After finally arriving in Kutaisi it was time to meet up with others from our group and find our home stay. It was very easy to locate the restaurant where our group was at, but not so easy to locate the home stay. A home stay was exactly what it sounds like: you stay in someone’s home. The place we stayed at was on a hill on the northern side of the city with (as we found out in the morning) great views of the mountains. There were two rooms waiting for the four of us and neither of them was heated! There was a little space heater in both, but as the rooms were fairly large, they were not doing that much good. After talking for a while, we went to bed in a tundra.
That night was probably the coldest I have spent. I was able to sleep a little and was thrilled with the hot breakfast that awaited us in the morning. They had prepared eggs, oatmeal, little pancakes, bread and hot tea. All of it was wonderful! We set out soon after that to see Bagrati Cathedral. It was less than a five minute walk from the home stay and also had beautiful views of the mountains. This cathedral has been located on Ukimerioni Hill since the 11th century. In the 1600’s it was bombed and most of the cathedral was destroyed. It still sits in its ruined state. There are plans to reconstruct, but since it has not been done in over 400 years, I am not sure how serious the plans really are. It was pretty snowy and I was glad I had my hiking boots on. We were able to climb onto some of the ruins to get even better views of the area and destroyed church.
From there we walked town the hill into the city center. We had read about a few museums that sounded interesting and found the Kutaisi History Museum pretty easily. No one in the building spoke English, but we were able to read signs through out. There were at least four people who followed us around the entire time we were there. They were not there to tell us anything about the exhibits, as they did not speak English, but to keep an eye on us and make sure we did not try to touch or take anything. I read in my travel book that the first telephone used in Kutaisi was there, so I went looking for it and it was not even labeled! No one would know, unless they had this guide.
The next two museums we went to, the Museum of Sport and the World War II Museum were both closed, so we went and had lunch. I tried a bread and noodle dish for the first time and it was very good. Because it was still early in the day, we decided to hire a taxi to take us to Gelati Monastery which is about 10km from Kutaisi. After negotiating the price with 6 or 7 taxi drivers, we found someone will to take us and wait for us there to bring us back all for 20 Lari (about $12). Split between four people it was a good deal!
Driving the road to the monastery was windy and narrow. Because it was also snowy, it was slow go for much of it and there were many close calls with drivers coming in the other direction. When we arrived at the top of the mountain we saw there was a wedding party at the church. In Georgia, it is not uncommon to have people come into the church during a wedding ceremony! Unfortunately, we arrived just as they had finished so we did not get to see any of it, but the church itself was beautiful! Gelati was built in 1106 and has been reconstructed many times through out its history. In 2004, the President of Georgia Mikhiel Saakashivili was inaugurated at there. The views of the surrounding area were also amazing.
We walked back up to the home stay and all took hot showers. It is amazing how much I missed being able to stand under hot water for more than a few minutes. It was especially nice since I knew the night was going to be cold again. It did not seem as cold as the first night, but in the morning we awoke to fresh snow, and it was still falling. This should have been our hint that things were going to get complicated, but at first we all just thought it was pretty!
After eating another great breakfast we took a taxi to the train station. When we got to the counter we were told the only train to Tbilisi was sold out. When we asked if there was a bus or a marshutka that we could take, we were told all the roads to Tbilisi were closed. Our only option was to wait until 5:00am the next morning when the next train was scheduled to leave. Clearly this was not a good option. We decided to try our luck and get on the train. It didn’t work. Before it left the station, they checked for tickets and told us we had to get off.
As we were exiting the train I heard someone say there was a marshutka to Tbilisi. We were saved! There sat the mini-van ready to brave the snow-covered mountain roads. We were able to sit next to each other and spent the next 5 and a half hours hoping we would not be involved in one of the many car accidents we saw along the way! There were also many check-points that slowed us down. The police were out in full force to make sure people had chains on their tires or four-wheel drive or something else that could get them through the mountains. Our driver was amazing! He just drove right through everything without hesitation.