As my trip to Georgia winds down, (the plane leaves in 5 hours), I sit in the hostel waiting for one of the owners to return to first drive us to the hospital for a second round of rabies vaccination. But more on that part later. Georgia is a beautiful country, situated in the Caucuses, is home to some of the oldest human remains found outside of Africa and is thought to be the birthplace of wine.
Our trip began with a 6:30am bus to Riga, Latvia where we met with a friend who studied at Tartu last semester and spent the day wandering around Riga with her, which despite being Latvian, was somewhat of new experience for her. Eventually we made our way to the airport and began the long awaited flight to Tbilisi. The flight was uneventful and surprisingly, the passport control went smoothly, despite my terrible luck. We met the owners of the hostel we were staying at and they then drove us from the airport to the location. At first, I was a little unsure about this hostel, as we walked down a dark and unlit path off, but once entered into the hostel, the atmosphere, the staff (all air traffic controllers at the international airport), everything, was just unbelievable. This was just a taste however, of what can only be described as legendary Georgian hospitality.
Our first day, we wandered around Tbilisi, discovered that there are no cross walks, very few lights and a rather universal lack of regard for basic traffic laws. This meant that we would cross rather busy streets wherever and whenever we could. We also did a bit of climbing, as Tbilisi is situated in a valley. Our big climb was to the top of a 4th century Persian fortress. This climb was done without any normal amenities one normally assumes would be at a big tourist destination. There were no stairs, very few railings and all the ascent was done on the ruins themselves, anyway you could do it. However, the panorama of the city was worth the potentially hazardous conditions.
After meeting with a friend from Tartu and her sister, we made our plans for the next day which basically meant hopping on a bus to a town called Signagi in south eastern Georgia in the wine region. This bus had a sign, but only in Georgian which neither myself or my roommate could read, but we did make it to the town. Signagi is a beautiful little town situated on top of a ‘small’ mountain and the guest house we stayed in had a wonderful view of the Caucuses, on which the other side was Chechnya. We did some exploring and were told to be back by 7pm for dinner so we wandered around, climbed some more questionable ruins, and got rain dumped on us, before finally coming back for dinner. This dinner consisted of a great deal of Georgian dishes, homemade wine and homemade Chacha (a fruity vodka). After dinner, we tried to find a vantage point from which to watch the sunset but were a little too late as the best spots were too far away so we came back for the night. We ended up drinking wine with the other guests, one person from Korea and two Poles and this lasted till maybe 2am. In the morning, we got up, had another massive meal and then began the 2.5 km walk to a nearby convent. When we got to the convent, we saw this path that went down the side of the mountain and said ‘Holy Spring.” Intrigued, we went down and discovered that this was going to be impossible to climb back up. Most of the path was pure mud so much sliding from tree to tree was required. Once there, we, perhaps somewhat foolishly, drank some of the water from the spring and then started looking for another way up. At the spring with us, was a local man, whose friends drove down to pick us up and took us back to the convent. After the convent, we decided to head back to Tbilisi with a marshrutka (a sort of shared minibus) and we ended up meeting another friend from Tartu for dinner. Georgian food is simply put, phenomenal. You can just keep eating it and it is not until you leave the table that it finally catches up with you.
The following day proved to be terribly exciting. We decided to go to the ancient capital of Georgia. Here there is a church that is situated on top of a mountain that overlooks the converging point of three rivers. Our first stop was the tourist office to find out where this path up the hill was. As we set off in search of this bridge to cross the river, we took many a wrong turn, but finally, we found the bridge. The next challenge was how to cross the highway. We saw no tunnel that went underneath the highway for pedestrians so we assumed that this meant we had to cross it ourselves. Without hesitation, we bounded across the closest lanes and jumped up on the median, where we waited for a reasonably safe time to cross the other side. Finally making it across, we began walking toward the mountain. We asked some men in a field how to get up (ask may be a bit of an overly generous word, we pointed and they gestured), so we followed there directions. We just had to walk around the base to find the path. We saw a flock of sheep with shepherds and dogs so we tried to find a path around. While about 200-300 feet away (which was about as far away as we could get), the dogs decided we were a threat and came running towards us. We tried to stay still and stay calm but one dog thought we weren’t passive enough and went after my friend. At this point, the shepherds who had been sitting, watching and doing nothing, thought this might be a good time to intervene, but not before my roommate got a tooth in the side of his leg. Naturally, we then made our way back to town to get this looked at, especially since animal bites are a big concern. We headed back to Tbilisi where the hostel owners took us to the hospital so my roommate could get the wound taken care of. After that, we came back to the hostel and spent the rest of the night there, just taking it easy.
Our next day trip also proved to be rather exciting, though significantly less dangerous. We went to Davit Geraja, which is located in southern Georgia, close to the border with Azerbaijan. We went with my friend’s family who drove us there. We got lost in the foothills on the way and inadvertently illegally entered not only Azerbaijan but also a military outpost. We eventually did make our way to the site, after driving for about an hour on a road of pure mud with green, rolling hills on all sides. The site was nothing short of spectacular, with a great view and great architecture. As we made our way back to Tbilisi, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a Georgian feast. After this, it was as though I wouldn’t have to eat for the remainder of my trip (something was has basically come true).
Our trip to Georgia concluded, both myself and my friend feel as though we will be back someday. With so much to see in this small country, we only touched the tip. But it is not just the sights. The people alone make a trip here unforgettable. The hospitality of the Georgians is remarkable. They easily welcome you into their family and will bend over backwards to ensure you have an amazing time.