As restaurants in Tbilisi start to reopen, here is some inspiration for the tastiest, coolest, freshest salads in the city. (No guarantees these exact dishes are still on current menus, though).

A collection of my Twitter posts on the best salads in Tbilisi. (#bestsaladsoftbilisi)

I LOVE a good salad; it might even be in my top 5 favorite foods. A good salad has many different toppings and a well-paired dressing. It can be a riot of different colors, flavors, and textures. A bad salad, on the other hand, is one of the saddest dishes there is. Here are the places doing it well. (In no particular order)

CoffeeLab’s seasonal salad.

In summer the oranges are replaced by nectarines.
Just the right balance of sweet and sour, creamy and crunchy.

IMG_20190517_135337

Tomato Salad from Salobie Bia

Perfectly lives up to their tagline of “unpretentious Georgian food”, simple Georgian ingredients put together perfectly. Oh so delicious!

IMG_20190522_195025

 Blue Cheese, Grilled Apple, and Walnut at Cafe Gallery.

Great combination!

IMG_20190530_125908

Warm salad with wild garlic from Culinarium Khasheria

(something similar on the menu at Cafe Littera, as well).
Unique and delicious!

D7_PKDYX4AIizHJ.jpg large

Spinach and orange salad from Chemo Kargo Beer Factory 

Though good, this was the weakest dish we ordered there. The whole menu is creative and delicious. Surprised I haven’t heard more buzz about this place! Get the rye adjaruli with adjika compound butter.

IMG_20190817_193751 (1)

Chicken Caesar Salad from CoffeeLab

Also contains some sort or warm, delicious, peppery pork product.
Pleasant surprise! (But not for people who don’t eat pork)

IMG_20190618_132619

Spinach with dates, cream cheese, and fried spring onions at Lolita.
Solid, but not as interesting as it sounds.

IMG_20190612_193310

Unknown vegetable salad/pkhali at Amra.

Neither I nor the Georgians had heard the word on the menu before, but the waitress said. “No, it’s beets”. And some greens. Something is pickled. With walnut sauce. Refreshing! (Determined by Twitter to probably be kohlrabi).
kohlrabi

Chicken Salad from Mazaki 

Looks like the picture on the menu! Super fresh greens and crispy veggies, nice light Asian dressing. Chicken a little too soy-sauce-y/salty for me, but good texture, and good with the dressing.

mazaki

Chickpea, Beet, Bulgarian pepper and mizuna from Lolita (via Wolt)

Didn’t notice the peppers, but delicious anyway. Chickpeas perfectly cooked, and just the right amount of tang to the dressing. Might be some French-fried onions in there, too

lolita

Now that I’m only working one job with strict hours, I decided to use our break to travel. My cousin lives in Ukraine (no, we don’t have a family connection to the region, we independently found interesting opportunities), and I’d been meaning to visit for a while. I was surprised that ticket prices didn’t go down after the UIH 752 crash, but they still weren’t too expensive, and it seemed like a time the airline and the country could use some customers, so I booked a visit. I thought it might be a little crazy to go to Ukraine in February (cold, right?), but my cousin assured me that with the right gear it would be fine. Lucky for me, I had just bought a proper winter coat. Buying my tickets was ridiculously difficult (no longer a fan of CapitalOne), but I did manage to procure them eventually. I have nothing but good things to say about the individual customer service agents from Ukrainian Airlines, though their website could use some work.

The flight times weren’t ideal, but they were manageable. I had to get up pretty early Saturday morning, but I did manage to snooze on the plane. There was some unplanned drama on the flight when a gentleman smoked in the lavatory, but I was quite impressed with the flight attendants’ handling of it…I don’t think people who weren’t nearby even noticed. My family were pretty much ready to start the day once I got to their house, so the timing was good in that regard. Since they live there and have stuff to do, we spent time together on the weekend and I explored on my own while they were busy with work and school. They introduced me to Ukrainian food at Ostannya Barykada and Khutorets ne Dnipri, some of their favorite Ukrainian restaurants. They were very different, but I enjoyed both. Turns out borscht can be delicious!  We also went to their favorite modern Georgian restaurant, Chichiko, which was fantastic. It was interesting to see how the different food trends in Tbilisi and Kyiv have influenced the menu. Everything was undeniably Georgian food, but there were things on the menu that are not common or popular in Tbilisi–loads of turkey and lamb dishes. The tonis puri was served with an excellent Kakhetian sunflower oil and green onion dipping sauce (I’m working on duplicating it but haven’t been fully successful yet), and we loved the “khachapuri diavola” with adjika baked in.

Most of my top must-sees were museums, and I found that, unlike in many countries where all museums close on Monday, different museums in Kyiv were closed different days. On the one hand this was an advantage, because there was some museum for me to see everyday, but on the other hand it required paying attention to the schedules and planning accordingly. I wasn’t sure how I felt about going on a tour to Chernobyl, so my cousin suggested I go to the museum first and decide after that (Chernobyl tours do need to be booked a few days in advance due to security procedures). I followed his advice and went on Monday (I would recommend this strategy for others who are not sure, too). The Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum was really impressively put together, mostly with historical artifacts, but with some artistic touches mixed in. I got the audioguide and found it interesting and helpful. From there I grabbed some lunch and walked up Andriyivskyy Uzviz to the National Museum of the History of Ukraine, which was also well worth the visit. It was a good-sized museum; complete but not so big as to be exhausting.  I was impressed by the attention to details in the design (curtains with traditional embroidery in the textiles room, actually comfortable chairs in front of the video exhibits, kids’ activities in most rooms).

IMG_20200210_170429

Cabbage Dessert from 100 Years Back in Future

I decided that after an emotional day of museum viewing, I deserved to try some of Ukraine’s famous coffee and pastries. I opened GoogleMaps and was headed to the closest highly-rated coffeeshop when I noticed I was walking past 100 Years Back in Future, which had been recommended to me on Twitter. My mind was made up. I decided to go for it and order the weirdest thing on the dessert menu, a cabbage-based dessert, with my coffee. My tweeps have excellent taste, because the cabbage-based dessert was delicious. The weather was pretty nice and I had some free time, but as it was late afternoon most museums and tourist sites were starting to close, I decided to get to know the city better by walking home. It was a little far (certainly further than would be a reasonable daily commute), but it gave me a great view of the city and helped me figure out the layout.

The next day, I decided to go to Rodina Mat and Lavra Pechersk Monastery since they are near one another and the books said they were open on Tuesdays. The weather was gorgeous (actually warmer than Tbilisi that day!) and I enjoyed walking around in the sunshine and seeing the memorial. There were signs to “the museum” which seemed to be in a different place than I had thought, but I followed them anyway and wound up in the “Museum Making of Ukrainian Nation”, which is not the museum I was looking for. The ticket was also much more expensive than I had read, but I paid up and went in. It was in fact a different museum, and the reason it hadn’t come up in my research was that it had just opened last fall. This is a museum designed for people who don’t like museums (so I’m not the target audience). It had plenty of selfie opportunities, and scenes from Ukrainian history up to the present. The audioguide was generally good, but there were some exhibits that had neither audio nor text descriptions. It was a good overview of Ukrainian history, though the exhibits didn’t provide much information on their own. You could get some great Instagram shots, though.

IMG_20200211_125857

Cossacks in “Museum Making of Ukrainian Nation”

Then I found my way to my intended museum, the  “Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War”, which was cheap and heart-wrenching and interesting. I remember in history classes in school drawing maps of WW2 battles, and drawing a big marsh between Germany and Moscow. This museum hammered home the fact that there was NOT nothing there; there were good-sized cities and many people living in this area. Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine played a major role in WW2. There was also an exhibit on the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, so the museum wasn’t limited to WW2 alone. I was in definite need of sustenance after an emotional morning, so I made my way to the Kyiv Food Market, a conglomeration of the best restaurants from a variety of styles and cuisines. I tried three different places, enjoying my green borsht (that’s sorrel instead of beet–also good!), mors, matcha latte and a cinnamon roll. It was a good type of place to eat alone, with the shared tables and simplified service, but it would also be great with a group to share nibbles and try lots of different things. I then wandered back towards the Lavra complex, passing through the Holodomor Memorial (museum under construction) and entered the Lavra complex itself. Most of the museums there were closed on Tuesdays, but the one I was most interested in, the Museum of Historical Treasures, was open and well-worth the visit. So much historical bling that is still absolutely stunning! I found Lavra as a whole a strange place. A door with a sign that said “bookstore” demanded to see my ticket, and all but one of the churches I tried to visit were closed (the open one was nice). The caves that I got to at 3 had closed at 2, and the caves that I got to at 4:01 had closed at 4. But there were loads of shopping opportunities! The grounds were full of stores, restaurants, and kiosks (my tea and donut were really cheap). One door looked like the entry to a church, but was actually a hallway filled with vendors yelling “Girl! I’ll pray for you if you buy something! Curse you for not buying!”. I had thought about going back to Lavra the next day to see more of the museums and churches and maybe go into the caves but I found the whole place had a creepy vibe, so I decided I had seen it and didn’t need to go back.

Wednesday morning I went to Mezhyhirya, Former President Yanukovich’s former home, now billed as the “Museum of Corruption” (a national park) a little outside of Kyiv.  However, when I was there, most things were closed. The house is inaccessible (rumored to be because everything was stolen), there were a number of cafes and souvenir shops that were closed, and even an art gallery that said open but was locked. It was a nice, scenic place to walk around, though, but nothing more at the time I was there. Just when I was getting cold and hungry from walking around a few hours and had decided to head back to Kyiv, a guy started bringing out racks of bicycles available to rent, but I was ready to go so I didn’t rent one. Mezhyhirya is a particularly controversial place. The driver told me he would never go there because everything had been stolen from the Ukrainian people, but he seemed OK with driving me there. However, as a national park, it is the Ukrainian people’s again, but it seems they don’t know quite what to do with it. Turning it into a national park brings up a whiff of the forced collectivization under the Soviets, but it was ill-gotten gains in the first place. It’s unclear if the national park is meant to be a warning to other corrupt officials, a way of educating the public, or a form of retribution. There’s a lot of potential here, but when I was there, none of it was realized. In the afternoon I went to the famous Ukrainian fast food chain Puzata Hata for lunch, and strolled down Kreschatyk to do some shopping. I kind of wanted to buy a vyshyvanka, but the prettiest ones are also the most expensive, so I decided to save my money this time and plan ahead for my next visit to Ukraine. I bought lots of nice little non-souvenir souvenirs at Vsi Svoi, including a hoodie, a trivet, some soap, an English notebook, and other interesting everyday items. Vsi Svoi is a department store (two actually, one for clothes and accessories, one for homegoods) of all Ukrainian-made objects. Not necessarily souvenirs or folkarts, just regular stuff made in Ukraine. They have a great variety and prices are reasonable. If you aren’t sure what type of clothes you’ll need when visiting Ukraine, I’d recommend packing minimally and making a stop at Vsi Svoi early in your trip to get stuff that is definitely seasonally, culturally, and fashionably appropriate. I went next door to a cool coffeeshop filled with ex-pats for my afternoon coffee and a raspberry-chocolate croissant.

The next morning I decided to finish my souvenir shopping and went to Ocean Plaza mall, the second-largest in the city, for the Roshen store (one of my favorite chocolate bars is Roshen’s milk chocolate with sesame seeds, and it’s been scarce in Tbilisi lately) and to see what there was to see. I picked up a few postcards and souvenirs at the UA Made store (not as cool as Vsi Svoi, but still fun). In the afternoon I took myself on a little tour of the metro using this really helpful blog post as a guide. The Kyiv metro is really beautiful, but not as complicated as the Moscow metro. Given my familiarity with the Tbilisi metro, it was a breeze to navigate because all the signs were the same style, and the tokens looked like the ones Tbilisi used to use. It was a fun and cheap afternoon activity.  I had noticed a Ukrainian Museum of Revolution 1917-1921 in my research, and I’m interested in that time time period, but Google suggested it might or might not be open. I decided to check it out with no expectations. When I got nearby, I realized that the address was of the VERY closed-looking building I had walked past before, and indeed it was closed, though the Museum of Pedagogy in the same building seemed open. I went back to Kreschatyk to pick up a few more souvenirs, and went back to hang out with the family.

On Valentine’s Day, I went for my tour of Chernobyl with SoloEast.  I chose them by looking up all the tour companies recommended in my travel books and by the Chernobyl Museum, and seeing who had availability and the lowest price on the day I wanted. This strategy worked out fine. I took the metro to the meeting place outside McDonald’s on Maidan (and grabbed a hashbrown, too!) and met with my group. I was the only solo traveler in the group, and folks weren’t very friendly, but our guides were good. The most important thing for a trip to Chernobyl is that the guides know what they’re doing and where they’re going, both for safety and to avoid bureaucratic delays, and the folks at SoloEast definitely did that. The tour was really interesting, and though there was a lot of information provided and I had been to the Chernobyl Museum (and we did a big commemoration for the 25th anniversary when I was in grad school), I still wanted to know more and more. The church in Chernobyl town is one of the prettiest Orthodox churches I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot).  The “Russian woodpecker” was an incredible structure, and it’s hard to believe how well-concealed it was. Seeing the endangered Chernobyl wild horses just standing at the side of the road was something I don’t think I’ll forget for a long time. The reactor itself was not particularly interesting, and I personally didn’t get a kick out of trying to find radiation hot spots with a geiger counter, but that was the highlight for some people. Lunch on the tour was the only meal that lived up to the stereotypes of Slavic food as boring, flavorless, and stodgy (and to be fair, no one was marketing it as a food tour). Chernobyl was good practice for the “Don’t touch your face!” “Don’t touch anything!” times that are upon us now. I’m glad I chose to do the tour.

The scale of Covid-19 was growing over the course of my trip, and people were posting all sorts of alarming things on Facebook (rumor mill, I know) about being denied entry into Georgia, so I was getting a little nervous about my return. There were definitely health precautions in place that I had never seen in Tbilisi before, but at that time it was still fairly calm. There were apparently body temperature scanners, though I didn’t notice them; we had to fill out a health card, and there were doctors in the terminal keeping watch. Unsurprisingly, the precautions have been strengthened since then–if you’re planning a trip to Georgia, here is the MFA’s post with the updated airport health procedures as of March 12. (I recommend checking for updates if you’re on your way to Tbilisi anytime soon). Nonetheless, I still got a warm greeting and a second bottle of welcome wine!

If you, like me, have been saying to yourself “I should go to Ukraine sometime”, you really should! I loved it

I recently met the organizer of a library project and agreed to help her collect books. Here is her message:
“I am organizing a regional school in 7 cities of Georgia about human rights and children’s rights for 14-18 year-olds through a Flex alumni grant. I will be visiting Lagodekhi, Khulo, Mestia, Oni, Akhaltsikhe, Gori and Gardabani starting from 9th of September through November. In most of the cities I have a venue in public libraries. If you have English books (or journals, especially about human/children’s rights) and you are willing to donate them in those cities please contact me asap.”

If you’re in Tbilisi and have books to donate, I can help facilitate. If you are abroad and would like to contribute, the organizer and I brainstormed a few titles that we think would be particularly of interest to the participants and added them to my Amazon wishlist (note, the list is for all of my ongoing projects, the notes will point out which project they are for–all of them benefit Georgian kids in one way or another). I have budgeted some money for the shipping to receive those books via USA2Georgia (8$/kilo), but contributing towards those expenses is another way you can help from abroad: PayPal is cookiesandthecaucasus@gmail.com

Georgian food in general is pretty great, but each restaurant has their own specialties.  For example, you might be disappointed by the khachapuri at a sakhinkle (or you might get lucky). These are the best of the best! My top ten tend to be a little unique, as it’s hard to judge which of the millions of similar dishes is a hair better, whereas the unique and delicious stand out.

IMG_20180127_215024-COLLAGE

Clockwise: rye Adjaruli (#4), ojakhuri (#1), Nutella dessert (#10), and pomegranate khinkali (#7). Enjoy!

  1. Ojakhuri (roast pork and potatoes) at Salobie Bia (their kharcho with millet ghomi is also a contender, and you should really order the tomato salad, too, to round out the meal)
  2. Shkhmeruli (chicken in garlic sauce) at Khasheria (has been known to make lifelong vegetarians want a bite)
  3. Sorrel and Strawberry Salad at Kakhelebi (counteract the healthfulness with a khachapuri Darejani)
  4. Rye Khachapuri with Adjika Compound Butter at Chemo Kargo Beer Factory
  5. Warm Salad at Khasheria or Cafe Littera (not exactly the same, but similar enough to put them together as they’re both Chef Tekuna’s restaurants)
  6. Ossetian Khachapuri (khabizgina) at Alani
  7. Pomegranate Khinkali at Zodiaqo
  8. Spinach Dip (fancified pkhali) and pita bread at Sirajkhana
  9. Sulguni Waffle at CoffeeLab
    …and because you’re clearly going to need dessert:
  10. Nutella “dessert” (it’s adjaruli) at Sakhachapure No.1

    Who wants to fight me on these?

    I’ve excluded definitively non-Georgian dishes (like my favorite pad thai or burger) from the list, though I’ve allowed both traditional and contemporary “mostly Georgian” dishes to compete.

In January due to a bad luck/good luck situation, we received fairly substantial compensation from Lufthansa for a delayed flight. In a funny coincidence, it arrived the day after our legal wedding, so we referred to it as our wedding present, and decided to use that money half for the honeymoon and half for the wedding reception.  We also decided that, out of loyalty, we should at least fly Star Alliance, if not Lufthansa, for the trip. As we were browsing the places Lufthansa flies from Tbilisi that are not at weird hours, I got back in touch with an old friend I hadn’t talked to in a while. He was getting married! In Sofia! We should come! Turkish Airlines had flights to Sofia with a reasonable itinerary (no stupid o’clock AM flights, and long-enough but not-too-long layovers) and average prices, and G thought a Bulgarian wedding sounded fun. Bulgaria, though not a member of Schengen, follows Schengen policy on Georgians, so it was a destination that was visa-free for both of us.  A family friend had relocated to Plovdiv not so long ago and had praised the city and invited visitors. The wedding day was miraculously between my students’ final exam and make-up period, so it was meant to be: we booked our tickets to Bulgaria!

Our flight from Tbilisi to Istanbul was uneventful, and we arrived in Istanbul New Airport for the first time. Our layover was a little over an hour and a half, and people on the internet said the airport was crazy and you needed at least two hours for a layover and so on and so forth, so I was rather nervous and rushed us out of the plane to hot-foot it to our next gate. There was no need; we had to go through security again, but everything was running smoothly and we had about a half hour before boarding even started to sit at the gate. On the way back our gates were about as far apart as possible (there was one more gate before the end), but we didn’t have to go through security that time, and again had plenty of time. There was some strong turbulence on the descent into Sofia (G loved it. I did not), but it was another relatively uneventful flight. The Sofia airport was small and easy. There were a few people who took some extra time at immigration, but G’s Georgian passport didn’t raise any eyebrows…they looked at mine more than his! Luggage also came through the baggage claim quickly, and we were ready to go.

We were going straight to Plovdiv, so we wanted to change a little money into leva and buy a SIM card before we set out so we could pay for the transportation and meet up with our friend easily. There was only one FX booth open at the time, so we didn’t have an option to compare rates or anything, and only changed 100€ for the time being. We couldn’t find a place to buy a SIM card (which we thought was strange but the info booth confirmed there wasn’t one), but there was WiFi, so we sent off a quick message and then booked an OKSuperTrans (THE taxi company that constantly came up in travel recommendations) to the bus station. There are multiple companies offering buses from Sofia to Plovdiv, but the one we had heard was cheaper (Karats) didn’t have a person at the counter, so we bought from the other company (Khebros) that had a bus leaving at the same time. Apparently the lady didn’t like us much, because she gave us the worst seats on the bus (back row in the middle) though there were vacant seats at the front. It didn’t have WiFi as it claimed, and while it was air-conditioned, our vents didn’t work. It was not comfortable, but fortunately it wasn’t a very long trip. We tried to pick up a SIM card at the bus station, but they didn’t seem to be sold there, either. Once we made it to Plovdiv, we were easily able to get a taxi off the street to our friend’s apartment. We had a bit of trouble connecting with him because we had assumed we would have a Bulgarian SIM card, but the very nice staff at “Planet Club” let us use their WiFi without buying anything, and we connected….I felt bad that we were so busy in Plovdiv we never stopped back in to spend money. That evening our friend showed us how the public buses worked and we caught up with our friends, had dinner, and went for a walk in the park along the river.

IMG_20190722_160442

In the Roman Stadium in Plovdiv

The next day was our big tourist day for Plovdiv. We met our friends in the morning, and they helped us get a SIM and change money at a good rate. They recommended Vivacom, and we got a great deal for a short-term SIM. We paid 8 leva total, and didn’t use all of our internet, much less the call and SMS packages! BulBank had much better rates than the airport, and the customer service was good. Then, we went for a walk through the center of Plovdiv. The center is amazing! A huge pedestrian zone, fountains, green parks, Roman ruins…just lovely. After walking around all morning we stopped at PizzaLab for lunch (our friends had recommended it, and the travel books kept recommending pizza as something to eat in Bulgaria, so it seems to be a thing). It was set-up kind of like Subway–you chose your preferred dough, sauce, and toppings. Mine was SO GOOD. Then we went back out to be tourists. We stopped and watched the 3D show at the Roman stadium, which was interesting, but the 3D seemed to be off. Our ticket for the show included free admission to the House of Stambolyan, an old Balkan-style house displaying the works of painter Dimitar Kirov. We wouldn’t have gone if the ticket hadn’t been included, but I’m so glad we did! The house was beautiful, the guide was friendly and interesting, and I enjoyed the artwork. At the end of the tour, the guide gave us some fresh figs from the yard, and it was such a nice and hospitable gesture. We had planned to go on the walking tour that evening, but there was confusion over the starting point, so we missed it. Oh well. We strolled around with our friends, and when a thunderstorm came out of nowhere we had a delicious dinner at Antik Turkish Restaurant.

IMG_20190723_122957

Wearing shorts in Bachkovo Monastery

The next day, we decided to visit Bachkovo Monastery, the second largest in Bulgaria, and just over a 30-minute ride from Plovdiv. G’s friends from back home had told him he had to visit it, because it was founded by Georgians. The “bus” (which was a marshrutka, which is fine, but not a bus) departed from the Rhodope bus station, so we found our way there by city bus, were told the tickets were sold out but we should ask the driver anyway, who said they were not sold out and happily sold us two, and set off. The Georgians weren’t exaggerating or being over nationalistic in saying that Bachkovo had Georgian roots, as the introductory sign prominently displayed this information. The oldest part of the church did indeed look like a Georgian church, but the rest of the complex certainly looked Bulgarian. Bulgarian churches are known for their beautiful, brightly colored frescoes, which make them great subjects for photos. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is less strict about dress codes than the Georgian Orthodox Church (our Bulgarian friends more or less said “Wear what you want! Why would they care?”), and so G made sure we got a picture of him wearing shorts at the church. The museum was also quite interesting. We walked back down to the main road, which is lined with little stalls selling food, and picked up some pastries and corn, baklava, Bulgarian delight, and chips–good lunch!

Because of the slight confusion over the marshrutka to Bachkovo, we decided that upon our return to Plovdiv we should but our bus tickets to Veliko Turnovo the following day so we wouldn’t miss our hotel reservation. Turned out the bus station was less than a block away from where we were staying, so it was an easy errand! We rendezvoused with our friends to visit the Plovdiv Rowing Canal--yet another beautiful outdoor public space, and had dinner. The next morning we gathered our things, said farewell and thank you to our friends, and headed off to Veliko Turnovo!

IMG_20190724_181504

The view from dinner at Ivan Asen, Veliko Turnovo

We checked into the Boutique Hotel Tsarevets, which we would highly recommend as excellent value for money, and freshened up a bit. G was craving fish, so the receptionist recommended the restaurant Ivan Asen where we got a 10% discount as hotel guests. We lucked into a table on their beautiful balcony and enjoyed Bulgarian wine and beer, grilled fish, and chicken and broccoli with Bulgarian cheese. The food was WONDERFUL, and I really enjoyed the chardonnay, which is not usually one of my favorites. After dinner we went for a walk (though G might call it a hike, or even a march), exploring both the old and touristy parts of town, some residential districts, and a highway. We stumbled upon the bus station, so we decided to buy our tickets to Sofia well in advance. And then we heard the music. We decided to check it out since it sounded like people were having a lot of fun, and found ourselves at the Veliko Tarnovo International Folklore Festival.  It was such fun watching dancers from all over the world (even Georgia–we can’t escape). We also enjoyed the food trucks outside–sweetcorn and fried fish, yum!

IMG_20190725_203748

Georgian dancers performing at the folk festival

The next day was the 4th Thursday of the month, which we didn’t know when we planned, but apparently meant that there was free admission to museums and historical sites. So we did all the museums and historical sites. Tsarevets fortress was much bigger than I had imagined from my reading, and we spent quite a few hours there exploring. The church was particularly interesting, as the frescoes were in a contemporary style (it reminded me a bit of Picasso’s Guernica) and were very movng. We then went to the Modern History Museum, the Jail Museum, the Museum of the Constitutional Assembly, and the Archaeological Museum. They were mostly small and only had limited information available in English, but were worth well more than the price of admission! We went to Inn Khadji Nikoli for dinner, which brought us into the old residential district to explore. The Inn itself is an historical house, and the service was excellent. Don’t skip the bread rolls! The portion size was big even by American standards, so although the meal was more expensive than other places we had eaten, we didn’t feel cheated. After dinner, G wanted to go back to the hotel for a break and I wanted to keep exploring and see some souvenir shops so we split up and agreed to meet at the folklore festival. G took the phone with data, so I had to use my pre-digital skills to get there. According to the map, the park where the festival was being held was just a bit down the road and a block off to the left. I didn’t notice it when I walked past, and ended up in ANOTHER large beautiful park a few blocks away, where I asked for directions and was set straight. Silly Veliko Turnovans with their multiple big beautiful parks! The folklore festival wasn’t quite as magical on the second night, but it was still fun and we had a good time.

The next morning we were set to depart to Sofia for the wedding festivities. There was some confusion, because there are multiple bus stations in Veliko Turnovo, and the woman who sold us the tickets had definitely said “Central Bus Station” and the taxi driver bought us to “South Bus Station” because that’s where the buses to Sofia leave from (my guidebook  said they also left from a private bus station, which looked kind of central). When we got there, though, there was a bus to Sofia with the livery of the company we had bought tickets from, and the same woman in the ticket kiosk said it was correct. I was still nervous though, afraid that we were in the wrong place and there was a parallel bus from another station, and eventually we would be found out and kicked off. I didn’t fully relax until the bus pulled out with no one else demanding our seats. The ride was longer than I had expected it to be, and not as well air-conditioned as it could have been, but relatively fine. G figured out that the “Central Bus Station” in question was not our departure, but our destination in Sofia. We then went to Hotel Forum, where the bride and groom had arranged a block of rooms, to check in and freshen up. We then joined the other guests for welcome drinks at 65 Fireflies. The place had a cool vibe and great pizza (See! Pizza is a thing!). We stopped at a shop on the way home for supplies and snacks to keep in the room and got some fruit (and a really good knife to cut it), interesting beverages, strange flavors of Pringles, etc.

Saturday was the wedding! The legal wedding was short and sweet, and I didn’t understand much of the Bulgarian, but they definitely agreed to get married. They had a receiving line after the ceremony, and at the end the guests were given chocolate–fantastic tradition! However it was hot so the chocolate was melty and I am a klutz, so I squirted my chocolate all over my dress. I did, of course, have a Tide2Go pen in my bag, so I was able to clean up the worst of it. After a few group photos, we had a short break before the bus to the reception while the bride and groom took their photos. I took this opportunity to wash my dress and get the chocolate out. I was all cleaned up by the time to leave for the reception. We were greeted at the venue with some delicious champagne cocktails on the reception patio, and were given little felt flowers to pin to our clothes. The reception building was really nice; apparently it used to be the South Korean embassy, and as such had a great vibe for a wedding. There were a lot of Bulgarian traditions incorporated into the party, though overall the format was familiar to me as a European Christian wedding reception. There were folk dance performances, which were really impressive and lots of eating drinking and dancing (though I couldn’t figure out the horo). It was really fun to hang out with the other guests, and the couple seemed to have thought of every detail to make it easy and fun for their guests (I can only hope our guests were as pleased with our wedding!). It was a blast.

IMG_20190727_165321

One of the Bulgarian traditions at the wedding: breaking bread. The story is that whoever takes the bigger half will be “the man” in the relationship. She “won”.

The next day, the foreign wedding guests who were still in town went together to Rila Monastery, the largest in Bulgaria. It was a very pretty drive, and the monastery lived up to the hype–big and colorful. We climbed the Tower of Hrelio, which had a few little historical artifacts and amazing views, saw the frescoes in the main church, and ate fried dough and Bulgarian cheese while spending time with friends. That evening, G and I went to a restaurant called Chevermeto which is known for Bulgarian cuisine and folkdances. They charged a cover to enter, but the dance program was very good, and the dancers invited the audience to dance with them in a not-pushy but fun way. The roast lamb was incredible–the best I’ve ever had; the other dishes ranged from “fine” to “good”. It was the most expensive meal we had in Bulgaria, but the entertainment made it worthwhile.

The last day of our trip was the first day we had to explore Sofia, so we walked towards the center and stopped at places that looked interesting, making sure we looked at the major sites. We went into the Central Sofia Market Hall (which was weirdly hard to find) and had some juice, and checked out the exhibits in the Natural History Museum when it looked like it was going to rain. G had never been to a natural history museum, and I predicted he would like it. I was right. We then walked a bit more, stopped for shaurma and to buy my copy of Harry Potter in Bulgarian, and then went back to the hotel to pack and head back to Tbilisi.

IMG_20190801_100135

Bulgarian souvenirs

Thanks to Kiril and Bilyana and their friends and families, Amol, Dipali, Isha, and plenty of friendly strangers for making our trip fantastic. We highly recommend Bulgaria! We could easily have spent another day in each city without being bored, and we didn’t even make it to the Black Sea coast, so we hope to visit again someday!

I started thinking about this topic after reading this fascinating article on “Assimilation Food”.  In it, the author Soleil Ho writes, “When immigrants adapt to their new surroundings, the most immediate way this happens is through the food they make: They look around at what’s available and try to make it into something they can recognize”. Of course there are issues of privilege that vary drastically between my experience as an American ex-pat in Georgia and that of a refugee in the US (to start with the low-hanging fruit: I can USA2Georgia any food that I desperately miss…with a few exceptions…the article talks about power and privilege very eloquently), but the idea really resonated with me and made me think about how I cook in Georgia versus how I cooked in the US. Some of my cooking remains definitely American, but lots of things wouldn’t taste the same if I tried again back in the US. And some don’t taste exactly like I want them too, but it’s good enough for weeknight cooking. It has also given me food for thought about another challenge faced by immigrants.

Since teaching can be exhausting, I don’t do a lot of complicated cooking. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all cookies all the time here at Chez Cookies and the Caucasus. Despite that, most of my meals are majority home-made. Many of my go-tos in America have required some adapting to the availability of different products (or different prices…miss you avocados!). I love to read recipe blogs and look at recipes on Pinterest, but sometimes the ingredients are just not regularly obtainable in Tbilisi on a non-oligarch budget. I like to try new recipes, but that’s not what I’m talking about this time. Here are a few easy meals that I make frequently that incorporate Georgian and American elements. Like Ho writes, these are foods that “close the gap between homes”.

Baked Sweet Potato with (Red) Adjika

Frozen Pelmeni and Steamed Broccoli

Chilli with Mchadi

Tuna Melts with Sulguni

“Super Salsa” with lavash and sulguni “quesadillas”

Chicken/Quail and Rice with Tkemali

Hard Boiled Eggs with Tkemali or Svanetian Salt

Scrambled Eggs with Green Adjika, Sulguni, and sauteed onion

Grant’s “puriko” (Georgian-flavored panzanella)

Also, we make a lot of lobio and mchadi in the traditional Georgian way, and so many roasted vegetables (which are fairly universal).

Smitten Kitchen’s Quick Pasta and Chickpeas, Woks of Life’s soy scallion Shanghai Noodles (Carrefour has lots of different Asian noodles) and various sourdough recipes to use Breaderick (my sourdough starter/pet) have entered my everyday repertoire without Georgianization.

What’s your assimilation food?

…no photos, because I really need to work on my plating!

If you’ve wondered why I haven’t posted much in a while, it’s because I’ve been busy with other things…I got married! I imagine you’re either reading this post because you know me personally (or vicariously through the internet) and are interested in the gossip, or you’re considering getting married in Georgia (they’re trying to market the country as a wedding destination) and wanted the inside scoop. I’ll try to satisfy both parties.

For a variety of reasons, we decided to split the legal ceremony and the party to different days/months, which meant the planning was spread out over a longer period than it would have been had we done everything at once.  We had been in a relationship for a while, but decided last year that in order to be sure we’d be able to continue to live in the same country legally, we should make things official. From there, we examined what we wanted, and what our communities wanted…and it looked like we should organize a big official party. Then we started thinking of what we needed to do to get my international friends and family to Georgia and what they would expect, and how to make that work with what the Georgians would expect. Once we had set the date, we realized that a wedding website was going to be necessary to coordinate the logistics for those abroad (even though he’s a programmer, I did the site on Zola–it was easy), and although paper invitations are becoming less mandatory than in the past, I still wanted them. I do love stationery! So the first step was to get engagement photos to have something to put on said website and invitations. Luckily, a friend/student/coworker reminded me of our former student/coworker/friend Maia, who was now a freelance wedding photographer. In a funny coincidence, right after that, Maia saw me out a marshrutka window and messaged me. Clearly it was meant to be, so we met with Maia and started that side of things. She took great photos, and we used them on our site and worked with Allprint to print our invitations. They were great about helping us get things to look exactly the way we wanted.

IMG_6025

The photo used in our invitations. Credit: Maia Tochilashvili

The Legal Wedding:

For a marriage to be legally binding in Georgia, you have to register it at a House of Justice (a church wedding doesn’t do anything legally, like it does in some countries). The process is hailed as being easy and fast. I can’t say it was hard, but it was still plagued by Georgian bureaucracy. Before our vacation to the US last winter, we stopped by the Wedding Hall to ask if I needed to bring any documents from the US, and they said that all I would need was my Georgian residence card, and that when we were ready to get married, just call in advance and schedule. (This is also what one of my good Georgian friends who got married a few months before told me). I didn’t totally believe them that my ID card would be enough, so I preemptively went and got a notarized translation of my passport. When we had gotten the rings together (that took a while since G’s hands required a custom ring) and consulted with a lawyer about a pre-nup (unnecessary in our case, but better safe than sorry), we called to schedule the wedding that weekend. Then they said that we couldn’t schedule over the phone and we needed to come in person to do it…and they were closed the next two (working) days, so better do it fast. (The wedding books suggest that having to go in person a few days in advance is nothing unusual in other places). Fortunately it was a day when we could drop everything and run to the House of Justice. When we got there, they did, indeed, ask for my translated passport and said my residence card was insufficient. Then they said that we needed to give them our witnesses’ IDs that day. Yeah, we don’t walk around carrying our friends’ IDs. If they’d mentioned that, we probably could have gotten them. They agreed to accept photos that day (luckily both of our witnesses happened to have the ability to send them to our phones immediately), as long as we brought the originals on the wedding day.  My witness is also American, so she had to go through the usual drama of finding a notary who is open and has a working translator on any given day, but she managed it in time after running all over the city (hero!).  Allegedly, there are multiple different versions of the ceremony you can choose, but we didn’t get any choice. We were given the most expensive one. The House of Justice had warned us a million times not to be late, so we got there early. You are apparently also not allowed to be early, because they were mean and rude and made me cry, and wouldn’t let me sit in the lobby even though it was freezing outside because there was another wedding (which we never saw any evidence of). I understand not letting me go into the chapel, but the lobby? Totally ridiculous. They made me sit in the closed House of Justice, and when my husband arrived (also early) I couldn’t get out to go sit in the car as the door was locked (That’s safe…). When the time for the ceremony arrived, though, everything went fine. Apparently if you pay the big bucks you get champagne (actually a pretty tasty one), a “first dance,” and a copy of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin. After we were married, we went across the street to Sirajkhana and had a lovely dinner with the small group of family and friends who had come to the legal wedding.

IMG_1238

Signing the marriage contract at the House of Justice Credit: Maia Tochilashvili

Logistical Prep:

After we were officially married, the logistical arrangements for the reception and related events became our focus. It wasn’t too hard to decide on our venue: Egri. Their decor was the least over-the-top of places we visited, their food was delicious, and the location made sense for guests (it was also a bit cheaper than other places). We realized later on that it was a huge bonus that it was near G’s office; he could run over on his lunch break and figure out some details, which turned out to be very helpful. I really wanted my guests from abroad to get to see Georgian dancing, and Egri had their own dancers to perform, so we didn’t have to worry about arranging that. . Our photographer Maia recommended a “designer” (florist and more), Edemi, who we agreed to put in charge of making things pretty and otherwise leave it to him (of course he turned out to be from the next village over from G’s relatives…small country). I knew from the very beginning that I wanted the cake to be from Mada, because they are the only bakery I have found in Georgia (so far) whose cakes I consistently like (seriously, try their dark chocolate frosting). They were very easy to work with and design a cake.  Our friend Merab is a professional singer, so he helped us find all the musicians. (The music turned out to be one of the highlights–he got literally some of the best people in the country for us). The videography was arranged by the restaurant because it wasn’t a top priority for us, but they wanted some footage to use as advertising. For other little extra details, we had wanted to flavor some of G’s homemade chacha and put it in mini bottles as favors for the guests, but the only guy at Lilo who had mini bottles only had 26 “until spring”, so we had to reevaluate our plans. We wound up ordering customized bottle openers from the US and having them shipped here. That worked out fine. We also put together some things to keep the kids entertained and bathroom amenity baskets to make our guests more comfortable. G had a contact at a company that rents photo booths, and that sounded like it would be fun, so we organized that as well.

gifme edited

Photo booth photo; we got some really funny ones!

Beyond just the reception, we arranged a discounted block of rooms at Betsy’s Hotel for guests from abroad. Many people chose to go the AirBnB route and found really nice places, but we did have people stay at Betsy’s. We also arranged a post-wedding brunch there, and they were great to work with–everything was easy and nice without a lot of work on my part.  We made welcome bags for our guests from abroad. The bags were designed and printed by Allprint, and we filled them with information about Georgia, snacks, and wine. We had quite the time running around the city trying to find enough boxes of Gurieli black tea bags, which were somehow in short supply! We also found a tour guide to do a walking tour of the city so that guests could get their bearings and get to know one another. We had a “support marshrutka” for the long portions, and where we could keep snacks and heavy bags. That hybrid model worked out well. The guide told some stories and took us to some places that were even new to me. After the tour, we had a welcome dinner at Kakhelebi, which worked out very nicely–they have a separate room for mid-size events, and delicious food. We didn’t even have to arrange things too far in advance for it to work out, and the staff were helpful and accommodating. Because we already had the marshrutka, we didn’t need to worry about the slightly inconvenient location because transportation was already taken care of for the non-locals.

The Day-of:

We had to wake up fairly early in order to get my hair and make-up done in time to get to the Ethnographic Museum by 2 for pictures. So we did. Our Best Man had hired a limo, so we drove there in style. Unfortunately, it was quite cold, so not many of our friends and family came to join us for the pictures, and my Maid of Honor and I were freezing (the guys got lucky with their suits and chokhas!).

IMG_3124

Ethnographic Museum Crew Credit: Maia Tochilashvili

It was a long time with no food and no bathroom, so we eventually wound up just going to the wedding early! While we were there and the guests started arriving, I kept telling myself “This is Georgia; nothing is going to go the way you plan it, so don’t get too attached to the small details. Things will still be fine anyway. As long as you give the guests food and wine, they’ll be happy.” And there were things I could have had a meltdown over–the cake was too dark, the flowers were too light (and I have no idea where baby pink entered the equation), some guests didn’t pay attention to the seating chart…but like I had been telling myself, it was all fine. My husband’s brother and cousins did an amazing job of dealing with the most urgent problems so that they didn’t snowball (I hope they got to have fun, too). Despite the small things, the cake tasted delicious (which was more important); the centerpieces didn’t block conversations (my main worry), and people seemed to have fun. We didn’t get to spend as much time with our guests or eat as much food as we’d planned (I’ve read this is basically how weddings go), but we had a good time. Our friend’s teenage daughter described it as “lit”, so I guess we pulled it off!

IMG_4077

The kids DEFINITELY had fun Credit: Maia Tochilashvili

Analysis:

Our expenses were in line with those mentioned in Meydan TV’s article on wedding costs in the region, which is still shocking to me, honestly, as our combined salaries are (considerably) above average for Georgia. We had 145 guests and the event felt really lavish to me (more lavish than I had dreamed of), and we did a lot of extras (welcome bags, favors, kids’ entertainment…). I’m not sure what people are doing to get up to some of those numbers! We did keep costs lower by 1) having the reception during Lent (church weddings aren’t allowed during Lent): this meant more vegetarian food on the menu, which is cheaper, and less competition for vendors, so they were willing to work for less rather than not work at all and 2) going with a fairly new restaurant, which hadn’t yet established a “stylish” reputation, but was trying really hard to do so. This made them try very hard and be very accommodating (they did a great job), but their prices weren’t inflated by the cool factor.

Advice:

You HAVE TO be “bridechilla”, or Georgia will drive you nuts. You also really need a Georgian speaker involved in this. My Georgian is pretty good, and I rarely have trouble communicating day-to-day, but this was a whole other level. (Mostly phone calls, which are absolutely my linguistic Achilles’ heel). If any of you have stumbled across this post because you’re planning a Tbilisi wedding, feel free to reach out–I have gained some knowledge, and have wedding planning books looking for a new home!

Vendors:

Photographer: Maia Tochilashvili
Reception Venue: Egri
Reception Flowers and Decor: Edemi Gvarmiani
Reception Music: Merab and friends from Rustavi Ensemble, DJ Giga Papaskiri and his assistant(?), Saba
Reception Dance: Restaurant Egri’s Dance Troupe
Photo Booth/GIFFER: GIFme
Wedding Cake: Madart (“Mada”) Conditery
Make-up: Buta at Ici Paris Beauty Center
Hair: Eka at Beauty Salon Zuka
Printing: Allprint

I know I’ve been gone awhile; a full proper post is coming soon to fill you in on why. In the meantime, I’ve decided to make a Twitter for the blog, where I can post quick observations and photos of ex-pat life in Tbilisi, travel, food, and culture. Follow me at @cookiesandthe
My personal Twitter remains active, for those who already follow me there.

IMG_20180826_174436_1-COLLAGE

Clockwise from top left: Museum rooftop selfie, Mount Ushba from the museum rooftop, Svan tower, millet tchvishtari

Mariamoba was on a Tuesday this year, and since my Monday classes took a summer vacation, that gave me a 4-day weekend; actually enough time to go a little further afield. G had never been to Svaneti, and my previous trip was far from enough, so we decided to make a weekend of it. We planned to leave mid-day Saturday, but work intervened, so we didn’t leave until late afternoon. Our plan was to drive to Zugdidi to spend the night there, break up the drive, and spend some time with G’s relatives. The thing that had come loose on the car on our trip to Poka was making noise again, and there was heavy traffic, so it took longer than planned and we didn’t get in to Zugdidi until quite late. We got to hang out with the family a bit in the morning, though. One of the little ones is book-obsessed and loved the board books I had brought her, so we got along swimmingly.

We left Zugdidi around noon and drove into Svaneti. We’d stopped at the Enguri dam and taken photos before, so we skipped that stop, but did pull off for the odd scenic pitstop. It took about three and a half hours to get to Mestia. Just outside Mestia, we picked up a group of hitchhikers, who were a great boon to us. They were all Tbilisi Svan English teachers spending their summer vacation in their ancestral home. They called a friend of theirs who ran a guesthouse and hooked us up with a cheap, clean guesthouse with a private bathroom. They also gave us some restaurant and sightseeing advice, and were just generally very nice and helpful. Unfortunately I didn’t catch any of their names, but one of them works with one of my co-workers (small country), so hopefully I can meet her again and say thank you.

After dropping our stuff off in the room we went for a wander in the town and relaxed a bit in the park at Seti Square, and then went to make sure we made it to the Svaneti museum before they closed. I’m really glad we made it to the museum; it’s small but well-presented and really worth visiting. I found the display of coins left at the churches really interesting in their age and geographic range. After seeing the exhibits, we climbed to the museum roof to see the panoramic view of Mestia and take some photos. We finished the day at Koshki Bar (also recommended by our hitchhikers for kubdari). I was surprised that a place next to the bus station would be so good…it’s usually better to walk further afield. The menu was extensive, and despite all my years in Georgia, I wasn’t familiar with all the dishes. We were discussing what to order in our usual mish-mash of Georgian and English, and the waitress kept right up, speaking to us in both languages.  We wound up ordering the kubdari (the Svanetian version of khachapuri, filled with spiced meat), the house salad (which the waitress made sure we knew was made with beef tongue) and a tchvishtari (Svanetian cheesy cornbread, a favorite of mine) made with millet. Everything was delicious, though I thought the tchvishtari was a little on the salty side. When I went to the restroom, I noticed in the refrigerator a legit-looking chocolate cake, so I splurged and had dessert and did not regret it in the least. It was one of the best cakes I’ve had in Georgia. Walking around Mestia I was struck by how different it was than four years ago. Then there were lots of empty new buildings and not many people around. This time, Mestia was vibrant! Tourists and locals alike were playing in the park, strolling along the streets, and eating in cafes. There were far fewer empty storefronts, but there were still cows walking down the main street and old men in traditional hats minding their own business. Right now, they’ve hit the balance between tradition and development right on the head for me…I desperately hope they manage to hold onto that balance, as the place is only going to keep getting more and more popular.

After sleeping in the next morning, I started the day with my first-ever flat white at Erti Kava which brews my beloved Coffee Lab beans and has a really extensive drink menu including the lovely flower fairy tea from the baths (…must find the name of that brand!). We had a breakfast that was really more of a lunch at Cafe Panorama  where I sampled their version of millet tchvistari (I preferred Koshki’s version, but this was also very good) and G had a massive plate of ojakhuri (pork and potatoes cooked together…this version included some wine, too). We walked down to the riverside and relaxed and listened to the rushing water for a while. Then we walked to the Hatsvali Ski Lift. The idea was to take the ski lift up, and go for a short hike/long walk once we were at the top. However, the ski lift was closed for repairs. Given what happened at Gudauri last winter, this is probably for the best, but it was annoying that the sign said the lift would reopen on August 10, and we were well past that with no information on when it would actually reopen. Our plans were foiled, so we wandered around the town for a while and returned to Seti Square, where G to a little nap to digest his ojakhuri. After another little wander through the other part of the town, we had dinner at Buba, which was recomended by our hostess for kubdari. G was still pretty full, so we didn’t order it, though. We got “Svan fries” (french fries with Svanetian salt), millet khachapuri (which was amazing! I think the millet was mixed in with the cheese rather than the used for the dough, though, so I think it still contained wheat) and chicken soup (which may also have contained millet). All the food was really good.

Tuesday was Mariamoba, which is apparently a particularly big deal in Svaneti, but we had to drive back to Tbilisi. Only Laila was open for breakfast but their breakfast menu was limited and kind of disappointing, so G decided to wait and I grabbed a packaged croissant and a banana from the market and returned to Erti Kava for a latte. They also had a little bit of quiche left (they don’t sell much food, but apparently have some), so I got a piece and was quite satisfied with my breakfast. We set off, and stopped along the road for G to have his last taste of kubdari in Khaishi. Despite the holiday, traffic wasn’t too bad on the highway, so we made it back to Tbilisi in decent time.

Inspired by my friend Chloe’s monthly food favorites, I’m going to start profiling my favorite new things in Georgia each season. See all my past favorites here. I’ll try to focus on things, people, places, and organizations that are brand new, but it’s possible that I’ll be late to the party on something, or there’s something that’s just new-to-me and so amazing that I’ll still choose to include it. I don’t mean to be solely food-focused, but that seems to happen sometimes…

IMG_20180317_203952-COLLAGE

Clockwise from top left: Cinnamon rolls made with Breaderick; cherry juice; room in Crowne Plaza Borjomi; Panthenol gel; quesadilla from El Maridaje (half-eaten, sorry); quail and rice

S is back: Those who’ve been with this blog since the early days might remember my old travel buddy/roommate/partner in crime “S:. Well, she’s been gone a while working on her PhD, but this summer her research brought her back to Georgia, and we got to hang out! Of course she’s on her way back to the US to finish up her degree right as this post goes live, but it made spring and summer fun to have her around!

El MaridajeTbilisi finally has a Mexican restaurant! The chef is from Sonora, so the cuisine isn’t TexMex or Baja, but as someone with family in Tucson, this hits the spot! My favorite so far is Nachos El Maridaje, but they have expanded the menu since last time I visited.

Cherry juice: Good for my joints, delicious, and one of the few sugar-free options readily available, cherry and cherry-pomegranate juices make me happy.

Upscale Borjomi: This summer I attended a conference in Borjomi, which led to seeing a different side of the town. This side was also great! The conference was held in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which was a real 5 star hotel. The swimming pool was beautiful, the buffet was good, and my room was fit for a princess. We also had a wine tasting at The Drinking Spot, and it was some of the best wine I’ve had anywhere; varieties I had never heard of served with delicious cheese and honey.

Frozen quail: Lately, the supply of normal chicken to the grocery store around the corner has been disrupted, so while I was searching in vain one day I noticed a package of frozen quail, and I turned my chicken and rice into quail and rice. Delicious, fancy, and possibly even easier than with chicken!

Mama Terra: Unfortunately, Begemot closed (Woland’s remains), but as consolation it was replaced with Mama Terra which is another great place. Mexican, Asian, and Georgian vegetarian options. Everything I’ve had has been delicious, and it’s nice to be able to go out to eat for fun and convenience, without sacrificing healthy tasty food like what I make at home. The drink menu is also awesome–free tap water, lots of fresh juices, smoothies, a tasty masala chai latte, and delicious ginger kombucha.

Lisi Lake walking path: I hadn’t been to Lisi Lake in a while, and boy does it look different now! They’ve made a path around the lake (and also added a lot of “attractions” and cafes to the city side). It’s a 3-kilometer loop, and a very pleasant walk. Clearly it’s popular, as the place is packed with walkers, joggers, and kids on bikes and scooters every day at almost all hours.

Georgian pharmacies: I posted years ago about my first time using my Georgian health insurance, and I remain really pleased with my insurance coverage and my family doctor. This summer I had a series of minor maladies (Tbilisi tummy, ear infection, a series of burns, bumps, and scrapes), and while I did see my doctor a few times to patch me up, it was the pharmacists who really got me through the summer. While there are of course some pharmacists who aren’t particularly interested in helping, on average I’ve gotten great advice and assistance from them–looking up the equivalent of the American thing I have in Georgia, comparing prices, recommending different products, etc. My greatest find this summer was something called Panthenol, recommended by a pharmacist for my tide-battered, scraped, rashy and sunburned legs (Why yes, I was a total mess). I had asked for something to use like Neosporin, which I had left at home, and she said “No, no, you don’t need an antibiotic yet. You just need something to toughen it up. Try this.” I tried it, and that’s exactly what it did–it made the scab form quickly, and the skin heal faster in general (and I don’t see any scars).

Breaderick, my sourdough starter: When I visited my parents at Christmas, Mom told me about her new adventures in sourdough, and I got to try their sourdough pancakes. It seemed like a brilliant idea to start my own, so now I have my own gluten pet named Breaderick. It’s a fun but not too time-consuming hobby, and I make yummy pancakes, flatbread and regular bread somewhat regularly now. I’ve also experimented with banana bread and cinnamon rolls, with fairly good results. (If anyone in Tbilisi needs a piece, just let me know!)

Dishonorable Mention: Lari depreciation…and I had meant to convert my savings to USD right before, and didn’t get around to it. Poor me. (Literally).

If you have any suggestions for something new and great in Georgia, let me know–I’ll try to check it out, and perhaps it will make a future favorites list.

%d bloggers like this: