Escaping Tbilisi without a scratch on The Turtle V, we headed east towards Georgia’s famous wine region. We’re always interested in new foods in each country, so when we spotted some ladies selling fresh bread, we had to check it out.
The first one was a baker and she happily showed us, explaining in Russian, how she heated up her insulated round oven with wood and then scraped the coals to the middle and slapped the pieces of dough onto the side. Monika loves interacting with vendors and has a good feel for bargaining or when they mark up the price because we are foreigners. This lady enjoyed our curiosity and gave us her normal asking price. When you don’t speak the language, it’s always easiest to use a calculator.
After we scored our bread she sent us to her friend to buy cheese. There we tried each variety and chose a big chunk of the one we liked best. Now we were ready to find a quiet spot for the night. Turning right on the first dirt road, we came upon a wide valley and discovered the perfect place right next to a vineyard to stay put for a couple of days. We opened our first bottle of good Georgian wine to complement the freshly baked bread and homemade cheese and let the hassle of Tbilisi and the Chinese Embassy drop into the misadventure file.
Checking our paper map and reading in our Lonely Planet guidebook, we noticed a town called Sighnaghi that was located high above the lower end of the wine valley. It was also marked as a Historic City. Following a narrow tortuous road into the hills, we arrived in Sighnaghi and found a safe spot for the night in a large parking lot just at the beginning of the town.
While the area has been settled since Paleolithic times, it was in 1762 that King Heraclius II of Georgia sponsored the construction of the walled town to defend the area from marauding attacks by Dagestan tribesmen from the northern Caucasus. Sighnaghi is very picturesque with its pastel houses and narrow cobblestone streets overlooking the agricultural and wine region of the vast Alazani Valley with the Caucasus Mountains visible in the distance.
As soon as we parked, a couple of curious boys came around and started asking questions in English. Boys will be boys when they see a big fancy truck. Both seemed quite bright and to our amazement, English was their common language. One lived in Sighnaghi and the other was visiting with his family from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. In Soviet times, they would have spoken Russian.
In the morning we set out to explore this “City of Love” as it is known because it’s apparently a destination for Georgian honeymooners. People were busy going about their lives, and there was hardly a tourist in sight. We strolled up the cobble stone streets and smiled at some of the features that reminded us of Russia.
At a shady plaza street vendors were selling snacks and displaying their wares. Men were intensely involved with a game of backgammon. Everywhere we were greeted with welcoming smiles. Natural gas seemed to be widely available. Homes had Russian style gas meters connected to overhead gas lines. A station wagon had been converted to LPG. We chatted with friendly ladies sitting at their doorsteps busily knitting and displaying their felted handicrafts. Monika bought a pair of socks from an old lady but no one could convince her to buy a wooly sheepskin hat that had a very distinct smell of the animal it came from. Gary politely got out of buying a felt hat. One of the knitting ladies pointed to a trail leading along the old city fortifications. Climbing to the top of the tower the view of the wine country was beautiful. The wall itself gave us a feeling for the Great Wall of China but that is still many miles ahead.