Arriving at last at Didube, I asked around a bit and was eventually directed to the Mtskheta marshroutka. It only cost 80 tetris: the owners no doubt think they should relinquish some profit for the sheer inconvenience of the thing (doesn’t run at a set time, difficult to find, crowded, often breaks down, etc.). Once we got going (it took about 15 minutes to fill up) it delivered me to Mtskheta and Svetitskhoveli, though not without some ado. I overshot the cathedral, thinking that there was a central station with lots of marshroutkas going back to Tbilisi that I should find prior to visiting the cathedral. No such place exists, and the driver and I (everyone else was smart enough to get out) were about two miles out of town before I queried, “Excuse me, Mtskheta?”. “Back there,” he nodded. I thought if I played dumb foreigner he would help me out. “Where do you want to go,” he asked resignedly. Nice Georgian man that he was, he turned around and delivered me right to the cathedral, which saved me a walk of several hundred metres from the main road. I only tell you this so you don’t annoy the same driver by doing the same thing, but maybe I’m the only person in the world who would look for the return station before actually arriving at my destination.
On the way into the cathedral I was mobbed by a gang of youngsters selling things. I refused to let them ruin the scene: Jvari was standing guard over the cathedral up there in the mists, and hills rose gently around me, softened by the clouds.
Eavesdropping on two English speaking visitors, I heard that they were scouting the cathedral as a potential movie site–it’s certainly beautiful enough. Walking into the church, I was rewarded further for my efforts by the singing of the choir. People were walking around, some were kneeling, the Orthodox priest was wildly swinging his bong (maybe not a bong but it sure looks like one from a distance) and the stone and frescoes were lit softly by the candles. Even though I’m not religious I lit one as it just seemed right.
It’s a fabulous church and one I’m definitely going to revisit, probably on St George’s day. I can’t wait to explore the interior, which is rich with frescoes, a baptismal font that is said to date from King Marian’s time, and graves of various Georgian kings, including those of Vakhtang Gorgasali and Erekle II.
My Georgia tour was fantastic. I just walked out to the main road and two minutes later flagged down a marshroutka bound for Tbilisi. Perhaps somebody had seen me lighting the candle in the church, because there was exactly one seat left.