If you’ve met me somewhere in Europe last summer, or spoken to me since I’ve been back in Montreal, I have probably told you about the magical place that is Georgia the country. I feel a deep desire to specify Georgia as a country, because initially when many people (that I know) hear the word Georgia they think of a southern U.S state with funny accents and lots of peaches. Georgia the country is thought of second. Or not at all. “Oh yeah, somewhere near Russia, right?” “Isn’t it dangerous there? Wasn’t there some political unrest?” “What’s it like?”
No, no, no and THE BEST PLACE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD! You know when you’re worried about over-hyping something to ruin it for somebody yes? Well that doesn’t scare me when it comes to Georgia (the country). From cute and cosmopolitan cities, to the golden countryside, to the most well-placed church in the entire world, to breathtaking mountains and mouthwatering food, it takes every bit of my soul not to move to Georgia the country right now. And the locals. I forgot to mention the locals. The locals with soul, smiles and such welcoming hearts.
Hidden somewhere in the middle of Eurasia, with a seaside, snow-peaked mountains, grassland and dry land, with a bit of sad political history thrown in for good measure, I can’t think of a better place to step foot in. I don’t usually play favourites. I don’t usually list countries as good or bad. Every country has it’s specialities. Every person is unique. But Georgia (the country), is the best country!
Did you know that people still cross themselves (the Orthodox way) whenever they pass a church? And there are a lot of churches, in Georgia the country. Each one more special and beautiful than the next. Whether it be up in the Caucasus mountains or on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi, the churches light up in ways I’ve never seen in any other part of the world.
Did you know that Georgia’s big city of Tbilisi is the new hot spot to travel to? It’s like Prague a few decades ago; cheap and undiscovered (by mass tourism standards). Still warm and welcoming. Open to backpackers with a few artsy guesthouses and budget hostels (only a handful so far) available. Hip veggie cafes, soul food, wineries and tiny art galleries in the old town. What other kind of combination do you need?
Did you know that they have some of the best cuisines? Eggplants, spinach, cheeses and freshly baked breads, specialty wines and juicy, plump dumplings called khinkali are things you can eat everyday for the rest of your life and never crave anything else for as long as you live. Ever heard of khachapuri? It’s a giant piece of bread with a cooked egg in the middle. So big, so cheap, so perfect. Georgia satisfies. I might write a post just on Georgian food.
My second Sunday in Georgia I found myself hiking up to a chapel in Kazbegi, the biggest town in northern Georgia and localted along the Russian border. My friend and I were amongst the beautiful Caucasus mountains as we got off our marshuka, checked into a little guesthouse run by a sweet Georgian woman and made our way up the hill to one of the world’s most photogenic churches. A lot of families were out that day, hiking up to a centuries-old church to pay their respects, spend some time together and pray to one of the 20 (or was it 30?) saints and icons hanging in the chapel. They make a lot of beeswax candles in Georgia, the country. There are a lot of saints to pray to.
Kazbegi is about a three-hour bus ride from the main bus terminal in Tbilisi. The views along the way don’t disappoint. Grab a snack at the bus terminal, a bottle of that famous Georgian sparkling water (apparently it was Stalin’s favourite) and enjoy the ride. There are a few modest guesthouses in Kazbegi as well as mountain lodges. It works as an overnight trip or you can spend a few days, taking in the unbeatable scenery and going on a proper hike up the Caucasus mountains.
If you just want to spend a night and see the Gergeti Trinity Church, I recommend staying at a guesthouse near the bus terminal and starting the walk up to the church on the mountain. The hike is about an hour and a half each way. It serves as a good day-trip!