Sighnaghi

At a cafe overlooking one of the squares.

At a cafe overlooking one of the squares.

I’ve rather lost track of exactly what we did when, so I’ve grouped the pictures by event, rather than chronologically.  Here are some pictures of Sighnaghi.

Part of the main square.

Part of the main square.

This is part of the main square more or less in the middle of the town, with the Pirosmani Hotel on the right and what I think is the theater on the left.  The town is perched on a hill-top, unusually for Georgian towns, with little streets curling about the square, lined with houses and shops.  It’s widely said that the place has an Italian feel to it, and to a certain extent this is true: old town on a hill-top surrounded by old walls, picturesque.  The whole place has been extensively renovated, and is quite lovely—in comparison with all the other villages one passes through in order to get here, one can scarcely believe one is still in the same country—but… there’s something lifeless and soulless about the place; it’s like a film set.  A lot of the houses were empty, several were for sale, and a good number of shop-fronts were completely empty too.  Some indeed had suffered from familiar Georgian neglect: broken windows, incomplete interiors, paint flaking off the walls, timbers loose and untended.

Square down by the bus station.

Square down by the bus station.

Another picturesque square.  Up on the right is a fancy restaurant which seemed to be completely empty every time we went by it.  The pink building just to the left is a sort of all-in-one marriage venue: chapel, registry, cafe.  The road on the left leads up to the main square.

The road to Bodbe.  A few shops and guesthouses, not much else.  Pretty though.

The road to Bodbe. A few shops and guesthouses, not much else. Pretty though.

Sighnaghi from across the valley.

Sighnaghi from across the valley.

Quite beautiful; could be anywhere in Italy or France.  I think we took this picture on our walk to Bodbe, which is roughly a half-hour walk from town.

The park just off the main square.

The park just off the main square.

Just off the main square there’s a nice park with a view over the residential areas sloping down the hill.  As with much of the city, however, it gave the impression of having been painstakingly renovated, but extremely poorly maintained.  It made me wonder what the place would look like in 5 years or so.  It must be expensive to maintain the place, and I wonder whether the government, after pouring millions into rebuilding the town, will continue to pay to maintain it.  One thing at least is certain: it’s certainly cleaner than most towns—very little or no trash on the streets, and I even spotted children actually throwing their ice-cream wrappers in the iron trash cans imported from England.  On the other hand, there’s another spacious square with half-excavated ruins in the middle, where everyone seems to have decided to deposit their trash.  Sigh.

Rooftops from a cafe on one of the main squares.

Rooftops from a cafe on one of the main squares.

This road snakes up from the bottom of the ‘old town’ up an adjacent hill-side, and marks one of the boundaries of the renovation.  It’s one of the interesting features of the town: there are clearly defined boundaries beyond which nothing was renovated, and appears much like any other Georgian town.  A street will be completely new and rebuilt—newly renovated houses with new double-glazed windows, attractive polished wooden doors, smooth cobble-stone paving; and then suddenly everything beyond a certain point looks like it hasn’t been touched since Khrushchev banged his shoe at the UN—the same dilapidation, the same rusting sheets of iron used for everything from roofing to making fences and gates and railings on balconies; the same crumbling walls, either of large slabs of concrete or smaller concrete blocks barely held together by shoddily applied cement.

A lovely renovated house in a residential area of town.

A lovely renovated house in a residential area of town.

However, the older, shoddier parts of town were somehow much more comfortable than the elegant facades of the renovated parts of town; anyway I liked them more.  Part of it was the feeling that no-one really lived in the newer parts.  During the day there were a number of tour groups who came on minibuses, walked around, had lunch, and then left again, leaving the town like an after-hours tourist attraction.  Although the places are completely different in virtually every respect, I remember thinking that it was slightly like the time I visited Mont St. Michel in November: out of season, rainy, cold, it was mostly empty anyway, but after dark I was almost alone, except for a handful of restaurants that were open, and it had that I’m-stuck-in-a-museum-overnight feeling about it.  By contrast, the other areas were obviously and cheerfully lived in, and were a good deal more pleasant, for some reason.

At the guesthouse.

At the guesthouse.

The second day we were there we switched from the Pirosmani to this comfy little guesthouse (“Caucasion Hause” [sic])in the unrenovated part of town.  I’d come up to the terrace to have breakfast and write in my journal and check out the day’s schedule.  The hostess was a pleasant woman in her 60’s, her husband a friendly sort who spent most of the time tinkering with his car’s engine and smoking.  Although the bed was unmercifully noisy, creaking savagely with every minute movement—waking me up once or twice as I moved about in my sleep—and though the toilet, located outside on the balcony, was rather rudimentary, it was a good deal more pleasant than the more elegant but soulless Pirosmani.

Our hosts.

Our hosts.

Keto, the host's granddaughter.

Keto, the host's granddaughter.

Little Keto was staying with her grandparents for a few days while we happened to be there, and was an amusing little addition to the household.  Whenever we’d leave in the morning or come back in the afternoons, she’d be playing with her dolls, or drawing in a little notebook, and would promptly jump up and invite us to play darts on a little dart-board with magnetic darts, or look at her sketches, or just prattle along happily.  One morning I got up around 9 and went to the terrace as usual to have my coffee, she scurried around and called out “Sleepy-head!” in Georgian and giggled as she ran back to the balcony.

View from the old wall circling the town.

View from the old wall circling the town.

Sunset over part of the town.  Looked just like Italy!

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