Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Mtskheta, the original capital of Georgia, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the place where the country first adopted Christianity in 334. Today, not only is it the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church, it is home to Jvari Monastery and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, two important religious sites included in the UNESCO listed Historical Monuments of Mtskheta. Those of you who have read my review of Tbilisi, Georgia, will already know that I was less than enthusiastic about a city that is the darling of many travel writers. Fortunately, visiting Mtskheta allowed me to see a different and more redeeming side of Georgia.

View from Jvari Monastery, looking down on the village of Mtskheta Georgia

View from Jvari Monastery, looking down on the village of Mtskheta Georgia

My tour began at the Jvari Monastery (Monastery of the Holy Cross), which stands atop a rocky hill, overlooking the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers and the town of Mtskheta. In 4th century, Mother Mary appeared to Saint Nino, a Cappadocian female missionary, and instructed her to spread Orthodox Christianity among the pagan-worshiping population of Georgia. St. Nino succeeded in converting the Georgian queen Nana, but King Mirian III stubbornly clung to his pagan beliefs. According to legend, the King was blinded during a hunting trip, when darkness suddenly fell upon the land. The light, and his sight, were restored only after he prayed to “Nino’s God.” King Mirian converted soon thereafter and ordered Christianity to be the State religion. Read More

The Historical UNESCO Monuments of Mtskheta, GeorgiaThe Historical UNESCO Monuments of Mtskheta, GeorgiaThe Historical UNESCO Monuments of Mtskheta, Georgia

I just finished watching day three of the Democratic National Convention. One sentence in Nancy Pelosi’s speech caught my attention. Speaking about women, she said, “Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power. This month, as America marks the centennial of women, finally, women winning the right to vote, we do so with 105 women in the House…To win the vote, women marched and fought, never gave in. We stand on their shoulders, charged with carrying forward the unfinished work of our nation, advanced by heroes, from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall.”

Historic brick buildings in the center of Seneca Falls NY

Historic brick buildings in the town center at Seneca Falls NY

I wondered how many people understood her reference to Seneca Falls. I did. Nine years ago I was invited to visit the beautiful Adirondacks Park in upstate New York. After spending a couple of weeks in the mountains, I decided to drive west to Niagara Falls, which I hadn’t seen since I was a young girl. By pure coincidence, my first stop was in Syracuse, where I happened upon the Erie Canal Museum. Several hours later, I was hooked on the story of the building of the Erie Canal and its importance to the westward expansion of the United States. My journey across New York State suddenly took on a theme. For the next couple of weeks I followed the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, stopping at remaining stretches of the canal in lovely small towns like Camillus, Geneva, Lockport and Seneca Falls NY. Read More

Homage to Seneca Falls, NY - Birthplace of Women’s SuffrageHomage to Seneca Falls, NY - Birthplace of Women’s Suffrage

For the past few years, my fellow travel writers have been waxing poetic about Tbilisi, the capital of the of country of Georgia. This tiny nation, hampered with a name that is often confused with the State of Georgia in the U.S., was suddenly being added to everyone’s wish list. For decades, Georgia was virtually unknown in travel circles. Most didn’t even realize that the Caucasus, as the region is known, is part of Europe. Tucked between the Greater Caucasus Mountains in the north, the Lesser Caucasus Mountains to the south, the Black Sea to the west, and the Caspian Sea to the east, the three Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan form the border between Europe and Asia.

Those who had visited Georgia raved about the variety of things to do in Tbilisi. The city’s gorgeous churches, historic wooden houses with ornamental carved facades and balconies, quirky Old Town, glittering glass and steel Peace Bridge, sidewalk cafes, and the region’s famous wines were all touted as top attractions. And if that wasn’t enough, I was repeatedly reminded that Americans get a year visa upon arrival, no questions asked. I was sold. I booked my ticket and set off to explore the region.

Beautiful 19th century mansions and palaces along Davit Aghmashenebeli Avenue in Tbilisi, Georgia

Beautiful 19th century mansions and palaces along Davit Aghmashenebeli Avenue in Tbilisi, Georgia

On my first day I needed to wind down from my overnight train from Baku, Azerbaijan. I dumped my luggage and went for a leisurely walk in the Marjanishvili neighborhood, with its beautiful 19th century mansions. I struck gold that first day when I wandered into Barbarestan Restaurant, reputed to be the top eatery in Tbilisi. I was treated to a delicious meal based on ancient Georgian cuisine and waddled back across the street to my hotel, filled with excitement about my next few days. Read More

Tbilisi, Georgia - I Was UnimpressedTbilisi, Georgia - I Was UnimpressedTbilisi, Georgia - I Was Unimpressed

It happens to me a lot. I arrive in a new place with no plans and little knowledge of the country. I do this purposely. I want to see every country I visit with no expectations. I prefer to be surprised. Somehow, the universe always seems to lead me to the places I need to experience, and Tbilisi,
Georgia, was no different.

Beautifully set table at Restaurant Barbarestan

Beautifully set table at Restaurant Barbarestan

I arrived in the capital city after an 11-hour night train from Baku, Azerbaijan. After checking into my hotel, I got local currency from an ATM, then focused on my most immediate need – food. There are numerous restaurants in Tbilisi for Georgian cuisine, but I was tired and didn’t want to go far. Fortunately, I spied a few tables on the sidewalk just a block away from my hotel. It was Restaurant Barbarestan, one of the most popular places in town that offers a pure Georgian menu. I stepped down into the sunken restaurant timidly, expecting to find only meat items on the menu. To my surprise, I was assured the selections included several vegetarian and vegan items. Read More

Restaurant Barbarestan - a Delicious Discovery in Tbilisi, GeorgiaRestaurant Barbarestan - a Delicious Discovery in Tbilisi, Georgia

There is so much to see in Buenos Aires that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Visiting Buenos Aires must be done slowly. It must be savored, neighborhood by neighborhood. I could write an epistle about everything I did in this most European of South American cities but sometimes, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Thus, this story is (mostly) a photo travelogue of the week I spent in this fascinating Argentinian capital.

Ornate mansions like this one can be seen throughout the city

Ornate mansions like this one can be seen throughout the city, but a preponderance of them are found in the historic Recoleta neighborhood

Begin in the Recoleta Neighborhood

I decided to stay in Recoleta, one of the most important neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. From its central location in the downtown residential area, I was able to walk to many of the neighborhoods I wanted to visit. Recoleta also offers “eye candy” for architecture aficionados. Not only is it home to some of the most stunning examples of Beaux-Arts mansions, it’s also the location of the famous Recoleta Cemetery, where the wealthy of Buenos Aires are entombed. Presidents of Argentina, politicians, generals, statesmen, diplomats, writers and journalists are among the many famous people who have been interred here, but perhaps none more famous than Eva Perón, the first lady of Argentina. The tombs are elaborately decorated with statues in styles ranging from Art Deco to Art Nouveau, Baroque, and Neo-Gothic. Read More

Visiting Buenos Aires - A Photo Journey Through Argentina\'s Capital CityVisiting Buenos Aires - A Photo Journey Through Argentina\'s Capital CityVisiting Buenos Aires - A Photo Journey Through Argentina\'s Capital City

I debated whether or not I wanted to skip seeing Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, Argentina. After all, I’d just returned from Antarctica, where I’d seen dozens of glaciers. However, I hadn’t see any glaciers calving, and I desperately wanted to see a giant chunk of ice fall off the face of a glacier.

Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate, Argentina, provides one of the best opportunities in the world to witness glaciers calving

Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate, Argentina, provides one of the best opportunities in the world to witness glaciers calving

This year, Perito Moreno had advanced across the lake to the opposite shore, blocking off water that would normally feed into the downstream river. Between the immense pressure of the ice pushing from behind, and the higher water pushing from the side, I was almost assured of seeing some calving. I followed wooden walkways that paralleled the glacier, allowing astonishing close-up views of its face. The ice popped and crackled as it shifted and moved. On several occasions, mini explosions rent the air. Each time, I scanned the face of the glacier excitedly, hoping to witness the glacier calving. Each time, I spotted only small pieces of ice plunging into the water below. Nothing to rave about. Read More

VIDEO: Giant Chunk of Ice Calves Off Face of the Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, Argentina