The Living Pillar
So finally we're on the road. The jeep shimmers down the brand new tarmac of the Mtskheta Highway, its nose aimed back into the past and Georgia's ancient capital of the same name. It used to be a 25 minute, pot-hole avoiding journey, now it's just 15 as roads slowly improve in an increasing radius outward from the money-hugging capital.
We head north. Through the windscreen glimpses of high, snow-filled passes inject a more serious atmosphere into the team. The great northern Caucasian barrier looms, holding out its threat and dare to travelers. But this time we resist, following the wild brimming Mtkhvari River only a dozen kilometers or so. Suddenly a dramatic, cliff-hanging church appears up to our left, perching on a hilltop like an erect nipple. This is the 6th century Jvari Monastery, recognizable from many Georgian calendars and much praised by the Russian poet Lermontov. Immediately it becomes the destination of Soso's unusually law-abiding (for Georgia) driving.