The last destination on our tour of Georgia was the spa town of Borjomi. During the Russian Imperial era Borjomi was a favourite hangout of the Tsars and Grand Dukes of Russia, who came to sample the waters just like the rich and famous did with Bath and Harrogate in the UK.
Nowadays Borjomi is a nice little resort town and the mineral water park is the centre of tourist activity. They've restored the springs, built a little amusement park with some rides and so on (closed in April) and there are some big hotels and plenty of guesthouses. We stayed in a guesthouse run by former teacher Nino with help from her policeman husband Temuri and, on the first night, found ourselves fed yet more (homemade) chacha which left us all a bit bleary-eyed the next morning.
The highlight was the secret passageway built round the back of the church. The tunnel was designed as a refuge in case of invasion, and could be closed off with boulders. It was pitch black and we navigated it by the light of mine and Andrew's phone torches, occasionally banging our heads on the very low roof and eventually coming out a couple of layers above where we started, looking down on the church and the rest of the city below.
The fact that people delved into the cliff like this all those centuries ago is really mind-boggling and the scale and sophistication of the place equally so. There are stables and wine-presses and storage rooms, frescoes and carvings, and all incredibly well-preserved.
After a long day driving to and from Vardzia we decided to end the day with a swim in Borjomi's outdoor pools. There was a walk to the pools through a pine forest, which was lovely, and the pools were nice although not especially warm - warmer than the air temperature, but not hot-hot. Still, we splashed around and soaked for a little while before heading back to the guesthouse via dinner.
On the way back to Tbilisi the following day we made our last touristy stop in Gori, the town where Josef Dzhugashvili - better-known as Joseph Stalin - was born. Following Stalin's death work began on a vast museum dedicated to him, and the house where his parents live is preserved on the site where it always stood, covered by a canopy bearing the Communist hammer and sickle. Apparently it's the only place in Georgia where that symbol is still permitted.
|Stalin's birthplace under its canopy|
The museum gets a lot of criticism for not adequately dealing with Stalin's terrible crimes against humanity, and this is fair - there is a small section on the ground floor, tucked away, which talks about the gulags and those who died under his rule, but it's tiny. Most of the museum is dedicated to Stalin's life, displaying pictures and documents and so on telling you about the young seminarian who became a follower of Lenin and then one of the world's most powerful men.
It was a weird place in many ways, but one we're glad we stopped at and a good staging-point on the road to Tbilisi and home.