Monday, April 30, 2012

Borjomi, Part 2: The Walk to the Walk

Having decided to walk to the spring pool in Mineral Spring Park, we got going.

The Mtkvari River runs through town.

Borjomi, Georgia.

Borjomi, Georgia.

Borjomi, Georgia.

Borjomi, Georgia.
In the photo above, you can see a place where people collect spring water. We crossed over the river and got us some. Sulfurous.  

Borjomi, Georgia. Entrance to Mineral Spring Park.

The Mineral Spring Park in Borjomi has a number of attractions.

There is a tram, which we took to a nearby bluff with a restaurant and ferris wheel on top.


Borjomi, Georgia. Tram station

Borjomi, Georgia. Tram station

Borjomi, Georgia. View of Mineral Spring Park from tram.

Borjomi, Georgia. View from Mineral Spring Park tram.

Borjomi, Georgia. Ferris wheel above Mineral Spring Park.

Borjomi, Georgia. View from Mineral Spring Park tram.

Back on ground, we entered the park. We saw decorative trees, some real, some fake. We saw a wedding party. Statues.

Borjomi - Mineral Spring Park

Borjomi - Mineral Spring Park

Borjomi - Mineral Spring Park

On the pleasing paved path, we passed through a children's amusement park. The last ride was a carnival sort of affair - a pirate ship. At the prow was a lifesize, leering pirate. At the bow was another life-size pirate. In the middle, looking down upon would-be passengers was a woman whose body only went to her hips, as in she had no legs, and who wore a blouse that only covered the top part of her breasts. Completely peculiar. And this is a kiddie ride. An example of Georgia's virgin-whore cultural paradox.

Apropos of nothing, it is a bit disorienting to be in a Georgian restaurant and hear an English-language rap song going on about f**king someone's p***y."

The paved path ended abruptly at the odd pirate ship ride. At this point, we wondered if we were still on track to find the spring pool, so we called the tourist guy, who assured us it was 2.5 kilometers from this point.

Kate decided to sit out the rest of the walk, and Sandy and I carried on. 

We'd been told there was a bit of a problem crossing over some water on the way.  A couple returning from their walk pantomimed having to lift their trouser hems a bit to step through some water.

Unknowingly, Sandy and I were about to embark on a

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Borjomi, Part 1: Prelude

Borjomi, Georgia. Spring flowers in Mineral Spring Park.

The plan: A weekend in Borjomi and Bakuriani.

I collected Kate at her guesthouse in Tbilisi and then we went to Didube station to get a marshrutka to Borjomi, where we'd meet up with Sandy, who was coming in from Gori.

The marshrutka fare was 8 lari and the trip took about 2.5 hours.

Borjomi, Georgia. Hotel Victoria
Sandy had already arrived and checked out the Hotel Victoria, which we agreed would be fine.

Cost was 20 lari per bed. We were in the top floor - the garret - in the Three Little Bears' room. En suite bath, assuming no one used the adjoining bedroom with king-size bed.

Fell in love with Borjomi immediately. Now this was the Georgia I'd had in mind when I signed up last year! Forests, rivers, parks. Shade. Beautiful and interesting architecture.

Across the street from the hotel was a small fairy-tale castle. Vacant and fallen into disrepair. The back of the building, and its second floor, is level with the street we were on. The building's front is on Borjomi's Little Park, with its two stories fully exposed.

Borjomi, Georgia.

Borjomi, Georgia.

On the way to lunch in Little Park, we walked along our hotel street, and then into the park.

We saw an intensely yellow house.

And a many-angled house.

Saw these steps between two houses. Reminded me of Tlaxcala, Mexico.

Borjomi, Georgia.

Steps in Tlaxcala, Mexico.Vecino Church.

Now that I pulled up the photo of the Tlaxcala steps, I don't see the connection so much. Maybe the connection clicked in my mind because Kate and I (and Pam) traveled together on that trip, too.

There was a lovely church courtyard in Little Park.

Borjomi, Georgia.

At lunch (forgettable), we saw this trophy on the restaurant wall, but didn't know what it was.

Walked across the park way to the graceful train station. Loved the play of light and shadow inside.

Borjomi, Georgia. Train station interior.

Borjomi, Georgia. Train station interior.

Borjomi, Georgia. Train station interior.

Borjomi, Georgia. Train station interior.

Borjomi, Georgia. Train station interior.

Borjomi, Georgia. Train station interior.

We poked our heads into the restaurant that shares the train station space. Impressed by the draped fabric beneath the greenhouse ceiling. We made a plan to eat dinner there that night and to listen to promised Georgian music.

Borjomi, Georgia. Restaurant adjacent to train station.

Borjomi, Georgia. Restaurant adjacent to train station.

Finished with lunch, it was time to take a walk.

We visited the information center and decided to go for the walk to the spring pool in Mineral Spring Park rather than for a hike in the national park. Based on other TLGers' experience, it seemed that hikes in the park were fraught with laugh-about-it-later near-disasters, while the walk in the Mineral Spring Park was really pretty, no drama attached.   

Or so we thought. (Note foreshadowing here.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Georgian Easter, Part 3: Visiting the Dead

Rustavi, Georgia. Cemetery. Day after Easter. 

The day after Easter, Georgians visited their dead in cemeteries across the country.

Nely and her family were no exception. Kate and I had the privilege of joining the family on this day.

Rustavi's cemetery is massive. It sits atop a bluff that looks over a river valley, over Rustavi, and over an Azeri-Georgian village. The cemetery includes, in their own sectors, the Christian and Muslim dead.

Rustavi, Georgia. Cemetery. Day after Easter. 

Nely said that on this day, Rustavi would be empty. Indeed, the traffic jam that snarled the road to the cemetery was impressive. It was also very sunny and hot.

Rustavi, Georgia. Cemetery. Day after Easter. 

Traditionally, Geogians bring a supra with them to the graves. It's becoming more common, however, to simplify a bit and bring only wine, the Easter cake (pascal cake, which is similar to a spice cake), and the Easter red eggs. Georgians spill wine on the graves in the sign of the cross. They lay red eggs (and sometimes chocolate) on the graves. Flowers, too.

Rustavi, Georgia. Cemetery. Day after Easter. 

After the visitants leave, the poor come and collect the food on the graves.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Georgian Easter, Part 2: Supra and Song

After weeks of meager food choices and fasting, Nely and family were ready for the Easter feast! And so were Kate and Pam, my friends visiting from the U.S., and Sandy, my TLG colleague. And me, too. 

It was a joyful day.

Tatia helped set the supra table.

Rustavi, Georgia. Setting the Easter supra table.

Many delectables appeared: tolma (cabbage-wrapped meat and rice), cheese, jonjoli, bread, mchadi (corn bread), pork liver salad, lamb stew, fried chicken, spinach salad, hadzhe sauce (made with walnut oil), quemali sauce (made from an astringent fruit), tomatoes, salad greens, cucumbers, and green onions.

Eggplant and red peppers with walnut sauce. Khachapuri.

Nely, Ketino, Eka, and Eka's mother all contributed to the supra's culinary chorus.

And I haven't even mentioned the wines and chacha, all made by Irakli from his own grapes in Kardanakhi.

Then the best part came. Nely's son, Paata, and his family sang. Both his and wife Eka's sons have superb voices - they filled the room; it reverberated. Paata's and Eka's young daughter, Baya, also has a fine voice.

I wish I had a sample of both of Paata's and Eka's sons singing. Below is a traditional Georgian song, Kargi Gogo (Good Girl), sung by son Irakli, with accompaniment from Eka and daughter Baya:

Kate said the singing wanted to make her put her head on the table and weep.

It was a special day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Georgian Easter, Part 1: Jonjoli

Rustavi, Georgia. Jonjoli. Flowers to be pickled.

Being within the circle of a Georgian family during the Georgian Orthodox Easter was a gift. It was made especially so because two of my friends, Pam and Kate, were here from the U.S. to experience it with me, as was my TLG colleague, Sandy.

On Easter day, Irakli arrived in Rustavi from his and Nely's Kakheti village home in Kardanakhi. Irakli brought with him the sinfully delicious dried persimmons, a supply of chacha, and a huge box of fresh flowers for Nely to pickle.

Rustavi, Georgia. Jonjoli. Flowers to be pickled. Nely.
To tell the truth, I'm not a big fan of these flowers once pickled - called jonjoli - but I like the idea of them in the abstract. Until Easter, I had no idea what the flowers looked like when new, as I'd only seen the pickled product.

Nely told me the flowers are cousins to capers. The flowers grow on a tree.

Rustavi, Georgia. Jonjoli. Flowers to be pickled.

 Kate and Nely picked through the flowers, removing the leaves.

Rustavi, Georgia. Jonjoli. Flowers to be pickled. Nely.

The next day, Nely began the pickling process. But here is an example of the finished product:

Jonjoli. Georgia. Photo credit: Helen Graves.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja, Georgia

The plan for the day was to see Davit Gareja, one of Georgia's most famous historic and religious sites. It abuts the Azerbaijan border. It is a place of hermetic monks.

Pam, Kate, Sandy, and I met at Didube market. It was crazeeeee there. A massive snarl of taxis, marshrutkas, buses, people, vendors. Horns honking. Tempers flaring. It was the day before the Orthodox Easter.

We negotiated with a taxi driver to take us for the day to Davit Gareja for 100 lari. He spoke no English and, of course, my Georgian is minimal. Before we sealed the deal, Sandy and I talked on the phone, as she was en route from Gori, to make sure she was OK with this plan instead of taking a marshrutka to Gardabani and then finding a taxi there. We awaited her arrival at the market before we could take off. The taxi driver wasn't sure if our answer was yay or nay, though I'd told him yes, so he and I had a minor set-to at Didube's roundabout island, while I tried to explain that I was expecting Sandy any moment and yes, we intended to use his services, while he tried to explain ... I don't know what. He came very close to the line where I would have felt justified saying, "Bicho, ra ginda"? (Dude, what do you want?) but he didn't quite cross it.

Eventually, we were off. Really, what a madhouse Didube was!

There are a couple of approaches to Davit Gareja, and our taxi driver chose the Kakheti route.

We stopped in Sagarejo, Kakheti, for picnic provisions before turning off on the barren road to Davit Gareja: Skewered barbecued pork, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, apples, and cookies.

Davit Gareja, Georgia.

The topography transformed into a land I hadn't seen before in Georgia. Knobby-kneed foothills with a green veneer, traversed by large flocks of sheep and shepherds. At Davit Gareja itself, red-and-cream straited cliff formations. All of it striking.

As soon as we arrived at the site, we sought out a picnic spot. This took a little searching, as there are no picnic tables, not much shade, and inconvenient cow flops distributed throughout. But we did find a tree and set up shop for our lunch. (One insurrectionist among us argued for exploring the site before eating, but the rest of us wrestled her to the ground and beat her into submission.) We had a gorgeous view.

Davit Gareja, Georgia.

Davit Gareja, Georgia.

Once fed and watered, we packed our stuff away in the taxi and climbed up to the hermitage itself. (By the way, the taxi driver was fasting because it was the day before Easter, which could explain his occasional grouchiness and also the madness of the Didube market. Put hundreds, more likely thousands, of hungry people together in a traffic jam and things ain't gonna be pretty.)

I felt a little disappointed in Davit Gareja. Blame it on the LP hype and the lovely photos of the complex I've seen. Or the seductive, glossy brochure I had. I don't know. Since I don't bring any religiosity with me, that aspect is lost on me, so I have only my sense of beauty, history, and place to provoke my reactions. Unfortunately, quite a few nooks and crannies were signed off with "no admittance," and we didn't know where or how to access some of the locations of the most intriguing brochure subjects. This kind of disappointment can also be a direct result of not having a knowledgeable guide.

(Note: It's alternatively a function of not having easy access to printers in Georgia and not having a kindle or ipad with us where we can re-consult a guide book about a site. I bought the electronic LP Guide to Georgia, and it's on my laptop, but I had no access to it onsite, a situation I intend to rectify when I return to the U.S. this summer, when I will buy an e-book reader. That'll be super-easy to carry around with me in my bag, always.)

So, frankly, I felt more taken with the unique scenery than the site itself. I felt the same at Uplistsikhe (cave city) near Gori. This has palled my interest in going to Vardzia, the third of the most famous cave communities.

I was glad we could step into the small chapel where a service was taking place.

More photos in the slide show below:


On the way back to Tbilisi, the taxi driver and I engaged in a non-conversation in our respective languages while Pam, Kate, and Sandy snickered in the back seat. The wenches.