Svaneti is a historic province in northwest Georgia, bordering Russia. Sitting in the Greater Caucasus mountain range, it's characterized by snowcapped peaks and deep gorges. The medieval villages of Upper Svaneti are dotted with koshki, defensive stone structures built from the 9th century onwards. You can see one in the image below. Apparently they used spiral scaffolding and oxen to haul up the stones.
The region of Svaneti is very old and is mentioned in Roman texts. Because of the isolated region the people still live in a very traditional way. Many villagers still travel by horse. They cut their hay by hand and transport it with oxen.
This is a hiker's paradise. You can travel for days hiking from one small village to the next. I only got to spend 4 days here but it was like traveling to another time.
Georgian food is delicious and Georgians love to eat. A typical Georgian meal consists of many courses including salads, khachapuri (bread made with cheese), ajapsandali (eggplant and other vegetables), lamb and beef kabobs, khinkali (dumplings) and many other items. You can not really go to a Georgian restaurant by yourself, you need at least 5 other people to help you eat all the food. In the photo below I am dining with several of my colleagues (Ms. Gray amongst them).
Georgia also claims to be the birthplace of wine. Everywhere you travel in the wine region, near Azerbaijan, you see vineyards. Many families grow their own grapes and make their own wine. Unlike in Europe and elsewhere, Georgian's make wine by letting it ferment naturally in large pots called, qvevri which are buried underground.
In the photo below we are at a winery with literally miles of underground storage. It was a hot day but the winery was very cool because it was so deep - which is the point. You can see several people wearing blankets.
The Supra is a Georgian feast featuring copious amounts of food and wine. A good supra can last for many hours and requires serious skill and pacing. The supra is based loosely on the Last Supper and there are many rituals and associated traditions. I learned early that you should avoid finishing anything because it will immediately be replenished. It is common to offer many toasts and a tamada presides over the entire feast. By the end the plates are usually piled several layers high on the table and the guests are nearly comatose.
One of the many hazards of travel in Georgia are the many unexpected animals in the road. Whether in small villages, on major highways, or traveling by rail, the general rule seems to be that animals go where they please and humans adjust. It gives new meaning to the phrase "free range."