I wish taking the waters were still considered a legitimate medical expense, because after my weekend at Borjomi I feel so relaxed.  (Perhaps I should check with my insurance company, just to make sure they won’t cover this sort of thing?)  My friends and I were looking for something different to do last weekend, and the slightly-more-than-2—hour marshrutka trip West from Tbilisi into the Lesser Caucasus in Borjomi seemed like just the ticket.  A friend of mine connected us with Marina’s Guesthouse, which was a comfortable, inexpensive, welcoming place to base our explorations (and the carrot chutney/sauce she gave us with fried eggs for breakfast was amazing!).  Our main goal for Friday was getting ourselves to Borjomi and finding the guesthouse, so upon our arrival we went to dinner at the Bistro Aguna, where Marina arranged for us to get a discount on the tasty Georgian food.  That evening we relaxed and joined the other guest in playing Czech card games in the kitchen (Czech cards are very pretty, but as someone who is weak at card games using “normal” cards, I wasn’t much of a threat).

We started our day Saturday with a visit to the tourism information center—Arthur was a real gem, and he set us up with excellent directions and recommendations for the rest of our stay.  We decided to start off at the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, and attempted to walk “Trail 7”, an easy three-kilometer introduction to the park.  While the walk wasn’t too difficult (though there were far more steep slopes than you would usually see on an “easy” trail in the US), finding the trail wasn’t exactly simple.  The woods were beautiful, and we amused ourselves playing the game “Contact”, but we had trouble following the trail through the multiple unmarked branchings-off.  Ultimately found ourselves following a stream into the town of Likani, and walking back to the National Park Visitors’ Center along the main road.

Lovely view from the non-trail in the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Forest

We grabbed some lobiani and khachapuri on our walk back into town, and walked to the Borjomi Mineral Water Park.  The Mineral Water Park starts with the groomed gardens you would imagine of a place where 19th-Century Russian aristocrats came to take the waters, complete with gazebos framing the springs themselves and free public wireless sponsored by Beeline.  Further into the park the manicured gardens give way to American mountains (or, to use more familiar language: roller-coasters) and Georgian mountains (the real thing).  In the section of amusement park attractions, my friends convinced me to ride a roller-coaster for the first time, and it was far more fun and less stomach-churning than I expected it to be.

Em in front of her very first roller coaster (or American mountains, if you prefer) in the Borjomi Mineral Water Park

Further and further into the park, the man-made appearance disappears and visitors can enjoy a nice stroll through the woods.  At the far end of the park is a spring-fed swimming pool, but this isn’t the kind of pool to walk to wearing your flip-flops.  One of the bridges across the trail was washed out (according to friends who’ve visited previously, this particular bridge was a log and a rope to hang on to), so we followed a local in scrambling up and around the mountain to reach the pool.  The adventurous walk was well-worth the trouble, though.  This was the best swimming pool I’ve ever been in (and as a former competitive swimmer and water polo player, I do have some basis for comparison).  Although it was too small to swim laps and too shallow to dive, the water was the perfect temperature and the surroundings were STUNNING.

The most beautifully-situated swimming pool I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, not one of my better photos, but you should get the idea…

We stayed in the pool for the rest of the afternoon, and then hiked back to Marina’s house for showers and dinner.  We had an excellent dinner at the Hotel Pesvebi Restauraunt (which may or may not be affiliated with the Shemoikhede Genatsvale restaurant chain from Tbilisi) in the old train station—I enjoyed that since we were further West the food was a bit spicier than we usually get in Kakheti or Tbilisi.  We went to bed early that evening, and I fell asleep with the happy/exhausted feeling I haven’t had often since I stopped swimming every day.

Sunday morning one of our party decided to prolong his stay in Borjomi and take advantage of his “once in a lifetime opportunity” to go on a horseback ride through the National Park.  My other friend and I were a bit less ambitious, and went for a stroll and visited the Museum of Local Lore.  The English-language signs in the museum were of excellent quality, and the museum itself had some interesting attractions.  I found the display of old Borjomi bottles and advertisements the most interesting—one of the old advertisements for Borjomi (in Russian) was a bit alarming, though.  It referred to the water as “radioactive”.  Hmmm….

That afternoon we had to get back on the marshrutka and return to our real lives, but as we told Marina when we left: we’ll be back!  Borjomi has been the first place I’ve visited in Georgia where I’ve really felt like I was relaxed and on vacation, and is my favorite destination so far.