Day 41. Friday, September 8. Rest day – Tbilisi
Tomorrow we head westwards out of Tbilisi and back into the mountains. It will be our biggest climbing day of the tour, a gain of 2,450m, which will take us to our highest camp in a forest alongside Tsalka Reservoir.
A low of 4C is forecast for tomorrow night…which will be a bit of a shock to our systems after days in the low 40sC.
So many of us spent some time today not only on usual rest day maintenance of bikes and bodies but also ensuring we had our warmest clothing, for on and off the bike, packed in our “day bags”. These are the ones that carry our riding, camping and other gear, which we have access to every day. While we only get our “permanent bags” with all the rest of our kit on rest days.
Chores done, I spent some enjoyable hours this afternoon wandering around our hotel’s neighbourhood. A ‘good’ part of town, it’s a curious mix of smart and derelict. Evidence of the huge task Georgia has to build its economy. This place below is just around the corner from our hotel, which lines the walls of its excellent restaurant with photos of visits from politicians (including then Senator Biden to name but one) and show business and other personalities.
The dominant building in the area is a new one – the Georgian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral, which was built between 1995 and 2004. It was conceived as an expression of Georgia’s freedom and bright future in the heady days after the country, along with the other Soviet republics, gained its freedom in 1991.
That said, Georgia was the only Soviet republic that had some degree of religious freedom. Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR from 1924 to his death in 1953, finally formalised that freedom in a decree in 1943, making it entirely independent from the Russian Orthodox church.
That he was Georgian born and raised and had attended theological seminary for a few years as a young man was likely irrelevant in his decision. Throughout his long grip on power he ruthlessly suppressed religions, arguing that true socialists were atheists.
The cathedral is a synthesis of traditional Georgian Orthodox style and materials. However, its nave is unusually short but very tall. Volume-wise, this makes it one of the larger churches in the world, apparently. But it lacks the powerful receding perspective of better proportioned buildings.
Still it is a stunning place, even if it still feels a little ‘new’ and not long or well-lived in. Thankfully, tho, it is uncluttered by historic artefacts. Unlike, say, Westminster Abbey, which feels to me more like a chaotic museum than a spiritual home.