From Janine Kilroy, UK
We found out about the tour because my husband Bernard met John at a conference in India in February, and had a good impression.
How did you find the organization of the tour?
The choice of Daniel as minibus driver was excellent for his patience, humour, stamina as well as the quality of his driving. His quiet respect and devotion for the monastery churches was an example and his enjoyment of shared meals added to ours.
The variety of places chosen for visits, north, south, east and west with Tbilisi as an anchor, offered an excellent overview of the topographical variety in Georgia. The beauty and special features of the monastery churches were well explained by our guides and I appreciated the opportunities to bring the spaces to life with live chanting!
The choice of the Hotel VIP in Tbilisi could not have been better, for its simplicity, friendliness, price and location. The three family homestays were all very enjoyable and gave an insight into ordinary family life, which is so important in getting to know a country.
What did you think of the guides? What could be improved?
Both John and Luarsab communicated their enthusiasm and love of Georgia and its people and traditions, including induction into the supra table tradition. Their knowledge of the historical background have inspired me to read more about it and to anchor some of the history in the memory of places we visited.
Convenience and lunch stops were well chosen. A less relaxed approach to the schedule, particularly for breakfast and leaving for the day, might result in less options being dropped; on the other hand, flexibility allowed us to spend some time at unscheduled stops, such as the panorama and the poets valley on the way into the mountains of Qazbegi.
Both John and Luarsab were excellently informed on the history and the frescoes of the churches and complemented each other in this, but there was not much time to enter into the liturgies where these were offered, or explanation of what was going on, either at the time or afterwards. A resumé of the Georgian Orthodox liturgies could be useful as well as an indication of the meaning of people’s devotional behaviour, such as the meaning of icons for them.
The obvious bonds of friendship, respect and shared interests between John and Luarsab and their relaxed good humour helped to put all members of the group at ease with one another. The compass of the tour was well planned to give as extensive and representative as possible an experience of various regions and places, in the time available.
What was your favorite visited location or experience on the tour?
As difficult to choose as a favourite composer! However, Kasbegi has the edge because of the feel of remoteness and the wild grandeur of the mountains. I loved the hike to the Gergeti Sameba monastery there, particularly as it was there on the ridge line whenever we looked out from the guesthouse. The sense of the valley and the rugged gorge rising from the border with the Russian territories was most impressive. Although not unique in the locations on this tour, the profusion of flowers on the slopes around the monastery and the thought of its isolation in winter, were exhilarating.
In what words would you recommend, or not recommend, this tour to future participants?
I would recommend it as an excellent introduction to Georgia, for those with an interest in the monastic and musical heritage of the country, and in the opportunities to share in some of the best loved traditions of the people, guided by enthusiastic but sensitive experts. The additional forays into other areas of interest such as the Stalin museum in Gori, or the wine cellars in Signaghi, broadened the experience.