Sunday, December 27, 2015

Radio Silence

So I have been rather quiet the past few months. About 60 days before our departure from post, the kids and I left Tbilisi on a Medevac (the specialist that Mason needed to see was not available at post, at least an English speaking one was not available). The Medevac was set to be 21 days, unfortunately the powers that be decided that it would not be in Mason's best interest to return to the kids and I ended up remaining in DC going to doctor appointments and doing schoolwork in some temporary housing while Richard finished up his tour and packed us up in Tbilisi (my mother-in-law was kind enough to fly out to Tbilisi to help Richard with the purging/sorting/organizing of our stuff).

As planned, Richard departed post on my birthday (for some odd reason, he refused to fly internationally with a bow in his hair...boys!) and arrived in DC the following day. Upon his arrival, our Medevac ended and Mason received his Class 2 Medical clearance (aka he is cleared to go overseas again), as well as, got a post specific approval for Suva....which was a good thing since our belongings as mentioned above were already on their way to the South Pacific. Richard took two training courses and had some consultation days (aka in person meetings with those folks you email back and forth with from post). We were able to celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents and my younger brother and his family. After 73 long days in DC, the kids and I (along with Richard, but he was only there a fraction of those day) finally escaped DC to our home leave locale. We quickly dove into our consumable/ Supplemental HHE shopping fun (which we did complete). We finished with 4 days to spare to get our Christmas shopping wrapped up (which I managed to get done by the 23rd!!). We were able to celebrate Christmas with Richard's parents and his brother and family. We can now sit back, relax (hey, stop laughing) and enjoy the rest of our repatriation before heading on to post in January.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Kazbegi, Georgia

At the beginning of August, we took what will likely be our last CLO trip in Georgia. We left the triple digit heat of Tbilisi for a cool mountain weekend in the town of Kazbegi, or as my phone spelled it Qazbegi (but it is also referred to as Stepantsminda). We took the Georgian Military Highway out of Tbilisi towards Russia.

After a short bathroom break in Gudauri, we stopped at the Russian Georgian Friendship monument. The views were spectacular.

Mason opted to stay on the warm bus.....

Much greener than in January (remember we came up here on a ski/snow weekend back in January)

The Friendship monument was quite colorful. It was built during a period of Russian occupation of Georgia.

It appears the images get more peaceful as you progressed from the left to the right.

Not sure who the fancy green man is....

Pretending to not be cold....

We all boarded the bus again and continued the rest of the way to Kazbegi. We checked into our hotel room at the Rooms Hotel (5 Stars baby.....these kids are getting spoiled....I grew up on Motel 6s and good ole Tom leaving the light on for us....) and had some lunch.

Our room had an old movie poster (Mason translated it to something like 'She wants love') that warranted a starring contest.

Given the weather forecast was 100% chance of thunderstorms, we opted out of the 2 hour hike up the Church of the Holy Trinity at an altitude of 2000m. Richard and Mason decided to take a Jeep up to the Church. Clarissa was complaining of car sickness (and didn't eat much lunch), so I stayed at the hotel with her and we explored a large field, picked flowers, and climb on rocks.

And used rocks as slides....

Mt. Kazbek, the shy Bride of the Caucasus, is hiding behind the clouds above the Church of the Holy Trinity.

(Richard here - for some reason the Church reminds me of Rohan from "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy).

Snip and

Snap taking pictures.....

The boys.

We've noticed most Georgian Orthodox churches have fountains. We are not sure of the significance. We don't know if it is holy/blessed water or just a natural spring turned into a water fountain.

Saturday evening, for a few minutes the shy bride began to peak out of the clouds. We got quite excited!

The next morning when we woke up, we were in for quite a treat! Mt. Kazbek, a dormant volcanic mountain (last eruption ~750 BC) and the third highest peak in Georgia, was in clear view.

The sun quickly illuminated the peak with the Church of the Holy Trinity....2000 m suddenly doesn't look so high when it is dwarfed by Mt. Kazbek at 5,047 m (16,558 ft). Legend has it there are a number of sacred relics hidden in caves underneath the glacier (Abraham's tent, Jesus' manger).

(Richard again - the Church being dwarfed by Mt. Kazbek reminds me of the lighting of the warning beacons of Gondor from "The Lord of the Rings". Ok enough of being geeky, carry on Deb....)

Within a few hours, the clouds began to move in and hide the mountain from our view once more.

Sunday morning after breakfast, we headed back on the Georgian Military Highway. We visited the Dariali Gorge....nothing like a 15 km (9.3 mile) deep gash in the Earth to make you feel tiny. Unfortunately it was pretty bumpy on the road and we didn't get a good picture. At the end of the gorge is the border between Georgia and Russia. Our guide said where the Georgian flag is marks the end of Georgia, there is 10 km of neutral territory, followed by a flag marking the beginning of Russia.

In 2011, a new monastery complex was opened in the gorge right at the Georgian border and named after the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. After seeing so many old churches over the last two years, it was interesting to see a brand new one. The walls were all white and it seemed there were more windows letting in a lot more natural light.

Having made it to the end of Georgia, we turned around and headed back to Tbilisi. We passed (and the science dork in me really would have liked to stop and check it out) some springs coming out of the mountain that have a very high iron oxide content (I don't know if it is Iron (II) or Iron (III)...told you I was a science dork!). There are several areas with these white/orange deposits on the side of the mountain. Here are some screen captures I grabbed of a video I took as we sped by of the largest deposit along the highway.

Some mountain scenery along our drive.

After our lunch stop, we made one final stop at the Ananuri complex overlooking Zhinvali reservoir (which feeds the hydroelectric dam powering Tbilisi, as well as, providing Tbilisi its drinking water).

Ananuri consists of two fortress. The lower citadel is not well preserved and only portions of the fortress wall and a small church remain.

Within the upper fortress, a 16th century church, watch towers, water cisterns and a 17th century bell tower.

We climb down and we climb up

And we gave Richard a couple grey hairs (but you can't really tell in this picture we are walking along a tiny ledge about 2 stories up).

Here is the other side of the wall we eventually climbed up to and were walking along.....we could of totally taken you out with our arrows if you were trying to invade our fortress!

We enjoyed our little weekend mountain getaway. We were glad to not be driving. There were several long stretches of road rock car trails that were under construction that were pretty rough. As always, the Caucasus mountain vistas were spectacular and did not disappoint!