We woke up super early to pack for the next part of our trip to Mestia as the rest of the hostel was still sleeping off the previous nights activities. Some people were already up for no good reason at all. I don’t understand those people… those who get up early when they could be still sleeping.
We got to the marshrutka station only to find out that our van wasn’t leaving or another hour and a half. Great. So we just got some snacks and people watched until then. Oh, this van went to a mid point city called Zugdidi, then we had to switch vans to another to Mestia.
My friend Jessica is light years ahead of me with the language. She can hold full conservations in Georgian. She puts me to shame. As I mentioned before, I know enough to get where and what I want, but that’s about all. I think I rely more on my intuition and social cues more than the language. So since Jessica was great, we relied on her from this point on with all language issues.
On the same van as us going to Mestia was a group of Polish tourist. Their goal was to discover and taste all of the foods that Georgia had to offer. That’s a fun vacation! They spoke English as well, so that helped.
11:00 came, the van was full and off we went. The trip to Zugdidi was uneventful. I had never been to that city, but heard there was an America owned bar that a lot of exPats go to. I will have to travel back specifically for that.
(A major event did actually occur while in Zugdidi, but I’ll get into that in the next post.)
We got to Zugdidi and transferred our bags onto the waiting Marshrutka. It was pretty much us and the Polish group (and an old lady). So basically a private van. Because of that, we were able to make tourist stops along the way, which drivers usually NEVER do. But the Polish guy was very persuasive with his Russian and the driver was really nice. Once outside of Zugdidi, the road launches upward into the most intense of mountain ranges. We stopped at two great views of a hydro dam and got some magnificent photos.
We were a really chatty and friendly group of people. At one point we were telling crude jokes that had to be translated four times in various order depending on who started the joke; Polish, Russian Georgian and English. That was wild.
And another first occurred on the marshrutka. The driver and his ‘assistants’ wanted to show us an authentic time, so they stopped for some cups and started drinking some homemade wine he just ‘happened’ to have. Georgians carry and have wine accessible like priests have crucifixes. But we didn’t stop to drink, oh no. We were poppin’ bottles on the zigzag mountain roads in the Marshrutka!
Georgian wine on the Marshrutka
Another experience on this marshrutka that I had anticipated was the rockslides. Because the roads are not THAT great and the weather and terrain is brutal, there are consistent rockslides and eroding roads on the mountainside. We had to stop for 15 minutes on the way to wait for a backhoe to clear the rocks. And on the way back to Zugdidi we had to sped through a mudslide that had washed out the road.
Clearing the rockslide.
The region on Georgia we were going to is called Svaneti. Svaneti is famous for several things that I will mention throughout this post, but the first I want to mention is a food specialty. Georgia’s national dish is called Katchapuri. It’s a (usually) cheese filled bread, similar to pizza. But each region of Georgia has it’s own twist on it.
Sneak peak at making of Kubdari Katchapuri
We stopped at a roadside restaurant for dinner. We brought in the wine and ordered the Katchapuri that Svaneti is famous for called Kubdari Katchapuri. Instead of being filled with cheese, it has beef, garlic and spices. It was DE-LI-CIOUS. I wasn’t even hungry, but when I tasted it….
More twists and turns and many hours later, we finally reached the town of Mestia. It was COLD. Jessica and I were pretty spent so we took a ‘nap’ while Audrey explored the town. Thankfully they had a heater in the room. The proprietor spoke pretty good English and the hostel was fairly modern. We were pleased. Good Night.
We woke up about noon the next day. By the time we got out of the house is was nearly 1’o’clock. …oh well.
The town of Mestia blew me away. I was expecting some hard-pressed mountain village. This town was super cute! It approached Metsketa in quaintness. The streets were wide and paved and the shops were well kept. Mestia was a destination in Georgia that I really wanted to see; especially the towers.
Mestia is the administrative town of the Svaneti Region. Preserved by its long isolation, the Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus is an exceptional example of mountain scenery with medieval-type villages and tower-houses, which were used both as dwellings and as defense posts against the invaders who plagued the region. The characteristic landscape of Upper Svaneti is formed by small villages, dominated by their church towers and situated on the mountain slopes, with a natural environment of gorges and alpine valleys and a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. The most notable feature of the settlements is the abundance of towers, especially in Mestia and the frontier villages, such as Ushguli and Latali. These towers usually have from three to five storeys and the thickness of the walls decreases, giving the towers a slender, tapering profile. Many of the tower-houses have disappeared or are collapsing into ruins. – unesco.org
I have since learned that that is where the saying comes from, “My home is my castle. The Georgian word for the Svaneti tower is ‘castle’. Every house had one, and during invasions, they would seek safety in them.
We stopped into a restaurant to get some lunch and of course ordered more Kubdari katchapuri and other Georgian dishes. Then we were FINALLY ready to see what Mestia was all about.
First off, this place is breathtakingly beautiful. We came just at peak leaf turning season where the leaves seem as they are on fire with color. The weather was brisk but sunny. Perfect for hiking. I had heard that there was a common trail to hike up above the town to a cross. But once I spotted it and showed it to the girls, it didn’t look so fun. Plus, the proprietor of the hostel told us about a cable car to a café with a great view so we decided to do that instead.
We walked up the road in the direction we thought the cable car was on. And we walked…and walked… and walked. I was just about to start considering having a conversation about turning back, when finally and thankfully a car stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. They were Israeli! (See Post: In Which Sanchezi Goes Horseback Riding or Erin’s Birthday Weekend Part III) We hoped in and were whisked to the cable car.
After paying 3 Lari, we ascended to what seemed the top of the world. I was unaware that Mestia had a ski park! At the top, we noticed people were on the deck having a good time. …I’m in!
Music was playing people were drinking and having a great time. I couldn’t figure out the social dynamic at first, but then realized there were two groups of people. The first left soon after we arrived. But the second were members of a conference in Mestia sponsored by the European Union. They were there for ten days to discuss cultural differences. They were from all over Europe; Albania, Lithuania, Armenia, Italy, Poland, etc. They were super fun!
As the sun descended, we all decided to leave and meet later on in town.
(This part is omitted and will be revealed in the next post.)
We were super tired again. We had dinner at the same restaurant as earlier with a new policeman friend. He had an interesting story. He was in training for boxing. He was a criminal detective (if I heard him right) and was trained in North Carolina, what I assume was Fort Bragg. But he was not allowed to leave the base for security reasons. When he did leave to LA and NYC, they were flown out and back. Nice guy.
We went to bed only to get up again at 5 to catch the marshrutka back to Zugdidi, then home to Oz.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.
West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.
West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads
Take Me Home, Country Roads, John Denver