I first heard of Georgia in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall fell. At that time Michael Gorbachev’s charismatic foreign minister Eduardo Shevarnadze was asked to lead Georgia before he was formally elected in 1995.
The next time was when my cousin Siddharth Patil’s friend and colleague, Omar, a U.S. citizen was travelling around Central Asia, the countries surrounding the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and made Tbilisi home for 8 long years. Omar swears that Georgia is one of the best places to stay in the world.
Above were the two reasons that one day I would travel to Georgia to confirm Omar’s point of view. In June, we wanted to travel to Europe. However getting a Schengen visa for Indian citizens was taking months, so we started looking for other alternatives. One of the countries that popped up was Georgia. According to the latest ordinance if one has a visa or work permit in the 70 countries that are listed, no visa is required. At immigration, they just examined my Canadian Visa and stamped my entry, no visa form to fill, no fees to pay, no long lines, that’s how easy they have made it.
Georgia is the smallest country around the Black Sea. With a population of just 3.7 million and land area of 70,000 sq. km and large neighbors such as Turkey, Ukraine and Russia. With such over-bearing neighbors, political stability and economic independence can be a challenge. To get a better estimate of size, Sri Lanka is about 65,000 sq. km with a population of 20 million. Tbilisi is the capital and is home to a third of the population. Politically, it is a parliamentary representative democratic republic which has experienced smooth transfer of power after elections.
Georgia and Tbilisi are still rather unheard of. So, if you are looking to visit a beautiful destination undiscovered by tourists, you have an option you can exercise now. Tourism is one of the largest industries and has taken a beating due to Covid and when things had just started picking up, the war in Ukraine further delayed the recovery. Many Europeans are convinced that Putin is going to attack Georgia next – and this has made matters worse. In India many assumed we are travelling to Georgia, in the U.S. We were also warned that Putin was looking for able bodied men and there is a chance he may draft us to fight the Ukraine war.
Georgia has a lot to offer
From its rich culture, diverse landscapes, valleys spread with vineyards, churches and towers perfectly perched in impressive mountain scenery, along with the fact that wine was born here 8000 years ago, Georgia (Saqartvelo) will not disappoint you. The diverse landscape varies from the highest point Mount Shchara at 5193 meters to the sea level town of Batoumi along the Black Sea. The great Caucasus mountains from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea has more than 2672 prominent peaks.
Tbilisi is one of the coolest cities I have been to for many reasons – its architecture, the food, the wine cellars, the sulphur baths, walking trails, the bars… In a few years it will be on the ‘must-visit city list’ in Europe and Asia. Within a 1 km radius of our hotel, The Strofi by Tbilisi, we had more than 100 cafes, restaurants, bars, bakeries and wine cellars. And finally Georgia is extremely budget friendly: US$7 for a liter of home wine in a full service restaurant, US$3 for a glass of craft beer, US$3 for a mug of gourmet coffee, US$1 for a mushroom and spinach pie that is sufficient for a quick lunch, and quality as good as in Europe. A trendy city at a great price, no surprise that many digital nomads have made Tbilisi home, which has led to many new co working spaces opening up across the city. We visited one such space in Fabrika, an erstwhile sewing company from the Soviet era, that has been converted into a complex with a hostel, a coworking space, bars and restaurants. Fabrika is one of the trendiest places in Tbilisi to hangout at.
Of special mention are the people who are proud, high-spirited, welcoming and helpful, a culture where guests are considered a blessing, and hospitality that makes life worth living. In Georgia social attitudes remain traditional and family networks rule supreme despite three decades of fast-paced change since the end of the Soviet Union. English is widely spoken unlike as in Russia and most signs are in English and Georgian. The one aspect that surprised us was that the locals vouched for the low levels of corruption in daily life. Lot of credit goes to the “Rose Revolution” in 2003 when all police officers were sacked and new ones hired on a higher salary. Transparency International named Georgia as “the best corruption buster in the world” and World Bank acknowledged it as a “unique success in fighting corruption” At Tbilisi airport, we experienced the efficiency at immigration and security, on par with Singapore. Georgia gets a high score on the Human Development Index with literacy levels at 99.56%.
Georgians don’t like Putin, Russians and Russia
We found the Georgians to be lovely, warm, friendly, cultured people but, clearly, underneath their smiling exterior, most thoroughly dislike Russia.
Georgians do not like Putin, Russia and Russians for very good reason. They believe Georgia would have achieved higher levels of prosperity if Russia was not interfering politically. For no fault of theirs 5000 Russians are entering the country every day to avoid being drafted or connect to the global financial system and access their money. This daily intake accounts for an additional 3% population load per month. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and annexed two territories which remain occupied to this day. When we asked our guide Vaska if there was anything that Russia brought to the table or if Georgia benefitted in any way, the answer was an emphatic “No”. However, Vaska did highlight the point that many senior Georgians who became irrelevant politically or financially in the new republic still favor the old Soviet way of life.
Highly recommend to reserve 2 days to visit the country side.
One day could be the beautiful Vineyards followed by a winery and a visit to Signagi (the most beautiful town in Georgia) >>>
Vineyards in Eastern Georgia and Signagi
After the wine tour we visited the beautiful town of Signagi where we also had a traditional Georgian dinner. We requested our driver Tiger and tour guide Amelia to raise a toast to the wonderful day and our very enjoyable trip to Georgia. The toast went something like below.
We pray for Love, We will fight for love, We drink and pray for our dreams to come true.In Georgian culture, it is an honour to be chosen a toastmaster; normally it is someone who is well respected for their wisdom and age
Georgia and Wine
Throughout centuries of Persian, Roman, Ottoman, Mongol, Soviet and other invasions, “the local people were struggling and giving their lives to preserve their unique language and their right to make wine.” “Even in the Soviet time, with everything being considered state property, people would make a bit of wine for themselves to have something different from the mediocre state produce.”
Read more at Georgia’s ancient wine culture has lasting relevance >>>>
“Even where we think a culture like France or Italy is so wine-centric, Georgians just take it to a whole different level—much deeper than what we’re exposed,” said Taylor Parsons, an Los-Angeles sommelier, who has visited Georgian wine country three times.
Read more at Why Georgian Wines are the most unique on this planet >>>>
Day Trip To Caucasus Mountain Kazbeg
The other day reserved for the countryside we headed to the Caucasus mountains. We took a Viator tour that took us through the various towns enroute to Kazbegi followed by a grand lunch at the Rooms Hotel in Stepantsminda (St Stephens). This tour was slightly expensive but worth it. We were three of us plus our guide Vaska who also drove us around.
The Sulphur Baths
The Sulphur Baths in Tbilisi are an extraordinary experience. The fresh spring water has a temperature between 37-50 degrees centigrade and is rich in minerals that have healing properties. Some of the baths date back to the 16th century.
If there is one cuisine that is both vegetarian and vegan friendly it is Georgian. The food is influenced by the Greeks, Persians, Turkey and the Central Asian Republics. The food is absolutely delicious and amongst the best in the world. Georgians are masters at baking bread, making cheese and wine. The craft beer scene is also developing very fast and we had the chance to experience some of the best IPAs.
Walk around Tbilisi: Cafes, Neighborhoods, Flea Markets and Bazaars.
We visited 2 museums, The Georgian Museum and The Georgian Jewish Museum. The two sections worth seeing are the wildlife species in the Caucasus and the floor dedicated to the Soviet Union from 1921 to 1991. The Jewish Museum honored the Oscar Schindlers of Georgia, who played a big role in saving many Jewish lives from the holocaust. It was amongst the few countries, just like India, that had virtually no cases of antisemitism.
Time to say Lehitraot
It is now time to say “Lehitraot” rather than just say goodbye. Lehitraot in Hebrew means “until we see each other again”. We really enjoyed our trip to Georgia and we will visit again. On the next trip the plan is to do an 8-day trek in the Caucasus mountains or ski in the 4 resorts that Georgia has to offer, just hang around in Tbilisi, walk around, sit in a cafe, do some work, laze around, take an afternoon siesta, trek on weekends, meet interesting people and relish some great food and wine at prices which are extremely budget friendly. Georgia is a country that unconditionally loves you. Like Omar, did we fall in love ? Yes we did.
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