Back in 2000, I started planning a trip to the Caucasus. Unfortunately, Dan wasn't able to join me, but I was able to plan four weeks' time in Georgia and Armenia. I only wound up spending forty-eight hours in Georgia alone - turns out I'm not good with traveling to, ahem, developing nations all by myself - but I was able to see some of the country, and (in retrospect) I had a wonderful time: the Georgians were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, the food was absolutely amazing (seriously, it's a shame that the only truly Georgia restaurant in North America closed six years ago), the countryside bucolic, the churches impressive, and the wine really good as well.
Sadly, it looks like they're in the middle of being mostly destroyed by Russia. They're a small country - there are only as many Georgians as there are residents of the San Diego-Tijuana metropolitan area - and are of course absolutely no match for Russia. It's upsetting on some level to have the abstract made real: I've been there, I've met the people, I've shared bread with them, and now I'm watching everything go up in flames.
So, for no good reason, here are a few pictures from that trip.
1. Me in a fairly run down hotel room in Tbilisi (complete with a dezhurnaya). An overnight flight with no sleep combined with the less than comfortable lodgings and billboards everywhere about a recent political kidnapping didn't exactly make me feel safe or welcome, which is why I quickly decided to leave as soon as I could. Here I am enjoying a few Cokes in order to stay awake (it didn't help).
2. On the way to Gori from Tbilisi, we passed by this building, which I believe was the Ministry of Transport or something. I still think it's pretty cool.
3. I stopped on the way out of town to take a picture of the highway sign - Vladikavkaz is in North Ossetia. As you can see, it's not that far away from Tbilisi. It took about an hour to get to Gori, and it'd take maybe another two hours to get from Gori to North Ossetia.
4. Gori - which has apparently been severely damaged over the past few days - is best known as Joseph Stalin's birthplace. As a result, it used to be in somewhat better shape than other rural towns. This is close in to the center of town:
5. It was weird seeing pictures of Russian troops standing around in front of the Stalin statue this week. Not much going on in August 2001, though:
6. Finally, Stalin's house (the object of the day trip to Gori for me). It's not the huge fake Roman thing: it's actually covered entirely by the newly built protective structure. It was moved to this park at some point in the 50s, I think, and a humongous museum was built as well. In 2001, it was nearly deserted save for two old ladies who demanded payment for every picture taken. When my parents visited last year, they reported that there was a gift shop open (unbelievable!) and that things were looking up; now, I'm guessing that going anywhere near there would be a very, very bad idea. (Thanks for the "J. Stalin's State Museum" ball-point pen, Mom!}