Travel Tuesday: Georgian Delights - Forums and Food in the Country’s Capital
By: Iuliia Drobysh
You might ask what a Ukrainian might do in Georgia at the end of term, having spent two days on a return trip from London to Tbilisi. The answer is simple: my passion for chairing and meeting students from different backgrounds within the European Youth Parliament. Another reason for travelling to Tbilisi, you could say, is self-development and travel. This wonderful organisation and its people brought me to sessions in Turkey, Finland, France, Switzerland and this time – Georgia. In this post, I will tell you about my experience in Georgia. In this short time frame, I was able to experience this country to the fullest.
Holy Turkish Airlines!
I was travelling with my boyfriend, who was also chairing the forum. However, due to the terrorist attacks which have recently plagued Turkey, I have come to worry about flying to airports in Istanbul. Yet, I managed to convince Nico – my boyfriend - to fly with Turkish Airlines over a five-hour flight. I can confidently say that since my travels to Izmir in 2015, this became my new favourite way of flying. Leather seats in the front row, 40 kilograms of checked baggage, high quality catering and excellent entertainment on-board re-conquered my heart (and even found a spot in Nico’s heart, too). Having pre-selected our meal, we came to enjoy a big portion of baked salmon with potatoes, shrimps, a salad, chocolate mousse and even wine – all for free! [Warning: you will be disappointed with all other flights once you have flown with Turkish Airlines. And no, we have not been paid by the company for this piece of free advertisement].
On the other side of the Caucasus.
You might say that Ukraine is located close to Georgia and that it is easy to take a short direct flight from Kyiv. My first trip to Georgia was from London, which is a different world far from Eastern Europe. Being a Ukrainian, I am used to concrete Soviet-style architecture, but Tbilisi and Batumi gave me the best of both worlds. The beauty of Georgian nature can’t be put into words, especially when one flies from Tbilisi to Istanbul. As I spent most of my time in Batumi – a city located on the shores of the Black Sea – I got a sense of how Georgian nature, the Soviet past and pro-EU policy were intertwined in the architecture and atmosphere of this country. It came by surprise that it was very modern, with the occasional skyscraper blended in with the older parts of Batumi. This is not to mention the temperature of 15°C in mid-November (just think about windy Fife at this time of year!). At the same time, I was very happy to witness the Black Sea again following my last visit to Crimea in 2013. This city really managed to offer everything at once: the warmth of its climate, modernity interlinked with its past, and a true spirit of the Caucasus.
Food stop 1: More Georgian wine, please.
For this section, I would be ready to write a whole post about the richness of Georgia measured entirely in wine bottles. I have come to experience different wines in the past, with my preference given to Sardinian, Crimean, French and Italian wines, in general. However, the taste of Georgian wine is so easy to become attached to. Saperavi, Kindzmarauli and Alazani are wines you must try if ever you get the chance to come to Georgia. What also warmed my heart was the price of the reserve wine, which is distinct in its taste and quality in comparison to a standard bottle of wine sold in the UK. Its rich, buttery and mildly sweet taste will help you rethink your attitude towards red wine for the better. And if you still have any doubts about whether you like wine, you should visit Georgia and forget about these thoughts forever.
Food stop 2: The art of khinkali and khachapuri.
This section deserves a separate post as well, as I came to know Georgia not only for its delicious food, but for interesting ways of tasting it. Since my boyfriend and I were lucky to have been surrounded by Georgians, we were assisted at every step of the way as we sampled Georgian cuisine and culture. I would like to highlight khachapuri first, a true symbol of Georgia. It is hard to explain what it is but, in basic terms, it consists of a big baked piece of dough filled with cottage cheese with a raw egg on top. Tasting it goes as follows: firstly, you blend the egg together with the cottage cheese, and tear the sides of the khachapuri. You then dip the bread into this mixture and enjoy the heavenly dish with some glasses of delicious Saperavi.
Another delicacy we enjoyed in particular was khinkali. [Attention: they should never be confused with Ukrainian varenyky, Italian ravioli or any other kind of dumplings. This would only be an insult to this authentic Georgian culinary masterpiece.] We were served plenty of khinkali during the Officials’ dinner, which was generously sponsored by EYP-Georgia. At first, they seemed to look like big sacks of thick dough. Yet, there is an actual philosophy behind eating these fabulous khinkali (not to disregard the incredible mince inside of them, too). We were taught to eat them in the following sequence: first, you take the khinkali by its ‘tail’ – the harshest part of the dough - which you should later leave aside. You then flip the khinkali and take a bite, but be careful! You should preserve the golden juice inside of it, and drink it before it leaks onto your chin and clothes, which is what happened to poor Nico. As Georgians told us, if you happen to miss the juice, you basically miss a khinkali. So please do not miss out on this bliss. After you catch the golden moment, you keep eating before leaving a tail, which marks the end of your heavenly consumption of khinkali.
The process of transformation.
Now that the culinary part of this post has ended, I would like to highlight how proud I felt of Georgia and its progress in so many areas. As it is a sister country of Ukraine, Georgia and Ukraine are striving towards pro-European policy, and Georgia has achieved significant progress in its quest for Westernisation. Georgia has undergone a transformation of post-Soviet space through its independence, and manages to tackle some of the burning issues most Eastern Partnership states face nowadays. When you talk to a Georgian, you will understand how proud they are at tackling corruption, building a stronger economy and developing a national psychology which will bring them closer to the West. Georgians themselves are known for their hospitality and kindness, and this can easily be seen in their passion for delivering high quality service for foreign visitors. Georgia should therefore be your starting point if you want to counter stereotypes about Eastern Partnership states and dive into a whole new culture.
Final conclusion and a promise to return.
I feel very grateful to have experienced Georgia while being involved with the EYP, and I would love to come back and to experience it again to the fullest. I am looking forward to discovering truly exceptional Tbilisi, the little villages in the mountains and other secret places in Georgia. I can’t wait to employ my knowledge of the Russian language, to talk to local people once again, and to experience their hospitality and to discuss our Soviet past, which is a problem both Ukraine and Georgia have in common. But, what we also share is a bright future ahead. I thank every single person I met in Georgia, and especially those who helped me out and opened their souls during our warm conversations. I also appreciate the trust of my boyfriend and his willingness to hold my hand while travelling so far from his homeland.
Georgia, you hold a special place in my heart and mind, and we will definitely see each other again in the future.