Day 52, 24th May, Stepantsminda

Day Stepantsmindi
We set off early in the mistaken belief that the owner of the lorry park was coming to tap us for some money. In fact someone had arrived to repair the electrics of the Turkish truck parked in front of us. A herd of ferral dogs which had chewed my trouser legs last night glared balefully as we left. Before long we were parked on a hill overlooking the sizeable town of Mtskheta where we had breakfast. I climbed the hillside in search of some bushes for a leak and saw a snake about four feet long slithering away and disappearing in a hole.
We passed the Zhinvali dam (I recall writing about the Zhinvali hydro station in Caucasus Energy Monthly) and came to Ananuri fortified church which was built in 1689 and is therefore comparatively recent but it had some beautiful frescoes.
The road climbed via a long series of hairpins to the Gadauri Pass at a height of 2,395 metres, not as high as the pass of 2,550 metres which we crossed in Turkey, but far more spectacular because the road rose from only 300 metres above sea level. We then descended equally precipitously to the resort town of Stepantsminda about 7 miles south of the Russian border. We were asked if we wanted a ride in a jeep, presumably for a large fee, to the Church of St Gregory, perched high on a mountain top overlooking the town, but decided we could drive up ourselves. Soon discovered that we couldn’t and drove down again. Plan B was to drive to the Russian border where a new monastery, built in 2011, was worth a visit. It is very beautiful and the monks have long black beards and long hair tied in pony tails. Went back to Stepantsminda for a meal and intermittent wifi.

Mtskheta, north of Tbilisi
First indication of Russia
Inquisitive donkey at Zhinvali Dam
Ananuri church
Church tower and Lake Zhinvali
Ananuri battlements
Inside the church
Inside the church
Cows in the road
Hillside climbing up to Gadauri Pass
Wild azalia, Gadauri Pass
Wild cherry
Delicious meal and chef
Approaching Gadauri Pass
The Pass
Medieval watchtower on the Pass
Monastery on border
St Gregory’s church on mountain top
St Gregory’s Church

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