Barb Godwin – The Art of Fire

Barb Godwin – The Art of Pyrography

Born in Texas, I have always had a love of all things “wild” and expansive.  I have enjoyed nature in all of its forms and my avenues for enjoying it have been through extensive travels.  From the winding warrens of medieval villages in Europe and SE Asia, through vast African savannas, to the ultimate landscape and rarefied air of Antarctica sailing the high seas.  My adventures have heightened my love of all that is natural.

Art was second nature growing up.  By earning a degree in Art Education and History I was able to share and teach art to youngsters in grade school and middle school.  Art was my foundation and filter in viewing the world around me.  It heightened my awareness of the natural…and sometimes not so natural world.

I have explored many forms of art media including jewelry, ceramics, photography, wood carving and currently pyrography.  From each media I have gleaned valuable insights leading me to my next form of expression.  It’s only in my more mature presence that I am able to devote the time and patience to this very detailed art form. One needs to nurture and practice the awareness of seeing things as they really are and not just with a fleeting glimpse.  One should take time to be in the moment and explore all of the senses.

Pyrography presents a unique palate of earth tones applied with heat.  Long ago artisans would use glass or metal to reflect the sun’s rays for burning figures and images onto leather hides, wood and other surfaces. Today the tools are far more advanced with uniquely designed wire nibs using variable heat temperatures to create a multitude of details, textures and shadings.  I first used pyrography to add details to my woodcarvings but realized that I enjoyed “drawing” with heat to create unlimited textures, shading and depth without actually having to carve the wood.

My work has been shown in galleries, private collections and has received numerous awards.  I continue to hone my skills by attending various seminars and classes provided by leading professionals such as Julie Bender of Loveland, Colorado and Josh Guge of Elgin, Illinois.

 

For more information on my work and possible special commissioned works contact me via the contact form below.

 

Fruits of a “Not so Different” Vine

clay vessels Georgia
If I were to say….Georgia(country not state) invented wine…what would you think?  In our “here and now” thoughts you’d probably jump to France…or possibly Italy.  If you really thought about it…didn’t the Romans have wine?  Oh, and don’t forget about Jesus changing the water into wine at that wedding.  With that in mind, it might not come as too much of a surprise to realize that wine has been around for a long time.

Actually the fertile valleys of the South Caucasus is where many archaeologists believe the world’s first cultivated grapevines and neolithic wine production began over 8,000 years ago!   As a side note – this very area is on the same latitude as Southern France and Central Italy home to many world-class vineyards.

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It began with locals storing wild grapes in pits in the ground. Over the cold winter the juice would ferment into wine.(Happy juice!)  Consider this…if indeed this was in neolithic times …would “cavemen” come home from a hard day of hunting and settle down by the fire to enjoy a cup of wine? Well not quite…actually this would be the timeframe when hunters turned to farming and domesticating animals.

So, as this custom evolved, the farmers devised ways of fermenting the juice by storing it in large clay jugs that were buried in the ground.  The wine was conveniently stored underground and ready to serve at a cool temperature whenever needed(hence the first wine cellars).  Georgian artisans were able to produce unique and useful clay vessels to store and serve their wine and beverages. The Qvevris (or kvevris), were large earthenware vessels with an inside coating of beeswax.

DrinkingHorns from blog taitcommFor centuries, Georgians have been drinking (specially for the tourists) their wine from animal horns (called kantsi in Georgian). The horns were cleaned, boiled and polished, creating a unique and durable drinking vessel.

Fast forward to more modern times and apparently the Russians have always favored Georgian wines but after the war in 2006 there was an embargo placed on exporting wine to Russia. This was devastating to the Georgian wine industry.  But it seems Russians have missed their wine, and Georgians have missed the rubles from the exports…. so talks are now underway to lift the embargo. Current reports indicate the shipments to Russia will resume this summer.  In the meantime, Georgia has been active in promoting and exporting their wine to an expanding list of countries…including the USA.  Much of the wine is produced by thousands of small farmers (using primarily traditional techniques of wine-making).

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There are a few modern wineries, such as Badagoni, Kindzmaraulkis Mariani, Telavis Marani, Mukhrani, Mildiani, and the slightly older Teliani Valley producing their wine similar to western European methods.  They too are marketing their wines aggressively in western Europe and the United States.  The main wine grapes favored for Georgian wines are the Saperavi(red) grape and the Rkatsiteli(white) grape.  The Rkatsiteli yields a lovely bright amber wine that pairs well with Georgian foods. These are only 2 of the 38 varieties used for commercial purposes…out of more than 400 varietals available.

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During my recent trip to Georgia I spent two fun-filled days in the wine region of Kakheti to the east of the capital city of Tbilisi in the prominent Georgian appellations of  Telavi, Tsinandali and Kindzmarauli. You can read more about the region on my previous post “Too Much of a Good Thing”.   Suffice to say that I did sample a multitude of different Georgian wines during the short visit.  Based upon my brief exposure I would have to say that I enjoyed most of the wines presented.  I did not find the depth and complexity one would find in the Tuscan hills or the sandy hillsides along the Gironde.  But then those regions have been cultivating and expanding wine production by more modern adaptations.

DSCN4640Pheasants tears bottlesA few of the local farmers are still cultivating their wines in clay pots(qvevris) where you won’t find the tell-tale “oaky” finish so prevalent in western Europe and other countries.  Locals say this gives the wine a chance to display it’s own unique taste and bouquet.   Watch for wines produced by “Pheasants Tears” to experience wine fermented in the qvevris.

For me the most daunting challenge was just trying to pronounce the wine names.  I must admit that I would need more time to truly “learn” the different types of wine and appreciate their distinct tastes.

Here are just a few of the types of wine produced in Georgia –

RED-

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Saperivi – table red wine

Khvanchkara – semi-sweet red

Mukuzani – rich flavorful velvety red

WHITE –

Tsinandali – dry white wine

Mtsvane – light fruity white

Rkatsiteli – rich amber white

Needless to say these are just a few of the different wines. Now you must blend in the vintner and each vineyard’s unique terroir to derive the multitude of flavors and bouquets possible.

yes we drank with wine too

As the Georgian wine industry “matures” and more investors find their way to the storied hillsides of the Caucasus, you’ll see Georgian wines finding their way to the more expanded wine lists here in the States.

By all means be sure and give them a whirl and a twirl.  They may surprise and delight your tastebuds!

Georgian Delights

DSCN1948It’s fairly certain that everyone…in some way or another loves food.  I must admit that my palate is not broad or accepting of the more ethnic varieties or the more exotic choices.  I grew up in Texas and my three food groups when nurturing my young taste buds were steak, potatoes and beer(not that I had any beer :-)).  And to add to the mix, my folks were from Louisiana and drank coffee with chicory.  Need I say more?

Besides that, I can’t remember seeing anything GREEN….OK, maybe the fake green Easter basket grass but that was about the extent of anything green even close to my dinner plate.  Dining was fairly simple back “in those days”.

So when I travel to these far off exotic lands my palate winces slightly and puts on a brave front.  If I am “served”…as opposed to “ordering” my food I will timidly take a tiny taste.  If I find that my “buds” accept the flavors and my nose is not repelled…then I can usually enjoy the local cuisine.  I might even venture to ask what it is that I am eating.  If however the taste and smell is somewhat strange and off-color then I don’t dare ask “what is this”?  Nine times out of ten I won’t want to know…and will be sorry that I asked.  This happened rather frequently on a trip to China…suffice to say that I really enjoyed the beer and  rice was my staple.  It was probably the only trip that I did not gain any weight.DSCN2315

Once on a trip to London I saw a billboard advertising a local beverage and the tagline read “I don’t like it, so why should I try it?”  I could relate….

But for most travelers half the fun is enjoying the local foods and beverages along with the fantastic sights and culture.  Food gives depth and texture to the culture, to the people and how they live.  It’s an integral part of exploring far away places.  SO….when I tripped off to the Republic of Georgia I had no clue as to what kinds of foods might be presented.  Georgian dishes are very similar to many Russian dishes.  Westerners will think the food is somewhat salty and heavy with lots of homemade cheese, spices and vegetables. They also use a lot of walnuts in sauces and with their meats.

DSCN1952 DSCN4280Puri (bread) is very popular and is either made at home or bought in the market or at small stands along the highway.  They will cook the bread in stone ovens (furnaces) or wood burning ovens.

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Cheese will almost always accompany the bread and there is one common cheese – Sulguni that can be cured in various ways to provide a hard smoked cheese that can be pretty salty or as a fresh cheese that is soft and more subtle in flavor similar to a mozzarella .   Having the fresh bread with the cheese helps tone down the salt factor.

Their national dish is a “cheese pie” known as Kachapuri and it can be created in a multitude of ways.

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The bread is filled with cheese(think pizza) or sometimes the cheese is enclosed or some even offer a boat shaped bread with a raw egg and melted cheese and you mix them together to basically cook the egg with the hot cheese.

Every meal that I enjoyed (and I enjoyed them all) in Georgia was served family-style.  We would sit down at the table set with plates of freshly baked breads, bowls of fresh tomatoes/cucumbers/onions salad, and a kachapuri of some sort.  Once we got settled into the “starters” the waiters began bringing out one dish after another.

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Some were vegetables such as squash, eggplant, sweet peppers others were various meat dishes such as beef, veal, chicken and pork.  Meats were either stewed or grilled.

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Their most unusual dish is the “khinkali” which is a big dumpling.

There is a special art to eating one…grab the top knob, turn it upside down and bite into the bottom edge of the dumpling and suck out all of the juice(usually really hot) and then you can eat the “innards” which is usually some type of spiced pork or beef.  Any other method will assure a squirt of hot juices into your lap.

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 Needless to say….I did not go hungry in Georgia and my taste buds were delighted with all the variations to very “simple” foods that were hearty and flavorful.

Georgia’s Golden Treasures

Our final day in Tbilisi unveils some surprising jewels – one in particular was the Sun.  I figure tomorrow will be a beautiful day as I strike out for home.  Doesn’t it always work that way???

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If you can remember back to our arrival day, we saw a few of the city sites and then traveled to the old capital.  Well today is dedicated to all the hidden gems to be found in this capital city of  Tbilisi.  And I apologize….this is gonna sound like a history lesson but there IS so much history about this little country that I just have to share some of it with you.

To begin with – a visit to the National Museum of Georgia – You could spend days in this museum as it contains an impressive collection of artifacts and riches that date back thousands of years. Fortunately most displays are also in English along with the native Georgian even though a bit of the ancient history might be unfamiliar to the western visitor.  It was established in 2004 and is today a very large and inclusive collection of museums and research centers around the country.

In the National Museum the archaeological treasury contains golden artifacts and jewelry discovered in the various excavations around the country.  These are works of early Georgian(Colkhetian) goldsmiths representing jewelry dating from the 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD.  Colkhetian jewelry such as diadems, temple rings, necklaces, bracelets, etc. date to the 5th-4th centuries BC and were found on territory once part of the “kingdom of Colkheti”, known as Colchis or the “Land of the Golden Fleece” from Greek mythology.

Here are just a few of the amazing golden artifacts on display –

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On a more somber note – a special exhibit in one section of the museum documented the history of  70 brutal years of Soviet occupation and oppression.  Over 25% of the population died at the hands of Soviet occupiers.  It is a very grim reminder of what this nation has endured…and also a testament to their strong character and resiliency.

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From the museum we head out into the streets to explore Tbilisi –

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from the ultra modern Peace Bridge to the ancient buildings of “Old Town”.  The government has invested heavily in the reconstruction of the city – not only the old town but by bringing in modern architecture, expressive sculptures and other forms of art to be displayed around the city.

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As a terminus of the famous Silk Road, Tbilisi has always played a major part in the trading of goods, ideas and cultures. The Silk Road was a trading route that played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe and Arabia.  The silk road initially connected China with India and Persia.

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Of course China’s exquisite silk goods were the lucrative item but trade extended to many other goods as well as various technologies, religions and philosophies…and unfortunately the bubonic plague. Georgia again in this 21st century is poised and in an advantageous position to facilitate trade between Asia and Europe.

As we navigate the busy and crowded streets we arrive at our lunch destination.  It is a stark contrast to all of our previous dining venues.  Here we are in the heart of the bustling and thriving “new town” and sitting down to lunch in an ultra modern, sleek restaurant featuring not only fabulous Georgian dishes but also a fair assortment of Italian dishes.  Once again, quantity overwhelms us.  But everything is absolutely delicious!

It is a relatively “quick”  lunch as we have an important appointment to keep with the US Ambassador this afternoon. DSCN2464 It is very obvious that the US would like to build and strengthen ties with this well-positioned(strategic) young democracy.  Entry to the Embassy was similar to going through airport security…well, OK a little bit more stringent.  Fortifications were evident with thick bullet-proof glass, massive stone walls, fences and barricades…you get the picture.  We were given a visitor’s pass in exchange for our passport; then escorted into the building and upstairs to the Ambassador’s conference room.

viait with the US Ambassador Ambassador Richard Norland was most gracious and engaging.  It was not all show but definite substance as we exchanged views and strategies for advancing tourism to Georgia. The exchange lasted almost an hour and everyone came away with a sense of accomplishment.

With time so crunched we have only a couple  of hours to repack and get ready for our evening of farewell celebrations.  Shopping time has been nil and the only “treasures” we’ve been able to snag are t-shirts from the embassy and a few Georgian/Russian chocolate bars.  What’s wrong with this picture?? I am sure there are untold trinkets and treasures…but unfortunately that will have to wait for the next time.

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Tonight we celebrate all that is Georgian…from its delectable foods and wines to its enchanting folk music and dancing.  Our hosts have truly outdone themselves this evening.  Our banquet displays a plethora of delectable dishes and the wine flows freely.  Georgian dancers and musicians entertain us throughout the evening.  It is a grand party celebrating  newly minted friendships and a promise of sharing this wonderful land and their enchanting people with everyone back home.

Stay tuned for more…..


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Batumi on the Black Sea

 Batumi/Gonio Fortress/Batumi Botanical Gardens

It’s a quick run down to the Georgian/Turkish border.

And…is it a bad omen that the road sign says “Good Luck” (in English no less!) as you are leaving the country?  It does give pause for thought.

The drive through the Batumi neighborhoods on the way down was a bit unsettling as it is very depressing to see the

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grim and gray concrete tenement style housing.  The crazy thing is watching brand new obviously more upscale condos, hotels and apartment housing going in right next to the soviet housing.  It begs the question..”who will buy in that neighborhood?”  And do the city fathers plan on leaving the concrete tenements there after completing the new skyscrapers??? One has to wonder…..

 

The short ride to the Turkish border is another bit of a time-warp.  Many transport trucks are stationed all along the highway, parked in vacant lots, stacked up at the border.  It is obviously a very busy entry and exit portal.  And apparently many Turks travel across the border into Batumi for the casinos.

After a few quick photos we backtrack to the ancient “Gonio Fortress” DSCN5702 which was built by the Romans in 90 BC and is Georgia’s oldest fortress.  The fortress was, for a while, being actively excavated but funds ran out and excavations were halted.  However there is a small museum at the site and a short walk-through produced some interesting facts.  One very significant belief is that the apostle Matthew is buried at the fortress.   However, to date, no additional excavations have been allowed to possibly verify this thought.

We return to Batumi for lunch overlooking the Black Sea and then a short visit to the Botanical Gardens is in order.  These gardens are unique throughout the former Soviet Union as they were designed and created by botanist Andrey Krasnov(1862-1914) who traveled the world studying  multitude of flora.  He decided after careful consideration that this part of the Black Sea coast would be an ideal place for a botanical garden.

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Thus he began the collection of trees and plants from all over the world. It consumes 111 hectares(275 acres) and supports nine specific floral growth regions – Caucasian humid subtropics, East Asia, New Zealand, South America, the Himalayas, Mexico, Australia, and the Mediterranean. You can travel the hillsides of the gardens and follow the various zones from subtropical to alpine flora.    It is springtime and there are multitudes of blooming plants and trees all around seeming to be flourish quite well here on this “Green Cape”.

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Unfortunately it is time to go…we have another long drive today back to Tbilisi and we will be on the road well into the late evening.

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From Mountains Sublime to the Ridiculous (well, sort of)

DSCN5231 Mestia / Batumi  

We arrived into Mestia before dark and were treated to blue skies and a rising “almost” full moon.  Such a nice change of atmosphere as opposed to “wearing” the rain.  The air is crisp and fresh and clear. Night is coming on and the temperature is dropping.  It’s a most spectacular setting with this ancient village nestled deep in a valley below the towering Caucasus Mountains.

This sight would rival any mountain village in Europe or the States.  Take a look at the header on my blog page and you will see a panorama of these mountains. Keep in mind that Russia (Chechnya and  Dagestan) are just over the mountains.  Might want to Google Earth to get your bearings.  This part of our glorious planet is still fairly untouched by the civilized hand, rugged and wild.

DSCN5205It’s an early morning(amidst errant snowflakes) and we’re headed into the village to check out one of the unique defensive towers…called “Svan Towers”.  Meeting up with one of the locals whose family has lived in these towers for generations, the lady is happy to give us a tour of the old(primitive) living quarters and a chance to climb up into the tower.

These towers are synonymous with this region of the country known as “Svanetia”. During the Middle Ages these towers were used for protection as well as communication.  They could signal their neighbors in the valley with fires lit atop the towers. As soon as the next one saw the signal then they would light their fires and the signal would be passed from tower to tower thereby warning/alerting the entire community of impending danger.  Each of these towers is exactly the same style and construction, same dimensions and height.  They each had 4-5 “floors” made of wood and windows at the top for viewing the surrounding valley.

The living quarters could hold upwards of 25 family members in a split-level accommodation of

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cows on the bottom, people on top.

Now I know the Swiss built their houses with a “barn” underneath and somehow that seemed to make sense…but this arrangement seems a bit too personal..no such thing as “personal space” back then.  Those were rough times and any bit of warmth surely helped.

Survival was far more important than having a

DSCN2120stylish interior.  When you consider the hardships these people endured it certainly explains how simple their existence was.

So now for a climb up into the tower.  We are lucky as most towers are not “climbable” since the wooden floors have long since rotted away, but our host has maintained the floors in her tower so we venture forth.

Access is by a very steep set of stairs to a small platform at the door…mind your head OUCH! or you are likely to come away with a nasty knot on top!

Once thru the opening it’s another steep ladder/staircase up to the next level.  There’s not much space in here and you immediately are faced with yet another ladder…too much for me.  I’m DSCN2141sharp…I get the idea with just two levels.

Once I’m down and out…. we’re off for a long day’s ride to the Black Sea resort town of Batumi.  It’s about 267km(166 miles) and about 5.5 hrs away.  The roads are definitely not super highways so 166 miles is a little “longer” than what we are used to back  home.

The trade-off is a lot of interesting sights and scenery along the way including dodging those cows and pigs again.  Along the way a quick stop for lunch at a tiny roadside “cafe”… with tables all set and ready for us….the staples DSCN2185
appear…tomatoes and cucumbers, khachapuri cheese pie and local beer. The cafe overlooked the northern end of the Enguri Reservoir. Everything is delicious and what’s better it was a “small” meal and quick to help us on our way.  I must confess….all this going and going and going had my batteries on low and a recharge was needed…so, I slept for a few miles. Hey, sometimes you just “gotta” do that.

As we made our way down to the coast the topography of the land started to morph into the typical coastal lowlands…more waterways and streams heading to the sea.  Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate therefore you’ll find no luminous reports of sunny shores and waves crashing on the shoreline.

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It was a grey afternoon and that translated to a fairly monotone landscape.  So, when we saw the skyline of Batumi looming on the horizon it was a bit surreal.

Government entities  and private investors are hard at work trying to transform a glum “soviet-style” cement city into possibly….

“Las Vegas Casinos? or maybe

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Disney World?     Or…?  Well, I’m not quite sure…suffice to say its an amalgamation of many imaginations.

Caverns to Mountain Tops

Promethus Case Beso 4 Prometheus Cave/Mestia

Did I mention it was STILL raining??  Enough already!

This morning it’s a trip into the middle kingdom…or down into a very wet cave.  Encased in our lovely silver conehead ponchos we climb down today….into a marvelous, huge and relatively dry(compared to outside) cave system.

DSCN4962The Georgians have outdone themselves in making this cave called Prometheus accessible to visitors.  There are paved walkways, stairs, mood lighting….everything an impressive cave needs to show off its finest features.  It’s right up there with Carlsbad Caverns if I remember correctly….seems pretty huge and the formations are pretty spectacular in spite of the somewhat overdone lighting effects.

Now here’s the best part… we are suppose to take an exciting boat ride thru the underground river and exit out into the river channel…guess what…oh, you already know?  Yep…too much rain has swollen the river so that we can not exit safely…plus there is a pretty impressive flow to the rushing river.  We are forced to exit by a not-so-spectacular “man-made tunnel”.  This cave is part of the Imerti Cave Protected Area and there seems to be an extensive network of caves all through this part of Georgia.  So if you are a spelunker then pack your bags!DSCN4972

Fortunately it is still raining….if the sun had been shining when we emerged from the cave we would have thought we were missing something!  But….as luck would have it…we are still chasing raindrops as we head out of the Kutaisi area. We had a great stop for lunch in Zugdidi….more great food…I need to do an entry just on the various foods we enjoyed during our adventure…..stay tuned for that one too!

Actually…somewhere along the road on the way to Zugdidi we lost those pesky raindrops and now there is a bit of clearing going on.  I failed to mention that with all of this rain we have been a bit on the chilly side.  Temperatures are hovering between 50-60 f ° during the day and mid 40’s fº at night…give or take a few degrees.  Needless to say my cold weather wardrobe(somewhat limited) is getting a workout.

DSCN5069Our final goal for this day of travel is to the village of Mestia high in the Caucasus Mountains.  For me being a mountain lover…this is the absolute highlight of the trip.  These mountains in fact are bigger, taller, wider…than the Alps.  They are an impressive site.

The road winding up the mountainside and thru the valleys is a narrow two-lane road that is sometimes littered with rocks and boulders.  Probably the rain had something to do with that.  But then there were the errant cows and a small herd  of pigs and piglets to weave around.

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While not watching for road hazards I am completely mesmerized by the scenery whizzing by.  We have a long way to go and cannot daudel along the way.  The drive from the valley past the huge soviet-era dam to the first sighting of the village and its ancient fortress towers is 3+ hours.    And miraculously the rain clouds are departing for the afternoon.

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In the upper alpine valleys we are treated to snowcapped peaks highlighted against blue skies and white puffy clouds.  Nestled in the valley is the ancient village of Mestia.  The fortress towers were built by family groups to live in and defend their lands.  They could see advancing marauders from high atop the towers and then rain(oops) down rocks, hot oil, arrows…whatever it took to ward off the enemy.

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In recent years the Georgian government has pumped a lot of money into developing Mestia as an alpine ski resort village. Since it is early in the season it feels more like a ghost town with all these unfinished and uninhabited buildings lining the streets and square.  They hope to have hotels, shops and restaurants take up residence and lure the tourists.  It has great possibilities and maybe in few years their dreams will come to fruition.  It is truly a spectacular setting.

Our hotel is a “first generation” ski resort hotel….but not the spit and polish one would find in the Alps.  The accommodations are just fine and we are anxious to get out and visit the village before dinner.

There’s an almost full moon rising over the mountain, the alpenglow is settling in over the towers, the cows are sauntering down the road from the high pasture….and the temperature is dropping. Back to the room for more coats!

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A couple of folks in the group struck out after dinner into town to see if they could find some information on a family name…one fellow in the group has roots in this part of the world and he is trying to track down any information about them.

With the aid of the guide as a translator…they visited a home and talked to some locals.

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Apparently his family was not from Mestia but it is thought that they might be from a neighboring village….several phone calls ensued while the lady of the house brought out tea, bread and cheese.  These folks are so hospitable, genuinely friendly and wanted so much to be helpful.

Time will tell if the visit was successful.