My memories of travel are a series of snapshots, vignettes of particularly potent experiences in each destination. A chance encounter, an adventure gone awry, or a spectacular meal cooked to perfection. Oftentimes, those vignettes are tied to the catalyst which led me to be interested in visiting that place to begin with. Descending over Ulaanbaatar and seeing the empty vastness of the Mongolian steppes. Cresting a high-altitude pass in the Pamir Mountains at the start of my Silk Road adventure. Feeling the roar of the crowd and drumming of hooves during the annual Palio race in Siena. And, here in Georgia, gazing out over the magnificent sight of Gergeti Trinity Church against the backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains.
I have wandered all my life, and I have also traveled; the difference between the two being this, that we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.Hilaire Belloc
My road to Georgia was a long one, from the first picture I saw of Gergeti in its alpine splendor to a friend of mine’s amazing pictures from her tour through the area. Despite having been here for a month, it wasn’t until almost a month and a half in that I had the sensation of arriving in a long sought-after destination.
The grass was browner than I imagined it would be, and there was more snow on the distant peaks. My friend and I took a van to the church instead of hiking, and the number of tourists was disheartening. But all of that blew away like so much chaff in the wind when I found the hilltop from which the photo in my memory had been taken.
Travel has always been a balancing act for me. I love being blown by chance, to seize on unexpected opportunities and go to places I’d never planned on visiting. It’s part of the adventure and part of what makes travel so challenging. But I can’t help but be purposeful in my trips. There are reasons I want to go to each destination, beyond the desire to wander.
Whatever that reason may be, there is a distinct sense of accomplishment when I finally do it. I felt that sense of victory atop the hill at Gergeti, buffeted by the wind and roasted by the midday sun.
Nino and I had left in the morning from Didube Bus Station. Unfortunately, we failed to catch the 8:00 bus and left on the 9:00 instead. The journey to Stepantsminda was pleasant, following the Georgian Military Highway north towards the border with Russia.
We walked around Stepantsmninda for a little first, finding our way to Rooms Hotel to have some khachapuri and coffee while enjoying the view.
Hunger sated and eager to be on our way, we set off to hitchhike up the hill. It was a dismal attempt at hitch-hiking. When a vehicle finally stopped to pick us up, we ended up having to pay the driver. No matter. It got us up the bumpy, muddy road in one piece!
There was one snag, however, when the driver informed us we had 30 minutes to spend at the top. We chose to walk back instead. After all, what’s the point in making a day trip to spend only 30 minutes at the destination?
The ability to linger is one of the reasons I love to travel slowly — to find a place that brings me peace and soak in it for a few hours, a few days, or more. After the stress which saturated the last few months of my time in Korea, I was in desperate need of a good chill-out.
See, the reason I came to Georgia was for the mountains, for that view of Gergeti against the Caucasus range. But my objective for the first two months of my trip was to relax, reset, and rejuvenate. Objective completed.
Visiting Kazbegi and Gergeti Trinity Church was a great way to dip my toes in the pool that is Georgia’s natural beauty and has me chomping at the bit for the last bit of May when I’ll begin my hiking adventures in earnest. It can’t come quickly enough!
How about you? What’s the reason you’ve gone to a certain destination? Did it meet, exceed, or fall short of your expectations? Let me know in the comments below!