I mean, we didn’t plan anything! Our trip to Georgia was a spontaneous decision, with little prior knowledge or regard to the country. When deciding where to go during the holiday season, we just had some basic parameters: no European capitals, short flight, and a favorable currency. And Georgia happens to be a super trending travel destination here in Israel. The holidays snuck up on us, and before we knew it, we’re sitting on the plane Tbilisi-bound.
From mindlessness (and even ignorance), Georgia left us astound, impassioned, and literally hungry for more.
I wasn’t the one to coin this term – inherited nostalgia – it was Margus, a 25 year old Estonian who I met at the hostel in Sighnaghi. I was trying to describe the awesomeness of traveling through a foreign country, yet the food, hospitality, use of Russian, the simplicity…was all so familiar and reminiscent. Margus interrupted in total agreement and blurted, “Yes, I feel the same way, it’s like this Soviet inherited nostalgia we got from our parents. We’re too young and removed to recall this actual past, but we can taste it and image it here in Georgia.” Unbelievable! For this ethnic Estonian kid who was born in the last year of the Soviet occupation, and for me, a Russian Jew raised in America…parts of the Soviet legacy clearly lives on!
We exchanged passed down stories of our parents’ “good old day,” made fun of Soviet lunacies, and agreed that, despite all the reasons to hate on Russia, there’s still a huge advantage in knowing the language (either it be living in Israel for me, or working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for him). We also laughed about how cool and vintage we are for holding Soviet birth certificates.
This is Margus checking out my birth certificate in Docady, while I took full advantage in plugging the app during dinner ;).
There aren’t many roads, and there was certainly not a lot of time, so from Tbilisi, we headed 1.5 hours east towards Sighnaghi – the hilly provincial Kakheti region. Again, we did not expect to arrive to an incredibly charming, rebuilt, picturesque town – some magical combination of Como and Alhambra.
In this guest house in Sighnaghi, we got our first real taste of Georgian home cooking. The resident grandmother cooks for the guests every morning and night, seven days a week. She took a liking to me, and especially prepared good old fashion ovsyanka (oatmeal) over fire when the entire village lost gas on our last morning. It was very emotional for me because the combination of whole milk, deep yellow butter, homemade jam, and slowly stirred oatmeal is as close to a mother’s milk as it will ever get. Again, I may not remember my early toddler years well, but I immediately recognized the nurture and love in this oatmeal.
As a day trip from Sighnaghi, we hooked up with three other Israelis and headed to Lagodekhi, home to a renowned state park and forest in a village that sits on the Azerbaijan border. This sign takes home the prize!
Before the start of our trek, we headed to town to pick up bread, snacks, and (ready?!), real kvass! Yes, this rye drink poured out of a barrel is one of my earliest human memories from Latvia, and even though it was not nearly as tasty as I recall, reliving this experience was exhilarating.
Look, it’s hard to impress a Northern Californian with a forest, especially 20 kilometers of it. But, it was still worth the walk, scenery, Birch trees, a drinkable river, and the waterfall that rewarded us at the end.
Georgian Military Road
We said good bye to our new friends and Kakheti and embarked on our longest leg – 5.5 hours north towards Kazbegi (our final destination). There’s only one road, which runs back through Tbilisi and up the infamous Georgian Military Road. Stretching all the way to Russia, this road has been strategic for centuries, from past invasions to current Eurasian commerce. But for us, it was mainly a feast for the eyes – from the Ananuri castle, numberless mountain sheep, and the Russian Georgian Friendship Monument (a rather euphemistic name I think, but oh well).
And after dozens of twists and turns as we climbed nearly 2,000 meters, Mount Kazbek, one of the tallest mountains in the Caucasus region, revealed his gorgeous snowy face right as we approached Kazbegi!
No doubt, Yonatan and I left our hearts in Kazbegi. It must have been the complete mixture of the scenery, air, but most of all, the people. We arrived to Kazbegi at the start of the weekend, without (of course) any prior booking. Turns out, the town was packed with tourists (mostly Israelis, but nonetheless) and our confidence in a last minute reservation didn’t pan out. So we just cruised around the tiny town, and within minutes, a Georgian man rolled up and asked if we needed a place to stay. We followed him to his home/guest house, where is wife Marina and 3 year old daughter Nana welcomed us to the appropriately name ‘Nana Guest House’ (more on them in a bit)!
The main attraction of Kazbegi is the Gergeti Trinity Church, and it doesn’t let your forget it! This 14th Century masterpiece stares down at your from over 2,000 meters, illuminated by the sun during the day, and by the moon at night. Our plan for the following morning was cut out – we got a lift up a steep rocky 30 minute climb that opened up to a sensational panorama:
And as for the rest of our time in the Kazbegi area – Trusso Valley, Kobi village, Gveleti Waterfall – it was one spectacular exhibition of nature after another:
Though we certainly enjoyed Georgia’s classics daily – khachapuri (bread/cheese), khinkali (dumpling), and kharcho (soup)…
…we were most astound by their pure produce! The tomatoes alone merit their own blog post, forever ruining the consumption of any other tomatoes for us! Georgian tomatoes are clearly picked only when they’re fully ripe, and sold to eat immediately. And so, you sink your teeth into a steaky, dripping, spotless red fruit. There aren’t enough words…
But my most memorable meal in Georgia was our last breakfast at Nana’s Guest House in Kuzbegi. At first Marina, Nana’s mother, said that she does not provide meals like some of the other guest houses. But as we truly bonded during our stay, she invited us for breakfast on the eve of our departure. Seemingly a classic spread, it was a real privilege to have experienced a meal where nearly EVERY ingredient came from their yard and chicken coop (the cucumber and tomato salad, fried potatoes with onion and dill, sunny side up eggs, fruits, pickled cabbage, etc.). Though, Marina apologized for the lack of milk and cheese due to her two cows being pregnant and not producing milk at the moment. I was floored from her casual justification, underscoring the meaning of a true organic life! A dream!
The cherry on top of this breakfast? Actual cherry jam, coupled with black, red, and white current jams! Again, it was a taste of early childhood that I recognized from sense and experience alone. These jams sent warmth, sweetness, and gratitude up my spine – the very emotions that our Georgian experience evoke.
And with our bellies and hearts full, we bid Georgia farewell…though not for too long I’m sure!