While walking through Tbilisi that day I had come across a tourist driver who offered what seemed a good rate for day trips outside the city. But back in the hotel we contacted Alex the driver who had brought Vasantha from the airport, and he gave us a slightly better rate, and then added on a drive to the next city on our agenda after showing us the places in between.

So at ten on our second morning there he turned up after we had had another substantial breakfast, and we set off for Mtskheta, the capital of the country from pre-Christian days until it was moved to Tbilisi in the 5th century. But first we went to the mountain top Jhari church built at the end of the 6th century. Apart from its elegant construction, the place offered splendid views of the plain below, including of the confluence of the Aragvi and the Mtkvari rivers, which flows through Tbilisi under the latter name.

Unfortunately, for it was a Sunday, and there was a service going on, we could not get into the grand Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the town, though we could wander within its walls with an elegant bell tower where one entered. Then as consolation I was taken to the Samtavro Church where there was also a service going on, with sonorous chanting, but I could wander around cautiously.

From there we went to Gori, Stalin’s birthplace, which has an impressive Stalin Museum. The record of his life is now complete, with his repressive side shown, albeit in a little room off the main itinerary, with pictures too of the recent war between Russia and Georgia. Earlier in the National Museum I had seen at the very top of the building an account of how nationalist Georgian aspirations were repressed after the Soviet revolution. But in all fairness the Gori Museum did make clear the achievement of this quondam seminarian, who had such an impact on the history of his country and also of the world. And it was also fun to enter the train in which he had travelled to Yalta for the famed conference with Churchill and Roosevelt which in effect divided up the world for the next fifty years.

I asked then to be taken to Gori fortress, which involved a climb that Vasantha avoided, up to an impressive gate though there was little to see inside the walls, except for the view outward. Then it was on to what was described as the cave city of Uplistsikhe which Vasantha had been keen on, but which he then avoided walking round. His excuse was that it was not really a city, and certainly it had nothing like the underground buildings of Cappadocia, but the buildings extending into deep caves were fascinating, including temples and churches and the Hall of Queen Tamar, with again a church at the top.

After that long haul to the top I went to a little hall where wine tasting was on offer, including of a very pleasant red wine described as Stalin’s favourite. And then it was onward, through dramatic scenery, to Georgia’s second city, Kutaisi. We had not booked a hotel, but Alex called up the place I had looked up that morning, and having first quoted a high price they rang back to offer us a room at a reasonable rate. That too was a very pleasant place, with a balcony looking out on verdant trees, where I had a relaxing cup of tea after dinner.

I have highlighted the subject of the pictures. There are two of the Stalin Museum including the railway carriage, first the house where he lived and then a portrait of him with Mao Tse Tung; and there are five of Uplistsikhe.

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