Armenia and Georgia taught me so much about driving. I always thought that the line in the middle of the road separated lanes, I had no idea that it actually marked the centre of the passing lane for both directions. The things you learn.
Somehow I managed to arrive safely in the capital of my second Caucasus country, Tbilisi, Georgia.
I stayed at the partner hostel to the one in Yerevan, both called Envoy. This one had a rooftop balcony with an excellent view.
One of the girls working at the front desk told me of a restaurant that she and her friends, and locals in general, like to go to. Tbilisi was much more touristy than Yerevan, so I welcomed the suggestion. I quickly learned that it’s really just the central area that’s overrun by tourism, and that much of the city is free of it. As instructed, I found the restaurant “Taverna Guliani” and began my exploration of Georgian cuisine with something called “khachapuri.”
Khachapuri is bread with melted cheese in the middle. It arrives with the cheese still melting and a raw egg on top.
You stir the egg and the cheese together, then tear pieces of bread off to dip into it. It was so good, I’m glad I overcame the initial hesitation involved with raw egg.
Good coffee was more difficult to find than good food. There were some passable places in the main area, but I was determined to find some really good coffee. I’m glad that it wasn’t available in the centre because my new quest took me to an area of the city I might not have found otherwise.
After my stop at Double B Coffee & Tea, which easily has the best coffee I found in Tbilisi, I went for a hike up to the Mother of Georgia statue and Narikala Fortress.
The Narikala Fortress overlooking the city was established in the 4th century and made for some fun climbing.
There is a church in the courtyard which is still functioning.
After some more climbing I got to what looked like the remains of a tower that afforded a view of the downtown area on one side and the botanical gardens on the other.
This is my “happy not to be sick and back to climbing things” face.
That evening I tried something called “kharcho,” which is my favourite Georgian dish. It is a soup with beef, rice, cherry plum purée, and chopped walnut. The walnut makes it so good.
I made sure to try Georgian wine a few times because like Armenia they are one of the oldest wine producing nations. The wine was excellent.
After coffee I hiked back up to Narikala Fortress to go down the other side for a walk in the Botanical Gardens.
The garden is in a long gorge, and contains a multitude of different plants. I managed to identify bamboo and spent the walk quite pleased with myself for such an accomplishment.
On my list for Georgia that I wanted to experience was polyphonic singing. It is such an important part of Georgian culture that it’s on UNESCO’s list of intangible culture. I wasn’t sure how to find it, but I was lucky because I was there on a holy day. In the afternoon the ladies who worked the front desk and did the cleaning at my hostel were making lunch for themselves in the common room kitchen and singing. It was so beautiful and unique, I could have listened for hours. Later at the restaurant I heard it again since it’s right next to a church. That was actually my number one priority with Georgia, so I was able to leave happy by the end.
You’ve probably already noticed it standing out in the cityscape, and I finally made it over to The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi.
It is the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the third tallest Orthodox church in the world.
On the way back to my hostel I stopped at the statue and church on the river to watch the sun set behind the mountains.
I finished the day at a restaurant by my hostel that made one of Georgia’s national dishes, “khinkali.” These are dumplings that in this case came in a broth.
The next day I went on a day trip that took me out of Tbilisi to see more of Georgia. The first stop was Zhinvali Reservoir and Ananuri Fortress.
On the side of the enclosed church is an example of a grapevine cross, also known as a Georgian cross. A grapevine cross, the oldest evidence of wine making, and an alphabet with rounded letters that resemble grapevines – Georgia has a very strong wine tradition.
The main tower was climbable, and I liked the floors on the way up that were comprised of only logs.
We continued driving north towards the Russian border and the drive was stunning. The Caucasus mountains really are beautiful.
On the way we passed by a natural spring that stood out from the landscape.
My guide said that despite how it looked it wasn’t slippery at all, so clearly it had to be climbed.
We continued north, right next to the border of the breakaway state of South Ossetia. The former Soviet area has quite a few ‘countries’ with limited or no international recognition. Georgia has two of them, with Abkhazia being the other.
After a traditional Georgian lunch in the town of Stepantsminda that included wine and khinkalis, we hiked up to the Gergeti Trinity Church under Mount Kazbegi.
The church was nice, and impressive for being perched with a view of the mountain and the valley below.
We walked back down to the town past more beautiful countryside and the odd cow grazing in the bushes before driving back to Tbilisi.
Since my favourite restaurant hadn’t steered me wrong yet, I tried another local dish that was hen hearts and livers. It was good, but I don’t think I need to try that again.
I would happily return to Georgia, I feel that there is a lot more to see and I don’t think I would get tired of the country’s natural beauty. I spent my last day getting a haircut near the Opera and Ballet Theatre of Tbilisi, and getting kharcho again at the restaurant.
It unexpectedly began thunderstorming while I was having dinner, so I moved my chair under the nearby pomegranate tree and gazed disapprovingly out at the sky with my bread.
Armenia and Georgia were fantastic, I’m so glad to have made it to two such unique countries.
And now for something completely different: Nepal.