Sam and I trekked out to the Tbilisi airport to meet our folks from the plane at 2:45am on Monday, July 4. Another volunteer, Alissa, was there too, awaiting her mom and sister, who happened to be on the same plane as our parents. Everyone got in safely, there were lots of hugs all around and all of the suitcases made it with the passengers (at least in our group--Alissa's family wasn't so lucky and had a day delay in claiming their bags). Our first experience in Georgia was getting a cab from the airport, which normally isn't any kind of problem or hassle at all. On this night, it wasn't too much trouble, but our cab driver was in a big hurry to go, so he packed up the trunk and shuffled us into the cab more quickly than things usually go here, all the while shouting at everyone to hurry up in at least 2 different languages that the majority of the people being rushed along didn't understand.
While the travelers were still fairly wired from jet lag and travel buzz, Sam and I immediately crashed back into sleep when we got to the hotel--we got to stay in the Courtyard Marriott in Tbilisi, which is super posh and felt like the finest quality hotel I've ever stayed in (such comfortable beds! An exercise room and pool! Fantastic shower with super great water pressure! Heaven!). A big thanks to my parents for using up their Marriott rewards points and pitching in the moolah to make that happen!
We spent the first three days of our trip in Tbilisi, wandering through the Old Town, going to some of the newly reopened museums, and eating delicious Georgian food at every opportunity. We rented out a private room in one of the sulphur baths to help ease out the kinks from longs hours of airplane travel and we took a day trip into the old capital of Georgia, Mtskheta.
On Wednesday night, we took a midnight train across Georgia to the Black Sea coast town of Batumi. We spent most of Thursday relaxing on the rocky beach, then went to the Botanical Gardens at the perfect time to watch the sun sink slowly over the sea. It was gorgeous, and I really think some of the views there are up there on my list of prettiest vistas.
About midday on Friday, we packed up again to head back to the middle of the country, to the Borjomi region to visit with our very first host family in Kortaneti. It was in Kortaneti that our parents got their first real taste of Georgia; Maia and Zurab (and all the neighbors) had the table all set for a supra. There was a lot of eating, toasting, drinking, laughing, talking, translating, and pushing to eat more and more throughout the night. It was really something that, although we've explained the supra to people and talked about it here in our blog, you really have to experience getting supra-ed to understand it. The hospitality and the genuine joy at having guests and the effort that goes into preparing the spread... it's hard to do justice to it all in words.
On Saturday, we spent some time wandering around Borjomi park, riding the cable-car gondola up to the top of the hill for some better views, riding the ferris wheel for an even higher-up vantage point, and hiking back down. We then set off to the south, in the direction of our permanent site, nestled between the borders of Turkey and Armenia. Since we were passing, and since any traveler to Georgia with the time should see it, we stopped at Vardzia, the 12th century cave city in our backyard. It was hot as we hiked up the hill to get to the caves, but the general consensus was that it was worth the toil. We came back down the hill through the tunnels and winding "stairways," which brought us ever so close to being disowned by our parents. Although we had assured them that the way down wasn't too difficult, they begged to differ. All survived in one piece, though, and at the end everyone was glad to look back up at what we had just done and exclaim at how "we were up there! And we made it back down alive!" So I'll just paraphrase everything else and say a good time was had by all.
After a long day of lots of hiking and climbing and driving (including a climb in the car up to the top of the plateau, to an elevation of about 1600 meters), we arrived at site, to our host family's house in Akhalkalaki. Although there are hotels in town, our host family insisted that it would be fine and more comfortable and easier and nicer for all if we all just stayed with them at their house. You really could say that for their last two days in Georgia, our folks got a chance to really see what our experience here has been like. We were again treated to lots of amazing food and drink (this time with more of an Armenian twist--no khachapuri, but lots and lots of dolma). During our time in Akhalkalaki, it was more about visiting (and being treated to an ever increasing amount of various foods and sweets and drinks) than site-seeing, which took its toll and tired us all out in a very different kind of way.
On Monday the 11th, we took our last long journey across Georgia all together, this time in the form of a marshrutka (mini-bus) ride to Tbilisi. We ate some last Georgian foods, bought some souvenir wine and then packed our parents into a taxi back to the airport. Then we headed back to site to unwind and settle back into our summer routine, grateful to our parents for making the trip, for putting up with our long and winding itinerary, for their patience in trying different foods and dealing with different languages and translations, for their generosity in taking us out to some nicer meals and hotels and sites than we usually manage and for all of their love and support that makes it possible for us to go off on such wild adventures. Thank you!
(And for those of you wanting pictures from this trip, you'll have to put pressure on the parentals... Sam and I gave our shutters a rest, since the three of them were snapping away. Or, do Moms or Dad want to do a guest post about your reactions to the trip and to show off some of your pictures?)