Travelling during pandemic to Georgia
OUR TRIP TO GEORGIA. 2021
Awesome is, of late, a much over-used and devalued adjective; however, reverting to its true
meaning (inspiring, having overwhelming reverence, admiration), it is a perfect descriptor of our
recent trip to the Republic of Georgia.
My daughter’s wanderlust brought her to discover Nataliya Cummings’ website
(experienceukraineandbeyond), and—voilà—she, my husband and I registered for Nataliya’s
2020 tour, featuring an ambitious itinerary: the two largest cities (Tbilisi, the capital, and
Bitumi, a large port and summer holiday capital on the Black Sea) interspersed with an idyllic
stay in the steep, rural hills of Ajara.
Of course, 2020 was THE year! Covid! At best, our hopes and dreams went on hold. Time
passed, and we were beginning to think it was a hopeless situation. Needless to say, we were
beyond delighted when the tour was indeed happening (August 2021). Our experiences that
followed were definitely worth the wait.
To condense content, I would like to capitalize on what was most notable:
First: the amazingly long history, which includes cultural achievements, particularly
evidenced in the cities. In Tiblisi’s Rustavelis (Museum of Georgia), finely crafted precious
jewelry and artifacts from the third millennium BC were displayed as well as hominid skulls, the
earliest, found in the Caucasus! American “history” pales in comparison. The Botanical
Gardens in Bitumi were beyond impressive.
Second: the layers and layers of various cultures melding and evolving over time (Persian,
Armenian, Mongolian, Russian). Thanks to the foresight of King David (Davit) the Builder (1152)
and other inspired leaders, multiethnicity and cultural/religious tolerance were, and continue to
be, encouraged. We visited a spot in Tiblisi where three difference houses of worship had been
built in close proximity. Seen today, Georgia can be considered a metaphorical Turkish/Persian
carpet where different strands are woven together to form something beautiful.
On a more basic level, this attitude of tolerance and acceptance was even expressed in the
treatment of animals. In the cities, stray dogs, curs are a common sight. Here they are neither
impounded nor euthanized; instead, they are given medical care, spayed/neutered, tagged and
released, where they are free to roam; shopkeepers/residents feed and water them. They learn
to be street savvy, are quite independent and seem quite content. The same sort of thing is
true for the cows, which were a common sight along, and often, in the roads as we traveled.
They, too, seem to enjoy their freedom and have learned to make way for passing traffic—on
Third: Georgia’s uniqueness: The official name of country isn’t even “Georgia!” Sakartvelo
became the moniker in 1995. Its language, considered Kartvelian, has many dialects depending
on geographical location. As we were traveling, many of the older people were fluent in Russian
since the region was not that long ago under Soviet rule. Totally incomprehensible to us, the
swirly, winding script of the written language is another testament of this place’s singularity. I
was told, it may have been inspired by the grape vine, a plant cherished by many Georgians.
Georgian acapella singing is alive and well for young and old alike.
As in many cultures, traditional dishes and foods, such as green lobiani (a bean dish), cheeses
(Sulguni), khachapuri (cheese pie), and kinkhali (dumplings) remain popular and are trademarks
of the country. It is in Georgia where wine is made in qvevri, big, earthenware vessels, which
are buried underground. This is a completely organic method, and white grapes are processed
with their skins resulting in “orange”or “amber” wine.
Fourth: the deep reverence for nature, land, and people. Here, I cannot condense; this was
the highlight of our trip. Our group was very small: Susanne, a very kind, generous woman
from Switzerland, the three of us, and, once at the guest house in the steep hills, Pierre, a chatty
Frenchman with a beautiful singing voice. Nataliya was our energetic, affable tour guide with a
bit of a bohemian flair.