Caucasus and beyond – pure awesomeness!

Posted by Kadri Uljas on  October 27, 2014 |
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How often can you stay that you are stepping on the balcony of Europe and taking a look over the vast Asia? We have reached Georgia and here it is possible! This place is just something unique yet something so familiar, that to actually understand it, you have to see it yourself. Their alphabet looks out of this world and traditions, regarding food and treating their guests, are something unseen for simple people like us, Estonians.

But what is it in Georgia that makes this place so damn good? Please, let us explain you:

Get ready to step into a time capsule

Seriously – imagine the guys with leather jackets, three striped sweat pants and, black shoes and white socks. Yes it was cool once and it’s still cool in parts of Georgia. Not sure if it’s the Lada’s roaming the streets, the beaten up Marshutka taxies or the dusty run down houses, but Georgia has not been able to catch up with its neighbors and has been stuck in the time after collapse of  the Soviet Union. Despite all that, the era of the past will soon come to an end as Georgias economy is booming at the moment while more and more Western influence can be spotted around.

The hospitality

If you don’t find any other reason to come to Georgia then come because of the people. These simple but openhearted people know all about what means being an excellent host. In matter of fact, in Georgia you as a guest are a gift to them, so prepare to be taken care of. The lavish feasts and drinking marathons; the protective and helpful attitude towards foreigners; the smiles that accompany you everywhere.

The hospitality towards us was shown in tons of different ways, staring from just simple conversations on the street, to invitations to share a meal and drink or two or ten with them. It just takes a “yes” to find yourself in memories worth to remember.

We were warned by  their neighbors, like Turks and Armenians, that Georgians have two faces and they will show you only one of them. Maybe it was like this and they really despised us, hiding their other face – nonetheless we really enjoyed staying there and the people are one of the main reasons to go back.

Invited randomly from street by a priest to celebrate the construction of the church

Invited randomly from street by a priest to celebrate the construction of the church

Prepare your stomach

If you don’t care about the people, you most certainly cannot but up a blind eye for the food. The huge khinkali’s, at least 5 different type of khatchapuri, sulguni cheese , greens and salads. After the dinners you feel like you have been in a food orgy. Most likely  you declare after every great meal that you are on a diet from now on. But already on the next morning, seeing the plates coming onto the table, laid on top of each other like bricks, you will likely fail and postpone the promise. What the heck, they even have a word for this over eating and its called supra, meaning a feast.  And of course, then there are the cheering hosts, who insist you to try this and that. Try to say no to them- it’s impossible as they make you the face like it was an ultimate insult. By the time of leaving the country, you have changed your tight jeans to more loose clothing, cause you know there is no escape for the heavenly food

 

The traditional Georgian dinner

The traditional Georgian dinner

The foggy days of booze tasting

Having good time means also drinking a lot of homemade booze with it. On the get go, you will be insisted to drink on the calls of the Tamada or toastmaster and most likely you will be enforced to come up with one as well. After the 10th “gagimarjoth” (cheers in Georgian), the shyness will be drowned in the glass and the party will get its right mood on. Be prepared to drink till the wee hours and learn some fancy drinking tricks when drinking from khantsi (the horn of bovid made into a glass), or other special ceremonial vessels around the house.

The drinking gets its special swing on in the late October, during the harvest season, when most families start brewing their own wine, champagne and chacha. Especially the last, pomace brandy, is something to be careful with, when the home made spirit can get as hard as 40% alcohol purity and make memories of the night fade away fast.

Visiting a wine cellar

Visiting a wine cellar

The home-stays for the win

About finding a place to stay, there is only one thing you need to know – home-stay. The family run small guesthouses beat the expensive hotels and hostels by far offering the real feel, home cooked meals and a great value for the buck. They can be found everywhere and are offered by taxi drivers on the street or clerks in the shops. Just don’t be afraid to ask around and check out some places before you decide. For something around 30 GEL you will get a (shared) room in a house of the family, delicious dinner and in many cases wine pouring freely for the whole night. 15 GEL seems to be standard for just a room but the value of staying with locals primarily comes from the food.

On the rough mornings, the hostess will cover the table with most delicious hangover food, that cure the mood within hours.

Our favorite Homestay “Suliko & Medico”:

When planning to visit Mestia, do a stopover in Kutaisi, and stay in Suliko & Medico Gvetadze (Alley opposite #81/100 Tbilisi St., house #6, green gate with Suliko written). This place attracts a lot of seasoned travelers which makes it a great meeting point. It’s better to count in a day for the not-so-feeling-good, since the hosts party entertainment “Suliko Show” is on almost daily and newcomers are insisted to take a tour to his wine cellar.

Getting ready for a dinner with other travelers at Suliko and Mediko Gvetadze. Mediko is in the background.

Getting ready for a dinner with other travelers at Suliko and Medico Gvetadze

Forget the cities and get out to the nature.

There is absolutely no good reason to limit your stay in Georgia with city breaks when there is the great nature around. Their nature is stunningly beautiful and remote areas in mountains have really clean air that will clean up your lungs in no time.

Yes, check out the ever touristic Batumi, spring water state Borjomi, or the capital Tbilisi, but don’t waste more than few days in them. Instead of that take few weeks to explore the Caucasus Mountains and their spectacular unviolated villages with the breathtaking scenery. To the must visit list include Mestia and Ushguli in Svaneti, in the highest part of Caucasus; Kazbegi in Mtskheta-Mtianeti; and Kvareli in the infamous Kakheti wine region.

How to get to Ushguli?

Definitely the highlight of our short stay was trip to the highest inhabited village in EuropeBest travelled with Marshutkas going from Batumi, Kutaisi or Zugdidi for 20-30 GEL. Be ready for a long 7 hr drive as the mountain roads take long to cover. Early next day find a group to join for the trip to Ushugli, as the only way up is Marshutka and round-trip costs 150-200 GEL. If there is enough time stay up in Usghuli, for a day or two, to trek up in the mountains or walk up to Caucasus most highest peak the Shkhara glacier. And if this is not for an option, a walk around the Svaneti defensive towers village is just as fun.

On the top of the world, in Ushguli

On the top of the world, in Ushguli

When? When? When?

Go NOW! Georgia is just in the time of becoming a tourist magnet, with the infrastructure being built and cows and other animals being removed from the roads. And then the khachapuris will become smaller and the price will get much higher. But really, it is always better to start traveling sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

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