Sunday September 21
Today Jimmy and Nana arrive to
take Brunhilda, Denis and I on another tour of the countryside. We head southeast out of
Our first stop is at a roadside market to buy some churchkela because we all want to try it. Churchkela is a traditional delicacy associated with rtvela, the grape-harvest season. Nuts are threaded on a string and then dipped repeatedly into a hot mixture of boiled grapeskins, grape juice and other, not necessarily specified, ingredients. The process is similar to making candles and, in fact, the churchkelas look like rows of brown candles hung up on racks for sale. They taste a bit like candles too, though they have quite an interesting flavour. They are the original trail mix; soldiers carried them into battle as concentrated, high-energy rations.
Next we go to Tsinandali to visit the Chavchavardze Estate (left). The estate has had a large commercial winery for generations but, during the 1930s, the nobleman who owned it, began to build a botanical garden containing as many of the worlds trees and other plants as he could collect. The guide speaks no English but he is quite fluent in Plant and I wish Susan were here to translate. We are supposed to tour the winery and taste the various types of wine but our small group is pre-empted. A very large tour group of Americans, traveling in three huge buses arrives just before we do. Astonishingly, the tour is escorted by a battalion of Georgian soldiers, presumably to protect the tourists. The soldiers are in full combat uniform and carry AK-47s. None of us can figure out who or what the tour needs protecting from and Jimmy and Nana think it is hilarious. The soldiers seem to think it is a lark, too and grin sheepishly at us when the tour officials arnt looking. Obviously, the soldiers think it is just as ridiculous as we do. We later see the tour driving down the road: huge buses, several army trucks and even an ambulance in a big convoy. I bet none of the people in that tour ever get to talk to even one real Georgian person.
Next stop is at a country restaurant on the outskirts of Telavi, for a lunch of khinkhali, a Kakhetian specialty. Khinkhali are bell-shaped dumplings made of dough, filled with spicy ground beef, pork, lamb or occasionally, cheese and then cooked in boiling water. One eats them by holding the twisted end of the dough and trying not to let the juice run down ones chin. They are very good indeed! Curiously, the restaurant, in the middle of wine country, has no wine! Every Khakhetian makes his own wine which, of course, is MUCH better than anybody elses wine and nobody would ever BUY wine when their own was so much superior! So Jimmy drives off to a local farm and buys some wine. He brings it back in a plastic coca-cola bottle. In Khakheti, wine is stored in kvevri, large clay jars like Greek amphorae, buried in the ground with just their lids showing (left). In these jars, wine stays at a perfect, constant temperature (obviously they dont get three feet of frost in the winter). The wine is removed from the kvevri with a special long-handled wooden dipper. The kvevri can be as large as 600 800 litres and in commercial wineries, much larger. A lot of wine is drunk in Khakheti!
visit a very beautiful, little church at Ikalto. The
monastery was founded in the sixth century by one of the 13 Syrian fathers. In the 12th century, King
David-the-Builder constructed an academy, which became one of the leading centres of
learning in the Christian world. Many famous
historical figures from
From Ikalto, we
travel a few miles to the magnificent Cathedral of Alaverdi (left). Unlike most Orthodox churches, which are built on
mountaintops for defense, Alaverdi sits on the flat Alazani Plain. The plain is a broad
valley between the Lesser Caucasus and Greater Caucasus mountain ranges, and has been the
site of many an important battle. In all too
many of them, the Georgians were defeated by yet another invader, who then laid waste to
the country. Joseph of Alaverdi, another of the Syrian Fathers, established the first
church on this site in the sixth century.
cathedral is the tallest church building in Georgia and the second tallest in the entire
From Alaverdi, it is two hours
of Georgian traffic, bad roads and potholes. We
Today, the group wants
to take me out for dinner to thank me for my efforts on their behalf and to say
goodbye. We meet at and
drive to another lovely restaurant built on a riverbank, similar to the one in Mtskheta. All of the workshop participants come to the
dinner and Ghiorghi Bagrationi brings his wife, Marina and Dr. Boris brings his wife,
Each time Mr.
Darchiasvili makes a toast he ends it by saying: Alaverdi, Bob.
My translator explains that this means I am obligated to make a follow-up
toast on the same topic. As most of you know,
I rarely pass up a chance to make a speech, so I end up holding forth on a number of
topics: Georgian-Canadian friendship, the
future of the Georgian trucking industry, Georgian women, you get the idea. Finally, I am asked to follow an eloquent toast to
the Country of Georgia. I remind them of one
of our workshop topics, Professionalism in Trucking , where we talked about customer
service. I speak of the importance of customer
service to the future of
(Nino, my translator, on the right and her friend, Taimuna, left)
The whole evening is loaded with good will and I think that everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. They seem to be impressed that someone like me would take the trouble to travel to their country and offer to help them and I am sure that I have acquired a whole group of lifelong friends.
Tuesday, September 23
This afternoon, I go in to the
TransManager office just to use the computer and get a real surprise. One of the things that is rather difficult is that
Mr. Dariashvili, who is my official host, speaks no English.
Every thing we say to each other has to go through the translator. On this day, there is no translator available and
it is a bit strained. In his efforts to
communicate, Mr. D. blurts out a couple of words that sound familiar. Mr. D. speaks some German! Im a long way from fluent, but it is my
second-best language. It seems that in 1969,
Mr. D. was the Director of Mercedes-Benz in
This evening, Denis and I go to a concert at the Philharmonia Concert Hall. This is another beautiful classical concert hall, with pillars and balconies, gilt and scarlet brocade just like in the movies. The concert is part of an annual cultural festival called Autumn Tbilisi. The Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra performs along with a boys choir, a soprano and a mezzo-soprano. The highlight of the evening, without a doubt, is a 14 year-old pianist, Alexandre Vasadze, who is absolutely brilliant. I am sure he could play in any concert hall in the world. I am sure he will!
Wednesday September 24
I spend the day being a tourist. I find a flea market where formerly wealthy people sell their family heirlooms to try and survive the transition to a free-market economy. Its a pretty sad place! I dont know whether to feel badly for not buying their treasures or whether I would feel worse if I did buy them. To cheer myself up, I buy a hot cheese pastry from a sidewalk vendor and stop for a cold Kasbegi at a sidewalk café.
evening, Denis and I take the two CESO people out to dinner.
Asmat Abesadze (right) is the CESO Resident Representative for
Thursday September 25
morning, a rare treat: Nino #2 (the model)
shows up and takes me to visit a museum that contains wonderful artifacts from
Friday September 26
This morning, I go to the Sulphur
Baths and have a bath and massage. There are natural, warm sulphur springs in the oldest part of
the city (in fact
There is one more museum that
has been recommended so I go there after the bath. The
guide is the first and only Georgian person I meet who not only isnt at all friendly
but borders on being downright rude. She could
have benefited from my session on Customer Service. One
last stroll up
Saturday September 27
What a day! I get up at
Tbilisi time and Taimuna drives me to the airport. Four
flights and ten time zones later, for a total day of 28 hours, I arrive in