International excursions are always a time of great excitement for students but a time of trepidation and concern for parents and the teachers responsible for the welfare of the children under their care. This year’s trip to beautiful Georgia (the European nation, not the southern state), was truly a wonderful experience for the twenty two grade eleven students and the three faculty members who truly embraced every moment.
It was our first visit to Georgia and we are all very impressed with the natural beauty of this country. The capital city of Tbilisi is a beautiful combination of the ancient and the modern. We did a great deal of walking (and the girls did a whole lot of whining) and took in such sights as the Anshiskhati church, Abanotubani (“Bath District”) Heydat Aliev Park, Freedom Square and the very impressive Bridge of Peace.
On day two, we travelled to the easternmost region of Kakheti and the small but picturesque town of Sighnaghi in the heart of Georgia’s wine growing region. Located on a steep hill, Signagi overlooks the vast Alazani Valley, with the majestic Caucasus Mountains visible in the distance.
On day three, we headed to the mountain resort town of Borjomi but we stopped to take in the amazing cave city of Uplistsikhe – an ancient rock-hewn town in eastern Georgia. Uplistsikhe is identified by archaeologists as one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia. Strategically located in the heartland of ancient kingdom of Kartli (or Iberia as it was known to the Classical authors), it emerged as a major political and religious center of the country. The town’s age and importance led medieval Georgian written tradition to ascribe its foundation to the mythical Uplos, son of Mtskhetos, and grandson of Kartlos. Built on a high rocky left bank of the Mtkvari River, it contains various structures dating from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages, and is notable for the unique combination of various styles of rock-cut cultures from Anatolia and Iran, as well as the co-existence of pagan and Christian architecture.
We arrived at Borjomi, a resort town in south-central Georgia with a population of 10,546. Our hotel, was one a beautiful royal palace and the students had a wonderful time walking the spacious grounds and the surrounding areas where we took in a beautiful waterfall and enjoyed delicious hot chocolate. We walked through the mineral water park and many of the students dared to take a sip of water which supposedly has curative powers as a result of their source from underground springs, but judging from the reaction of most of the kids, the mineral water was not a hit.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip was our visit to the magnificent Rabati Castle – a medieval castle complex in Akhaltsikhe, built in the 13th century. Our students truly enjoyed the tour of this magnificent castle which contained a mosque, citadel and a museum. The frigid temperatures had caused the castle pools to freeze over but that did not prevent them from climbing to the top of the citadel which housed countless ancient armies as well as the Soviet troops during World War II. The view from there was simply magnificent and gave students an opportunity to huddle for some amazing photographs.
From the immense power of the castle, we were taken to the tranquil and peaceful grounds of the Jvari monastery. Beautiful orchards and vineyards surrounded this magnificent structure and even our rambunctious students were silent and mesmerized by its serenity.
The final day in Tbilisi was bitter sweet as we came to the realization that this beautiful country has had an incredibly violent and volatile history dating back to the 4th century. The visit to the National museum was indeed an eye-opening experience as we learned about the inhumane treatment of the Georgians under Stalin Russia – a great irony since Stalin was born in Georgia. The Georgians viewed Stalin as a traitor to their region and in response, his persecution of his own people was even more severe. Exhausted, our students managed to get their second wind as we went to a beautiful theatre and then the local street markets where they picked up souvenirs for themselves and family members.
A school trip is always supposed to enlighten students about different places, climates, cultures and cuisines and the Georgia trip did this and more. What will however be remembered by our students are the moments of spontaneous and enthusiastic fun that they had as a group travelling together for probably the final time. Highlights for them would probably be flooding the hotel’s ground floor because our Cambridge distinction winner (Zair) had no clue how to turn off the water; moving a bed three floors in the elevator; Mariyam declaring that she never sits on the ground; Muneeb and Lylah being “sashed” as the international Head Boy and Girl; Faaris almost losing his life as a result of an irate and grouchy bus driver; Zara discovering a new “cool” friend in Amal and every stray dog in Georgia; Sameer spending all the money mama had warned him not to spend; finding bathrooms and only chicken meals for Hammad; Hassan, Kara, Abdullah and Shafay sharing laughs and songs; Raja – true to his name, showing his regal composure, respect and responsibility for his two children (Sameer and Hammad); Sheezal destroying the myth that dogs are man’s best friend; Ms. Misbah finding a way to bribe a local for our kids to sing and dance at a cultural festival and Ms. Naila making sure that her children were allowed to be free, independent and responsible while representing their school and their nation with class and dignity.
It was my first trip with the students in these five years, and I am so glad that it was with this amazing group. They are my “legacy” students and I will always cherish the wonderful time we had getting to know each other in so many different lights.
Head of Sr. School