Crossing from Armenia into Georgia proved simple enough. We bade farewell to our guide and driver and queued with our luggage (mostly backpacks) we quickly and painlessly passed through into Georgia. Our new guide met us and we were ushered to our new transit van and headed to Tbilisi. New language and new currency and new adventures!
After checking into our hotel we were taken on our city tour which is always welcome in a new city. Same same but different! The night was free so my friend went off to find a restaurant with a nice view of the river Mtkvari, great food and some of the famous and popular Georgian wine that this country is famous for. We were informed by our guide in Russia that although Georgian wine in Russia was expensive it was inexpensive here. She actually said it was cheaper than water! A slight exaggeration. A few days later we enjoyed a wine tasting and yes the wine was excellent and good value but sadly not exported to Australia though it is across Europe and the US. More of that later. We also changed money at a money changer successfully which proved an easier way of trying to withdraw money from an ATM in Russia.
A long city walk was scheduled after breakfast with diverse architecture, street art, quirky cafes, good museums and lots of history. There is an inexpensive cable car, the peace bridge and the museum of modern art and the Museum of Georgia. Our guide suggested a spot for lunch Cafe Kala in the old town. We had already tried khachapuri in Russia…admittedly in st Petersburg where I loved the Georgian restaurants. Now it was time for our American friends on the trip to try it. Bread dough fashioned in the shape of a boat ridiculously smothered with cheese and baked with an egg yolk and butter added to make a cheesy cheesy dish. You break off a piece of bread and dip it in the cheese, egg and butter mix. You get the picture. More of this in my upcoming food blog on Russia, Armenia and Georgia.
Dinner was a lovely private dinner in the garden with a Georgian family about 30 minutes out of town. We enjoyed the outdoor setting and the purpose built kitchen for our first lesson in kinkali, those cute little dumplings with the pleated design. We were also shown the making of a chicken dish called ‘chakhokhbili’. This
was simple but delicious as were the salads which accompanied the chicken and the dumplings and did I say dessert. Always cake!
Leaving Tbilisi we headed out of town to one of the many religious icons in Georgia. I thought it was me who was disappointed with the number of historical sites we visited daily when we were on a food tour but felt relieved that the rest of the group felt similarly. It appeared that even though we were on a food tour we were shuffled on to see various religious icons daily. If we had chosen a historical tour then I am sure it would have been fabulous. I realised though as time went on regardless of the tour we took they were all the same as they were run by the tourist Georgian company. Disappointment spread through the group as we felt we were not a specific food tour. Since our return I have enquired from Intrepid if they are not allowed to have their own tours and guides but have not received a reply. This was made evident when our group were excited to be having a hands on cooking class making the khapauria (the boat shaped bread with cheese baked and then an egg yolk and slice of butter was added) and when we arrived at a restaurant there was no class but a table laden with various types of khachapuri fir our lunch. No demonstration in sight. The khapauria was delicious if served at room temperature. When I made mention of our disappointment on Facebook and Instagram a friend from a previous mentioned (four months previously) tour said they too had complained of this disappointment but nothing had been changed for subsequent trips.
We enjoyed some delicious food however and the scenery in the Caucasus was spectacular and some of the most beautiful I have ever seen especially on the Georgian Military Highway which leads to the Russian Georgian border where we stopped in freezing weather to photograph a memorial to the Russian/Georgian Frienship Monument built in 1983 to celebrate the ongoing frienship between the two countries. Make it what you want but it is a beautiful monument.
Our visit to two very diverse wineries was a highlight due to the ever increasing popularity quality. In fact I remembered that Yotham Ottolenghi’s favourite wine was from Georgia. After a tour of the winery we were invited to sample several white and red wines with matching cheese who was s first for me. It was where also the popular drink Chacha was available. Not for the faint hearted it is a pomade brandy with a 40% alcohol and made from the residue left after making wine and also called Georgian vodka or grappa. The other winery we visited was a home brew and kept underground in large vats. It was in contrast to the previous winery.
We headed back to Tbilisi after our interesting tour of the mountains, the ski fields and trekking. One last day to seek out some souvenirs, checking out
local street art and a farewell meal.