When I wrote last, I was en route to the United States for five weeks of seeing friends and family, attending weddings, and celebrating my car’s odometer passing the 200,000-mile mark. In mid-August, I returned to Georgia—this time with my father and sister in tow! They spent ten days with my host family and me, and we traveled all over Eastern Georgia. Here are some of the many highlights!
Omalo, in Tusheti: The four-hour drive through the Caucasus Mountains to the village of Omalo was the most terrifying four hours of my life. I’m not exaggerating. (The four hours back were the second-most terrifying…) The only road there is about 70 kilometers, one-lane, almost paved (…in places), and switches back and forth on mountainsides the entire way. The peak at Abano Pass, which divides the Kakheti and Tusheti regions, is nearly 3,000 meters high. (That translates to more than a mile and a half up. No guard rails.) We actually stopped halfway to have a short breakfast, and all took a shot of cognac to calm our nerves. It sort of helped. All joking aside, Tusheti is one of, if not the, most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and definitely worth eight hours of relative terror. Unfortunately, because it’s tucked into the mountains and the road is so bad, it’s nearly impossible to get to between October and April. While we were there, we saw the famous Tushetian towers, marveled at the mountains, and had a little picnic in the woods. I’m hoping to travel there again next summer.
Tbilisi: I love Tbilisi. I really do. We didn’t have much time there, though, so we decided to hike up to Narikala Fortress, where my sisters decided to climb all over the crumbling stones (and my father and I looked on in dismay). After a few hours there, we rode the cable car over the city down to Rike Park, just below the Presidential Palace. For reference, the Friendship Bridge, which my American sister was very impressed with (and, she’s studying to be a mechanical and aeronautical engineer—she knows what she’s talking about!), stretches across the river from Old Tbilisi to the park. We wandered around the park, took pictures with the statue of Ronald Reagan and the giant grand piano (if only it played music!), and discovered a giant chessboard. My sisters then began the Great Georgian-American Chess Match (the U.S. won, ultimately), and actually attracted a small audience—one of the security guards working in the park helped my Georgian sister plan her moves, while my father helped my American sister with hers.
The Aleksandr Chavchavadze Museum, Tsinandali: I was an English major in university, and one of my main focuses was Russian literature. Thus, I was super excited to find out that the poet Aleksandr Chavchavadze hosted the first Georgian literary salon at his home in Tsinandali, inviting poets like Pushkin and Lermontov to read their works there. (Also, Chavchavadze’s daughter married the Russian poet and playwright Griboyedov. So much literary history!) The home is surrounded by a large park where varieties of trees from all over the world grow. Oh, and Tsinandali is also famous for its wine, which they sell right on the museum’s property.
Gremi: Gremi was once the capital of Kakheti, and its church/museum complex is one of the major attractions in the area. We toured the museum, where I geeked out about touching centuries-old things (once upon a time, I really wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up), my American father geeked out about old military and farm implements, and my American sister geeked out about the buildings’ architecture. The complex sits on a hill overlooking the village of Gremi and the Alazani River valley. There’s also a tunnel—it begins on the museum’s grounds, and I’m not sure where it ends up—that my sisters decided to explore. …Until they discovered there were bats living there. That endeavor ended quickly.
We also traveled to a few of the other touristy places in Kakheti (Sighnaghi, Ilia’s Lake, etc.), which you can read about in my earlier post. And, my host parents taught my father and sister to make khinkali and mtsvadi! I think, though, that the biggest highlight of having both of my families together was one evening when our car’s fan belt broke. Even though they could only understand a few words in the other’s language, my two fathers had an entire conversation about what was wrong with the car (each speaking his own language) and managed to fix it. I’m so thankful everyone got along, and that my two families were able to meet each other and spend time together. (Perhaps next time, my Georgian family will be visiting my American family–I hope so.)