Copyright 2023 by Leslie
Photo of Gelati Monastery by Herbert Frank on Wikimedia Commons.
my dusty, white Kira rolled into the small village, a group of men
chatting and lolling on the crumbling stone fence grew quiet and all
fixated their eyes on me. I keep my gaze forward, glancing at the
Google map, now froze on my iPhone screen due to no service. The
villagers were not used to seeing woman traveling alone, much less an
American woman and in many parts of country of Georgia, whose roots
extend deep into tradition, I was sometimes looked at with suspicion
and contempt. I also was not a native speaker, so I was quite a
stranger in a strange and beautiful land.
had ended up in Georgia on a fluke. A friend had mentioned he was
going and asked if I wanted to come along. Intrigued and up for an
adventure, I agreed though I knew very little about the country. When
he backed out, I tucked the idea of the Georgia trip in a file in my
brain, thinking I could never go a country by myself that I knew
nothing about. I feel that if most Americans were asked where the
country of Georgia is, they most likely would point the peach state
north of Florida. Few would identify the country touching next to the
Russia and nestled next to the Black Sea.
was however, one of my colleagues who would not abandon the idea.
Each morning, she showed me compelling photos and sites of the
country, encouraging me to go. She regaled me with stories of how
economic travel was there. She planted a seed that grew tendrils into
my psyche and goaded me on. So, I did what any sane person would do,
I booked a flight to Georgia, figuring I would learn about the nation
as I wandered about it.
is a country with multiple personalities. A bridge between west Asia
and southern Russia, it is considered part of eastern Europe. Because
of its unique position, its culture has been shaped by a variety of
influences and it hosts multiple nationalities. Once part of the
Soviet Union, its historic architecture retains many of the features
during that era. Its language however has retained its own
characteristics, and is neither European, Russian, or Turkish, but
uniquely Georgian. I learned, according to my Google research, that
English was widely used in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and there
was a sprinkling of its use in the countryside. I found this not to
be the case. English is not spoken much anywhere so I had many a
conversation with my hands with tolerate and understanding natives.
geography of Georgia is as varied as its people. On the eastern side,
I discovered dusty, rolling, grassy plains that reflect the heat of
the afternoons. On the western side, I meandered through Colchic
rainforests that dripped tears along the ragged coastline of the
Black Sea. The Caucasus mountains separate the country east from
west. Throughout, I explored fortified, medieval castles, churches
whose interiors were brushed with religious figures from ages ago,
tiny villages perched on the summit of mountains, and aging theaters
with flaking, ornate exteriors.
are some notable places that I will recollect about and smile. One is
the Gelati monastery from 1106 AD, resting on the lower slope of a
mountain, a twisting road its only access. Friendly monks slipped
across the grassy courtyards intertwined between the three churches
built over the centuries. A devilish puppy cavorted around me while I
gazed at the grave of King David the Builder covered by a smooth
stone hewed archway, that if I crossed, I was told the ruler would
bring me good luck. Inside the main church, its walls were richly
decorated with delicate murals from the 12th-17th
century and the virgin mother with child rose above me in a glorious
mosaic flanked by archangels. At the edge of the property, which
tumbled off a cliff, I stood next to a stony wall and peered across
the green flecked countryside bathed in a soft light.
charming memory was when I spied the towering Tbilisi Sameba Church,
soaring over the capital, with its 7.5-meter gold gilded cross
mounted on a dome resting on eight massive columns. As I draped my
head with a silk scarf and entered, I viewed its soaring crème
and golden arches etched in light and its ivory iconostasis hung with
stern religious icons at its front. Candles flickered in an alcove.
The church’s immense history pressed into my soul, and I grew
quiet and introspective while walked on its marble tiles.
last place I would like to share is a mansion buried in a rainforest
I stumbled upon northeast of Batumi. I lost my bearings, which was
common, as the WIFI got snagged and faded in the Caucasus mountains.
It is one of those travel memories that was not planned and just
happened because of unforeseen circumstances, one that could
overwhelm a traveler if they are not careful, one that just needs to
be experienced with calmness and humor. The home was near the end of
a narrow, snaking road, abandoned and forlorn with crumbling steps
leading up to it. Intrigued, I stepped out of my vehicle, and
gestured to a neighbor working outside if I could go up and snap a
picture. A faint smile traced his lips and he nodded once. I climbed
the steps and marveled at the stateliness of the flaking exterior
with its arched entrance ways, forgetting I was lost. Snapping
photos, I stepped inside to get a closer view of the curved, faded
blue staircase then felt something crawling on my legs. I looked down
to see my calves covered in dozens of fleas. I bolted back to my car,
scrapping the hopping bugs from my skin. I eventually figured out
where I was.
all the traveling I did, from one end of the country to the other, I
always developed a powerful hunger by the evening. While roaming, I
feasted on khachapuri, the national dish of the country, a canoe of
bread with gooey melted cheese in the center topped with an egg and
butter. For dessert, I sunk my teeth into churchkela, a colorful
sweet made from walnuts that Georgian soldiers used to take to war.
And if my stomach growled in between meals, I stopped at local
bakeries and purchased crusty, chewy, warm loaves of bread. One of my
favorite food stops is sitting next to the Black Sea under a
turquoise umbrella on a hot, stony beach, enjoying a cold, sweaty
glass of Argo, the local popular beer while waiting for ordered
kninkali, a spicy dumpling.
wanted a rollicking adventure and I received it, traveling to
Georgia. The sights, the sounds, the cities, and the people will
forever be etched in my memory. I desired something different,
something unexpected, and the land delivered. I would love to head
back, more confident and with a great understanding of the culture,
to explore places I missed. Georgia appeared from nowhere and ended
up enchanting me.
Cieplechowicz is a photographer and writer who developed her craft by
working the streets of Detroit as a paramedic and shooting old,
historical buildings she found on her runs. Her love of creating
unique imagery lead her across the state, then the United States,
then globally, where she currently finished shooting in the country
of Cuba, documenting its lively culture, diverse people, and
classical architecture and automobiles. She currently works as an
instructor after leaving the road and spreads her love of photography
to her students.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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