Georgia is famous for many things. It’s wonderful mountains; warm and hospitable people ; the culture; churches; and it’s wine but as we crossed the border from Azerbaijan we only had one thing on our mind and it wasn’t any one of those..
It was the food. Having spent many years in Moscow where Georgian food is deservedly popular we were keen to try it again and especially in its home county. In particular we were looking forward to Khachapuri, leavened bread filled with delicious oozy melted cheese. We had been telling Alisha and Lucy all about this over the preceding days so after a simple border crossing we headed to the hilltop picturesque town of Sighnaghi. Although the town had a lot to offer in terms of churches, views and cobble streets we rushed past all of this to a delightful restaurant where we could gorge ourselves on our first Georgian meal. It was to be the first of many. At the end of it Lucy was as in love with Khachapuri as we were, even enjoying left overs for breakfast.
Having feasted on a delicious lunch we pulled ourselves away to explore the pretty little town. With lunches like these mind you there was going to be no need for dinner. We wandered the narrow streets admiring the churches and town walls before finding a quiet spot to camp by the river for the night.
The next day it was the time to enjoy another Georgian speciality, its wine. We had heard that the Schuchmann winery allowed you to camp in its grounds so we thought that made a particularly good choice for a spot of wine tasting. First though we were to enjoy another magnificent lunch in the restaurant with wonderful views over the vines. As I wouldn’t be driving for the rest of the day it only seemed appropriate to accompany it with some of the local wine.
Later that afternoon we were given a tour of the winery. In Georgia wine is made in the classical European way but also in its own traditional way, “unfiltered” where the wine is made in big clay pots buried in the ground. At the wine tasting later we sampled both types. It’s been quite a while since we have been drinking wine so we also thought it was a good opportunity to stock up with a few bottles. We spent the evening enjoying one of the bottles and watching the sunset over the winery.
With any capital city, parking for the truck is always tricky. Tbilisi was not going to prove an exception and with the narrow streets of the old town we decided to park above the town around a lake. We were met by an old friend and former colleagues’ driver, George who kindly showed us where to park. It was a great spot from a security perspective and we felt comfortable leaving the truck there while heading down into the city to explore. It was though a popular summer escape from the city and as the evening wore on more and more people arrived until the car park was full. This was fine as everyone was out enjoying the summer weather. As the car park emptied though it was the turn of the boy racers and loud music which meant we didn’t get the most restful sleep.
Tbilisi is a lovely old city full of churches and interesting streets. The churches date from around the 5th century right up until the present day with the largest new cathedral being built since Georgian independence. We spent a couple of days exploring the streets, popping into the churches to admire the frescos and iconostasis. We also took the modern cable car up the hill to the fortress to enjoy fantastic views of the city.
One of my former colleagues, Altaf is still based in Tbilisi and it was great that he was around while we were there and to catch up over a wonderful Gerogian meal. While the girls enjoyed the dancing and folk music we caught up over what has been going on over the last four years and remembering times together. It was quite symmetrical meeting Altaf just a few weeks before we finish our trip as I met with him at this home in Canada after we had been on the road for only a few weeks. A lot has passed since then but it’s always nice to meet with friends. Altaf was a fantastic host and I would like to thank him for a wonderful Georgian meal where we not only sampled Khachapuri but also some wonderful new Georgian dishes as well.
We headed out of Tbilisi taking the main road East. We then turned South as we were planning on crossing one of the quieter borders into Turkey. As we turned off the road narrowed and wound its way along a beautiful valley dotted with fortresses. We were here to visit Vardzia a 12th century cave city. As it was too late that afternoon to visit we drove further along a minor road to camp by the river. It was so nice Gilly and Lucy even went for a swim. However we are not having much luck with campsites at the moment. It was a lovely evening at a lovely spot but was obviously well known. At about midnight a car came down with four men who were out for some beers for the night. Leaving their music blaring they proceeded to make a fire. They ignored us but were clearly settling in for the night so we slipped through to the front of the cab and drove a couple of Kilometres down the track to another spot.
The next morning we drove back to Vardzia and climbed up the hill to explore the cave city where monks used to live. The monks lived in rock hewn dwellings ranging over many floors. Whilst in ruins now there was still a church carved into the rock and a couple of the caves were still lived in.
Unfortunately that was our last sight in Georgia. We are having to speed up our journey now as we near Europe and wished we could have spent much longer in Georgia. Mind you we had certainly eaten our fill of absolutely delicious Georgian food and if we kept eating Khachapuri every day our waistlines would soon begin to suffer. But they taste just so heavenly.