The biggest laugh came when something was lost in translation during the ceremony, and instead of the registrar asking if I would "take this man to be my husband" she said, "Norma, are you sure?" Unfortunately, there are no pictures of this moment as Ian, who was the photographer, was laughing too much! Thank you to all for making our wedding and our reception meal so enjoyable, with many, many toasts, in true Georgian fashion. One of our favourite photos has to be our double act as Mother Georgia, with wine in one outstretched hand, and sword in the other (i.e. friendship or war: "you choose").
The next day, we set off for a few days exploring the West of Georgia. We travelled first to Unesco site Mtskheta, Georgia's spiritual centre, visiting the important monuments the Javri Monastery and Svetitskhoveli Cathederal. Onward to Chateau Mukhrani for lunch, wine tasting and a tour of the estate. We spent the night at Kutaisi, Georgia's second largest city. Thanks to all at Loli's guest house.
On Monday, we had a stop in the morning to visit caves and dinasaur footprints. Early afternoon was spent in Zugdidi, close to the boundary with Abkhazeti, where we had hoped to meet distant relations of Brian, who were the only people on the Georgian electoral role with the same surname as his grandmother (Gritshook). It turned out to be another branch of the family, but was still an enjoyable meeting and allowed us to see inside a Soviet apartment block. It seems clear that Brian's Georgian grandmother had some Ukrainian ancestry.
The final, and lengthy part of the trip was north to the Svaneti area, on high mountain roads with spectacular scenery of snow capped mountain peaks, glaciers and villages far below on the valley floor or rivers gushing along. Our destination was the "townlet" of Mestia for two nights. Today we have had an arduous journey on what was little more than a bridle way, in many places clinging to the side of deep canyons, to Ushguli, the highest permanently inhabited place in Europe. It lies below Mt Shkhara, the highest mountain in Georgia, and is close to the border with Russia. There are nearly twenty ancient Svenati towers here, where families would flee to when attacked or if there was an avalanche. We were lucky enough to see inside one, and the adjacent summer and winter house back in Mestia this evening, after a visit to the local museum.
Note about driving and roads in Georgia (with absolutely no disrespect to our wonderful driver/ guide Irakli):
1. Drive vaguely on the right. When the right is not available, the middle is fine, even if there is oncoming traffic.
2. If you are a nervous passenger, opt for the back seat and spend your time looking out of the side windows. If you look out of the front, you will only shout "pig," "cow," "dog," "cat," "landslide" etc. etc. as these things are all regular occurences. Even on the highway.
3. If you choose to sit in the front passenger seat, fortify yourself with a glass of ch'a ch'a (grape vodka) at breakfast, and wear brown trousers.
kargi ghame (goodnight)