Our longest journey from Tbilisi was to Stepantsminda and took some 3 hours by mini-bus which we took from a train/metro station on the edge of Tbilisi. The mini-buses in Georgia run when they are full, on a fixed route with stops on demand. Since Stepantsminda is a reasonably important settlement our mini-bus driver took only passengers for Stepantsminda and only made a single stop, for refreshments. Our journey wound north on what is called the “Georgian Military Highway” as it took troops from Russia to its borders with Turkey and Iran. However the closer we got to the border between Georgia and Russia the road was increasingly a lorry park as they seemed to be waiting to move in convoy north, into Russia. The journey was through stunning scenery with the single track (in each direction) road snaking through a steep valley.
We only wanted to visit a single place near the town,
partly for the building itself, partly for its location and also for the journey to arrive there; non were a disappointment. From the mini-bus stop in Stepantsminda the walk up to the church was a trek of about an hour, we took a direct route, which in places needed using the trees to grab onto and haul us up steep sections. Non the less we arrived at the spectacular site, overlooked by snow-covered mountains and overlooking the town far below.
The church seemed to be a place of pilgrimage and it was packed with visitors. Having struggled up, we took the easier track down for fear of tumbling down the slope. And so, after a poor meal in what appeared the town’s best restaurant, we returned home to Tbilisi.
I managed to get the front seat and the driver was extremely kind in organising his driving, (slowing down, taking longer on stops etc) so that I obtained better photos. All in all a worthwhile trip.