Written By Iuliia Drobysh
Spirit of Georgia
Published: January 16, 2017
You might ask what a Ukrainian might do in Georgia at the end of the University term, spending two days for 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. This can also be therefore explained by the intertwined rationale of self-development and travel, all linked in one. 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, given a short timeframe within which I was able to get a taste of this country to the fullest.
Holy Turkish Airlines. Since I was travelling with my boyfriend, who was also chairing in the Forum, I have come to develop a certain doubt about Istanbul airport due to the sad tradition of terrorist attacks that are plaguing this country. Yet, I managed to convince Nico – my boyfriend – to fly Turkish over a 5-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 kgs checked in luggage, high quality catering and excellent entertainment on-board re-conquered my heart (and even found a spot in Nico’s heart). Having pre-selected the fish 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, after similar trips your standards to airlines will soar and you will be definitely disappointed with any other trip than Turkish. And no, we have sadly not been paid by the company for this piece of free advertisement].
On the other side of Caucasus. At a first glance, you might say that Ukraine is located closely to Georgia and that it is easy to take a short direct flight from Kyiv. Yet, my first trip to Georgia happened from London, where you live in a different reality, far away from Eastern Europe. While being a Ukrainian and thus being used to numerous buildings and concrete Soviet-style architecture, Tbilisi and Batumi gave me a double feeling. The beauty of Georgian nature can’t be put in simple words, especially when one flies from Tbilisi to Istanbul. As I stayed most of my time in Batumi – a city, located on the shores of the Black sea – I got a grasp of how Georgian nature, Soviet past and pro-EU policy were intertwined in architecture and air of this country. It came by surprise that it was very modern, with occasional skyscrapers blended with the older part of Batumi. This is not to mention the temperature of +15 in the mid-November (in comparison to windy Fife!). At the same time, I was very happy to witness the Black sea since my last visit to Crimea in 2013. This city really managed to offer all at once: warmth of its climate, modernity interlinked with its past and a true spirit of Caucasus.
Food stop 1: More Georgian wine, please. For this one, I would be ready to write a whole post about the richness of Georgia being measured in wine bottles. I came to experience different wines in the past, with my preference given to Sardinian, Crimean, French and Italian wines in general. However, Georgian wine is the taste of something you attach to and don’t let it go. Saperavi, Kinzmarauli, Alazan valley and others are the must-try wines if you get a chance to come to Georgia. What also warmed my heart was the price of the reserve bottles, which are distinct in their taste and quality in comparison to any average bottle of wine taken in the UK. This rich, ‘buttery’ and sweet-ish taste will enable you to rethink your attitude towards red wine for the better. And if you still have any doubts whether you love or hate 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 processes of tasting it. Whilst my boyfriend and I were lucky to have been surrounded by Georgians, we were assisted on every step of enjoying food culture. I would thus highlight khachapuri first, a proper card 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 and a raw egg on top. Tasting goes as follows: you first blend the egg together with the cottage cheese, mix them together 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 food 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 on the Officials’ dinner, generously sponsored by EYP-Georgia. At first, they seem to look like big sacks of thick dough. Yet, there is a whole deep philosophy of eating behind these fabulous khinkali (not to disregard incredible mince inside of it too). We were taught to eat them in the following sequence: first you take a piece by its ‘tail’ – the harshest part of the dough – which you should later leave aside. You flip a khinkali and take bite, but be careful! You should preserve the golden juice inside of it and drink it before it leaks on your chin and clothes, as it 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 caught the golden moment, you keep eating and leave a tail, marking the end of the heavenly consumption of khinkali.
The process of transformation. To finish off the culinary part of this post, I would like to highlight how proud I felt of Georgia and its progress in so many areas. As it is a sister country with Ukraine and both striving towards pro-European policy, Georgia achieved significant progress in its quest for Westernisation. While holding some knowledge about transformation of post-Soviet space through the stage of independence, Georgia manages to tackle some of the burning issues most Eastern Partnership states face nowadays. Once you talk to a Georgian, you will understand yourself how proud they feel in tackling corruption, building a stronger economy and overall, mentally becoming closer to the West. Georgians themselves are known for their hospitality and kindness, and this can be easily seen in their passion of delivering high quality service for foreign visitors. This comes to a point that Georgia can become your starting point of countering any stereotypes about Eastern Partnership states and dive into a whole new culture.
Final conclusion and a promise to return. I feel very grateful to experience Georgia while being involved with EYP, yet, I would love to come back and to experience it to the fullest. I am looking forward to discover truly exceptional Tbilisi, little villages within the mountains and other secret places in Georgia. I can’t wait to employ my knowledge of Russian language and to talk to local people once again, to experience their hospitality and to talk about our Soviet past, current problems Ukraine and Georgia share in common and indeed, our bright future ahead. I thank every single person I have met on my way in Georgia, who helped me out with their support and opened their soul in 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.