Not many people know much about Georgia. A country in Caucasus, close to Russia, part of a USSR back in the day? Maybe even less. But there is so much to this country, starting with food, nature, people, culture and history, and not necessarily in this order.
Recently, I had time, money and opportunity to go to Georgia to volunteer at Batumi Raptor Count (BRC) for 2 weeks. Nothing (directly) work related (but kinda, sorta work related). That was for only 2 weeks, and we were thinking, while there, why not travel a bit and see what’s the big deal with Georgia.
Several of my friends actually went to Georgia in the past years, so to me, Georgia was not a complete mystery. That is to say, it still was, but I knew how things worked, kind of. For two weeks, while I was volunteering, people were telling me about the places to go, food to try and what to be mindful of.
If you are a nature lover in any way, BRC is a place for you. But, what is it anyways? Why is it so special?
Batumi Raptor Count is an event where volunteers from many countries gather at Batumi bottleneck* (*in this case, easily transversable stretch between the sea and the mountains, about 10km north of Batumi) to count migrating raptors on their way to the breeding grounds (spring) or wintering areas (autumn). It’s one of the several places in the world where you can actually see the migration happening in full swing and just stand in awe to the whole thing. There are days, when you can see (and count) over 10.000, 50.000, even 100.000 birds flying through the bottleneck. Isn’t that impressive?
If you want to join as a volunteer, you can do that by applying when the applications are open, or, you can visit the counting station as a tourist. Honestly, you can enjoy it either way, but if you are the counter (e.a. if you are the one counting birds), you can feel much more immersed into the migration yourself.
Otherwise, Georgia has an abundance of wildlife. Located between the Upper and Lower Caucasus, it has almost every type of habitat, from desert, semi-desert, high mountain meadows, dense forests, swamps… it really has it all. It would take you about 10 hours of driving to go from snowy mountain tops to pleasant sea shores. What that means is there are many different species of animals and habitats for you to explore.
From one of the first settlements of modern humans in Europe, to first wine, to kingdoms and USSR, Georgia is full of history. Traveling through Georgia, you can see many medieval castles, churches and ruins. If you go to Vardzia, you will see the city in stone, one of the oldest settlements in the world, that is carved into the mountain in a similar way to Petra. Old city of Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Mestia… each place adds to the beauty of Georgia.
Food & Drinks
FOOD! Without any doubt, food in Georgia is amazing. It’s so amazing that we can’t wait to go to Georgia again to get fat and eat everything on the menu, again. Like in many other eastern countries, food has a stronger taste, whether because it is saltier, peppery, or has more spices that you’re used to. Nevertheless, it’s delicious. We had khachapuri every day for every meal, and we didn’t have enough of it.
If you end up staying hope with a Georgian family instead of going to a hotel for one reason or another, expect to always have full table of food. Whatever is on a table, it will be unending, as it is a Georgian tradition to always have well fed guest (so I was told and so I experienced). They have word for “a little”, cota (read as tsota), but they don’t seem to understand it as they will keep bringing and bringing more and more food… and the drinks!
From a country with rich history as this one, you can expect they also have some particular and peculiar customs. For example, if you stay in an apartment in someone’s house or as a part of someone’s house, you can expect them to share some of their home-made wine, or maybe some chacha. Chacha is something like vodka, distilled from the grape leftovers after winemaking. It can be very good but everywhere we tried chacha, it either left much to be desired or we drank so much that the taste didn’t matter much, or we didn’t remember it the next morning.
While drinking with Georgian people, prepare physically and mentally. It’s a great experience, that you will probably never remember! But seriously, eat plenty before drinking and don’t be a push over. Before each drink, Georgian people like to make a toast, that can last from anywhere between 10 seconds and several minutes, and if you have someone to translate it to you, you will appreciate it even more!
Georgia is definitely going to surprise you even if you read a lot before actually going there. You can be prepared for regular touristy stuff but you will never be prepare for Georgian lifestyle!
Stay tuned for the next posts and follow our footprints.