After a wet night and waking up to a slightly damp sleeping bag, it had actually stopped raining when we got up. However it was still very wet underfoot and rolling up a wet tent was not much fun, but all got done and we left the Nature Reserve around 9.30 am. The local people had been in the forest mushrooming since early morning.
Our route took us out through the town of Lagodekhi. Many of the houses, although somewhat dilapidated, have courtyards with an overhead vine held up by a trellis arrangement. Once out of the small town, there was every indication of a poor rural economy. Many of the houses looked like small holdings with ducks, chickens, pigs (we are now in Christian territory) and often a house cow in evidence, but everything looked fairly run down. The countryside was heavily wooded.
After only a couple of hours the town of Sighnaghi came into view across the valley. The town from a distance has definite Italian architectural overtones, complete with the terracotta coloured buildings and tall cypress trees. We were unable to find the source of the Italian connection and close to it was less Italian than at a distance, but it was certainly an attractive place, perched on a hill with cobbled streets and the large overhanging balconies that continue to be popular.
We were staying at a home stay called ‘Nana’s’. The rooms were fine but it was a bit short on bathrooms, having only two for 10 of us and the family.
We had heard that there was an organic vineyard in town called The Pheasants Tears that did wine tasting together with a good lunch, so in no time six of us were off to try it out. What a good move that turned out to be! After a tricky start, a table for six was found and we were served by an American from Boston working there to learn the language. So we sat down to an excellent lunch, all chosen by the restaurant and those of us who wanted to tasted four wines. The method of wine making in Georgia is quite different in the use of the whole grapes and the fact that is made by burying it in earthenware pots underground. The wines certainly have a different taste and are referred to as white and black wine. I preferred the red – or black as they call it. After our meal we had a tasting of the local fire water – grappa which certainly had a kick.
Feeling quite mellow after all this, I set off with Peter and Helen to walk to the local monastery 2 kilometres away. Despite asking the way, we could find no signs to the monastery but ended up at a large Convent where St Niño was buried. There was a small chapel with a bell tower with a lot going on in terms of pilgrims and candle lighting. The second building was a church in the process of being built. The main brickwork had been completed but it had no doors or windows. The whole complex, including a large accommodation building and pilgrims cafe area looked out of the deep valley. These religious houses often have amazing views in my experience and this one was exceptional! They even had a holy spring and there was a good trade going on in plastic bottles being filled with the holy spring water. The whole place had a very festive air, with horse rides available. The horses were rather interestingly equipped with high heeled horse shoes to help them keep upright on the slippery cobbles – it gave them a rather haughty stance. Another rather quirky thing was the fact that the intricately etched maps of the complex all had three ‘you are here’ points on them. All very confusing!
Anyway, after thoroughly investigating the area, we asked a young English speaking nun if there was a more rural route back to Sighnaghi. She assured us there was and gave us directions. However, there wasn’t and before long we were scrambling up a steep tree covered bank to get back on the busy road we had previously walked on and had probably added three kilometres to our journey.
Having successfully returned to the town we collected Keith and set out to try to walk on the town walls that we had seen in the distance around the top of the hill. It just was not our day. By the time we had puffed up to the top of the hill, it became clear that our information was incorrect. There was no path around the top of the walls. We decided to have a drink on the way down to console ourselves and then continued our descent back to ‘centre ville’.
It was just as we reached our home stay that we found Diane’s head sticking out of a cellar cafe that she and Barry had retired to for supper. It took very little to persuade us to join them and a very merry evening was had by all, with interesting meals washed down with ‘black’ wine and served by a man in a track suite who plied us with grappa half way through the meal. No-one drank it but rather than offend we decanted it into an empty coke bottle for Keith to use as a fire lighter at our next bushcamp….,,,,