When the aliens come, they won’t hover their spaceships over Manhattan or the Eiffel Tower. Their beige lenticular ships will slip silently through the atmosphere and nestle by the river in the capital of Georgia. No one will notice, or bat an eyelid. This is because the Kartvelians will be amongst their own again.
This alien race is more advanced than you think. No one knows when they colonised this small section of eurasia that stretches nearly from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. But they’ve managed to maintain their identity through millennia of conflict and invasion. They mastered fruit farming before anyone else knew what it was. Then they showed the rest of the planet how to make wine. No it wasn’t the Greeks. Nor the Romans. It was the species we know as the Georgians. They also probably invented pizza and their water is so good that they export it widely. They exist in a different league of intelligence because the Georgians have cracked the secret of aubergines. When they cook them, they taste good! I can’t even begin to describe how amazing their breads are. Bread stuffed with cheese, bread stuffed with egg and cheese, bread stuffed with beans; food that could only come from an exoplanet.
We had a rough checklist of compulsory experiences for Georgia. These involved some mountains, some wine regions, some cities and some seaside. Did I mention food? Our first breakfast in the country nearly killed us. Everything was so good, Including the ‘medicinal’ cognac. Next we learnt about the traditional winemaking process which is over 6,000 years old. Basically they crush the grapes and put everything into a big clay pot, called a qvevri, buried underground. This gets sealed up at some stage and then the wine is siphoned from the top months later. The disadvantages of this become advantages. Because they can’t control the fermentation, it completely uses up all the available fruit sugars and the product is always a dry wine. Plus white wines never touch oak barrels so have a refreshing lack of heavy oakiness. The Georgians also create wines with unique wine varieties, not normally familiar to old and new world ears; Mtsvivani, Saperavi, Tsinandali, Gvirabi etc. The soil is so lush in Georgia that everyone seems to make wine and fruit products. Pendulous grapes thrive like weeds in front yards. Plum and pomegranate trees tower over back gardens. Those that don’t make wine, make chacha. All the left over grape bits from the winemaking get thrown into a copper still and double-distilled. It can be lively!
Of course there is a reason that the soil is so fertile and good for producing fruit and vegetables. That reason would be rainfall. We were there in summer and experienced nothing but lovely warm, sunny days. Until we went close to the mountains on the northern border with Russia. Suddenly we were wet and cold again. Plus there was no room at the inn. We tried a wee bit of walking. We got wet. We went to the café. We got wet. Stein got so wet that he couldn’t really be bothered starting. This was all quite surprising and we fled to the city as quickly as possible. We did not come for this!
It was here that our first European supply drop awaited. New protective jeans for Nickiy, new sunglasses for the driver, replacement electronics and of course, bike parts. It was like Christmas, times 1,000! Then we set about exploring the magnificent Georgian capital of Tbilisi for a week. We had a schedule to keep after that, so we raced the day train to the coast of the Black Sea for a short stint in Batumi. For an oft-visited, captive body of water, the Black Sea was surprising. The crystal clear and warm water was extremely inviting, once you had hobbled across the pebbly shoreline. My attempts to build my own island out of these round boulders was, however, met with failure, and near-drowning.
Unfortunately Batumi was our last appointment with the Kartvelians. Georgia really is a fantastic country that has pretty much everything you could hope for. Sometimes countries just need an alien’s touch. Batumi isn’t quite as marvellous as Tbilisi, however. Batumi has a feeling of being somewhat incomplete. I figured this is probably typical of slowly expanding beach resorts on the Black Sea coast. Turkey would probably be the same, but we didn’t really know what to expect from Turkey. We did know one thing; we’d be flying so fast that we’d barely touch the ground!