It’s hard to know whether Georgia is amazing or whether they just get you really drunk so that you think it’s amazing. Either way, I had a great day, so whatever it is they’re doing; it’s working.
Today we visited Kakheti, Georgia’s wine region. It’s a bit like our Okanagan, where they grow grapes for wine as well as fruit and vegetables of all sorts. It’s also the hottest region in Georgia, but we got lucky with a cooler, overcast day.
We did our tour through a different company today: City Sightseeing – they’re the guys that run the hop-on-hop-off tours all around the world. Normally I’d run in the opposite direction from a big tour company like that, but since Georgia isn’t all that touristy yet, their tours are actually really great, and the price is right.
We met Linda, our guide, in the lobby this morning at nine, along with Gogi, our driver. We figured out over the course of the day that Linda is my age, so it was really cool to have her tell us all about the country from the perspective of a young person. She’s still in University studying Tourism, and is working as a guide for the summer. She said she’s only been guiding since May, so it’s amazing how much information she knew.
The drive started out a bit crazy – Gogi is one of the scariest drivers I’ve ever seen. We were driving so fast down these tiny country roads, and he would pass every car in sight. If there wasn’t room to pass, he would drive up right behind them and honk until they moved over so we could pass. There were a few times that he cut it so close when passing in the other lane – I was holding on for life. The comparison I came up with in the moment was it felt like being in the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. We eventually stopped for gas, and Dad asked if we could drive a bit slower. Even then, we were speeding through the countryside.
Our first stop was Bodbe Monastery, where Saint Nino was burried in the 4th Century. Saint Nino came from modern day Turkey in the 4th Century and brought Christianity to Georgia. Legend has it that she made a cross out of grapevine and tied it together with pieces of her hair. Georgians were pagan up until this point, and no one was ready to buy into Christianity unti the King saw several miracles occur by praying to the christian god. He then converted the country and built its first church.
Bodbe Monastery was built in the 9th Century, though you can tell it has been updated since then quite a bit. Since it’s Sunday, there was mass going on, but we were still allowed to wander through the church. Mass made it extra incredible inside; not only were the walls covered with incredible frescoes and paintings of saints, but people were singing and praying, and the whole experience was really cool. Linda explained a bit more about the Georgian Orthodox Church as we wandwered through the grounds. In Georgian Orthodox religin, they are not allowed to represent saints in statues, and instead use beautiful frescoes. Inside the churches there is only one seat for the priest; everyone else stands. Mass can go longer than three hours sometimes, so the priest is allowed to sit in his chair if he gets tired, but everyone else must remain standing. Priests can also be married if they were married before entering priesthood, but once they enter, they can’t marry. This particular monastery is run by nuns who live in a convent and take care of the grounds, which are absolutely beautiful.
About 2km away is Sighnaghi, a beautiful town perched on top of a hill overlooking a valley. It looks a lot like the Italian villages you see or can imagine in Tuscany, with Cypress trees and clay roofs. The streets are all cobblestone, which makes walking a bit difficult but really adds to the town’s charm. Sighnaghi is also a walled town, literally translating to “unreachable”, referring to its strategic placement and defensive wall. The wall goes all the way around, and looks like a mini Great Wall of China.
We wandered through the town, checking out a few different gates from the wall and taking in all of its spectacular views. We wandered in to the town’s main church, and I was allowed to take pictures in this one, which was exciting. It was quite simple on the inside, unlike some of the other ones we’ve seen, but it was still beautiful. The inside was also really small, so it was a good thing we got in after mass, or we might not have fit. Next we climbed up onto the walls and made our way down one side of the wall going around the city. The views were really beautiful, and it was cool to see that the wall was still standing perfectly.
Next was lunch. We sat down at a restaurant overlooking the valley with stunning views. It was run by a man who makes his own wine and provides wine tasting, as well as classic georgian cuisine. We ordered way too much food: tomato and cucumber salad with walnut and garlic sauce, Kachapuri, kebab, pork barbecue, mushrooms cooked in a clay pot… It was all delicious.
Now my idea of a wine tasting is when they pour you a little taste of each wine into your glass to try, so when they said we’d try four, I wasn’t too worried. But clearly, that is not the georgian way. The restaurant owner proudly placed to incredibly full glasses of wine in front of each of us to start, one dry and one semi-sweet. I’ve never seen wine with colours like that before; they were yellow and brown, and had very unique flavours too. Apparently we weren’t drinking fast enough because before I’d even finished my first glass he arrived with two more glasses each, this time varieties of his red wine. The red was really good – I liked his dry red best. All throughout the meal, Gogi was leading georgian toasts, which is traditional in georgian feasts. Traditionally, there’s something like 15 toasts, but we only did about five.
As if four very full glasses of wine weren’t enough, we topped off the meal with a shot of Chacha each. Chacha is considered georgian vodka, although it smells and tastes a lot more like tequila. It’s made in this region as well using leftover grape peels from sweet wines. For as long as we’ve been here people have been talking about this stuff, but we’ve strategically been staying away. This seemed as good an opportunity as any, though, aand after we were finished eating we went to take the shots.
Before we could take them, Gogi explained that the best way to do a shot of Chacha is to intertwine your arms. Once we were all set up, we took the shots. I was actually pleasantly surprised – compared to vodka it was a piece of cake! It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and pretty tasty, although it burns a bit on the way down. All in all, it’s not how I plan to spend every afternoon, but it was definitely fun to try.
At this point I was definitely feeling the alcohol, but with no time to recover we were back on the road, headed to Tsinandali, the old 18th Century residence of a famous georgian family named the Chavchavadze family that has now been turned into a museum and park. The Chavchavadze family was a very prominent family in the region;s culture and politics, and their children married into families of Russian artists and diplomats. They were also known for importing unique and exotic trees from all over the world, as well as making wine on their grounds and in their famous wine cellar. Alexander Chavchavadze is also famous for bringing the classical piano to georgia, and the house is full of all different kinds of pianos. Touring the house was cool because unlike a museum like that in North America or Europe, you could actually wander around in all the rooms and touch things and see it all from the inside.
We’re back at the hotel now, and I’m super exhausted – these long days are really tiring me out, especially recovering from a concussion. Tomorrow morning’s going to be a slower start, which is nice, but we also have big plans for our last day in Georgia!