We read that there might be a brewery nearby. In full disclosure, I do not drink beer AT ALL but I was up for a ride to see more of the country.
Son got tangled up in work (Just a note, the poor kid did try to take the week off but his teammate also wanted the week off and beat him to it.) So it was just the three of us on this adventure.
After traversing through lovely villages and roads leading to nowhere, we found what we thought might be the brewery but unfortunately it was just a small building that did not have any type of tasting room or public access of any sort. Feeling duped we headed back toward the city, along the way we ducked down a few side roads to see what we could see.
And we were rewarded for taking the chance. We happened upon an ancient church in a sleepy little village whose name I never did find out. After being waved in by an equally ancient local shuffling by, we entered to snap a few pictures. It was nearly deserted and gave an air of contentment and serenity and we were pretty pleased with ourselves for stumbling across such a captivating little chapel.
Back in the car and heading toward Tbilisi we kept seeing this incredible Monastery on top of a towering hill. Having more time than we thought before dinner, due to not drinking at the brewery, we decided to stop. A quick internet search informed us that this was the magnificent Jvari Monastery overlooking the city of Mtskheta. We wound our way up the mountainside to a breathtaking vista and an incredible view of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
There is ample parking, and the Monastery is open 24 hours. We were fortunate that there were a reasonable amount of visitors, not crowded, but due to the one tour bus that was there, (And where there is one, there is often many) I am sure this may not always be the case.
At the foot of the short trail leading up to the sixth century Church you may encounter a fairly aggressive, but friendly, group of beggar women. It has been told to us by native Georgians that these women beg for a living and that we should not encourage the behavior by giving them money. We live near a large metropolitan area and are used to panhandling, which we usually ignore, electing instead to give money to our local homeless shelters. But nonetheless we slipped a few coins into the outstretched hand of a woman who was clearly disabled, this being the only time we gave in.
Entrance into the site is free and my daughter and I were not asked to cover our heads, but I pulled the hood up on my light jacket out of respect. We were able to take pictures inside, I did not encounter anyone that told us not to, but again, out of respect and knowing that the flash of a camera may do damage to certain types of artifacts, I used no flash on my camera.
CROSS TIP: Most churches in Georgia require that a women’s head and shoulders be covered, so pack a light scarf. It is a bit more sanitary to don your own rather than the ones provided by the Church.
The significance of the church is said to be because the patron saint of Georgia, Saint Nino, the woman who brought Christianity to the people of Georgia, erected a cross on a pagan temple site in the fourth century. During the Soviet era the church was considered an important historical landmark and was protected, although not necessarily preserved in a proper manner, and unfortunately the site is on the World Monument watch list for endangered historical architecture.
There are multiple platforms and viewing areas where you are able to see an unfettered view of the river and the ancient city of Mtskheta. This would be another place where I would encourage you to bring your long lens, the views are stunning.
There were no working bathroom facilities that we could discern, so we did not linger long. Waving a last good bye to the women at the foot of the trail we headed back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.