Thursday, July 09, 2015


High above Mtskheta

It's summer time in the UAE, and that means extreme heat and daily fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. So, much like our last minute trip to Doha, Qatar, we jumped online and found the cheapest flight we could for a weekend retreat. We were lucky to find an incredibly cheap flight to Georgia, home of the Caucasus Mountains.

Georgia is a beautiful country, seemingly out of place in this part of the world. With Azerbaijan to the East, and Turkey and Iran to the South, one might think that Georgians would be Muslim. Quite contrary though, Georgia's tiny neighbor to the South, Armenia, is considered to be the very first country in the world to officially adopt Christianity. Georgia is considered to be the third country to adopt Christianity, just behind Ethiopia. Because of this and the fact that Georgia was a part of the USSR for almost 70 years, the country feels much more European than Eurasian.

Our trip started in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Tbilisi is a striking city situated in a rolling valley  bisected by the Mtkvari river. Upon arrival to Tbilisi's old town, it was nice to sit down in public during daylight hours and grab some food and drinks. And though I'm sure it was a hot summer for the locals, we found the weather to be quite pleasant. Our apartment turned out to be perfectly located in the old town with incredible views out of every window, balcony, and especially the roof-top terrace.

Since we only had a weekend to get out and see Georgia, after a quick brunch, we quickly got to work canvassing Tbilisi. A cable car summits a nearby peak that offers stunning views of the city, as well as the old fort.

After enjoying the views from atop, we descended into town and luckily ran into an eccentric local who gives tours in his Soviet-era Lada. Lada's are almost synonymous with the USSR, and it was a real treat to explore this former Soviet republic in an authentic product of that era.

Along the way, we were able to pick up some churchkhela, or as it was explained to us "Georgian Snickers." In addition, we were able to try some local comfort food called acharuli khachapuri. This delicacy can only be described as a bread boat filled with butter, cheese, and an egg. However it may look in photos, I guarantee it is delicious!

We finished a long first day in Tbilisi by enjoying the beautiful views of the city at night from the terrace of our apartment building.

The next day we stepped out of our apartment and crossed the street to the Envoy Hostel to take a tour of the Georgian countryside. The tour began high above Mtskheta, the original capital of Georgia, at the Jvari Monastery. This beautiful perch, high above the city, houses the remains of a fabled wooden cross erected by Saint Nino.

We then visited the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the old town of Mtskheta. This church is the burial site for Christ's mantle.

As interesting as the cathedral was, we had our socks knocked off by some incredible coffee that is prepared in hot coals. Wow, that was good!

After leaving Mtskheta, we headed to Gori, a town most famously known for being the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. We toured the Stalin Museum, which self admittedly declares itself as a "Museum of a Museum." They proclaim this because much of the museum was erected during Soviet rule, so some of the historical "facts" are more likely propaganda.

Before heading back to Tbilisi, we visited the ancient cave town of Uplistsikhe. This part of the world is littered with cave dwellings, towns, and cities. Uplistsikhe dates back to the Bronze Age and is known to have been referenced by ancient authors.

The next day we again joined a tour at the Envoy hostel. This tour was heading to the Caucasus Mountains. This mountain range holds claim to the highest peak in Europe, Mount Elbrus, which clocks in at a whopping 18,510 feet.

On the road to the Caucuses, we passed a Medieval Castle that was perfectly situated on a beautiful lake. Interestingly, the lake is the byproduct of a damn that was built back in the 1970's, and this picturesque scene just happens to be a coincidental byproduct.

Interestingly, the Georgian language is one of the few primary languages spoken in the world. Essentially, this means that their language is not based on or related to any other existing languages such as the Germanic or Romance languages.

Once we reached the mountains, the scale of the Caucasus really hit us. The Himalaya's are the only mountains that I've found to be as impressive.

The pinnacle of our trip, literally, was a visit to the Gergeti Trinity Church that sits in the shadow of Mount Kazbegi. We had a wonderful traditional Georgian lunch, complete with Georgia's own homemade Vodka / Rocket fuel known as Chacha. Some of us were then lured into a "leisurely" hike up to the church while others rode in a 4x4. I was one of the dummies who hiked. I'm still regretting it!

Our trip to Georgia has become one of my favorite experiences on this side of the world. The area is steeped in history, the people are lovely, and the landscape is breathtaking. It was such an incredibly easy trip from Dubai I wish we would have done it sooner!

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