Georgia and Armenia are so forgotten really, probably as a result of being part of the Russian Empire and USSR which was so isolated. Certainly I “discovered” or “remembered” them because I’ve spent so much time in Russia. They are in essence as European as Greece, but they are 1000 miles east of Istanbul. Amazing. Georgia was a fascinating place to visit. They seem to have renovated the entire country “yesterday” with many things still being renovated. But the facilities are still very simple and there are no crowds, except for perhaps one UNESCO sign you almost have the feeling you are still “discovering” someplace much as it must have been 100 years ago before mass tourism.
Georgia is so many things at once – a combination of:
- charming architecture (half freshly renovated, half collapsing),
- decrepit (even by Russian standards) Soviet tower blocks,
- a sort of Mediterranean people, yet definitely different, incredible variety in faces and physical features, from the softest Western European to the most swarthy Arabic looking people
- strong Orthodox religion with all these churches from the 11th c. – Georgia’s glory days,
- better-than-Mediterranean food – lots of grilled food, “raviolis”, walnut and pomegranate sauces, some of the best bread in the world
- an impenetrable language with its own ancient alphabet
- Russian signs are hardly to be seen (formerly nearly everything was bilingual) but people 30 and older understand Russian
- Efforts everywhere to promote English
- Nation-building by Saakashvili – e.g. every town has its new police station (representing the visible break from the corrupt police of the past) and its new city hall – in the larger towns these are ALL round-ish geometric shapes (spheres, orbs, ovals, tubes!) with glass set into white metal.
- Soft multi-colored lights adorning buildings, paths, etc. – a bit tacky and Christmas-y but actually an economical way to make the cities and towns less dreary.
Add to this Batumi which has some Las Vegas/Dubai style towers and faux renovations (e.g. an Italian “piazza” which is somewhere between a reconstruction of an actual piazza and the Las Vegas version…). There is a tower dedicated to the Georgian alphabet(!), brand-new dancing fountains, a Leaning Tower of Pisa, Acropolis, and upside-down White House, etc. etc.
And that’s not even starting on the politics. Fascinates me that Saakashvili took this place from total collapse to a functioning country, top 15 places in the world easiest to do business, little crime or petty corruption. And then he blew it all by trying to get South Ossetia “back” and poking the Russian bear. Really stupid. He thought the West and NATO would defend Georgia against Russia! Really really stupid. And Georgia paid.
Click here or on the picture for Georgia photo album or click here for YouTube movie of pictures set to Georgian music