Your Guide to Georgia

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.

WP_20160814_09_55_09_Pro[1]

Gergeti Trinity Church (can be seen to the left of the snow-covered Mt. Kazbegi), seen from below.

WP_20160813_18_36_03_Pro[1]

View from the top, next to the church.

WP_20160813_18_44_44_Pro[1]

This cow made it to the top. What’s your excuse?

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.

WP_20160809_11_11_54_Pro[1]

Liberty Square, Tbilisi

WP_20160809_15_15_52_Pro[1]

WP_20160812_15_24_28_Pro[1]

The capital from above

WP_20160809_23_41_58_Pro[1].jpg

The city at night. On the right you can see cable cars ascending and descending to the top of the mountain.

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.

WP_20160814_21_43_20_Pro[1]

Khachapuri Adjaruli

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:

WP_20160809_15_09_55_Pro[1]

This is probably why Stalin is usually seen wearing a hat in photographs.

WP_20160811_14_09_36_Pro[1].jpg

Sadly, they had no Amontillado.

WP_20160810_19_57_27_Pro[1]

High view of wine country

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.

WP_20160818_19_52_55_Pro[1]

The beautiful beach that destroys your ankles.

WP_20160817_15_40_16_Pro[1].jpg

Batumi botanical garden

WP_20160817_13_40_48_Pro[1]

Batumi center, no doubt designed by Tim Burton.

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! 

WP_20160813_15_19_24_Pro[1]

They could have filmed Lord of the Rings here and saved a lot of money.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Your Guide to Georgia

  1. AndyT

    While both Georgias are still uncharted territory for me, I think I would settle for visiting Georgia-the-country – the pics are impressive, and Khachapuri looks soooo delicious 😀

    Reply
  2. gbd_crwx

    Nice pictures. How are the Georgian prices? For those of us that are not Russian Speakers, how welldo you get along on English? (Or other western European languages?)

    Re: disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, isn’t really the issue here not their wish for independence but how they go about achieving it?

    Btw, what is the Georgian view of Stalin?

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Georgia is pretty cheap in general. We did not spend much money there. Russian is the easiest way to get by. There was a government-sponsored program to teach English but I haven’t really noticed how effective it is. Occasionally though we’d hear some little kid speaking very good English in some small village, so it had some impact I guess.

      The issue with Abkhazia and South Ossetia is pretty complicated. There is a good argument that the two groups had a right to separate because their inclusion in Georgia and their inability to separate was rooted in Soviet law (which at one point Georgia declared totally invalid). Abkahzia and Ossetia were Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics inside the Georgian SSR, a Union Republic. Union republics had the right to secede (de jure until 1991), whereas ASSRs did not. If all Soviet law was truly invalid, then any ASSR should have had as much right to secede as a union republic.

      Now one of course could point out their alliances with the Russians and the fact that Russia obviously never gave a shit about the self-determination of these peoples, but from their point of view, why shouldn’t they turn to a bigger powerful neighbor for support?

      While they certainly aren’t angels, there’s really no good argument that one ethnic group deserves self-determination while another does not.

      And no this doesn’t compare to the Crimean situation, as the referendum was basically organized by Russia and carried out at gunpoint. And besides, the pro-Kremlin crowd always said Ukrainians and Russians are “the same people.” So how could that be an issue of self-determination? 😉

      Reply
      1. gbd_crwx

        Btw, since I have school age children, are there anything resembling zoo´s or amusement parks there? 🙂

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Yes, there’s an amusement park at the top of the mountain overlooking Tbilisi, and they’ll enjoy getting there via funicular. Batumi also has an amusement park with rides and a ferris wheel.

      3. Sanchez Garcia

        Bosnians,Croatians and Serbs are the “same people” genetically and lived together for centuries, but there were reasons why they had to separate. The Worlds media were in Crimea for the vote….the “at gunpoint” is simply drivel.
        In light of your anti-Putin slant…….what you say here about Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a backhanded way of conceding that Russia are in the right here.

        It’s quite stupid that they don’t concede the territories to these pleasant,kind and blameless people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia because apart from those 2 territories not wanting anything to do witht the Georgians who have been murdering them…….the frozen conflict status makes joining the EU an impossible task for Georgia….but if they conceded it then they would have a fighting chance of getting in the EU in the near future……unlike the basketcase that is Ukraine. They can’t get in with disputed borders.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “The Worlds media were in Crimea for the vote….the “at gunpoint” is simply drivel.”

        Actually it’s not. The problem is that you obviously haven’t studied the chronology of the referendum and the annexation whereas I have. This would not have happened without Russian military intervention, and it was carried out in the space of about two weeks without any debate or freedom for opposition.

        In the matter of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, if Russia is “right” it is only by default. And as for killing and ethnic cleansing, it has gone both ways. In fact, one of the flag raisers on the Reichstag, Meliton Kantaria, ended up dying in Moscow because he and his family were driven from their home by the Abkhazians. Another famous fighter for Abkhazian freedom was a Chechen by the name of Shamil Basayev. Hero today, villain tomorrow.

        Your claims about frozen conflicts and EU membership are fairly accurate when it comes to explaining Putin’s true motives in Ukraine, but in general they are inaccurate because you seem to be confusing them with NATO membership. Cyprus has a territorial dispute and yet it is a full EU member and Eurozone member.

  3. Fcvaduz

    Just been to Georgia in August myself. Batumi is very nice, although it is primarily a ‘sun and sea’ place. Kutaisi is wonderful and a great historic city. The bus journey between the two was very picturesque. Batumi definitely catered for the Russian (speaking) tourist, but I found in Kutaisi that younger people really didn’t speak Russian and English was preferred – could have been the people that I spoke to there. I was quite impressed with the country.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s