Here’s to Another Dozen

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Here’s to the man who has known me for 15 years and has always loved me the most,

who is not afraid to see me or scared that I’ll get boring, and always supports me,

who is willing to try new things and watch me grow as we both change,

who has carried me the furthest and held me the longest,

who stays up to listen to me laugh, cry, or mumble till we both fall asleep,

who kisses my tears and wipes my snot and reminds me why to smile,

who has held my heart and fought to protect it by using his own,

the man I miss the moment he walks out the door, he could be gone for months or more.

Marriage is a dance that requires daily effort and attention,

every day is a tiny celebration that builds on the lasting love that we have made.

You always put me first and though as the years go by,

the types of anniversaries we share grow,

our love is what remains.

Posted in Family, History, Marriage, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

February Q&A

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making bath soap

1. What is your resolution for tomorrow?
Go to a motorbike race with Justin’s family. 

2. Who do you live with?
Currently at Dave’s house in South Africa with Brad, Justin, and Wendy while Caleb is at home in Bahrain.

3. On a scale of 1-10, how sad are you? Why?
I’m bummed about my travel partner and plans but I’m having a relaxing time for the most part, so a low of 2. 

4. Outside, the weather is…
sunny and clear with plenty of clouds while we spent the afternoon at a flea market.

5. What are you obsessively listening to?
the South African accent

6. Are you seeking contentment or excitement?
To be content when exciting things aren’t happening

7. What are three things you need to buy?
bread, milk, and fruit. The house is empty since I’ve been gone but less dirty than the last time I came back.

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charcoal soft-serve in chimney roll

8. Are you in love?
I love myself more than I realize and am more forgiving and patient than most people expect. I’ve lost a lot of love in my life but I’m always ready to return it. 

9. How late did you sleep?
Until around 8:30a this morning. I made up for a week of lack of sleep in South Africa by going to bed at 9p on Friday and sleeping till 11:30a on Sat. 

10. If this day was an animal, which animal would it be?
A unicorn cat, a bit lazy but able to grocery shop, blog, and take a nice shower. 

11. How did you get to work today?
Caleb went into work late today and left me to sleep in; for not having jet lag I seem to need the extra rest. 

12. What is your biggest obstacle right now?
time, as there’s only a limited amount of that. 

13. What’s your favorite question to ask people?
How? How they’re doing or how their day went or how was it there?

14. Did you kiss someone today?
Yes, Caleb before and after he went to brunch with some of the guys from work. I napped while he was gone and he napped when he got back. 

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15. Write down the cure for a broken heart.
Accepting the challenge

16. What was the last performance or concert you went to?
Rocky Horror Picture Show with Justin, Wendy, and Dave in South Africa, the matinee.

17. If you could change something about today, what would it be?
I might not have drank so much coffee (the two ounces that I had) but then I wouldn’t have had the energy for the phone calls I made later. 

18. What’s the most expensive thing you’re wearing now?
My wedding ring, then Samsung smartwatch, purple promise ring, and new flannel pajama set that Caleb ordered on Amazon. 

19. Who is the craziest person in your life?
My dad would say I’m the craziest he knows and that, to me, used to be a compliment. 

20. What word did you overuse today?
Food, I blogged about food and pantomime from December and got a cute comment from Uncle Chester about how I talk about food so much but still look like I need a cheeseburger intervention… as long as it’s veggie. 

21. What is the current buzzword?
Right?! Funnier than it sounds and used more often than I noticed. 

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my pani puri spot, Show Shha

22. What was your prevailing emotion of the day?
Satisfied. I got sleep, ate food, bought more food, got some blogging done, and had a relaxing day. Meanwhile, Caleb feels ill. 

23. What’s the most embarrassing purchase on a recent credit card statement?
I don’t get embarrassed easily, but others do, so I’ll keep my answer discreet.

24. Today you’ve got too much…
clothes I don’t wear, but I’m working on changing that.

25. What’s the last dream you remember?
I forgot my coat for a camping trip and passed up free snacks because I was in a hurry. 

26. Name one item you can’t throw out.
I have a lot of those items, but Goodwill gets lucky sometimes. 

27. Are you the original or the remix? Why?
The remix, not what I started out as, but the same as time and place change but I remain. 

28. When was the last time you were sick?
I’m suffering from the worst headache in a long time and trying to recover from being sick for five days nows. Last time was the same time last month, but less horrendous before I left for South Africa. 

29. Leap year? What did you do with the extra day?
I woke before 7am and was back in bed before 8:30 after an everything bagel to sleep until 2:30 after taking the cold pills Caleb brought home last night. 

Posted in Family, Food, Marriage, People, Places, Things, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

January Q&A

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1. What is your mission?
I’ve written a list of 20 main objectives for the year and expanded on some of them, others will come throughout the year when I’m able to add to them.

2.  Can people change?
Yes, they can make conscious decisions to change their habits and sometimes they are forced to deal with a situation that forces change. 

3. What are you reading right now?
I’m halfway through Political Psychology, a third done with What Would Great Economists Do, and a fifth of the way through the Origin of Species on Kindle.

4. The best part of today?
Running a mile and getting an email from Caleb less than 24 hours of him being underway, especially not knowing if I’d be able to hear from him. 

5. What was the last restaurant you went to?
Dome yesterday to get a croissant that I put in my plastic bag I carry in my purse for its foldability, otherwise, I’d use one of the canvas ones from the States.

6. Today was tough because…
It wasn’t. All I had to do was pack my bag for Georgia, pick up my lens from the shop, do dishes and take out the trash, and have dinner with friends. 

7. You are lucky; how so or not so?
I got to keep my carry-on bag with me, got a free lunch, a cheaper room, and service enough to find it. 

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8. What song is stuck in your head?
Mostly Christmas jingles from today but the guys in the lobby were listening to YMCA.

9. Was today typical? Why or why not?
Not, I saw 3 religious buildings in Mtskheta and got to search for a place to sleep in Gori. 

10. Write down something that inspired you today.
Driving through the snow-touched trees and seeing them covered in snow on the mountains. 

11. Today you lost…
Maybe some time driving with Dima but gained views I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. 

12. What’s your favorite accessory?
My camera to capture the awesome, my phone to guide me there, and my coat to keep me warm and dry. 

13. Where do you want to travel next?
Sharm el-Sheikh for diving and Morocco for hiking and South Africa with Justin. 

14. Are you a leader or a follower?
I followed today, behind the local drivers and the guys to their fancy hotel for free dinner and secondhand smoke. 

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15. On a scale of 1-10, how was your lunch today?
7, I tried a new tea that I’m saving half of for Caleb and a layered nut cake that I ate out of the bag.

16. Do you owe someone money? Does someone owe you?
Nope, just lessons learned in how to travel better next time. 

17. What’s the oldest thing you’re wearing today?
My promise ring from 2007 before my wedding ring in 2008… and my favorite bird, the owl, necklace from our 11-year anniversary. 

18. What was peaceful about today?
Making a moisturizing serum and some resin with rose petals, lavender bulbs, and dried lemon as lids/coasters and posting pictures of the candles Justin made yesterday, that I labeled. 

19. List three foods you ate today.
Al Abraaj bread with hummus, tortellini, bowtie pasta, fried rice, and sugar cookies.

20. Are you holding a grudge? About?
No, humans will make their choices and it’s not on me to make them change but to make decisions that fit my goals. 

21. What are you looking forward to?
The week I will be spending in east South Africa with Justin and Wendy whom I met Jan 3 and today, respectively. 

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22. Are you seeking security or adventure?
A bit of both as I plan my trip to South Africa, which is on the Top Ten list of crime countries, with Justin and Wendy. 

23. Do you need a break? From what?
I actually need to get to blogging about Georgia before I go to South Africa, but I should have time to write about both before my trip to the States in April. 

24. If you were going to start your own company, what would it be?
I’m actually becoming a hidden partner in Designed by Snow which creates candles, soaps, serums, and other relaxing bath-inspired products. 

25. What makes “you” you?
My ability to seem to connect with people only to never really keep in touch with them. 

26. Today you needed more…
I slept till 2pm after going to bed early because I’m dealing with being sick while I should be packing for my trip to South Africa in two days. 

27. Which art movement best describes you today?
Realism, as the reality of my trip to South Africa settles in and I leave jewelry and electronics behind. 

28. How do you describe home?
Wherever I happen to be sleeping at the moment, but more so where I can be myself. 

29. What was the last TV show you watched?
“The Story of God with Morgan Freeman: Heaven and Hell” on the flight to South Africa.

30. What do you want to forget?
The little unhappy moments of this trip.

31. Who do you want to be?
Exactly who I am, regardless of how others treat me. 

Posted in Art, Books, Food, Friends, Marriage, Media, Music, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Shadows, Sunrise, Stalin, Snow

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Awake and surrounded by darkness, I turn on the TV to watch a minute of a mustachioed man run a marathon, like an Indian version of Forrest Gump, to let my eyes adjust before walking into the dining area for fresh coffee with my cookies I saved from last night. I was waiting for the sun to touch the horizon so I could set off on foot and explore the area a bit, though I would have waited to drive as well because in the absence of light so much of the sights are obscured.

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Okona Day Church

I don’t remember if I told the hotel clerk where I was going but when he saw me step outside the front door he quickly joined me and pointed left. I thanked him as I crossed the street and admired the ditches between the sidewalk and the road — to drain the rain, keep cars from sliding into shops in the snow, and a convenient place to put potted plants if there isn’t a version of a planked driveway there. There’s an old prison-bank-museum-looking building and the only thing I can read on the sign is USAID which has given $1.8 billion since 1992, perhaps to help strip the doors, paint, and windows from this leftover frame to help another project.

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sunrise over Gori, Georgia

Casting light from under evergreens and onto the street is a small park with a monument dedicated to Nikoloz Baratashvili, which in the shadows gives the impression that he has two faces. He wrote about Georgia asking for help from the Russian Empire, a situation that would last over 100 years until 1918. He would use what little he was able to write to introduce Romanticism into Georgian Nationalism, not when he died in 1845 in Azerbaijan but starting in 1861 when he was finally published and idolized.

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Memorial of Georgian War Heroes below Gori Fortress

 

Georgia would again claim independence, this time from the Soviet Union in 1991, after a rule of 70 years. In the five day war of 2008, Georgia lost 170 soldiers and 224 civilians, left over 20,000 people displaced, and 20% of their land occupied with Russians in violation of the ceasefire. This is also the first time that a cyberattack of news websites and military hostilities took place at the same time. People have pointed fingers to blame everyone but themselves for the atrocities that humanity so badly craves.

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Virgin Mary Temple

I suppose I’ve never seen myself as racist, religious, or reactionary and perhaps that’s because I’ve not believed in something so strongly that I would be willing to kill people for it (though I’m sure some of my habits endanger their daily livelihoods). I know I’m going off-track, but countless countries/territories have killed their own people to make a point, which is why the American Constitution forbids states from seceding from the Union but they may create more states within themselves with the consent of Congress.

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Virgin Mary Temple

Some people travel for work (hotels, airport lounges, business meetings, and upscale restaurants), some for pleasure (resorts, Instagram worthy beaches, yachts), some for escape (from the 9-5, the abuse from a loved one, or as a way to find a new life interest), and for some, there’s a passion to find more — history, knowledge, understanding, empathy, beauty, and love — and to share that with the world you encompass. I know there are many more reasons why people cross borders and try to redraw them to international acceptance but lines in the sand are arbitrary and used to divide people when we should be coming together and growing more positively.

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Virgin Mary Temple

Anyhow, I continue past the tall and skinny pine trees as the sky begins to change colors and see the Okona Day Church, walk on the cobbled streets past three iPhone stores, and read some graffiti, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here!” Some of the homes look like the façade of a Western main street with modern brick and stone upgrades. I reach the entrance path to the Gori Fortress and am met with a guard dog who is easily tamed and maintains its distance while I tell him about the amazing sunrise he’s about to miss.

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I always wondered if my dogs appreciated the broad visual newness I gave them, but being inept in vision as they got older definitely didn’t help, though they always loved the sounds, textures, and smells of a place in a way I couldn’t… or didn’t want to. The wind picks up as I move away from the protective shell of shops and homes and up the hill to take a picture of the fort and then the sunrise, then turn and repeat using the stairs to my advantage until they turn me behind a wall and block the view of the sky that resembles a ripped blanket on fire.

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There’s a fenced-off hole in the ground when I reach the top and I turn my back to the sun peeking over the mountain and the ferocious wind to get closer to the edge for another look. On the other side of the Mktvari River is the St. George’s Church which offers a steep hike, whether on foot or via car, to this picturesque place on the top of the shorter peak in the mountain range. I should’ve taken the time to walk around the perimeter of the fort built by the 13th century and looked up how to get to the church built 500 years or so later, but I’m always leaving something to come back for.

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Gori Municipality Administration

I can barely make out a badge on his shoulder as the rest of his body is covered by a green military blanket while he lies on a cot. Under his youthful face looks like a pillow my dad could sleep on, one stuffed to the max with origami, where the kid’s head is attempting to make a dent to escape the cold. His guard shack is half wood and half glass and there are a thick pair of gloves next to a ceramic cup. I slowly step away as not to disturb him while also making sure I don’t trip over something that destroys me.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

I decide to pet the dog that approaches as I’m leaving the fort but our meeting is short as his two friends catch up and they run off, squeezing under a fence and probably looking for breakfast. This draws my attention to a little green bin surrounded by cigarette butts with the sticker “Ultras Against Racism” on it. Ultras are extreme sports fans that use banners and flares in stadiums and also like using their influence to support their political views. I also learned that the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, was started as a charity to push Sharia Law. The year of the Arab Spring legalized the group but it was later considered to be a terrorist organization by many countries.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

At the end of the path is a house that appears to be abandoned, but many of the lived-in ones give that impression from the outside. On the wall is written a bunch of expletives so, of course, I must go and walk down the stairs built into the sidewalk past the bottles and broken doors. I probably would’ve entered the gate at the bottom had it not been locked. I’m quite sure someone knew I was coming and helped keep me from an international incident due to trespassing and not being able to explain why I felt important enough to go on private property.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

Next on the morning’s agenda is to see the Memorial of Georgian Warrior Heroes, but first I must pass by a small sacrifice of books and what appears to be a steering wheel cover but is actually a much longer hose that has been set on its cardboard pyre for its partial burning before being left charred and covered in ash. Perhaps this is some foretelling of what these men have seen, and if so, I’m grateful they managed so I hopefully don’t see that violence so close in my lifetime, though others are still forced to struggle with that reality while trying to find a place to call home.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

The statues are massive as each one sits on a stone in a large circle, all broken in their own way — stab wounds, missing limbs, and decapitation. I take them in one-by-one and then as a whole to acknowledge the solemnness of this historical marker. I’ve spent the morning in my sole company so the man on his morning walking run quickly grabs me (not literally) out of the mood by tossing a piece of bread to a dog who is now taking the liberty of pooping in the middle of a large, but luckily clear, intersection.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

I’m drawn into the courtyard of the Virgin Mary Temple and after a walk around the perimeter make my way through the colorful entrance, with a mosaic above the door, into a more highly painted scene, some of which is still in progress — and all using a majority of baby blue, brick red, and honey orange to tell the story of Jesus. I’m then frozen as one voice is joined by another by sounds I’ve only heard recorded, Gregorian chants, that speak to my soul as the words aren’t for me to interpret but to feel, and it’s magical. I would be drawn to any meeting place to leave with this sense of wellbeing instead of the fear and guilt I grew up with attending services as a child.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

I’m walking on thin ice (meaning in a precarious or risky situation; also referring to a song by Pink Floyd released in 1979, episode 57 of MacGyver aired in 1988, and a documentary that was premiered on Earth Day 2012) back to the car. I’m sitting at a red light and watching the countdown timer for the left green arrow and wondering how many accidents that helps prevent by providing the driver a more accurate measure of how much time is left to get through the intersection. Perhaps it’s just the courteousness of the driving population in general that sets the standards for road manners regardless of local regulations.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

Approaching Uplistsikhe Cave Town and there are friendly roadside horses and rambunctious dogs that can’t control their excitement but to bark and chase the car. I’m nervous to get out for fear they will scratch my camera or me if they’re the jumping kind but they seem to know that they’re not allowed inside the gate, neither is decorating, destroying, or drinking. Beware of the falling rocks and people and pay 20 more lari for a guide service if you need an interpreter.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

The path to the “lord’s fortress” historical-architectural museum-reserve starts to the right and looks like the rock has been worn down by wagon wheels for more than two millennia. This place was re-established in 1979 after six centuries of abandonment, but no longer as a hub for religious, political, and commercial activities although a church and basilica are still present. I take the tunnel to get inside, and once up the 80 plus stairs, I see the one building that’s not like the rest of the surrounding structure, a difference which can clearly be seen from the road as well.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

The view is awe-inspiring as I imagine the wealth of possibilities spread out in the river, trees, plains, and mountains beyond. I picture the people here busy learning how their world works via creating language, making food, studying religion, and surviving attacks as other cultures and empires clash for control of the region. As I climb higher, the scene gets more expansive and the wind more bitter. I take refuge in each room between the more virulent bursts of unseen air to see the burnt stone with modern names carved in and concrete supporting this elderly structure.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

I could live here with the built-in shelves and stoves, but would definitely want a Dutch door installed to block the wind but keep the sun coming in. There are faint greens and blues with bright rusts and whites, either growing bacteria or mineral deposits, that have agreed to this living arrangement minus the need to adjust for the weather as it meets their requirements perfectly. There’s also a touch of candle wax from the multitudes of visitors that may be trying to connect with their ancestors or praying that their life maintains its friendly warmth and isn’t soon left to be cold year-round.

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Uplistsikhe Cave Town

There are stairs, paths, and numbered signs but I’m not concerned with marking them all off my list of things seen here as I’m more focused on the varying heights of arches, random rocks in the sand, and how the landscape changes in the summer. I wish I’d been given more time to talk with my grandparents about less trivial matters but they each had a drama of their own and none of them contained the secret to the past that I would be looking for here. I would love to hear or comprehend the simplicities and such difficulties that were required for daily survival in such a harsh environment as the past.

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The church door was installed behind a piece of rock that juts out from its arch, so it wears a simple red scarf to make sure it stands out more. Inside is the austerity of decoration and the deterioration of architecture; the faces are darker and the candles unlit. Back outside is a cute Western Rock Nuthatch, a small passerine bird, found in 19 countries from Slovenia to Iran. The birds use rock crevices as homes and as a place to wedge seeds and snails to assault them with their beaks until they break.

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I pass by the wine cellar, number 11 on the map, the most northerly structure here, and definitely modern. I don’t proceed closer due to the little wire wrapped lock to keep the gate closed and the short stone wall I could step over. I don’t know if there are visiting hours or if it’s closed for another reason. Over the rust-colored bridge and the flat rock, past the other entrance with twice as many stairs, and I’m once again on the outside of this piece of history (as time capsules are smaller and interesting in their own right).

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Stalin Museum

All it took was me lifting my camera in the museum to lose that privilege. It was a small hall with a few items pertaining to the caves and a film that talked about the role the Silk Road aka the Transcaucasian Trade-Transit Trunk played in forming the region as it changed due to the politics, economics, religion, and military control of the current empire until the route’s decline in the 15th century when sea transport became a more popular way to deliver Chinese silk to the west.

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Stalin Museum

Religion also played a role as Christian monks and missionaries built temples within fortifications as a place for those traveling in the North Caucasus to change horses, spend the night safely, and hire a guide for the next part of their journey. The area and route would see Arab control bring Islam, Pagan worship from the Greco-Roman pantheon, and the spread of Buddhism from China. Remnants of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Daoism structures also remain as a reminder of how trade is more than just an exchange of goods, but of belief systems, languages, and lifestyles.

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Stalin Museum

Sharing my path with nature is something I grew up with and there are parts of childhood, no matter how disturbing the background, that brings comfort as an adult — this is one of them. I spent time riding a bike or running through the woods, looking out for horses, goats, cows, turkeys, and sheep (not all owned by us) along with all the dogs we had through the years. I was a birdwatcher before I knew it was a professional hobby and used to spend part of my day watching clouds go by, plants growing at their pace, and lying quiet so I could hear bugs dance and sing undisturbed.

This memory makes watching the Eurasian magpies fly, the hooded crows eat, and the Georgian mountain cows walk along a bridge all the more memorable as I wish I had more time for moments like this. I look forward to Caleb retiring, even if just for a year, so we can both spend days enjoying the simplicity of life that technology has afforded us. This thought process makes me want to go back to dirt roads and aluminum roofing for slower traffic and a lullaby on rainy nights. I appreciated what I had as a kid and I still do because life has brought me love and lessons and left me longing for more, but when I’m traveling with just the bag on my back, I feel I have all I need.

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Stalin Museum

I drive back to Gori and abruptly pull over to get a piece of bread the size of my steering wheel, like a large fluffy pizza crust, after seeing it in the baker’s window. I park the car in front of the municipality administration building to walk along Stalin Avenue to the museum also dedicated to the former dictator. Outside is a replica of Stalin’s house rebuilt under a yellow stone tent with white columns and an orange and yellow stained-glass roof — a star surrounded by squares. The larger building looks like it holds a university, but walking inside feels like being a wealthy individual greeted by a collonade, marble stairs, and a chandelier.

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Stalin Museum

I make my way merrily to the top of the stairs and take in the royal view of a red carpet, purple light, and more marble. The windows have colored glass and metal shutters cut into a pattern to add depth and delicate design to the interior. I’m about to waltz through this museum when the upstairs doorkeeper kindly lets me know I’m not gaining more access until I go downstairs and pay my 15 lari. I’m back in three minutes with my little slip of blue paper with the price and image of the museum on it in the corner under half a circular stamp.

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Stalin Museum

Room one is mostly pictures of people who helped the varying ages of Stalin, a tinier replica of his house, a woven image of him, and documents such as “The Morning”, a poem by J. Dzhugashvili in a 1916 edition of “Deda ena”, a book by J. Gogebashvili for learning the alphabet and elementary reading. The second room has a book by Stalin, “Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR”, 1952, and a table from the conference room in the Kremlin. The next room is all military based photos of soldiers, maps, guns, smoke, and Stalin in uniform.

The exhibit hall contains gifts from the countries who loved him around the world — a lamp with a tank commemorating 9 May 1945, a carpet of Stalin and an officer from Baku, Azerbaijan, and a grain of rice from India with a microscopic message on it. There’s a small corner room that gives me the feeling of being in a giant sarcophagus mausoleum with a head bust on a pillow and black walls. Another hall for more books and busts and cases filled with a metal vase from Germany, a colored sand portrait from Ukraine, red Dutch clogs, and plenty of pieces from Georgia and China.

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I stop for a powdered donut on the way back to the car and it tastes like a fluffed hamburger bun. I will pass three soccer fields (only green in town in the winter), two sleeping dogs (taking permanent naps), and some fat chickens as I drive north. I realize that the police always ride with their lights on (if not it’s a speed trap). I also pass wind turbines, fruit stands, and trucks with carcasses hung up for roadside shopping. I notice snow starting to fall and appreciate the quality of the roads as I realize I get to drive through the inspiration for Winter Wonderland minus the crowds and flashing lights.

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The roads are surprisingly clear for the amount of snow on the trees and options to stop are limited — railing, tree line, rock face, ditch, and concrete barriers. I’m grateful as I pass a man up to his knees in the snow that I didn’t try to pull over and risk getting stuck as the fog starts to settle on the street. A car passes a semi-truck going uphill around a turn forcing me to hit my brakes or them head-on going downhill on a wet road. I’m about 10 km away from my planned detour and I stop for juice. The first place wouldn’t give me the display, the second shop only had water and Pepsi, but the third store had cherry nectari, not Fanta.

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After passing a NATO Partnership Training and Education Center building I’m approaching what I think will be a tunnel, not arched and reinforced but simply cut from the rock. It turns out to be a small cave with two staircases and a fountain that perhaps works in another season. It seems I won’t be riding the famous cable cars of Chiatura today as I’ve found the ones used to transport coal and then my phone loses signal so I’m unable to search for the other one.

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Rain joins the fog and parts of the road are missing so I either have to go around or crawl over the damaged sections causing me to pay much more attention to a road than ever before. I still let cars and dump trucks in as I focused on the passing headlights, noticing most of them are dim or dirty and only one driver had their brights on. This inclement weather doesn’t slow them down and they always use a blinker. Here, the “children crossing” sign is more of a “children playing karate” sign. I’m happy to be back on the highway, this has to be a first, but there are so many missed picture opportunities of houses and buildings that the American system would condemn based on the under-construction appearance that the locals use to fit their needs.

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I was able to stop and see a statue though that looked like a soldier being protected by his guardian angel. On each side was a flag, the well known red and white one on the right and a half blue – half green with an orange cross on the left. Down the street, on a corner, stands the Katskhi Monastery. From the tattered sign, I’m able to gather that the church was built over 1,000 years ago, was burned and rebuilt twice, the roof of the dome is like a half-open umbrella, and that hundreds of books were rewritten here. I took a minute or five too long appreciating the outside to even get a peek at the inside. When the woman was getting picked up by her husband, he asked something and she looked back at me as the answer as I scurried through the gate so she could lock up.

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The low-air light on the dashboard comes on and I pull over to a gas station, most equipped with air, tires, fluids, and other car essentials like water, snacks, and coffee are to the drivers. The guy restarts the car in an attempt to reset the symbol. Then he holds the unlock button on the key fob until all the windows roll down. It’s a neat trick but it won’t be helping with the tires. On the second stop, I went up to a shop window and held my phone up for the five guys to read and one guy got up from the card game. He checked the tires and told me to circle the lot and said I was good to go.

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I wish I could’ve just trusted their judgment but I didn’t want to be left stranded somewhere so I went to a third gas station and this guy didn’t read Georgian. I didn’t feel like taking the time to get onto his wifi to change to Russian, so I continued on to get an actual third opinion from another guy who agreed with the first two. Then I had a guy inside the shop offer me his tour guide services. I thought he was trying to sell me food or a boat, so I’m sure that would have been an interesting experience.

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Katskhi Monastery

I had plans to see some places tonight in Kutaisi but with the tire issue, sprinkling rain, and still needing to find a room I decide the attractions can wait until morning. I knocked on a door, rattled a gate, and the third place was in ruins. I was on my way to another guest house and stopped at Hotel Rio because I saw the sign and parking for three, possibly six if I got blocked in. The two Russian girls walked me down the long hall to room 7 with a single bed and told me 40 for the night after they searched to make sure the translation was right. I thanked them and grabbed my bag from the car and what’s left of my bread, that’s now the size of my hand.

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The girls offered me tea and coffee and came down to my room to turn the heat on. I wish they could do the same in the bathroom, where the door seal keeps the cold air and water tightly within, so I’m hoping the hot water warms the freezing floor. As I wait for my room to warm up a bit so I can start to remove my coat and boots I look up at the heater that reads, “Don’t put your hand into the air outlet.” I trim my two chipped nails and get some semi-warm tea down the hall, in my socks, to drink while I talk with Caleb as he walks home with John and Justin, a coworker and his husband.

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Candles in Cathedrals to Convents

The great thing about exploring a city while staying at a hotel that serves breakfast hours after you’re ready to go is that you can come back and eat after some early morning exploring… even after waking up early and going back to sleep. Sunset comes with people scurrying around but as the sun begins to blink its eyes open and share that light with this portion of the planet the pace is slower and calm as I stop to take in the artificial yellow glow along the streets.

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I park a few minutes’ walk from the Trinity Cathedral even though there is parking outside the gate and I’m just able to catch the facade lit up before it went dark 48 seconds later. Religions went the opposite route in modesty when it came to building God’s house and I wouldn’t mind living in a tiny non-denominational version with all the best features — candlelight, stained-glass windows, and futon pews (from levee to leisure), but it’s the peasant’s job to live in a humble home while appreciating the creations of others without coveting their location.

The inside is marvelous and I take a photo-shooting spree before a hooded cleric kindly acknowledges that of course this religious structure has the same no-photo policy, as do all buildings without security that are full of gold, precious gems, and beautifully carved and probably rare wood types. I appreciate the few others milling about but wonder about the acoustics of the high ceilings with a melodious congregation during a worship service that I would feel lucky to witness.

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I notice a woman wrapping her legs in one of the scarves provided (that I thought was just for hair) but the no-pants symbol on the sign of what not to do in church makes more sense now. I’m not the only woman who doesn’t cover my leg gap but I do wear my hood where others reveal their mane. I understand why there would be tourist churches and ones for locals-only or timings to accommodate both in any country and religion so that the parishioners may pray without distraction.

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A man sees my camera and me pointing it at everything in sight as the sunlight is constantly changing the shadows of the church and its surroundings. He ushers me to a gate and lets me in saying, ”go, go” as he gestures towards the peacocks on a rooftop behind two trees. I take advantage of being on this side of the fence and get a closer look at the swans as well before thanking him as he talks to a friend before I’m offered another vantage point of the Trinity Cathedral.

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The sun has cleared the horizon and I attempt to find an outdoor museum via the roundabout that is Heroes Square and consists of up and down road options in six directions. I’m not good with numbers but I know I could’ve been there for hours and I hadn’t eaten yet, so I choose to save it for another time in the future. I park near the shops in a designated spot instead of navigating the street parking and walk to Guest House Zemeli for a fresh-made breakfast while I sip tea.

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I’m not sure if they were elder or juneberries but the crunch of their seeds went well with the soft bread covered in tabs of butter. The main dish was an egg served with a thin slice of ham, like prosciutto, a grain that looked like bulger wheat, and a soft, crumbly cheese brick that filled a quarter of the plate. To help digest all the food I would take an over two-kilometer walk roundtrip to the Rustaveli Theatre that I thought was a museum… either way they would both be closed at this hour.

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I would detour on the way back and return to First Republic Square (or Rose Revolution Square) where the Christmas market was now void of everyone but the few guards patrolling and me getting a chance to look at the 12-foot hollowed-out heart with gold shiny bits, to attract a line of selfie-takers, without the queue. I love people but I also love the absence of them. I’m grateful the planet still affords me the opportunity to appreciate both, in the countryside and in a city with a population of over 1.1 million residents.

I parked by the curb of a garage located on the other side of the walkway from the street and watched a car pull up for basic services — tires, fluids, etc. I arrived at an old-looking school building around the corner but this one with hammer and sickle on the doors –meaning Stalin’s house should be nearby. Nevermind that I was 20 minutes early, the arrow said open to the left, so I proceeded to give myself a tour of the well shed, with a hole big enough for two men to hug each other, then down the brittle metal circular staircase to a dark room (lit with my phone) to show a typographic machine with a rusted hurricane lantern shell dangling above.

I made it back up the stairs without needing a tetanus shot from my ankle being enveloped in a rusty bacteria-covered step and into a pink wallpapered room with portraits, books, a smaller typographic machine, and a bed that looked more like a storage trunk. I was about to see myself out when a guy came and turned on the lights and then went back inside to grab something — a summary of the museum in English, even though he would proceed to give me the tour in Russian and with hand gestures.

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I was told that the skinny (and wet) well is where the parts for the large typographic machine were put down so that they could be reassembled in the hidden basement once they were brought across a tunnel and up a dry well. With the lights on I’m able to make out 1893 on the machine and see the sturdy ladder that survived the explosion of the house and well in 1906 when the police found out and then filled the well with soil. The buildings were restored between 1922 and 1957 when the museum first opened.

The brochures and other anti-king literature were printed in Georgian, Armenian, and Russian though most of the tourists that visit are from China who come to pay their respects to another communist. As my guide shows me how the plate would be placed and then the wheel rotated to bring the paper up to wet ink I think about the effects too much efficiency has had on civilization and their expectations for immediate gratification. I would love to be typing this on an electric typewriter and getting to hear the bing as I returned to the left margin, but that’s because I have the luxury of time.

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The tour continues in the green wallpapered room with more portraits, stacks of books, and a roped-off bed. I’m impressed with a three-in-one image (that the pictures will better describe) and wonder about the model of the illegal printery in Baku, Azerbaijan that now has the Flame Towers (representing the coat of arms) since 2013 overlooking the largest city on the Caspian Sea. Though I’m really more concerned about the actual building and getting to see another part of this story told from another perspective.

To think I almost left without experiencing the second bedroom and not realizing there’s also a museum inside the school-looking building. My guide points to a group of faces and motions as to what their job was — assemble, print, distribute — and then gestured for me to take pictures of it all. We go into another room with a map that lights up tracing the spread of the movement before I’m shown to a special office where I’m guessing Stalin sat for phone calls and lunch. I’m then asked to pay the 5 lari museum entrance fee and shown the door with a smile.

I pull up to the fuel pump, most of them allowing you street access without a barrier, and this one is conveniently at an intersection corner. I was told in the rental lot to put diesel in the tank but was unaware I’d have two options to choose from. I can’t see the price on the sign and I’m not concerned about the cost difference but ensuring the guy who will be pumping for me grabs the proper handle. Once that’s established, I have to signal to him to give me a full tank costing 98 lari, about $35, as I’m not sure what to expect on the road ahead on my way to Tbilisi National Park.

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It took me half an hour to get outside the city limits leaving me with roadside ruins, leafless trees, and a few dogs to see for the next 20 minutes before I got to the no cars/no killing sign of the park with another sign letting me know that there’s video control. The road getting here wasn’t bad (as I had heard), a bit bumpy but clearly marked and scenic. As I continued, my path became more beautiful, foggy, eerie, frosty, and forbidding.

I love driving on curvy, cliffside roads but that’s because I’m used to the integrity of the pavement, whether it’s covered in rain, snow, or ripples (corrugated) and I’m usually not alone when the road turns into remnants with a long fall on one side and a ditch on the other or leaving the car bottomed out on the thin line of a lane that I’m maneuvering hoping that any moment I will have arrived at the Big Viewpoint Trail that I had planned on walking or cycling if bikes are available to rent.

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After the condition of the road like that, I’m hesitant to go any further and turn around as soon as it’s semi-safe to do so. There’s another road and I will take it down to what appears to be a large family of farmhouses and stop at the cemetery that looks like people were buried within the foundations of their old homes and then a park was built with fences on the concrete surrounding the headstones within. Some have picnic tables inside and there are others around but they don’t look like they’ve been sat on in years.

There’s a sign for the Mamkoda Loop for bicycles in 29km but I’m not sure if that was the road I was on or if it would be fit for my biking skill level if I were able to reach it. Back at the road where each habitat comes with its version of animal crossing to watch out for — cows in Texas, bears in Canada, camels in Oman, and dogs in Georgia. I get out of the car and make acquaintances with the skittish mutt before sharing some food, not by us taking turns licking or nibbling, but tossing it on the rocks and giving the pup space.

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I notice some ruins to my left and as I pull over to take a picture I’m greeted with the welcome sign of the national park which lets me know that it was established to maintain its treacherous forest appearance, complete with lynx that probably hunt the red deer, and all the bike trails are off-road so I’m fine stopping at whatever is in front of me now but there are no pedaling plans at this point.

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Below, across a dry river bed crossing, is an old fort and a road that goes two ways — one leads to a two-story structure and a car the size of a Honda Civic with a dozen men standing around it (clown car scenario or maybe their Uber is late) and the other direction that leads to mysterious trees and ruins up in the mountains. The men are in camouflage and coats and there’s a campfire ring with no smoke. Perhaps they’re inspecting the car as it might’ve been abandoned. Two of the men decide to wander over and check on me before heading back to the group.

I’m fine with seeing a bit of the rocks, sticks, moss, chipped paint, and dried fruit that the buildings have to offer as I climb their varied stairs to look through doors and windows at different angles before leaving the possibility of becoming an extra in the Russian film in-the-making where I end up bleeding for one reason or another. I used to be into more gory movie scenes until I realized they could be based on real-life situations and then that punishment lost its humor — like the blurred line between childhood and becoming an adult.

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Anyway, back on the road and driving west I stop at the Eastern Orthodox Church where there seems to be a photoshoot going on. I bypass the family but am quickly and kindly redirected to take my camera to the tourist site just minutes down the road. The arch where the group was focusing their pictures is ok but this is a more private religious venue and I can respect that. The Jvari Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in Mtskheta is beautiful and was on my list of places to see.

I wasn’t expecting the wind and was a bit hungry when I stepped out of the car but the food stalls are empty so I’ll have to wait. This church was built in the 6th century around the octagonal base of a large wooden cross that was erected in the 300s, hence its other name Church of Holly Cross, and was built in the tetraconch style to contain four apses, semicircular domes, with one in each direction but maintaining a squarish exterior. There were other structures built as well but the Caucasus mountains and the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers grew without human influence until the 1920s.

As I prepare myself for the view of Mtskheta below I lift my thin waterproof hood over my ears and try to tuck my head into its protective shell. The wind still bites, it will every time, but regardless of who I’m with or how I’m dressed, I can’t seem to let a little bit of weather get between me and a new experience or sharing the unfamiliar through someone else’s view. I prefer the desert heat or the mountainous snow or the warm comfort of rain (when I’m not trying to take photos) but as much as I tell myself I don’t like the wind, I sure do find us hanging out whenever we get the chance.

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I’m able to squeeze in a few quick pics between the couples taking proof with their phones that they were here and that they too endured the journey that brought them to this mountaintop on a Thursday afternoon. Inside, fighting against the dark is sun, fire, and electricity. Though the arched ceiling might be sixty feet away what’s in arm’s reach feels simple, shiny, and small but all so very splendid to the soul. I’m falling in love with the story of this place (more the bringing people together today, not the faults of history from years gone by) when a piece of plastic blows by in the sky.

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This shows me that no place is perfect but when looked at, and cared for, through love I put on my rosy sunglasses that come with plenty of blind spots and I’m able to appreciate the roughness of a place or its people just a bit more so that they fit into my fairy tale childhood stories of how magical a place should be, but the cruel truth is that usually the dirtier and poorer the country, the sweeter the people, the tastier the food, and the more I feel at home, but that’s probably just my bias coming from a small town in Texas that’s not on the list of places named Podunk.

I leave one parking lot to use another and get a more distant view of the Jvari Monastery on my way to the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral Temple, the second-largest church building in Georgia after the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi, which is also the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world. With limited parking and such a crowd drawer down the street, it makes sense that the local merchants would set up shop on the cobbled path selling candy, clothes, coffee, and curios.

I stepped into Check-in Garden and asked the guy at the bar if they had khachapuri adjaruli, but did this by pointing to a picture that resembles the fishers (bread boat) under the sun (egg) and living on the sea (cheese) that in this case fills the baked treat perfectly but is more than I was prepared to eat. I’m guided downstairs where I’m given a glass of Alazani Valley red to sip while I look through the menu (which I always do, even after I know what I want) and explore the different seating areas available.

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With a satiated stomach and a pocket full of bread, I made my way past the scaffolding on the wall surrounding the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and take a lap around the outside to appreciate the stone barrier contrasting against the mountains and the clouds with evergreens and wooden benches spaced unevenly on the inside of the wall. Even the aged exterior entrance is drenched in details from the engraved wood and stone to the mural above the door.

The inside looks touched but clean, ancient but preserved, and has dark corners with plenty of natural light coming in to brighten the golden haloes on the walls and all the marbled grave markers on the floor. Young and old are awestruck at the design, deterioration, and dedication in preserving and continuing to use a part of history that struggled to keep peace in this setting while bloody battles were being fought to determine which religion, language, skin color, political belief, etc. would be in charge of the region for the next ruling period — from days to decades.

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There was a nice outhouse building, like one you’d find at a national park, but the door was locked. I was in luck as there was another WC sign, this one pointing under the roadway, like what a troll — ones living under bridges according to Three Billy Goats Gruff not the popular toy of the 90s created by Thomas Dam in 1959 or the popular internet ones that started in the 80s or the film that was released in 1986 — would use if they needed a free squat toilet.

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Up ahead is Saint Nino’s Makvlovani — which refers to the garden of spirituality under a blackberry bush with the blessing of the Mother of God — has stones in it that are curved on one side to go around a pipe and flat on the other. Makvlovani also refers to a smaller church (where a beheading and parties are painted within) that happens to be in front of the Samtavro Convent where I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. I admired all the jewels and gold in their protective kissing cases and especially the one that had clothes appearing on a body in a glass casket.

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I know having a camera can seem like a distraction but I feel like it offers me two points of view. I snap an image of what I see in the moment and I’m given a second chance to see what else was captured while I was narrowly focused on a certain aspect of the scene. Trying to take pictures that help tell a story to encourage me to see more of the details that would otherwise go unnoticed or be forgotten in the minutiae of the experience as time goes on and the elements that were once bold blend together to create a blur of a memory that was once vivid.

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I would love to see that convent again and I suppose my option is to revisit the country for more perspective and research what I can and appreciate that some things or events are better left to be built in the memory and not ruined by flash cameras or grainy film. I unknowingly take the shorter route back but also wanted a different view. I’m glad I did as this brought me past a dog to share my leftover lunch bread with before watching two others play tug-o-war with an old towel.

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I pay for my parking spot as I debate whether to sleep here for the night or continue on as I had planned in my not-so-rigid itinerary. It’s about 70 minutes to Gori where there will be another guest house. I’m racing the sunset as I hit 90 km/h but the road is like walking here. You need to be constantly vigilant or a bump or giant pothole could change your day. I also had to pull over once or ten times to capture the clouds on the right side of the road as it’s not easy, or safe, to put the camera out the passenger window while I’m stretched across the car.

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Just as I’m leaving Grakali I see a roadblock twenty butts wide to include both shoulders. The two sheepherders were able to get their flock of some 200 sheep to give me enough room to pass. The sun is gone from the sky as I begin my nighttime search for a bed. My first stop is Guesthouse Svetlana. I feel like I’m trespassing as I walk up to the kitchen door and knock, loudly and twice, at the woman watching TV with her feet up just two meters from me. Another door opens and I’m invited in as a man is leaving.

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The hostess went into the room downstairs to “count the beds” and was told that they are full by the girls already in them. I didn’t want to sleep in a brothel but I didn’t want to be rude if there did happen to be a private room upstairs so I continued to wait while she scream-talked at someone for minutes before telling me to enjoy my journey… elsewhere.  I went to Tamar Guest House on the next street over but the gate was locked so I couldn’t even approach the door. At least that way I know their beds are full and don’t have to waste time sitting awkwardly alone at a dining table.

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I started to look for hotels instead as I wasn’t in the mood to drive door to door as it got later and I got concerned some places might have a curfew aka their bedtime. I got walked to room 18 at Royal House and agreed – one person for one night only 70 lari cash, about $25, unless I want to add breakfast. I’m given caramel candy which means coconut in Russian along with green jasmine tea that I chose and two scoops of coffee with milk that I was offered by the hotel clerk along with two chocolate-covered cookies with jam in the middle and three plain.

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I tried one of each cookie, drank most of both cups, and have an idea that will be my morning snack before backtracking to Uplistsikhe Cave Town. I thought I locked the door to my room, with the mini-fridge that takes up half the desk space, but when I came out of the toilet it was open. I relocked it and noticed the Dutch door/speakeasy peephole combo on the top quarter panel for when it’s not negative degrees out or maybe delivery while you’re in pajamas.

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The room next to me shares one of my heaters, the other is behind the bed, and though I can hear the men discussing plans for the night, the metal bracket blocks the view. Outside my bathroom window are towels hanging to dry under a cover with a ladder leaning against the wall. It’s warm enough in here to be in my undies, instead of the woolly and thermals I’ve been wearing, though the door is cold to the touch. I look forward to climbing under my greyscale floral blanket as the twinkly lights above the pool shine in through my sheer curtains.

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