Hi there -
When I said my next stop was a mystery I wasn't kidding. Plans for flying to Central Asia and the great Silk Road cities didn't work out due to sickness, visa difficulties and more. I, quite literally, didn't know what was next. I hearby rename this trip "The Magical Mystery Tour"
So I went on to Istanbul to nurse my cold and cough. This is just one of the world's great cities. But this visit was a bit bittersweet since the last time I was here I was with my daughter and I missed her presence, especially on a return trip to Sancta Sophia where I sensed her everywhere. That's teach me to get attached!
The next place happened over dinner with a great couple from California whom I happened to meet one evening at opne of those upscale Sultanahmet restaurants. They're inveterate travelers too and the topic of Armenia came up and Dean praised it highly from a recent visit. Since I did want to go to Armenia at some time in my life, why not now?. By the way - the Armenians call their country Hayastan.
So, obviously, I went to Georgia. Not that Georgia. This Georgia's capitol also has seven letters but it is located about 8 more time zones east, just at the eastern end of the Black Sea. This is where Jason came to seek the Golden Fleece of Greek myth. Currently, it is one of the struggling ex-Soviet republics.
Georgia was difficult. Imagine - you can't speak their language; they can't speak yours; the alphabet is totally illegible, I couldn't find a guidebook . . . yada, yada, whine, whine, whine ... I arrived at the Black Sea Resort (of sorts) of Batumni. An excellent location, miles of lovely gardens fronting a rock and rabble strewn coast, with all the amenities of post-Katrina Gulf Coast.
The ride to the capital, Tbilisi, was an experience. Imagine riding in a half-wrecked mini-bus driven by two deranged or merely adolescent fifty-somethings. The first driver thinks it is his solemn duty to scare the bejesus out of every pedestrian and other driver on the road; the second believed he could see around curves. They actually chortled at driving people off the road. I actually screamed. There were, it must be said, miles of pleasant autumn countryside with trees loaded with apples and vast vineyards (Georgia may be where the grape was first cultivated and turned into wine.)
Once in Tbilisi things started looking up. Although I still couldn't communicate much, old Tbilisi is a delight to do what I do best - wander around aimlessly. It is situated on a scenic river and has dozens of mosques, synagogues, museums, and Orthodox churches to visit. At one of the museums my guide, Thaia, was an actual English speaker who was obviously proud of the 3 millenia of Georgian History. We also discussed how hard life is for normal, non-mafiosi, non western employed, people who don't drive around in BMWs with heavily tinted windows. The usual pay is about $100 a month, and this buys much less than in Soviet times when even Thaia could afford a vacation to Moscow or to the Crimea. It may be decades before the impact of the break-up of the Soviet Union is overcome. Certainly, the sooner they demolish what passes for Soviet Art and housing, the better.
A highlight was a trip to the old capitol of Mtsketia, where I visited the Jvara monastery, a World Heritage Site high on a ridge above the town. Built in the fourth century, it had an aura of extreme age. I can relate to that.
Five (relatively safe) hours on a bus south brought me to Armenia. The Armenians are famous for being the victims of the twentieth century's first genocide. Millions died and millions fled, most of whom now live in Fresno. Not quite true, but there are a lot of Armenians who now live in California. In conversation they come across as extremely proud of their heritage and many of the diaspora are now pouring millions of $$$ back into Armenia.
Wherever you are - enjoy autumn and thank your lucky stars for those you love.
Oh - what in the world happened with the All Blacks??? How we could lose to France is a mystery to me.