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.
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 believed 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.
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. Being from the DMV we know about traffic, so we didn’t think too much of it because it was around rush hour after all. 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, the Georgians became altogether very, very (Possibly too) helpful. One dented fender later, we maneuvered out of the alley. The helpful Georgians made quick work out of clearing the traffic jam, and with much enthusiastic waving and vocal encouragement, we were on our way out of the side street and back into the main thick of it.
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. Taking pity on us poor English visitors, or perhaps he recognized the Ibis Style key cards we were frantically waving at him, he allowed us to skirt the roadblock and, a little worse for the wear, we arrived back at the hotel.
Knowing that we were not going to be able to move our car for the next twenty-four hours we convened for dinner at a local restaurant. After dinner we decided to stroll down to Freedom Square to see what caused all the fuss earlier.
The busy thoroughfare that was Freedom Square had now been turned into a military parade ground of a sort with an interesting array of military might on full display for any and all to admire. We enjoyed watching the young and old alike posing for pictures with the vehicles and machinery. And we left excited about the celebration to come the following day.
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.
After an eventful day we decided to enjoy our last evening quietly in our hotel room, eating Georgian food, sipping Georgian wine, and watching Georgian fireworks from our hotel terrace with our children.
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