Stalin’s Uniform, originally uploaded by Wordyeti.

Man, this was tempting. A true WWII relic; this jolly guy spoke pretty good English and kept trying to get me to buy the Medal of Meritorious Motherhood, given to a sturdy Georgian woman who had produced 18 (eighteen) children. In service to the glorious state, of course.

It was about 100 degrees in the shade here, but the old ladies sitting and arguing next to their blankets coated with tattered junk didn’t seem to feel a think. The area next to this is called “Dry Bridge.” It’s kinda near the odd brick domes that are the Turkish Baths here … which is where Tbilisi gets its name.

Apparently, back in the 2nd century, one of the Great Kings was hunting in these here parts with his pet eagle, and the raptor knocked another bird (allegedly a pheasant) out of the air and into one of the bubbling pools of water. Which, as any good farm kid knows, makes it dead easy to strip all the feathers off — a feature of the area that made it seem quite handy to that king of yore, who decided this was just the kind of place to build a little hunting chalet. Which became a mansion. And then a castle.

The feelings of the locals here towards their Soviet past are decidedly mixed. There’s still some pride and recognition of winning WWII, and there’s even the village where Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (aka Stalin) was born, that stubbornly maintains a statue of bloody Uncle Joe. But by and large, the stirring bear to the north has made people hereabouts feel as nervous as a sociology professor who has errantly wandered into a Tea Party rally.