At home, we celebrate holidays rather symbolically, and in addition to this, our family is not too large or religious. Therefore, we had no problem to replace them with a trip to Georgia. There, according to the Julian calendar, Passover (Easter) falls later.
To Georgia, you can get directly by Polish cheap flights. We chose a flight to Kutaisi with Wizz Air. The journey took three hours, but we landed five hours later because of different time zone. The plane sat, or rather hit the ground and after these three hours of flight in Wizz Air cubicles, our tired faces were awakened by blowing, Georgia wind.
And it looked like that:
We had one night stay booked in Tbilisi, approx. 250 km away from the airport. Short customs control, stamp collection and go.
It was 5 in the morning. A herd of taxi drivers, bus touts and other more or less suspicious carriers attacked us. They were pushy, we were tired, so the decision didn’t come easily, and we strayed awkwardly around the airport. What to choose: marshrutka (18 lari), a comfortable 6-seat taxi, which will take us to the exact address (25 lari), or perhaps a man with sharp features, declaring himself as the owner of an unidentified, safe and convenient vehicle (20 lari)?
We choose the last option. The guy force his way through a crowd of others, disappointed Georgians and led the four of us (including two guys) to… the old Opel Corsa. Tired of traveling by not-the-highest-standard airplane, and terrified by the vision of spending the next few hours with curled legs and elbows impinged on each other, we politely refused. The man was passionately trying to convince us, waving his arms, blocking our way and grabbing our shoulders…
In the end, we chose a taxi for 6 people, which seemed to be the safest and most comfortable option. The issue of comfortableness was OK, but the first one was not. I will remember this trip for a long time. The driver overtook trucks, in the rain, on the slopes of the mountains, just over the precipices. Accelerated, braked, he burned one of the elements of his super-car (you could tell it by a smell), developed really high speeds, while at the same he shut his eyes to sleep.
The hostel served us “Polish” coffee, which was disgusting, watery and soluble. We liked the local, atypical Turkish version with thick consistency a lot more.
Tbilisi is a great starting point. Of course, there’s a lot to visit in the city, which extends along the slopes of the Lesser Caucasus in the Valley of Tbilisi.
Souvenir shop, I will tell more about it later.
A nice spot on our evening tour may be a place called “Warszawa” (“Warsaw”).
However, a trip by cable car up the hill is a must – I recommend to take this course twice: during the day and night. It is all worth a closer look from above at daylight, but Tbilisi looks the most beautiful in the evening.
Extremely tempting lottery at the top.
Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, known for his friendship with Kaczyński (in Tbilisi, there is even Kaczński street), famous for his passion for unusual buildings. In the centre of Tbilisi, we will find a few gems made during his reign, including bridge, jokingly called Always, which resembles a sanitary napkin, or a building in the shape of hair dryer, whose function is unknown for many residents. Until recently, the main problem of Georgia was corruption and Saakashvili extensively put an end to it. The way to manifest a combat with this condition, are glass police stations that we can find throughout Georgia. Another achievement of the president are substantial houses of “jurisdiction”, where, for example, they take care of passport issues almost immediately.
However, Saakashvili is a character who can’t be easily evaluated. From 15 August 2014, he is chased by an international arrest warrant. Currently, he lives in Ukraine, where he was granted citizenship and performs high official functions.
A Georgian, who I got to know, said: “Yes, Saakashvili had mafia next to him, but it was a good mafia. Now is the evil mafia. People say – great Georgia! Is it that great when people are starving? Look at this man, look! “. Another said: “The economy is down, teacher earns 300 lari after 45 years of work, and policeman 1000 lari.” (1 PLN = 0.60 GEL).
Undoubtedly, a great attraction in Tbilisi are baths with saunas. Unfortunately, I missed that pleasure, but my companions tried Georgian bath and were delighted. Well, next time.
From every place in Tbilisi, we can easily get to the bus station, which is located quite far from the center. Marshrutka, which is a little bus, stops on demand in every possible place. We can buy tickets (ridiculously cheap) from the driver.
The city goes on and on. At the station, there are plenty of taxis, stalls and small and large traders. On the cars, they put cartons with names of cities to which the driver could pick us up. We will find cheap “exchange offices”.
From the station, we took a taxi to Mtskheta (20km away), the ancient capital of Georgia. Saakashvili has rebuilt poor-looking houses to enable visitors exploring the area without the view of misery and poverty. The effect? The town looks artificial, plastic and even smells new. The most interesting place proved to be Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Jvari monastery, situated on a hill, a few kilometres from Mtskheta.
As for Tbilisi, pub Racha is worth mentioning; we found it in the Lonely Planet guide. Getting there was not easy – we passed the dark, suspicious corners, away from downtown, but it was worth it! We got to the real, Georgian pub where was traditional, cheap, tasty Georgian food, singing and playing the guitar, wine in canisters and abacus. Note to self – it’s not the place for fans of exclusive conditions.
Lermontov 6/20, Tbilisi
Georgian cuisine is unfortunately rather heavy, but very tasty and quite different than Polish. Traditional dishes include Khinkali dumplings in different variations, which taste good providing that you consume them in a right way – take a bite while holding protruding end and drink the broth located in the middle.
Khachapuri – hot, cheese bun with butter and egg floating in the middle of it.
Georgian pizza with salty cheese inside.
Another version of Khachapuri.
And, of course, everything you can pickle – it’s pickled!
Another idea for a trip from Tbilisi is Stepancminda, also known as Kazbegi. The second name was given by the Soviets, but in 2006, they returned to the original naming. Stepancminda is located at an altitude of 1750 meters above sea level at the foot of the glacier. From there, we can get to Gergeti, the village from which we set out to conquer the hills at an altitude of 2170 meters above sea level On the hill, right at the foot of Mount Kazbek (5033.8 m above sea level), there is a Gergeti Trinity Church, often used as an illustration to guides around Georgia. Although the approach is not easy, especially because there was at least a meter of snow in April, the views are breathtaking.
Pay attention to these pipes, they can be found in various places in Georgia. It’s gas, which is carried out on the ground to know if people don’t steal from anyone.
However, we couldn’t get to Gergeti at any time of year. In April, many people claimed that the military road, which leads there, is impassable. Fortunately, it turned out that this wasn’t entirely true, though getting there was not easy. Once again, the driver was crazy. Although the road was simply dangerous, he was driving very quickly, regardless of the bends and precipices. Along the way, we passed a truck, which stood by itself on the roadside. Our driver waved his hand, stating that its owner was probably killed and there was no one to take the car.
A magical spring with “delicious” water along the way.
Our driver and his “alpine” auto.
The forementioned truck.
Mandatory stop at the monument of Russian-Georgian friendship with an amazing view.
And a way back with a small stopover.
So we ended our stay in Tbilisi and we went to Kakheti, which is Georgia’s region famous for… wine! From what we have learned and seen for ourselves, residents are calmer, more open and relaxed. Is it thanks to wine?
Along the way, we visited a small town of Sighnaghi. Once, there was a fortress, around which the defensive wall (2.5 km long) was built. Amazing views spread out from this fortification, but we didn’t manage to see anything, because there was a huge fog. We visited a local bazaar, tasted Kakchetian wine for the first time, and drove away!
In the end, I didn’t bought this fine hat.
There is nothing better than the so-called snot (the name given by us) – churchkhela, something that looks like a sausage, but in fact, it’s a thick juice from fruit with many kinds of dried fruit and nuts. The second option is a table cloth – sheets called tklapi from the dried fruit juice – sour plum or sweet mulberry, apricot, peach or other fruit.
The next point on the route is the Monastery of St. Nino in Bodbe.
Legend has it that “St. Nino healed the sick wife of the king of Iberia. Mirian III asked Nino, what reward she wishes for healing his wife, she replied that she wanted to build a church, where priests from Constantinople should gather. In this way, according to legend, Georgians converted to Christian faith in 337. Nino died c. 338-340. At the behest of King Mirian III, a small monastery was built at the place where Nino was buried.” [Source: Wikipedia]
Approximately 3 km from monastery, there is a spring that is said to have healing powers. I don’t know about healing, but it surely increases condition, because there are over 500 stairs to the spring.
When we reached the car, our great driver, who turned out to be very calm and educated this time, offered us a tour of the surrounding vineyards. He quickly persuaded us to do so.
Georgian wine are produced in an unique, unprecedented way. The taste is very different, very natural, and the drink has a lot of vitamins. That kind of production is functioning in Georgia since ancient times. Grapes are crushed together with stalks and then thrown in kvevri – large clay pots, which are buried in the ground in special cellars called marani. Importantly, wine that we buy in Poland, differ from those which we buy directly from the manufacturer.
Up to 525 species of vines, in 18 climatic regions, grows in Georgia – including 13 in the Kakheti itself. There is a highly developed culture of drinking wine. However, it is more delicate than that which we know. Gogi, one of the Georgians encountered by us, told us that “as a young man” he drank 7-8 litres of wine. Now 3-4. Interestingly, when you are chosen by Tamada – the host, the president of the event – the tradition is to drink wine from a horn. The condition is to empty all at once. Gogi is able to drink 2 liters that way!
Of course, every, EVERY drinking but it must be preceded by raising a glass by Tamada. For example, to the homeland, to the older generations, to the younger generations, to the future generations, to the dead, to Mother Mary, to you, to us, to the Caucasus and so on.
The first point for our wine tour was the Wine Museum in Numisi. We were charmed by Chacha (a strong Georgian vodka) stream flowing from the wall.
I know, that you attention is drawn to the big cucumbers, but look who’s on the bottles next to them.
The next stop is Graneli Winery, where production takes place in a more European way, but there is muck, dirt and stink everywhere…
Wine is flowing in the pipes below the celling.
At the end, we went to a wine tasting from Kakheti Co, Koncho & Co and Duruji Valley, where I have my favourite.
I know there are tours that offer more stops. Frankly, these three places were completely enough for me.
Telavi is a town where we stayed for a few days. Another starting point, with the ability to look at a few curiosities, such as baker making a traditional bread, market or main streets that surprises us in its neatness and cleanliness. What turned out, it’s just a dummy. The buildings are renovated in the front (Saakashwili’s work again), and in the back they are just slums. Bike path is used as a walkway, and elegant-looking cafe, looks like a pub from the last century from the inside. We even found Polish magazines from 1977.
This is how the traditional Georgian bread shoti looks like. The dough is glued to the inside wall of the oven called tone. It tastes really good, and most of all – natural and healthy – there aren’t any improvers, leavening agents and other chemicals.
Vegetarians and sensitive people – I don’t recommend you visiting the market.
From Telavi, you can take a day trip through the valley Alazani – the river that dries in winter, but late spring, snow from the mountains melts and flows into the river, which regularly causes flooding.
The first stop is Gremi, one of the most important monuments of Georgian architecture, the former capital of the kingdom of Kakheti. There, we can enter a small museum, which offers a beautiful view of the valley.
Stop in Nekresi. A place shrouded in national mystery. At the entrance – gate and the police. We were told that the road is so bad, that the hill can be reached only by jeep, so they can’t let our car in. They let us in on foot. It turned out, the road was exclusive. On the top, half of the land was enclosed. Interesting.
A road which supposed to be impassable for an ordinary car.
At home, an exquisite dinner and loooots of wine were waiting for us.
And such a breakfast.
Georgians are very friendly people. They help at every step. They help, even when they need help (provided that you don’t look like a Russian). They will help you even if they don’t know how to help. in fact, guys look like they belong to the local mafia: leather jackets, tracksuit, black trousers and slippers.
On of the Georgians said “In the villages, in front of houses, shops, we can meet representatives of the male gender. Their main job is figuring out what to drink, with who to drink, where to drink, or whose pig to kill to make shashliks. Women don’t work, because they “sit at home” – tidying up, washing, cooking. And the guys are standing. “
We said goodbye to the hosts and drove away!
We returned to normality. Bewildering speed, the windshield all broken, and the “policemen” naked on the streets. Fear was huge, especially that we drove into the mountains and snowstorm.
Along the way, we stopped by an ancient rock city Uplischiche, but the weather was a nightmare.
We got back to the initial position, which was Kutaisi, we stopped at a fantastic hostel Kolga, where the owners had already so many guests from Poland, and they are so open-minded, that they learned to speak Polish! We played Mortal Kombat, talked in Polish-Georgian group, drank Chacha and “Russian MTV” was playing in the background.
This time, Kutaisi has served us as a starting point. We visited a beautiful Gelati Monastery with a palm in the snow. Next to it, there was a University that gathered largest Georgian scientists, theologians and philosophers. Its building has been renovated and it looks quite impressive.
Even a few frescoes from the twelfth century have survived.
The next stop is Motsameta monastery, situated on the top of a steep mountain overlooking Tskaltsitela river. You can easily get there by car.
And at the end – Prometheus cave. The guide said that they are going to open the extreme part with the diving!
Today is Easter Sunday. I ate khachapuri with egg and I’m basking in the Georgian sun on a swing in Kutaisi. My journey comes to an end. I have visited many amazing places, met a lot of interesting people. The weather is beautiful, 15 ° C, spring, green trees. Yesterday it was snowing, it was white and cold. Georgia, an extremely diverse country, interesting and sometimes even strange. I will tell you about it soon. Meanwhile, I wish you a Happy Easter!
translation: Agnieszka Wawiórko