Funemployed: Walkabout

Now that the weather seems to have finally and irrevocably turned against us, I feel that my weekly tradition of having a beautiful afternoon walkabout may be over.  And so, what better time to write about it?

In between applying for jobs, meeting friends for lunch, reading, and relaxing, I’ve made a habit of going for long urban walks.  Tbilisi is a lovely city for exploring, and even after four years there are places I’ve never been or never discovered.  And there’re places that I’ve been to that I so much that I make repeated visits!  Take Davitsminda, the monastery halfway up Mtatsminda.

It’s a not-insignificant climb up some long and winding roads to a picturesque little monastery perched right on the side of the hill.  It has some great views out over the city, and some very notable cemeterial residents!

View from almost-at-Davitsminda

View from almost-at-Davitsminda

Ilia Chavchavadze is one of Georgia's most renowned poets.  Other Georgian and Russian luminaries are buried here, including the Russian poet Griboedev!

Ilia Chavchavadze is one of Georgia’s most renowned poets. Other Georgian and Russian luminaries are buried here, including the Russian poet Griboedov!

I brought my book to Davitsminda with me so I could do some reading–a pasttime I know Chavchavadze and Griboedov would have approved of.

Other days I took my book to my favorite local fortress for an afternoon of reading in the wind and exploring the backstreets of Sololaki.  After all, you’ll never know if you don’t go!

Right outside my house is a little courtyard where the children play.  They have some AWESOME trees shading their games of wall-football!

Right outside my house is a little courtyard where the children play. They have some AWESOME trees shading their games of wall-football!

On the way through Old Tbilisi, one invariably passes the homeless lady who takes care of the strays.  She has clearly invested all her meager earnings into providing for these animals, as evidenced by the tent and the large cage for food and shelter!

On the way through Old Tbilisi, one invariably passes the homeless lady who takes care of the strays. She has clearly invested all her meager earnings into providing for these animals, as evidenced by the tent and the large cage for food and shelter!

And it pays off!  Look at this dachshund sleeping under a pile of kittens!

And it pays off! Look at this dachshund sleeping under a pile of kittens!

I definitely know where to recommend my next visitor stays!

I definitely know where to recommend my next visitor stays!

The heart of Sololaki has so many interesting buildings.  This abandoned, ruined church is one of my favorites!

The heart of Sololaki has so many interesting buildings. This abandoned, ruined church is one of my favorites!

Along the footpath beneath the fortress, there are signs at the scenic overlooks indicating what you're seeing and telling a little history of Tbilisi.  In this case, you can see Sameba Cathedral on the right, and then, just to the left of it, One big school full of Bitches.

Along the footpath beneath the fortress, there are signs at the scenic overlooks indicating what you’re seeing and telling a little history of Tbilisi. In this case, you can see Sameba Cathedral on the right, and then, just north of it, One big school full of Bitches.

Finally, I arrived atop Nariqala Fortress.  This is definitely one of my favorite places in Tbilisi.  Every time I look at it I try to imagine being an enemy soldier a thousand years ago and told “Go capture it.”  It would be a terribly difficult task, I’d think.  A siege might be awkward, too, with the positioning on the ridge.  Decisions, decisions!

At any rate, I perched myself atop one one of the crumbled towers and sat down to read.  It was awfully windy that day, and after an hour I retired to a cafe, fearing that I’d be blown off a cliff and no one would ever find my body!

Not a bad view for an afternoon read, right?

Not a bad view for an afternoon read, right?

Does it matter if I am reading about emergent diseases?

Does it matter if I am reading about emergent diseases?

While reading on the fortress, I spied my next hiking adventure!  I decided would finally visit the oft-visible, never-before-seen church atop the hill opposite Nariqala Fortress.

You know, this one!

You know, this one!

The journey began, fraught with peril and indecision.  I knew vaguely how to get into the neighborhood below the church, and figured I could ask for directions once there.  I loaded up my audiobook, and set out to finally find my way to that mystery church.

Passing the baths, I knew I was going in the right direction.  The neighborhood began to climb the hill and there were signs to the Monastery of the Transfiguration.  Sounded like a reasonable name!  I figured there must be some road to drive up to this church, but that was so much less of an adventure!  Onward I went, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hillside community.

The city's mosque is located just beneath Nariqala Fortress, overlooking the baths.

The city’s mosque is located just beneath Nariqala Fortress, overlooking the baths.

I love the back streets of Old Tbilisi.  There's a lot of beauty there!

I love the back streets of Old Tbilisi. There’s a lot of beauty there!

At my first dead end (of several), I found myself skirting the perimeter of a burnt out shell of a building, long abandoned, but frequently visited, it seems!

At my first dead end (of several), I found myself skirting the perimeter of a burnt out shell of a building, long abandoned, but frequently visited, it seems!

Having followed the sign to its ultimate destination, there didn’t seem to be any way forward.  I was in a cul-de-sac of sorts with several houses, a ruin, and a yard on either side of me.  I peeked into the abandoned building, but every path seemed either regressive or intrusive.  I decided to regress and find another way around.

I was too embarrassed to pass the group of men standing around outside a shop below me, so I ducked into an alleyway before I could be noticed.  It cut across the hill, and brought me to another branch of the same neighborhood.

Even Alleyways are spectacular in Georgia!

Even alleyways are spectacular in Georgia!

I met this not-so-friendly cat along the way.  He was sitting on a tin roof.  It was like that play "Cat on a Cold, Wet, Tin Roof".

I met this not-so-friendly cat along the way. He was sitting on a tin roof. It was like that play “Cat on a Cold, Wet, Tin Roof”.

Finding myself in another dead end, I encountered a trio of men leaving their house.  They didn’t know how to get to the church, but the youngest suggested that I should try the other side of the hill, and pointed back the way I came.  Reluctantly, I agreed, but I decided to walk slowly so that I could double back after they left.  Sneaky Raughley!

Instead, I just wandered back along the alley until I found a set of stone stairs that looked straight out of a fairy tale!  Naturally, I failed to take a photo, but I climbed up anyway.  At the top was a pregnant lady hanging up sheets on the clothesline.  She was equally uncertain as to how I could reach the church, but pointed out a small damp path winding around the crumbling wall of her farmhouse.  Why not at least see where it goes?

How awesomely creepy would this look on a dark dank day?

How awesomely creepy would this look on a dark dank day?

After winding around the hill for a few dozen meters I found myself at the burnt out ruin I’d already been to.  ვაიმე!  Some would have taken this as a sign to quit or to retrace their steps to the very bottom and start all over from a different attack angle.  Not me, though!  I decided that I might as well explore this charred husk and see if there was a back stairway up!

There wasn’t.

I did find a mattress and some blankets where someone was clearly squatting, though!  I stood beneath the church, in an enclosed yard, looking up at it as it loomed a hundred meters above me.  I was so close.  I decided not to let some silly little wall stop me, and I hoisted myself up and over it onto the scrubby slopes of the ridge.

The wall abutted the neighbors’ garden, and I could hear them bustling about in their own yard.  I decided to scramble away quickly, lest they seem me and think I had some ill intent towards their vegetables.  After about 30 meters, I found a small path.

The path wound down and around the ridge, forking towards a modern complex in the crook of the valley and a rocky path upwards.  This time I forked up.

The view from the derelict yard.

The view from the derelict yard.

As soon as I hopped that wall I knew I was in for a treat!  This is the angle on Nariqala I would have and here's the little neighborhood I just climbed through.

As soon as I hopped that wall I knew I was in for a treat! This is the angle on Nariqala I would have and here’s the little neighborhood I just climbed through.

As I approached, I realized my path wound through the back entrance of the church.

As I approached, I realized my path wound through the back entrance of the church.

Whoever decides church locations did a good job with this one.

Whoever decides church locations did a good job with this one.

I ventured into the churchyard/vestry area.  It was empty with some halted construction going on in the basement.  Though I was tempted to explore the basement, I decided against it and went upwards towards the church itself.

Inside, the Church was sparsely decorated, as you often see with Orthodox churches, and had a nice incense-y scent.  (In-scents?)  I wandered around to the “front” of the church (meaning here the cliffside face) and decided I’d found my new favorite reading spot.

There was a rock laid against the wall, almost as if someone had known I was coming and prepared a reading chair for me!

There was a rock laid against the wall, almost as if someone had known I was coming and prepared a reading chair for me!

The little wall in the foreground is like the edge of the Church territory.

Here you can see the cliffs of Avlabari and Sameba over and above it.

One of the nice things about coming here was that I had a new angle and perspective on the city.  From here I could see way out South/East past the upgoing skyscraper and the old Wedding House to the airport and beyond!

One of the nice things about coming here was that I had a new angle and perspective on the city. From here I could see way out South/East past the upgoing skyscraper and the old Wedding House to the airport and beyond!

I also discovered the destination of my next walking tour!  (Spoiler: That waterfall turned out to be from a drainage pipe...)

I also discovered the destination of my next walking tour! (Spoiler: That waterfall turned out to be from a drainage pipe…)

I wanted to check out these sweet riverside caves, for example!  (Spoiler: Inaccessible, covered in garbage)

I wanted to check out these sweet riverside caves, for example! (Spoiler: Inaccessible, covered in garbage)

Here's a nice aerial shot of Metekhi Church, Rike Park, and the Justice House.

Here’s a nice aerial shot of Metekhi Church, Rike Park, and the Justice House.

I really liked the new perspective on Nariqala.  It gives the fortress a whole new shape and feel!

I really liked the new perspective on Nariqala. It gives the fortress a whole new shape and feel!

These birds were soaring and free-wheeling through an endless afternoon sky.

These birds were soaring and free-wheeling through an endless afternoon sky.

As the sun tracked across the sky, everything got a little misty and I just liked the way the Botanical Gardens looked in the light.

As the sun tracked across the sky, everything got a little misty and I just liked the way the Botanical Gardens looked in the light.

A wider shot shows the Botanical Gardens, the Mother of Georgia, the TV Tower, and Nariqala in one fell swoop!

A wider shot shows the Botanical Gardens, the Mother of Georgia, the TV Tower, and Nariqala in one fell swoop!

I read there for about ninety minutes, enjoying the shade and scaring a couple up to take romantic pictures.  When the time came to leave, I decided I would leave by way of the road for vehicles and see where that took me.  I missed an opportunity for an awesome photo of a priest washing his old car, but managed to get a few random gems along the way anyway!

Like these old pipes peeking out of the ground!

Like these old pipes peeking out of the ground!

Or this secret installation that was surrounded with razor wire!

Or this secret installation that was surrounded with razor wire and good advice!

And this Tire Convention!

And this Tire Convention!

Eventually the excitement of the road settled down and I found myself on a scrubby little trail down towards the Ortachala district.

Tbilisi really can be a lovely city!

Tbilisi really can be a lovely city!

Despite the ubiquitous garbage....

Despite the ubiquitous garbage….

Finally returning to my home neighborhood, I walked along, pleased with my adventure.  It had taken most of the afternoon and I was getting sick, but, damn!  What a good day!

Nariqala's Church, glowing gently in the sunset.

Nariqala’s Church, glowing gently in the sunset.

Posted in Adventures in Georgia, Funemployed | Leave a comment

Funemployed: Going Medieval

Last Saturday, as I sat around in my fluffy robe, contemplating what to do with my afternoon, my phone rang.  It was Sophie, the administrative assistant from my old school.

“Raughley, are you coming?” she asked.

“To what?” I knew Sophie was attending some Martial Arts Exhibition, but didn’t realize I had been invited.

“Come quickly!  I am at the Parliament on Rustaveli!”  Fifteen minutes and one rushed shower later, I met Sophie on Freedom Square in the midst of a scrum of mostly-authentically-dressed Georgian warriors!

The kid in back is sporting a modern traditional leather jacket with jeans.

This fellow here is wearing a traditional Georgian Chokha. I like this outfit most of all!

Just wait for the no-face dancing photos later!

Try as I might, I never was able to catch the faces of these girls in their Abkhaz dresses.

Everyone was marching past my house and then over the Baratashvili Bridge towards Riqe Park where a stage had been erected in Europe Square.  Even the kids got involved!

Pretty darned cool, right?

Pretty darned cool, right?

As we carried on, walking, talking, and getting ushered out of the formation by a squad leader, we marveled at the craftsmanship of the real-looking weaponry.

We call double-bladed axes "ormagi najaxi"!

Here we’ve got a bow and arrows, a double bladed axe, and some assorted swords and spears.

A lot of the weaponry kept it simple.  This is a najaxi.

A lot of the weaponry kept it simple. This is a najaxi.

While other weapons were more ornate.  The Chokha has little breast pockets for holding rifle cartridges.  Cool-looking and practical!

While other weapons were more ornate. The Chokha has little breast pockets for holding rifle cartridges. Cool-looking and practical!

There was a wide array of different costume styles, though, which was pretty neat!

There was a wide array of different costume styles from the various regions of Georgia, though, which was pretty neat!

We even got to see the executioner himself!

This is probably the scariest photo of the day.  It's a good thing Sophie didn't look behind her!

This is probably the scariest photo of the day. It’s a good thing Sophie didn’t look behind her!

Sophie had been invited to this “Martial Arts Event” by another Kobakhidze.  They’re not related, they just have the same last name.  She asked me what the word for this is in English.  I don’t know that we have one, honestly.  Shared last names isn’t nearly as common in the States as it is here, though, admittedly, it’s not unheard of.  I’ve known lots of Smiths and Johnsons and Browns, just not so many Nuzzis.

Kobakhidzes. I won’t make my usual joke about bridges, Sophie, don’t worry. Despite sharing last names, they are unrelated and didn’t even know each other until Saturday!

Lasha Kobakhidze explained to us that the whole afternoon was going to be filled with singing, dancing, and weapon demonstrations.  This got us both pretty excited and we crowded toward the stage to get the best view.

The ceremony opened with a rifle twirling demonstration on par with any I’ve seen elsewhere.  It would’ve been nice if someone had launched a rifle really high before catching it, but all told it was quite a well orchestrated performance!

Everyone marched in in their crimson Chokhas to the beat of a snare drum.

Everyone marched in in their crimson Chokhas to the beat of a snare drum.

They gathered before the stage and crisply executed their moves in time with the drum.

They gathered before the stage and crisply executed their moves in time with the drum.

See!  They're twirling!

See! They’re twirling!

After a brief introduction from the organizers, we were told that the events would begin in 5-7 minutes.  I asked Sophie if she thought he meant 5-7 real minutes or 5-7 Georgian minutes.  She hoped the former.  So, to kill 5-7 real minutes, we wandered over to the hunting falcons!

Several fellows had leather mitts with hooded and unhooded falcons perched along their wrists.

Fierce Falcon!  See, so the falcon stands sort of along the muscular part of the thumb area.  They're all strapped in, so if they started to fly, they would just find themselves strung out and suspended in the air a few inches away from their takeoff point.  After a struggle, they would return to their perch.

Fierce Falcon! See, so the falcon stands sort of along the muscular part of the thumb area. They’re all strapped in, so if they started to fly, they would just find themselves strung out and suspended in the air a few inches away from their takeoff point. After a struggle, they would return to their perch.

The falcons were beautiful and dangerous looking with pointy beaks and sharp talons!  Sophie taught me the word for beak, but I've forgotten it.

The falcons were beautiful and dangerous looking with pointy beaks and sharp talons! Sophie taught me the word for beak, but I’ve forgotten it.

Now, Sophie loves birds.  She’s got lots of shirts and jewelry with owls on it and she really wanted to touch one of the falcons.  She asked a handler in Georgian, “May I pet it?” and by way of response he held out his ungloved hand, revealing about a dozen scratches and tears in various states of freshness.  Undeterred, Sophie reached out to pet the bird.

She got in a few good strokes before the falcon flexed its wings and scared her off.  She jumped back, startled, but satisfied.

She got in a few good strokes before the falcon flexed its wings and scared her off. She jumped back, startled, but satisfied.

We continued to wander the crowds, passing the 5-7 Georgian minutes seeing what the festival had to offer.  There were a couple of dudes hefting a giant log, there were people dressed in all manner of medieval military garb, and there was a loud popping sound coming from the center of a crowd.  Further inspection revealed a whip demonstration!

When a problem comes along, you must whip it!

When a problem comes along, you must whip it!

"What'd you do this weekend?" "Oh, you know, paraded around with my spear and shield.  Pretty normal for a Saturday."

“What’d you do this weekend?”
“Oh, you know, paraded around with my spear and shield. Pretty normal for a Saturday.”

After a spell, there was another announcement and the music started up.  The first performance was a troupe of Georgian singers in black Chokhas.  They did a few folk songs and then cleared the stage to make way for just the cutest little married children you ever did see!

For the record, Georgia doesn't really have a modern tradition of child brides.  But boy, these kids sure could dance!

For the record, Georgia doesn’t really have a modern tradition of child brides. But boy, these kids sure could dance!

As the sun disappeared behind some ominous potential storm clouds, the next musical act took the stage.

Ominous, right?  I'm really committed to making sure you get a sense of what the day felt like.  For real.

Ominous, right? I’m really committed to making sure you get a sense of what the day felt like. For real.

This group of teenagers had a pair of teachers with them on the flanks of the group.  Here you can see the boys on the left playing the Chonduri, then center boys playing Panduris, and a pair of flutists on the right, before the accordion.

This group of teenagers had a pair of teachers with them on the flanks of the group. Here you can see the boys on the left playing the Chonduri, then center boys playing Panduris, and a pair of flutists on the right, before the accordion.

They did a neat cover of the Adjaran song "Adjaruli" and a few other numbers.

They did a neat cover of the Adjaran song “Adjaruli” and a few other numbers.

I had a lot of questions throughout the day.  Mostly “What’s the word for that?” as I pointed at various military and cultural accouterments.  I learned lots of great words like shubi, khmali, nabadi, and papakhi.  That last one you might recognize if you saw it.  It’s a big poofy wool hat that comes in black or white and is a Khevsuretian accessory.  Sophie couldn’t remember the name, though, and had to ask someone.  She was quite embarrassed!

After a few more musical acts, the main event began.  There’s a type of traditional dance called “pharikaoba” which would translate to “shield dancing” or simply “shielding”.  It’s like a cross between stage combat and shadow boxing.  The members of an Adjaran pharikaoba team demonstrated a wide range of weapons on stage, from spears, swords and shields, double bladed axes, dual-wielded hand axes, and judo with knives.  They moved so fast and we were too far away, so I only managed to get one awesome shot.  Trust me, though, when I say that each demonstration was epic.

Aerial assault!  This guy did a lot of leaping and twirling that looked very kinetic and very Jedi.  Oh!  And he's wearing a papakhi!

Aerial assault! This guy did a lot of leaping and twirling that looked very kinetic and very Jedi. Oh! And he’s wearing a papakhi!

After the pharikaoba, there was another brief interlude.  Sophie and I took advantage of it to snap a few more photos–this time with some of the performers!

For example, here's me with a spearman!  Spear is Shubi and shield is Phari!

For example, here’s me with a spearman! Spear is Shubi and shield is Phari!

And here is Sophie AS a spearman! I call this “King Sophie”.

A double axeman was warming up/practicing with axes and Sophie wanted me to just run up and ask him for a photo.  I demurred.  Partially out of shyness, and partially out of a desire not to get axe-identally axed.

A double axeman was warming up/practicing with axes and Sophie wanted me to just run up and ask him for a photo. I demurred. Partially out of shyness, and partially out of a desire not to get axe-identally axed.  I mean, really.  You don’t just sneak up on a dude twirling a pair of axes!

Nonetheless, Sophie called out to him, and we got the photo!

Nonetheless, Sophie called out to him, and we got the photo!

At this point we had managed to sneak around/behind the stage and we were chilling with the performers who were on deck.  (That’s a baseball metaphor that means “up next” for all you non-baseball aficionados out there!)  This also gave us a new angle on the performances themselves!

I had spotted these green clad children earlier on our walk and, being a fan of green, was eager to see them perform.

I had spotted these green clad children earlier on our walk and, being a fan of green, was eager to see them perform.

It turned out that the kids were representing Abkhazia, though it's unclear whether they were Abkhax themselves or not.  What is clear is that this dude looks like a badass.

It turned out that the kids were representing Abkhazia, though it’s unclear whether they were Abkhax themselves or not. What is clear is that this dude looks like a badass.

This shot is from a series I like to call "Trying to Take Photos of Their Faces".

This shot is from a series I like to call “Trying to Take Photos of Their Faces”.

It wasn't a terribly successful series.

It wasn’t a terribly successful series.

The next group of kids had much more colorful uniforms and skewed a lot younger.  I have to admit, I was seriously impressed by these little ones.  Some of them must’ve been no older than 5 or 6!

Had a rough angle on this dance, and I missed the tiniest solo I've ever seen.  Why tiny?

Had a rough angle on this dance, and I missed the tiniest solo I’ve ever seen. Why tiny?

Because it was by these two!

Because it was by these two!

Adorable, right?

The kids danced their dances and then made way for a very acrobatic and intense series of dances by a few troupes of adults.

Like I said, Intense.

Like I said, Intense.  Also, still no faces.

The intense white robed dancer was joined by two dozen men and women who did an awesome circular courtship dance.  (I don't think the purpose is courtship, but I feel like that best describes the sense of the action going on onstage.)

The intense white robed dancer was joined by two dozen men and women who did an awesome circular courtship dance. (I don’t think the purpose is courtship, but I feel like that best describes the sense of the action going on onstage.)

Right?  It looks like courtship.

Right? It looks like courtship.

This pointy-shouldered jacket is called a nabadi.  But I don't think they let nobodies wear it--you have to be important.  For example, you have to be the lead dancer in a dance troupe!

This pointy-shouldered jacket is called a nabadi. But I don’t think they let nobodies wear it–you have to be important. For example, you have to be the lead dancer in a dance troupe!

Georgian dancing has lots of leaping in it.  It is really awesome to watch and I strongly recommend catching some if you can!

Georgian dancing has lots of leaping in it. It is really awesome to watch and I strongly recommend catching some if you can!

The audience was comprised of lots of casual ordinary people, but also other performers who had already gone or who were waiting for their moment.  This led to a lot of great candid photo ops!

Here's whipman and axeman sharing a laugh about something.

Here’s whipman and axeman sharing a laugh about something.

And the pensive besneakered warrior dreaming of owning a car one day.

And the pensive besneakered warrior dreaming of owning a car one day.

At this point, a cry went up and the crowd surged towards the base of the cliff.  The MC had just announced that the archery range was open for business!  A large target had been erected beneath the cliff and there were archers at hand to help everyone fire a few arrows.  After some macho dudes hogged all the bows for a spell, a new rule took effect: Women and Children only.  Sophie’s non-relative Lasha cried out, “I have an American guest!” in Georgian, and so an exception was granted in my case.  Sophie and I strode up like two confident Robin Hoods and loosed a volley of hellfire upon that target.

Sophie about to unleash her wrath on that poor target.

Sophie about to unleash her wrath on that poor target.

We were using modern sporting bows, not traditional ones, but that was alright with us!  Our first few arrows were on target, with Sophie scoring one just off center and me nailing the red and blue portions of the target.  (Notice how I didn’t include any photos of the target?  I’ll just let you assume that the red and blue sections took the most skill to hit!)

As the sun started to go down, I checked the time and realized I was super late for my planned visit to my host family.  My random cultural experience that I scrambled and stumbled into had eaten up the whole day without me even realizing it!  Sophie and I parted ways just as the Karate demonstrations were getting started.  Bad luck for me, but all told, one of my more successful recent random afternoons.

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