This is almost one year overdue, but I’m finally posting about my experiences in delightful Georgia (the country, not the state)!
Metal gates leading to a family’s house, gardens, livestock, etc. are very popular among Georgian homes. The family that lives behind this one includes my school’s principal, a teacher, and three students. (Households tend to be large, with extended family members all living together.) My little host brother was calling out to see if his friend had left for school yet. (To see if someone is home, you literally just yell into the yard. No doorbells necessary!) This family has one dog, named Banjo by a previous English teacher, and another dog, named Henry by me.
I never got carsick until I had to endure day-long rides in a marshrutka (large van for public transportation) over some of the most bumpy, mountainous, and potholed roads. At times like these, I welcomed a short break from THIS. Those animals sure knew how to stop traffic! Also, camo is still pretty hot in Georgia… Unfortunately.
Most citizens of Georgia consider themselves to be Georgian Orthodox. Religious pictures, crosses, and other symbols adorn every room in homes and schools. Whether you’re in a city or a remote village, you can’t go anywhere without being near a church, whether it’s thousands of years old or as tiny as this one. Their Patriarch has a lot of influence on the country. One of the first things foreigners are always asked is whether or not they’re Christian. It seemed like every day was a holiday celebrating a different saint. And yet I don’t think I ever met a Georgian who went to church regularly.
The beautiful Black Sea. Batumi is the main city on the west coast of Georgia, the climate of which is much nicer than on the east. The city gives the impression of trying (without necessarily succeeding) to become the next Vegas. But Donald Trump has begun building a hotel there, so perhaps it’s up-and-coming after all. I mean the men of Turkey, where gambling is illegal, need somewhere to hang out, right?
This day in Mestia, a small town high up in the Caucasus Mountains, was unforgettable. We’d asked our guesthouse owner if she could arrange for us to go horseback riding. She literally called up random neighbors to see if their horses were available, had them brought over to the guesthouse, packed us a small lunch, and sent us on our way–no guide, no emergency medical forms, nothing! It was such a thrill to ride around the town, which felt eerily empty, wherever we wanted to lead our horses… Or wherever they wanted to lead us! We did have a few issues related to the fact that these horses did not seem trained to be ridden at all. But eventually we found the base of a mountain, and we spent all day riding up, surrounded by breathtaking views in every direction of the mountains and the town below.
Georgia is one of the oldest regions in the world to produce wine. (We’re talking 6000 BC!) Wine is such a huge part of Georgian culture, and virtually every family makes their own from homegrown grapes. Wine is traditionally stored in clay vessels underground, like at this cellar in Sighnaghi, the wine capital.
On the weekends, hundreds of residents of the capital city Tbilisi gather all of their old belongings and pop a squat at the Dry Bridge Market. Authentic gold, super old antiques, and other valuables used to be found here, as wealthier Georgians scrambled to leave the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, it’s mostly touristy things and anything Georgians want to get rid of for a quick buck. Most notable are the paintings, the handmade jewelry, and, naturally, the Soviet-era medical tools.
For Women’s Day, we decided to spend the weekend skiing in Bakuriani, a resort town in the mountains. My friend and I struggled to stay upright while walking on the treacherously snowy and icy streets. Meanwhile, all the children in the town were either pushed or pulled by their parents on these little sleds. So adorable! Almost made me glad that the roads weren’t salted… (You wouldn’t think the roads were dangerous by how fast people drove their cars.)
Aw, my pals, Rocky and Roy, the sweetest brother-and-sister duo! They lived at a neighbor’s house, but after I gave them some treats, whenever they saw me, they followed me to and from school. (I don’t think the neighbor was too happy about that, but hey, maybe if he actually fed them once in a while…) Sadly, Rocky passed away far too young, but Roy continued to be my lap puppy.
This is undoubtedly one of the most iconic views in Georgia and worth the 1.5-hour hike up a snowy mountain. It would seem that Georgians have a tendency to symbolically place their churches as high up as they can. But even fragile-looking grandmas are willing to make the climb. (At one point, a cable car was installed from the bottom of the mountain to the top, but was destroyed by Georgians who felt it defiled such a sacred place.) From the church, the views of the surrounding mountains and the town of Stepantsminda down below are absolutely gorgeous.