Days 1567-80, 14-27 Sept 18, Khaketi Wine, Food, No Song
We had such a cracking time on our last day trip we figured two weeks to recover was about right. In the run up to our next day trip we did our usual trundling about and accidentally roamed for miles after what was supposed to be a relaxed Sunday lunch. Turns out we can usually be found at one of our lunch haunts just about every Sunday - simply because it’s the day the Uni student who speaks English is on the counter. Since we’d enjoyed lunch, coffee and a cake we decided to strike while the iron was a solid luke warm and wandered down to the Dry Bridge Market. Turns out the weekend is simultaneously the best of times and the worst of times to visit this part of Tbilisi. Best? Because there are loads more stalls with treasures spread all over the pavements. Worst? Because every tourist in Tbilisi comes out wearing either stonking great steel toed boots or ridiculously high stilettos and, either a massive backpack or a huge handbag filled with rocks. Eyes and ears painted on for effect. So as much fun as getting slammed into by a veritable UN of nutjobs is, it’s also impossible to watch where you’re walking simultaneously. The risk of demolishing entire sets of crystal, porcelain etc was simply too high. So we managed to get over the Dry Bridge (then the Wet Bridge) in one peice and found ourselves in the utopia of freshly painted, conserved, cobbled and quaint ‘New Tbilisi’. And did we mention it was flat. The Mtkvari River runs through Tbilisi and one half of the city is bounded by mountainous terrain that has reigned in develpment and is wonderful for fitness (that’s where we live). We were now in the other half, happily sprawling itself silly and dead flat. (There’s a quick thought - if ever a language could do to buy a vowel - it’s Georgian - it starts with Tbilisi itself... continues with Mtkvari River and apparently 11 consonants in a row is one of the longest endeavours - fortunately not a word in common use it means Man who hunts Tigers. Apparently. I wasn’t quick enough to write it down when a guide mentioned it. Modern Georgian has 33 consonants and some vowels... apparently just not used often).
After the cobbled and touristy street, we had a super walk for several kilometres enjoying the stunning architecture of Davit Agmashenebeli Avenue. This area was built in great part by the German contractor Frederich Vezel in the 1880s and has been recently restored to its original beauty. We think we loved it even more because vast swathes of Tbilisi seem one earthquake away from collapsing. It was a lovely day weather wise, comfortable in the shade, and we ended up at the metro station we’d been aiming for with some gas still in the tank. Couldn’t be that much further to the next metro station, surely? Well it wouldn’t have been, but we fell into the trap of ‘just one more’ block and eventually were so close to the Dezerter Bazaar it would have been silly not to go (must admit to flagging a bit by this point).
The Bazaar is Tbilisi’s largest, open-air fresh food market and comprises roughly 2000 square metres and squillions of stalls. Exact numbers are sketchy on how many. There was a covered building that was heavily renovated and finished in 2012 - however since everyone was turfed out for the renovations to occur - they more or less all burrowed into the surrounding neighbourhood’s laneways, carparks and corners and never really returned. It’s a shame really - when we ducked into the ‘official’ building, it was just a parking lot for trucks. Hmmmm - a bit like disrupting the course of a river or other force of nature and finding it wouldn’t do as it was told the second time around.
The Bazaar was named logically enough after people who found that military service was simply not for them. In the 1920s during and presumably after the Russian/Georgian war, soldiers who deserted would arrive and the market to sell their uniform, equipment and guns. Georgia was pretty wild even just 10-15 years ago, but our visit, while brief, showed no guns for sale. There was definitely no other shortages in evidence. We’ve been buying all our fruit, veges, herbs etc at the local fruit shops around our apartment and the prices here were not significantly lower - but remember 100 tetri/1 lari goes a jolly long way in this economy. We will have to return to scout out the meat hall but as always we found the ‘aquariums’ fascinating - big glass tanks of fresh water trout etc swimming about and just waiting to be eaten for dinner. Onions of every variety were available, alongside mountains of watermelon and drum loads of spices. It was late afternoon and still seemed in fall swing - but as the weather cools and if ever Autumn deigns to turn up, we’ll head back for a morning visit when it is peak activity time for the ladies and gents of the bazaar.
By the time we extricated ourselves from the bazaar and walked a few more blocks to the metro we were deathly keen to be home for cocktail hour and it only took an hour or so to make it happen - really must be more careful with these relaxed Sunday lunches... this one took it out of us. So we made sure to leave a least a week before we launched (juddered?) our way onto another day tour to see more of the Georgia-Outside-Tbilisi.
We had a choice of a couple of itineraries and ended up going with the day trip to the Khaketi wine region. First stop when we left town was Bodbe monastery/nunnery - burial place of St Nino. Nino was a cousin of St George (apparently) and she was a young woman who stayed a young woman her whole life (apparently). She is credited with converting Georgia to Christianity in the 3rd century - not actually bringing it here mind you, but she did the donkey-work of converting everyone. The story is (apparently) she came all the way to Georgia to convert the heathens and forgot her cross. Now obviously, forgetting your wet-wipes is one thing, but your cross? Seriously? So she was pretty on the ball (if you forget the forgetting a cross thing) and quickly grabbed some dried grapevine stalks and bound them together - voila! A cross! This led to St Nino’s cross which we have seen in our travels, a droopy cross that is uniquely Georgian. It is tradition in this country that the first son born to a family is called George and the first daughter is called Nino. At last count 50% of the country is called either George (Giorgi) or Nino. Does make it fabulously easy to remember names - a bit like Mohammed in other countries we’ve visited. After the monastery (nice views) we visited the town of Sighnahi - world famous in Georgia for horrendously expensive hotel nights on Friday/Saturday/Sunday - they changed their law to allow instant marriage without registration etc etc - so now, to avoid starting married life bankrupt, resentful and dirty with your entire family, young couples nip up here for a weekend, get hitched, have a couple of nights peace and quiet then issue announcements vs. invitations. Obviously they’ll end up dirt poor, resentful and dirty with their entire families eventually - but at least it wasn’t at the start of the marriage. It’s turned out so popular that the population has dropped by thousands as they’ve moved to neighbouring villages for census purposes to enable them to rent out their houses/apartments etc on Airbnb and make a fortune from the weekend, Georgian wedding crowd. Lunch was not bad, very Georgian and we had a stroll around town befoe ti was back on the bus and tailgating the harvest through the wine region of Khaketi. Literally - spent a couple of hours following massive, soviet style trucks loaded up with grapes en route to a winery - just like us (pictured).
We visited the JSC Corporation Kindzmarauli. Right - Georgian Gvino 101 (look at those consonants - GVino!) Squillions of grape varieties but after weeks of research and a solid tasting session at the winery, we can confirm that most red wine is made from the Saperavi grape. If it’s made in the 4000 litre clay pots or ‘qvevri’ then it’s likely to be a dry red wine. If it’s Saperavi grapes grown in the Kindzmarauli microclimate where the ground contains black soil and rocks then the extra heat sweetens the grapes incredibly - wine is made quickly in stainless steel vats and kept chilled - this becomes Georgia’s famous semi-sweet red wine. Sounds horrendous but we’re now addicted. White is also made in a dry style and a semi-sweet style served well chilled. The tasting halls at JSC used to be heaving with tourists when tastings were free - since they instituted a 2 lari / A$1 / €0.70 fee per tasting - things have calmed down. Mind you - 4 tastings had us on our ears at half a glass per tasting. System works incredibly well - we ended up buying 5 bottles to take home with us. Our mini-bus was eventually gathered up and we had a huge (hic) very interesting tour of the winery before we rolled into the bus and continued on our merry way - running only a tiny bit behind.
Final stop for the day was Gremi castle as the sun was going down. Very famous, very old (yada yada yada... climbed the stairs, looked at the church, saw the view... still pickled). We’d had far too much fun at the winery and ended up missing the sunset at the high point of the drive home - and it was a very, very long drive home. We’d taken a couple of rolls with us in case lunch was rubbish - luckily still had them on hand to snuffle up at about 7.30 pm. Didn’t make it back to the city until 9 pm - 12 hours on the go. Too much. Certainly felt even longer after the kilometre or so to walk home with our wine loot. We’ve decided we really don’t need to see an ancient cave city - so no more marathon day trips for us (and we’ve seen one before).
Having got the day trip bug well out of our system, we’re now doing our exploring a little bit each day - for instance home through old town with our groceries. In its history Tbilisi has been destroyed and rebuilt 40 odd times - but some of the buiildings in the old town look as if they’ve stood for 1000 years... Having said that, many of them look like ‘tonight’s the night’ for standing no longer. It should be named Georgian Roulette - extreme walking? Urban exploring with an edge? The next gamble is whether to walk down the centre of the street and risk being squashed by a car or on the sort-of-footpath and risk falling into a cellar if you’re not looking where your feet are going... or being crushed by a balcony/masonry that gives up the ghost unexpectedly because you’re not looking up. But really... would it be unexpected. No point fretting too much, plenty of grapevines to hold the buildings up. Realistically though it’s probably the 90% of the population who consider themselves to be firm followers of the Georgian Orthdox faith. In conclusion God’s Grace and Grapevines are holding the old town up - and only has to do so for another 4 weeks. Fingers all crossed.