One of the best ways to travel is visiting friends who may be living abroad. It can help keep costs down and allows for more of a “local” take on your travel location. Also, speaking as one who has lived abroad, having visitors from home can really help with the inevitable feelings of homesickness.
One of my favorite trips was a week spent in Georgia and Armenia. I traveled with one of my work colleagues, and we stayed with one of her good friends who was temporarily living in Tbilisi. We arrived in the wee hours of the morning, around 4 o’clock, so the first order of business was a nap. However, what awaited after we awoke was what I still consider to be the best first day in a new country.
A quick stop at a cute café for caffeine and sustenance, and we were off to the Georgian countryside. Our destination was a family home in a village. We were welcomed warmly. Having been told that there were persimmons and pomegranates ripe for picking, we promptly offered to get to work. This resulted in quizzical looks, insistence that we rest first, and jokes about crazy Americans and their love of work (mostly self-deprecation, our hosts for the day were incredibly kind).
We started by picking persimmons. Not the small ones from my childhood, but large, firm fruits, some as big as a softball. To get them all, we had people on ladders, standing on benches, and hanging off the second-story balcony. After the persimmons were all picked (well, all but those on the highest branches, completely out of our reach), we moved on to the pomegranates. This started with a taste test of the two varieties—one sweet, one slightly sour. The pomegranate trees were shorter than the persimmon trees, which made our work easier. We were also able to try some grapes—the last of the season. They were small, plump, and nearly black in color. As one bit into them, they exploded in the mouth, like little bombs of grape juice. So, so delicious!
After we were done picking, we sat on the balcony, enjoying the view, as a Georgian supra (feast) was prepared for us by our hosts. We had shashlik (skewered meat), tomato and onion salad, pickled green tomatoes, a special cheese made from a combination of sheep and cow milk, bread, and three kinds of homemade wine. Two of the wine options had been brought over by a neighbor who heard we were visiting (that’s the famous Georgian hospitality for you!). The meal was, in a word, amazing! It was certainly one of those “good food, good company, good conversation” moments, and we relished every second.
After leaving our hosts, we headed to the nearby town of Signaghi. We made a brief stop at the town gate for photos, then headed to Pheasant’s Tears Winery to see if we could get in for a tasting. When we arrived, the staff was busy preparing for a large supra, but they agreed to set us a table. We tasted four wines—two white and two red. The whites were amber colored, and the reds almost black. In traditional Georgian winemaking, the skins are left in the juice during fermentation, which results in deeper colored wines. And let it be known, Georgian wines are incredibly tasty! To accompany our wines, we enjoyed bread, a soft cheese spread made with mint, and the most amazing mushrooms I have ever tasted. When we asked the chef, he said he made them with love. We had been feeling and tasting the love, Georgian style, all day.
What has been your best first day in a new locale?