Easter in the Mountains

Let’s take another trip down memory lane!  In this story, the name of “Memory Lane” is “Gavanskaya Ulitsa.”

Years ago, while studying in St. Petersburg, I lived with a host family of a mother and her two grown sons, Sasha and Alyosha.  Alyosha was an entrepreneurial young man and the vice president of some Swiss clothing company.  He was fairly independently wealthy as evidenced by his not infrequent skiing trips to the Caucasus, Finland, and Switzerland.

Sasha was a creeper.  He would get drunk and then come to me with some crazy scheme and then forget about it by morning.  First he wanted me to use the internet to find some girl they had hosted in 1991.  Then he wanted to start a pyramid scheme (yes, he knew it was a pyramid scheme).  Finally he showed me V Kontakte side by side with Facebook.  He made a simple analogy and indicated that he wanted me to do the same thing for his real estate website.  Basically, he had been contracted to design the website for a small real estate company that sold houses in Finland to Russians.  He wanted me to help him steal the design of another, popular, American real estate company.  I won’t say that I helped him steal corporate intellectual property, but let’s just say that somewhere out there is a Russian real estate website that looks strikingly similar to Century 21….

We lived way out at the end of Vassilievskii Ostrov about a thirty minute walk from either Primorskaya or Vassilieostrovskaya.  Chelsea and I had to take a marshrutka across town every day to get to school but we’d end up waiting for over an hour, sometimes two, before one would pick us up.  We were about a block and a half away from the Gulf of Finland and it was cold and windy as all get out!

Sometimes Chelsea and I would call each other up and say, “Meet you in the arch?”  We would walk around or just cross the street to the Produkti to get some chocolates.  Chelsea went to Georgetown with me and we were housed in neighboring apartment buildings with a shared courtyard.  Those were the days of 25 Gavanskaya Ulitsa.

Funny thing, though.  In Russian, Gavan means “Haven,” as in a safe haven.  I’m not sure what my street would have provided protection from, it being by the open Gulf and all, but there you have it!  What’s funny about that?  Probably not much.  That is, unless you are my very dear friend who came to visit me for Orthodox Easter and your name is Haven!

For years Haven and I have been most excellent friends.  We had a boatload of classes together in High School, took our team to the World Quest National Championship twice, wrote the most epic of London projects, and have kept in touch over the years.  We used to get lunch at O’Naturals in Falmouth, but that’s gone now, so we decided to get lunch in Tbilisi.

Haven lives and works in Chicago but she took the time off to travel halfway around the world and have a fantastic Georgian adventure.

After gallivanting around Tbilisi for a day or two, Haven and I decided to head for the hills.  We hopped in a late afternoon marshrutka and took off for Kazbegi.  Kazbegi, one of the taller peaks of the Caucasus, looms over the small town of Stepantsminda with its monastery called Gergeti.  We arrived just after dark, and after some confusion with an overeager taxi driver and a confused youth we made our way to the guest house where we would be staying.

Two of my former co-teachers had given us all of the guidance we needed to have a Kazbegi experience and we were quite content to settle down for a hot meal with Manana (guest house owner, not co-teacher).  We retired to our enormous bed and slept like rocks.  Well, to the extent that the very noisy cow and rooster permitted.

The following morning was Easter Sunday!  We woke up and cracked some eggs over breakfast–Georgian tradition has you tap your red-dyed eggs together, the person whose egg vanquishes the other gets a wish!–and headed out into the cool, clear mountain air.

This was literally the view from our doorway. Those are enormous mountains.

We got some pretty easy instructions from our host lady and began walking through the town.  Right where the marshrutka dropped us off, there was a fork in the main road.  to the right we could go to “Center.”  The left path led us to “Vladikavkaz.”  We went left.

Haven’s mother had warned her from getting too close to Russia, we were about 14 km from the border at this point.

As we hiked up through a villagey part of town, the road became a path with deep ruts from vehicular traffic.  Dozens of cars passed us on our way up to to Monastery because people were visiting it for Easter.  As we began to ascend through a wooded hillside and the road turned into switchbacks, the amount of snow lining the road gradually increased.  The width of the stream running down the middle of the path grew as well!  Luckily for me, I had my killer boots on that keep my feet toasty and dry (გახუხული პეხები!), through Hell or High Water!  But mostly through high water.

Haven only had sneakers, but she didn’t let that get her down!

Though the sun only twinkled through the trees in places, we still found ourselves getting quite hot.  The best part about the snow being piled high along the path was that I could take a moment to thrust my face boldly into it, letting it muffle my cry as the the cold both refreshed and shocked me.  Onward we marched, until finally, taking a surprise left turn, we found ourselves gazing out over Stepantsminda from above and relishing the view.

When we first reached Gergeti, we thought to ourselves, “Hey! If we just climb another 100-200 feet up this hill behind us we’ll have even better views!” We probably made it twenty feet climbing into the wind before we gave up and turned toward the Monastery.
In case you couldn’t see it well enough, here’s a zoomed shot of Gergeti’s Sameba monastery.
One more for the road!
This is the hill we tried to climb. Though it might not be obvious, the hill gently slopes for a while, then gets steep and icy, and then becomes the peak of Mt. Kazbeg.

Sadly, women could not go into the Monastery itself without a skirt and we had neglected to bring one.  Nonetheless, we circled the building and took in the views from there as well.  Before long, we headed back down into the town, passing some Russian ladies as we arrived.  I assured them that they were heading in the right direction and we completed our descent.  Luckily, we were able to catch a marshrutka that very afternoon and arrived back in Tbilisi, safe and sound, by evening!  And it was a good thing, too!

Though we were tuckered out from our 24 hour adventure, we stayed up chatting until 1 or 2 in the morning.  Angela was staying with Marcia, so Haven had the luxury of Angela’s room.  The next morning, I lay in bed doing some emails and checking some work while Haven read.  At 12:03, Giga called me and informed me that he needed one of my Guest Bloggers for an interview with the media.

“When do you need them?” I asked.

“They want to start filming at 1.  That’s in 57 minutes.  Can you find someone?  If not, can you do it?”

“Okay, Haven.  Time to get going!  We’ve got an interview to shoot!”

We got in touch with KC Chakela, one of the Guest Bloggers who writes with me over at Making a Difference, and agreed to meet him and his girlfriend and walk to the Ministry together.  After standing around for a while, the film crew arrived and we moved into the TLG Offices to talk about the importance of Blogging and what it means in our home countries.

That night I plugged in the TV for the first time in a long time, so we could watch the news we made.

Here I am talking about blogging on the 9 o’clock news! I was dubbed over in Georgian, but I know how to sweet talk even through the voiceover!
KC and I sitting around in the office “Blogging.” I’m not sure how many of you out there realize this, but this is how two bloggers “blog” together.

That was one of Haven’s final days in Tbilisi, and what a better way to end her visit than by experiencing the filming of a news segment for Rustavi 2.

There are a few more stories coming, so fear not!  You’ve yet to meet Rezo the Taxi Driver!

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