Friday, July 22, 2011

Svaneti: The heart of the Caucasus

The final part of my trip to Georgia brought me to Svaneti, a remote area in the Caucasus and an important center of Georgian culture.  It is also widely declared as the most beautiful mountains in Georgia, a statement that I'd have to agree with and also one with a lot of weight since Georgia's landscape has nothing but beautiful mountains. The region is quite isolated, which is one major element that has preserved the pristine landscape there. 

The road to Svaneti has been in the process of being paved for nearly a year or two now, a topic of much discussion and also conflict in my mind. While Svaneti is becoming increasingly touristy every year since the government cracked down on banditry there, the people who make it to Svaneti are still quite a self-selected bunch who are willing to brave the incredibly long and uncomfortable process of getting there in order to appreciate what the region has to offer geographically and culturally. When the road is completed that will all change as Mestia will subsequently be accessible to busses and the tourists who frequent them. While tourism is the only major source of revenue to build Svaneti's economy and provide the financial support people there could really use through long winters,  I fear the road and what it will bring will significantly change Svaneti's cultural and geographical landscape.
(More Photos after the break...)

Panoramic Photography of the Caucasus

Near Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Hat Stand, Georgian Military Highway.

Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Above Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia.

Enguri River, Svaneti, Georgia

Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia

Outside Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi is a very nice little city, and above all else I was really astounded by how many areas looked exactly like the treelined streets where I grew up in Brooklyn. Unlike in Brooklyn, however, nearly every building in Tbilisi has a kind of passage leading to a courtyard. Much of the city has a very grand Central-European feel to it, especially in the vicinity of Rustaveli Boulevard, other areas, however, one example being Avlabari where I stayed,  as well as the backstreets of Rustaveli have a sprawling and endless village feel to them, with dirt roads, fenced houses, and vegetable  markets in the heart of the city. The "Dry Bridge" flea market was one highlight for me and reminded me much of the "Dolapdere Bit Pazarı" in Istanbul. At the market, old Babushkas set up blankets on the sidewalk and sell all sorts of things (the vast majority of which are useless) from broken cameras, overpriced old worthless ruble banknotes, accordions, electronic components, the usual old Soviet knicknacks, and more. 

Batumi, Georgia.

After visiting Turkey's Black sea region I traveled to Batumi, the first major city in The Republic of Georgia after the Turkish border. It is actually in an autonomous republic of Georgia called Adjara. The city is Georgia's resort capital and back in the heyday of the Soviet Union was a top destination. While the city is less popular than it once was, it's still a prime destination of local beachgoers from the region. Like much of the rest of Georgia's major cities, the city has a feeling of decaying grandeur. Without proper funding, the once-luxurious neoclassical architecture is now sagging in a way that might appeal to a visitor who finds beauty in urban\industrial decay. To a local resident, however, this ubiquitous sight may serve as a daily reminder of what has been lost with the fall of the Soviet Union. This is a sense that was even more present in Tbilisi, but also noticeable in Batumi. While many of the buildings are derelict and abandoned, every element of infrastructure in Batumi, and  in Georgia in general is under construction.

Batumi's boardwalk, which is the epicenter of activity in the city, is very much alive and reminded me of nicer version the Brighton Beach Boardwalk in Brooklyn. In fact, visiting Batumi and seeing its boardwalk culture gave me great perspective on Brighton Beach, home to many elderly Russians many of whom  surely spent their childhoods in Batumi. The highlight of my time in Batumi was seeing the city's botanical gardens, which are far grander impressive than any similar I've been. There is a huge collection of foreign plants from Japan to the Himalayas, and the complex had a lot of character and cool places to explore.   

Karadeniz | Black Sea Region

Trying the Tulum, a Turkish bagpipe
Around two weeks ago I went on a small trip to Turkey's Eastern Black Sea Region with my friend Sebastien to visit our mutual friend Sema and her family outside the village of Hemşin.
 As someone interested in carpentry, I was very impressed by the workmanship of the wooden architecture in the region, which I was told is made over the winter and then assembled in just a week on the property... a very impressive Turkish answer to prefab housing or Amish barn raising.
View from the house
 The region is lush and very hilly, and the landscape is full of homemade cable-cars that resemble rowboats that traverse the many valleys and deliver people or supplies to hilltop homes.
Sebastien and Sema's Mom
An abandoned house in the mountains above Hemşin
A wooden stilt-house
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