Travelling through Georgia

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands”

That is how Sir Richard Burton has described the adventures of travelling and it is how a friend and I felt during a grey autumn. We were in the middle of writing our thesis and were hoping to escape the daily grind; at least for a week. The small country touching the Black Sea in the West and the Caucasus Mountains in the North promised to be that escape.

One late afternoon in early November we touched ground on the airport in Kutaisi, the third-biggest city of the country. However, we had decided to make the four-hour bus ride directly to the capital Tbilisi. Two hours in our bus came to a stop on the side of the road, decidedly in the middle of nowhere. Seeing our bus driver hitching a ride and driving away seemed to be an unexpected welcome. But we quickly came to realise that the Georgians were a very warm and welcoming people. As the only tourists on the bus we were swiftly informed that our driver had every intention of returning; just with a missing piece to repair the bus.

Two hours later than we had planned, we did arrive at our hostel in Tbilisi. We had informed our hosts that we were late, but we did not expect that they were awaiting us with a warm dinner. Coming from a country where people are generally much more reserved towards strangers it was a wonderful surprise to be welcomed into a house and treated as family.

As much as I would love to tell you all in detail about our adventures in this beautiful country, I do not think I have the space to fit it all in here. That is why I will focus on the foods you should try should you ever visit, the Georgian wine culture and our journey up the Caucasus Mountains. I do apologize in advance for the missing pictures of the Georgian cuisine, but it looked too good so we did not take the time to take any pictures before eating it. 

Georgia is a country that loves bread and cheese (and wine, but I will be coming to that a bit later) and I felt right at home sampling the various parts of the Georgian cuisine. Khachapuri is probably the most prominent variant and something I urge you to try. It looks like a small boat made of bread and filled with (lots of) cheese. If you can, enjoy this delicacy together with Georgia’s lemonade, Lagidze Waters. The Georgian variant of dumplings, Khinkali, was probably my favourite food I tried there. The fillings vary, but in many cases, it is ground meat and a tasty broth is hidden within the dumpling. Using any form of cutlery to eat those is considered to be impolite. Rather one takes the knot on top of the Khinkali and eats it by hand; just be careful of the warm broth inside. It tends to be quite a messy affair for the unpracticed tourists, but quite a tasty one.

The most mysterious yet sweetest food we came across was the Churchkhela, or Georgian Snickers, as they are often times called. We had seen them hanging on countless stands all around the city and on our trips to the country side, but it took a traditional food tasting for us to realise that they were sweet desserts made of hardened grape juice and nuts (and not some strange sausages or candles as we had been guessing). We were told that you can find the best Churchkhela in the region of Kakheti, so make sure to pick some up from there.

Georgian Snickers are not the only reason why you should decide to make a trip to Kakheti, or the region of wine as it is called. Georgia is the world’s oldest wine producer and Kakheti is the region you would want to visit to get a glance on the wine culture. We learned that most people produce their own wine (as did our hosts in the hostel, which we learned after we had bought them a bottle to say “thank you” for their warm welcome). Personally, the Georgian wine is one of the best I have tried, since I do love my wine a bit sweeter. My friend, who has lived in Spain for a while, found it occasionally a bit too sweet, especially compared to the dryer variants in Spain she has learned to love. I strongly advise you to try it though, I do not think you will be disappointed.

A few days into our stay we took the trip up North towards the Caucasus Mountains. As rather typical students we had not planned anything in advance nor looked up any bus routes but just went to the central bus and taxi terminal early in the morning to ask around. In hindsight, I believe that we were lucky to meet two Polish travellers who were able to speak Russian. This made the coordination and communication a lot easier and we were on our four-hour journey towards the mountains; of course, with some “photo-stops” on the way.

Georgia is a stunning country, which is more clarified the higher you travel up. We have seen beautiful views of glaciers, lakes and mountain sides, of monasteries cradled on top of hills and endless skies. If I could I would share my camera roll with you, but again I am missing the space. One of my favourite part of our time in Georgia was our hike up Mount Kazbek, the third highest mountain of the country (accompanied by a loyal stray we named Buddy). We could not hike up all the way, but I remember sitting at the snowline and feeling at peace with the world and myself.

Writing about my time there has certainly sparked my wanderlust (or “distance ache” as we say in German) and I cannot wait to go back. Who knows, maybe I will see you there? If you travel to the Kazbegi region, be sure to greet Buddy for me. He did leave us on our way down the mountain to find new adventures.