Georgia on my mind, and under my skin

A centuries old castle in Georgia

Gamarjoba,

That means “hello” in Georgian, the former Soviet Republic, not the peach state. I ventured there for a few weeks with some Colorado hiking comrades in September, with our own personal guide, Sean, the son of one of our hikers who had done a Peace Corps project there in the past and liked it enough to return and marry a sweet Georgian lady. We flew through Doha, Qatar, and I was unexpectedly upgraded to business class for the last 4 hour flight to Tbilisi, much  to the chagrin of my companions back in steerage despite my promise to share some left over caviar from my meal- go figure!

     We started in the capital of Tbilisi, which is a mix of old and new, from a main boulevard  of prosperous shops, hotels and restaurants, to centuries old castles and crumbling Soviet era buildings. One morning we ventured to the Turkish baths, which included a massage on a marble slab next to the steaming waters. I was one of the few who signed up for that, imagining a nice young woman masseuse with a firm but gentle touch. Instead I was rewarded with Gregor, a large hairy man of considerable girth who barked orders and wore a mitt made of what felt like steel wool which he proceeded to rub vigorously all over my body in an effort to exfoliate a few layers. The ensuing derm-abrasion was not what I had in mind, and the best part was when it was over, much like the end of a bad movie.
      Our group of six plus a driver then ventured around the mountains called the Caucasus for 10 days crammed in a 4 wheel drive Toyota, and we hiked and ate our way through wonderful Airbnb hosts in a half dozen towns. The people and dogs are friendly all over, and we managed to avoid any confrontations with the occupying Russian solders in the north that have effectively kept Georgia from joining NATO. One memorable visit was to Gori, where Stalin is revered as a home town boy. The impressive museum behind his preserved childhood home boasts of all his achievements but fails to mention how he tortured and killed an estimated 20 million people during his 30 years in power. The most interesting trivia we learned was that Putin’s (the current thug running Russia) grandfather was one of Stalin’s chefs, and his son, Putin’s father, was a food taster to make sure Stalin wasn’t being poisoned- quite a den of thieves.
      We also spent a few days in the scenic wine region, and enjoyed great meals with local wines. One day we were invited to a wine tasting by a restaurant owner, and were humbled by a large bellied fellow who as he led us through the selection of wines he casually mentioned that he drinks 6 liters of wine daily with no sign of being inebriated in the least.
     Our final day in Tbilisi found us at a wonderful French café with fresh croissants and delicious entrees which fueled us to explore a new museum and funicular cable car to the top of the hills overlooking the city. In an effort to experience the public transport mini buses swarming around the city, I asked for help from a lady standing on the corner. She provided great assistance to us, and I asked her where she learned to speak English so well. She mentioned that some years ago she had met and married an American who was stationed at a base called Fort Carson and lived in Colorado Springs for two years- small world!
     Another great adventure with friends that will provide a plethora of fond memories for rocking chair stories on the porch someday if my cognitive powers remain intact. And if not, living for those moments were sweet enough.
     Snow is forecast to return tomorrow, so hope you’re enjoying some sun and warmth with friends as we accelerate into the holiday season.
Cheers,
    Skin abraded Bob

Climbing the rail-less steps of the Tbilisi fortress

The Peace bridge and tubular unfinished concert hall in Tbilisi

Buying walnuts for $1 a pound in the market

Hiking in the Caucasus offered some spectacular views

A travertine hillside of mineral deposits from springs in the rock

Buildings made from dry stacked rocks in Mutso, near Shatili

A house reserved for plague victims to go to for their final days

Homes carved from the cliffs in the cave city of Vardzia

Typical farm to table food for dinner

A vendor spiral cuts a potato, then deep fries it for fresh chips on a stick

The Tbilisi metro descends hundreds of feet below the city

Celebrating with raspberry banana smoothies to the end of a great trip