At the beginning of the year, I decided that I wanted to go to Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey. It’s still May, and I’ve already visited each of these countries, I even went to Turkey two and a half times (one time only in transit, on the way back from Georgia, but nevertheless celebrated with a 15-minute date on a bridge, it turned out to be the bridge of short-lived love).
I created wonderful memories and decided to write them down so that I don’t forget them, but also to inspire you to dream a bit 😉
We start in non-chronological order with Georgia, because that’s how I got inspired. There I went to a youth exchange, which I heard about in March and for which there was work to be done beforehand – I met the group, we were looking for a 5th person and when we found her, we set about organizing our workshop for the exchange, planning the intercultural evening and looked for good eco practices in Bulgaria to share. We got our plane tickets together and several weeks of exciting anticipation began.
Travel and arrival
This was my first trip outside the European Union to a non-neighboring country (my first trip with a passport was in Turkey this January). I was wondering how different traveling is when you need a passport and realized that when there is no visa requirement there is no difference other than the document you show at the border. We Bulgarians are blessed with the number of countries for which we do not need visas!
In the beginning, I felt like I had an extra responsibility for the girls I went with because it was the first youth exchange for all of them. My worries turned out to be completely unwarranted – all four had traveled before, approached the opportunity with curiosity and an open mind, quickly relaxed, and participated in the project itself. The only thing we were eye-catching with was that I was the only one who didn’t have checked-in luggage. Emi, the most active participant, organized a hotel in Tbilisi and a transfer from the airport for us because we landed on April 19th at 3 in the morning. Thank you! I have a feeling that I am used to uncomfortable trips, and it didn’t even cross my mind that we could make our lives easier by paying a few bucks for such extras. I loved how upbeat the girls were and that they knew there would always be someone to help with the heavy suitcases.
On the way to the hotel, the driver started talking to me in Russian (я только понимаю, не могу говорит!) wanting to offer us his services as a tour guide in Georgia. I, by some magic, not only managed to ask him about the history of Tbilisi and Georgia in general but also understood and remembered what he told me! Georgia was created approximately in the 2nd century BC, it was part of the Roman Empire, which founded Tbilisi because of the warm mineral springs in the area (the name “Tbilisi” came from the combination of “warm” and “water”, but I’m not sure whether the original words were in Georgian) and according to them, were the first to make wine. Later, from the project facilitator, I learned that the first feminist novel with a female protagonist was written in Georgia in the 5th century, as far as I remember, and that they had a unique figure for a king in the 12th century – the woman Tamar. She was skilled in both diplomacy and combat, and many legends are associated with her, including that she commissioned the creation of Vardzia, the rock city we visited and will write about below.
When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted with a surprise – our rooms were not ready! At four in the morning! We got an extra room at no extra charge so that none of us slept on a couch, I scored a private room and they offered us homemade wine. It was delicious. We had fun with the hotel staff.
The girls took advantage of us having to wait and asked for an iron to prepare their outfits for the next day when we got up at 9 and went out at 10am to explore Tbilisi. We didn’t manage to catch the free tour I wanted to go on – we found the parliament, took some pictures, and went to eat at the mall. At my first meeting with Khachapuri, I fell in love. There are several options, of which I have only tried Adjari and Megruli Khachapuri. Then I ate khinkali/khinkali, which is also a local delicacy. I was drooling, so good!
On the evening of the 19th, we met with almost all project participants at the Didube metro station, from where we had organized transport to Bakuriani, where our activities took place. The road was about 3 hours and very scenic, mountainous. I felt sick towards the end of it, but everything was just right.
What I learned
During the project itself, I learned a lot – we created informative materials on each topic we discussed. Here’s the video and booklet on eco-friendly habits, some of which I hadn’t thought of:
We spent the evenings together. There was a boy that really liked me, and I wasn’t sure how to get away from him because I found him interesting. But! Both his English and his Russian were bad enough that we couldn’t understand each other. With my stubbornness, I tried to explain to him several days in a row why I don’t want anything physical if we don’t have at least a mental understanding and interest. Failed. I mentioned it to one of the organizers, and he offered to talk to him even if it meant excluding him from the project. I was embarrassed and kept trying to cut him off, so he would understand why am I doing that… he even surprised me by picking me up from Yerevan airport the week after this project.
One night, the Bulgarian group got together and talked at length about the Erasmus program, who wanted how many children, and who had what kind of psychic abilities. I must have spoken for two hours about the opportunities that the European Union offers to young people, and in the following days, I answered crazy questions about my supernatural experiences and perceptions. It was fun, and I’m very grateful for that! 💕
Another thing that struck me is how much mindless violence everyone from St. Martin has witnessed. I do not understand how we can live in such different worlds – I have heard eerie stories from Bulgaria and Europe, I am grateful that I was never a witness of such, but I am really amazed at how diverse people are and what they are used to.
Before we left, I joked with the girls that I was going to find someone who would give me the tattoo I’ve been dreaming of for a few years for free. Well, that happened! Initially, we were supposed to be the only project in our hotel, but on the second day, we were told that an Erasmus training course group would be joining. Among the participants was the lovely Justina, who did hand-poke tattoos and did mine too! One morning after breakfast and 20 minutes I got this:
We also had two trips in the program – to Borjomi, which was part of the official program, and to Alkhatsike and Vardzia, which were optional on our free day. Borjomi is a resort town known for its mineral water, from which half of the Bulgarian group got upset stomachs. It was very beautiful and we met the founder of the local active youth group, which organizes actions for causes and topics that are important to them.
Alkhatsike and Vardzia were historical places to visit on the second free day: in the first city there was a beautifully preserved castle with a harem and towers. Of course, I was giddy with glee:
We went to Vardzia thanks to the enthusiasm of the chief facilitator Kote. He said it was 40 minutes from Alkhatsike, but it was an hour and a half – well worth the drive! We arrived at a city carved into the rocks in the 12th century, bearing the glory of Tamar and 80% destroyed during the earthquake in the 18th century. If I was giddy earlier, then here I would have cried from happiness and amazement at what people are capable of:
On the way home we flew to Istanbul and from there I caught a bus and the girls stayed another night. Circumstances came together in such a wonderful way that I saw a boy I liked on Yeni Kapi for 15 minutes. And we couldn’t find each other in Bulgaria the previous month. A joyful meeting, the continuation of which was in Plovdiv, but we no longer share a mutual road. Thank you. 🤗
In the day and a half that I spent in Bulgaria, I was able to see my parents, my brother and my cousin. I love you, you know. <3
Good projects don’t end when you get home, though. The girls and I had one more task – to share what the purpose of the experience was and what we learned, hopefully, to inspire more people to make a change in their daily habits.
After returning from Armenia, where I was on an excursion, I took the train to Kostenets. The girls brought me kebab, and we gave a presentation together about what we learned in Georgia. Not only about recycling plastic, and protecting the environment from garbage, but also about aWorld – a cool app where you can note what environmentally friendly actions you have taken every day and collect points. We didn’t go without photo material, of course:
Emi and Nia made me happy by taking me to Trajan’s Gate, letting me read about the history of the fortress and taking pictures of me! The icing on the cake was the impromptu visit to Kostensky waterfall, a great beauty.