Remember Rosemary? Unfortunately, they had to close, but like I reassured you the chef (my good friend, btw…there’s your disclaimer) had a new project up his sleeve…Begemot! This place is even more up my alley than Rosemary was, as it combines delicious food with BOOKS. It’s not a full restaurant, but it’s an ideal place to grab a light lunch or a snack. The menu features tea and coffee, pastries, salads, sandwiches and soups, some American style, some with a Georgian twist like sulguni or adjika. Laptops, and of course reading, are welcome. I’ve never made it early enough in the day for my caffeine-sensitive self to sample the coffees, but a friend who lives in the neighborhood has already made it her morning coffee stop. I’m a gigantic fan of the Cubanos. Oh my gosh, go to Begemot and get a Cubano.

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❤ Cubano (also a salad…should have gone for the chips and peach iced green tea)

Everything I’ve tried has been good, but seriously, just get the Cubano (or the roast beef. I think the meat is the same). It’s even served with homemade potato chips. The used book selection is surprisingly good, with reasonable prices ranging from 5-15 GEL. They’ve also got a BookSwapping shelf where you can take or leave books for free. The Tbilisi English BookSwap meets there (first Wednesday of the month, 7:30, join us), and they have also added on their own multi-lingual international BookSwap meeting. The decor is adorable and cozy, and they play nice chill music. The Master and Margarita theme is done subtly, but you’ll notice it in the posters. Highly recommended. In fact, I’ve got a bit of free time between engagements this afternoon, so I’ll probably be there.

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Cute decor, right?

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The beach chairs on Gonio beach in previous summers

Seriously, Gonio beach chair people? You don’t get the whole beach! You can see from the photo of a previous summer, there were quite a few beach chairs for rent on the beach in previous summers, but in summer 2017 the problem really exploded. There wasn’t any beach left WITHOUT beach chairs on it, and the beach chair attendants wouldn’t allow you to move one. The prices aren’t too bad, at 6 GEL/hour, but if I have brought my own chair or mat from home, I don’t really need a beach chair, and I still have a right to use some part of the public beach. There are way more beach chairs for rent than there is demand. The attendant finally relented and let us use a little patch of beach, since we argued that since there were 20 chairs in a row unoccupied, it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference to his bottom line.  Come on now, folks. I applaud the entrepreneurial spirit, but it’s a public beach. You can’t take the whole thing. Capitalism: you’re doing it wrong.

The accepted way to spend a summer vacation in Georgia is to head to the Black Sea coast. Some people prefer Kobuleti, others Batumi. Usually I stay in Gonio, as it’s a bit cheaper than Batumi but very close by, and the water is cleaner and more pleasant for swimming. This year, I stayed in Gonio again, in the same guesthouse that I have for the past few years, but had a very different trip. This time, we did the MOUNTAINS. The weather wasn’t very good at the beach, and I’ve seen the Botanical Garden and the Boulevard a few times (not that they’re not still fun), but I was looking for something new. This time we had a reliable car, so we went exploring. One day, we set off on the back road to Akhaltsikhe. The road goes along a very wide and scenic river, so there are lots of beautiful views. The name of a village caught our eye: Bzubzu (that sounds funny in Georgian, too), so we turned and drove up that road. It was a surprisingly good road, and we followed it for a while taking in the scenery and fresh air before coming back down the mountain and returning to the main road.

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BZUBZU (and awkwardly placed cow)

As we drove on, we noticed multiple rafting companies operating and a number of wine cellars open to tourists. There seemed to be lots of tour groups visiting, as well. There was a medieval bridge, an early Soviet aqueduct and a few waterfalls, all with people gathered around taking photos. (I’m also guilty…the photo of me posing with Akhali Cola in my summer favorites was taken atop the Soviet aqueduct)

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Funny sign at Mtirala National Park HQ

Our next adventure was to Mtirala (literally “weeping”) National Park, the rainiest place in Georgia. True to its name, it was indeed raining off and on as we drove to the park headquarters. Unlike the road into the mountain villages, this road was shockingly bad. I’m really not sure how the little Prius made it. If we’d had more time, hiking in wouldn’t have been a bad idea. We did the short hike to the waterfall, and the trail was very well-marked and -maintained. Some of our party, however, complained that we had had to walk so far just to see some water. Hiking’s not for everyone, I guess. On the return leg, it started raining in earnest, so we skipped stopping to see the lake. We returned to the visitor center to have a picnic, but they were charging a fee for tables, so they suggested we go next door to the restaurant next door where we could use a table for free (Capitalism: you’re doing it wrong). Then we hit the road back and crept across all the potholes back to Chakvi.

Our final excursion into the mountains came on Eid, or Kurban Bayramoba as it’s called in Georgian. The owner of the guesthouse where we were staying is an Adjaran Muslim, and he invited us to celebrate with him and his friends on the mountaintop near the village. Of course we said yes! This time the trusty little Prius nearly didn’t make it (it overheated a few times–despite the high altitude chill–so we had to stop multiple times on the way up to let it cool down). The host’s estimation of how long it took to get to the village was a vast underestimate. Then, we weren’t actually visiting the village, but the mountaintop nearby. It took a REALLY long time to get up there. The village was a little place named Tsablana, and they tell me the mountain is called Ghomis Mta, though I can’t confirm that on any maps. Ghomis Mta translates literally to “Grits Mountain” and there’s a great story for why it’s called that. Two neighboring villages disputed which village owned the mountain, so they agreed to a contest to settle the matter. Whichever village could bring hot food to the top of the mountain faster, and without the food getting cold would get ownership of the mountain. Those silly people in the other village prepared the Adjaran specialty of borano which is very delicious, but apparently doesn’t hold its heat very well. The wily Tsablanans, however, made the Megrelian staple ghomi (grits). Even wilier, they put a fire-warmed stone underneath the food so that it would stay hot longer. Tsablana’s trick worked, and they gained claim over the mountain. So this is where we gathered with our host and his friends to celebrate Eid with a feast. They grilled fish and chicken over a fire, and we had fresh fruits and veggies and some cold khinkali. And lots of wine and chacha (level of observance of Islam: pork, no; alcohol, yes). I was delighted that the mountaintop was covered in juicy sweet wild blueberries (they’re hard to buy here!). I’m told the view is stunning on a clear day and you can see the few kilometers into Turkey, but we only saw mist:

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Misty view from Ghomis Mta

I can’t believe it took me this long to get into Mountainous Adjara, and there’s still so much left to explore!

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…

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Clockwise from top left: Wearing a dress from DeFacto and modelling Siakhle Cola; a pistachio ice cream cone; Krik Brewing Company, probably the best microbrewery, and Georgian olive oil

Georgian Olive OilGeorgian olive oil (produced near Sighnaghi, if I’m not mistaken) hit the shelves at the beginning of this summer, and it was the perfect accompaniment to all the fresh tomatoes! It’s the highest quality olive oil I’ve found on shelves here, but the price is mid-market. Good enough to dip tonis puri into, with no other seasonings.

Craft beer: The craft beer revolution made it to Georgia!   Krik Brewing Company makes some really delicious beers (and I don’t even really like beer). One was orange-y and one was chocolate-y and tasting them was quite fun. Black Dog Bar and Burgio are also both in on the game,and recommended for a casual night out.

Pistachio Ice Cream: I’ve been begging for pistachio ice cream (one of my favorites) every since I visited Turkey and saw all the options there. (I have a strong memory of eating pistachio ice cream in front of the Hagia Sophia on my trip to Istanbul, even). Angelato and Luca Polare ice cream shops stock it sometimes, and you can pick up some Tolia at the grocery store.

Rafting: We had a work team-building event at the Georgian Rafting Federation’s base near Borjomi, and  it was AMAZING. There are also supposed to be options along the road to Kazbegi and in mountainous Ajara. The experience outside Borjomi was fantastic–highly recommended! (I’m not sure if it was a miscommunication or not, but our fee didn’t include transportation back to the base where we had left all our stuff. It was a bit of a long walk, and some of our co-workers were sopping wet, so we wound up “making memories” with some slightly sketchy hitchhiking).

Siakhle Cola: I’m not sure if this is new or regional (the label said “Made in Zestaponi”),  but I bought it from a nice old man along the side of the road through mountainous Ajara, and it’s the best non-Coca Cola cola I’ve ever had. Pleasantly cinnamon-y and all-around refreshing.

DeFacto clothing company and other Turkish clothing brands: Usually I import my clothes from the US, but I have gotten some great bargains on decent-quality stuff at De Facto lately. In fact(o), I loved the dress I bought so much, I went back and bought it in all the other colors they had in stock in my size. I did, however, find that I wore drastically different sizes in dresses and t-shirts, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to try things on.

Dishonorable mention: Forest fires, yikes!

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.

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Wildflowers and mountains, very Bakuriani

I FINALLY made it to Bakuriani! It’s odd that I’d never been there before, as it’s just up the mountain from Borjomi, one of my favorite weekend getaways. I went there a different way than I usually travel, though; I was teaching at a summer camp held there. It was, to be honest, a pretty sweet gig (despite some incredibly rude kids): as a teacher I wasn’t responsible for the kids outside my class hours, so I got to have plenty of free time to read novels, go on walks, and catch up on Jane the Virgin. Bakuriani is primarily famous as a ski resort, but they’ve done quite well in marketing themselves as a summer destination, too. The place was full of summer camps and families relaxing outside the heat of Tbilisi. Though room rates are cut in half for summer, it looked like the hotel was making a fairly good profit selling the campers Coca-Cola and ice cream. It was on average about 10*C cooler in Bakuriani than back in Tbilisi, making the weather just lovely. We were lucky to have sunshine for the majority of our time there, and somehow I didn’t spot any mosquitoes!

Since camp was keeping the hotels quite full, I actually spent time in three different hotels: Hotel Ritza, Hotel Ana-Maria, and Hotel Edemi.  None of them were perfect, but all of them were quite good–especially for the summer season prices. I was definitely comfortable. They all seem to be managed by the same people, but Ana-Maria was the most recently renovated.

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View of Aghmashenebeli Street from below, where Hotels Ritza (the big yellow one left of center), Ana-Maria, and Edemi are located.

Since I was at summer camp, I didn’t try any of the restaurants in town, eating with the camp at Ritza. The strawberry-apple jam and (home made?) pelmeni were excellent (though pelmeni for breakfast was hard on my stomach). Other meals were less impressive, but nothing was disgusting or anything. Likewise, I can’t comment on transportation to Bakuriani, as I traveled on the camp bus, though I hear the train up from Borjomi is wonderful.

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Thunderstorms rolling in over the mountains at dusk

Everyone working in the little shops in town was incredibly friendly and helpful (not always the norm), and I really liked walking around, poking in various places, and exploring. The town layout was pretty simple, so I never worried about getting lost. One nice little walk was to a suspended footbridge behind the “Bakuriani Resorts” hotel (I think that’s near the “Otsdakhutianebi” ski slope. Visiting the Didveli ski slope and taking the cable car up was also fun, but be warned–5 GEL only gets you halfway up; you’ll need to spend another 5 GEL for the next cable car further to the top (I didn’t…this time). There’s quite a lot to do in Bakuriani (I didn’t have time to do it all): it has one of the few cinemas outside of Tbilisi, there’s an amusement park and a botanical garden, and you can rent horses, bicycles or ATVs to go for a ride. The scenery is beautiful, and in early July, at least, all the meadows were full of wildflowers. Bakuriani is definitely a nice place to escape the summer heat and relax–I hope to go back sometime soon, maybe I’ll even try skiing.

I kept delaying this post as I tried to get the names of villages from a friend who was keeping track, but that never happened and it’s now embarrassingly late to post about last summer’s travels, so let’s call this an anniversary “throw-back” post, with a little less detail than originally planned. This trip was to the Lechkhumi portion of the Raja-Lechkumi and Kvemo Svaneti Region of Georgia which is in the north and center-west of the country and part of the Greater Caucasus. I visited in July 2016. #TBT

 

We started the weekend with the drive to Kutaisi, from whence we went into Lechkhumi via the village of Rioni, mostly following the Rioni river. This route was beautiful, but the roads were bad (we had car trouble in a Delica!), so I wouldn’t recommend it for independent travel. We stopped at a few waterfalls along the road, and visited a variety of village churches, some with beautiful frescoes. One of the last towns we stopped in featured a cemetery with nicely decorated gravestones and a treehouse which was fun to climb. Down the road a bit was a beautiful panoramic view, where we could apparently see into Svaneti. The only village name I remember on this route is Lailashi, which I remember because we ran out of time to go there. At the end of the day, we arrived in Tsageri to a cheap home-stay that let some members of our group camp in the yard for free while the rest of us paid for beds in the house.

The next day, we woke up and headed to the Tsageri museum which was EXCELLENT–one of the best curated museums I’ve visited in Georgia. It housed taxidermy, ancient artifacts (coins, statues, and weapons), photography, and other bits and bobs all labelled in understandable English. The director of the museum (I think…the man who showed us around) is also, apparently, an artist and he showed us some of his work as well. The whole town of Tsageri was really impressive. The locals clearly care for their town; everything looked well-maintained and tidy. I’ve since met someone who grew up in Tsageri and he agreed with my conclusion, saying people only leave because there are so few jobs there. I’ve seen plans to re-build the airport and build a football stadium to international standards in the town, so maybe that trend will stop.

Our next stop was the fortress overlooking Tsageri, which guarded the crossroads between the different principalities in the medieval period. At this time, the weather was starting to turn for the worse, so we spent a lot of time fiddle-faddling around deciding whether or not to go up to the summit of Khvamli Mountain. We actually went halfway up, decided to turn around and visit Tskaltubo instead, and then went back all the way to the top the next time. The view from Khvamli was incredible, and the clouds causing the poor weather made the view mystical and magical, but I really could have done without all the indecision and time-wasting. We did end up with some nice photos, though.

Then we were back on the road to Kutaisi via Tskaltubo and then home to Tbilisi, tired after a busy weekend and a lot of fresh air. Unlike the other road, this road was very good quality. It you’re flying into Kutaisi and want to visit the mountains, Tsageri and Khvamli might be a good, accessible option. It’s certainly a beautiful corner of Georgia.

Having spent most of May injured and recuperating, I was itching to get out of the city and be active now that I was feeling better, but I was sure that my endurance had taken a hit from not doing much other than stretching for a month. A friend posted on Facebook that he was organizing a group hike to Lagodekhi, and it was suitable for beginners, so it seemed like it could be the perfect thing for me to get back at it. I’ve heard Lagodekhi is beautiful, but I’d never been there, and it was supposed to be a fairly flat and easy trail. Perfect! But the weather foiled our plans. Weather reports were divided as to whether or not it was raining in Lagodekhi at the time of our departure, but there had been 3 days of rain before, so the trail would have been MUDDY. We decided as a group to go instead to Ateni in Shida Kartli, where the weather was supposed to be lovely. One of my co-workers has a village house in Ateni, and she always brings us the most wonderful fruit from her orchard, so it seemed like a fine idea to me.

Ateni isn’t a very long drive from Tbilisi, so that’s definitely a mark in its favor. It took us a few tries to locate the right bridge in the village to start our hike from, but once we were there we began by following the road through the village up the hill easily enough (the entire hike followed that road, though “road” became a less accurate description the further we went). I was off to a good start, feeling strong on my way up the hill. I started to feel it right before the trail split, though. There was a fortress (I believe it was Veres Tsikhe) off to the left, and we were given the option to either go see the fortress, or take a little break. Though I love fortresses, I knew I should conserve my energy, so I sat and took a break with another girl in the group.

The others returned, citing steep walls and snakes (!) and we were off on our hike again. This section of the trail was much harder than before as it was pretty much straight up the mountain, and I was definitely starting to get tired. Every time I thought we’d reached the summit, another hill appeared beyond the meadow. One time we even left the trail and were climbing a hill so steep the ground was nearly right in front of my face. After I while I was only managing to trudge 3 steps before taking a mini-break, with my hip flexors aching all the way (that was new! Usually it’s my thighs that burn from hiking).

I thought we’d reached the top, but was confronted with yet another hill before we reached the church. But, you know what? I was done. I’ve never done that before…given up and stopped. But this hike was much harder than I had planned, and I was starting to wonder if I would have the strength to get back down the mountain. I’ve also seen plenty of Georgian churches at this point. I was in a safe and comfortable place, so I told the others to go on without me, and I waited in that nice mountain meadow. I made sure the friend I had come with and the hike leader knew where I was, and I dropped a pin on Google maps and sent my location to a friend not in the group, and then I just laid down in that meadow and rested. Actually, I had a really great time there, watching the clouds and thinking. I initially wished I had brought my Kindle, or that my phone had gotten internet reception, but in the end I only got bored about 10 minutes before the others returned. It took them more than 2 and a half hours to get up and back (they had estimated 45 minutes), so it was a difficult hike. Apparently that section of trail was really muddy and slippery, making it even more of a challenge. Staying was 100% the right decision for me at that time. When they returned, some of the others told me they wished they had stayed with me, and even those who didn’t mind the hike said that the view wasn’t so much better to justify the difficult walk (some of them may have been trying to make me feel better, but I don’t think all of them were).

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The church I did not visit atop the mountain I did not climb.

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The sights I saw on this trip.

Refreshed, I kept up with the others and was able to chat and socialize on the way down, which seemed so much shorter! The scenery was pretty and I didn’t re-injure myself, so even though I had to give up, I’m calling the day a success.

Note: I believe the fortress I didn’t visit was Veres Tsikhe, and though I’m pretty sure I located the “road” we followed on the map, I can’t find a name for the church at the top.

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…

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Clockwise: Lovely chocolate cherry birthday cake from Mada, Kula lemonade, plate from Barbarestan, Rera pelmeni, Barambo desert’i chocolates, place setting from Khasheria (Culinarium)

New (/Old) Georgian Cuisine: Khasheria and Barbarestan are the darlings of this genre in the Western press at the moment, and I can say the food at both is definitely something special. I’ve gone to Khasheria twice, and got the chicken both times, so that’s highly recommended!  I also really enjoyed two different warm salads. Barbarestan isn’t exactly “new” cuisine (all their recipes are based on those from Barbare Jorjadze, who lived in the 19th Century), but it’s definitely not the same as every other restaurant in Tbilisi. I’d heard so many rave reviews that I wasn’t at all surprised that the food was delicious–what really impressed me at Barbarestan were the little things–crackly flatbread, amazing homemade tarragon lemonade, pretty mismatched plates and tiled sink.  I’ve also tasted food at the lesser-known Sirajkhana and Cafe-Theatre that I would put into the same category (though I attended special events at both of these places, so I don’t know if the usual menu is exactly the same). I crashed a wine-tasting at Sirajkhana that was way too cool for the likes of me, and was smitten with the fluffy pita bread and neon green dip. The khachapuri was also seriously good. The dishes are influenced by the Persian parts of Georgia’s past, making the menu unique. I discovered Cafe-Theatre when I was invited to a social event there, and got to taste a bite or two of many different dishes. The mushrooms fried with bazhe (ბაჟე=Georgian walnut sauce) (I still haven’t figured out quite how they did that) and topped with an herb dressing were my favorite. The cafe gets its name from the small stage in the back of the space where they host performances.  Word on the street suggests that Ezo also fits into this category, though I haven’t visited them yet myself. It’s nice to see the already-delicious Georgian cuisine growing up a bit!

Agrohub: This is a new supermarket with a difference: highlighting Georgian and “organic” products while also stocking a wide variety of other hard-to-find items (and everyday stuff, too). If you’re looking for octopus or starfruit, this is the place to check, but you’ll have to pay a pretty penny for those sorts of things. Prices are generally a bit higher than at Carrefour, but to me it’s worth it for the unique and specialty products. The first time I visited, village eggs were on a special sale and incredibly cheap. The bakery has very tasty products, and the Rachan ham has been a huge hit. I got an assortment of unique Georgian cheeses here for a party I hosted and got a lot of compliments (the Imeruli with coffee and honey was a great surprise, though it didn’t really taste of any of its components). I’ve been coming here roughly once a month for specialty items, while my weekly grocery shopping remains at Carrefour, street markets, and local shops. Thanks for the recommendation, Jenni!

Madart “Mada” Confectionary: I have to be honest–I’m usually not a big fan of the cake in Georgia. The cake itself is too dry and the topping (definitely NOT frosting) is generally cloyingly sweet–made with whipped cream or sweetened condensed milk, and then there’s the random fruit inside (I love fruit in cake, but it should be part of the whole, not thrown in last minute based on what’s cheapest). A colleague of mine brought in a cake from Mada, and I was so happy when I tasted it. Proper chocolate FROSTING with cohesive fruit choices. The business has been around for a while, but they just opened a branch near our office, and I have since discovered them and used them for all my recent cake needs. I highly recommend the dark chocolate frosting (it’s just like Mom’s!), the milk chocolate frosting is not bad, either. They also bake khachapuri and other savory pies. The house-special meat pie is really good–flaky crust, well seasoned ground meat, rice, mushrooms and a bit of cheese.

Kula Lemonade: This is actually lemonade! Not limonati, which everyone calls lemonade, but is actually soda-pop. It’s also not too sweet (unlike everything else made by Kula, and every other “lemonade” I’ve tried in Georgia). Very refreshing!

Rera Prepared Pelmeni I admit, these were initially purchased because the package was so much better-designed than any of the other brands of pelmeni (пельмени Siberian dumplings: not Georgian, but very popular here). Pelmeni are a favorite last-minute dinner at my house. I like them best served with some sour cream and dill, which I think of as “the Russian way” (not sure if that’s accurate), though Georgians often pile on the black pepper as if they were khinkali. I thought I liked the old brand I was buying until I tried these–going back was hard; these are much tastier! I’ll keep buying them from now on.

New flavors (and packaging) of Barambo chocolates The new “დესერტი” (desert’i dessert) line seems to be mostly repackaging existing flavors, but the new bar with dried strawberries and raspberries in it is amazing!

Dishonorable mention: Rosemary closing

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.

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Fifty Russian Winters by Margaret Wettlin (image from GoodReads)

Wettlin, Margaret. Fifty Russian Winters: An American Woman’s Life in the Soviet Union. New York: Wiley, 1994. Print.

Maybe I’m a little bit nosy, but I’ve always liked books that give me insight into other people’s personal lives. When I was a kid, I read my way through the biography section of the library and preferred novels that were written in diary form. I read more broadly now and will accept non-realistic elements in my books, but I still love a good memoir.

Margaret Wettlin’s story of planning to visit the Soviet Union on a one-month tour and ultimately staying 42 years certainly resonated with me now that I’ve been in Georgia longer than expected. (But I have no intention of staying THAT long!)

I think the most valuable part of this book is her recounting of her experiences during the war. Though I’ve read a decent amount of material about Russia and the Great Patriotic War (/World War Two), I haven’t before come across any first-hand accounts of the civilian experience outside the major cities or of being evacuated. Her short time in Tbilisi during the war was particularly interesting to me. I found it funny that they found a cheap “peasant’s house” in Bagebi “five miles of climb from Tbilisi”(196). Bagebi BARELY counts as a suburb these days, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a cheap anything there. It was a good reminder of the huge changes Georgia underwent as part of the Soviet Union, and the further and faster development I’ve seen even in my few years here.

The greatest weakness of the book was also the most interesting part: Wettlin’s underdeveloped and unsupported political views. She never joined the Communist Party, but she certainly supported the proclaimed Soviet ideals of equality and reform. She even became an informant for the secret police in support of this dream, but when she became disillusioned that her work didn’t seem to be making things better, she quit. She is critical of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev because they made people’s lives worse, not better. She never would have gotten a good grade on a political science term paper, as she offers no evidence to support her beliefs…but who does, really? How many Americans could give real, evidence-based reasons to explain why they are a Democrat or a Republican? Of course there are many people who can, but I would wager that for the majority of people, it just feels right, as the Soviet dream initially did to Wettlin. Her opinions in this field really shed a lot of light, for me at least, on why so many people continued to support the Soviet Union for so long, despite the hardships they faced.

The book is far from perfect, but that’s a large part of why it’s so interesting. Definitely recommended reading for those interested in Soviet history.

Now that the high season is upon us, I’ll tell you the things that everyone else has forgotten to mention.

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Clockwise from top left: A marshrutka station in Sagarejo, Former roommate S models some Borjomi water while hiking in Borjomi, a zebra crossing (photo from Jim (for another project, but fits here perfectly), my former host sister Ani and I in “church clothes”, some delicious but heavy adjaruli khachapuri.

#1 Don’t cross the street! Of course you have to get to the other side of the street, but don’t just traipse across. If it looks difficult to cross, that’s because it is. The busiest streets will have either underpasses or pedestrian bridges every few blocks. Look for those; it’s worth it. If there isn’t one, the designated crossing place will be painted on the road with zebra stripes, but it’s much, much better to find one at a traffic light, and even then you have to be careful. The ones unattached to traffic lights are mostly decorative in practice, and the one on the Embankment near Dry Bridge is basically nothing (go up the hill to the park and cross the bridge itself to the flea market)

#2 Go easy on the Georgian food the first few days. Georgian food is amazing, and probably part of the reason you chose to come here, but “Tbilisi Tummy” is common and will really put a damper on your travels, so go easy at first. Many of the iconic Georgian dishes (I’m looking at you, khachapuri and khinkali) are greasy and heavy and hard to digest, and not all places will be up to the hygiene standards you may be used to, so let yourself adjust for a few days before you hit the supra hard. There is plenty of good, light fare available (even in a typical Georgian restaurant). If you want to gird your digestive system with fermented foods, Georgian pickles are delicious (especially jonjoli, my favorite!) and Georgian yogurt (matsoni) is cheap, tasty, and easily available.

#3 Pack a scarf and a skirt. A large number of the tourist attractions are churches, and almost all Georgian Orthodox churches require that women wear a skirt and have their hair covered. Some of them provide various wraps at the door and some don’t; some of those provided are clean… You’ll be much more comfortable and likely to see what you came for if you just bring your own. Some churches don’t mind, some are even stricter (I’ve heard stories that Gergeti Sameba in Kazbegi won’t let people wear glasses inside?!?), but scarf and skirt is the norm. For the fellows–no shorts.

#4 Smile? Many Americans’ default facial position is a smile, and that’s not the case in Georgia. If you want to attract the attention of someone across the bar (/metro car), smiling is a good way to do it. If you’d rather be left alone, relaxing your face will reduce (though may not eliminate) unwanted attention.

#5 If you choose to use the marshrutka system, have faith in it. I know the marshrutka system seems like it will never work, but it really does work fairly efficiently. It’s by far the cheapest way to get around, though there will be a certain amount of standing by the road and waiting. Be patient. If you are on the right route (check with some locals if you’re nervous about that, but honestly there aren’t very many roads, so it’s unlikely they took a detour), it will come eventually. If the marshrutka isn’t your style, there’s no shame in that; there are also trains and buses, or you can hire a taxi (or rent a car, or hitchhike, or join an organized excursion). Don’t expect the marshrutka to be something it’s not, and you’ll avert a lot of disappointment.

#6. Stay hydrated. It can get hot here. Even though it may be cool in the mountains, you’re at a higher elevation. You’re probably going to be drinking some wine, and maybe even some chacha. You might be walking/hiking a lot. Bottled water is cheap (starting at 50 tetri/bottle) and sold everywhere, and Georgia is famous for its mineral water. Most towns even have free public drinking fountains, and there are lots of mountain springs (the water is usually OK to drink, but make your own risk assessment based on your health, background, and location). You’ll be a much happier camper if you aren’t thirsty.

Any others with experience travelling here have some advice I missed?

Any questions, class?

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