Sat, Nov 16, 2013
We departed Signaghi at 10 am and drove a bit until we arrived at Gremi. Gremi was a town built in the 1500’s by a local king. There was a church and fortress at the top of a hill. Eventually the Persians attacked this town and destroyed much of it as well as tortured and killed the queen due to her faith. She is now a famous martyr of Georgia. The interior of the church was very nice, with original paintings that hadn’t been over-restored like some of the other sites of the trip.
We had a couple hours to explore the town of Telavi and have lunch. I walked around the King’s fortress and peaked into the church. I had lunch at a little diner consisting of a pastry with a salty bean paste and the eggplant/walnut paste salad.
We set up camp in a park that was flanked by a cemetery and livestock grazing land. There were some farm homes very nearby. We had a short walk to our included Wine Tasting excursion. Georgian wine is made a bit differently from the European and American wine making. The Georgian wine is made by crushing the grapes and then putting all the parts of the grape (skins, seeds, and everything) in the fermenting casks. Instead of using wooden barrels, the juice is put in huge ceramic jars that are buried in the ground. This allows them to stay at consistent temperatures during the fermenting process. Early in the process, the juice is stirred. He stirred the mix and it was bubbling. In the spring, the wine will be on the top and all the ground skins and seeds will be at the bottom. There will be 3 grades of wine. The stuff at the top will be the best grade with the stuff at the bottom the worst. We tried two white wines and a red (or black) wine. The white wines were not very white – a much darker brown than we are typically used to. I wasn’t very fond of the whites but the red was nice. We snacked on bread, cheese, and walnuts.
After the wine tasting, we went into the home at the winery for our first “Georgian Feast.” A Georgian Feast is a home style meal at a homestay or other home. Our dinner started out with a variety of Georgian salads – eggs with tarragon, eggplant/walnut, pureed spinach, pureed beets, carrot, and Russian salad. Dinner was heaps and heaps of meat dumplings. Along with the food was unlimited wine and cha cha (grappa).
We used the Georgian Feast to celebrate the engagement of Sam and Mindy. The home and our guide ZaZa arranged to have an engagement cake. After dinner, we went outside where there were two heart shaped Chinese lanterns that were meant to be lit and to float into the sky. However, once they started floating, the wind caused them to get stuck in a tree. Hope that’s not bad luck.
Sun, Nov 17
Today marks the point at which I return to the US in exactly 2 weeks. We weren’t leaving until 10 am so I headed out for another pre-breakfast walk, walking up a hill that appeared to be park and forest land. The views of sunrise over the snowcapped mountains were amazing and I came upon the silhouette of church.
I was amazed by the mistletoe growing in the trees. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen live mistletoe before. They make perfect ball shapes in the trees that are otherwise bare of their leaves.
We spent most of the day driving with great views. We slowly winded up over a mountain with views of the mountain range that separates Georgia from Russia.
We passed thru cute villages and saw lots of ruins of fortresses and monasteries. And we stopped to buy incredibly fresh bread for our lunch, made in a stone oven.
By afternoon, we had entered a semi-arid desert with mostly grassland that borders Azerbaijan. Our destination with the Davit Gareji monetary. This monetary was built into sandstone caves around the 500 AD. There were some cave frescos (paintings) here but we didn’t have time to hike over to see them.
We set up our camp in a dry grass field. Barb and I hiked along a ridge to watch a spectacular sunset. Dinner was grilled sausages, mashed potatoes, and roast beets. The full moon was great and lit up the camp in the cold night.