Readuponit: Travel and voracious reading

Max Hartshorne, travel website editor, sharing some of the stuff I read, hear and see with you. Updated every day. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

All About Drones

by Max Hartshorne on October 23, 2014

A drone infographic

All About drones

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Bath Bakhmaro: Scrubbing My Way to Bliss in Tbilisi

by Max Hartshorne on October 19, 2014

Our scrubber at the Bath Bakhmaro in Tbilisi.

Our scrubber at the Bath Bakhmaro in Tbilisi.

I’m still feeling relaxed and clean four hours after emerging from Tbilisi’s famous sulfur baths, called Bath Bakhmaro, located in the historic district and hard to miss by its distinctive brick domes.  We had anticipated our visit since we first came to Tbilisi, and so we arranged to rent two rooms for our party–five women in one and four men in another.

The cost for the rooms was 5o lari and 10 more to pay the guy or gal who scrubbed us from head to toe.  For $11.86, I was treated to absolute bliss, that lasted a lot longer than any massage I’ve ever had.

Plus, the water was hotter than any so-called hot tub I’ve ever slipped into and it was naturally heated hot spring water with a special sulfur aroma. Not bad, though when you enter the arched doorways of the spa it hits you quite distinctly.

When our appointed time came (you must arrange this ahead of time), we entered our bath and removed our clothes, some of us using thin towels provided for one lari, others using thick terry towels borrowed from the Holiday Inn. We walked from our private changing room into a tiled room with deep tub about five feet deep, with seats built in.  Next to this was a table made of marble and tile where we would get our scrubbing.

Max relaxing after our scrub and soak in Tbilisi.

Max relaxing after our scrub and soak in Tbilisi.

In the next room were two showers that poured out cold water, which we would appreciate after soaking ourselves in the 40 centigrade sulfur water, (104 fahrenheit).  I was going to wear a bathing suit, as did a younger colleague of mine, but after I saw my other two buddies butt naked, I figured what the hell, and took it off.

We soaked in the hot pool for a while and then jumped out and took a cold shower. It took a while to get all the way into the cold, but after a few of these hot and cold exchanges I was much more willing to let the cold really cover me, and then run back to the hot pool.

Then our man entered wearing a bathing suit and motioned Max, my colleague to come forward and lie on the table.  He began scrubbing him from the shoulders down the body to the legs, using force to really scrub.  Then he poured a few big buckets of the hot water on top of Max and told him to turn over, and he repeated the procedure. We kept coming in and out of the tub enjoying the contrast.

Then later our man had scrubbed all of us, he motioned for Max to come back. Now it was time to use soap to lather us all up. Max lay down and the scrubber took the loofa and put it inside of a mesh bag with lots of soap and proceeded to lather him from head to toe.  Then he poured the water a few times to remove it, and had him sit up and he washed his arms and chest. At one point Max couldn’t see a thing he was so covered in soap suds!

We all did this and then were instructed to get back into the cold water and do a few more hot/cold plunges. After a final cold rinse we emerged from the bath and sat, blissfully, in the changing room. No silly mellow music, no calm woman coming to you with herbal tea, simply the most relaxed and mellow feeling you can imagine.  At the end we paid our bill and gave our scrubber a few laris to thank him. None of this $20 tip thing you have come to expect in the US.  No, just simple bliss, for under $12.

We came out and compared notes with our female colleagues. Their scrubber did her work topless, which we thought was kind of cool. We are not sure about whether the women folk all got naked for their scrubs or modestly left on their suits. I guess what happens in Tbilisi will stay in Tbilisi!  Bath Bahkmaro, 5 Grishasvili St, Tbilisi, 272 05 94.

 

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Georgia: Traveling from the 12th to the 21st Century

by Max Hartshorne on October 18, 2014

View from one of the towers of the villages of Ushgali, Svaneti Western Georgia.

View from one of the towers of the villages of Ushgali, Svaneti Western Georgia.

 

We woke up in Mestia,  about 30 km from the Russian border, and at 8 am we hit the winding road for a marathon 11-hour journey all the way back to the capital, Tbilisi.  The previous day we had ventured even further up north and visited a church with frescoes still perfectly clear and untouched that were painted in the 10th century in the Nakipari church in Ipari.

To enter the tiny church, the women needed to don apron-like skirts, and put on  headscarves.  We had to bend down low to enter the five-foot high wooden entranceway, and once we were inside, the frescoes came alive.

One showed a mean-looking man torturing St. George, his body stretched over a wheel, his face in pain.  Unlike many of these priceless frescoes that were whitewashed by Georgia’s many invaders, these survived due to their remoteness, and are absolutely stunning.  The wide-eyed face of Jesus with the special Georgian cross, a peace sign with drooping arms, were mixed with more scenes from the Bible.

A local woman in Ushgali plays us some Svaneti music.

A local woman in Ushgali plays us some Svaneti music.The villages we visited, Ushgali, are some of the longest continuously settled and highest altitude villages in Europe. 

Road to Ushgali, Georgia.

Road to Ushgali

In the distance, Ushba, the nation’s highest peak, snow-covered and foreboding, could be seen briefly through the clouds, at more than 5000 meters high.

Steep brown foothills lead up to a New England like view of striking foliage, and all over were the famous towers, built for protection from invading hordes, and today, symbols of the Svaneti region.

We walked amongst the ancient buildings that had been there since the 1200s, and small children gave each other rides on a wheelbarrow.  Cows walked loose and some villagers were harvesting potatoes in hilly fields. At an ethnographic

In the Middle Ages, cows bedded down with their heads sticking out of these holes and the people kept warm by sleeping on top of them.

In the Middle Ages, cows bedded down with their heads sticking out of these holes and the people kept warm by sleeping on top of them.

museum a local women who said she’s lived in Ushgali her whole life played us a few songs on a Svaneti guitar and a tiny stringed instrument. Her smile, like so many we have seen this trip, welcomed us to this hard to reach place with an open heart.

The trip to get to these villages is only 44 kilometers but it took us three hours over some of the roughest roads in the country.  Locals make as much as they can for themselves–baking bread, making jam, growing vegetables and sustaining themselves as their ancestors once did.

We learned that the tough drive there is much easier in the winter, when the potholes that slow the jeeps to a crawl are filled with snow. The next day we had a marathon drive from Mestia to Tbilisi, and it was a wonderful chance to see a huge swath of this fascinating country.

Church with frescoes still perfectly clear and untouched that were painted in the 10th century in the Nakipari church in Ipari.

Church with frescoes still perfectly clear and untouched that were painted in the 10th century in the Nakipari church in Ipari.

It’s a fantastic and remote destination that may be a little hard to get to, with no direct flights from the US, but it’s guaranteed that you will never forget the scenes such as life in  this village and the sincere hospitality guests receive from Georgians.

As long as you promise not to invade them and you don’t try to sway them from Christianity you will be welcomed!

High peak in Georgia

The highest mountain in Georgia visible through the clouds.

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Veal stew.

Veal stew.

Georgia is a fantastic food destination, it’s full of fresh locally grown vegetables and the chefs don’t feel the need to use a heavy hand with sauces or dunk everything in frying oil. Here are some of the highlights of Georgian cuisine that we tasted during our journey and some of the things that are always set in front of diners during most meals.

A salad of tomatoes and cucumbers has never failed to appear at the table. Also, fresh baked bread, salty feta cheese, sort of flat french bread, and cheese pies, which are a layer of dough with melted cheese inside are mandatory, called a khapuri.

All of these plates are small, and there are many of them so the table is almost totally covered with dishes, it’s called mezze. Dessert almost always includes a fruit plate with apples, oranges and kiwis sliced and arranged to look pretty, with grapes piled in the middle.

Here are some of the additional dishes that we enjoyed on our trip, the fun part is that you know you’re getting the regulars but what comes in addition is the surprise.

Meat pie–a round thin crust with savory meat filling inside.  There is also the mushroom pie that is similar.

All types of mushrooms are beloved and cheap in Georgia.

All types of mushrooms are beloved and cheap in Georgia.

Warm Olives with crushed almonds.  Heating up olives makes them way, way better!

Sauteed Leeks topped with hard boiled eggs.  I love how many veggies they manage to bring to the table.

Grape Leaves stuffed with bulgar wheat topped with yogurt.

Pierogies, dumplings, with shaved onions filled with cottage cheese. I’m a sucker for anything that’s filled like a little pillow of goodness.

Chestnut soup with ginger and some nice hot spice.  This I am definitely going to make at home. Delicious!

Spicy Mashed pumpkin with Georgian peppers.  This was surprisingly good–pumpkin deserves our attention.

Fruit like apples, oranges, grapes and kiwis are a common dessert in Georgia

Fruit like apples, oranges, grapes and kiwis are a common dessert in Georgia

 

Roasted Beets with parsley. Another unheralded yet delicious veg.

Smoked eggplant, peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes. Smoked vegetables? Who knew?

Pork chunks cooked on a sword on the fireplace.  A little dry, but tasty anyway.

Polenta with Oyster Mushrooms.  Mushrooms of all types are very frequently served–just the simple braised ones are so good, I think they must be very cheap here because they bring bowl after bowl of them, many different varieties.

Veal stew with tomatoes, peppers, onions parsley and dill. Slow cooked so it’s very tender. This is a common entree.

Roast Chicken covered with tiny garlic flecks. So much garlic you can’t believe it would be good but it was. Sometimes the chicken was a bit tough. Actually usually it was, it might be because they are free range and we’re used to store bought birds.

Matsoni yogurt with cherry jam.  This tart yogurt was served as dessert to us in Ushkali, a very remote 12th century village that took hours and hours to get to but the toothless smile on the grandmother who made it made it taste even better.

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Stalin Museum in Gori: An Awkward Remembrance of the Native Son

October 16, 2014

Tweet   Even before we reached the grim industrial city of Gori, my friends on the bus were talking about how much they wanted to see the museum there dedicated to its most infamous son, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. When we got there, Joseph Stalin’s light green private rail car was what we saw first. He [...]

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Mtskheta’s Church from 603 ad, and Iago and Marina’s Feast

October 15, 2014

Tweet   Our day of travel and exploring across western Georgia began at the home and winery of Iago and Marina Bitarishvili in rural Mtskheta.  This consonant-heavy small town is also the home of one of the country’s oldest churches, which was built high on a hill around the year 603.  Seeing a church built [...]

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