Em in front of the Caucasus Mountains in Telavi’s fortress.

Unfortunately, our trip to Telavi got off on the wrong foot.  My travel buddy and I had hoped to meet on the marshrutka—a bit of a gamble, but since she was travelling from Tbilisi and I live along the Kakheti Highway it made sense.  Unsurprisingly, this didn’t work out because my friend had managed to catch one of the small number of express marshrutkas that travel the new, direct road to Telavi.  (She says it’s beautiful, by the way).  Her quick journey meant that she had over an hour to herself in Telavi before my marshrutka made its way there.   By the time we reached Telavi itself, I was the only person left on the marshrutka, so the driver offered to drop me off at my hotel.  Except he’d never heard of it, so he gave me directions for how to find where my friend said she was waiting.  I took a cab to rendezvous with my friend, and that driver had never heard of our hotel either.  When I met my friend, she said she had asked around a bit about our hotel, and no one had heard of it.  Uh-oh.  So, we set off to find the place to stay that we had cleverly booked on the internet the night before.  When we arrived at what should have been the address of our hotel, it was nowhere to be found.  We went across the street to the cab stand, assuming that the cab drivers across the street should surely know the place, but they didn’t.  One kindly cab driver tried calling the hotel for us, and there was a message saying the number was not registered.  He even called directory assistance for us, and they were unable to shed any light on the situation.  We were getting cold and tired, and a bit worried.  Telavi was not making a good first impression.  We decided to stop in somewhere with food, heat, and a bathroom while we planned our next move.  Fortunately, my supervisor is based in Telavi and we are supposed to call her if we ever need help with Georgian life.  We assumed that not having a place to stay qualified as needing help, and she saved the day by booking us a room at the Alazani Valley hotel.  ASIDE: The owner of our initial hotel did eventually call us to see where we were and help us get there, but we already had our new reservations and were no longer interested in figuring out the first place

The next morning we decided that even though our trip had just gotten a bit more expensive we would stick out the full weekend as we had initially planned.  We went to the tourist information center, (which wasn’t really expecting any guests yet) and though they were surprised to see us, they gave us maps and told us which sites they thought were best and how much a tour should cost.  We found an excellent guide and were off to see some vineyards and old churches.  This is what you do in Kakheti…and in most of Georgia, really.

Em at Tsinandali.

Our first stop was Tsinandali—Alexander Chavchavadze’s mansion.  The museum was very well done, and has both historical exhibits about the lives of Chavchavadze and his descendents and a gallery dedicated to more contemporary art exhibits.  I particularly liked the White Salon, which was arranged as it would have been in the 19thCentury for a literary salon, but the walls were an extension of the contemporary art exhibit: the fusion worked, and the room felt like a lovely place to relax and discuss big ideas.  We were able to sample some Tsinandali white wine (quite good) and stroll through the grounds to enjoy the lovely spring weather.

The main church at Ikalto (brought to you by Geocell!)

Our next stop was Ikalto, a monastery and ancient academy, and then we proceeded to Alaverdi.

Alaverdi Monastery and the Caucasus Mountains

The scenery at Alaverdi was particularly stunning—wonderful views of the Caucasus Mountains.  Back in Telavi, our guide brought us to a family restaurant where we enjoyed a typical Georgian meal of mtsvadi (meat on a stick), khachapuri, veggies, and the house wine.  We wandered through the city for a bit and found the ruins of an old fortress where kids were playing.  I was jealous—we always pretended to be playing in a fortress, and these kids actually were!  There was also a fantastically interesting church there.  I’m not sure if it was deconsecrated or not, but it was definitely no longer in official use.  However, it was obviously still an important religious site for the neighborhood, and religious images and texts were graffitied on the walls.

Religious “graffiti” in a semi-abandoned church

After we had finished exploring, we went back to the hotel to rest for a bit, popped out to take pictures of the sunset, and had a light dinner in the hotel restaurant.  The meal was one of the most memorable parts of the trip—they gave us some wine on the house, and the Georgian teenagers also staying in the hotel invited us to join their impromptu dance party.

Panorama of the Caucasus Mountains from Telavi

The next morning we investigated Telavi’s fortress.  It’s far bigger than it appears from outside, and contains multiple museums and churches, as well as a working school.  Erekle II’s palace seemed to be closed, and the building that we thought was the history museum had an open door that said “Entrance”, but we were chased out.  The art museum was small but nice, and the views offered by the fortress were fantastic.  The fortress still had plenty to see, and should have even more when the renovations are done (and they’re expecting tourists). We had a quick snack, and went to find our way home.  Despite pushy taxi drivers and a bit of confusion over the two marshrutka stations a block apart, (apparently there is a third marshrutka station not far away—fortunately that didn’t enter into the equation) we found our way onto a marshrutka and back to our respective homes.  I even got to really speak some Georgian!  (This isn’t saying, though, that non-Georgian speakers should avoid Telavi–we had no problem finding English speakers to help us, but it’s nice to use my language skills sometimes)

Despite some initial mishaps and closures due to the off season, Telavi won us over.  And we haven’t even seen all the sights yet.

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P.S. My travel buddy’s blog post on our trip is here, if you care for confirmation of my story.