On the second day it was drizzling and the sky was grey. The lush vegetation at the side of the road didn’t look as bright as it should have. We were driving along a bumpy road on our way to Kutaisi, our second destination in Georgia, and for the first time since we got there I felt unsafe. What if the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere? The idea of waving for help to other drivers – mostly Turkish truck drivers – was unsettling me, especially since I can speak no Georgian, nor Russian, nor Turkish. So I sat in my seat, hoping that if anything was to happen, it would happen in a village and the famous Georgian hospitality would come to our rescue.
But now we were driving in the middle of the country and the setting had changed dramatically. As soon as you get out of a bigger city, and especially if you choose to take the scenic route instead of the bigger road that connects larger towns, you will find yourself alone for miles, the only living souls you get to meet apart from the Turkish truck drivers being the wandering cows that abound in the country.
We were leaving behind the city of Batumi and its gravelly beaches. A busy port on the Black Sea, Batumi has welcomed travelers ever since the times of Jason and the Argonauts. Nowadays, as I had read before my trip, it is a favourite honeymoon destination for couples coming from both Georgia and its neighbouring countries. We had spent the night at a hotel of the Piazza, a square surrounded by buildings that look so neat and clean they’re almost surreal, notably designed to attract tourists and show off a posh and Western side of the city. A setting that perfectly matched our impressions from our evening out and about in Batumi: a feast of traditionally prepared delicacies at an expensive restaurant (Adjaran khachapuri and four different shashlyks of marinated pork, lamb and chicken), a romantic walk on the seafront promenade and a glass of Georgian wine before retreating back to our hotel room. Just like two Armenian newlyweds.
Two days later the sun is shining. We leave our hostel in Kutaisi in the early morning, with the hostess coming out of the house after us to wish us a good day in Russian from the porch. A lady in her sixties, she has turned her apartment into a hostel and makes ends meet renting out rooms to visitors. I imagine her a few years back, suddenly finding herself a widow in a house too big to share only with a cat. I see the sturdy woman as she takes out the old furniture that reminds her of her married life and fills the empty rooms with beds for guests. The new challenge now would be to learn a few sentences in English, open an email account and take in guests from the flows of tourists that have started to come to Kutaisi thanks to cheap airlines opening routes to Georgia.
So we hit the road again, under a yellow sun. We follow the road that leads to the capital city, Tbilisi, the largest road in the country, where everybody drives fast like crazy. At some point we’ll have to leave that road and head south, so we keep focused on road signs not to miss our intersection. Having no GPS we rely only on a map from a brochure collected at the tourist office in Kutaisi and on road signs. And luckily, along this major road, place names are also printed in the Latin alphabet, so we don’t have to brush up our dusty knowledge of the Cyryllic script as we did two days before to understand where we are.
We’re headed south, and the landscape gets drier and drier the farther we drive. The scenery is fascinating, the road winds along the Lesser Caucasus and driving there you often find yourself elevated, with a view on a valley beneath where some river flows, carrying the water of the mountains through an otherwise dry and lunar landscape.
Our final destination is Vardzia, famous for its cave monastery destroyed by an earthquake in 1283. While visiting the caves I imagine what it must have been like to be a monk there and dwell in one of those cells carved into the mountainside back in the twelfth century when the site was enjoying its peak prosperity.
The drive back home is longer than expected and when we’re finally back our lovely hostess greets us with a hug and shows great curiosity about our impressions after the daytrip. There is barely time for one last dinner out in Kutaisi, as our flight home is scheduled for the following day. As we feed on khachapuri and khinkali and badrijani (eggplants with walnuts) in a restaurant of the city centre, and get tipsy with a bottle of hearty Georgian red, I find myself wondering if I’d be able to adapt and integrate if I ever were to move to a city like Kutaisi.
After the dinner we walk the streets of the centre and I feel relaxed, like I have started to know the city a little and I feel safe in it. After a few days spent visiting the country, travelling, eating its food and observing its people I don’t feel too lost anymore, and even the unreadable Georgian road signs look less unfamiliar now. And maybe I’m just a little drunk, or maybe I just feel happy to be where I am, but I feel the answer to my inner musing shaping up in my brain and saying: “Yes”. Yes, I’d be able to adapt and become a part of this city, and even though this country is different, quite different from the countries I have visited in my life, and may seem difficult and chaotic at first, deep inside I feel that it wouldn’t be impossible to become part of it in the end.
This post was originally written after our trip and published on my old blog. I consider this post one of my finest, as I had worked really hard on it to convey all the impressions and feelings I had brought back from that trip. We visited Georgia in November 2013 taking advantage of cheap flights that had recently been launched from Poland with WizzAir. I will forever remember the country for the unexpected beauty of its landscape and for its delicious food and wine.
Headed to Poland? Don’t miss the best Georgian restaurant in Krakow (and a few more eateries there)!