The museum’s halls are filled with personal effects and documents relating to Stalin’s life. It’s an overbearing, depressive Soviet propaganda exercise, though a couple of items such as Stalin’s death mask did catch my eye. Arguably the most important artefact here is the Pullman railway carriage which was part of Stalin’s private train. Armour plated and weighing 83 tonnes, Stalin used it to attend the Tehran and Yalta Conferences during WWII.
Back out in the fresh air, I browsed the souvenir stalls near the museum. Stalin stared out at me from the postcards. In some of the photos, he was young and handsome. This surprised me: I’d never thought of him like that. It was as if the older, more powerful, and more paranoid he became, the faster his handsome features vanished. How much is our physical appearance an expression of our character, or a reflection of our behaviour?
Georgia is endlessly fascinating. The survival of its cultural identity is nothing short of a miracle given the upheaval of the past century. But what really grabs me and makes it such an enthralling destination is how the Georgian people have taken Soviet relics — concrete buildings, bric a brac, and even Stalin — and transformed them into something we actually want to experience. That shows imagination, and that Georgia really has taken back control.
Georgia specialists My Caucasus (www.mycaucasus.com) offers a Soviet themed tour of the country, On the traces of the USSR. It costs €1,790 for 12 days, and includes not only Tbilisi and Gori but also the Soviet spa resort of Tsqaltubo and the vineyards of Kakheti.
Wizz Air (www.wizzair.com) flies twice a week directly from London Luton to Kutaisi from £42 return.