August 25, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Asia, Travels in Europe

watermelons in GeorgiaAnd while we’re clarifying – forget about peaches, today it’s all about watermelons. But first, a little background.

One of my dearest friends living in Spain hails from the Republic of Georgia – that small, oblong, post-Soviet country, which nudges up against the Black Sea. The democracy, which regained its independence in 1991, continues to transition from oppression to a nation bursting at the seams to share its pride. So, when my amiga invited me to come get to know her country, I feverishly started planning how to make it happen (maybe a little more like: I begged and convinced Jacobo, and then he booked everything. But let’s not get caught up in the minutiae).

To say that the country blew me away would be an understatement. But rather than bore you with the details of my innermost ponderings (i.e. how do the cows, pigs, sheep and dogs that wander freely on the roads not constantly get hit by cars???), here is a brief run down of the Georgian quirks that surprised me most:

Watermelons
Yep, your basic watermelon is a superstar in the country sandwiched between Europe and Asia. Roadside vendors overflow stands with the seeded fruits like they’re going out of style – which they aren’t. Attend a Georgian dinner, and don’t be surprised to be served a plateful of the watery delicacy for dessert (at which point, I reach into my bag for my emergency stash of chocolate because seriously, fruit isn’t and never will be a dessert in my book). Why so popular? I’m still contemplating this, but the general explanation is that the southeastern province of Georgia grows an abundance of the melons, therefore making them an easy go-to sweet (if that’s what you want to call it).

watermelons in the republic of georgia

The toasts
No Georgian dinner is complete without toasts. Not just A toast, though, but many toasts – many, many toasts, followed by many more. At almost all meals of more than just a couple people, a designated toaster, the tamada, is chosen – typically a man with a talent for eloquence. This tamada is responsible for maintaining a rhythm of toasts throughout the meal, ranging from world peace, to family, and the future. Meanwhile, others at the table should be prepared to add on to the main speech, contributing and building on each individual toast. 

It’s green. Really green.
There’s a legend that Georgians will tell you, and it goes a little something like this: God called a meeting in which he planned to distribute all the lands in the world. Georgia was late (naturally) as result of a party from the night before involving too much drinking (also naturally). When they finally arrived to the meeting, all of the lands had already been handed out. Georgia explained away their tardiness by telling God that it was the result of toasting to him the night before. Impressed, God then gave Georgia the land that he had reserved for himself. Whether the legend is true or not, I can’t argue with the fact that the often-overlooked country claims some of the most hypnotizing landscapes I’ve come across – mountain ranges that cap out at nearly 10,000 feet high, deserts that sprawl into Azerbaijan, and inescapable numbers of rivers and waterfalls.

landscape in the republic of Georgia
grapevines in the republic of georgiaBottled water
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never gone to a restaurant and ordered my water by brand name. Until Georgia, that is. The brand of water you wish to imbibe during your meal will be the question hanging on every waiter’s tongue. This is because with rain, rivers and H2O coming out their ears, they’ve smartly converted their ample water supply into a booming bottled-water business. And not just any bottled water – it’s special bottled water. Have a hangover? There’s a water for you. Tummy problems? Not to worry. Seriously, who knew?

Grapes
Living in a country like Spain, I thought that a passion for wine could not run any deeper than it does in the blood of Spaniards. WRONG. Grapes are to Georgia like chocolate is to me (and cheese, and maybe bread, and now baklava). So much so that the majority of Georgian homes have their own grapevine (not even close to joking). Don’t be surprised to see grape symbols lingering in the stone carvings of 10th century buildings as a representation of their importance to the culture. And go to a Georgian’s house and you will surely be greeted with a glass of their homemade wine (along with a full spread of food you couldn’t possibly ever consume in one sitting – more on that later).

Have I gotten you all curious about Georgia yet? Stay tuned for my next blog about Georgian cuisine (obviously). No peaches involved.

9 comments

9 Responses to “Georgia on my mind – but not that Georgia”

  1. cristina Says:

    Wow! sounds like an interesting trip… something between Murcia 20 years ago and the Highlands of scotland (that’s for the green and the sheep!)
    Hope you had fun and were able to refill your chocolate reserves.
    Cristina

  2. Melinda Says:

    I love traveling (vicariously) with you Erin! Now I want to visit Georgia. Your eye for the small fun things is remarkable. Big hugs.

  3. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Says:

    Oooooh I want to visit!!!

  4. Erin Says:

    @Cristina – Jacobo too mentioned that in some ways, Georgia reminded him of Spain decades ago. It will be interesting to see what the country is like a couple of decades from now – or even years. It’s changing so quickly. @Melinda and Andi – It’s definitely worth a visit! Georgia still remains so untouched and discovered by outsiders…something often uncommon these days.

  5. Sophie Says:

    Georgia and the other Caucasus countries are very high on my list. I heard you mention Georgia in Innsbruck and meant to ask you about it, but time flew… (Nice to meet you, btw 🙂 )

    Look forward to read more about Georgia here. Love the sheep/landscape photo.

  6. Erin Says:

    I wish we could have chatted! I’m constantly babbling about Georgia to anyone willing to listen. There is so much to be discovered there – food, landscape, people, the list goes on. Hopefully I will catch you at the next conference! It was great to meet you.

  7. Daniel Says:

    I lov this country

  8. DrWhodini Says:

    Erin – Feel free to ‘babble’ with me. I’ve just returned after 2 years there. It felt more like home that the 15 years I have spent here in Spain, and the 30 years in UK – where I was born.

    There are many things wrong with the place – Infrastructure, poverty, even the people themselves who, by their own admission, are nepotistic and somewhat lazy, but it has ‘something’. 5% of you will hate it, but the rest…. It will grab your heart , refuse to let go and have you wistfully thinking of all that you are missing!

    However, I’m back in Spain, back in my old apartment, that I bought 17 years ago, but was happy to abandon to return to Georgia in 2011. I may be back here, but my heart and mind will always look east!

  9. Erin Says:

    Thank you so much for your comments on my Georgia posts! So few people know what it’s like to get to know their culture, and I know that even I only merely scratched the surface — I can only imagine what your experience was like! I definitely agree, though: from my brief two weeks there, it was clearly a country struggling to get its footing. That said, they sure have a lot of heart and so much to be proud of (cuisine, culture, landscape!), so I firmly believe that it will just be a matter of time before they hit their stride. I know there will come a day when I return there — I’ll be happy to see how far they’ve come, and probably a little sad that it’s no longer a secret, because the whole world will have finally discovered what a special place it is :).

    BTW — I wrote an article about Georgia which you might enjoy reading. Here’s the link: http://www.latortugaviajera.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Georgias-New-Horizon.pdf

    And welcome back to Spain! Hope you’re replacing the hole in your heart (and tummy!) left by khachapuri, with some good old tortilla española ;).

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