Midgard in the mountains: Trip to Georgia

cover image for Midgard in the mountains: Trip to Georgia

Day zero: In transit

I left for the Amsterdam flight after hacking on a cottage database for the Pyhä-Luosto website and a sushidonburi lunch at Len’s with Kerttu. The WiFi at Helsinki-Vantaa worked and I was able to chat over some recruitment issues with Topi prior to leaving.

Flying weather was excellent, and I was able to follow our route easily. The views over familiar places from motorcycle trips like Puttgarden and the Kiel canal were clear and easily recognizable. The short stopover in Amsterdam didn’t unfortunately allow for any touring there, but that will be redeemed on the return trip.

The KLM flight for Georgia left at sunset and we flew over Europe illuminated by the star-like clusters of city lights. The Tbilisi approach goes over the whole city following the Mtkvari river, which gave a nice view. Compared to the torturously hot 6 hour wait in Poti harbour on the previous trip, the border was easy and efficient. I was practically the only one going for the “International passports” queue, as everybody else was either Georgian or US military. The only question asked was if this was my first visit, and then I was stamped in.

Lasha was waiting for me, and we drove to his and Taya’s place where I am sleeping in the “computer room”.

Day one: Ubuntu publicity

Having arrived at 4am, I slept quite late, waking up to the sounds of Tiko watching the Soviet classic cartoon Nu, pogodi!. We drove Tiko to Taya’s parents and continued to the Open Society Institute office where Taya and the other eRiders are headquartered.

Taya and Zviad in the eRider office Tbilisi Science academy

We quickly fixed the local Midgard installation issues and prepared to go on a tour, as a group of demonstrators closed the office driveway. They were supporters of the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia who were demonstrating against us “Imperialist swine”. They gave way to our car, however, and we were able to drive to the first meeting of the day.

The eRiders were setting up Kubuntu to the “First School” of Georgia where most of the national leaders have graduated. While waiting for the installations to complete we were given a tour of the premises, which were still being renovated after the Georgian civil war. While short of its former glory, the school included several computer rooms, museum, and even a chapel.

After the school installations we went to meet the IT people of Georgian parliament and Georgian Computer Society. We demoed Ubuntu installation for them, and talked about Midgard CMS. Especially the possibilities of Midgard in eLearning sector would be very promising. The tools in Midgard have already been partially localized to Georgian, leaving availability of hosting as the main issue for success.

Courtyard of the parliament Lasha on the khinkali dinner

For dinner we went to a khinkali place Kolkheti on the Mtkvari river with Ia and Zviad.

Day two: Sightseeing

Saturday was a day off from regular Midgard work, and we started the day by driving to Hypermarket Goodwill to buy supplies for a basturma barbeque later in the weekend. The market also supplied a staggering number of different wines, and even the local rarity: dark beer. We chopped the meat, onions and peppers and left them to stew together, and drove to a special bean restaurant near the ancient capital of Mtskheta.

After stuffing ourselves with beans and khachapuri we went to the 11th century Sveticxoveli church. The church was being renovated after decades of neglect during the Soviet times, and was bustling with activity. In addition to a mass there was a constant procession of weddings going on. Some of the old murals were interesting, showing monsters, alleged UFOs and Christ surrounded by signs of the Zodiac.

Church-inside-a-church in Sveticxoveli Tiko lights a candle in the church

The next location for the tour was the old monastery nearby. There we were unable to enter the church because of my shorts, but we saw the graveyard and the garden where holy oil comes from the ground. Everywhere old beggars were selling bottles of this oil of claimed miraculous properties.

We also climbed to the ruins of a fortress guarding the Georgian Military Highway leading up to Kazbegi and Ossetia in the north. The view over the valley was very pleasant and there was a group of children playing and climbing all over the old walls.

Fortress in the Mtskheta valley Tbilisi Sea around sunset

As it was getting late we drove to the shore of the Tbilisi Sea reservoir and watched the sun fall behind the hills covered by old Soviet beach-side resorts now occupied by Abkhazian refugees.

Day three: Barbeque on the hills

On sunday we decided to take it easy with the touristic thing, and leave for the Kharitonashvilis’ under-construction datscha in the hills surrounding Tbilisi. The concrete structure of the house was in a small village behind about twelve kilometers of very bumpy road, with very beautiful views down to the forested hills and Tbilisi below.

Cows and stray dogs were touring the grounds while we prepared the fire and roasted some basturma meat we’d made earlier on skewers. This proved to be delicious when eaten together with Georgian bread, fried aubergines and fresh vegetables.

Datschas on the hills surrounding Tbilisi Making the basturma

In the evening we drove back over the potholes, enjoying the view at the lights of Tbilisi as we descended towards it.

Day four: Evening in Biergarten

In the morning we met some people from Deer Leap, the Georgian school computerization project named after the local name of the Milky Way and modeled after Estonia’s Tiger Leap. They were interested in possibilities of building a learning portal for teachers of public schools. Since we’ve done some similar tools for Finnish educational organizations we were able to offer some advice on how to do it with a proper CMS.

Taya needed to handle some paperwork related to obtaining a passport for Tiko. Ever curious, I wanted to see how the Georgian bureaucratic machine worked. First we drove to an office to get a driver’s license with changed surname for Taya. Then we had to pay some registration fees at a bank, and after that visit another office to get Tiko’s paperwork running.

There however the lady running the office went through the papers and noticed that in one of them, Taya’s birth-date had a typo in it. With this information we had to drive fifteen kilometers to another office to request it to be fixed. However, they declined to make the fix, as we did not have a written request for fixing by the previous office.

Georgian Department of Road Works Dinner in the Biergarten

At this point most of the day had already been spent, and so we had to return to the Soros building to set up the first public Midgard server there. We met the GRENA system administrator, and he helped us set the server’s network settings. We also fixed some booting issues by properly setting up apmd on the system.

For dinner we went to Stelze, a German biergarten -style place. There we enjoyed some beers from Munich together with roasted pork leg and some Drupal versus Midgard talk. We also met our host-to-be for the coming weekend’s trip to the cave city of Vardzia.

Day five: eLearning plans

Tuesday was a quick dash of short meetings. eLearning possibilities, conversion of the eRiders website to Midgard, some khatchapuri for lunch, and finally a dinner in an Irish bar.

We laid out a plan about a Midgard-powered portal for the Deer Leap people. How the portal project would be organized, how it should work, and finally, how to make its community and management as self-sufficient as possible.

To be continued…

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