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Quick Stop in Kutaisi

I like to travel by train where possible (more room, generally speaking, and on board toilets, although those are sometimes UNspeakable). So my first plan was to take the night train from Batumi to Tbilisi. But that would mean missing a lot of scenery, the country’s second city, dating in various incarnations back 4,000 years, and a couple of dramatically-sited monasteries. Instead I would spend one night in Kutaisi in a well-reviewed homestay.

The river bank in Kutaisi

The taxi from Dzveli Batumi delivered me not just to the bus station, but to the conductor of the correct marshrutka, who stowed my pack and pointed out the ticket office. I switched seats after the sun finally came out, which was as soon as we left Batumi. We headed north, with the sea to the left and mountains to the right,until we could turn east through the central, agricultural, plain.

I found the house plans interesting, and typical of the country: the working part was on the ground floor, with the next story either built out, or with a verandah, and reached by outside stairs. Clearly, the visitors’ section was upstairs, In homestays the family lives downstairs and guests upstairs.

The main church at Gelati

I took a taxi to my homestay, and when I saw how far I would have had to trek, up a steep path, if I had followed Lonely Planet’s directions, I felt the “splurge” entirely justified. A lavishly bearded Dutchman arrived shortly after I did, and had clearly not enjoyed the walk. Homestays may not be especially comfortable (at this one the toilet was outside, down the stairs, and round two corners, and the far from “sparkling” shower room outside and round one corner) but they are great for meeting other travelers. The Dutchman instantly agreed to share a taxi with me for the afternoon. After a remarkably cheap lunch (cheese pie for two and water for one for 5 GEL) and a quick bargain with a driver, we were on our way to Motsameta and Gelati.

The scenery – forested mountains – outshone the church. I noticed that the water pipe for priest’s house seemed to start in the graveyard, and I also noticed a struggling sheep being dragged towards the church – animal sacrifice has not completely died out in these parts. The much bigger complex at Gelati, while less defensible, still perched well up a wooded hillside. David the Builder, perhaps Georgia’s most successful monarch, was buried here, and President Saakashvili chose it for his inauguration.

Aside from great locations, Georgian churches are also distinguished by cruciform design, with a central round or polygonal tower, capped by a “dunce’s cap” roof and pierced by tall, thin windows, making the inside much lighter than superficially-similar Armenian churches.

View of Kutaisi from outside Bagrati Cathedral

Gas is clearly a valuable commodity here. After we agreed the price with our driver and got in, our first stop was for gas, and on the way back to Kutaisi, we coasted wherever possible. After the ride I found an ATM, and a cafe in a central park, before totally failing to find the synagogues mentioned in LP – the map being flat wrong. I trekked up the afore-mentioned steep slope towards the homestay, stopping off at the town’s 11th century Bagrati Cathedral, only to find it completely off limits and undergoing extensive renovation. The castle cum palace next door had survived 11 centuries, but Russian bombardment (against the Turks) in 1769 reduced it to a state of complete ruin from which no renovation was possible.

Dinner at the homestay, like the bathroom, did not live up to to expectations raised by the reviews, being long on potato and short on protein, and not especially tasty. I slept well, though.

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