ST. NINO AT BODBE / ბოდბის წმინდა ნინოს მონასტერი
The Monastery of St. Nino at Bodbe is a quintessential Georgian Monastery with one exception, it houses the relics and tomb of the most famous woman in all of Georgia, Saint Nino of Cappadocia. Credited with bringing Christianity to the country, she is revered by modern day Georgians so much that the name, Nino, is a very popular moniker for young women to this day.
SIDE NOTE: Orthodox Christianity is practised by 82% of the population of Georgia and is the state religion. Despite repeated invasions by surrounding Muslim countries, and The Soviet Union’s unsuccessful attempt to purge the religion, Georgia has maintained its religious identity.
If you visit you will find a conservative country in dress and behavior, however I did not feel the least bit repressed as a female. Due to the reverence for powerful women in this nation I feel as if the men here think pretty highly of the female population and I was treated respectfully everywhere I went.
There is an unparalleled beauty to this particular Monastery, with its active Nunnery, it is impeccably maintained, with generous views of the Alazani valley. Since we were there later in the day it was not at all crowded and the peacefulness that we felt put us all in a reflective state. The site is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily, I believe there is an entrance fee but I am unable to confirm as I don’t remember if my husband bought us tickets.
A major pilgrimage site, the monastery was built in the ninth century. The imposing bell tower was built in the mid 1800’s. So important is the monastery to the history of Georgia, that the Kakheti Kings used it as their coronation site. However, when the country was occupied by the Soviet Union, the monastery was turned into a hospital. It resumed its role as a holy site only after the revolution in 1991 when Georgia became independent once again.
Because this was an unexpected detour, much to our disappointment we did not have time to properly visit the site. But if you are able to make a day out of your visit, it is encouraged that you hike down the 670 steps to the holy spring. Here, after you pay a small fee to the nuns, you done a white robe and dip yourself in the freezing waters. Believed to have sprung from the prayers of St. Nino, the water is reputed to have healing powers.
Back in our vehicle and winding our way out of the foothills we noticed peppered all along the back roads colorful Churchkhela stands, and my daughter and I realized that this may be our last opportunity to try Churchkhela.
Churchkhela is a street food made from concentrated grape juice, called Badagi, that has been left over from the yearly wine harvest. The juice is mixed with flour and sugar and then poured repeatedly over strands of walnuts (Sometimes other nuts). The drying process gives it a waxy chewy texture and the whole concoction resembles a sausage when complete.
We couldn’t wait to try them. Daughter really enjoyed hers, but I was not as enthusiastic about mine, probably because I don’t like wine!
If you would like to know how they’re made, this site will give you a step by step process: Georgian Recipes.
Are you ready for a story?
I’m not sure if you remember my Independence day nightmare from the night before, but soon everyone was about to experience it.
Arriving on the outskirts of Tbilisi we ran into traffic. Because it was rush hour we weren’t overly concerned. However it soon became very apparent that this was no ordinary traffic. As we inched closer to Freedom Square we started to notice that every street into the city center was blocked by Police cars.
Realizing that the area was closed for security reasons for the celebrations the next day we knew we were not going to be able to return to the hotel via the main avenue. Son abandoned us to walk back to his apartment since he had a web meeting that he couldn’t be late for, but daughter and I, fortified with Churchkhela, decided to tough it out with Mike.
Mike and daughter took to their phones to find alternate routes. And as we attempted side streets we found them also blocked by Police, or jammed to a standstill with like minded travelers. The only thing that made this awfulness better was when we attempted to shoot up a side street that appeared to be open. Seeing us do this, motorcycles and other cars quickly fell in behind.
We zipped to the top and made a blind turn into a small alley only to find that locals had blocked the alley with their cars. Seeing no way through, I leaped out of the car to assist husband as he attempted to back up and turn around in an impossibly tight space. Not understanding the situation, we were subject to boisterous yells and jeers by the drivers in the cars behind us. A motorcyclist on a large bike tried to squeeze by us only to find the same thing we did, no exit. Now a small knot of cars and motorcycles were tangled up in a small area all trying to turn around.
The people on the street and the neighbors sitting on their porches with nothing better to do, all started yelling instructions (Or maybe it was other less helpful things) at us and not being able to understand them I started to get pretty frustrated.
Using the universal sign for “MOVE BACK YOU IDIOTS” I also started to yell at everyone. Instantly everything changed, realizing we were English everyone suddenly became very kind. And one helpful Georgian came over to manually assist us with the turn around by simultaneously gesturing wildly, grinning while maintaining control of the cigarette in his mouth, and screaming at the Georgians in their cars behind us.
With the exception of my husband listening to the man instead of me when I told him to STOP as the man waved him backwards, and the resulting dented fender later, the man did help to maneuvered all of us out of the alley. With much enthusiastic waving, clapping, and vocal encouragement, we shot out of the side street and back into the main thick of it. We left feeling happy to have provided some Friday night entertainment for the locals.
In the end we found a side street on the back side of the city that led to the hotel, however it was also blocked by a Policeman. Waving our hotel keys at him, he took pity on us poor English visitors and allowed us to skirt the roadblock. A little worse for the wear, we arrived back at the hotel two hours later.
INDEPENDENCE DAY MAY 26 / დამოუკიდებლობის დღე
In 1918 The Democratic Republic of Georgia was established when they declared their independence, unfortunately it would take another 73 years before Georgia was able to vote for its own leadership, due to being incorporated back into the Soviet Union in 1921. The history with Russia is long, complicated, and ongoing, with the most recent military conflicts only going back to 2008. Border disputes and skirmishes prevail to this day. However, the nation celebrates its independence on May 26th and remains fiercely dedicated to remaining their own Nation with their own language and culture.
After availing ourselves of the free hot European breakfast at our hotel (One of our favorite things about European hotels!) we headed out as a family to enjoy the Independence Day celebrations. The streets were full of families, young people, musicians, artisans, food vendors, and cultural demonstrations. It was a beautiful day and everyone was in a celebratory frame of mind.
There was a cacophony of sights and sounds as the country celebrated. We could not believe our good fortune at being here during this time of celebration and we enjoyed being one with the Georgians on this special day. Celebrating the Independence of this beautiful nation, with it’s happy, accommodating and curious people, was a fitting way for us to end our vacation.
Later in the day the weather took a turn but the rain did not seem to dampen the spirit of the Georgian people, we retreated to our hotel to watch the fireworks from our balcony. Spending our last evening reminiscing with our children about our Georgian experience.
Husband, daughter and I would say goodbye to our son the next morning, backtracking back through Turkey, with daughter flying on to London and us overnighting in Munich.
We had a long flight home to reflect on how much we loved this mostly undiscovered new travel destination. We are anxious for you to go there to experience for yourselves though, so I hope my Georgia series, which is my first attempt at a blog post, has inspired you even a little bit to visit, or at least to find your own crossroad.
END OF GEORGIA SERIES