September 16: Myskheta, Georgia
8:40. Breakfast at the Natuka Guesthouse isn’t any better than last night’s dinner. Come to think of it, we’re probably eating last night’s leftovers.
9:10. It’s a 70 km drive to our next stop, the city of Gori (population: 77,000), which is famous for being the birthplace of everyone’s favourite Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin.
The Stalin Museum offers a 40 minute guided tour that is actually quite interesting. I know this because our guide starts every second sentence with “It’s interesting, for example…”
The museum has a nice collection of original photos and exhibits that tell the story of Stalin’s life and times. The house he was born in has been moved to the museum grounds from another location in Gori. Unlike countless Chinese tourist attractions where ropes if not glass walls and security systems are placed between visitors and anything of interest, visitors to the Stalin Museum can walk through old Joe’s personal train car, sit at his dining table, and tinker with his secret on-board air conditioning system, intercom, and other gadgets.
I assumed the Georgisn guide would put a positive spin on the hometown boy but she actually gives a reasonably balanced account of the facts. The basement of the 3-level museum includes a mockup up a prison cell similar to those in which countless Russians were imprisoned during Stalin’s iron fisted rule. Other exhibits honor the millions of innocent people who were sent to gulags, work camps, and the frozen tundra of Siberia.
Stalin is no longer worshipped in Gori but they clearly understand what sells. T-shirts with a sexier image of a 22-year-old Stalin and sets of Simpsons-esque postcards were flying off the shelves in the museum gift store, located across the street from the Stalin Supermarket and a few doors down from Joe Burger.
13:50. We pass a massive housing block built for refugees from the 2008 war with Russia. There must be 5km of barbed wire surrounding the complex. It may not be full but it clearly houses several thousand people.
14:10. Helen told us earlier today that we’d be stopping at a grocery store where we could buy snacks or possibly fruit for lunch. She lied. We have just pulled into a modern roadside truck stop. With a Wendy’s. And Baconators. And Frostys. For most of us it’s the first bacon cheeseburger in many months.
14:45. We’re back on the road, stomachs full
of grease and cheese and frozen chocolate goop. I count 10 very happy campers.
16:44. We’re driving through a suburb of Kutasi, passing Ford and John Deere dealerships, both McDonalds and Subway and a string of brand name hotels. This could be Belleville or Saskatoon or Abbotsford.
19:00. Dinner at the hotel is the same as every dinner we’ve had in Georgia – delicious but predictable. The service is indifferent at best, verging on downright surly at times. The hotel staff are clearly graduates of the Soviet School of Hospitality.
22:10. I’m playing Scrabble with friends and strangers on my iPhone. My opponent adds the word ‘kibble’ near the bottom right corner, paving the way for me to cover two Triple Word Score tiles with ‘invoiced’. At 185 points, it’s my best single word score in three years of play.