F—- Miami, I’m Going Back to Zugdidi!

A friend of my host sister mentioned seeing the unedited version of this post’s title spray painted on a bus stop in Miami. I’m fascinated by this story. How many people have I met who have told me they dream of moving to the States? Well this guy (or woman) apparently did, only to become disillusioned.

Zugdidi is a city of approximately 76,000 people in Western Georgia and is the capital of the region of Samegrelo. It’s a nice small city with a historical palace (now a museum) and a great park. It seems to have a pretty vibrant community. Most importantly, I’ll bet, it’s a way away from Zugidi.

I wonder if he ever made it home.Zugdidi

Davit Gareja

At the beginning of September I spent five days in Tbilisi and on the second day there a friend and I took a day trip to the Davit Gareja monastery on the Georgian-Azerbaijani border. The long drive there (and the steep climb up to the second, uninhabited cave monastery) is worth it just for the eerily beautiful views of the barren, moon-like Azerbaijani steppe.Image

Living it up in Zugdidi

This last weekend a few friends and I headed to the Samigrelian city of Zugdidi for a short break. Zugdidi isn’t really a tourist-oriented place but several of our TLG friends live there or near there. Also it’s close to Anaklia, a newly constructed beach resort town. We spent one afternoon at the beach and the rest of the short trip hanging around the city.

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We’re going to the chapel…

A couple weeks ago I attended my first Georgian wedding. I guess the best way to explain it would be to say weddings here are a lot like the ones at home only bigger, more elaborate and with more food and booze.

In this case the bride was a former student and close friend of my host-mother* so that meant a whole of craziness for us.  The day began with my host-mom agonizing over whether or not to attend the actual church ceremony. She decided against it and we left instead- fully dressed-up- for the lovely city (read: dilapidated, post-Soviet industrial center) of Zestaponi to go to a salon and for the men to do… something, I guess, I don’t know what. We drove back, passed our village and on to Kutaisi- the second largest** city in Georgia. There we met up with the wedding party and paraded around taking pictures. After picking up the wedding cake, we headed to the village where the party would be. In Georgia, the bridal couple arrives to the wedding reception in a caravan of cars- like a funeral procession but with a lot more horn-honking.

The reception itself was huge. There were almost 400 people, I’m told. The amount of food was insane- plate stacked upon plate. Not to mention the wine and chacha (not beer because weddings are a time for toasts and you only toasts enemies with beer).

In the early part of the reception between toasts given by the tamada (toast master) there was traditional georgian dance done by costumed preteens. After a few hours though, it was dance time for everyone!

The bride and groom left around 2am, I think, but we stayed until almost 4:00 because my host-mother likes drinking and dancing. When we were finally on our way home we found that some guests that had left earlier had conveniently decided to set up a road block in front of a tunnel we needed to go throw. So we were there for awhile. At some point we got home and I got myself into bed.

That was my Georgian wedding experience. Mazel tov!

*I keep using that term, but she’s only 27.

**But don’t let that fool you. If you’re familiar with Yakima, WA it’s about the same size.

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Ushguli: the village (almost) forgotten by time (Svaneti Part II)

Our second day in Svaneti began early when I and the other ladies in our rented room were woken at 7:30 and told to get our butts in gear. I was not really cool with that decision, but whatever. We drove through Mestia without stopping and headed into the mountains. After a three hour drive through dirt roads we ended up at the tiny, ancient village of Ushguli. It features (yet another) beautiful, old church, plenty of towers, few cars and lots of horses. During the winter months it’s almost entirely cut-off from the rest of civilization.

As soon as we got there, the priest took most of the group off to a church, where my host-parents and aunt and I explored the village and sampled some local cuisine (basically meat in bread, but it was very good). I also had some delicious drip* coffee with milk! Oh happy day!

On the way back to Mestia, we got to go inside a tower. It was cool, but a little unsafe in hindsight.

We had a little issue with the priest’s car’s tire going flat on the way out of the mountains so it was almost dark when we got to the city. Because everyone (not just me!) decided our remaining food was nasty, we found a restaurant and ate our fill of khinkali, a soup dumpling like food that is a Georgian specialty. There was also plenty of beer, wine, chacha and cognac, obviously.

We finally left after dinner and made it to Zugdidi around 1am and my host-aunt’s village sometime after that. We spent the night (morning, rather) before heading back home to Tskrentaro. All in all, it was quite an adventure and I glad I got to see the beauty of Svaneti.

*OK, so it was probably instant, but since I didn’t see it get made we’re going to pretend otherwise.

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Just because it’s a church trip doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of techno and day-drinking (Svaneti Part I)

At the end of July I traveled with my host-parents to the region of Svaneti for two days. We tagged along with my host father’s sister’s church because it was all-inclusive (sort of) and (sort of) only cost 30 lari. The sister lives in another village and we arrived there late the night before we left.

Georgia is made up of 12 separate regions (including the capital city and two that are occupied by Russia and consider themselves autonomous republics). Svaneti is a remote, mountainous area with its own distinct culture and language.

We met up with the church group at 5:30am and piled into the bus (except for the priest and his driver and the driver’s brother, who took their own car) and headed for Zugdidi. Zugdidi is a city in the region of Samigrelo and the common jumping off point for Svaneti. Despite the early hour, we were treated to loud techno and Russian hip-hop for the entire journey. It took of several hours to make it over the pass after leaving Zugdidi and as soon as we did, we stopped on the side of the road to eat. Everyone brought food and we ate together pot-luck style. It was just before noon, I think. The wine drinking toasting started at this point and it was two hours before we made it down to Mestia, Svaneti’s main town.

Mestia is currently undergoing a lot of construction with the end-goal being to turn it into a ski resort. Despite all the work going on, it’s a beautiful place filled with centuries’ old churches, houses and Svan towers. The towers are mini-fortresses often attached to a house or other building. They were originally built to protect the owners in case of war or blood feuds.

We walked around the town a bit (my host parents and I escaped from the group for a while and tried on traditional Svan hats in a little gift store) and then toured a few (rather, a million) churches (head scares required for women!).

That night we ate in the garden of an abandoned(?) farmhouse. Same food as before (I tried not to think about bacteria) as well as wine and chacha (compare to grappa or moonshine). The men crashed there when it was finally bed time while we women were shuttled down the road to a homestay.

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To be continued…