Crossing the border into Georgia, it took only an hour and a half to reach the buzzing, vibrant, stunning capital Tbilisi. The Georgians are hospitable and sociable people, always ready to help, share a story, or just make you feel welcome.
For a number of years after they gained their independence from Russia, Georgians went through a bleak period of great hardship with constant gas and electricity shortages, lack of infrastructure, services and grinding poverty. However, these days are now firmly behind them and Georgia is thriving, with a strong sense of national pride. It is a country with much to offer for those lucky enough to travel there.
Tbilisi succeeds in combining ancient and very modern architecture with seeming ease. The nearly completed conical shared theatre and exhibition hall, and stunning new Friendship Bridge spanning the river, sit quite comfortably alongside ancient Metekhi Church and Citadel.
Exploring the old town with its narrow winding streets, there are many pretty buildings with colourful balconies to admire. There are countless cafes and restaurants too, which come alive at night!
Exploring further afield, we travelled south of Tbilisi passing former Soviet collective farms to see the semi-desert rock-cut monasteries of David Gareja, set in the side of the hill. We then continued on foot to the top of the hill for the most amazing panoramic views as far as the eye could see. It was utterly breathtaking in its unspoilt beauty.
Georgia is also blessed with many ancient historical and archaeological monuments which are also UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Our adventures continued when we left the very pretty, former royal town of Signagi to visit the monastery at Nekresi. As always the monastery was built on an inaccessible hillside to deter unwanted visitors. The route up to the monastery is so steep that it can only be reached by four wheel drive vehicles!
Georgia is also rightly famous for its food, wine and hospitality and we certainly did our best to test these claims to fame! Typically we would have a selection of ‘tapas’ style dishes to share first with several varieties of fresh bread, which would then be followed be a very tasty soup. This would be followed by a main course often served in one round pot which helped to keep the dish moist and maintain the flavour, served with lots of fragrant fresh herbs. Coriander, tarragon, parsley, garlic and onion are widely used. Pudding then followed: tiny fresh strawberries full of flavour and delicious sweet cakes or pastries.
“House wine” often has a completely different meaning in Georgia, where it is literally the wine brewed by the owners of the establishment. It is not bottled, but sold by the glass or jug. The flavour can vary enormously, as can the quality, according to the owner’s taste and ability! It is quite acceptable to ask to try a little before ordering when not bottled. For consistency, bottled wine is better.
We left Georgia, a wonderfully welcoming country, with hopes to return.