Mittwoch, 14. August 2013

Day 48 – 54: Ushguli - Tbilisi: Lots of supras and some Baseball

So, we decided to go over Zagar pass, from Upper Svaneti to Lower Svaneti. The road up to the pass became more and more bumpy, the very recent torrential rainfalls clearly left scars.
70 kilometers and 7 hour later we finally arrived on some more or less continuing tarmac in Lentechi and - to be honest - all three of us turned out to be not exactly offroad junkies.
The other downside was that coming from Upper Svaneti the landscape you drive through to Lower Saneti of course is not too spectacular anymore – especially, if clouds are stuck at 500m above you, leaving you with green hills, a brown stream with lots of dirt in it and a brown road with lots of water in it.
Down in the Georgian mainland, about 100km after we had reached a paved road again, we were tired and hungry and stopped at a restaurant beside the road to have some georgian Schaschlik and to spend the night there. It did not take very long until Merab, a resident of the village near Zestafoni invited us to his house. We had seen invitations before, but he was REALLY insistent and the road was louder than we expected before, so we agreed to come with him.
While we were driving through the dark lead by a total stranger with a vodka bottle in his hand we were both no longer sure whether this was a good idea ...

We stopped in the dark, what turned out to be the front of a farmhouse and were immediately surrounded by Merabs family, his parents, wife and three children. Nobody of them spoke a word of English and we of course did not manage to learn a lot of Sarkatveli or Russian in the past few days. We sat down on the front porch and immediatly a full supra was served – with the essential (at least in a Georgian's opinion) Wodka and Chacha. In between we were shown around with flashlights and picked some plums, grapes, figs, blackberries, apples and hazelnuts for dessert.
It was again not easy to get the permission to go to bed, but at some point we managed giving the promise that we come back for breakfast. Back at Kalimero we printed some photos we took during our supra to give them to the family the next morning. When being guests, the postcard printer really turns out to be great instead of providing present.
Of course we wanted to say goodbye the next morning but were sure that we at the most drink a cup of tee and drive on. In the meantime it obviously made the round that visitors were here (OK, Kalimero was not easy to hide in the fig tree – in the dark, Michi tried nonetheless and the roof carrier made love with some tree branches) and the wifes, father and some neighbors were already waiting for us. It was again very nice "talking" and laughing with them all but shortly before lunchtime – after quite some discussions about departing - we were bid farewell as long missed family members.

Roadside fences, made of old military material

Roadside BBQ

Michi was frequently invited to drink by the oldest son ...

We went on to go to the 1.4 million capital of Georgia, Tbilisi (or Tiflis, as the Russians called it). Russia and Georgia haven't been best friends for quite some time of history, including the latest episode of the 2008 Georgian-Russian war, which led to the de-facto-independency of Southern Ossetia and Abchasia (which are, by the way, the neighbour provinces of Svaneti).
Our program for the first evening was quite clear: Gia, whom we met at the Black Sea coast, had invited us to a Baseball game of the Georgian national team. The opponent was even more surprising: the Iranian Baseball team.
So, we arrived at what was once the field of FC Merani, a then-third-league and now-first-league football team of Tbilisi (as we are in Georgia, we try to avoid the Russian name). As the team advanced to higher leagues, the tribunes were rather abandoned, and sports like baseball could use the field as their ground. Unfortunately, in a war-battered country like Georgia, there is not a single diamond in whole Georgia.
It was really refreshing to see how these guys played the game, they either hardly have money (compare the average price of a glove with the Georgian average income), or play a national sport of the USA.
We stayed at the sports ground for the night, guarded by the security staff.

Next stop?

Tbilisi architecture

Soviet charme

As FC Merani now plays somewhere else, the facilities are all a bit rundown.

Being in Tbilisi, we decided to take a break from taking a break, and parked Kalimero in front of a guest house. We took a double room and tried to get us, Kalimero and our laundry as clean as possible. After 3 lazy days, we did not feel an urge to leave Tbilisi, this city is really wonderful. Nice atmosphere, nice weather, awesome buildings (a mixture of Soviet charme, newly built memorials, old Jugendstil fronts), we decided to stay for two more days, this time sleeping at a huge reservoir up above the city.

You can see lots of cars from Germany in Tbilisi.

The old fortress and telepherique.

The new cathedral dominates the other side of the river. It was donated by Bidzina Ivanishvili few years ago - he is now Prime Minister of Georgia.

Mother Georgia

Tbilisi was destroyed very often throughout history. So, you see old vs. new at many places.

Michi buying some spare parts

Bumpers are generally overrated!

After another Georgia-Iran Baseball game, we were once again invited to a supra, where Gia was toast master. There is a fixed order on what the toast are to be spoken – once freedom was #1, but since Georgia is now independent, the millions of toasts by the Georgian people seemed to have worked. Another one soon goes to the deceased, and it was incredibly moving to hear Gia giving his toast speeches. It was definitely a beautiful evening.

Professor of Schashlik, as we were told. Notice a famous Georgian in the background - this one was for tourists.

We were served all kinds of drinks: wine, wine, chacha - and we asked for water.

Khinkali, meat-filled dumplings. To eat them, you have to avoid dripping the meat juice on your plate. If you fail (you will), Georgians will laugh. In the back, you see the proper technique.

In Tbilisi, we also took a stroll through the Eliava Institute. This once 1200-employees-bearing facility was founded in 1923 and was a world-wide center of bacteriophage therapy for many decades. The principle of killing bacteria with bacteria-specific viruses (harmless to humans) proved reliable and comparable to antibiotic therapy, as (to name only one example) thousands of Russian soldiers should have experienced when suffering wound infections. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and even more during the Georgian Civil War, the buildings deteriorated, and priceless knowledge and phage databases were lost for good. What remains today is an Institute with some dozens of employees, battling hard against economic hurdles. Let's hope they keep this idea alive and are able to revisit some of the countless conclusions already drawn in Soviet times. Thank you, Dr. Chanishvili, for showing us around and explaining us a lot.

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