To cold days with warm people

One of the things I learned at Northwestern was that if it’s snowing, it’s not that cold. If it’s snowing, it’s really not as cold as it could be. When I woke up in Telavi on Saturday morning and opened the curtain to see a ~3 inch blanket of snow covering everything, that’s what I said to my Texan friend, who doesn’t have a lot of experience with snow.

Well, things are, of course, a little different in Georgia. I think I’m still right about the cold thing, but when many buildings are unheated (or minimally heated) and you left your good snow boots at home in NC, the combination of cold and snow is a bit of a different animal.

Of course, besides the numb toes and the multiple blankets I slept under, it was a wonderful weekend. On Friday right after school, I hopped on a marshutka to Telavi with my Gurjaani companion Megan, and we met up with our other roommate from training in Tbilisi, Rachel. Rachel’s host family had found us a beautiful, if slightly chilly, guesthouse, that we had all to ourselves. Here’s a picture of one of the rooms, just to give you an idea.

We met up with some TLG friends Friday night for something that I think we’ve all been missing — PIZZA! Not to say I don’t love all the Georgian food, but a little taste of home now and then is definitely appreciated. Of course it wasn’t Randy’s or anything, but Georgian pizza is a hell of a lot better than no pizza at all.

The next day, like I said, we woke up to a surprise snow storm, which has only just now stopped. But we all came prepared with as many layers as we thought were necessary, so we piled them on and headed out towards the castle to do our requisite sight-seeing for the day. I, of course, wanted my solid breakfast, so we stopped in a corner store and I tried to ask for two muffins, out of a big box behind the counter. What I got instead was two laris worth of muffins, or six muffins in total. Gotta love the cost of life in Georgia.

We walked up to the castle next, and we pretty much had a private viewing of the place, because we were the first ones there. King Erekle II, the King of Kakheti from 1744-1798, ruled from there, and now you can see his throne room and the room where he was born and died, in addition to a historical museum and an art gallery. We kind of dashed through everything because it was so cold, but I was glad to finally see some of the Georgian art that I had heard so much about from various people — Georgians are very keen on telling them what all you should see in their country, and art generally comes behind major tourist destinations, food, wine, dancing, and music. But it’s still there.

We met one English-speaking employee in the art gallery, our final stop, and I think they must have noticed how cold we all were as we meandered through, so as we were heading down the stairs towards the exit, she comes running out of a back room, telling us that we had to come in a get warm before going back out into the snow. Of course we weren’t going to turn that down, so we followed her back into a cozy room with the other women who worked there and a wood-burning stove. It seemed so typical of Georgia, to be welcomed in like family just because they saw us all huddled up in our coats. They gave us tea, apologized profusely for not having cookies, and we left probably a half hour later, much happier, our thawed toes thanking us.

One of the high points of the weekend was wandering through Telavi’s huge market. I always forget the name of the things hanging up, but they call them the “Georgian Snickers.” It’s basically some variety of nut dipped like a candle into the Georgian “national sweet,” which comes from grape juice somehow, but the texture is very chewy, almost like caramel but easier to break off.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just hanging out with friends, sampling Georgian food and drink, and catching up after our first two weeks in school — it’s crazy to me how short it’s actually been, while I really feel like I’ve been in Gurjaani forever. It was fun to explore a new city, especially one that actually felt like a city, even with the freezing toes. I was happy to walk down Gurjaani’s familiar main street, though, when I got home after a marshutka ride that was lengthened by about 40 minutes due to the ~7 inches of snow that were on the ground when I woke up this morning.

Now I’m back at home, chilling (literally) in our dark family room with my host mom and sister, because it’s the only room in the house with a functioning heater. Of course the snow would cause problems with the power . . . just when I want the heat, it’s gone. But don’t worry about me, I’ve got plenty of covers on my bed for tonight. And I’m looking forward to going back to school tomorrow — I heard both 10th graders and 12th graders form complete sentences in English on their own, which was a huge step, because now I know they can do it. Progress!

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