When we climb out of the mini bus in Sighnaghi the temperature is much cooler and the surroundings are cloaked in damp fog. Glancing around we wonder what we’ll find to do in this rundown little place for four days. We walk up a hill, then down a longer steeper hill to where our apartment is supposed to be. We find the right street but there are no addresses posted and the street is lined on both sides by buildings with crumbling walls, broken windows, doors hanging from hinges and piles of rubble. We feel dejected and ask an old be-kerchiefed woman if she knows Mari Apartment. She flaps her hand and starts hollering at the top of her lungs. Another woman appears. They both flap their hands and the second woman adds to the din. They start creeping and hobbling along in the direction they want us to go – behind a dreadful looking falling down place. More hollering brings another woman, so there are three of them – all shrieking. The women are as decrepit as the surrounding buildings. Their lungs work better than their crippled legs. A fourth woman appears flashing gold teeth, also wildly flapping her hands and screaming. A couple of the women painfully creep up some broken cement steps and enter an apartment. Lots of bellowing issues forth but they soon come out again with yet another woman. Lots of toothy and toothless smiles. The newly located woman has a key. We process back the way we’ve come to an entry into one of the slightly less awful looking places. Pat dubiously goes up the steps, the woman opens the door, Pat goes inside.
“Kim, come and look. This place is nice.”
I squeeze past the formidable crowd gathered at the door and am surprised and delighted to see a very nice newly renovated well furnished apartment.
We take control, firmly closing the door on the curious onlookers, having been assured that the owner will come at 5pm.
Once settled, we walk back up the hill to explore the desolate foggy town, stopping for a glass of wine and meal that make the place seem more pleasant. We return to our apartment in time for the 5pm meeting with the owner. Silly us. Sometime after six she arrives with the woman who had provided the key. A weird conversation takes place. The key woman tries to negotiate a better deal for the owner and tries to turn us away because we are now two people not three. This is despite the emails we’d sent saying we would be two not three. The peculiar conversation goes on and on, with Pat and I agreeing to leave in the morning but not before. Then the owner gets us to talk on the phone with a friend who speaks English. All becomes clear in a flash. The owner does not want us to leave, but her translator is causing the trouble. In the end we stay for our four days and almost every day receive a baked treat from the owner, a delightful woman who wears slippers and a kerchief and can barely walk.
The next day we are wandering along in the delightful village – it grew on us – and a man comes over and asks if we’d like a wine tour. We negotiate a bit and agree. We’ll meet him the next day. Lado turns out to be a wonderful guide who drives with care and takes us to three distinctly different wine cellars. We enjoy a fabulous day, tasting wine, eating local delicacies and learning much about Georgia as the mother country of wine making. We now understand the difference between European wine making and Georgian and can also taste the difference in the wines. Who knew! We have our favourites and enjoy stopping at various restaurants and choosing our wine with some degree of expertise.
On one of our other days in Sighnaghi, we walk to nearby Bodbe Monastery. It’s in a stunning location at the top of a steep hill. There’s a healing spring – St Nino’s – at the bottom of the hill so Pat and I walk down and down and down to check it out. There’s a little stone building built over the spring and people who wish to enjoy its healing properties put on a white polyester robe and dip into the water. A nun supervises this and no doubt ensures a donation is paid as well. Pat and feel no need to test the spring. Once back at the top of the hill again, our boots are a little muddy. We want to peek inside one of the churches. We try wiping off the worst of the mud on a set of stone steps but Pat gets caught by a particularly nasty nun.
“This is a church,” she grumbles at Pat.
“I know,” says Pat. “That’s why I’m cleaning my boots.”
The nun remains furiously opposed to Pat’s boot cleaning efforts.
When I come out of the church – I’d just peeked in the door – there was nothing of interest – I say to the nun, “You’re not very hospitable, that’s God’s house. Not yours.”
I’m not sure, but I think her English is good enough to get the drift.
Pat and I go to the refectory still wearing dirty boots – bypassing the beggars at the gate – and eat delicious cake, baked by the nuns.
This reminds me to mention sweets.
Deserts have been a rarity on this trip.
Mongolians don’t seem to eat much other than meat with fat.
In Kyrgyzstan they have a habit of leaving cookies and candies out on the table for days at a time – ripe for getting stale and attracting flies and other bugs. Not tempting.
In Uzbekistan we faired better. At the market in Samarkand we found nugget. One afternoon in Khiva we stopped for coffee and cake. We expected three slices of cake. We got two whole cakes. Why we didn’t send one back remains a mystery. But we made a noble attempt at devouring the meringue and cream delight. In Bukhara we enjoyed a nutty cake – just the right amount. Now in Sighnaghi we have also enjoyed ice cream with berries – with a second glass of wine.
Of course we’re looking forward to baklava in Turkey. (So we’re in Turkey now and have just eaten a sampling of several baklava – good grief – we’re vibrating from the sweetness! The nun’s cake in Sighnaghi was much better.)
And back to Sighnaghi – our first impressions have been completely overturned. It is a delightful village, with charming restaurants tucked into corners and on roof tops. We’ve sampled food and wine at many of them. The people are friendly and we’ve been told that the growing tourist trade has brought the village back to its feet. A few years ago all the young people were leaving for the cities and the place was falling into decay. Now it is being refurbished and we foreign visitors are welcomed.
Four days here has gone by too quickly. Next stop Tbilisi.