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.

If you’re interested in how I eat and cook on an everyday basis, take a look at my interview “What’s in the fridge?” on my friend Chloe’s blog, Musings on Dinner.

Tangerines movie poster (image from Wikipedia)

Tangerines/მანდარინები/Mandariinid

Language: Russian and Estonian with (teeny-tiny) English subtitles

Availability: available on DVD and Amazon streaming in the US

This film was produced in a collaboration between Estonian and Georgian filmmakers and actors. It was Estonia’s nominee for the Academy Award, and made it to the short list, though it did not win. “Tangerines” is a lovely movie about older Estonian men who don’t want to leave their homes in Abkhazia (each for their own reasons), despite the escalating violence. They come across a wounded Georgian soldier and a wounded Chechen mercenary, and take them in, and the film follows the political, ethnic, and inter-personal relationships and tensions that follow. This film was purposefully very multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. The characters ultimately learn to move past their ethnic differences and prejudices to help each other in an extreme situation. As one would expect in a film about war, there is violence and sadness, but my overall feelings toward the film were positive. The only thing I didn’t like about the film was the teeny-tiny subtitles (on the edition I rented from Netflix, at least)…I had just been to the eye doctor, who cleared my vision as good, and I really had to squint to read these. I had an advantage over others, though, as I can understand the Russian part, at least! (My Estonian however, is non-existent).

Inspired by my friend Chloe’s monthly food favorites, I’m going to start profiling my favorite new things in Georgia each season. 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. There have been lots of new Georgian food products hitting stores this year, and there are constantly new restaurants and cafes opening in Tbilisi, so there’s a bit of a food theme (this time, at least), though I am willing to branch out.

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Clockwise from top left: Bubble Tea, Frixx Caucasus Chips: Tarragon Flavor, AlterSocks assortment, Chirifruit Carrots in Chocolate

Barambo Export Fig Ice Cream Barambo has been my favorite ice cream brand since my first summer in Georgia, but this year they really upped their game. The fig flavor is simply marvelous. I don’t know how to describe it other than delicious. (Widely available)

Chirifruit Carrots in Chocolate “chiri” means dried fruit, and this company is taking traditional Georgian dried fruit (which you can buy pretty much anywhere) to another level. They sell prettily arranged gift packs of dried fruit, and have some chocolate-dipped versions, a tasty innovation that I haven’t seen anyone at the bazaar selling. I spotted the label “Carrots in Chocolate”, and I had to try them. I’m very glad I did! It’s some sweet, dried, carroty-mush on a stick, dipped in chocolate. Maybe it doesn’t sound so good, but it tastes great! They’ve got the texture just right, and it’s sweet but not too. I haven’t seen this brand many places, but there’s usually a wide variety of their offerings at the Smart on Rustaveli (that’s where I got the carrots).

Frixx Caucasus Chips: Tarragon Flavor this brand entered the market last year, but this summer they introduced a tarragon flavor, and it’s my favorite! Crispy and salty chips with a bit of sweet and sour tarragon flavor–the combination works perfectly! (They’re also supporting local agriculture, so that’s a win, too.) (Widely available)

RealThai brand products (including noodles, sauces, and coconut milk) have been showing up regularly at my local supermarket, and I’ve even spotted their products at other little marketi in my not-so-posh neighborhood. They’re surprisingly widely available! It’s been a really nice way to expand my cooking repertoire this summer with Thai-style curries and oatmeal soaked in coconut milk.

Bubble Tea Tbilisi  I fell in love with bubble tea as a college student in the Boston area, and haven’t had any since I moved away, so I was delighted when I heard a bubble tea place was opening in Tbilisi. It might not satisfy those from Taiwan, but the tea I ordered hit the spot for me. The menu is extensive (though I stuck to the basics), and the boba was neither too slimy nor too tough. I’ve always loved the chunky, colorful straws that they give you to slurp up the bubbles–they make me smile. Definitely a nice change of pace. (7 Chavchavadze Avenue, Vake; next to the big Biblus)

AlterSocks Georgian-made fun socks! When I heard about these, I immediately went on a quest to find them. I failed finding the Tbilisi Mall location the first time (it’s behind the escalator in the atrium area), so I made a trek to Vake to pick some up in the Pixel Building. They have both Georgian and international designs, but the Georgian ones appealed to me most–khachapuri, khinkali, and a chokha! (And you thought those J. Crew taco socks were cool…) The fabric fells nice and soft, and the size that was supposed to fit me did.  Friends and family back in the US, don’t be surprised if Santa brings you some of these this year. (kiosks at 3 major shopping centers: Tbilisi Mall, Pixel Building Vake, and the shopping center with the Saburtalo Goodwill)

Batumi Dolphinarium  I went for the first time this summer, and the show was just amazing. It made me want to quit my job and become a dolphin trainer. Tickets sell out fast, so you need to buy them the day before, if not earlier. You can give the neighboring aquarium a miss, though. My friend described it, quite accurately, as “some dude’s dirty fish tank collection”. (51 Rustaveli Street, Batumi)

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.

Two (Relatively) Recent Mainstream Novels about the Armenian Genocide: The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak and Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

I’ve recently read two novels about the Armenian genocide and its rippling effects on the Turkish and Armenian families who witnessed it. One of these novels was written by a Turk, the other by an Armenian (though both the writers have global biographies). The writing styles and literary genres of the books were different, as were (obviously) the plots, but nonetheless there were undeniable similarities between the two books. Both were powerful and compelling reads. While The Bastard of Istanbul had a dreamy feel to it, Orhan’s Inheritance was more of a page-turner. Both are recommended, though the different styles are likely to appeal to different readers.

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The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (image from GoodReads)

Shafak, Elif. The Bastard of Istanbul: A Novel. London: Penguin, 2007. Print.

Availability: Available in the US and UK, both physical and e-book editions; English editions for sale in Georgia at Biblus bookshops.

The Bastard of Istanbul tells the story of the many generations of the Kazanci family, particularly the women including their youngest member, Asya (most of the men have mysteriously or tragically died). Entwined with this family’s saga is Armanoush and her family’s own tale. Armanoush is an Armenian-American who decides to secretly visit her grandmother’s home city of Istanbul as a way to better understand her Armenian heritage. She contacts her stepfather Mustafa’s family, the Kazancis, and she and Asya become friends despite Armanoush’s (and her online community’s) skepticism of Turks. Asya’s mystical Auntie Banu becomes curious about the truth of the Armenian genocide and consults her djinn to show her the truth of Armanoush’s family…and later to reveal her own family’s secrets. A family emergency in America leads Armanoush’s mother and step-father to come to Istanbul, the stepfather’s first visit in 20 years, where Auntie Banu’s knowledge brings old events to a head, leading to shocking events that permanently change both families.

I particularly liked the structure of this book–with each chapter titled with the name of an ingredient that is used in Mustafa’s favorite food, ashure. The titular ingredient of each chapter also make an appearance within the chapter, and a recipe for ashure is provided in the latter part of the book. This dish even plays an important role in the plot. Other foods are also described in mouth-watering detail. This is very much a novel for foodies.

The author Elif Shafak was put on trial for “denigrating Turkishness” because of this book. If you like reading as a way of fighting the power, this novel is a great choice.

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Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (image from GoodReads)

Ohanesian, Aline. Orhan’s Inheritance: A Novel. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2015. Kindle e-book.

Availability: Available in the US (physical and e-book) and UK (physical book); English editions for sale in Georgia at Biblus bookshops

Orhan’s Inheritance made many lists of the best books of 2015, which is where I first heard of it. Like The Bastard of Istanbul, the novel features a multi-generational Turkish family, though unlike the Kazanci family, the Turkoglu family is oddly lacking in women. When the family’s patriarch, the title character Orhan’s grandfather, passes away, his will leaves the family home in the village to an Armenian woman no one has ever heard of. Orhan travels to an Armenian retirement home in California, where he meets his grandfather’s surprise heir, Seda Melkonian, and ultimately learns her story which gives him the explanation as to why his grandfather has left the house to her.

Much more of the action of this novel is set in the past as Seda’s story is told. Her story is, unsurprisingly, quite upsetting, but Ohanesian’s writing is compelling, and I wanted to get through the tragedies to find out how Seda lived and learn the mystery of why she inherited the house and how she came to be living in California.

One thing I particularly liked in this book was the interactions between the characters from different ethnic groups, both in the past and in the present. All the characters had flaws, and many were prejudiced against other ethnicities, but in the end the main characters were all people and recognized the human core in others, even when they disagreed. In this way, Ohanesian makes an argument for tolerance, even when the past cannot be forgotten.

I went to Tao-Klarjeti a few weeks ago. If you chose to take a break and look for that on a map, you may be very confused at this point. Tao-Klarjeti isn’t the name of anywhere anymore. It was the region where the Bagrationi dynasty of Georgian monarchs were from, and now it’s part of Turkey; the places we visited were mostly in Artvin province. It’s a pretty popular destination for Georgians to go on tours, but not somewhere many Americans visit, so when a friend asked if I wanted to join, I said “Why not?”. We went on an organized, but not guided, tour. We had two mini vans full of people, including a professional driver for each, and the organizer. The drivers were very good and did not suffer from lead foot or road rage, and the organizer had a route worked out and pre-arranged cheap hotels. We paid 270 GEL/person for a 3-day trip, which included everything except food–we didn’t stop at restaurants or stores (though one evening we went to a teahouse and bought some olives and baklava); we brought pretty much everything with us from Tbilisi, and ate in the car en route.

We left Tbilisi early in the morning and made for the Vale-Türkgözü border crossing. There was a long line of trucks, but very few passenger cars, so they let us skip ahead and we crossed quite quickly. It was interesting to see the change as we crossed the border. The geography in the region was the same on the Georgian and Turkish sides, but nonetheless it was obvious that we were in a different country–the cemeteries were different, the houses were a different style, and there were tractors and mechanized agriculture all around us. As we drove further into Turkey we got into higher and higher mountains. There was still quite a bit of snow, and we were even caught in a blizzard in the mountains between Ardahan and Savsat. There was some sort of nature reserve or natural park in the mountains, and it reminded me of the American West–pine forests, rugged mountains, and well-maintained picnic areas. As we drove through a village on the Savsat side, one whole village was outside (despite the poor weather) having some sort of festival.

Late in the afternoon, we made our first stop: Tbeti Monastery, the first of many old, abandoned Georgian churches in various states of ruin. Apparently this church survived fairly well for a long time, but was “exploded” in the mid-20th century…sounds like there’s a story there, but I didn’t get any more information than that. One of the villagers speaks some Georgian and runs a little souvenir shop (and paid toilet) next to the site. Next, we stopped at Savsat Kalesi, the former citadel of the town of Savsat (in Georgian, შავშეთი/Shavsheti) which was kind of a big deal back in the Georgian era. There are archeological excavations ongoing sponsored by the Turkish government. The fortress has some typically Georgian features–there’s a tone (traditional Georgian bread kiln) and kvevri (Georgian amphorae), and a “pharmacy” very similar to the one at Vardzia. Then we took a break from historical sites and clambered around “Hell’s Canyon” (Cehennem Deresi Kanyonu). It was a nice enough canyon, I suppose, but as I’ve spent a lot of time in the American West, a canyon in and of itself is nothing so impressive. This was the place where it became abundantly clear that our organizer’s footwear recommendations were way off the mark. She had recommended galoshes or rain boots, which I don’t have, so I wore what was closest: snow boots. Even though my snow boots are made by an outdoors/hiking brand, they are absolute clodhoppers, and I had real difficulty maneuvering through the canyon and leaping from stone to stone. I also picked up a good few kilos of mud in the treads, making me kind of miserable. But I made it through. Our next stop was the fortress Artanuji / Gevhernik. We approached from behind, and it was perched atop a sheer rock face. When my friend told me we were climbing up there, I joked about not having brought any rock climbing gear. We walked around to the other side, and though there was a path (of a sort) it was still tough climbing in the aforementioned clodhoppers. It was worth the climb, as the fortress was filled with wildflowers, and was really, really beautiful.

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Artanuji Fortress

After one more stop at Dolishane Church, which is supposed to have lovely frescoes, but I couldn’t tell you as it was pitch black by the time we got there, we returned to the town of Savsat and stayed in a pension run by a guy called Jemal, who is the widower of a Georgian woman and loves all things Georgia. The place was basic, but clean (until we tramped mud through), and the beds were comfy and showers were warm.

The next day, I ignored any further fashion advice and switched to my trail runners, so I had no further climbing issues. First, we drove up a narrow, windy, frightening/beautiful mountain road to Porta monastery.  We saved some time getting there by scrambling up a stream bed rather than following the path. This was once a massive complex; now much of it is buried, but bits are still accessible. The ground we stood on was once one of the upper roofs. Apparently a large piece of the dome (which is still above ground) had fallen just a few days before our visit, so I was rather wary of exploring very much. It was also interesting that the village is still inhabited, and though it’s tiny and remote, electric lines do reach up there.

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You can understand why bits of Porta are falling down, right?

We also visited the village spring to refill our water bottles with cool fresh water. The Georgians said it had some special health/religious properties, but I was mostly happy to get a cool drink.

Our next stop was Artvin Castle, which is now part of a Turkish military base (so no photos). At first they told us we couldn’t enter, but then a nice young soldier who spoke very good English came to escort us. On the road to our next destination, there was a distinct change in the landscape. The area around Savsat was one of the lushest, greenest places I’ve visited (we drove past a hotel called Green Valley: they were not lying), and as we went further on, the landscape become much more arid (and brown). We visited many churches this afternoon: Ishan Monastery, which was closed for restoration–the Georgian government has protested the way the Turks were renovating, allegedly frescoes were destroyed, but they seem to be back at work; Haho/Hahuli which is now used as a mosque; there are supposed to be good frescoes, but it was locked so we couldn’t see; and the Oshki Monastery, which was relatively intact except for the lack of roof, and also had an academy. Our last stop of the evening was  Tortum Waterfall, the highest in Turkey, which had rather nice tourism infrastructure and cafes. We were due to spend the night in the town of Yusufeli, so we wandered around a bit, bought some edible souvenirs, and met and chatted with a Georgian Turk in a teahouse. We then proceeded on to our accommodation at Hotel Agara, which was lovely, and a sakalmakhe (საკალმახე, trout restaurant) as well as a hotel. This day was particularly poignant as much of the area surrounding these places, apparently including the town of Yusufeli, will soon be flooded with the completion of planned dam projects. I’m not sure about the status of the historical sites themselves, though the ones on mountaintops are likely to be fine.

On the third and final day of our trip, we began at the Tekkale/Otkhta Monastery (the “Monastery of Four”), then visited Esbek, which was interesting as it was the ruins of a village, rather than a religious site. Apparently snakes like it there, though, so we had to be careful. There was also quite a view down into the valley. Then we visited Bana, my favorite of the old churches. It was really, really, ruined, but in a very picturesque way. Apparently its current gravity-defying structure is the result of being used as a military installation in the Crimean and Russo-Turkish wars. It’s also located on a small rise in the middle of a broad valley surrounded on all sides by colorful mountains, giving you stunning views in all directions.

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Ruins at Bana

One of the mini-vans got a flat tire at Bana, so we had to stop for repairs before we went on our way home. Along the road we saw the source of the Mtkvari, the river through Tbilisi. Our last stop was Seytan Castle (allegedly the setting of Georgia’s most famous epic poem, The Knight in the Panther Skin).

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You remember “Where’s Waldo?”, right? This is “Where’s Em?” at Seytan Castle

We crossed back to Georgia at the Çıldır-Aktaş-Kartsakhi crossing point, which the internet says is closed, but seemed to work mostly fine for us (one of our drivers had a little trouble and was taken for interrogation because he had the same name as someone on the deportation list…it got sorted out, though). We returned to Tbilisi late at night, tired from a jam-packed three days of sightseeing.

I can’t write a post about traveling in Turkey and ignore the security/terrorism question. I thought long and hard before I chose to take this trip, and asked a lot of questions. I’m lucky that I have friends who are experts on security in the region, and family who support me in making these kinds of decisions. Just before I went to Tao-Klarjeti, the US State Department updated its Turkey travel warning, and it is kind of grim, so I debated this trip a lot. On the one hand, I really don’t want to get hurt, and on the other hand, I believe that staying at home, not going anywhere or doing anything out of fear is playing into the hands of terrorists. In summary: this particular area neither has much of a Kurdish population, nor is it near Syria, so in those ways it’s not a likely target. This is also a very sparsely populated area: the most populous town we spent any time in was Artvin, with a population of 25,771. I could count the number of other tourists we came across on my fingers. However, as this area was the Soviet-NATO border, there are a large number of military installations, and there is also a good amount of strategic infrastructure, particularly dams and reservoirs, which I was unaware of before I traveled. To be honest, there’s much more immediate danger from road accidents than there is from terrorism–the mountain roads were very steep and windy, though much better maintained than their Georgian equivalents. Overall, I didn’t feel that I was in any particular danger while I was there. My conclusion was (and is) that this is probably the safest area of Turkey to visit right now, but it’s not without risks (but even home is never 100% safe).

Original Post, March 9, 2012:
My friend came to visit me here in Kakheti last weekend, and we decided to go on a daytrip to the tourist town of Sighnaghi.  We tried to go on Saturday, but had a false start on the marshrutka and got tired of waiting so we returned to my house (since then I have found this fabulous online marshrutka timetable for Kakheti (unfortunately now defunct)–would have saved us SO much time).  We almost couldn’t believe it when the marshrutka came, and were giddy to be on our way off to Sighnaghi!

It’s still rather early for tourist season, so the tourist areas were not at all crowded.  The main attraction of Sighnagi is the old wall.  Climbing it you can see for miles, and the view is stunning!  We played on the wall, admired the view, and took photos for quite a while.

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Em on the wall at Sighnaghi (photo from Marieka)

We then wandered around the old city–the architecture there really is beautiful!  Unfortunately, we then had a somewhat unpleasant visit to one of the old churches.  It is my understanding (and has been my experience) that in Georgia, as a rule, you do not have to pay to visit a church, though there are often  donation jars, and they often request that you leave a donation for the upkeep of the building, or buy the candle you will light in the church.  However, the man in the church (not a priest) seemed to disagree with this, and, as we were leaving, rather unpleasantly insisted we give him two lari because we had visited the church.

We decided not to visit the Sighnaghi museum, though I have heard it is good, and instead had Mexican food at the restaurant in Sighnaghi (there aren’t very many places to get Mexican food in Georgia, but this place is highly recommended).  We had a happily uneventful marshrutka ride home, and went back to our regular lives.

Sighnaghi has been the target of an intense campaign for the improvement of tourist infrastructure in the last few years.  There are some very obvious and helpful successes–there are signposts pointing to the various tourist attractions and “You are Here” maps throughout town.  Everything looks quite clean and well-kept, and buildings have been renovated and restored.  There’s a central marshrutka station, and public restrooms.  But some things still need work–the fantastic marshrutka schedule should really be better advertised.  Marshrutka travel is a bit haphazard, and for a major tourist destination, perhaps something a little more formal is in order (I assume most foreign tourists are expected to go by private car or chartered tour…)  Likewise, entry fees for attractions should be posted somewhere, and if entry is free no one should be demanding that visitors pay.

Despite a few hiccups, I highly recommend Sighnaghi as a tourist destination for a day–particularly if you’re interested in sampling Georgian wine (which we didn’t actually do.  This time.)

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View of Sighnaghi from Bodbe (photo from Giga)

Update May 3, 2016:

I’ve been back to Sighnaghi a few times now, and have a few updates to offer. I STILL haven’t been to the museum. It has been closed many times that I’ve visited. We spent the weekend there for Orthodox Easter, and stayed at Leli’s Guest House, which was a pleasant and affordable option. We ate 3 of 4 meals at the Mexican restaurant–it had closed for a while, but is back in business and serving up really delicious food. Definitely worth a stop. Our 4th meal was at the famous Pheasant’s Tears winery. The wine was very good–delicious, and not at all the usual fare. The food was good, though the increase in quality did not match the increase in price, and it seems that something bothered my friend’s stomach. The staff were all lovely–I’d definitely stop in again for some wine, but would be more conservative with my food choices.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that during the weekend days, there were huge groups of tourists rolling through town. It seemed that most did not spend the night, but rather returned to Tbilisi, leaving plenty of accommodation options, and quieter evenings.

My trip to Poti was a bit different from most of my other travels, because I was not there as a tourist, but on a business trip. As such, I didn’t have a lot of time to putter around and see the sights, but I did stay in a hotel and eat in some local restaurants. In the center of the city is a quite large and pretty-looking park, though I didn’t have time to visit and stroll around. In the park is the city’s cathedral, which was modeled after the Hagia Sophia–I’d be curious to see which iteration of the Hagia Sophia it was inspired by, so if you visit, let me know! We also drove past some buildings that were clearly once stunning, but are far past their prime. If you’re into “derelicte” photography, you might find some interesting fodder in Poti. Over all, the city was much nicer than I expected from the fact that it’s a major working port, and that everyone scoffs upon hearing that you’re visiting Poti. We had bad luck with the weather, and I’ve heard that gray days are not exactly uncommon there.

One of my co-workers arranged accommodation for us at the Hotel Prime Poti, and I was pleasantly surprised. The rooms were clean and comfortable, with good heat and hot water. I’d heard horror stories about hotels with bedbugs in Poti, so I inspected the room quite carefully and didn’t find anything suspicious. The breakfast wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was included. Rooms were 70 GEL/night.

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My only photo from Poti: The Hotel Prime…it’s better than it looks.

 

The food in Poti was not such a pleasant surprise, though. Knowing that Poti is in the Samegrelo region, famed for its cuisine, I had high hopes. I was sadly disappointed. Our first evening, we ate in the restaurant our local colleagues (and the Lonely Planet guide) recommended: Restaurant Aragvi. Lonely Planet describes it as “About 100m past Hotel Anchor, Aragvi serves up decent Georgian dishes amid decor of antlers and swords”[1] …I didn’t see any swords, but otherwise, I concur. One of my co-workers insisted on sampling a different restaurant the next day, so we went across the street to Restaurant Kalakuri. Our local co-workers mentioned it when pressed for suggestions beyond Aragvi, and said the khinkali there were OK. The khinkali were OK primarily because they seemed to be frozen khinkali, not homemade. The khachapuri was quite good (better than at the other place). The rest of the food was not good at all. Some of it was suffering from WAY too many greens being thrown in, and other dishes were victim of a Russian occupation–gobs of mayonnaise and handfuls of dill. We paid Tbilisi prices for this meal at 20 GEL/person; it cost twice what we paid at Aragvi (we did order more food, it’s true…but not double). I was very hungry and desperate for fruits and veggies when we returned to Tbilisi.

[1] Location 1961, Lonely Planet, John Noble, Danielle Systermans, and Michael Kohn. Lonely Planet Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan. 4th ed. London: Lonely Planet, 2012. Kindle eBook.

 

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The Chandelier at the Opera. Photo from agenda.ge. See the full gallery here.

The Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theatre (Tbilisi Opera) has finally reopened to great fanfare. Most shows have been sold-out, and it seems like everyone is itching to get inside and see the renovations. I was one of those people. Friday night, my friends and I went to see Swan Lake. While Swan Lake was a great choice of performance to watch, we would have been happy to see anything we could get tickets for that fit into our schedule so we could get into the building and take a peek. I’m the furthest thing from qualified to give a critique of the ballet, so I will just leave it at “It was pretty.” The performance was accompanied by a live pit orchestra, which always adds a nice touch. You can check upcoming performances on the Opera’s website (NB: I can’t find an English version) or see the schedule and buy tickets on tkt.ge. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office. The upcoming schedule features a Georgian ballet and a Georgian opera, in addition to some international favorites. I know nothing about these performances, but it seems like it would be an interesting and unique experience.

The renovations of the building did not disappoint–everything is sumptuous. Every inch is painted with beautiful designs, there are oodles of chandeliers, and the chairs are all velvet-covered. Leg room isn’t generous, but the seats are comfortable enough. The restrooms seemed to be the only place where money was an object during the renovation–in contrast to every other nook of the building they were not luxurious, but they were clean and functional, so I have no complaints. Throughout the hallways and in some of the smaller spaces there are exhibits of memorabilia from the theatre’s history.

My only complaint is beyond the theatre’s–audience behavior was quite shocking. I haven’t gone to the theatre in any other country in years (even before I moved here, I wasn’t living in a place with lots of theatre-going opportunities), so maybe this is not a Georgian problem, but one that has grown worldwide, but I was shocked to see people who had paid 80 GEL for the most expensive seats in the house who were fiddling with their phones on throughout the performance (they didn’t appear to be filming, which would have been even worse)–the glow was distracting, even from three floors up. The doors to the hall were constantly opening and closing, and there was quite a lot of loud talking. (from the adults. The little girls nearby were quite well-behaved) Despite the annoyances which kept me from being fully swept up in the performance, it was still quite enchanting.

I took a few snapshots of the decor, but they pale in comparison to those the pros took for the grand opening…so look at these instead.