The Hotel
Malkhaz and Irakli
Me and Irakli
Looking Out My Window

Last week-end I went skiing at Gudauri, a fine ski area two hours North of here. My first problem was to find a way to get there. I found a train that went within twenty kilometers of the other ski area, but it took six hours to go 160 km (100 miles). The price was right ($1.30) but it seemed too slow and when I arrived at midnight it wouldn't be clear how to get the last 20 km. I kept asking about people wanting to ski, but most of the foreigners here don't have cars. Finally I found the right person at the American embassy. She knew a small "hotel" at Gudauri and she would inquire about rides. Well the hotel manager had a friend who was driving from Tbilisi, so my ride was arranged.

The friend was Malkhaz, a doctor who was heading to Gudauri to ski for the week-end with his thirteen year old son Irakli. Both Irakli and Malkhaz spoke good English, which was fortunate because the hotel manager spoke very little. He had a Russian equivalent of a Jeep Cherokee (smaller and not as fancy, but equally functional). That was a good thing, because though it was a fine road for the first hour and a half, first a freeway then just a good road), further up the mountain, the road had been washed out numerous times and they had thrown some gravel in the washouts but never really fixed it. So we bounced around and arrived at the hotel.

The "hotel" was really a five-bedroom cabin. But there was a fine view out my window my bedroom was nicely heated, there was hot water (which apparently not all hotels have) for a shower in my private bathroom (also not to be assumed), and they served three fine meals a day. The Georgian meal schedule is not the same as the American one. Breakfast was at 10:00, Dinner (the big meal) at 5:00 and supper at 9:00 or later. The meals were not fancy, though dinners were very good. The Shiskabab (mtskvadi) was especially good. My hosts complained that I didn't drink enough vodka. Every couple of minutes somebody would propose a toast and they would empty their glasses and I would take another sip.

I rented skis from the cook/manager of the hotel. Saturday morning after breakfast we walked up a short hill and then skied down to the chairlift. The first chairlift goes from 6500 feet to 7500 feet, but I never saw the bottom of that one. We skied to the second one which goes from 7500 to 8500 feet. It was a good quick lift, the kind that gets off the cable and slows down for you to get on and off, then attaches to the cable and moves quickly. You had your choice about how to pay. Either 10 Lari ($7.50) for a day-pass or 1 Lari per ride. I never made it up the third lift which goes from 8500 to 9500 feet -- I decided it was too steep.

After my first run I decided that the mountain was too steep, my legs too tired and that I had forgotten everything I had ever known about downhill skiing. Part of my problem was that I didn't really want to go very fast or point my skis straight down the hill and it is actually harder to turn when you are going slowly than when you are going faster. I was happy to buy a soda from one of the many ladies who had set up shop next to the entrance to the chairlift selling soda, beer, candy and cigarettes. By the second run I felt much better. At the end of the day my legs were very tired but I was having fun. The second day I felt much more energetic and enjoyed everything except for one short steep icy spot. My pictures on the mountain didn't come out very well, because everything is above tree-line and it was an overcast day so everything was the same shade of white.

I would still like to find a place to cross-country ski, though with lift tickets of $7.50 there is less of an incentive! I am told that the other ski area is lower in the mountains and below tree-line and that people do cross-country ski there. I'll have to check it out. [Note: I never got there in the winter, only in the summer. I caught the downhill skiing bug!] But I'll also go back to Gudauri, probably hitching another ride with my new doctor friend sometime later this month.

That's the latest from Tbilisi. Except that I got cable TV installed. The only good stations appear to be CNN for news and ESPN for sports. There is a European version of TNT that shows some old American movies, but they seem to base their programming times on Paris which is four hours later than Tbilisi. So they show cartoons until about 10:00 PM Georgia time and then one movie. I just got back from the farmer's market where I bought all the fruit I could carry. Mostly oranges for my morning orange juice, but also apples, bananas and a dried fruit that I don't even know what it is called but it tastes good!

Note: Here is a message I sent late in March after my fifth trip to Gudauri:

I had quite an adventure getting back from skiing again last week-end. There was a storm on Saturday night and all day Sunday. First we shoveled and pushed to get the car out to the main road but then that road was not well plowed at all. The main problem was that my friend Malkhaz who was driving couldn't see where the road went! So for the first kilometer or so, I ran in front of the car to show him the road. Then a big truck caught up with us and we followed it for a while. Then the windshield wipers stopped working, so Malkhaz opened his door and stuck is head out to see. Soon the truck stopped. Then we stopped and traded fuses (no turn signals now) so that the wipers would work. The driving gradually improved as we came down out of the mountains, but it was a slow trip!

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