I managed to arrange a car and driver for us. Our experiences on the marshrutkas had been interesting but they convinced us that what we really needed was our own private car and driver. Malchas met us early in the morning and we began our first trip into rural Georgia. A nice guy with passable English, he had a minivan that fitted us and our luggage just fine.
Departing Tbilisi, we made for Gori.
Gori is a provincial town famous for one thing – it is the birthplace of Stalin. It is probably the only place in the world where Stalin is still thought of as a hero. The museum is famous – opened in the late 1960’s under the Soviets, it memorialises one of the most infamous personalities of the 20th century. Still, we found it to be fascinating. The building could be a palace -it was specially built for the purpose, and it seemed to me that if Hitler had won the war this is what a Hitler museum might have looked like.
The displays were pretty good – and our wonderful English-speaking guide went out of her way to point to where recent changes had been made in the museum – the exhibits no longer idolise Stalin completely – some do, but here and there are references to the great purges and killings that he orchestrated. Modern Georgia doesn’t owe Russia anything, but the people are very proud of the fact that their townsman defeated the Nazis. The section on the Second World War is impressive – newsreels and propaganda posters, as well as hundreds of gifts received by Stalin from other world leaders. Finally in the yard, is not only the house where he was born (transplanted completely to the museum) but Stalin’s own armored train in which he travelled around Russia and Europe, which is open to tourists. The inside was extremely simple, so it does seem as though he thought of himself as a man of the people. Pity he had to kill millions of them to stay in power.
Friends of ours had asked us to buy them a Stalin mug (to go with their Mao mug). We did so – it’s probably the only place in the world you can buy a mug like this.
The kids enjoyed the museum – they didn’t know much of the history, but this is an exciting museum and hard to be bored in. And trains are always fun.
Daniel and I also climbed up to the Gori castle – there was a sentry post at the foot of the castle with a couple of soldiers in – they couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go up there – and they were kind of right – as in Tbilisi, the outside is impressive, but at the top, there is nothing except a view.
Gori was typical of so many Georgian rural towns and cities – big streets, empty, no people, no traffic. Grand traffic circles, but everything overgrown and decayed.
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