You can’t miss it…

“You can’t miss it” and “You won’t get lost” are two of my all-time favorite expressions to hear while traveling. No matter what country or what language, they always invariably mean “You can” and “You will.”

This weekend, I decided to take a long walk to visit the 60-foot-tall Mother of Georgia statue (Kartlis Deda), which is perched atop a hill overlooking the city.

The concierge at the hotel assured me that the trail up to the statue was easy to find and I could not get lost. So, I knew immediately I was doomed.

A long, steep street through these houses leads up to the path to the statue. I took a wrong turn and ended up on a path that dead-ended about 3/4 the way up, at someone’s front gate. The homeowner was quite nice about it and offered to let me climb over her back fence to get to the top of the hill. I looked up at the sheer cliff-face and decided, since I didn’t have rappelling gear with me, it would be more prudent to walk back down the hill and find the correct path back to the top.

Prayer trees are fairly common sights here–this is one of several on the way to the statue:

Made it at last. Because the statue sits right at the edge of a dropoff, there’s no way to get a shot of the front without a helicopter or a serious zoom lens:

Here’s a front shot, taken by someone else:

She holds chalice of wine and a sword; the wine is for friends, and the sword is for enemies. Not a bad philosophy if I do say so myself.

On the way back down the hill, I stopped off at Narikali Fortress, which dates back to as early as the 4th century (when it was a Persian citadel), with walls and foundations built in the 8th century by Arab princes. In its lifespan, it has been captured and recaptured by Georgians, Persians, and Turks. And don’t forget the Russians. An explosion of a munitions store inside the fortress in the 1800s destroyed it and the church inside the walls. Busy joint.

Church of St. Nicholas inside Narikala Fortress

The walls of Narikala Fortress

After a morning of hiking up (and down, and back up), it was time to grab some lunch and stop by the sulphur hot springs.

The domes of the sulphur baths, taken from Narikala Fortress

Entrance to one of the baths. I thought it was a mosque at first.


A closer shot of the intricate blue and yellow mosaic design.

It’s possible that I am the first visitor in the history of Tbilisi to manage to do this wrong. I went in an opted for the “public baths” as opposed to the private room with a dipping tub. Apparently the public bath has no pool. Or if it does, I couldn’t find it.

I had brought a swimsuit, because I’d read the baths were co-ed. But this one is not, apparently. So, in the midst of 30 naked women running around, I probably would have looked ridiculous if I’d worn it.

Shower sandals would have been good to have on hand, and a towel. The towels are supposed to be available there, but it’s hit or miss. And I missed. Anyway, I suppose I will know in a week or so if I managed to pick up a nasty case of athlete’s foot. I’m guessing yes.

I also opted to get a massage and passed up what they called a “peel” (which turned out to be a vigorous scrubbing with a loofah). For the massage, they have you lay down on a tile bench and hose you down with hot spring water. The massage itself wasn’t bad, except there were 3-4 other people on the bench, and every time someone got rinsed off, their rinse water ended up swirling around everyone else. I found myself laying on my stomach, dirty rinse water swirling all around, and trying not to think of how many butts had been on the bench that day.

Everyone says you feel very energized after the sulphur baths, and I truly did. The massage–which was about 15 minutes, cost 10 lari, and violated some of my personal spaces in ways that may require therapy–was not too bad. Still, I walked back to my hotel, took a very hot bath, scrubbed myself from top to bottom, and crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t need to buy antifungal cream.

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One Response to You can’t miss it…

  1. You are a braver man than I to go “bathing” and “massaging” in a public bath house, despite the drop dead gorgeous mosque-like entrances.

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