Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Georgia, part 2: The land of hospitality, beautiful nature and Stalin

Kazbegi
TBILISI


Tbilisi was way nicer than I expected. No trace of Soviet union in the old town – really beautiful buildings, lots of narrow streets with cosy little cafes and bars. My host Zura took me around the old town after work and we went to his dad’s hotel where u can catch the most incredible views of the city.  Later we went to one of his favourite bars to have a beer (Scarlet’s ....) and after that to Koka’s hostel (Sky hostelwww.skyhostel.ge) – always full of travellers and they are always drinking so it is a really nice place if you are a solo traveller and you wanna be around people and have fun. Koka is very helpful and funny, I guarantee you won´t be bored there. Aaron and Koka plan to open a hostel in Brazil (Florianopolis as I recommended) in 2 years, Im looking forward to seeing this happening J.





Georgian language is a crazy mix of sounds that im not able to pronounce and the alphabet another level of craziness. Most of the old people speak very good Russians but the young ones don’t really. Well, the ones who speak it, speak it very well. The only words I learnt in Georgian were No (very important one considering the attacks of the Georgians) and "Yes", "Thank you" (this one is a must in Georgia, people are always so helpful),  "I want" and "I don’t want", "You want", "Cow shit" and "Ponytail" ...So I can ask “Do you want a cow shit in you pony-tail?” and in case someone asks me the same, I can always say “No thank you” or “No, I don’t want”. Really useful, you never know when a question like that catches you unawares :)

And Georgian drink a lot – doesn’t matter the alcohol, as long as it is alcohol. And they love their toasts – it is quite entertaining and tiring at the same time, sometimes a toast could take up to 20 minutes before you are able to drink...and then the next one is in five minutes, so you have to get ready again...Never ending... Actually the toastmaster is called “tamada” and his role is very important. The Tamada acts like a director of the party announcing traditional toasts to peace, love, health, happiness, well-being , etc. Every speaker tries to express his personal understanding of these notions. When a person is toasting, the rest are listening to him with great attention ...but another one can jump in and elaborate on it and it goes on and on...
The good thing is that they never do it with beer...so I was trying to drink beer whenever was possible.
My first night in Zura’s house we drunk vodka and he was taking these long toasts every time, I was cheating a little, not drinking it to the bottom cos I knew that I would be so hangover the next day. I even took notes while he was toasting, that night there were only 9 toasts:  1. To God. 2. To house & family; 3. To the dead ones;  4.To life; 5. Sweet memory; 6. To our mothers; 7. Things make you feel happy; 8. Relationships; 9.This one was a toast to me…and somewhere in between there was a silence toast J
Georgians also love their churches. They are all orthodox Christians but quite different from us (we don’t even know what the difference is between Catholics and Orthodox). You can often see them crossing themselves three times when a church comes into sight. And all the girls entering the churches or monasteries have to wear a dress and cover the head with a scarf. Something like this: 

Women have to be virgin when they get married, even though sometimes it is at the age of 25 or later. Most of the guys say that it is not important for them but when the time to get married comes, they would look for a virgin. One thing that is definitely not right, is that many guys cheat on their wives and girlfriends (normally going to the prostitutes) and the women pretend not to notice that. These customs are very common in Georgia and often discussed by the foreigners living there or just passing by. I was really shocked myself and often brought up the topic when speaking to the locals.
And just one more interesting fact: you can’t bribe the police in Georgia, no chance. I guess it´s because they finished off with all the gangsters and street bandits a few years ago and also applied the American police system (Georgia is being helped by the American government a lot and the Ministry of defence being trained by the American military forces).

KAKHETI & KAZBEGI
Like everything good always happens when you least expect it, I randomly met a guy on the street, another Giorgi (half of the guys in Georgia are called Giorgi). It happened exactly when I was so pissed off at myself. After trying for 20 minutes to open the front door of Zura´s house (later at night he was laughing at me cos it was the neighbour´s door... just so me!!), I finally gave up and with all the stuff I was carrying I was about to go to the centre. Then Giorgi approached me with some great excuse like asking for directions when obviously I was a foreigner... but in 20 minutes, I still don’t know how, he convinced me not only to meet him again, but changed my plan of going to Kazbegi the day after to going with him to Kakheti in his mum´s jeep and after that, maybe going to Kazbegi. Georgians!!! Actually it was such a good decision because I saw places that I could never seen travelling by marshrutka on my own.
Kakheti is famous for its wine in Georgia but we went to some God-forgotten villages, small rivers, beautiful lakes, of course some old Georgian churches and monasteries (Gremi was one of them I think), historical fortresses and towers. 


What????



We went to a really beautiful private lake complex (Lopota) where I had to play the role of a Bulgarian tourist company representative so they let us in. It worked though. At leaving I took a few leaflets and promised to bring some Bulgarian tourists there...but the place was really amazing (beach, boats, fishing spots, restaurant, swans...)



Lopota Gorge, Kakheti



They keep their wine in the ground
We even passed the border control to Russia on the Georgian side, without having Russian visas, giving some cigarettes to the soldiers there (of course we didn’t cross the border) but the landscape was stunning and wild, the road wasn’t even a proper road, we had to cross the river couple of times...This last section was new even for Giorgi..He seemed to know pretty well the area  and showed me some really lost villages, forests and rivers...


The road  to Russia
Honey hives
 Next day was Kazbegi´s turn. As we spent the night in Telavi, we took the shortest visible road on the map...which looked like a main road but once there we had the feeling we were on some abandoned path only for shepards ....It was twisting and turning around the mountains, no asphalt at all, it took us almost 2 hours to get across 22 km from one village to another....But it was so beautiful, I didn’t regret it at all (maybe because I wasn’t driving J)
First class road in Georgia




The road to Kazbegi was even more impressive as it led us to breathtaking scenery at every turn. We had to stop every 15 minutes to take photos of the mountains. Finally we made it to the town quite late at night. There was no chance to go to Gergeti that day so we found a guesthouse for 20 lari each with a really nice old lady who invited us for breakfast in the morning.
Only 10 km away from the Russian border, Kazbegi is home to the Tsminda Sameba church, a symbol for the country, and a great place to get spectacular views of the village and the Kuro Mountains. It’s hard to find any drawbacks for the backpacker in Kazbegi. It is cheap, has wonderful people and is accessible yet unspoiled. The range of things you can see and do when you visit is endless and when you’ve done them all you can just sit down with the local folk and have a fantastic time. 

It takes about 1,5 h to get to the church from Kazbegi but no matter how much I insisted, my lazy companion didn’t wanna do it on foot...so we went up by car – only a few 4x4s and good old Russian Nivas made it to the top (2200m). I also wanted to go to the glacier (Gergeti) but they told us that it takes 6 hours one way and you have to be very well equipped because it is freezing cold there.
 


Happy happy
View of the church from Kazbegi
The only bank in Kazbegi, solid gate! Of course no ATM

The landlady
Giorgi in the clouds







scary ..but stunning

With Aaron in Sky hostel
Back in Tbilisi, I spent another night at Zura’s place, also visited Koka’s hostel – it was full of travellers again and Aaron was also there so it was good to catch up with him. 
Next day I was leaving to Armenia and I was quite sad to go, really loved it in Georgia and especially the Georgians!!! Later on, meeting other travellers in other countries, I would find out that I am not the only one, everyone loves Georgia and its people – their hospitality and kindness extend to everyone they meet. 
It was Koka’s birthday in 2 days and everyone was trying to convince me to stay (especially because I was going to Armenia, they were all “Just skip Armenia and stay here”, but that would mean 2 days less in Iran and I already had too little time planned for Iran so after lots of doubting and mind changing, I decided to leave. But i’m sure I will be back!



Whoever is interested: Georgia, part I: http://gonewiththebackpack.blogspot.com.es/2011/09/georgia-my-new-love-part-1.html

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