Beautiful Ancient Capital City, Mtskheta, Georgia

After the free walking tour in Tbilisi, I took a suggestion from a couchsurfer and took a bus to Turtle Lake. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for me. I think he made that suggestion because of the other walk that I could take along that lake.  It’s very family-friendly though. It was a bit hot so I decided to leave that place and headed to Mtskheta which was the ancient capital city of Georgia.

Around Turtle Lake

I like ancient or medieval places. 😛 That’s why I came to Georgia. It was not just the wine and food that appealed to me. It was also because of the beautiful ancient or medieval architecture. 😊 It felt like I had travelled back in time. I am not saying that I would travel back to the ancient times – I don’t think I would be able to survive in that period. 😀 

Tbilisi became the capital city in the 5th century. Before that, it was Mtskheta. The ‘kh’ sound in Georgian sounds like the ‘ch’ sound in ‘Ach’ in German. If you know German, you will know how to pronounce it correctly.

Mtskheta looked so medieval and so beautiful. I have a feeling that I might be born around the Medieval Period.  Do you have that sense of belonging when you see medieval architecture? I do. That’s the proof.  😛

When I arrived at Mtskheta, it started to rain. I waited for a while and after the rain stopped a bit, I walked to the church, Svetitskhoveli. Most of the churches in Georgia are Orthodox churches. On my way there, a guy offered me help and told me he was a driver. He said he could take me around.  I needed to take a taxi to Jvari monastery anyway, so I said I would come back after I visited the church. It was a very difficult task for me because starting from that moment, I needed to remember the directions.  I don’t have a sense of directions! 😀

When I was about to arrive at Svetitskhoveli, it started raining very heavily again and then it hailed!  I saw a little stall that sold snacks and coffee by the road from afar, so I ran towards it, sat down and waited again. Not long after that, a group of tourists joined me.

It was a long wait.

It was hailing in June!!

Finally, when the hail and rain stopped, I continued to walk to the church. It seemed to be a very popular church even among the local people. Why did I say that? Because it was so crowded and there were so many weddings! One after another. Non-stop. But each wedding ceremony finished in less than an hour. One of them was between a Norwegian groom and a Georgian bride and their friends were from all over the world – Singapore, New York, and other places which I don’t remember. Some of the guys wore traditional Georgian costume.

Svetitskhoveli church. You can vaguely see the crowd.
Some guys from that Norwegian and Georgian group wore traditional Georgian costume, I was told.

When I was inside the church, a few local girls approached me and asked me if it was ok for me to take a few photos with them. I was ok with it but I just wondered why. I also took a few photos with them using my phone.  I wanted to ask them why but they couldn’t speak English. It’s still a mystery to me. 😀

As I was taking a look at the décor inside the church, I heard someone speaking in fluent Mandarin but with a little foreign accent. I followed the soundwave and saw a Georgian guy speaking so I asked him after he stopped where he learnt Mandarin. It turned out that that guy, George (it is a very common name in Georgia. You see, Georgia, George. 😀  It’s true! That’s what all the Georges that I met in Georgia told me), studied in China. He came back to Georgia and became a tour guide hosting Chinese tourists especially.

After I finished visiting the church and chatting with George, I walked around the area outside the church. It was so medieval that it reminded me of Mont Saint Michele in France (I will write it in my blog later). Then I left and went back to that driver’s place. Nope, I didn’t lose my bearing this time. He was waiting for me. He said, ‘a promise is a promise. We stick to our promise.’ I like that but I asked myself, ‘what if I didn’t come back?’ But for me, a promise is a promise too. 

Famous Georgian snack. It’s a bit sweet and chewy. It’s softer than chewing gum and you can swallow it.

I pointed at Jvari which was at the top of the mountain and asked him if he could take me up there. Of course, he was ok with it. In the car, he told me he could also take me to a monastery – Shiomghvime. He then showed me photos of it but he will charge me extra 20Gel. So altogether it would be 40Gel. I was ok with it. 

He told me he wasn’t a tour guide. He worked in the aviation department in the government but he liked showing tourists around. He even showed me his pass to the aviation department. He didn’t need to work that day. Having nothing to do, he offered to take me around.

Jvari was beautiful. Being on top of the mountain, I had an aerial view of Mtskheta. I could even see Svetitskhoveli from the top. The guide enjoyed it too. I think he enjoyed it even more than I did.  😀   No, no, no, his name is not George. 😀

Aerial view of Mtskheta. Very European.
Inside the church, Jvari

But the even more beautiful Shiomghvime was waiting for me. A monk came out and invited us in but I wasn’t allowed to take any photos inside Shiomghvime.

The monastery was carved out of the mountain. If you take a closer look at the photo below, you can see the monastery is actually part of the mountain. Somehow, people in the past loved to do it. I think it’s better than moving rocks from somewhere far away to the site to build a monastery, a temple or a shrine. Having said that, I still like Stonehenge (I will write it in my blog later). 😊

Shiomghvime monastery

We went to the grave of St. Shio Mgvimeli which is again very ancient. And I like it. The monks living in the monastery are all self-sufficient. I wonder if they make any wines now? 😉  I forgot to ask.

After the monastery, the guide took me to a convent, Samtavro. Again, no photos inside the convent.  

It probably was not that annoying when I was there but it is now. I can’t recall what it is like inside.  That’s probably why they don’t want you to take any pictures inside – to lure you to go back. 😀  Nah, one is a monastery and another one is a convent. That’s why.

After this trip, I liked Mtskheta even more even though I was very very tired.

I took the minibus back to Didube in Tbilisi and then the metro (yeah! My first time to try the metro in Tbilisi!) and went back to the hostel. 

I liked talking to the young couple in the hostel. Almost every night when I stayed there, if I could see them, I would talk to them and tell them what I did for the day, like a kid reporting his/ her adventure to mum :D. They believe that guy couldn’t earn that much for one day even he worked in the aviation department. That’s why so many people changed their job and worked in the tourism industry.

But relying too much on the tourism industry may not be a good idea.  Yes, all countries need to take money from external sources. However, if you look at the current situation (coronavirus), you will understand.

When I think of the aviation industry, I think of high paid engineers and pilots. For him, based on the local standard, he may have a pretty good salary already but based on international standard, his salary may still be not that high.  But he lives in Georgia and he shows no intention to move to another country so what’s the point of comparing his salary with the international standard?

When we travel, we need to make sure we, as travellers, use the local standard to measure the local standard of living. Don’t be tempted to apply the European standard to other countries.  Many foreign travellers fall into this trap especially when they travel in Southeast Asia.  They tend to show sympathy towards the local people, ‘Gosh! You earn USD100 a month only? That’s too low. Do you have minimum wage in your country?’ and so on.  But what they don’t ask or consider is the value of that USD100.  USD100 can feed a family for one month in Cambodia according to my student in the village who did a presentation on the value of money last year (2019).

How can you get to Mtskheta from Tbilisi?

It’s very easy to get around in Tbilisi and even in Georgia, the whole country. Take today as an example, you can take the metro to Didube station which is the ‘hub’ of almost all minibuses. When you arrive at Didube, look for the minibus that takes you to Mtskheta. The drivers will show you where to get the tickets. The minibus will drop you at Mtskheta. The ride is more comfortable than those in Southeast Asia and in some countries in South America – no one will sell you live chicken or fried insects. It doesn’t take long to get to Mtskheta from Tbilisi.

Metro in Tbilisi. You can buy a store-valued card. When there is not enough money in the card, you can top it up, just like the Oyster card in London. Before you leave Georgia, you can go back to the metro station to get a refund if there is any money left in the card.

10 June 2017

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