Friday, 13 November 2015

Tbilisi (Georgia): A Long-awaited History Lesson

Until I was blessed with the presence of the Georgian lady in my life, I was unaware of anything about Georgia, except that it's not only the name of the American state, but also the country which borders Russia...Honestly, that was how ignorant I was. Then I met the Georgian lady and she exuded so much passion, pride and knowledge about her country that I was immediately intrigued and embarrassed that I wasn't able to recite historical facts about Canada or Japan the way that her or ANY OTHER GEORGIANS I met were able to! Never stopping in her persistent insistence that the Irish chef and I visit her, and knowing that we were planning to travel in the summer anyway, the Irish chef urged me to consider going. Our decision may have had something to do with the fact that I missed the Georgian lady fiercely. So off we went, flying from Bulgaria (going through security at Sofia Airport was terribly intrusive and embarrassing) to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

Once upon a time, you were handed a bottle of wine when you arrived in this impressive country, but we were met by something better! We were greeted at the airport by the Georgian lady and her sister- who I would like to call the revolutionary Georgian! Both women were most kind and picked us up and took us for breakfast at a time in the early a.m. when most of the city was still sleeping. Even in the capital there were no breakfast places open, and so we ended up at a restaurant that was open 24 hours, but served predominantly what would be considered dinner food. After catching up, our AMAZING hostess through airbnb.com awoke early to accommodate us-she is AMAZING and we highly recommend her place if you're interested in visiting Tbilisi: (https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/3082081?checkin=11-11-2015&checkout=14-11-2015&guests=2&s=cRQZuq0R#summary). We spent the morning and a good chunk of the afternoon catching up on sleep, and in the evening we prepared for a dinner with the Georgian lady, the revolutionary Georgian and a co-worker from ACM in Kuwait who wanted to meet-up as well. All three were amazing dinner companions and we were treated to, no joke, a FEAST.

 Sorry this shot is blurry! The menu. This restaurant is apparently a hot spot for tourists, but not Georgians, hahaha!
 This was eggplants stuffed with a hazelnut and spinach...And I can't remember what it's called-I'm sorry! (T _ T)
I think it's a cross between these two recipes perhaps??? http://georgianrecipes.net/2014/05/21/eggplant-with-hazelnuts-and-herbs/
Bread which, translated into English, is called "Mama's Bread". Who knew such plain bread could be SO DELICIOUS???
 If the bread wasn't tasty enough, then the cheese was to die for!!! 
This traditional salad is akin to Greek salad, but has a vinegar base and crushed hazelnuts as well :)
In case you didn't know, it is believed that wine was first produced in Georgia and Armenia, and let me tell you, Georgian wine is delicious. I have not had anything so tasty as the various Georgian wines-even the white ones, which I'm not a fan of!!!
The view at dinner!
This bread is like (American) southern corn bread! VERY delicious when hot with cheese on it!
Imeruli! This is bread with cheese inside. Oh. So. Gooey.
Mushrooms stuffed with butter and cheese!!! All that cheese!!! I was in heaven!!!
Ostri: a spicy stew made with stewing beef!!! AMAZING! http://georgianrecipes.net/2014/07/28/ostri/
If you want to know more about Georgian food-and I suggest you at least check it out because it's definitely one of the most amazing cuisines I've ever tasted-then check out the link below:
Entertainment! Traditional dancing from the various regions of Georgia and live music!!!
The woman had on the most beautiful dresses!
There's been nothing better in my relationship with the Irish chef than travelling and experiencing the world with him-which, obviously, includes eating! I'm pretty sure that I was feeling pretty damn blessed and exuberant at this moment :)


Now the Georgian lady's name is Tamar. Tamar is the name of a famous queen who reigned, first as a co-ruler with her father, King George (this was his decision), and then as the heir to the throne as the king/queen! Her reign is renown for political and military success in addition to cultural achievements. This was one strong woman who fought for the good of her country. It's no surprise then that my good friend shares the name ;) If you want to know more about how awesome King/Queen Tamar was, then please take a peak at the following sites:

http://www.badassoftheweek.com/index.cgi?id=754345014062
http://www.rejectedprincesses.com/princesses/tamar-of-georgia
http://www.antiochian.org/node/18296

A HUGE, imposing statue built in King Tamar's honour, she is ever-present, strong and always dominating. LOVE it!

Speaking of Tamar, the Georgian lady, we did do some catching-up over tea and sweets at Prospero's Books which is right beneath the Canadian embassy, hidden off of a busy main street! LOVED the ambiance and the quiet spot :)

 Sweets and refreshments, necessities for catching-up! 
 This was a pretty little spot! I LOVED the architecture in Georgia...Maybe not all of the Communist buildings, but the authentic Georgian structures :)
Love #1: Food  Love #2: BOOKS!!!!
Ohhh, there's the Canadian flag blowing in breezy Georgia. Wait. What? Never far from home :)
http://www.prosperosbookshop.com/

Tbilisi is a city like nothing I've ever seen before as it's a juxtaposition of old, new and on top of that there's the survival of annexation. It's beautiful. It's impressive. It's living history. It's glorious. It may not look like much from the pictures, but of the places we visited during the summer, I felt an immediate love for Georgia, and I hope and pray that I'm able to return one day because it made me feel awe ALL the time.

 We took the sky lift/aerial tramway and these were the gorgeous views we saw!

The least impressive building is the imposing, functional-looking one in the background, lol!

We didn't spend too much time in the city as we had places to go and food to eat!!! Actually, we ended up driving through the mountains to visit wineries!!! This was, by far, one of the coolest things we did in Georgia! We went to two wineries and Mik got a bit tipsy, lol!

Winery #1: Kakhuri (which is, I was told, often frequented by Japanese tourists, but not so many Canadians, hehehe!). http://kakhuri.com/. Here the Irish chef bought white wine and I bought red!!! It was reasonably-priced and SOOO damn good!

This was once the summer mansion (located in Tsinandali) of Alexander Chachavadze, a Georgian poet, public benefactor and military figure (among other things). Here he built the oldest and largest winery where he combined European and Georgian wine-making traditions.
 The view from the summer mansion: it was beautiful and serene here. If you don't like places jam-packed with tourists, go to Georgia!!! See all those tourists are wandering around???
 The reds we sampled :)
The whites we sampled :)
 I'd never done any wine tasting before, so this was  HUGE treat for me!!!
 At the entrance of the wine cellar :)
 ...And THERE'S the  wine!
Mmmm, WINE!!! Maybe I was getting a bit tipsy by the end. I couldn't help it!!! We were given very generous samples! :D
 Getting caught by the Georgian lady as we walked hand-in-hand around the grounds
Walking through a maze
I'm not sure what this tradition is, but it looked SUPER cool and colourful!

Next we headed to the Kvareli wine tunnels and it was incredible. Georgia just kept impressing us!!! http://www.winery-khareba.com/en/tours/kvareli  Info: http://georgianrecipes.net/2013/09/22/kvareli-wine-tunnels/  
The tunnels were between 12-14 degrees when we went through them which was a bit too cold for me as I'd been relishing the HOT weather in Georgia (high 30s, low 40s), because, yep, you guessed it: they were going through a heat wave. As we paid for our tour, we were given blankets. Tamar, her sister and I gratefully took them and the Irish chef laughed. So off we went:

                                                                                   The entrance to the winery-the mountain is where the wine is stored and fermented.
 Gorgeous grounds! The clay pot, of sorts, is a traditional Georgian wine pot
 Used here as fountains :)
 The tunnels
 WINE!!! I'm not sure if there was even wine in these bottles, but the tunnels were lined with them!
 Okay, maybe we got sooo hungry we needed an intermission ;)
 The view just walking to our table!
 This place was gorgeous. Again, this was outside seating, but we got a prime spot!
 Our private little oasis!
 Sooo relaxing since NO ONE else was around :D
 The view from the restaurant terrace where we sat.
 Chatting up the gentleman who was in charge of barbecuing meet. Super friendly guy!
 Okay, so that wasn't actually our food, but it smelled SOOO good!!!
It's official: Georgian food is one of my favourite! The Irish chef and I will ABSOLUTELY be returning!!! These were appetizers!!! I was full after the appetizers, lol!
 A rib dish...The name of which I cannot remember for the life of me-I'm sorry!
Chikhirtma is a dish which consists of boiled chicken known best for curing hangovers...Really, I should have been eating this the day after we visited the wineries, lol!!!

Sooo, once we were full, we headed back down to the tunnels to learn about the Georgian-style fermentation of wine. It is fermented IN the ground:

 Wine in the process of fermenting...
Literally in a hole in the ground. Say wha?!?
 Ohhh, wine tasting time!!!
 The wine made on site! SOOO yummy and sold all over the country :)
 I'm still in shock that I even LIKED the white wine.
 Ohhh, yeah. That's what I'm talkin' about!
Attention ALL wine LOVERS: GO TO GEORGIA! Do NOT pass GO! Do NOT collect $200! GO straight to GEORGIA!!!
Maybe I was a bit tipsy...Again. The samples were GENEROUS for my Asian self!
 And because we got the SUPER SPECIAL package, we also got to try chacha. I was going to try and describe it, but another has done it SOOO well that I have to quote him/her: Chacha is [...] Georgian high-octane alcohol, a distilled spirit made with the mash left over from wine production" or what I call the grape bits not good enough for wine ;) "It can be smooth sophisticated spirit or it can be evil-stuff to strip the plaster as well as the paint off a wall." I couldn't have put it better. That's me BEFORE I knew what I was getting into. Btw, I'm not a big drinker and I'm Asian (hence why I get SOOO red).
 Chacha looks like some good ol' drinking water. Oh, boy. We did NOT know what we were in for! This stuff is anywhere from 45-60% alcohol!!!
 These were GENEROUS-sized shots and burned all the way down.
Oh, well! Kampai!
And because it's a good idea to bake bread in a HOT oven after you've gotten yourself half drunk, here's a gong-show IN ACTION: Mik ATTEMPTING to make bread! I needed a hat to hide how red I was :S
 Ohhh, sooo hot, but don't you worry! I was pounding that sucker in the oven good!!!
 Tamar couldn't stop laughing at what she thought was a failed attempt.
 Mmmm, warm, homemade MAMA'S bread!!!
 Cooking class wasn't over YET! Next we made churchkhela, the most phallic-looking snack I've ever seen-even worse when you see someone eating it. Between the colour, texture and shape...Well, you can see for yourselves below ;)
 Our tour guide stayed close by, no doubt because she thought I was a lush!
 Yay! I didn't totally mess it up! :)
Oh yeah! Look at those! They take FOREVER to dry, but they were delicious! Famous in the region we were in (Kakheti), they were the perfect treat to the end of our wine tour!
Just ONE of the AMAZING days we had in Georgia!!!

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