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Georgia 2017

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Georgia 2017

Wake me up, before you GeoGeo

The early morning flight to Georgia was, as every flight before coffee time, a cruel mistake. The plane was full  and the plump Georgian lady besides me was grasping for air even before we took off (sitting besides a claustrophobic in an airplane can quickly turn to a nightmare) and constantly  pushing my hand off the armrest, as it often happens when you are unlucky enough to be seated in the middle seat, moaning something in Georgian that might have meant  "buzz off", "hands off" or other expression ending in "off". As soon as we took off, she started calling her daughter with Viber. Safety first, I thought...

As we arrived to Tbilisi airport, my daughter solemnly declared after a full flight's sleep: "On our way back, we will get here well in advance. I don't want to be stuck here".

We were going to have so much fun...


Georgia is a Eurasian country in the Caucasus, bounded by Turkey, Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The people in this country speak Georgian(!). It is an incomprehensible language that written resembles remotely Thai and that -in its oral form at least- lacks the word "Thank you", as you may realise very soon, no matter how much you tip or use the word yourself. Instead what you may get back as a thank-you is usually  a "aha!"  (remember the Norwegian boys 'band with the funny roman-warrior haircuts?)
A visit to Georgia or Armenia is never complete without visiting churches or monasteries. The religion is Orthodox and yet, as we frequently entered one church or the other,  the feeling I got was that of imposed respect and exaggerated austerity, as opposed to visiting a Greek (orthodox) church, where even the icons seem to look at you with a lighter, more self-erasing look. In general, I sometimes had the impression the people that I saw in churches belonged to another species and vanished into thin air as soon as they left the church, a feeling I must admit I also get in other countries as well.

Greeks in Georgia
As many countries in the Caucasus area, the country has been linked with the fate of many Greeks, especially in the city of Batumi, nowadays the summer (Black-) sea-resort par excellence for Georgians and Armenians. That was in the beginning of the 20th century, as many Greeks living in Turkey (Pontos more specifically, on the southern coast of the Black Sea) desperately tried to flee the Turkish genocide by means of the Black Sea (Armenians were not the only ones having suffered extermination: around one million Greeks were exterminated as well, a fact (wrongfully) not publicized by Greece).
My grandfather seems to have been one of the lucky few that escaped and for historical reasons I thought I'd visit the region.
Unfortunately, the traces of Greeks in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, seem to have all but disappeared. Of course, in the Museum of National Art, the presence of the Colchis empire is huge, but apart from that almost nothing reminds of Greece, or the Argonauts for that matter.

The city of Tbilisi boasts of splendid architecture. It is the kind of place where romantic,  glorious art-nouveau houses stand besides grim ruins, where venturing one or two streets further becomes uninteresting and irrelevant.  But also the kind of city where crossing a corridor to an inner yard may leave you flabbergasted. Ours was a rather well prepared trip in that sense, and the past glory we met in well-hidden places was just fantastic. Have a lookie here for inspiration.

Eating was not all that much of an exotic experience as I had thought. Khinkali, the local name for dumplings, is probably the one you should start with, before passing to other greasier stuff… Khacapuri, your local boat-shaped pizza with all-you-can-eat (before massive heart attack) inside, is admittedly irresistible. And Churchkhela is the ubiquitous, photogenic confection hanging almost outside every food shop and every local vendors' stand in Georgia. It looks like colourful beads in wax, and this is where I set my limit.
Some say wine was invented in Georgia, and there are hundreds of places for wine tasting. There are of course those who think that tango was invented in Finland, while others say pizza was invented in Turkey, but I am old fashioned and continue to believe wine was invented by Obélix in France. There is a hoard of uninspiring wine-tasting holes in Tbilisi, sometimes resembling dungeons, thus indulge and tell us what you thought!

We had many nice moments in Leila, the must of your stay in Tbilisi. The lemon juice is great, the place as well. Cafe Littera (very well hidden in the Georgian Writer's Union building) is worth a visit, if not for the fabulous building for its' food. Prospero's bookshop has a small relaxing yard to settle in between your strolls and Racha Dukhan is the place to go if you have no more money left or have totally lost your self respect: cheap food on a traditional surrounding for binge drinking with locals and stuff with less than fine manners, this no-nonsense underground place will feed you alright, then basically throw you out or flatly refuse you at around 22.00. The menu is in Georgian, look around and point to order. It's OK to do that here... Last but not least, Barbarestan may be the coziest restaurant with an excellent variety of wines. The chef only prepares recipes found in an ancient book in a flee market, therefore the menu is limited , but everything was well prepared and served.

If you are looking for a trendy post-Soviet place to relax, yet one that looks as if the Soviets are still just around the corner, combined with a good coffee and a snack among youngsters from all over the planet seriously dedicated to their mobiles and laptops, head to the Fabrika (the "urban hotspot!") for some positive and definitely soviet vibes, among capturing pictures, beton structures and embarassed english-speaking waitresses.

On the road again: Let's go or Let go?
Driving in Georgia seems to be an overly exciting experience. You may get this feeling rather soon, actually during your first minutes on the road. 3 out of 4 cars are German, mainly second-hand but still going strong BMWs, . A significant number of Georgian men think they are as good in driving their extreme-makeover cars as Schumacher, in the good old days. They like to share their talent a maximum, in the most central arteries of the city, where you can admire them zigzagging in the traffic in an unprecedented speed and manner (Palermo taken apart) that would put you to jail in any other country.

The fact that the notoriously corrupt (especially street-) police has improved dramatically after Saakashvili (the 36yo pm that succeded Shevardnadze) sacked the entire (!!!) police force and replaced it with unbribeable agents can only make you wonder, how the situation was before...
Therefore my opinion is, while in Georgia it is best not to drive. You do not want to mess with drivers with an ego as big as their BMW 6 ...
Taxis are cheap, but somehow do NOT have a taximeter. Good luck if you catch them around Abanotubani (the sulphur baths area) or any other touristy place, especially if you do not negotiate beforehand. There is an effective, no-nonsense, Russian-built metro, deep, very deep under the ground with cheap, very cheap tickets.
All the cyclists are dead.

People are reputed to be very polite and hospitable in Georgia. Maybe so, but you'll have to move further than Tbilisi probably. I found people in Tbilisi indifferent, if not a little rough. It would help to be able to talk, engage in some form of conversation with them, but that proved difficult. A rather puritan and male dominated society, where the Orthodox church remains the stronger social force, the feeling I had in this otherwise contemporary city was that the model-looking younger women were a paradox I could not conceive, while men seemed more reassured and well in their shoes.


Baby you can drive my car (reassuring sticker on a Georgian car)



















Don't even think of stealing this magnificent chair!




Did you know there are regular trips from Tbilisi to Japan ?



Don't forget to bring lots of film!