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Travelling during pandemic to Georgia


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

their terms.

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.

When we reached the guest house, we were privileged to be welcomed by a warm, vibrant

family, who immersed us in their culture: Jemil, the gregarious, entertaining host, Manama, his

hard-working wife, who was the absolute Queen of Georgian Cuisine, Besso, their 20-something

son, who led two different Georgian choirs in the city, and Katiya, their multi-talented

17-year-old daughter who served as our interpreter.

These people and their neighbors had an obvious symbiotic relationship with each other as

well as with nature. Their agricultural acumen was amazing, and the resulting fruits of their

labor, boundless: vegetables, fruit, nuts, poultry, dairy products, wine, honey, tobacco. They

readily share with each other and even with us. On a walk in the neighborhood, one woman

gave us corn; another invited us into her house for coffee. Other than a few basic

conversational phrases, we spoke no Georgian, and we had never met either of them, yet they

were unbelievably generous.

We ate each meal communally—often with neighbors, friends, other guests, and relatives--

outside on a patio adjacent to their living quarters on long tables. Jemil, the effervescent host,

entertained us with his singing and numerous toasts at dinner. His repertoire: nature, family,

love, friendship, all good things. Toasting is an important Georgian tradition; in fact, there is a

big statue in Tbilisi dedicated to the Toastmaster.

What added to the ambiance was the traditional Georgian singing! Jemil, Besso, and Katiya

had beautiful voices and easily broke into acapella song with accompaniment on traditional

stringed instruments. Pierre had come to the guest house specifically to practice. Relatives and

friends showed up and joined the performance. Even WE were encouraged to join in! It was so

much fun.

These people live simply in terms of material goods but very richly through intrinsic rewards.

They love and laugh easily. They are generous and inclusive. They exposed us to the rural

wealth that surrounds them. Their attitudes and values were contagious.

We , as tourists, went away without the “usual” tchotchkes: kinkhali paperweights, tee-shirts

emblazoned with the red-and-white Georgian flag, or mini khachapuri earrings. Instead, we

have warm, long-lasting memories that will be indelible. We are indebted to both Nataliya and

all the wonderful Georgian people who touched our hearts.

Barbara Lathrop


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