I'm in Georgia and it is one fine country. Very fine.
Sheki was nice but i left it and Azerbaijan behind and travelled with an Australian diplomat in a couple of minivans to a border town where we hopped into a taxi and drove to the border. The Azerbaijan immigration was sketchy at best as everybody had to hand their passports over to a man with a gun who quickly disappeared but everything sorted itself out and me and Axel, the Aussie, walked over the border to be greeted by Georgian immigration officer who said happily, "Welcome to Georgia!" before i even gave him my passport. Two taxis, one minivan and a few hours later i was in Sighnaghi.
Sighnaghi is a red tiled hillside town complete with pastel coloured houses, balconies and lazy cobbled streets. It's in a region of Georgia famous for grape growing and wine making which was a fame that my guesthouse seemed only too pleased to extend further. The large woman called Manana who owned the place kept asking me to sit down at their big dinner table and then say "David! Eat!". This was usually followed by her small husband, Gori, who seemed to appear from nowhere, his face dominated by large glasses and a bald head and would say "David! Drink!" and pour me some wine or cha cha. Cha cha is a Georgian fire water made by fermenting grape skins and grape seeds to an average alcohol level of at least 50%. Apparently. I don't really remember the finer details.
The next morning i was sat in the front seat of Gori's car with three Israelis on the back seat who were also staying at the guesthouse. Gori was giving us a tour of the area and we saw a winery, a old fort, a monastery and his sisters house where she and her husband brew their own wine and cha cha which, of, course, had to be sampled. It was ten o'clock in the morning. And that's how i found myself being piloted through the landscapes of Georgia dripping with autumn leaves with three Israelis while Gori threw an arm out of a window and said things like, "Church! You go?" and me with a few glasses of cha cha flowing quite freely through my head.
I stayed another day in Sighnaghi (or it may have been two, ask cha cha) and then got another minivan to Tblisi. The Georgian capital is a dishevelled city that oozes charm and bursts with old architecture, happy faces, churches and speeding cars all of which seem to inhabit every tree lined street. I stayed in a family run guesthouse on a Saturday night and met lots of Polish people who seemed to want to drink a large supply of Cognac and then dance (Pole dancers, if you will) which made for a memorable experience.
I left Tblisi in another minivan (it's the only public transport in the Caucasus) and three hours later i was in the mountains near the Russian border and the village of Kazbegi. I stepped off the minivan to be greeted by a nice smiling woman who simply said, "Hello. I am Nazi." Thankfully Nazi has a guesthouse and her name is pronounced Nah-see but for some reason best known to her parents it's spelt with a "z". Unlucky. Nazi and her husband were fantastic hosts always entertaining and cooking huge amounts of food for me and the other guests staying there.
Kazbegi is famous in Georgia for the church that sits on a small mountain above the town. It is perched at a place where no church (or any building) should be but it's there looking out below to the village and the valley, across to the mountains and up to Mt Kazbeg, a snow covered peak towering over everything. Like most things i've seen so far in Georgia, Kazbegi is utterly wonderful. I walked up the dirt tack to Tsmida Sameba, the famous church, and hiked higher up the lower slopes of the dizzying mountain behind it. The next day me and Anya, a German photographer also staying with Nazi, got a taxi to a tiny village called Juta and spent the day hiking in heart-stopping camera-battery-sapping scenery into the brown green Chaukhi valley and up to the base camp of the brilliant white topped Mt Chaukhi. We sat and ate food, looked around and decided that Georgia is less a country and more a work of art. This place is great.
I'm back in Tblisi where i'll be for a few days and then i'm heading south to a different country. Who knows when i'll next be in this part of the world so i thought, "Let's go to Armenia." And it's not everyday that you can have that particular thought. I should be there for a week and then head back north to Georgia as there's no border between Armenia and Turkey. And Georgia deserves more time anyway.
Thanks for reading. Have fun.