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!

Friday, August 14, 2015

R&R 2015

R&R.....stands for Relatives and Restaurants right? What? Rest, Relaxation? What's that?  Here are some photo highlights from our tasty travels this summer to see a number of our extended family members.

Shout out to Lufthansa for starting the trip out right with the most awesome inflight toy ever! Lego jet set! (Clarissa scored a little dice and card game and some coloring pages with pencils). 

First, the kiddos and I flew into St. Louis....with a slight delay due to weather (can we say 'fun unplanned night in Chicago' 23 hours into our 25 hour trip making for a 42 hour travel time to destination). We hit Imo's pizza within the hour of landing....priorities people...priorities (that and airplane food ain't all that to write home about!)

Having originally planned on getting in the previous day, I had planned to meet some cousins at the zoo....given I was over crowds, we opted to meet at a small family fun park with go-karts and bumper boats for a fun afternoon (after we showered of course). Clarissa loved steering the go-kart.

Hard to believe I babysat my cousins when I was in high we are all grown up and have our own babies! I tried to get Clarissa into the picture too, but alas jet lag had set in and she was much more interested in the inside of her eye lids!

We stayed with my Bestie and her family for a few days, we did some shopping (Hello Target and Kohl's...I'm talking to you!). We made it to Mason's favorite restaurant...

We made it to the Science Center and Starbucks.....

We made it to the Zoo, which Clarissa navigated us to the elephants. 

The highlight for Mason was the mating tortoises.....which he proceeded to replicate the sounds for anyone who asked how the zoo was. We even rode the train around the time for all!

We headed over to my cousins house to stay for a few nights... and we attempted to go to my Goddaughter's State championship softball game....made it to the field and everything....did we see the game? Hail No! (well, the hail, thunder, lightning, and tornado warnings sent us running.....Mason's first Midwest storm.....he did not enjoy it). We ended up getting off the freeway and hanging out in some diner since we were actually driving towards the storm....

The next day we had lunch with my brother and his family and my grandmother at our other favorite St. Louis establishment....mmm Pasta House! Mason is officially taller than Busia now!

The next morning Mason caught a flight to Texas to see his dad. He had plenty of fun there....I can now ask him if he remembers the Alamo....(muwhahaha, I'm a dork!). My cousin and I took our girls to Arch....we told Clarissa it was (which it is) an indoor ferris wheel to the top. Where you purchase your tickets you can climb into the type car you ride to the top in.

Clarissa not so sure that we are going to go up in that Arch thing....

Once at the top, I pointed out Busch Stadium and said next time Daddy comes to St. Louis we are going to take her there to see her first Cardinals game!

I started teaching Clarissa about consumables shopping and she is helping pick up some St. Louis Restaurants' house dressings.

The next day, Clarissa and I set out on our 'Girl Adventure'. We drove to Atlanta the first day. Stayed the night and the next day went to the Lego Store before heading to Babyland on our way to Charleston to stay with Richard's parents. While it is super adorable, whenever we head out on a trip Clarissa will ask what country we are going to. The whole car ride she kept asking if we were in Nana & Bajoo's country yet....she doesn't quite get the state concept yet....even though I explained it many many times on that drive 'that is taking all day'!

So I was looking up factory tours between St. Louis and Charleston and did not find much other than distilleries and gun factories...neither of much interest to a 5 year old Babyland it was.

Clarissa was a little interested in all the dolls, but we were probably done and back on the road in about 30 minutes. She did pick out a new baby doll. We decided to name her Georgia since we got her in the state of Georgia and we live in the country of Georgia.....

I needed a break and let her drive for a bit....(she wishes).....

Richard arrived in Charleston at nearly the same time Clarissa and I did (literally, I think he was landing when we drove past the airport!). Once there we watched sunsets 

and took long walks on the beach......

oh.....and we went to doctor, dentist, optometrist, etc appointments..... We may have gone to Target and Kohl's once or twice (or more.....they kept giving us Kohl's cash...must spend it)....we went out to eat with friends, we had playdates, we went painting

Someone went to Frozen camp with Anna and Elsa.

We went to Myrtle Beach to see my Goddaughter playing in the National championship

We went to Winston-Salem to see Richard's grandparents and family.

Mason flew back to Charleston....I think they were happy to see each other after 3 weeks apart (it only took 19 hours before they started yelling at each other again....have no fear the universe alignment was not disrupted).

All the cousins got to hang out together at Nana & Bajoo's house one evening. Mason got to spend the day with his girlfriend (they ran a 'business' for a while at an exhibit in the aquarium where we spent the morning).

Just like that our R&R was over. We headed to the airport where Mason proceeded to pull a tooth out in the bathroom before our first flight.....we then embarked for the loooooonnnnngggg journey home!