We drove through a beautiful landscape of to Uplistsikhe. Malchas insisted that we could not miss this totally unpronounceable place. This is an ancient settlement dating back thousands of years, and at one point had over 20,000 inhabitants. We decided not to take a guide and to explore ourselves – it was really interesting – the remains were scant, but the kids loved clambering over and in between the rocks and we also found a tunnel leading away from the settlement to the river which was an adventure in itself. The site is alongside a river, with nearby houses covered in vines. Georgia was slowly revealing its beauty to us.
Our overnight stop was Borjomi.
Borjomi was once one of the most visited tourist destination in Georgia. Founded by the Romanovs in the late 1800’s as Spa resort, Borjomi was also famous across Russia for its apparently very healthy mineral water. Situated in dense forest, Borjomi once attracted holidaymakers in huge numbers.
We drove into a sleepy little town and quickly found Levan, who would be our host that night. Outside of Tbilisi and Batumi there are very few hotels, and it is common for locals to open their houses to visitors. This really allows one an inside view of real Georgian life. In this case, Levan took us to his parents home – a small two bedroom apartment, very clean, where we met his mom. It turns out that Levan was a prodigy pianist, who hade been one of the foremost junior concert performers in Georgia. Things were not going so well for him now – he said that there was no money for the arts anymore, and all his mother wanted was for him to leave the country. That afternoon we visited the famous water park – passing old mansions on the way, we walked to what had once been a huge theme park and now had some left over attractions – a small roller coaster and some other rides, In addition, we saw the famous mineral water source. At the entrance one could buy jugs in various sizes and people were lined up around two faucets coming out of a concrete slab and were filling up their jugs. The problem was that the flow of water was just more than a trickle, and some people had 10 liter jugs. We decided to come back later and walked through the park. The kids loved it, especially the tiny rollercoaster, but it was symbolic of Georgia today – old, almost decrepit, but in the most beautiful location. Later we did manage to collect some water form the source – very salty and with gas, we couldn’t figure out its popularity, but then how could 200 million people be wrong?
We also went on a small cable car up the hillside to the ferris wheel above – Georgians love ferris wheels and we saw them in many places. The views were beautiful but the whole feeling was of a place trying to come to terms with its new (forgotten) status.
We went back to the apartment for diner where the table was covered in a huge spread of Georgian food – chicken, eggplant in walnut sauce, bread, drinks, salads, way too much for us. And very tasty as well. Levan’s mom urged us to shower but we are used to showering before bed, so we didn’t take what turned out to be a great opportunity. After dinner, the boys wanted to go back to the water park, so I took them. Hilit and Gal stayed behind. The park was lit up with fairy lights at night and we wondered about – they wanted a roller coaster ride but I wouldn’t let them – minutes later the whole park was plunged into darkness when the power went out – I knew from the screaming people on the roller coaster in the pitch dark that I had made the right decision. What was amazing was the way people coped in the dark – a large group of people gathered together, some guys pulled out a few guitars and within a few minutes the whole group was singing folk songs and having a great time. After about twenty minutes the power was back on and it was as if nothing had ever happened – power outages in Georgia are commonplace!
When we made it back to the apartment, the girls told us about the incredible performance that Levan had given them on the piano. Clearly a very frustrated talent. When we went for our showers it was clear why his mother had urged us to shower earlier – the water was now a trickle and it was cold. Turned out they only have about two hours of hot water a day.
We were very comfortable in the apartment – though it was clear that we had taken up the whole apartment (2 rooms, and we think that the family slept then night in the kitchen).
We were quickly learning that Georgia is a country of layers – the cities (apart from Tbilisi) are in decay, but the countryside is magnificent, and, once you get to know them, the people have very warm hearts.
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