Sightseeing in Akhaltsikhe

On our last day in Akhaltsikhe, Sean took us to see the original city of Akhaltsikhe. McKinze had to work, but first we all stopped at the tone bread shop.

The tone bread shop window

Sean poked his head in the window and ordered a loaf, which cost a princely sum of 70 tetri (about $0.44). It was fresh from the tone oven, so it came wrapped in a few pages of an Avon magazine to protect our fingers from the heat. We tore off steaming chunks and devoured the whole salty thing in the shadow of the Queen Tamar statue.

Yummy tone bread

Queen Tamar statue, Akhaltsikhe

Then it was time to hike up to the old city. It’s on top of a hill and the mosque, synagogue, church and walls still stand in one form or another. The Georgian goverment is pouring money into into rebuilding and expanding the area into a tourist attraction. It looks like the emphasis was probably more on making it a pretty tourist site than on historical accuracy.

Walking up to the old city

Old Akhaltsikhe

Nothing prevented us from walking onto the construction site, so we did. Apparently, no one was in charge of keeping civilians out, so no one bothered to tell us we shouldn’t be there. We just kept going, expecting to be kicked out. Besides getting a lot of stares, no one seemed to care. Some old bits of the original buildings were just strewn about.

Rubble or relic?

Construction site

Castle tower

Looking down into modern Akhaltsikhe

DIY scaffolding

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but this fire was huge and hot (the pieces of wood were about the size of railroad ties). We joked that it was to dispose of the bodies of the workers who perished due to unsafe construction practices.

Construction fire

Walking through construction

Some fancy people arrived, along with photographers. We asked one of the workers about them and he said the man in uniform was “Chief of Border Patrol.”

Chief of Border Control?

Alicia expressed interest in seeing the cemetery, so we walked over the hill and checked it out. It seems that it is tradition to engrave a portrait of the deceased on the headstones. We didn’t feel like we should take photos, so you’ll have to imagine the dead looking on; some with pleasant smiles, others with stoic gazes, a few with cigarettes eternally dangling from their fingers. There were also small shelters and tables for picnics.


Just in case you forgot the Soviets were once in charge…

Stalin is still popular here

Walking back to town

On the way back to town, we were hot and thirsty. And so we bought the most delicious orange Fanta. Instant time warp back to our childhoods.

Fanta 1

Fanta 2]

And then it rained again.

Jul 2012



Empire de la Mort

(Don’t forget to check out the video!)
The catacombs were the first thing we wanted to visit during our short time in Paris. The city has a 130 mile maze of limestone quarries beneath its streets. In the late 1700′s, cemeteries were literally saturated and overflowing with decay, and the solution was to exhume and relocate the bones to these quarries. Over the years, the remains of over six million Parisians were stacked in the tunnels.

We eventually located a small, nondescript building that housed the entrance to the catacombs. A small sign warning that the visit is “disadvised to the people suffering of cardiac or respiratory weakness and of nervous disposition” set the tiniest bit of anticipation in motion as we descended a long spiral staircase 130 steps straight down. At the bottom a graph shows the depth of your location compared to the subway, and we tried not to ask ourselves questions about earthquakes in France. A series of dark, empty tunnels eventually led to the beginning of the ossuary, where a sign above the door warned, “Halt! You are now entering the empire of the dead.”

Those in the tunnels with us all stopped within the first 50 feet to view the first collection of bones and skulls, many totally disregarding the flash photography ban. We hung back to let them pass, but not so far to leave us totally alone. Stone plaques commemorated the dates and cemeteries from which certain piles were transferred. Other plaques were inscribed with death-themed maxims in French and Latin. We were able to understand just enough words to know that most were fixated on the fleetingness of life and the certainty of death. We examined the brow ridges of the skulls, guessing whether they were male or female, how old they might have been when they died and what their lives were like before they were deposited in the dark and damp empire de la mort.

The paths continued and the psychological edge from simply being in the presence of human remains shifted into wonder at the sheer volume, piled even into even the smallest corners. After a while your mind just stops trying to process it, until you realize that it took less than an hour to become comfortable walking next to the remains of six million people.

Jun 2012