Every journey is an experience, no matter what is the duration. The only thing that matters is what happens between the start and the end.
Some time ago my parents came to visit me, here, in Georgia. Together with my wife we decided to give them a mini tour through this country. No schedule, we just jumped in the car and drove. The only goal was to draw a line on the map – from Tbilisi to Batumi. I’m not a lover of the perfect trip, the booked resort, and the 4-star comfort. These are things that when traveling in the villages of Georgia – you forget. It is easier to find shelter at someone’s home. Georgians are very helpful and hospitable.
So we went up early and moved to Sighnaghi. It is located in Kakheti, one of many wine regions in Georgia. It is a very small town situated on a hill from which you can admire the mountains of Caucasus. Cute little houses, painted in pastel colors and paved streets. The old defence walls of the city still stand tall despite the time and bad administration. One of the ramparts is a dump. Too bad. Hope they will do something. Not far from there is the monastery of Bodbe, you should see it.
We left Sighnaghi and headed to Kvareli. Before entering the city we visited the Kvareli Lake – a show of colors gifted by autumn, which in Georgia is something extraordinary. Absolute peace, perfect for long walks. In Kvareli there is the house museum of Kote Marjanishvili – famous Georgian director and screenwriter. It is in excellent condition. On the upper floor there are various rooms where directors personal possessions are exhibited. Posters of his shows and his own sketches for costumes are amazing. On the lower floor there is a cellar where he produced his own wine. There are two large tanks for pressing at the top and many ceramic barrels, typical Georgian Qvevri embedded in the floor for brewing. Impressive.
We stopped at one of the many wineries in the area for a quick lunch and a glass of wine before proceeding to Telavi. Along the way we passed by Gremi, where stands the majestic fortress. This small castle is perched on a hill. Inside there is a museum with various belongings of the royal dynasty. There is a weird toilet where the King carried out the “physiological activities”. Inside you can take pictures.
Next to the castle is the active church of the archangels Michael and Gabriel. Inside are many frescoes ruined by Soviet stupidity, in fact all the faces of saints are ruined and there are several writings on the walls, really a shame. Once Gremi was the hub for traders and enjoyed full splendor. Needless to say that the road to Telavi is stunning. It is all surrounded with the golden color of autumn leaves.
Once in Telavi we went to another museum, the summer residence of Chavchavadze. This was their summer residence for many years that still belongs to the heirs who take good care of the estate. The garden is very big, great for walking. As in most of the museum houses there is a varied collection of objects which in past belonged to the family. The curious thing is that in each room there is a piano, real rarities. During the refurbishment works a basement was discovered that was believed to be destroyed. You can see it from the outside of a window. There is a tradition that each visitor does – at the center of the room is a pot, where you should throw a coin. If you are lucky and don’t miss, your wish comes true. Is it for real? It is forbidden to take photos inside.
Evening was coming, so we stopped for a dinner. My father discovered Khinkhali, Mtsvadi and Khachapuri. He eat only that for the rest of the trip. During the dinner, between laughter and “Gumarjos” we decide the next stop over. In reality the choice was blown out when the waiter brought us water and my mother asked – what is “Borjomi”? Besides being a brand it is something more. The city is famous for the production of mineral water, very appreciated by the old Soviets Heads. Stalin wherever he was, brought supplies directly from Georgia due to the unique properties of the water. There is a beautiful park in the middle of the city. It is well equipped with all facilities, a café and a children’s playground. There is a beautiful statue of Prometheus under a waterfall. Borjomi is famous for the water source that you can find right at the park entrance. It is a fountain created ad hoc.
We left the thermal town behind and went down straight to Akhaltsikhe – the city with a very special downtown. Composed from Rabati fortress from which it takes its name, it is surrounded by high medieval walls. Also inside is a mosque, a marble colonnade and a Georgian history museum. From the towers there is a spectacular view of the town. Really unique in its kind. It started to get dark and you know at night the stars shine stronger, so if nearby there is an observatory things are going to be interesting.
Not far from Akhaltsikhe there is a astronomical observatory of Abastumani. The observatory is located in a strategic area far from artificial lighting. Excellent natural conditions and rolling hills covered with coniferous forests, makes this place one of the best destinations for observers. In addition to the large telescope inside there is a small museum dedicated to the discoveries and to the founder of the center. Unfortunately, the period was not the best, overcast skies and poor visibility forced us to find a shelter in a small guest house where we slept in order to be ready and fresh for the next day.
It was time to see the sea now, after a while’ the mountain landscapes became boring. We went straight to Batumi, at the Black Sea. The city as all the seaside towns is bustling but the traffic is not the same as in Tbilisi. Huge skyscrapers and buildings of the most bizarre shapes are overlooking the boulevard which in summer is a tingle of people. We visited the botanical garden.A variety of remarkable plants, ideal for those who love nature and studied botany. I have been there in the fall, you can imagine what I found. Arranged very well, the path allows you to admire everything without getting lost in useless mazes. There is a shuttle service with extra payment but you should walk, as it is more fun. There is a free wifi area if it can be of interest but use smartphones just to take picture – don’t miss all the colors that this place offers. In Batumi we spent two days before returning to Tbilisi.
In the eyes of my parents I saw their astonishment, a trip they will never forget. My father tells me that Georgia is Italy 50 years ago, when he was a kid playing in the courtyard among of the farm animals. A dip in childhood lasted ten days.
I see a country towards the future that struggles to free itself from the rural life, but maybe, in some ways, it’s better now.
© Salvatore Costa