The devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal…
Hayley went up to Georgia, she was looking to get away…
He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind. He was willing to make a deal.
Time for a change in scenery. Have an excursion for a couple of days.
No joke, the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” ran on repeat in my crazy brain during my time in Georgia. Don’t laugh too much because I bet it would happen to you, too!
Okay, let me think…when was I in Georgia? Esther left the day before and I scrambled to pack and get myself ready…ah, yes, I was gone from December 30 to January 6. We actually bopped between a few places: drove to Tbilisi on the 30th, left for Gudauri on the 1st, and spent the last 2 days in Gəncə (also spelled “Ganja”; a city in northern Azerbaijan). I traveled with a family, the same family who took care of me during a trip to the regions in October (as described in these two posts: part one and part two).
If you have a good memory, you’ll remember right away that someone special joined us in October, and she joined us again this trip…
If you’re astute, you would have noticed the verb “drove.” It was about a 10 hour car ride to Tbilisi from Baku; a 4 hour trip from Tbilisi to Gudauri; a 7 hour journey from Gudauri to Gəncə, and roughly 4 hours from Gəncə to Baku. Yeah, a LOT of time in the car, but luckily I beheld pretty scenery to make it worthwhile.
Unfortunately I only spent one full day in Tbilisi, and my travel companions had already been there and weren’t as interested in exploring every nook and cranny as I was. But, this gives me incentive to go back, because what I did see, I loved.
A highlight of my day in Tbilisi was walking through the Georgian National Museum. This is an absolutely beautiful building and housed an ancient history wing (with tons of gold jewelry), the largest collection of art from the Zend tradition (a phase of art from the Safavids), and a few exhibits of Georgia’s self-governance and subsequent Soviet occupation. If you know nothing about Georgian history and ever visit Tbilisi, this is the perfect place to get an informational survey.
That evening was New Years, and we celebrated in style at an Arabian-themed restaurant and enjoyed dancing and traditional Georgian music. I also won a belly-dancing contest — so happy all those years of skating and dance paid off in Tbilisi!
The next day we drove to Gudauri, a small ski town in northern Georgia. Now, it was not snowy at all in Tbilisi (nor in Baku), so I was excited to be reunited with it.
We drove the steep route up…up…up….road conditions were surprisingly okay. And me, being the Michigan girl who survived the winter of 2013 – 2014 in her Toyota Corolla, was on high alert. But we made it to Gudauri without a hitch. While my Russian-speaking companions researched our hotel options, I opted to enjoy the crisp air and take pictures:
The hotel we ended up with was brand new – we were actually the first tenants!
I went skiing for the first time. Now, maybe I’m crazy, but I was NOT going to pay 50 lari (about $30) for a one-hour private lesson which would have been in Russian (of which I only know about 7 words). Ugh, I will teach myself!! I am happy to say that I was able to draw from my figure skating background and imagined that the skis were like extended, floppy blades on my feet. I fell twice, both when I struggled to hit the skis off my feet. It was one of the most pathetic moments in my life; I felt like a stranded mermaid. So I sucked at getting the skis on and off my feet, but once I got going, I was unstoppable.
On our third day in Gudauri I insisted for some alone time. My introverted self was at its maximum social capacity, and I was drawn to a little Georgian church I had spotted the day before. After reassuring the family that I was not going to freeze to death, or slip and hurt myself, or get lost in the snowy mountains, or get lonely, I was given about 4 hours to myself that afternoon.
It was glorious.
After I was dropped off by the convenience store, I trekked to the church, improvising my route.
The church was on the edge of a cliff, set apart from the rest of the town.
I ventured inside and immediately felt at home. It was quiet, peaceful, still. A few other people lit candles as I stood somewhat awkwardly in a corner. A priest, who was making his rounds of the church property, gently beckoned me over. He said something in Russian, I explained that I don’t know Russian. He smiled slightly and asked, “English?” I affirmed and he said, “I do not know.” I told him that was okay and that the church is very, very beautiful. He handed me three candles and motioned me to the front. I lit one candle and kept the other two. I think I stayed for about 45 minutes, feeling grateful for my time abroad and just thinking…
Random Old Georgian Church
On our way back the next day the family stopped at a scenic outlook to take pictures. I abandoned them because we also happened to park next to an old church. I literally could not stop myself and I made a quick round of the place, snapping countless photos.
Then we made our way back to Azerbaijan, passing through the border. Oh my Lord, THE BORDER. Talk about driving me crazy…The one-hour wait on the way into Georgia wasn’t too bad, but the two and-a-half hour wait to get back into Azerbaijan was ridiculous. “Why is it taking us so long?” I asked bewildered. “Everyone is returning home from vacation today, Hayley, calm down.” But I wasn’t convinced; and I still believe that things could have moved faster but the border police wanted to take their time.
Of course, it did look strange for an American to be squished in a car with an Azeri family and their precious cat (the guards were amused at Kitty). So whenever the officer came to my blue passport in the stack of green ones, there was always a struggle with my name and a suspicious look aimed our way. And it’s to my understanding that, while waiting to enter Azerbaijan, the guards told my family that I could pass through but they would have to wait. (Side note: I was informed of this after the fact, I like to think that my Azeri skills are good enough to notice this but I missed this entire dialogue.) It took some convincing that I was actually WITH them and they didn’t just pick me up at the border for a fee. Overall, former Soviet borders seem to have different protocols from the USA/Canada border I experienced over the summer.
Aside from the border trying my patience, Georgia proved to be beautiful. I have plans to go back to Tbilisi — I have to, too much history needs to be reviewed by these eyes!
Until next time… (: