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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?

 Inspired by my friend Chloe’s monthly food favorites, I’m going to start profiling my favorite new things in Georgia each season. See my post of fall 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. 

Winter was off to a terrible start, but things have been less terrible in some dimensions lately. Nonetheless, I had some good discoveries.

Clockwise from top left: ქართული წინდა, Ambrosiano, Chikori chocolate-covered dried apricots, Big Smoke BBQ

Ambrosiano: I wasn’t expecting much from a pizza place outside the fancy neighborhoods (I was mostly hoping the tomato sauce wouldn’t be ketchup), and I was blown away by how good the pizza was here. Real gooey melty mozzarella, authentic Italian charcuterie, and delicious truffle sauce all atop a serviceable crust. And the staff were really nice! This tiny place near the hospitals is a real gem.

Big Smoke BBQ: There are lots of nice restaurants on Beliashvili Street, but one of those things is not like the others. Amidst all the Georgian party restaurants is an American BBQ joint. Everything was good, but the pulled pork sandwich, mozzarella sticks, and berry lemonade were big hits. I’ll be back for them soon!

Chikori Chocolate-covered dried apricots This company has narrowly missed the favorites list a few times in the past–their prunes are the best I’ve ever tasted, and the dried watermelon is fascinating; good in a very odd way. The chocolate-covered apricots, though, are out of this world! Dried apricots are my favorite ჩირი (chiri=dried fruit) to start with (well, it’s a toss-up with dried persimmons), so adding some chocolate to them was bound to be a win. Add some cute packaging and a local company working to improve food safety and employ women in the regions, and I’m sold! Chikori products are available in most grocery stores, but not all of them carry the chocolate-covered apricots specifically. In my experience, the “2 Nabiji” chain most reliably stocks them.

ქართული წინდა (qartuli tsinda–Georgian socks): thought they’re not as cute as AlterSocks (a summer favorite) they come in a wider range of sizes, and are lovely and soft. They also have a line that is infused with silver and claim that it will cure what ails you (it should keep the smells down, at least). Widely available at pharmacies and supermarkets.

my oven: Though my move was in fall, I’ve only recently been getting back into using the oven again. Cookies (of course!), muffins, roasted veggies and baked potatoes are all back in the rotation!

finding people from home: in the past month, I’ve met two people from my area–one a fellow alumna of my (small town) high school, and JenniGoesGlobal, from a neighboring town. The world is small!

Dishonorable mention(s): too many to mention; it was a long winter

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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Waiting for the Electricity by Christina Nichol (image from GoodReads)

Nichol, Christina. Waiting for the Electricity: A Novel. New York, NY: Overlook, 2015. Print.

I read this on my flight from Georgia to the US, and in some ways it was the right choice for the circumstances. Slims Achmed Makashvili is a Batumeli in 2002, who believes that life could be better, and asks Hillary Clinton for help and advice. He is chosen for a US Government exchange program and visits America, but gets deported back to Georgia. Then (as those who know Georgian history will know) comes the Rose Revolution, and things change.

I was struck both by Nichol’s deep understanding of Georgia, and some very VERY basic mistakes in Georgian language, geography, and culture. I just couldn’t square this disparity in my mind. That said, though I certainly know a lot about Georgia, I haven’t lived in Batumi (I’ve visited multiple times, and have friends who’ve lived there, though); I don’t know any of the Adjaran dialect of Georgian; and I didn’t visit Georgia before the Rose Revolution. These facts could explain many of the things that don’t feel right to me, though not all of them. I’ve never been particularly good at suspension of disbelief, but I’m not sure if that applies to things like spelling and the location of Borjomi. This is probably something that would not even register to the vast majority of people interested in the book, even those who also read my blog, so  I can’t say it’s a deal-breaker.  I also found Slims’ frequent letters to Hillary hard to read…it’s just too soon. I’m usually a character-driven reader, and I didn’t particularly connect to any of the characters in Waiting for the Electricity, which probably made me less of a fan.

This wasn’t the right book for me right now, but there isn’t anything off-putting about it. Despite my quibbles, it was OK. I’d like to hear what others think, and see if they connected more.

Readers, have you read this? Thoughts?

Inspired by my friend Chloe’s monthly food favorites, I’m going to start profiling my favorite new things in Georgia each season. See my first post of favorites from this summer 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. 

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Storefronts of “Rosemary” and “Kiwi Cafe”

It’s been a rough few months, but there have been a few bright spots. Here they are:

Rosemary: I wrote a whole review of this restaurant here, and it has continued to be a comfy and tasty place. My friends and I held our Thanksgiving dinner there, and it was great! (And I didn’t have to/get to cook and clean).

City Mall Gldani: There’s a Carrefour near work, and only a short bus ride from home! This is particularly good, as the shops near my apartment are poorly-stocked and overpriced. I did have some trouble here with rude staff, but they were surprisingly receptive and apologetic when I filed a customer service complaint, so they’re still in my good books. The mall also has a Holland&Barrett where I can get my favorite licorice tea, a good-sized branch of Biblus bookstore, and some reasonable clothing shop options (I’ve had good luck with LC Waikiki lately).

The return of Kiwi Cafe: I’m so glad Kiwi has found a new location! This place doesn’t have the same funky vibe, but it has gorgeous high ceilings and much more space. The falafel wrap is as delicious as ever, and the bookshelf has grown!

Taxify: Though I entered the 21st century last year with my first smartphone, it didn’t support any of the quick-multiplying taxi apps. Now that I have a new hand-me-down smartphone that supports more apps, I’ve given Taxify a try and been very pleased with the service. I try not to take taxis very often, so I don’t have vast experience with Taxify yet, but so far is has been pleasantly boring–a rarity for Tbilisi taxis!

Dishonorable mention(s): the US elections, record low of GEL against USD

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.

Rosemary/როზმარინი

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Rosemary has taken over Kiwi Cafe‘s old location at 41 Vertskhlis Kucha, near Liberty Square

Now, before I give you my review of the new restaurant, Rosemary, I have to give you the disclaimer that the chef, Grant, is a good friend of mine. As such, I’ve had his cooking many times, long before he opened the restaurant. In fact, when we were living in the same neighborhood, my apartment had an oven and his didn’t, so he asked if he could come over sometimes to use the oven–I was not at all opposed. Grant is a professional chef back in the US, and he’s from the state of Georgia, so many of his dishes are inspired by traditional Southern food, but he’s using the ingredients fresh and available to him in this Georgia.  As such, some of the dishes skew more American Georgian, some skew more Caucasian Georgian. He’s also got local wine and microbrews on tap.

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Burrito night!

I’ve been to Rosemary three times now–once for pre-opening burrito night, once for a welcoming tasting party, and once as a regular old guest, so I’ve tried quite a few of the dishes. My absolute favorite so far is Rosemary’s take on the traditional Georgian ბადრიჯანი ნიგვზით (badrijani nigvzit, eggplant with walnuts). Here, it’s served as eggplant fries with a Georgian-spiced walnut dipping sauce. I also really enjoyed the arugula salad with cheese, pear, and adjika-honey walnuts. My more carnivorous dining companions have all given rave reviews of every meat-centered main that has come their way (braised pork belly, chicken satskheli–inspired by satsivi but served warm, and pork tenderloin). I have enjoyed all of these, but to me they weren’t as stand-out and creative as the other dishes I mentioned above. The draught red wine was good, and although I’m not really a beer-drinker, I’ve enjoyed Alkanaidze’s brew.  The hot mulled wine was perfect for a gray, rainy day.

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Rosemary’s menu on October 16, with a glass of Alkanaidze in the foreground

One small detail where Rosemary really shines is that they bring you free, chilled (tap) water as soon as you arrive. It’s so nice to get that note of American-ness (and also to be able to drink water with reckless abandon). I was also glad to have my dishes arrive as courses–first the appetizer, then the soup, then the meat–another small detail that’s often overlooked in restaurants in Georgia.

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Clockwise from top left: Badrijani Nigvzit, Salad Tbilisoise, Chicken Satskheli, Pumpkin Souffle

If you’re looking for a taste of home, or something different from the ordinary Georgian fare, but still distinctly Tbilisian, I recommend you stop in to Rosemary and see what they’ve got for you to try that day.