After following a route for 2 months in Turkey, from a far west island at the agean sea, to Bursa, Tunceli, Artvin and Rize, I came to the northeast end of Anatolia and bumped into the border of Georgia. It was time to discover Georgia now.
Georgia is a quite small country with a population around 4 million. In this essay I’ll be telling about the south part of the country, Batumi, Tbilisi, Telavi. You will find about the mountainous north parts around Mestia in the other essay.
There are 2 Russian occupied territories; Abkhazia and South Ossetia (marked in red above). If you are interested in mountaineering and trekking, you need to watch out your steps to not to enter into these territorities.
Mountains and forests were already with me for some time. It was now time to let myself fully to the Caucasus, to the lands of spectacular mountains, forests, rivers and national parks. At first I was not knowing, nevertheless sensing what is there to come from this piece of heaven.
Gamarjoba! (hello in Georgian)
My first stop was at Batumi, the third biggest city of the country, located on the coast of Black Sea. Especially for nature lovers, it has a very impressive and enormous Botanical Garden that started to be created over 100 years ago.
Batumi Botanical Garden has many zones; South America, New Zealand, Australia, Himalayas, Mexico, Europe and so on. In the whole area, there are many different types of roses, bamboos, fruit forests, flowers, exotic plants as well as monumental old trees like above.
Batumi’s economy revolves around tourism and it is an important port at Black Sea. Arriving at a new place, I like to have a look at the whole area from above. My friends took me to a pretty church on top of a hill. Modern high-rise buildings, mostly hotels were filling the shores. But on the hills, tiny houses were rarely spreaded between the dense green.
Batumi hosts ‘Man and Woman’, 8m tall moving steel sculpture which is a work of Georgian artist Tamara Kvesitadze. These two metal figures pass through eachother on a daily basis, telling their story of love and seperation. I love it!
Church Sameba is located on top of a high hill and have a great view of the city.
The priestess refused to give me candle to light since I’m not a Christian. But this wasn’t an obstacle for my silent and peaceful meditation accompanied by the senses of blessings and greetings to this new country I’ve just arrived.
Historical old town of Batumi hosts many 19th century buildings. Around big squares, there are nice little roads full of many restaurants, wine houses, bars. Seaside is just couple of blocks away.
This lovely young girl Mari and her brother Levan hosted me in Batumi. I have to mention the great hospitality Georgians have for their guests. They helped me in my every need open heartedly and generously. Georgians don’t ask if you’re hungry, they just set the table! Staying, spending time in their little, humble neighbourhood showed me many things about the daily life around here.
Mtirala National Park (above) deserves a day visit. It’s just an hour drive from Batumi. You can spend your day walking into the dense forests that eventually takes you to a small lake and a fantastic waterfall.
Mtirala National Park is one of the most humid areas of the country. It has mixed forests including mostly chestnut, beech trees and rhododendrons.
It was so peaceful to explore the park in its broadness as well as in its details. It was the first time this year that I saw a rhododendron flower. I love them.
There are many beekeepers in this area. Old man with his grandchild above were selling many kinds of honey at their stall. When Georgians learn that you are from Turkey, you usually see a smile on the faces right away. They become more interested in you somehow with the hospitality of a neighbour.
After Batumi I passed to the east, to Kakheti region through beautiful forests seen above.
Marshrutka (shared taxi or a minivan) is the most common public transport in Georgia. Sorry to say but Georgia can be one of the places that has careless, fast and worst drivers ever!
My second stop at South Georgia was Telavi, the capital of Kakheti region. Here is a huge plain at the feet of Caucasus mountains that unfortunately have been deforested for agricultural purposes for some time. Nevertheless its fertile soil feeds the vineyards. You see many ‘wine route’ signes on the roads that take you to the producers. More than half of the production of the country comes from Kakheti region. Over 500 of the world’s 2000 grape varieties are Georgian.
It feels like life runs slow in this region. I really liked to be in the country side, by the villages and discover the way of living here.
Two rainbows shining after the rain. Just by the door of my friend Mayis’s house.
It was so lovely to visit my friend Mayıs whom I know from Turkey. He and his adorable dog Haiku hosted me in their beautiful house in Kisiskhevi village near Telavi. It was a lovely coincidence that I also met my other friends Pınar and Yakup here. We updated what had come along into our lives since we last met. Having nice long conversations, having long-short walks around, going downtown for the colorful farmers market, cooking delicious food together, toasting with delicious Kakheti wine, our laughters, our silence, all were in peace. Spending times together with them really warmed my heart and gave me the chance to slow down again for some time.
One day altogether we went to the eastern part of the country, by Azerbaijan border. We did a half day trek at Lagodekhi National Park (above). The most prominent trees here were beech and maples.
At Lagodekhi National Park the valley we walked through, the waterfall and the weather was fantastic.
And then I came to my third stop at South Georgia, to the capital, Tbilisi which means the ‘Hot City’. There are many historical sulfur baths and hammams around. Mtkvari river is running through from the heart of the city. Apart from visiting some museums, wandering around in the old towns and walking the silent boulevards at nights, I dont have much to do with the cities so I’m skipping them mainly. Therefore I stayed here for just 2 days and managed to find some second hand warm clothes for the times coming in north.
Georgian people have been playing a wide variety of instruments throughout many centuries. Some of them are local and the others reached here from the countries around. Above you see Panduris which is one of the common played instrument. Georgian polyphonic singing is an old tradition that used to accompany all areas of daily life, while dining or working. It also includes some love songs. Above we see a group of men singing in the way of this old tradition.
There is one place in Tblisi which is worth to visit. ‘Georgian folk songs and musical instruments’ museum. Some of the instruments I remember from my visit are;
String instruments: panduri, tar, kemence, saz, santur, ud, sitar, cengi, mandolin, gitar
Wind instruments: zurna, duduki, tulum
Percussion instruments: daira
The man on the right is one of the most important panduri player of Georgia, Babo Chincharauli.
Above we see the local taste Churchkhela that is string of nuts coated in grape, plum or pomagranate caramel.
Above we see some other local tastes like; Tashmijabi (potato with traditional Sunguli cheese) and Khachapuri (bread filled with cheese). And of course famous Georgian wine.
Georgians have been making and drinking wine for at least 8000 years. Local method of making wine is different from European style wine making and it remained unchanged through centuries. A common tradition here is to toast, mostly with wine and cha cha (so strong local drink). Tamada is the toastmaker who toasts for many different things like, good health, wealth, Georgia, ancestors, protection of children etc. Drinking before the speech gets over is impolite. And this tradition can last for hours till the sunrise!
Then the time came to move to north, to the mountainous regions of Georgia.