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We can say that cultures and cuisines vary around the world, but there's a common thread - most humans eat and sleep on a daily basis. If you're lucky enough, on some days you also get the chance to sing, dance, or engage in something uplifting for the soul. In Georgia, there is a huge culture of food, filled with many tasty, aromatic and flavorful dishes. The best part of all of this - it is so cheap! :)

Throughout the journey, I spent most evenings on the road at homestays, which are sometimes the only option in mountain regions. The cost for all of the rooms was a standard $50/per night, and this included hearty breakfasts and dinners. This cover photo is from the start of the road expedition, and this house was my favorite from the journey. Wonderful table filled with all kinds of homemade Georgian foods to fill the belly at the end of a very long and strenuous day of driving. I grew to crave this delicious yogurt soup, and ordered it frequently during the trip because the more traditional soup - "kharcho" - was too spicy! In general, Georgians like to stuff everything with decadent fillings - peppers, eggplant, potatoes filled with nuts, curry paste, spices - lots of other things buried in the pockets.

Today Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, where we gather around the table for huge feasts and fellowship, so it seems like a good time to begin the reports from Georgia and speak a bit about the food and lodging options. Let's go...

1. All the places we stayed had two small beds, and I began to wonder if it's even possible to get a room with a single larger bed. Maybe this is only available in expensive hotels in Georgia, not sure. In the U.S., we're quite spoiled with hotel accommodations, as even budget hotels usually have two decent sized double beds, or upon request it's quite easy to get a large king/queen sized bed for a solo traveler or couple. What's the point of having a romantic mountain getaway with a lover if you can't share the same bed? :)

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2. Nice shower inside the room with plenty of warm water (sometimes a problem in Georgia).

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3. I absolutely adore the owner of the home - Marina! Lovely, friendly woman who kept us well fed and warm, lots of care and attention to her guests.

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4. Immediately upon opening the door, one of my favorite scents permeated the air! A real, wood burning fire place, with dancing flames that immediately transfixed. I love this scent, sitting by campfires and having this aroma cling to my hair, clothes, and overall being. Extremely warm and cozy place for a long chat, but no one was there. :) So, I simply sat in a meditative state and relaxed here for a few hours before bed time.

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5. I guess some people wouldn't feel comfortable in such environments because you're basically staying in someone's house, and observe all the commotion of daily life that transpires within it. Marina's daughters and grandchildren lived there also, and we met yet another baby Giorgi. :) Common male name in Georgia. I like such places - true integration into the culture and a good chance to mingle with locals.

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6. Another stuffed vegetable - potato filled with meat, spices and garnished with carrots. Very, very good! You can see a dish of sour cream on the side - common to put this on lots of foods in Georgia.

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7. Carrot - my favorite vegetable and it's popular in Georgian cuisine. Standard salad you can find everywhere there, carrots mixed with herbs and mayo. One of my favorite dishes from the trip, which I've tried to duplicate at home with no success.

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8. By the way, I want to mention that Georgians are quite flexible when it comes to altering food to suit your tastes or dietary restrictions, at least in cafes where they are eager to take American dollars. For instance, in the Svaneti region, they offered to make this carrot salad with yogurt rather than mayo. Much appreciated, because I'm not a big fan of mayo or salads that are drenched in this substance. You can notice the prices - for a huge plate of this carrot salad it costs only 5 GEL, which is about $2.


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9. I really love vegetables much more than meat and even made this Georgian dish for our Thanksgiving table today. :) It's called "phkali" - a blend of spinach, nuts, garlic, onions, coriander and other spices, topped with colorful pomegranate seeds. Good choice for Christmas also, as the finished dish looks something like a holiday wreath. :)

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10. I traveled with a Georgian man - big fan of meat!! I have no idea what all the dishes he ate were called, but this is just standard sausages served in classic Georgian style inside a heavy clay bowl, steaming hot.

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11. I spent four nights in the Svaneti region in the village of Mestia. There are not many decent cafe options, but we found the best and went there almost every night to hang out. Very lively scene, filled with local villagers. I met these guys on the first day, but none of them spoke English. :) They sat at the table in the middle of the day strumming instruments, singing, playing dominoes...

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12. On Friday night, I returned to the cafe to discover that they are part of a well-known folk ensemble. Festive live performance and dance to start the weekend, where many locals were clapping, singing, spinning....and, yes, drinking! At one point, I went to the front and joined the band. What can I say? I like these rugged mountain boys. :)

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13. You can see a quick video of their live performance below. Amazing voices, really moving and energetic environment when they performed. I purchased a CD of their songs, but when I played it in my car I really didn't like it. Such music must be experienced live to truly feel the soulful impact. I especially liked the bearded guy playing the panduri - a traditional three-string Georgian instrument. Cutie!



14. The cafe itself is quite charming and is called "Cafe Laila." Most of the wait staff spoke decent English, menus are duplicated in English and they have the most clever bathroom sign I've ever seen. Men - take note. :))

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15. The interior design was colorful, clean and simple. A huge meal here cost no more than $10, including salads and some type of meat dish.

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16. Overall, there is no problem to find adequate and nice cafes in most main cities of Georgia if you don't mind a lot of noise and crowds. Everywhere there are a lot of people and it can seem suffocating for a person like me. However, in the city of Kutaisi we found a quiet, cozy spot. This is the city in which the Georgian Parliament has been located since 2012. I don't like this place, and don't understand why the government moved here in 2012. The city is about 230 km from Tbilisi, and has absolutely none of Tbilisi's charm or romance. Just a busy, noisy and much dirtier place, at least based on what I saw.

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17. Flowing poetry here! Such a common scene outside cafes and apartments in Georgia to have vines, plants, flowers and all kinds of visual delights hanging from balconies.

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18. Here I had yet another version of khachapuri - the variety with an egg placed on top, and most delicious of all! I had all versions - with meat, with beans, with eggs, and with just cheese. Perhaps it is the most popular and recognizable of all traditional Georgian foods.

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19. For dessert, we shared this warm pumpkin delicacy, covered with rich honey and nuts. For Thanksgiving, one of the most popular sweet treats at Americans' tables is pumpkin pie.

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20. Another sweet in Batumi - some type of soft bread, again covered with honey and nuts. These two ingredients are used in tons of Georgian dishes and desserts.

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21. At the beginning and end of the trip, I stayed in Tbilisi for a few days. About the city, I'll write a short report, but I just want to say that it makes absolutely no sense to stay in a hotel here unless you're a big fan of them. There are thousands of apartments available on Airbnb.com, and I stayed in two different ones, right in city center. For a modern, roomy one bedroom apartment the cost was only $50, and you can find even cheaper options if you want to live in an older building or farther from city center. Here's some shots from the first apartment, located right on Rustaveli Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the city. Full kitchen, big living area, decent bedroom, fully equipped with dishes, coffee maker, sofas, table, and the host even brought me a bottle of Georgian wine when we met.

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22. Very cute balcony, overlooking the Opera. Perfect spot for morning coffee, fresh air, or any smokers who are visiting.

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23. View of the Opera from the small balcony. You can get further details about the apartment and see more photos here. The host, Sandro, is extremely nice and helpful. He arranged for airport pick-up, helped with heavy bags up numerous flights of steps because there was no lift, and was responsive to all questions. This is free publicity for him, as I paid for these apartments myself. If you book the place, tell him Shannon from the USA sent you there. He speaks good English, and will remember me...:)

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Of course, I have a lot of other photos of different foods, tons of mountain scenery, lots of adventures, and many impressions from Georgia which remain quite clear in my mind. This is just a short introduction post, and a chance to wish all my readers in America and those who celebrate abroad a very Happy Thanksgiving! More reports to follow soon...


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