With a desire to get out of Tbilisi for a day I decided a trip to the nearby city of Gori, birthplace of Stalin, would be an opportunity to test my skills at negotiating the world of Marshruktas (mini-buses).
I had of course already reconnoitered Didube station and bus terminal and soon was doing my best to fend off assertive taxi drivers saying the name of towns to which the adjacent mini-buses travelled. It was with some exploration that I found the area where the vehicles for Gori departed. These were down the street a little way.
Fortunately I had studied the Georgian alphabet and Gori was quite easy to decipher. I clambered into the three quarters full marshrukta only to be beckoned f ten minutes later to get off to pay (some buses you pay at a window, others you pay the driver).
As the clock neared the hour the final rush squeezed on ( you can get 20 people on 12 seater bus even more on the bigger ones) and we were off.
Gori is a bit like the outer suburbs of Tbilisi and the marshrukta pulled up outside the city government building.
Having seen Stalin’s armoured train carriage from the marshrukta on the way in, I had a rough idea of where to head but used offline Google maps and the GPS on my phone to navigate my way to the Stalin Museum.
Set in an impressive building I entered the grand entry where some staff lolled about. No-one paid me any attention so I headed up the grand staircase red carpeted stairs to the statue of Stalin.
I managed to see one room and on entering the main section I was asked for a ticket. So back down the stairs to a small window tucked away in in a corner. Ticket price is 15 GEL.
The rest of the museum was made up mainly of photos and all explanation was in Georgian and Russian. Again my attention was diverted to the building itself.
The only other item of significance was in a room with subdued light, a circle of stone pillars and in the middle was the death mask of Stalin.
Outside is a plain looking green train carriage – which was Stalin’s personal rail transport. Normally closed I was lucky enough to enter on the tail end of a tour group. Luckily I had some time to myself to peer in the various compartments including Stalin’s bathroom and sleeping compartment.
After a short walk around the surrounding area I headed back towards Gori fortress when the temperature fell rapidly and it started to rain. For the next 45 minutes I took shelter under the awning of a petrol station, wondering why I had not bought a jacket, but thankful for my recently bought umbrella.
An easing in the rain prompted a move and after wandering the streets I eventually found my way up to the fort. A young couple were canoodling and the girl could not withhold a outburst of laughter at this crazy tourist arriving carrying an umbrella when most sane people would be somewhere drinking wine or coffee (as I would have had I found anywhere I could have!)
The fortress itself was the outer walls only and the rest was grass except for a security box where two uniformed guards (one asleep on a makeshift bed) where guarding the place (from?) Guards are a common sight in Georgia, sometimes in the oddest places like this!
Just as I reached the bus area the rain finally stopped and the nearby street markets (these are everywhere, most metro stations and any other transport hub) sprang back into life as plastic sheeting was removed from displays and activity returned once again to the streets.
If I thought the marshrukta on the inbound journey was crowded I was in for a surprise, this was packed with every seat and fold-down isle seats as well meaning 50 people were crammed in. Luckily, despite being on one of the undersized isle seats, I managed to doze much of the way back to Tbilisi.