Everyone is beginning to look forward to returning home at the end of the week, beginning to twitter about arrangements on the last day. So it was surprising when almost everyone was up at 7:30 and chomping at the bit to have breakfast which wasn’t set to begin until 8.
We were scheduled to get on the road at 9, but actually left early at 8:45.
A crisp morning temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit at the beginning of the day was about 10 degrees cooler than the hotel interior.
Around 10 AM we stopped in Kharshari 3 times in succession, first looking for a pharmacy, then a restroom (only one, a long line), and then a roadside sweet bread stop. There were several women right next to each other standing in front of roadside huts with ovens in them selling a typical warm, sweet bread, called nikuzi, right out of the oven.
At noon we stopped for an hour at a promising looking multistory building marked S Restaurant Hotel Café. Once inside, no one spoke English and nothing we wanted to order was available except for garlic eggplant, which I am told was good. They also had cold coffee, tea, bread, oranges, beer and soda. Most people managed to scrape together something to eat. Bathrooms were Western with soap and towels.
By the time we reached the Kataisi region, destination for our touring today, the temperature had risen to about 80 degrees.
Kataisi is the second largest city in Georgia with a population of 20,165! It is a very old city, founded in the second century BC. It was once the capital of Georgia.
High atop a mountainside overlooking the city is Gelati Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built by David the Builder in the 12th century and consists of 3 main churches. With a guide who spoke understandable English, we visited two of them, the Church of the Virgin and the Church of St. George. We ran out of time before seeing St. Nimo’s Church.
The 2 churches we saw were decorated in beautiful frescos that were whitewashed by the Turks in the 14th century in an attempt to wipe out Christianity. Most had been restored in the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The guide explained the history of the place and St. George who died in the 13th century. We saw his grave next to the church vineyards where monks make wine for church ceremonies and for drink.
All in all, Gelati, unlike Rabati yesterday, was the real McCoy, not a reimagining of an old site, quite interesting.
Leaving Gelati we went searching for a restroom, as there were none at Gelati and would not be one for another hour to our next stop. Our bladders aching, we stopped at 2 places that turned us down for using their toilet. Finally we landed at a restaurant in Kataisi for this purpose. The place looked like it would have been a better choice for lunch than where we had stopped.
All bathroom refreshed we found our bus had conked out. We boarded another one—old, un-air conditioned, and almost didn’t make it back–for the trip to Prometheus Cave, taking only what we needed, as instructed.
Prometheus Cave was a huge cave that, judging from the comments, everyone enjoyed, even though there was nothing particularly Georgian about it except its location. The site was discovered in 1984 and opened as a tourist attraction in 2012. It says there are 800 steps and 1450 meters of walking in the caves. It was pretty much like most caves, but it was uncharacteristically very well developed with handrails and lighting that were up to Western standards. The cave did have an interesting Disney-esque end with a boatride on an underground river from inside the cave to the tour’s endpoint.
Our bus was undergoing repairs, so our baggage was delivered to us at the hotel where we checked in immediately before dinner. The hotel had the same toilet/shower combination bathrooms we all had in Ajerbaijan without any way to keep the bathroom floor or toilet dry when the shower is used.
The evening dinner was the same as the many banquet meals we had in Georgia served family style with small portions delivered to each table one dish after another. The dishes included the same basic fare we have seen many times now: tomatoes and cucumbers, an eggplant dish, Russian salad, a carrot salad, pan fried potatoes, beef stew, stuffed bell peppers, and overdone chicken. The free white wine was pretty bad.
One of our members, Shirley, had checked into her room but did not show up to dinner. When one of us went looking for her they found that she was locked in. The door did not open from the room side. A hotel staff member had to be given a key through the window and open the door from the hall.
Seems there is only one room key per room, strapped to a heavy key ring that no one would want to carry around if they left the hotel. Shirley could not call the desk as the rooms are very basic, meaning there is no phone, no TV, really no furniture other than a single armed dinner table chair, and no place to put clothing—just a very hard bed. So we lived out of suitcases another day. Breakfast was set at 8 AM with bags packed to move on to another location tomorrow—hopefully with the bus in operational order.