I’m writing this post from somewhere above Iceland, en route to the United States for a month-long holiday. I think I’ll definitely go through a bit of culture shock, especially because I’m going straight from small-town Georgia to Chicago, the third-largest city in the U.S. But, it’ll be fun! School ended on 15 June, which left me a month of holiday before my flight. So, during that month, my host family and I travelled around the Kakheti region. Here are some highlights:
Ilia’s Lake, in the district of Kvareli. Ilia’s Lake is, well, a lake, nestled in the Caucasus foothills. It’s named after Ilia Chavchavadze, one of Georgia’s premier writers—he was prolific in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is still popular today. The lake’s surroundings are beautiful, and the water’s a comfortable temperature for swimming and boating. They also have a lovely bike path around the lake (I believe it’s about three kilometers) and bicycles to rent by the hour. There’s also a large playground and courts for tennis, football, basketball, and volleyball. Even though the place has a very vacation-resort-y feel to it, and many people (Georgians and foreign tourists alike) visit it, it’s small enough to not be overwhelming. It’s a great place to relax, get some sun, and swim.
Nekresi, Kvareli. One of the first Orthodox churches in Georgia, built in the 4th century AD. The complex is located about halfway up a mountain (luckily, there are buses to the church complex!), and there are excellent views of the Alazani River valley from the complex. Because we visited on a beautiful, clear day, the valley’s colors were so vibrant and pure that it felt like we had jumped into a painting—I feel like that a lot in Georgia, though! The complex is made up of stone buildings, most of which are open to visitors, that house ancient original frescoes and other church artifacts.
Sighnaghi. Sighnaghi’s a touristy little town, and a pleasant place to visit. The whole town—streets, buildings, etc.—has been remodeled within the past few years, and walking down its streets is almost like walking through a fairy tale village. (It seems to be a popular destination on tours, judging from the number of coach buses we encountered.) The view from the roof of the church on Chavchavadze Street is gorgeous—I’m told that on a clear day, you can see Mount Elbrus, which is not only the highest point in the Caucasus, but the highest in all of Europe. On our visit, we met two other English-speaking tourists, and introduced them to Georgian cuisine and hospitality. Overall, it was a lovely visit, and I’m excited to go again in the future.
Stay tuned for Part II of this essay—my father and sister will be coming to Georgia with me in late August (hooray!), and we, along with my host family, are going to spend time in the Tusheti region, in the mountains.