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]

Share

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]

Share

Welcome to Georgia

April 22nd, 2010

Interview at the border

It did seem a bit strange at the time, a cursory look at my passport, entry stamp, then beckoned by a border guard past all the cars being meticulously searched. It was as if I was expected. Which, it turned out later, I was.

Emerged from customs control to be greeted with Georgian wine, chocolates, local TV and radio. Bit of a surprise, but the interviews – in English I hasten to add – seemed to go well, especially given Emma and I had just sprinted over ten miles to reach the border on time, unexpectedly delayed by a puncture, the second in two days. But that was Turkey, and this was Georgia, and we were already captivated, intrigued by what lay ahead.

[Photograph courtesy of Merab Diasamidze, Batumi Business School, Republic of Georgia]

Share
Terms & Conditions of Use | Copyright © 2009-2020 Ken Roberts