When our professor told us that we would take a hiking excursion during our two-week trip to Georgia I will confess that I thought to myself: "Hiking? I can go hiking any time in Virginia. What I CAN'T do in Virginia is be on the streets of Tbilisi talking to and learning about Georgians." Being the daughter of a tour conductor I would never complain but was a little skeptical. I was even less enthusiastic as we pulled out in our buses at 8am from Tbilisi--not an unreasonable hour but having only had five hours of sleep the night before I was just REALLY uncomfortable on the bus. No recline, twisty roads--you get the picture.
I changed my tune by the time we reached a picturesque church clinging to the edge of a cliff that dropped down into a green lake. We had reached the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains and the whole scene was ringed by fairly large green mountains. As we ascended into the range the mountains ("mta" in Georgian) grew taller and the views increasingly spectacular. It took at least three hours to reach our destination--Khazbegi--but each hairpin turn (taken at full speed while passing other vehicles!) revealed yet another gorgeous vista. I will post pictures on Facebook.
Khazbegi is a quaint town at the foot of a giant mountain. No one has yet been able to tell me the elevation but it appears to be the height of Mt Hood or Mt Timpanogous. I'll look into it further and give more accurate info later. Only pictures can do the town and its surrounding grandeur any justice so I urge you to look on Facebook for the photos. Suffice it to say that it is almost the most beautiful mountain scenery I have ever eyewitnessed. In my mind, it is only second to the tropical mountains of Hawaii.
We arrived starving and so went as a group to lunch. I have to admit I find large group lunches a bit tiresome so I decided to head back to the kitchen. There I met the cooks hard a work making everything from scratch--and I mean scratch. They were literally grinding the meat for the kofta kebab and rolling out the dough for the khacha puri (cheese bread). These ladies nicely let me film their operation and and attempt to chat with them.
My next stop was the table reserved for the three drivers. These gents also had no English but were equally as wiling to let me try to converse with them throughout lunch. I wish I could take one day of crash course Georgian. I could GET this language if I just had the chance.
Our afternoon excursion was to a church at the border of Georgia and Russia. The road from the border disappeared through a narrow pass connecting the South and North Caucasus through which Catherine the Great once marched. The church (in which a service was being held), the border, and the various conversations we had while looking out over the view (mostly about Russian literature--me mostly listening since I know practically nothing about the topic) were all enjoyable.
We had dinner at the home of our professor's friends. They slaughtered and cooked a sheep for us! Quite the spread. We dined outside in the shadow of steep slopes and towering peaks. Great company, food, and hospitality.
Looking forward to a lie-in! We've been up early each day this week and have stayed up too late. Time to catch up on a little sleep. Us old ladies are calling it a night at 11:52pm. The rest of the group just headed out to a "club" (but in this town I'd be surprised if they find one!).