Georgia....oh Georgia (the country)

If you've met me somewhere in Europe this past summer, or spoken to me since I've been back in Montreal, I have probably spoken to you about the magical place that is Georgia the country. I feel a deep desire to specify Georgia as a country, because initially when many people (that I know) hear the word Georgia they think of a southern U.S state with funny accents and lots of peaches. Georgia the country is thought of second. And this, this is horrible. Georgia the country should be first, foremost, always. Hidden somewhere in the middle of Eurasia, with a seaside, misty mountains, grassland and dry land, with a bit of sad political history thrown in for good measure, I can't think of a better place to step foot in. I don't usually play favourites. I don't usually list countries as good or bad. But Georgia (the country), is the best country!
Did you know that peaches also grow so fresh and juicy in Georgia the country?
Did you know that people still cross themselves (the orthodox way) whenever they pass a church? And there are a lot of churches, in Georgia the country. Each one more special and beautiful than the next. Whether it be up in the Caucasus mountains or on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi, the churches light up in ways I've never seen in any other part of the world.
Did you know that Georgia's big city of Tbilisi is the new hot spot to travel to? It's like Prague a few decades ago; it's perfect like Europe, but off the beaten track and still exotic. Still warm and welcoming. What other kind of combination do you need?
Did you know that they have some of the best cuisines? Eggplants, spinach, cheeses and freshly baked breads, specialty wines and juicy, plump dumplings called "khinkalli" are things you can eat everyday for the rest of your life and never crave anything else for your entire life. Georgia satisfies.

Today is a Sunday. It's one of those great fall days in Canada. But in usual Jen fashion, I'm being nostalgic. About 8 or 9 Sundays ago I was hiking up to a chapel in Kazbegi, northern Georgia just a little bit away from Russia. My friend and I were amongst the beautiful Caucasus mountains as we got off our marshuka, checked into a little guesthouse run by a sweet Georgian woman and made our way up the hill to one of the world's best-placed churches. A lot of families were out that day, hiking up to a centuries-old church to pay their respects, spend some time together and pray to one of the 20 (or was it 30?) saints and icons hanging in the chapel. They make a lot of beeswax candles in Georgia, the country. There are a lot of saints to pray to.

It's also Thanksgiving weekend, and families are coming together. Things are a little bittersweet for me on a personal level. I'm in one of those reverse culture-shock modes, trying to find my grounding again. Lots of things.

But also last night was the last family holiday gathering in my grandparents house. My mom's side of the family is Irish Catholic. There are a lot of us. I have a group of fabulous cousins and some are more like friends to me than family. Our grandma and grandpa bought a house in Ville-St Laurent, in the middle of Montreal over 50 years ago. For five decades, we've gathered under the tree for Christmas, and huddled together in the kitchen, in the guest rooms and in the basement whenever it was a holiday, or just a random Sunday. The kids play hide and seek and seek refuge in the little corners of our grandparents house, whether it be under our grandfather's office desk or in the laundry room. We'd hunt for Easter eggs on Easter Sunday (good luck to the new tenants, who will probably find some ten year old Cadburys when they move their furniture into our basement). At the end of the night we'd race our grandma up and down the street. We'd have barbecues in the quaint, and very Montreal-style backyard. I can still smell the hot dogs and burnt buns. Auntie Debbie's spinach dip. Auntie Bernice's casseroles. Last night as I was sitting in the office and reminiscing with one of my cousins, two of the little ones, from the generation of great-grandchildren came running in, chasing Pokemon and hiding in that go-to spot, under grandpa's desk. My older cousins did it, I did it, and last night I saw their kids do it. Some patterns are meant to be.

So today, I woke up a little sad. Most of my family did, I think. My remedy was to sleep in and then make my way to my favourite cafe, to write and look outside at the autumn leaves. Maybe spend some more time with family later. On my walk down to the cafe in Montreal's neighbourhood of NDG I passed by a European bakery. I went in, of course. Buying things from other places are my way to fill the travel void when I'm back in Montreal. I bought a few Russian pastries, and then I found a bottle of Georgian mineral water! Such a small thing, I know. But it was enough to get me dreaming about that hike in Kazbegi, those walks down Rustaveli and in Tbilisi's old town. My wander down the shores in Batumi. All the wonders in my short 9 days in Georgia the country.

Can I go back, now?
So as to not get too teary-eyed I had to think about the future last night. I had to remind everyone that there are new memories to be made somewhere else. We're blessed to still have our Grandpa, at 99. We all spend time together and keep in touch. Let's hold hands and move forward. How about buying a big house in Georgia the country? If Grandma had ever visited that place (she visited a lot of places, and she told me that New Orleans was always her favourite) I know that she would have loved the wine.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

My Grandpa told me he was proud of me the last time I left to teach and travel again.  I think my grandmother would have been, too.

Freshly baked bread comes out of the walls in the old town of Tbilisi. All for .80 Lari.

Random cave in Batumi

Right outside my hostel in the city of Batumi in western Georgia the country. The road that leads to the Black Sea, and to Turkey!

And the lovely doggy that wandered with me all morning. When countries "develop", one of the things to stop is the stray dog population. More things get regulated and the strays are killed. I hope this doesn't happen in Georgia the country, but it probably will, someday.

Typical Georgian breakfast. All for $1. 

Khinkalli. After our hike in Kazbeki we enjoyed this with a cold Kazbegi beer, and later, Georgian wine. Life can't get better than that.