Sunday, June 22, 2014

Trip to Svaneti - part 1

We have less than two weeks left in Georgia, and the past month has flown by.  I have resisted making a bucket list for the end of our tour because, well, stressful.  Who needs that kind of pressure?  With three little ones at home, I'm pretty satisfied with the traveling we have done around the country and beyond.  Two jaunts to Batumi, a day trip to David Gareja monastery, Gori and Uplistsikhe, Gudauri, Bakuriani, Yerevan.  My favorite experiences of our tour here, actually, have been the trips that weren't in the guide book: Nunisi (twice, we just yesterday returned got back from a week there, more on that soon) and Samtavro convent, which I have visited a number of times since February.

In any case, the towers of Svaneti are considered a must-see.  It's the highest inhabited region in the Europe and is nestled among Georgia's highest peaks. In addition to Georgian, its people speak Svan, an ancient, unwritten language that has been designated by UNESCO as "endangered."

It's an 8-hour drive each way, and we only had a three-day weekend to work with, so we opted to spend our one sightseeing day in Mestia.

The last three hours of the drive, the stretch from Zugdidi to Mestia, was touted by our guide book as the most dangerous road in Georgia.  As such, it is peppered with memorial shrines for those who have died in car accidents.

Some of the shrines are simple, with just enough room for a glass of cha cha (local grape vodka) so that visitors can toast to the departed.

Some are a little fancier - with headstones and benches 

There were a couple of very elaborate ones, with roofs to shield visitors from the elements.

The drive was beautiful.

The mountain air was wonderful.  There were tons of these bushes of what I believe, based on their intoxicating scent, to be giant yellow honeysuckles.

As we neared Mestia we began to see the square-topped defensive towers Svaneti is famous for.

These towers, 25 meters high and each 900 to 1300 years old (!!), were built by families to protect themselves from marauders and from blood feuds between locals.  As far as I know, all are still privately owned.  You can see some diagrams of the inside of these towers here.

The road wound through mountain passes, treacherously close to the cliff in spots, but nonetheless well-maintained.  We were surprised, then, that our GPS did not seem to recognize the road as the most expedient way to get to Mestia.  It kept trying to get us to make a u-turn and drive back the way we came. I snapped this picture of the GPS just a mile or so out from our destination - note how close we were, and the estimated time of arrival ... it was about 6:30 p.m. when I took the photo.

That's about enough photos for one post, I think.  Stay tuned for pictures of Mestia and an account of the rest of the trip.

1 comment:

  1. The mountains are so beautiful and remind me a lot of Bulgarian mountains. I will miss them dearly.
    Loved all the pictures! And i think the most interesting memorial shrines are in Greece, they are like birdhouses that look like tiny churches where you can leave a candle and icons inside. It is interesting to see differences all over the world.


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