TLG Excursion: Vardzia

Posted on May 18, 2011 by


On Saturday, I got to go on a TLG-sponsored excursion from Tbilisi to Vardzia. This was one of a series of TLG day-trips running Saturdays and Sundays from March until June, with the goal of having every volunteer go on at least one trip. TLG hired a travel company, Cat Tours, to run the event, which included a tour guide and two lunches.

Our tour guide – who is unfortunately leaving Georgia this week – was a guy named Davit. Davit is a native of Georgia who is fluent in English and very knowledgeable about Georgian history and local landmarks. On Saturday he gave us a special treat – wine and chacha from his grandfather’s vineyard. Both were delicious.

We met at 8 at the Tbilisi Radisson. We first traveled to Borjomi, where we picked up some volunteers who had been hiking there. We then visited the nearby Mtsvane Monastery and had a lunch of sandwiches, bananas, and yogurt before heading off to follow the river Mtkvari south to Vardzia itself. If you haven’t seen the Mtkvari in Western Georgia, before it gets all shallow and muddy, I highly recommend it.

The trip from Borjomi to Vardzia is so beautiful in spring that it would have been worth the drive even without a cave city at the end. The light and dark green trees speckling the mountainsides near Borjomi give way to fields of yellow and bright red flowers and expansive slopes painstakingly terraced with hand-made rock walls. If we had paused for every picture I wanted to take it would have been dark before we reached Vardzia.

You can see Vardzia from a ways off – it’s across the river from the main road, so you get a wide vantage of it as you approach the river crossing. In the van we made jokes about river-crossing strategies from Oregon Trail – attempt to ford the river, caulk the wagon and float across, hire an Indian to help you – but when we started talking about the possibility of cholera or dysentery, our British friend finally revealed that he had no idea what any of us were talking about. I guess Oregon Trail didn’t have the market penetration in England that it did in the States.

Davit told us some of the legends of how Vardzia was founded, revolving around Georgia’s famous ruler, Tamar Mepe (whose name-day was Saturday). My favorite part, though, was watching him run from room to room, telling us what each was used for and asking “Can you imagine?” with unconcealed excitement. It’s nice to have a tour guide who isn’t bored of the thing he’s showing you.

We climbed up, down, over, and through, and at the end we had a lot of great pictures and a lot of dusty clothes. We went down to the river and had a supra, with chicken stir-fry, more sandwiches, Georgian lemonade, and Davit’s family vintage.

On the way home, we stopped for a coffee and bathroom break at a little roadside cafe where I had a Turkish coffee and Davit and the bus driver played a few lightning-fast games of Backgammon. We ended up getting back a little behind schedule – it was dark already – but no one seemed to mind. In fact, I don’t think anyone wanted the day to end.


Comment with stories, pictures, links, etc. about excursions you’ve been on!

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Posted in: TLG Excursions