|Cross-dressing in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mtskheta|
Beyond the church the town was busier; there were stalls and cafes and a couple of busloads of Israeli tourists for them to work with. We stopped and drank some coffee before continuing northwards.
We drove along what is slightly ominously known as the Georgian Military Highway which follows the route used since antiquity by merchants and invaders travelling or rampaging between Vladikavkaz in Dagestan and Tbilisi. In 1799 Georgia sought help from Russia to free itself from a hundred years of Persian domination. Two years later Georgians duly found themselves free from Persia - but annexed by Russia. Tsar Alexander I instructed General Yermolov to construct a road across the Caucasus. A major feat of engineering, the road was not finished until 1863, but by then the Georgian Military Highway was, by some distance, the best road in Russia.
road began to rise into the mountains, following the Aragvi River to the Zemo Avchala hydroelectric dam, then clinging to the lakeside above the dam.
|Zemo Avchala hydroelectric dam|
|Dinara and Lynne have lunch beside the Georgian Military Highway|
Khachapuri, tomato salad with walnut & garlic dressing, lobio in its clay pot and khinkali
|How to eat khinkali|
Inside the wall there are not one but two churches – well, this is Georgia - both dating from the 17th century. Between 1811 and 1917 the Georgian Orthodox Church was absorbed into the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian churches typically have an iconostasis separating the nave from the sanctuary and whitewashed walls. The Georgian tradition had been to cover the walls with frescoes which the Russians whitewashed over. The larger church retains its iconostasis…..
|Iconostasis, Ananuri Fortress|
….but much of the whitewash has been removed to reveal the old frescoes including an impressive 'last judgement.' Dinara’s parents, artists both, have been heavily involved in the work of uncovering and conserving Georgia’s frescoes.
|Last Judgement, Ananuri Fortress|
We wound higher and higher into the mountains. The Georgian Military Highway may not look as impressive to us as to the 19th century eye, but it is still a skilfully engineered and well-maintained road.
Gudauri, our destination for the evening, is a ski resort. It consists of a couple of houses, a petrol station with a large, modern self-service shop attached and a number of hotels scattered around the bare green hillside where the road starts the serious climb up the 2379m (7,800 feet) high Jvari Pass.
Part 3: Baku to Şǝki (or Sheki)
Part 4: Sheki (or Şǝki)
Part 5: Into Georgia: Wine Tasting in Kakheti
Part 6: Telavi to Tbilisi via Sighnaghi
Interlude: Tasting Georgian Wine
Part 7: Tbilisi
Part 8: Up the Georgian Military Highway
Part 9: Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) and Tsminda Sameba
Part 10: Uplistsikhe and Gori, Cave Dwellings and Stalin
Part 11: Kutaisi, Zugdidi and the Inguri Valley
Part 15 Batumi, Capital of Ajara