Friday, May 2, 2014

Kazbegi: Tsminda Sameba Church

Yesterday morning i awoke in the bed at my home stay in Kazbegi. Lela had prepared a large breakfast, which i enjoyed until my car arrived to take me up the mountain. 

Kazbegi is dominated and famous for the Tsminda Sameba Church, which sits alone atop a mountain overlooking the town. This is not only the most famous image for Kazbegi, but really one of the most famous images for Georgia, that small church on top of a mountain, ringed by green valley and snowy peaks. 

There are two ways up the mountain to the church (which sits at 2200 meters): hike or drive. Originally, based on reading the guidebooks, i planned to hike, but then when i saw how bloody high it is and realized how muddy everything was from yesterday's rain, i opted for a car, a decision i ultimately felt good about. My driver, who spoke no english, picked me up in his old Lada Niva and we made our ascent. First we passed through a charming village of cottages, cows, and a couple small cemeteries, then we really began to climb. 

The road is a narrow, unpaved adventure of boulders, muddy crevasses, hills, and giant holes, and everything was slick with mud. We bounced and jerked up the mountain. The driver wouldn't let me wear a seatbelt and laughed on the way up saying more than once "Georgian Autobahn".

At the top the road gives way to a green plateau, with a small hill sitting at the edge of a cliff. The 14th century church is on top of the mountain. The church is pretty, small and simple, with religious paintings, candles, and incense - not too different from some of the other churches i have seen on this trip. What makes it extraordinary is the setting.

The views are stunning and that is even with the low lying cloud that was there the day i visited. The village sits in the valley below and all around are gentle green valleys which turn, sharply into very high, slow and glacier topped peaks. I'm sure that those who hiked to the top felt pretty pleased with themselves, but as i escaped the bracing cold in the car and drove down comfortably (more or less), i felt pretty pleased myself.

After that i walked up to the Rooms Hotel, which is a large, modern hotel built sort of above the village and across it from the church. The hotel is really amazing. It has this long patio across the front which gives you a perfect view of the village and mountain and then inside, all along the front is a massive series of windows and a long, super beautifully decorated lounge, with lots of open bookcases and cozy groupings of leather sofas and chairs. The place is big and modern, but the building itself is really well designed so it doesn't stand out or detract from the setting.

I sat in there for an hour or two and had tea and a cigar and some incredible wild mushroom soup before walking back into the village to catch a marshrutka back to Tibilisi. On the way, i way i was distracted by three large pigs which were running the streets, clearly up to no good.

The ride back was nice, even if the driver did drive perilously fast. The sun was shining and i snapped a few pictures from the moving vehicle, although a lot of the really interesting stuff (tiny villages with crumbly buildings featuring ancient, colorful mosaics, people selling knitted items in the middle of nowhere by the roadside, and fields of snow), i wasn't able to get.

The drive took about 3 hours and dropped me off by the market, which i again poked around in for a bit before taking the metro back to Liberty Square and then walking to the old city.

Last night was totally mellow. I just walked around, ate some ice cream, and looked for a place to eat, until i decided i was too tired to do anything but sleep.

Today is my last day in Tbilisi and there are still a couple more things i want to see before i leave tomorrow morning. But first, a coffee and breakfast cigar.


Betty-Lou said...

As an "armchair traveler", I am loving my trip.

Melinda said...

Beautiful pictures. The village nestled below the mountains, stunning.