Monday, November 8, 2010

Olympic acts of Georgian Hospitality

You can never have too many adorable sleeping dog pictures.
I think I’ve been living in Georgia too long because I’m beginning to actually look forward to long marshutka rides out east. When I look out the bus window all there is to see are just miles and miles of snowcapped mountains surrounded by beautiful foliage. It’s so beautiful that if I’m having a conversation with the person sitting next to me, I’ll sometimes get distracted just because of how stunning Georgia is. Fall in Georgia honestly makes fall in New England look like a joke.

On Friday, I was enjoying my beautiful view out the marshutka window while we were well on our way to Borjomi to meet up with our friends Bran, Tracey and Katy. Borjomi is one of the more famous towns in Georgia because it has special springs of water that are known to have renowned health benefits (and just happen to smell like eggs).
Washing my hands with the famous Borjomi water

Our night in Borjomi was rather interesting. While looking for our home-stay, the four of us (Emily, Melissa, Katy and I) had easy instructions to follow. We were told to walk straight and then go up the hill. Easy enough. Except that Borjomi is a hilly town so “go up the hill” was not exactly a clear instruction.

And so, but of course, the four of us found ourselves lost on top of big, dark hill looking for our home stay which seemed nowhere in sight. Right here is where a small grey kitten started to cuddle around my boots and pounce onto my leg leaving little kitten paw prints (and holes) as it climbed my tights. Also at this time, a Georgian man drove by in his car and started to ask us questions about the TLG program. To recap- we are in the dark, lost, a kitten is climbing me and a random man is interrogating us.

Out of nowhere the woman we were looking for seemed to appear though and she whisked us away to her adorable home where we were given delicious tea and lobiani (beans). I noticed the woman had a certificate of thanks from the Peace Corps on her wall and she told us that she has housed four Peace Corps volunteers over the past ten years.

She then told us that both her son and daughter each married a Peace Corps volunteer. Crazy! How ironic that she generously allowed these Americans to live in her home and they repaid her by marrying her children and whisking them away to America.

Her daughter Mako and her American husband Mike happened to be visiting that day so obviously we needed to hear every detail about how they got together. We spent the night exchanging countless stories about being Americans in Georgia. It was so wonderful to chat with such a cute, happy couple. We definitely picked the right home stay in Borjomi!

Borjomi berries

Exchange rates by family background.

Want an entire roast pig?
The next morning we woke up early and went right to Bakuriani. Bakuriani has got to be my favorite place in Georgia so far. The town is known for its fantastic skiing and scenery, and while there was no snow when we were there, we were just overwhelmed with kindness from the people at our hotel (and all the delicious food).

The woman who owns the hotel is named Dodo and asides from being an amazing woman she happens to be married to an Olympic bobsledder and her son is an Olympic skier. The hotel was filled with the family’s Olympic memorabilia and tons of different trophies.

Dodo and I at her beautiful hotel
Our first American style lunch (mac and cheese with hot dogs)!

It was surreal to talk about the 2010 Winter Olympics because the man who died in the luge accident was Nodar Kumaritashvili. Not only was he Georgian but he also happened to be a very close friend of this family. Dodo was telling me all about him and what an amazing person he was.

I remember watching the 2010 Olympics on television and thinking how sad it was that this young athlete had died but I felt completely disconnected from this tragedy. If you were to tell me then that in ten months I’d be living in Georgia, hanging out with Georgian Olympic athletes talking about what a great person he was, I would have called you crazy. Weird how you really never know where life will take you…
A memorial to Nodar Kumaritashvili in Bakuriani

Anyway, another reason Bakuriani was amazing was because we went horseback riding through the mountains! This may have been the most fun thing I’ve done in Georgia. It was just us, our horses, our guide Misha and the beautiful land of Georgia.
I could have stared at these mountains all weekend!

Our guide was a real character. He was actually a competitive arm wrestler and kept asking me questions about professional arm wrestlers from America. I didn’t even know professional arm wresting existed. His other favorite topic was horses and rodeos. Another topic I know nothing about. I was literally making stuff up just to please him. I said something about Montana having the most wild horses and the best rodeos being in Kentucky. (He seemed a bit upset that I didn’t share more statistical information).
Misha  challenged our very own Bran to a match. (Bran lost in maybe three seconds).

The best part about horseback riding was that after trekking through the beautiful terrain, Misha took us to a field to go racing! There is no feeling more exhilarating then when you’re perfectly in sync with an animal and going 60 kilometers per hour. We were flying. It felt like me and my horse Yuda were one being just about to soar through the sky.
 I like that you can see Yuda's ears on the bottom of the photo.
Riding through a nearby town

Give us some cowboy hats and we could pass for extras in a John Wayne film
I still remember that when I went horseback riding in Nicaragua the name of my horse was Serena and the previous night a tarantula had bitten her behind the ear and she had a bad infection. The two of us seemed to bond over our hatred for spiders. Me and Yuda also bonded. I mean hello, his name was Yuda that’s Georgian for Judah which is a Hebrew name. My horse was Jewish! (And at one point I asked him if he was feeling okay and I swear he neighed ‘no’).
Yuda, my new best friend

When we left our hotel on Sunday morning, the entire staff seemed to come out to wish us goodbye. Misha, Dodo, her husband, all the cooks and crew; everyone was just standing out in the cold waving us goodbye as we drove off in our marshutka (which came directly to the hotel to pick all of us up). The marshutka driver even came thirty minutes off schedule to get us! Talk about Georgian hospitality.

It still boggles my mind how kind and hospitably everyone treats us. Our marshutka driver Miram even took us to the Borjomi mineral water park for free, and picked us up for free a few hours later! And to top him, our second marshutka driver of the day, Gosha, stopped off at a restaurant to pick up some khachapuri for us as a gift. I mean, what? Who has ever heard of a taxi driver stopping to buy lunch for their passengers just to be nice? Miram even called me a few hours later to make sure I made it home okay. It seems as though every marshutka driver I meet becomes my own pseudo-father.

I went through my phone on the marshutka and noticed I have the name and number of a marshutka or cab driver in every city I’ve been to in Georgia so far. Ludacris may have hoes in different area codes but I have patronis in every city!
Defending Emily from seesaw dragons at the park in Borjomi
We're rowing ourselves to Valhalla
The Pocahontas tree brings out the best in everyone.
This nice man saw Tracey staring at his cotton candy machine so he made her this huge thing as a gift!
Who knew cotton candy went so nicely with marshutka rides?


  1. "...She then told us that both her son and daughter each married a Peace Corps volunteer."

    - INSANE! 0:

    Secondly, please please do not use "Mashutka" cabs... they honestly suck... do anything, I dunno get an handsome-ugly Georgian BF to dive you around in his Jeep, but don't use Mashutka's...

    "Dodo" - That name always cacks me up. Dodo, sounds like Dada... Dudu... hahaha, OK, I'll stop here.

    "Our first American style lunch (mac and cheese with hot dogs)!" - Oh god.

    Nodar Kumaritashvili, in reality was Ossetian, not that it changes anything. Pobably makes it even worse. /:

    "Weird how you really never know where life will take you…" - Aha, I'm writing this from Japan... that is weird, I think sometimes... I'm in Japan... What am I doing here?... I guess that's life, you never know...

    "He was actually a competitive arm wrestler and kept asking me questions about professional arm wrestlers from America." - LOL, I'm sue it was... thrilling. xD

    " I like that you can see Yuda's ears on the bottom of the photo." - I found that funny.

    "My horse was Jewish!" - xD

    "It seems as though every marshutka driver I meet becomes my own pseudo-father. " - You should stop using Mashutkas, really...

  2. michelleee i'm so jealous.
    i can only imagine how beautiful everything is over there
    i'm so glad you're getting out and exploring the country as well!!!

    also i want the sleeping dog the climbing kitten and yuda your horse for christmas :]