Há meses e meses que não pegava na Pentax K1000 e a viagem ao Cáucaso foi o mote para comprar mais rolos e levá-la a passear.
Fotografamos muito e a toda a hora. Infelizmente só depois na revelação nos apercebemos que máquina tem uma pequena fuga que queima o lado esquerdo, e que dos três rolos que entregamos, apenas um sobreviveu a estas queimaduras.
Quem fotografa com rolo sabe como isto nos deixa tristes. Investimos muito ao transportar o peso da máquina, ao escolher os momentos certos, ao comprar rolos e ao pagar uma revelação, alimentamos uma expectativa de que vamos ter fotografias espectaculares e depois…não temos.
Recebi na minha casa duas visitas muito especiais, amigos de dois momentos muito importantes. O Francesco, que conheci em Brdárka e a Catte que conheci em Granada. Tê-los por perto fez-me sentir algumas saudades e nostalgia, mas soube bem mostrar-lhes como vivemos agora, o que gosto e o que faço.
Com o Fra fomos ao Gerês, um trilho bonito que passa pelas sete lagoas de Cabril.
E, como sempre, deu-me de comer. Comida simples, feita desde o início: gnocchi com molho de tomate e manjericão.
Com a Caterina a visita foi mais rápida. Entre um acampamento meu e um casamento dela no dia seguinte, pudémos apenas conversar muito e muito rápido, desenferrujar o meu espanhol, e tirar fotos tontas.
Que bom que é receber os amigos em casa.
You have probably wondered who are the `we` I kept talking about in my descriptions of Georgia and Armenia. Me and L. went with a group to the Caucasus.
Seeing that Landescape was doing a journey to the places we wanted to visit basically made us say – let`s do this, now.
We are happy we did. With us were five more people plus a leader, an experienced portuguese traveler who knew deeply the region from several solo exploration journeys. The people in the group were very different from us and from each other, but we got along well, and we listened and learned from their stories and experiences.
The agency took care of every accomodation, visits to museums, taxis, rented cars, transportation and experiences in general – that home concert in Gori, for instance. The food, we took care along the way, and the incoming and return journeys were our responsability.
We have never travelled like this, but we honestly liked the experience very much. We felt very free to do whatever we wanted, if that involved a different track from what was planned with the group. We hiked, we visited museums, sometimes with the entire group, sometimes with just some. The tour leader was very present and a very good company. To be honest, it felt good to be able to be light-headed about accomodation, a big weight that disappears!
We would like to repeat the experience (the name Uzbejistan has been pronounced) with the agency, and we recommend it to anyone who might be interested. For us, we are happy we have made these acquaintances, and we will all meet again to drink the chacha we brought. Actually, we just ran a trail with one girl we met there and our team was called the Khachapuris! Is there a better hommage than that?
Let’s start with this statement:Food in Georgia is delicious. If you like cheese, coriander, cheese, bread and pies, cheese, dumplings, then this is the place. I am only sorry I didn’t take more pictures of everything I ate, but I know I ate it all.
To begin with, the beers. They were good. Light. We had a few, some were craft beers, others not, all good – but not particularly fresh!
Another drink that we saw everywhere, and a good alternative to alcohol, was Lemonade. They had it of all colors and flavors, lemon, pear, blueberries, a green herbal one. It’s a fun drink, some rather sweet.
The breakfasts. They must have a khachapuri (cheese pie or pizza), and these were always homemade and always different. We had scrambled eggs, pancakes, tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese, homemade butter and jams. Milk, tea and coffee. So good.
Georgia is a good place for fruit, and it was sold everywhere on the streets. You see those tiny apples? They were sold in plastic bags everywhere. Those things hanging are almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and chocolate and sometimes raisins which are threaded onto a string, dipped in thickened grape juice or fruit juices and dried in the shape of a sausage. Its name is Churchkhela.
I have mentioned before the mexican fries rush in Armenia? Well, in Georgia the same, every place had its mexican fries.
Now, the main dishes. Georgians eat a lot. Really, they order so much food, eat so much, and even so they never manage to eat it all. It is usual to leave food on the table. To eat and to drink is a slow activity (also because food never comes at the same time!), that we did very well in Georgia.
Here we have the national delicatessen, the khachapuri, which we ate in all types in manners. Here we have a classic cheese khachapuri which we ate on a great restaurant by the road.
And here another khachapuri with spinach and rhubarb. We brought them inside plastic bags because we couldn’t eat it all!
Just look at this. There is nothing wrong in this dish: bread loaded with cheese and an egg on top? The butter was not usual, but unfortunately I only caught this Adjaruli Khachapuri on camera. It is SIMPLE and GOOD.
Just like in Armenia, Khinkalis are very common. These big dumplings are usually stuffed with meat, mushrooms or vegetables. In the picture we see fried khinkalis with soy sauce, which were my favourite.
The soups were also so good! Here we have soup with meat dumplings and fennel. Very good for lunch – I was full from a late breakfast probably.
Here, lamb soup with loads of coriander in a pretty plate and with a big beer.
The only sweet I tried (L. ordered it) was not particularly good. I mean, I didn’t love it. Pelamushi is a favorite Georgian dessert made mainly with pressed, condensed grape juice (badagi).
Then, the coffee. This is coffee in Georgia, turkish style, which you must not, by all means, stir (in a starbucks cup!!).
To order food, to understand the menus was always an adventure. Fortunately, it always went well, and it is cheap to eat in Georgia. Here we have our favourite bill from a roadside restaurant: 100 Lari. About 30€ for a lunch for 8 people.
I will need to eat some khachapuri and khinkalis soon!
Our last day in Georgia was a free, relaxed day in Tbilisi. We got a house right in front of the sulfur baths, with one of “those” balconies.
The plan was to relax, but the news in the previous day reported thousands storming the parliament over a Russian MP’s speech. Sergei Gavrilov was taking part in the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO), a body set up by the Greek parliament in 1993 to foster relationships between Christian Orthodox lawmakers.
Opposition MPs in Georgia’s parliament called for protests in response to his decision to deliver a speech from the speaker’s seat. He addressed delegates in Russian, angering politicians and Georgians vehemently opposed to Moscow’s presence in the country, and about 10,000 protesters breached the police cordon. Some were carrying EU flags and placards reading “Russia is an occupier”.
We were there the next day, and things were rather peaceful, but somewhat seething.
We started seeing hundreds of mostly young people walking in the middle of the busiest street. It was a peaceful demonstration against Russia’s occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgia has ambitions to join the European Union and Nato.
Because of all these demonstrations, Vladimir Putin announced on the same day Russia would stop having direct flights to Georgia, for the safety of russian citizens. As Russia is the main source of tourists in this country, this decision has already taken its toll in Georgia’s economy.
And this was it. I loved this journey, I absolutely loved the Caucasus and am really happy we finally made it. Now we want more!
Our trip was heading to an end, but before that we did a one day stop at beautiful Sighnaghi.
That meant we had to go through the Georgian Military Road again, which of course we didn’t mind.
We were very well received at our B&B with melon, cheese, homemade wine and, of course, chacha. All that with Stalin overlooking us from the fridge.
Although it is one of Georgia’s smallest towns, Signagi serves as a popular tourist destination due to its location at the heart of Georgia’s wine-growing regions, as well as its picturesque landscapes, pastel houses and narrow, cobblestone streets.
Located on a steep hill, Signagi overlooks the vast Alazani Valley, with the Caucasus Mountains visible at a distance.
Signagi as a settlement is first recorded in the early 18th century. In 1762, King Heraclius II of Georgia sponsored the construction of the town and erected a fortress to defend the area from marauding attacks by Dagestan tribesmen.
The streets were lively with handcrafts commerce, and being inside the fortress walls, it really reminded me of Valença do Minho.
The city sits on top of a hill overlooking large kilometers of plains which abruptly end with the Caucasus mountains.
We got to visit Sighnaghi’s Museum, part of Georgia’s National Museum. There is the permanent exhibition of Niko Pirosmani’s works, a great georgian painter. Pirosmani was born in the village of Mirzaani, in Kakheti. His early works represent the culture of this region, known for its beautiful landscapes and winemaking. His distinctive works are of paramount importance not only for Georgian culture, but for global art.
Leaving Sighnaghi we stopped by Bobde Monastery, a Georgian Orthodox monastic complex located 2 km from the town of Sighnaghi. Originally built in the 9th century, the monastery now functions as a nunnery and is one of the major pilgrimage sites in Georgia, due to its association with St. Nino, whose relics are shrined there.
The Bodbe Monastery is nested among tall Cypress trees on a steep hillside overlooking the Alazani Valley, where it commands views of the Greater Caucasus mountains.
According to Georgian tradition, St. Nino, having witnessed the conversion of Georgians to the Christian faith, withdrew to the Bodbe gorge, in Kakheti, where she died c. 338-340. At the behest of King Mirian III, a small monastery was built at the place where Nino was buried.
The monastery gained particular prominence in the late Middle Ages. It was particularly favored by the kings of Kakheti who made choice of the monastery as the place of their coronation.
Final destination: my beloved Tbilisi, again.
We were warned before: we were about to see one of the most spectacular roads in the world, the Georgian Military Road.
The Georgian Military Road (212 km) runs between Tbilisi and Vladikavkaz (Russia) and follows the traditional route used by invaders and traders throughout the ages. After the highest part of the road, one can find the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument, a large concrete monument built in 1983 to commemorate relations between the two countries and the bicentennial of the Treaty of Georgievsk.
The monument is a large round stone and concrete structure overlooking the Devil’s Valley in the Caucasus mountains. Inside the monument is a large tile mural that spans the whole circumference of the structure and depicts scenes of Georgian and Russian history.
My first thought when I started seeing these bumpy mountains was: Iceland! You can understand why, just look at this!
We then reached Stepantsminda, the center of the Kazbegi Municipality, at an elevation of 1740 m. The town is dominated by large mountains on all sides. The most notable mountain of the region, Mount Kazbek, lies immediately to the west of town.
According to tradition, Stepantsminda, literally “Saint Stephan”, was named so after a Georgian Orthodox monk Stephan, who constructed a hermitage at this location on what later became the Georgian Military Highway. It came under the control of a local feudal magnate, the Chopikashvili clan, who were in charge of collecting tolls on travelers in the area in the late 18th century.
The name of the city was officially changed to Kazbegi under Soviet rule in 1925 but in 2006, the town reverted to its original name of Stepantsminda.
After a good night’s sleep, we hiked our way up to Gergeti Trinity Church (Hike).
Gergeti was built in the 14th century. Its isolated location on top of a steep mountain surrounded by the vastness of nature has made it a symbol for Georgia.
In times of danger, precious relics from Mtskheta, including Saint Nino’s Cross were brought here for safekeeping.
During the Soviet era, all religious services were prohibited, but the church remained a popular tourist destination.
The church is now an active establishment of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church.
After a funny lunch on a trailer, the afternoon was free to roam around the small city. Since I had a few postcards to send, written already in Armenia, I searched for the Post Office.
It was funny, as I entered I faced a cluttered hall with closed doors everywhere. I shyly knocked on one, and heard a voice. I opened it and saw two ladies staring at be, very The Shining-like. They just waited for me to talk.
Nice or not, the service was efficient, all postcards arrived their destinations!
The newest bar in town was the Autobus bar, you know, a bar inside a read bus. The service was great and it had nice cakes and drinks…we found it all normal until we started reading spanish?!
Turns out we were inside an old spanish bus from A Coruña. In Stepantsminda.
Once we got home, we got a glimpse of Mt. Kazbek’s peak, which remained hidden for the entire day.
And then it was time to rest in a nice restaurant in Stepantsminda’s centre.
Next destination: Signaghi!