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17–18 May 2019 (Fri–Sat)
The weather shifted from a cool spring to a hot summer in a matter of days. I distinctly noticed that I stopped wearing my jacket or a sweater while in Tbilisi and upon my arrival at Hotel Discovery - my Kutaisi home - my first response was to power-up the aircon and re-group into shorts, a T-shirt and my beloved Southern California flip-flops. I finally ventured out of my hotel dressed like a tourist! - Oh' no... - as the sun was setting. It was still warm.
Small city. Charming centre with history that extends back 3,500 years. Kutaisi claims to be one of Europe's oldest cities and was the seat of the first unified Georgian kingdom in the tenth century. But long before unification the Greeks ventured to this community looking for the Golden Fleece. Why Jason and his Argonauts thought it was in Kutaisi is a small mystery I was unable to solve.
The Bagrati Cathedral - built in the 11th Century but destroyed by the Ottoman Turks seven centuries later and eventually rebuilt - serves as a UN World Heritage site. The castle next to the Cathedral is in ruins and equally interesting (see pictures of both).
Kutaisi is a city for strolling. I strolled around that first evening eventually locating Palaty - a small cafe - that offered good food and decent music.
I shifted from strolling to wandering the next morning, as I went further afield. In addition to various ruins I inspected the Rioni River that flows fast through this city. Perhaps, Georgia is washing-away, as the Rioni looks like a river of mud. Fortunately, there are loads of mountains so no fear that Georgia will disappear anytime soon.
Next to the river is a gigantic statue. The lower-half is your typical "important-man-being-honoured" but what is going on above. Is that an angel, a demon - what does all that bronze mean...
Just to gain some perspective on the dimensions - take a look at the lower left-hand corner and you will see a man sitting. Its big and the message is powerful but that is about as much as this foreign-tourist can fathom.
When I returned to city proper, I found several festivals. First, the Cheese Festival: The good people of Georgia really like cheese and one must wonder why they don't all die of heart attacks in their 40's. I had one sample only just to lay-claim that I participated in this festival. While attending, I enjoyed the blended harmony of four young men (you will certainly recognise the picture).
But there was also a bunch of young women all dressed in red - If they had anything to do with the Cheese Festival then they were lost, as I found them on the other side of town. I followed them, taking pictures, up four-flights of stairs to see what it was all about. Seemed like some kind of Saturday school performance for parents - I did not remain to find out what they were supposed to do in those red dresses.
The very best festival-moment, however, was when I found several young ladies dressed in traditional costumes coming out of the Kutaisi Theatre near Colchis Fountain. They were simply stunning and so I persuaded two to pose. The girl on the right laughed at me, at first, but I said - in my best broken-English - that they were seriously beautiful and I wanted them. Fortunately, they did not understand, but their shared expression is breathtaking.
That evening I was serenaded by a large woman with a violin - while enjoying my chicken and rice soup - and as I started walking home, I came across the B12 Underground Bar and Restaurant, and Eto - the bar maid. The place was so charming AND it did not have a single patron. I had stuck my head in this bar earlier that evening and it was completely empty then - so I moved on - but now I figured this place could not close without having at least one customer that evening.
The obvious question to ask Eto was why this place was named after a vitamin, but I was so struck by her youth that the question slipped past me. Eto had nothing better to do so she sat down - and I asked how a 13 year old could work in a bar. Eto is really small and slender and child-like in appearance. She said that she was 19 and a student at the local university. She had good English and an enquiring mind. I asked her if she still lived with her parents and she said yes, and so I asked what her parents thought of their young daughter working in a bar. Eto explained that her parents knew the owners and that this business operated like a family.
Eto studies Georgian literature, when not working, and planned to study French and Spanish someday. I sensed that she studies Georgian literature to gain a context to understand the world. Her primary interest is life outside of Georgia. I also sensed that she rarely meets people with the kind of international experience that I have. We enjoyed a 30-minute intense conversation about life and then a group of men entered the B12 and she had to go back to work. We knew we would not meet again and so I said - let's take a selfie. I would have included this picture but the lighting was poor.
When travelling, we have these intense moments with others that end quickly...
A full moon rested over Kutaisi Central Square, as I walked to Hotel Discovery, and invited me to record this moment as well.