Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sighnaghi: City of Love 'n Crunch

"Oh, whoops, budishi! Are you, like, getting married right now? I'll just take this little snap and be on my way, then."
 
Mission: Visit Georgia's City of Love and eat Mexican food. If necessary, look at a church.

Sandy came in to Rustavi from Gori yesterday to spend the night so we could get an early start from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi. We were to meet Marie and Eberle at the Samgori metro/marshrutka station, where we'd take the 9:00 a.m. marshrutka to Sighnaghi. This was a 1.5 hour trip. Six lari.

I'd learned already that there's a marshrutka from Rustavi to the Samgori station in Tbilisi, and Nely had cautioned me, when we flagged down a driver, to ask, "Tbilisi metro Samgori?" and not just "Samgori?" because there is also a village named Samgori.

So in the dark and rainy dawn of our departure, Sandy and I pulled out some lari from the ATM on the square, then walked toward Rustavi Bazari for the right marshrutka. There's one! It has #15 on it.

We hailed it to a stop, and opened the door. "Tbilisi metro Samgori?" I asked the driver.

"Ki, ki." was the reply. "Yes, yes."

As we got on, I asked again, "Tbilisi metro Samgori?"

"Ki, ki!" was the reply from both the driver and a passenger.

Sandy wondered aloud at my purpose in repeating my question when the answer was so obviously answered affirmatively the first time.

Sidebar: It is a blessing/curse that my brain is a factoid-attractant. Some of my family members, both nuclear and extended, enjoy/suffer the same gift/affliction. (And, as you can see, there is also a need to be precise in one's language.  I happen to think the two are connected as part of a syndrome, perhaps Asperger's Lite.) 

I replied that it had been my observation in life that people's brains operate similarly to the auto-complete computer application. (Which has been confirmed by research.) That is, we think we hear what we expect to hear. So if the driver hears my accented voice, his brain is going to struggle a bit, but catch up in time to hear the last word I say, "Samgori," and maybe conclude, erroneously, that we're looking for the village and not the metro station in Tbilisi. So I just ask twice to give him time to process the entire phrase. And save myself stress.

Sidebar: Another blessing/curse that runs in my family is to give tediously detailed thorough explanations in response to questions. Sometimes, though, based on prior negative thoughtful feedback from more normal people, we catch ourselves in time, and just say, "Umm, I dunno." Which creates other problems, but ... 

So while I'm responding to Sandy's question, I'm not noticing where our marshrutka is heading until I realize, "Hmm, this is a different route than usual through Rustavi .... uh, oh, .....this is feeling like a ride on Marshrutka #22 or, God forbid, #4. ... why are we turning here ... and wait ... are we going over that bridge there?"

And out of my mouth to the driver: "Budishi [excuse me], Tbilisi metro Samgori, yes?"

"Ki, ki." [Yes, yes.] said the driver and two passengers.

OK, then. And I see that we're back on familiar territory, albeit a new route for me via marshrutka. ... and then, we take a turn, heading for not-Tbilisi and not-Rustavi .... whoa. And then we go by the cemetery ... now I'm really getting tense ... and now we've passed the cemetery into new lands that are decidedly rural and going-to-the-village-and-not-Tbilisi-metro-Sambori-lke, and....

"Budishi," I say to the driver, "Tbilisi metro Samgori?"

"Ki, ki!," responded the driver and several passengers.

And then we turned left and entered the Azebaijani-Georgian village, whereupon the mashrutka slowed to granny gear to pick up villagers. By this time, I've resigned myself to accept wherever the marshrutka takes us.

I tamped down my concern about getting to Tbilisi by 8:30, using Sandy as my cue. After all, she was calm and apparently unconcerned. .. and then she asked, "What time is it?"

When we looked at the time, we saw we only had 15-20 minutes to not only get to Tbilisi, but get to the metro station. No way was that going to happen; we were still out in the hinterland. And I told Marie that very thing when she called a second later.

But miraculously, the universe tilted in a certain way and we spilled out from the village onto this highway and into Tbilisi and into the metro station only 5 minutes late. Wow.

Fast forward ... Sandy, Marie, Eberle and I are on the marshrutka to Signhaghi. Six lari one way. The Signaghi marshrutka leaves Samgori station every two hours on the odd hour.

En route to Sighnaghi, we whizzed past the monument to the First Tractor in Kakheti, which I only knew about because Nely had pointed it out to me when we went to Kardanakhi a few weeks before. The monument is the actual tractor, ensconced upon a pedestal.

We also, thank God, whipped briefly down and to Bodbe Monastery where St. Nino is buried, thereby technically speaking, complying with Nely's wish that we visit that sacred site. My protestations of church overload had fallen on deaf ears.

A hot chocolade

Yes, -lade. Hot, thick, chocolate-y to the max. A pudding, really. A demitasse-sized, sensory experience for the delicious warmth of the cup and the intense chocolate taste. We consumed this in a restaurant/hotel in a courtyard adjacent to Signaghi's cultural museum.

Mexican food

Homemade chips, maybe even fried with lard. In a country with very good food, but a shocking lack of crunch, this was the highlight of the meal. Crunch.

Sighnaghi, Georgia


Wait, the second highlight was the spiced coffee - cinnamon, cloves, orange peel. Fabulous.

Sighnaghi, Georgia


Beautiful view of the mountainside and faraway valley, framed by a happy orangey wall.

The museum

The museum was nice. I wish I could be more descriptive, but I'm just not a museum person. You'd think I'd learn that by now, and just go have a cup of coffee while companions take all the time they wish looking at important historical stuff in glass cases. Yes, I know this is sacrilegious, but I'm not getting any younger, and I think from now on, I'm going to take a pass on such things. I can count on one hand the museums that made an impression on me.

Terrific, postcard views from one of the windows, though.

Sighnaghi, Georgia

Sighnaghi, Georgia

Sighnaghi, Georgia

 

The church

Sighnaghi, Georgia


Even though all of us were pretty done with churches, Signaghi's old church was compelling. So much so, we walked up the stone steps to check it out. And then, damn, we heard singing emanating from within.
 
And walked into a wedding.

Sighnaghi, Georgia




As we left the church, another wedding party was arriving.

Sighnaghi, Georgia


The wall

One of the things Sighnaghi is known for is the remains of the 8th century wall that originally surrounded it completely. The photo below is poor quality, but you can make out the wall.

Sighnaghi, Georgia


Pheasant's Tears

I'm not going to talk about the taxi ride that ultimately was for a distance about 500 feet but which cost 4 lari. I've released that incident. Pretty much.

Pheasant's Tears winery is brimming with the ambiance of living a good life. Good food, good wine, good friends and family. Traditions held dear. Fire in the fireplace. Brick and stone work. Lovely blue baticky (but not) tablecloths.

Menu read beautifully on the chalkboard on the wall. Still sated from our Mexican (chip) feast, we had coffee and tea. It was a great way to enjoy the pleasing environment without putting too much of a dent in our wallets.

I was hoping to get a photo of the co-founder, John Wurdeman, to take back to Nely, but he was not in town.  

Sighnaghi, Georgia

Pheasant's tears kitchen. Sighnaghi, Georgia

Pheasant's Tears pantry. Sighnaghi, Georgia

Sighnaghi, Georgia



So, summarizing Signaghi. Certainly it's a tourist town, and one could argue that it's been a town Disneyfied. It's also an expensive place to visit, with most eateries and lodging being upscale. Overall, though, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I saw that still felt "authentic," whatever the heck that means.  It was definitely worth a day.


Sighnaghi, Georgia



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