Georgia – no not the state, the country – is perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure of traveling to. Aside from the incessant mosquitos and decently warm weather, there is little to nothing to even consider complaining about. The people are unbelievably kind, food is delicious (khachapuri and khinkali, what more could one want?), and no one is ever left wanting for anything exciting to do. From traditional dance concerts to live music on the streets, Tbilisi is a hub for social activity. However, if you are like me – someone who absolutely adores nature and hiking – this country will not fail to provide you with ample opportunities to explore the terrain.
After living in Tbilisi for a week, my friends and I decided to take a tour outside of the city and head to the beautiful Kazbegi, a region in northern Georgia with gorgeous mountains a scenery. After working all week at my internship, I was ready to do some exploring and get out of the warm weather to a cooler climate. However, our trip did not start out the smoothest. Upon arrival to the square where we were to meet our tour guide, my friends and I could not find the bus. After calling the travel company several times, we finally located it, only to discover that guides who spoke Russian instead of English had been booked. As someone who has studied Russian for three years this was not entirely a problem, but one of my friends does not speak Russian, so I had a surprise day of Russian practice as I translated for him and the guide. After a few more issues, we were off on our adventure.
The tour consisted of three stops where we could view beautiful scenery and learn about the history of Georgia. One of those stops included a fortress with a church that looked out over the Zhinvali Reservoir. Here I had my first opportunity to try churchkhela – a sort of candle like candy filled with grapes or nuts and covered in a hardened coat of fruit or honey flavored sauce. This is something I am definitely bringing home with me. The next stop was a look out station where one could get an up-close photo of the beautiful mountainous region in the north and one had the opportunity to go paragliding. My guide kept asking me if I wanted to go paragliding. While I am sure the view is spectacular, I determined that since I had never been before, this was not the time to start. After these two stops, we continued our journey to our final destination – Kazbegi.
Up on our arrival to the small town of Stepantsminda, we had a few minutes to explore before we were to be loaded into our small van to go up the mountain. The town was filled with tourists from all corners of the world. We desperately wanted to order khinkali – a type of meat filled dumpling – before our trip up the mountain as we had heard that the region had some of the best, but our guide warned us of how expensive it is in that area due to all of the tourists. Thanks tourism. After a long and successful search for a restroom and a few cheap snacks, my friends and I were loaded in one of the oldest stick-drive vans I have ever had the pleasure of riding in and began our crazy journey to Gergeti Trinity Church. The road was perhaps one of the bumpiest paths I have ever been on. Every second the van lurched one way or the other as it drove over potholes and large rocks. If I had not been on something similar in Kazakhstan, I likely would have been quite terrified of the journey. However, my determination to reach the top and see the church was stronger than any other emotion. And the trip was worth it. The view of the mountains in the background of the church and the quaintness of the town down below was everything I had been looking for in this trip. That and the cool mountain air that came with it.
Gergeti Trinity Church, as it is named in English, was built in the 14th century, and is the only cross-cupola church in Khevi province. Its isolated location at the top of a mountain, with Mt. Kazbek in the back ground has become an iconic symbol for the country of Georgia and is one of the most popular travel sites in the region. The church has been used in the past as a place for safe keeping of precious relics during the time of danger and remained a popular destination even during the time of the Soviet Union. Its historical relevance to the country and pure beauty are the main reasons why I wanted to visit this region and I am so thankful I did. The scenery was absolutely stunning and to be able to witness first hand the history of a culture was quite exhilarating. Plus, on the return trip, I had the pleasure of eating some of the best khinkali that I have ever had. It was a great way to round out the trip, and definitely an added reason to return.
Overall, my first trip outside of the city in Tbilisi was a success. Despite the morning troubles and a visit by a rain storm, I could not have been happier with how the trip progressed. I definitely consider this a place worth visiting for all who travel to the country and hope to visit it again myself in the future.
By: Erin Patterson
Term: Summer 2018