Is it possible to travel from Kutaisi to Gori?
He’s just refusing to listen: the driver draws the route between Kutaisi, Gori and Tblisi in the dust covering his marshrutka to explain to me that no, he will not take me to Gori! He should exit and re-enter the highway on purpose, and he doesn’t want to waste his precious time. Another – milder – driver joins the discussion, so I can ask him for the distance between the highway exit and the city of Gori: just 5 km. Ok, I can manage to find a taxi, a lift or another kind of transportation once dropped of… let’s go!
About problem solving. The most important teaching during this travel is that you really don’t need to plan everything or always have ready-made solutions. Before, not to have the faintest idea of how to reach the next destination would have filled me with anxiety; this morning I wake up serenely, I take leave of my dear Ali, drop off the marshrutka on the highway near Gori with several other people, finally find a taxi to reach the city centre. My goals for the day are Uplistsikhe and Gori.
In Gori Stalin is still alive
Outside Georgia, Gori is best known for being the birthplace of Iosif Vissarionovič Džugašvili, aka Josif Stalin, a poor shoemaker’s son who would have become one of the fiercest dictators in history. Close to this childhood house, in wood and brick, today enclosed in a larger structure that protects it from the weather, you can see his famous green railway wagon (with an office and conference room) and the Stalin Museum, that is nothing but an immense celebratory gallery, almost a shrine that seems to still live in Sovietic era. The funeral mask, the uniform worn during the Yalta Conference, a thousand of memorabilia, celebratory photographs of the world’s savior hero against the Nazis, gifts by ordinary people, such as the pathetic dove given “by the Italian women in Menton to Giuseppe Stalin, champion of peace”. In the end, it may not really worth a visit if you are interested in genuine history, but if you are already here, it’s a folkloristic whim, one of the few relics survived to the de-Stalinization campaign carried out by Krusciov, intended to destroy Stalin’s image.
The Museum of the Great Patriotic War, in spite of its bombastic name, is a small old-fashioned museum that tells the events of the Second World War, almost only through captions in Georgian and Russian language. I find very interesting a small section about the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.
The city, btw, is nice, and you can visit it in one day. The best view is from Gori fortress, the medieval citadel built on the top of a rocky hill, standing over the city: behind the ancient walls, that now don’t have anything to protect, you can see Gori and Caucasus in distance. You can also have a walk in the well-kept historic center and in the green Stalin Park on Stalin Avenue. It’s hard here not to guess a bit of nostalgia for Uncle Joe, despite the purges!!!
Uplistsikhe, the City of God
In the afternoon I take a marshrutka (price: 1 GEL, 30 cents!!!) to Uplistsikhe, the rocky City of God (Uplistsikhe and Gori are 10 km far apart).
It is much smaller than Vardzia but also much older: maybe one of the oldest human settlements in Georgia, here you can find structures tracing back to the Bronze Age, since it was founded in 1.000 B.C. and soon become one of the most important religious centres of the region. There was an important worship of Sun Goddess, then you had Christianity, which for some time coexisted with pagan rituals, until its destruction by Mongols in 13th Century. It is a very suggestive landscape, being just close to the bank of Mtkhvari river, that gives it some fertile land downstream, with a lot of mysterious caves and rocks. There’s also a beautiful church dating back to the 9th / 10th century, built on the foundations of a pagan temple.
Back in 50’s, next stop: Gori
In the evening I go back to Gori by train, from Kvakhvreli station, where time seems to have stopped in the 1950s: I cannot but stare, fascinated, at the toll station, the general store, the tractors, the stray dogs, the boys walking on the two tracks waiting for the few trains of the day. The last rays of the twilight have just left the railway track, and here’s the whistle of the 8pm train bringing me home. Uplistsikhe and Gori ‘s adventure is behind me…