After another brief stint abroad I am truly back. Prior to that, I was on vacation in Georgia, and I have been waiting a long time to share my experiences there.First let’s start with a few basic facts about the country.
Georgia is known to its own people as Sakartvelo, which is a Georgian word meaning “pedestrians don’t have right of way.” If you’re wondering where we get the name “Georgia” from, it apparently comes by way of the Persian “Gurgan,” which they in turn got from the Arabic “Jurjan.” Though St. George is highly revered in Georgian culture, his name has nothing to do with that of the country. It is located in the southern Caucasus, and as a result it has a long history of being invaded and conquered by numerous empires. One of Georgia’s worst tormentors was the infamous Timur-i-Leng, better known as Tamerlane, although as brutal as he was he would usually leave after seriously wrecking someone’s shit.
Obviously the first thing many American readers are no doubt wondering is how Georgia the country stacks up against Georgia “The Peach State.” Luckily I have experience in both, having spent a little over three months in Georgia (the US state). Nearly all my experience in the latter was confined mostly to the town of Augusta, which is famous for The Masters golf tournament. While there were certainly positive aspects, what I probably took away most from that experience was the May humidity and being harassed by a large number of bees. On the plus side, I did see Enemy at the Gates when it first came out while I was in Georgia, so there’s that, I guess. However, I think the following fact will show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Georgia the country is superior to Georgia the state. Georgia the country is famous for its wine, as it is believed to be the origin of wine making itself. Georgia the state, at least when I was there, has a law against Sunday sales of alcohol. Georgia the country probably has better peaches as well. I think that pretty much settles it.
Georgia was the second nation to officially adopt Christianity, no doubt in order to “get in on the ground floor of this new religion thing.” I’m sure the Armenians never let the Georgians forget about their second place title as well. Given that the country has one of the world’s oldest established Christian churches, you can bet that your trip to Georgia will include looking at a lot of churches, both from the outside and inside! Though seriously speaking, I can say that as someone who has seen a lot of old churches, Georgia has some truly impressive cathedrals and more importantly, unique features in terms of architecture, decoration, frescoes, etc. Of course actually getting to some of the churches and monasteries can be a bit of a hike.Georgia’s emergence as a tourist destination is largely the work of former president Mikheil Saakashvili. Pretty much everyone you talk to credits him with eliminating corruption in the country and transforming it into a modern state, including those who disagree with his policies toward Russia. The capital Tbilisi is a testament to Saakashvili’s achievements in the sphere of reforms and modernization. In short, Georgia is a surprisingly tourist friendly, modern country. Do not let the frequent instances of cows impeding traffic deceive you.
Getting back to the topic of Saakashvili and Russia, I noticed nearly all Georgians I met were basically Russia-friendly. I think this fact might upset some people but I don’t find it surprising. There is a rather naive belief among some people that any country that has some official beef with Russia must be a natural ally, as though there’s some kind of global anti-Russia coalition (the Russians certainly think there is). In reality, the situation is a bit more complicated. For one thing, Georgia gets a lot of tourism from Russia. Everywhere we went there were Russian tourists, far more than Western ones. There are also vital trade links between the countries. I didn’t pry too much into the topic, but part of me suspects that it’s a lot easier for Georgians to simply write off the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, I suspect because both these national minorities are in fact ethnically different from Georgians. Besides, one can support the international community’s opinion on Georgian territorial integrity without demanding that Georgians express hatred towards Russians (most of whom had nothing to do with the wars in Abkhazia or Ossetia), as that would accomplish absolutely dick. If the reader disagrees, please feel free to liberally advertise Georgia as a tourist destination to the world so as to offset the loss of Russian tourism.
Possibly another positive side effect of the war on corruption is the helpfulness and honesty of the people. You’re not mobbed by people trying to rip you off left and right. Taxi drivers will haggle, but when they agree to a price they will stick to it and they will help you find hotels, wait for you while you visit some sites, and stay with you the whole day if need be. On one occasion a cashier at a museum seemingly decided on a whim to let us (a group of four) and another group of six tourists enter for free. They even provided a tour guide for no additional charge.
Of course no discussion about Georgia can be complete without covering the topic of food and wine. Georgian cuisine is arguably the best in the entire former Soviet Union. Georgian dishes are simply far more flavorful than Slavic Russian or Ukrainian cuisine thanks to the liberal use of various herbs, spices, and sauces. Khachapuri is a particularly well-known dish comparable to pizza. Probably the most popular incarnation of khachapuri is the “Adjaruli” style, which is eye-shaped and includes one or two eggs on top of Georgian sulguni cheese. While Georgian restaurants are easy to find in Ukraine and Russia, I’ve noticed that the khachapuri served in many Georgian restaurants is far thicker than what you find in those restaurants outside of Georgia.As mentioned before, Georgia is believed to be the cradle of wine manufacturing, with evidence of such activity dating back roughly 6,000-8,000 years. The Kakheti region of eastern Georgia is wine country, and wineries provide tours and wine tasting for guests. I am partial to red dry Georgian wines such as Saperavi and Mukuzani. Also, how many times have you ever said to yourself: “I wish I could drink an alcoholic beverage out of Josef Stalin’s head?” Well guess what- Georgia’s got you covered: The final stop in Georgia was the seaside city of Batumi. I have to say that Batumi was considerably less impressive, but this might be due to the particularly bad part of town we stayed in. The center and the boardwalk area are both very nice, and we were fortunate to catch an amazing concert featuring traditional Georgian dancing.
I was not a fan of the beaches in Batumi, as they have no sand but rather pebbles that turn into cobblestone just below the waterline. I am told, however, that there are good beaches just outside the city. Batumi also boasts and incredible botanical garden.Apart from a couple disappointments in Batumi, this was an incredible trip. I highly recommend seeing Georgia if you happen to be in this part of the world, and be sure to give yourself enough time to see everything. You’ve got modern cities with vibrant night life, the Black Sea coast, and incredible mountain vistas. Why are you still reading this? Go to Georgia! GO NOW!