1.5 hours east of Tbilisi lies the little town of Signaghi. Located in the heart of Georgia’s wine country, the region of Kakheti, stepping into this village is like stepping out of Georgia and into some town straight out of a fairy tale. The main streets of town are cobble-stoned and all the buildings have been meticulously repaired, at least on the outside, and one really gets the feeling that you’re somewhere in Europe. No, Signaghi is not the “real Georgia”, but I get the real Georgia every day here, my weekend here was an escape to another world.
We took the 9 am marshutka from Samgori station in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia for 6 lari (about $4 USD). We had found the name of a well recommended guesthouse before arriving, but when we got off the marshutka at 11:30, we were met by an old woman shouting “guesthouse!” “guesthouse! 15 Lari!” (about $10 USD) so we decided to follow her to her house on the main street a few minutes away. With no heat in the room and the bathroom outside, it was clear why it was only 15 Lari a night. But, we were there and we didn’t want to waste more time looking for another guesthouse so we paid our 15 lari to stay the night. Before we went out, she took us into her wine cellar and let us taste her homemade wine and homegrown grapes. She also told us (in Georgian, of course because “guesthouse, 15 Lari” was the only English she knew) “Eating in the restaurant is very expensive. Let me make you a good lunch.” We didn’t enquire the price, but we agreed. Turns out she tried to charge us 10 lari each for a bowl of soup and a few khinkali (Georgian dumplings). When I told her that that was too much, she said, “ok, ok, you are teachers,” and she cut the price in half.
View from afar of St. George's Church
Then it was time to explore the town. We walked way down a road and found a gate in the fortress wall and some fantastic views.
View of the Caucus Mountains in the distance
We walked back and checked out St. George’s Church. I finally remembered to bring a scarf with me to cover my head as I enter the church.
In front of St. George's Church
Then we walked the 2 km out of town to go to Bodbe monastery. Unfortunately they wouldn’t allow photos inside because it had some fantastic, old paintings on the walls and ceilings.
We hiked down to find the Holy Spring. They had a bath where you could jump in the Holy Water as well, but that looked awfully cold.
Then we met a German guy who works for the UN here in Georgia and he gave us a ride back to town in his massive UN vehicle. I found it rather funny because he told us that he’s not allowed to ride the marshutka because it is too dangerous, but we teachers are not allowed to drive because it’s too dangerous. Personally I’d take the crazy marshutka drivers who are used to driving ok Georgia’s crazy roads over driving myself through Georgia’s crazy roads.
Dinner was a salad at a restaurant that had wi-fi so I could finally call home for the first time in 2 weeks. The time difference between here and home does not make calling home easy and it seems whenever I actually find a good time to call home, my mother is working overtime and isn’t home to answer the phone.
After this we were kind of at a loss for what to do. My travel buddy doesn’t drink and the whole town basically closes up except for the 2 or 3 bars around. We seem to have come a little late for the tourist season as well, there was hardly a soul to be seen, especially tourists. We wound up going back to our room and going to bed at 8 pm mostly out of boredom.
We woke up early and headed over to check out the last tourist attractions left in the town, a part of the wall with an elevated path for tourists to walk along, and St. Steven’s church. We killed the rest of our time waiting for the 11 am marshutka at a new café near our guesthouse that is operated by handicapped people. Finally we went and bought our tickets and got on the marshutka back to Tbilisi. While it was a long ride from my city, 7.5 hours of driving time, it was well worth it. It is the most beautiful town I’ve seen so far in Georgia.