Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Pancakes and maple syrup

May 1st, 2010

We’d agreed to meet at a familiar US fast food outlet on Rustaveli, Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare. Easily recognisable. Sort of. My efforts getting directions to it by drawing a large ’M’ in the air caused a great deal of confusion. A case of mistaken identity. They seem to think I wanted the Metro, although how they thought I’d be able to get a fully laden touring bike on it I’m not sure.

M signs

Eventually finding the right place, coincidentally next to a Metro station, I caught up with my host. It all seemed rather apt, Austin being a US citizen, but from Iowa rather than Georgia. Fortunately the outlet wasn’t a drive-through. Dreaded to think what the Georgians would make of that sort of thing. Carnage probably.

P1010836

The next morning breakfast was traditional American homemade pancakes and maple syrup. Seemed only fair to continue the theme and grab lunch in the nearby ’Donut Stop’ cafe.

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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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A taste of Batumi

April 22nd, 2010

The Black Sea resort of Batumi had been a favourite of the Russian Politburo, and Stalin, himself a son of Georgia. Probably explained the apparent lack of hideous concrete monstrosities often associated with the former Soviet Union. But this is a city undergoing a lot of change, seeking to transform itself into a modern holiday destination. The Sheraton Hotel opens shortly, with other international names to follow. Modern casinos have appeared, drawing in gamblers largely from Turkey. Las Vegas of the Caucasus? No, the city has substance, a pleasing architecture, the new largely blending with the old.

But I was much more interested in getting a sense of what it was to be Georgian. Dinner the previous evening provided a little insight, host Kurt acting as the Tamadan – toastmaster – a role he seemed very accomplished in. There are at least seven toasts, and can be as many as twenty, so it’d seemed wise to opt for Georgian wine rather than vodka. My recollections are a little blurred, but peace, friendship, family are very important. And the welcome I’d had, from the moment I crossed the border, seemed to confirm this.

Khachapuri

They’d been a good deal of Georgian dishes to sample over dinner, but Merab, my host once more the following day, was insistent we try the local form of khachaprui, a bread shaped like a boat and filled with eggs, cheese and butter. The trick is to mix the contents thoroughly so they ressemble scrambled eggs, then tear off pieces of bread and eat the whole lot with your hands. Some scope for improvement on my part. Calorific content? Thousands apparently.

I’d enjoyed Batumi, there’d been a fantastic, almost humbling, welcome. But I needed to head north-east into the Guria region, making my way towards the route through the mountains that divide east and west Georgia.

[The author is indebted to the warmth and generosity of those who have made him so welcome at the border, and in Batumi, especially Merab from Batumi Business School, Shota Rustaveli State University, Kurt, and Vadja from the city’s tourism organisation]

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