Friday, February 21, 2014

Royal Bath

So the name Tbilisi comes from two other words "Tbili" meaning warm and "Lisi" meaning it only seemed natural that we needed to experience the natural hot sulfur baths. Downtown Tbilisi has a whole 'bath district'. You can distinguish the bath district by the domes covering the baths. The domes helps let out steam (these baths are HOT).

There about 10 baths in the district. Richard and I opted to go the Royal bath (we plan to try out different ones just to see the differences in tile work and what not).

The building with the blue facade is another bath we plan to visit next time.

So Richard and I got a small private room. The room includes 3 little rooms. The lounge room you walked into that has some furniture for sitting/changing in, a small toilet room (I hope you know what that is for), and the bath room. You don't take any personal belongings into the bath room. Water is constantly running into the bath and the overflows goes down drains on the floor. Given these are sulfur baths there is sulfur smell when you first walk in. We did not think it was bad at all (unlike marsh fart smells from South Carolina....I think since the marsh smell comes from bacterial breakdown whereas the hot baths are 'fresh' ground water its just a different form of sulfur).

This was our "bath" room. It has a soft focus due to all the steamy steam coming off the water. Right in front you see the bath where you soak and relax. Just to the left you can see the corner of the marble massage table.

We opted for the massage (kisa) option. So we relaxed for a bit and then Richard's masseuse enter, followed by mine when his masseuse was done. The massage was first a scrub down with a kisa glove (felt/looked like a loofah to me). Then they had a foamy soap. During the soapy part they would massage your muscles some (given I was laying on a marble slab, when she pressed down my back popped a bit....must of needed it). Between the scrub and soap, and after the soap they would dump a couple buckets of water on you to rinse. Afterwards, you could return back to the bath until your time was up (we opted for one hour).


So with the bright sunny day outside it was hard to get a picture of both the tile and the vent. The vent in the bath didn't have a screen (or if it did I couldn't see it with all the steam).

The baths look recently renovated, somewhat of a 1970s tile feel (yes that is recently....the baths have been around since the 1st century, the current buildings are close to 300 years old....its all about perspective (FYI: Got those dates from an article about the masseuses)).

So on Richard's next day off we plan to venture there again. I was so relaxed for the rest of the day and it was great to get all that dry winter skin scrubbed off. My tips for future trips is to bring something to drink while in the bath. I was definitely a tad dehydrated when we left. I plan to take any visitors we have to the baths it was such a wonderful experience....but they will have to get their own room (sorry....I don't want to know you that personally, lol)!

Cloisonné Enamel Class

So the embassy has an office that will coordinate classes and trips. So when they offered one to make a piece of Cloisonné enamel jewelry, I signed up (especially since I wear so much I do like to dabble in crafty things). Emel Laboratory of Handmade Art came to the embassy.

So the class started with watching this movie about the technique. Lots of steps (bending the metal ribbon to make designs on the inside of the jewelry)....eeek...but we only had to do the painting part...yeah, it will look decent! So I spent several hours painting with the class instructors taking my pendant to the 700 degree oven periodically to heat the special paint to make it turn glass like. Then we left the jewelry for it to be polished/smoothed.

After 1.5 weeks, I got my pendant back.

Larger than actual size...about 1.5 cm

The top flower is a purple color, I was going to go pink but we were told in tiny spaces the pink turns orange. It is a little darker than I had intended....but it still looks good (in my opinion, that's all that matters, right?). Wikipedia told me that the colors are made by mixing different metallic oxides with the paint like substance.

I also go a certificate...woo hoo! Yeah me!

I really enjoyed the class and will try and take other classes while we are here (or maybe find their shop in town to take a class at). Richard is considering making some cuff links too.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mtskheta, Georgia

So we took our first out of the city excursion this weekend. We head up to Mtskheta, Georgia. It is about 10 minute drive from our house. It used to be the capital of Georgia before it was moved to Tbilisi.

According to our tour guide, the city has be inhabited since the 4th century BC....and it was a pagan city then since Jesus hadn't been born yet.

We were in the historical old portion of the city next to the parking area (aka the tourist portion). Most of the homes looked like this one.

Cobblestone roads with houses interspersed. Nearly ever house had grape vines growing on the fences (we will have to come back late summer before the grape harvest....that should be beautiful).

Our tour guide talked quickly (impressive with English not her native language), I missed some being with Clarissa who took her sweet time walking. We made it to the main point of interest, the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

Parts of the original structure date back to the 5th century (pillars primarily, inside there was a portion of these pillars exposed under glass that we could see). The majority of this building was built in the 11th century. The main exception to that is the dome at the top. With major invasions, the dome was typically the first thing to go. The dome you see here was added on during the 17th century and is much smaller than the prior domes.

In the background on top of the hill is Jvari Monastery...but I will save that for another post when we actually go visit it.

Around the perimeter you notice a wall in the background. The wall surrounds the whole cathedral. Throughout this wall you notice little doors here and there.

These doors are entryways to small rooms. Inside these rooms is where monks currently live! Outside of one door I saw a pair of muddy tennis shoes....a little mix of past and present time.

From the outside you see lots of windows into the cathedral.

From the inside of the main room there were very few windows. The church conducts Georgian Orthodox services. Therefore, I had to put on a skirt wrap before entering since I was wearing pants and put my scarf over my head (which since Clarissa had entered Mommy carry me stage our tour guide helped put my skirt on). On the inside, it was cool and dark. A handful of windows do shine in and there were numerous candles lit around the room. The monks were conducting a service (communion and all). I felt a little bad with the tour guide telling us all about the neat stuff inside while people were praying and taking communion (no cameras were no pictures).

There was the robe that Jesus wore that a man brought back from Rome after the crucification. His sister (I forget her name, Clarissa was being shushed b/c she didn't like the darkness) saw this robe and died holding it due to the emotion present in the robe, she is buried in the church. From her grave grew a tree that was used to build pillars inside of that church. One of the pillars oozes a healing oil, people would visit the pillar and break of little piece of wood to make themselves a healing cross to have. Due to the pillar slowly disappearing the remaining bits left have been encased in a stone pillar. I did notice on one side of this stone pillar there was an oily patch.

There was a small room that for those that can not make a pilgrimage somewhere faraway (Jerusalem I think), they can visit this room three times and that will be equivalent to the pilgrimage.

There was a room with a deep well with healing waters. Our guide opened a lid and we were able to peer in. She said when it is warmer, sometimes there will be a bowl of this water out for you to drink from. Also inside this room was a small door about halfway up the wall. Much to Mason's enjoyment she said this door leads to a series of secret passages. The passages are heated (not sure how since there is not electricity, didn't ask) and more importantly they provided hiding places when the castle was under siege. She showed us multiple little archways around the top of the cathedral that were interconnected to that door. She said that a majority of the windows on the outside of the cathedral shine into the passageways. She even showed us on the outside a ladder up at the very top that also accessed the passageways.

We also went into another alcove that also accessed the well's water. It was once a baptismal fountain for royalty covered in gold. What is left is a stone box with a lid. It is still used for baptism. She mentioned that all the separate little rooms/alcoves allow for multiple ceremonies to be conducted at the same time.

There are seven (I think) Georgian kings buried under the cathedral. There are grave markers throughout the cathedral but our guide told us the markers don't mark actual locations. In the past, when a country was invade it was common place for the invaders to dig up prior kings and take the bones/dispose of them....I guess more of a psychological warfare of 'ha, he was great, take that'

What cathedral blog is complete without talking about the art work? There were a lot of paintings on the stone walls. The above mentioned stone pillar protecting the remnants of the wooden pillar had a painting showing the pillar's story. Another cool painting to talk about is a giant wall mural. The mural showed Jesus and the 12 aspostles. Around them was the sun, moon, and well as all 12 zodiac signs. Surrounding that is a landscape with animals and plants to the left and humans to the right. This was showing how everything is intertwined. This painting was done in the 17th century, but some feel that it needs to covered up since the zodiac signs are pagan and that doesn't go with Christianity. The cathedral argues that the zodiac signs are constellations in the stars which is part of the heavens....

Our guide made sure to point out a painting that showed the crucification scene that everyone is used to seeing. What made this painting special was the grey/blue and red alien ships to the right and left of Jesus hanging on the cross.

Several sad things to see on the murals, a lot of them had the faces scratched off. This occurred when Muslims invade/overtook the cathedral. I don't remember the exact initials but it was like E + M....typical carve in to a tree romance....except it was done during the soviet era when the cathedral was converted into a museum.

Outside the cathedral, our guide pointed out the gift shop (tourist town....) as well as the deer. There are two deer which were gifts to the Patriarch. He is having the monks care for them.

So our tour guide left us in the courtyard of the church. We wandered around and took some pictures. There were also chickens which we heard (and saw). This is what Clarissa found the most interesting.

We also saw some of the clay pots previously used for wine making (they are not currently used since they need to be completely buried underground to control the temperature for proper fermentation).

At the top of the hill on the far left is a cross, this represents that a large number of kings have also been buried on this hill.

To get an idea as to how tall the cathedral is, I got the kiddos to pose.

More wine making pots.

Afterwards we headed out to walk around a little more of the town....but first snack time.

We walked past all the souvenir, wine, and snack shops. They have these white fuzzy hats that are something you try on and take a silly picture with, but not actually buy. So there were signs that said how much it cost to take your picture with the hat on, one guy even had a back drop of the Georgian Mountains during the summer.

We past what looked like a couple heading to their wedding in the cathedral. We also walked down to the waterfront.

The rest of the town located on the hill overlooking the water.

Mason was thirsty on the walk out....I really hope this was truly a drinking fountain and not holy water or something religious.....

We definitely plan to visit again, likely when it is warmer and more restaurants are open. There is an archaeological museum which seems like it would be interesting. Next time we will possibly partake in some wine tasting. The urine colored liquid is cha-cha, which is essentially Georgian moonshine.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bread and Butter

So while in DC I took a bread making class with the Arlington County Adult Education program (I strongly recommend it! So much fun and I think Richard loved the samples I brought home). The things I learned to make in class that I have already made multiple times include: buttermilk biscuits, cinnamon rolls, and focaccia bread. I have also made the french baguettes once and plan to make the sweet quick bread sometime. The class also gave me some confidence to try some other homemade bread based cooking....homemade pizza dough and tortillas, though neither of these have ever turn out quite circular....but maybe I'm onto something with rectangular soft tacos!

A very common ingredient in most of these tasty treats is butter. My recipes typically call for tablespoons of butter. Given pretty much only the US uses the 'standard' system of measurements, the butter I buy here is not marked in pretty little tablespoons but by 25g (or 50g) increments. So on a tip from my bread class instructor I bought a kitchen scale before we moved. So I whip out my little scale now and weigh my butter (I'm actually starting to get pretty good eyeballing the amount I need). Every time I cook though, I have to go online (I've been going to traditional ovens website) to convert my tablespoons to grams. For the above mentioned recipes I have just written in the amount I need...but every time I use a different recipe I have to go look it up. So to solve this problem, I made this nifty little chart. I have printed it out and put it on my fridge. Hmmm, now what should I bake today......

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Kids First Real Snow Day....

So both kiddos were born in South Carolina....where there is rarely any snow. School would have "Snow Days" when there was a chance of freezing rain/black ice....its a southern thing, I think. Mason saw snow when I took him St. Louis when he was about 13 months old (which he doesn't remember) and in 2010 when we took him on a trip to Columbia, SC before Clarissa was born to go the zoo.....and it snowed....he made a snow angel and then wanted to hang out in the hotel pool. Clarissa.....never really experienced snow. Flurries were coming down the day we flew out of DC. A couple days after we arrived, there was a little accumulation (2 inches or so), but we didn't have snow pants/boots or toboggans. So last Thursday morning it was raining. Then around noon I looked outside and bit fluffy flakes were coming down!

Then about 15 minutes later I looked out and our car was covered!

Clarissa had fun walking home from school, but then for a bit in the afternoon it started raining again. It rained/snowed all night long and in the morning, Mason was SOOOOOO excited to walk to school in the snow (obviously a southern boy who had never done this before).

Richard dropped Clarissa off on his way to work. He saw Mason arriving from his walk....he was cold!

I caught a ride with a neighbor when it was time to pick up Clarissa mid-day which was great! When it was time to pick Mason up, Clarissa and I got bundled up and walked (still snowing!) to pick up Mason. While we waited for him, Clarissa mastered making snow angels!

Unfortunately, this snow was a light and fluffy making snow balls and snowmen wasn't happening....but one can play snoccer!

Mason was off on his scooter playing with the older I didn't get any pictures of him. 

Richard got a picture of the some of the perfectly formed snowflakes I caught on my hat. It kept snowing all night Saturday when we woke up...all the foot prints (and soccer balls) were covered with snow. We went out and played in the yard in the morning and Mason and Richard went around the corner and sledded down a short little hill on the corner. In the afternoon we found the perfect sledding hill. It is at the kids' school. There is a hill separating the soccer and baseball fields. We went there Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday (after it kept lightly snowing through Saturday and Saturday night, finally stopping mid day on nearly 36 hours of snowing...we think maybe it was a total of about 4 inches of accumulation).

Mason being a good big brother giving Clarissa a ride down the hill.

Clarissa catching a ride down with Daddy. Mason making it up to the top of hill, getting ready to head down again.

Making the hike back up as Mason whizzes by.....

Richard forgetting to hold on

Clarissa's preferred method of getting to the snow hill on Sunday....mommy pulling her while she rides backwards!

I grew up with snow....but not with snow covered here are some pretty scenic shots.

Sheep grazing on a snowy hill. There was a guy, as well as, some cows and a horse to the left of the sheep. But due to the fencing I could not get a decent shot.

So the best way to end a post on how much fun we had during our snowy weekend is a video clip of Clarissa giggling all the way down the hill!