This was our third and final day in Georgia and it turned out to be an auspicious one. I woke up about an hour before sunrise in Tbilisi. Despite the darkness, I could make out these little white particles descending from the sky. It was snowing!
I checked the temperature and it said -7 celsius outside. What a way to mark my last day here in Georgia. We decided to try our luck once more that morning and searched for a minibus that was heading to Gori, a town that is famous for being Joseph Stalin’s hometown.
After doing the same routine at the bus terminal as the previous day, going back and forth and using nothing but sign language, we finally found the marshrutka heading for Gori. We were the first passengers in the van, and their system was to wait for it to fill up before it could depart (same with the jeepneys in the Philippines!) We sat there and waited for what must have been nearly an hour, hoping and praying that each and every pedestrian that passed by was looking to go to Gori as well. It was only when this group of American and British English teachers boarded that the van reached its maximum capacity.
in joseph stalin’s personal carriage
bird’s eye view of gori
The guidebook says that Gori is 1.5 hour away by land from Tbilisi, but it ended up being just 55 minutes, thanks to the breakneck speed driving of our cabbie! It was still snowing when we left Tbilisi but it had started to clear up as we headed west. The scenic countryside was powdery white with barely a soul in sight outside. It would have probably been very scenic as well, though in a different way, had I visited at a different month.
the hometown boy himself
The sun started to show itself by the time we reached Gori but by no means was it warmer than when we left Tbilisi. At first glance, the town looked very Soviet. Where Mtskheta was charming and quaint, Gori felt very boxy, cold and highly impersonal. Well, what else could one expect from the hometown of the Soviet Union’s most notorious ruler? Surely, it had to live up to its reputation and it did.
the georgian flag stands proudly in gori fortress
Despite this, one can still find several traces of medieval history in Gori and this is most evident in the fortress that seems to look over the whole town, like a 24/7 watchdog. Our first activity once we arrived was to climb uphill to reach it – a pretty easy climb by any standards.
gori fortress up close
The citadel is now merely a shadow of what it must have been once. Nothing is left except for the outer walls. Apparently, it was badly damaged during an earthquake in the 1920’s. But the view from up there was exceptionally good, and I could imagine how much better it would be during very clear days.
We stayed up there for a while, with a bored dog following us along the way. We descended the hill with the dog similarly descending with us. Our next stop was the Stalin Museum, which most visitors go to when in Gori.
The museum is housed in an old, (you guessed it!) Soviet style building erected in the 1950’s simply for the purpose of keeping Stalin’s memorabilia. There are several rooms detailing his life through film, pictures and actual objects that he used during his lifetime. One particularly eerie section of the exhibit houses his death mask, complete with eerie red-colored walls and dark pedestal.
We also got someone to show us his train carriage complete with actual furnitures that Stalin used during monumental trips such as to the Tehran Conference in the 1940’s where he met with the other Allied Powers (i.e. UK and USA). We were shown to his actual sleeping quarters with beds that were supposedly kept intact for over 60 years!
The last section of the museum is Stalin’s actual abode – his birthplace, enshrined in a pavilion. Looking like a small hut, Stalin – who once ruled one of the world’s most powerful nation, was actually born in an extremely humble-looking room which his father rented for his cobbling business. This time, the furnishings were just replicas – the caretaker was very quick to point that out!
stalin’s personal desk
He ended by asking us where we were from, and upon answering, we were surprised at his knowledge of Filipino boxers such as Manny Pacquiao. He was quick to point out that he hadn’t encountered any Filipinos visiting the museum before and we were the first he saw. I was not surprised as Georgia is mostly off-radar for most Pinoys.
My short visit to Georgia was finally coming to an end with this excursion to Gori. I came to this country with not a lot of expectations. After all, there is no one extremely well-known landmark here. But for a country of its size and relative obscurity, it sure does punch way above its weight. Great scenery, variety in nightlife, interesting food, extremely hospitable people and with lots of history to boot. It’s been a while since I encountered an unexpected find like this.
How to get there:
From Tbilisi, your best bet is to catch a minibus departing from the Didube teminal. There are a few departures a day for Gori and it depends on when the van gets filled so you may have to wait a while.