Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Around Guria

April 22nd, 2010

Suppose if you start the day with vodka and borsch – red cabbage soup – then things are likely to take a few interesting twists and turns. Especially at speed in the back of a Police car. Meeting up with Eto after breakfast, she’d organised a day out and about in the Guria region with the thoroughness you’d expect of someone who’d spent three years studying at University in Germany.

Police car

Introduced to the town’s mayor, he kindly put a car and driver at our disposal. A Police car and a Police officer to be precise. Got the impression I was not alone in finding this a generous, but quite unusual, offer. We were joined by Nazi, an English teacher from the local secondary school, helping out with the interpreting.

Guria

And then we were off. The monastery at Udabno, a few kilometres away, a mix of old and new, a sixth century cave church close to one built just a few years ago. Then on to Eristaven Castle, sat on a small hill in the middle of the flood plain, by now joined once more by Kate the journalist. Then up a winding river valley to the springs at Nabeghlavi and a state-of-the-art bottling plant. Next, a nearby nunnery, high above the valley, the views quite breathtaking.

Dinner

Finally, a visit to an old house, complete with wine cellar, home of the local landowner in pre-Communist times. Grand piano in the public room, pictures on the wall of the family in the finery. And a fine end to the day, dinner on the veranda in the warm evening sun.

Back at Luara’s time to reflect on the day. What did I make of the Guria region? As I sought to explain to Kate over dinner, the scenery is unspoiled, quite beautiful – intriguingly, you never fail to sense the presence of the snow covered Lesser Caucasus high above the valley. But what I really liked was the genuine warmth, the generosity of people. Even in a busy town like Ozurgeti, cups of coffee had appeared as I sought to explain my venture, I’d been stopped regularly on the road, asked if I needed help.

I’d suggested lots of people would love to visit, be it trekking, bird-watching, cycling, but they simply weren’t aware. I guard my ’visit again’ list quite closely. Very easy to say, with the best of intentions, you’ll return, only for the realities of life to get in the way. But I’d definitely come back, to western Georgia certainly, once the expedition’s complete. Well worth the effort.

[The author is hugely indebted to all those who’ve made him so welcome in Chakhatauri and the Guria region, in particular Eto, Nazi, Luara, Kate, George and Giorgi. And do visit the Gallery to see more photographs of his day in Guria]

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At the homestay

April 22nd, 2010

At the homestay, western Georgia from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

In the small town of Chakhatauri, in the Guria region of western Georgia, Ken describes breakfast with a difference

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Beyond Batumi

April 22nd, 2010

The plan was simple enough. Head north up the coast to Kobuleti, then inland towards the town of Ozurgeti, the hub of Guria region, meeting up with Eto around four in the afternoon. We’d not had chance to agree exactly we’d rendezvous, but I was confident that if I cycled around the place long enough, she’d find me. Thought I’d be easy to spot, couldn’t be that many Englishmen on bikes looking lost. Worked quite well. Actually, when I arrived in the centre I spotted a TV cameraman, and made straight for him. Struck me as a good idea, he even filmed me for a while but then disappeared. Never worked out who he was, and nobody else seemed to know either.

Eto and Nazi

Eto – on the left in the photograph – explained they’d been a slight change of plan, I’d be staying twenty miles further on in the small town of Chakhatauri, close to where she lived. Her father George had brought the car so there was no need to cycle. Unfortunately, three people, Emma, all my panniers and a Lada wasn’t going to work, so we compromised – they’d take the luggage and I’d cycle there.

But, by now five in the evening, it was first time for dinner and a new dish – Khinkali – described by Georgians as a meal in itself because it contains meat and potatoes in a pasta parcel. Just like the Khachapuri Merab had introduced me to back in Batumi, there’s an art to eating this. You must make sure the juice inside the parcel does not spill out, gingerly biting a small nick and drinking the contents. Sounds simple enough. Took three attempts to get right.

The ride to Chakhatauri was swift, Eto and her father meeting me every few kilometres, and the scenery quite beautiful. A brief climb up from Ozurgeti, then a fast, winding descent onto a wide, flat river flood plain, bounded by steep wooded mountainsides and snow covered peaks on the southern side, the Lesser Caucasus, the sun setting behind me.

Homestay

It had been an intriguing day, an unexpected but enjoyable ending, but it wasn’t quite over. Eto had arranged for me to stay in the village with Luara, more of a home stay than a bed and breakfast. Greeted with tea and cake, one last thing to do before retiring, an interview with local journalist Kate, Eto acting as interpreter and George offering a few questions of his own. Intrigued to know what would happen if I fell in love along the way. Thought my answer very diplomatic.

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