Sighnaghi Travel Blog› entry 442 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)
Whereas passing out of Azerbaijan had proved to be hassle free, entering Georgia was a different story. As so often proves to be the case, when Julia doesn't need a visa then I do and vice versa. Today it was Julia's passport delaying proceedings. Since Georgia has become so pro-European they have scrapped the visa for all EU citizens, but introduced it for Russians.
Most visas around the world are paid for in US Dollars, or there is at least somewhere to change your money at the border, but today there was neither option. Therefore we were stuck with ignorant border guards refusing to let Julia enter unless she could muster up 60 Georgian Lari from somewhere. They had already made me enter Georgia and wait for her on the other side of customs and when she explained she needed to get the money from my bag, they were also playing awkward saying she couldn't come to get it, even though I was only 10 metres away! Finally they let her speak to me and we came to the conclusion that the only way of getting Lari was by exchanging it with the taxi drivers hovering around by the border gate.
I must confess my complete hatred of taxi drivers, who can sniff out when someone is in a fix and then weigh up how much they can extort for any given journey. Well when it comes to changing money, they aren't much different. To get the 60 Lari ($41), I must have handed over the best part of $50 in a combination of US Dollars, Russian Roubles and Azerbaijan Manat. I'm sure he was well aware of the predicament that people can find themselves in and he probably makes more money by doing this than by driving!
Over an hour later both of us were finally in Georgia and hoping this kind of behaviour wasn't going to be a sign of things to come. In all fairness though, anyone issuing visas probably has to pass the 'bastard test', where you can't be employed unless you are a 'complete and utter bastard' on the bastard-o-meter! Even though there was a fine drizzle and the nearest town of Lagodekhi was around 5kms away, there was no way that I was handing over another cent to the taxi driver, so we set off walking.
Half an hour down the road a friendly marshrutka driver took pity on us and stopped to give us a ride the rest of the way. We would have happily paid him some money but he insisted he wasn't on duty and was heading into town, so it was on him. In town we found an ATM, withdrew a wad of Lari and then caught a marshrutka towards the small village of Sighnaghi. We were told before boarding that we wouldn't be dropped in the village but some distance away, but we were sure we could get a taxi or hitch hike the remainder of the distance.
Approaching Tsnori our marshrutka driver told us it was best to get out and hire a taxi, but looking on our trusty Lousy Planned It map, this seemed ludicrous.
So we hopped out of the marshrutka at 'the only road to Sighnaghi - copyright LP Maps' and began to walk. What I should mention at this point is that my trainers had broken, so I was wearing a pair of flip flops with wool socks, hardly ideal for walking in the cold and rain! The wetter the socks became, the more they trailed on the floor and the colder my poor little tootsies became.
The weather really did reflect my mood: it was raining, misty and overcast. The village appeared to be stunning but, as you could barely see ten metres it was hard to piece together where we actually were. An old lady sat selling woolen gloves and socks and must have been rubbing her hands when she looked down at my sorry looking feet.
Ten minutes passed before we tracked down the right house and were greeted by David's mum, Manana. Putting our bags down we agreed to pay 25 Lari ($17.25) each for half board and then we were back out of the door to try and enjoy what was left of the day. Cobbled streets, red tiled houses and colourful balconies attracted ones eye on every street, whilst St Giorgi's Church stood within spitting distance of our back door. The weather was adding an air of mystery to the surroundings but at the same time in was obscuring the true beauty of the quaint hamlet. It was like looking at a foggy Polaroid photo; you can see what is there, but without clarity it's hard to appreciate the beauty.
The decision was therefore made to go and pay our respects to St Nino, who was buried at nearby Bodbe Convent. I was already pretty sick and tired of walking, but as there was no public transport we decided to push our bodies along 2.5km of sealed road. Sighnaghi is known as 'The Town of Love' and many Georgians come here to get married, which accounted for all the decorated cars beeping their horns and driving like crazed fools through the streets.
Arriving at Bodbe Convent I must confess to being a tad disappointed by the exterior of the building, which looked too new for my liking. Julia and I differ on our perceptions of beauty: she likes things to look new, whilst I prefer them to have that battered look, rough around the edges. The church was originally constructed in the 4th Century over St Nino's grave, but 8th and 9th Century additions and more recent restorations have changed the face of what you see today from the outside.
Now inside is a different story altogether with vibrant frescoes dating from 1823 giving life to the walls. In the back corner is St Nino's grave and we waited in turn to go in and take a fleeting glimpse at it. For those not familiar with St Nino, she converted the Georgian nation to Christianity, making them the second Christian nation on Earth, after Armenia. She hailed from Capadoccia in modern day Turkey but was raised in Jerusalem, before seeing a vision to come and convert Iveria, modern day Western Georgia, to Christianity. It is claimed that she performed many good deeds and miracles which finally won over King Mirian and Queen Nana and her influence has thus shaped the history of the nation.
Walking back to Sighnaghi we got an unexpected glimpse of the village as the fog lifted ever so slightly, but now our enemy was the dark.
Back at David's house we sat downstairs in the living room and dining room with the family, which comprised of Manana and her husband, David and his brother and their adorable old grandma, who wore a head band like some kind of rock guitarist! After warming up with a few cups of tea, Manana brought out an incredible dinner that consisted of chicken, potatoes, salad, chips, fried aubergines and mushrooms. This was accompanied by some tasty home made white wine which is famous in Kakheti.
Even though it was cold outside and we were nicely snug in the house we knew that the streets were lit up on a night time and this seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up on. Therefore we wrapped up warm and headed out to get an eyeful of the fabulous buildings, most of which had been lovingly illuminated. We rounded the evening off by chatting and playing a few games of backgammon back in the warmth of the house.
Sunday morning looked a belter when we peeped out of our bedroom window, as we got an eyeful of the snow capped caucuses mountain range doused in sunlight. After a decent breakfast of yesterdays leftovers and an omlette we eagerly took to the streets. Sods law dictated that no sooner had we left the house then the fog drifted in. Swear words flooded from my mouth and I was pleased that no-one was in earshot to hear such obscenities!
The village is enclosed by a 4km wall that contains 23 towers, most of which are intact, so we headed to a section to climb a turret and take a short walk along the top, wondering what spectacular views lay tantalisingly behind the mist.
Back outside we walked past the town hall, main square and a host of other picturesque buildings. A little after midday we decided to call it a day and head home to pack up. As there were no buses to Telavi we decided to take a taxi to Tsnori and then hope for a minibus, although there were certainly no guarantees with it being Sunday.
Numerous taxis were waiting in the town square to head down to Tsnori but as there were no other passengers we opted to just pay for all the seats, which was still only 4GEL ($2.45). As it turned out this was a stroke of genius as we arrived into Tsnori just as the last minibus for the day was departing to Telavi, saving us a very expensive 2 hour taxi ride.