My first week in Georgia was definitely not what one could call fun. I was cursing everything Georgian: the 70 percent alcohol at 9am, the mornings, the bitter cold, the hangover faces, the ugly soviet architecture, the bread and the cheese at every single meal.. Of course, I could have seen instead the wonderful landscape and appreciated learning about a country I knew nothing about, whose history is complex and fascinating. But I just decided to dig a big hole for myself and spend some time there. Tiredness and missing Turkey did not help. Luckily Ben is a patient legend and waited for me to come out without budging.
Thankfully all smiles and joys came back when we started heading east of the country, a part which we decided to explore despite the fact that it is somehow a detour from our route towards Armenia. The roads were strikingly beautiful, with orange Autumn trees set against a backdrop of the Caucasus mountains which separate Georgia from Russia. Rivers flowing everywhere we went, a castle in perfect conditions hidden behind every corner, sun shining all week- it felt like the country was a giant dream playground for cyclists.
We happened to be cycling at the very end of the grape harvest season which is a key time in Georgia, celebrated by all sorts of festivities. We were lucky enough to stumble upon traditional Georgian singings-where the ten men A-Capella produced an incredible organ type sound - and traditional dancing where young boys and girls bounce around in rythmed music.
We were also given wine at any sort of occasion, in any place -although I doubt this is only to celebrate the end of the harvest season. This meant we were handed shots of wine by road side sellers - but also that we were invited into Iuri's home, a man who produces his own wine by picking the grapes growing in his garden and stomping on it with his own feet. He had a cellar full of his own wine, some bottles dating back to the 1990s ! The night was spent drinking and listening to his long toasts, including many warm wishes for our journey and one rather less friendly comment directed to the American government. His respectable, 80 year old Russian mother very much agreed to the last toast, as a smile broke into her crinkled face and her middle finger rose to enhance Iuri's point. Politics aside, they were the friendliest, warmest people we met in Georgia. We left the next morning, our bags bursting with gifts from Iuri and his mother, and extremely pleased to have met a new Georgian friend.
As we were going back to Tbilisi-our last Georgian stop before Armenia- I was still over eating bread and cheese everyday, and I am still not convinced by Stalins architectural tastes. I was however, very grateful that we got a glimpse of this interesting, starkingly beautiful and though in a unexpected manner, friendly country.