Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sighnaghi and Davit Gareja: Georgia

It’s hard not to want to head east of Tbilisi towards the world’s oldest wine growing regions (since 6000 BC!) We couldn’t resist…made our way to Sighnaghi, not even 2 hours away by mini-bus. The town has an oddly new, but meant to look old, feel to it. I’m not sure that anyone actually lives there; it’s clearly a very touristy destination. Yet it’s not over the top in any way, it still feels quaint and authentic somehow. Cobble stone streets, colonial style buildings, very clean – Sighnaghi is a yuppie wine and culture lover’s dream.

Found a nice homestay for 20 euros a night each, including three home cooked meals and all you can drink wine. Met a Finnish couple there, Helena and Jussi, had some nice afternoon wine, bread and very fresh cheese. Perfect way to start the day!

Sauntered around town and who did we run into but Llew and Sarah, classic. We went to a place called Pheasant’s Tears, which produces their own organic wine. Got a quick run-down of how things work with traditional Georgian wine production The wine is stored in clay vessels and then buried, topped with a wooden lid and left underground to ferment. Some of the vessels are real works of art, a testament to how important wine making is and has been to the people there.Since Russia put an embargo on Georgian wines in 2006, they have adapted the style to appeal more to Europeans (so not as sweet).

Between the 4 of us we split 2 wine tastings since they were pretty pricey (9 euros per tasting). Sat outside and relished in the fall day – had 2 whites, one of which didn’t taste a thing like a white, and 2 reds, one of which was very berry heavy and I loved it. Ritchie hates ‘posh shit like this’, so we continued our mosey around the old brick wall that circles the city (used to be a fortress).

It’s a really serene and enchanting area. Stumbled upon a restaurant with a bamboo roof and a view over the whole valley, decided to dip in for a change of pace… cold beer! There were some friendly (and wasted) Russian girls next to us who provided a lot of entertainment. We learned a new way to toast drinks from one of them : “cheers…. to you…. me…. and petroleum!” Crazy, drunk Russians, always good for something.

Back at our homestay we had a true feast for dinner, the dishes never stopped coming and the jugs of wine never seemed to get empty. A miracle! And after another delicious breakfast the following day, we headed out with Helena and Jussi to visit Davit Gareja on the way back to Tbilisi.

We hired the owner of the guest house to drive us the 2 hours to Davit Gareja and drop us in Tbilisi after, and as we cruised along with this funny and friendly man, the landscape got more remote and desert like, finally leaving us feeling like we really were in the "middle of nowhere". Davit Gareja is a monastery complex founded in the 6th century, at the border of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The most impressive part is that everything is carved out of the rock, including these cave/living area places all along the backside of the ridge. 

en route

Look close, Ma! We're in Azerbaijan!

These are the chatty guards who let us step into Azerbaijan, telling us to come back and visit the capital, Baku, which assuredly is much different than here.

Road to Tbilisi

Even shepherd's gotta take care of business

"The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun." - Chris McCandless, Into the Wild


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