I had heard all sorts of wonderful things about Georgia - food, scenery, wine, relative cheapness, etc. so I decided I had to visit. Azerbaijan and Armenia are close so after consultation with the Internet and my sister, we decided to go to Georgia and Armenia and then take the fabulous new train to Turkey that was (after several delays) due to open in mid-2018.
Pretty much everything in Georgia is no more than two and a half hours from the capital so it made sense to base ourselves in Tbilisi and travel from there. We spent a couple of days in Tbilisi getting acclimated. The highlight was a day-long Culinary Backstreets walking tour (they have tours all over the world - culinarybackstreets.com). We sampled all sorts of Georgian food and wine, visited a major market, and had an amazing dinner at one of Tbilisi's best restaurants - a perfect introduction to our trip.
Our host on the walking tour looked extremely worried when we told her we planned to take a shared minivan to the mountains so we decided to ask our hotel to find us a driver to take us to Kazbegi. The main attractions of this part of the country are the scenery, hiking, Gergeti Trinity Church and Rooms Hotel. I had a problem with altitude sickness several years ago in Colorado I decided to take it easy, stay hydrated, take my altitude sickness prevention medicine, and avoid alcohol. My plan was to sit in Rooms Hotel and look out the window. That is pretty much what I did.
|View of our balcony and our view|
We did visit Gergeti Trinity Church and on our last day, we hiked up to a smaller church near our hotel.
|Gergeti Trinity Church|
The same driver took us back to Tbilisi for two more nights before our departure for Armenia. We did a day tour of three attractions outside of Tbilisi, attended Yom Kippur services at the Great Synagogue, and continued to eat.
|Mtskheta - Spiritual Capital of Georgia|
The night train to Armenia was supposed to be good but it wasn't. The car attendant yelled at us (and everybody else in our car) more than once but we did get to see Mount Ararat as we approached Yerevan.
Armenia was wonderful and I wish we had spent more time there. Yerevan is much less hectic than Tbilisi. We saw amazing illuminated manuscripts at Matenadaran Library and then took a short taxi ride to the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum - a very powerful experience.
|Armenian Genocide Memorial|
Our last day in Yerevan was spent on a day tour to Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery. It was Armenian Independence Day and we spent the evening in Republic Square enjoying the festivities. There were lots of food vendors and activities for kids as well as music. Apparently there was a very short fireworks display at 11:00 - I was sound asleep.
|Vendor at Independence Day Celebration|
Our hostel in Yerevan won the award for worst accommodation so it was a relief to arrive at the Casanova Inn in Dilijan. Unfortunately, we arrived about ten days too early for peak color season but our accommodations were very nice. Our host happens to be a talented chef and the meals were amazing (I am doing a separate post on food). We spent our one day there visiting another monastery, walking half way around a lake, exploring the town, shopping, and relaxing. There were a lot of cows.
I bought Bagratuni Elixir at the monastery which according to the literature "heals the heart and makes the spirit happy." It is also recommended for elderly people. I'll let you know how it works but based on what I have read, I am pretty sure it was a bargain at $5.
We hired a car to take us back to Tbilisi for one night where we had yet another fantastic meal. The next day we set off for Telavi and the wine country. Our guest house arranged two great day trips. Our first day we visited three wineries (and two monasteries). We sampled some really great wine and bought a couple of bottles to take home. The wine is fermented in clay vessels which are buried in the ground and we learned all sorts of things about the process - the amount of time the wine is in contact with skins/seeds is very important - but overall, I preferred the wine made "European-style."
|Wine fermenting in a qveri (clay vessel) buried in the ground|
|Not even Google Lens can figure out what this is|
The next day, we went to Sighnaghi where we had our only day of bad weather. We couldn't get a reservation at a restaurant we really wanted to try but we did visit the excellent local museum which had a wonderful exhibit of paintings by Niko Pirosmani. We also went to Bodbe Monastery which was beautiful even through the fog.
|Bodbe Monastery - according to our guide, the weather was "not transparent"|
We then made our way back to Tbilisi for another fabulous meal and one more day trip - this time to the Davit Gareja cave monasteries. The roads were terrible and it was too hard for me to climb to the second monastery but it was beautiful and there was a gift shop. A great ending to our stay in Georgia.
Things I Learned:
- Georgians and Armenians are extremely proud of their respective countries.
- Police stations in Georgia have glass walls to symbolize transparency.
- Police cars in Georgia always have their lights and flashers on so everyone will know the police are there.
- If someone hands you a wallet on a public bus, it is not an example of Georgian hospitality. You are supposed to touch the wallet to the fare box to register payment and then return the wallet.
- I thought my Coke Zero had been poisoned but then the Internet told me that altitude sickness prevention medicine causes carbonated drinks to taste "unpleasant."
|Gabriadze Puppet Theater - Tbilisi|
|Sunrise over Mt. Kazbek (picture taken from our hotel room)|