Two full days in Kutaisi would have been great if the rain hadn’t interfered with some of my plans. Still, this is an interesting city, and some stops on the way here were quite fascinating.
Gori: City of Stalin
Imagine your hometown hero is one of the most despotic dictators in the history of the world.
Welcome to Gori, the first, but not only, piece of surreality on the drive from Tbilisi to Kutaisi.
The museum dedicated to Joseph Stalin dates from shortly after his death. It was created to honor his memory. But should it still venerate him today?
I was partly creeped out and dumbstruck visiting the museum. My guide Irakli warned me that many people in Gori, including those who run the museum, still revere Stalin as a native son. The tour guide, who spoke as if she had memorized the words of the English-language script but didn’t actually know what they meant, did not highlight the photos of happy children embraced by Stalin. She did mention some of the evils. But the exhibit stands as a monument, filled with memorabilia, paintings, and even a death mask. I couldn’t help but see the Stalin the museum’s founders were honoring.
For a real blast from the past, our next stop on the way to Kutaisi was the city of Chiatura, important for the rich deposits of manganese in hills surrounding the city. In the 1950s the Soviet Union built a network of cable cars, allowing miners to move back and forth from the town to the mines, saving valuable time. All told, they built 17 cable-car lines, and these continued in use until 2021.
Currently the Georgian government is in the process of revamping the cable-car system with modern technology, but retaining the Soviet-era stations as heritage sites. I’ve heard that some of the new cable cars are operating, but I didn’t see any. I think the new ones are for tourists; I’m not sure if there is still mining activity in Chiatura these days.
I also visited a very interesting 13th-century monastery (or convent) in Chiatura. Called Mgvimevi, it is built into caves in the hills above the city. This was less surreal than the rest of the city. Even without the cable cars, Chiatura made me feel like I was visiting a city frozen in time from sixty years ago.
We made a few other stops before arriving in Kutaisi; they’re all in my photo album.
So now I’m in Kutaisi, and it has pretty much been raining the entire time. I don’t really have much to say about Kutaisi that the photos can’t tell you, so check them out.
Yesterday, after a tour that included visits to two 11th-century monasteries, UNESCO-listed Gelati (pictured at the top of this post) and Mostamevi, and no-longer UNESCO-listed Bagrati Cathedral (all in the photos of Kutaisi), Irakli took me to Tskaltubo.
About 10 km from Kutaisi, Tskaltubo was a major tourism center in the Soviet era. Famed for its hot-water baths, visitors flocked to Tskaltubo for balneotherapeutic treatments. Joseph Stalin was among the regular visitors.
Today only a few of the hotels and sanatoriums remain in operation. The rest have suffered the indignities of time, creating another surreal experience.
The rain enhanced the surreal experience here. I could imagine all of this as it was fifty years ago.
Some of my favorite photos from my entire trip are in this album.
Last night the day’s constant rain turned into a downpour. I’d gone out for a walk during a lull, but before I got back to the hotel, the skies opened, and my shoes got soaked. (I used the hotel hair dryer this morning to unsoak them.)
The power in the hotel went out before midnight. I don’t know if it was weather-related, but as a CPAP user, this made sleep difficult. The power didn’t come back on until after 2am. Outside, the driving rain continued.
Today I had an excursion scheduled to three natural locations: two canyons with waterfalls and boat rides, and a cave complex, also with a boat ride. It took an hour to get to the first stop, Martvili Canyon, and they were unable to open because of the high water level from the rains. Then my guide called ahead to Okatse Canyon, and they too couldn’t open. We headed to Prometheus Cave, and it was locked tight. Some vendors nearby said the caves were flooded. So we had to call the whole thing off.
So the day wasn’t a total washout, my guide took me to Martvili Monastery, a lovely, peaceful place near the canyon of the same name. Some of my pictures from there are in with the Kutaisi photos.
I actually was glad to have a down day today. I walked around Kutaisi a little, took a nap, and wrote this blog. It was my first mostly-free day in three weeks!
Tomorrow we head to my last stop in Georgia before moving on to Armenia. My travels are winding down.
And the good news is, so is the rain. I may have seen the last precipitation of the trip. I hope.