns blaring and huge flags displayed. Temo (our excellent driver) took the opposite side of the carriageway to get around the traffic jam – fortunately there is very little traffic about.

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Abastumani

The road to the observatory and 'hotel' where we are staying was a spectacular ascent on a recently resurfaced road with amazing hairpin bends. The lodgings are basic but perfectly adequate, and the fact that we are staying in a working observatory more than makes up for any shortcomings.

Abastumani Observatory

Abastumani Observatory was founded in 1932 on Mount Kanobili, near the spa resort of the same name The altitude of Mt.Kanobili is 1650 to 1700 m. above sea level and the site was selected due to the high transparency of ambient air and clear night sky over 250 days a year. Tonight was not one of those 250, but we went along to the observatory anyway. The telescope is enormous, a 40cm refractor-scope. Nice Mr Scientist showed us how the roof split open – to reveal a sky full of clouds. The floor moves up and down and the telescope swivels. We all looked up at the sky with the naked eye, wishing the clouds to move away. Suddenly Salomeh spotted a star, but by the time Mr Scientist pointed the scope at it, the clouds had covered it. This repeated itself several times until the moon decided to check out what was going on, and peeped out from behind the cloud. WOW WOW WOW Seeing the moon through such a powerful telescope was a breathtaking experience, and a new one for us. Through one of the eye pieces you could see the whole moon (or rather the half a moon that was visible), and through the main scope you could make out individual craters. WOW WOW WOW Thank you nice Mr Scientist.

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There is also a museum on site, highlighting the construction and history of the observatory, which we took a look at before walking through the national park back to the hotel. A barking red fox upset the cows as well as the local dogs who set off it hot pursuit. I hope this doesn't go on all night...

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Meteorite in the museum

Posted by Grete Howard 09:38 Archived in Georgia

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Wow is right. What an eventful trip you have had here.

by Kay

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