A collection of my different impressions from GeorgiaEntering by bicycle
on my way to the BBB meeting in Batumi, I cycled across the border from Turkey into Georgia. It was evening, and about the second village I came to, I saw a bunch of young people standing under tall trees. One guy waved to me, I also saw a bicycle leaning against a house, so I thought this might even be my group.
It wasn't, but it was rather my first experience of Georgian warmth and friendship. This guy, el guca, just saw me cycle by and wanted to welcome me to his country. it was my first taste of homemade Georgian wine. after a long harsh day on the bus, I let it refresh my spirits and glide down my throat. I was happy for that friendly touch, and to be able to speak again, and also excited at having arrived in another country. so I cycled on happily towards Batumi, which was still 10 km away, and happened to first of all bump into the Estonian group, who were thoroughly surprised that a random man on the street could identify them as Estonians, and then happily brought me to BBB headquarters.Batumi
A sea-side town and the capitol of the Adzharia region. During the BBB seminar we were quite occupied with the program, so I did not have much time to explore this city fully, and besides the weather was quite rainy. The waves on the very windy sea were so huge and choppy that swimming in the sea was somewhat less than a grand attraction, what with the weather like that. So my first impressions were of the neighborhood where BBB took place, and it seemed to me to be in a state of fair disrepair. Although later in the month when I came back through by bicycle and had another whole day there, I warmed up to it more. This is after I had also had the chance to visit other Georgian towns, where I also realized the contrast to a town like Kutaisi, for instance, which apart from a large central square, was mostly kept in darkness.Tbilisi
The capitol of Georgia also has the largest concentration of the country's resources. In fact, preceding a visit by US president George Bush earlier this year, they went on a special painting spree, transforming some of the 1960s block buildings into colorful objects of residence. They should do that in Újpest, Gazdagrét or Budaörs, I thought.
I could talk a while about how the motorcar has overrun the city. Then again, it is not that much different from Budapest, with these two exceptions: 1. Drivers in Tbilisi are much more aggressive than in Budapest, and will not stop for any puny pedestrian. The car is king here, above and beyond what I have seen anywhere else. 2. The main street of the city, which features many fine buildings, palaces, the parliament and more, is literally ripped into two pieces by a 4 lane large road. The braver Tbilisian will walk across and through the traffic, trying not to get hit, while most of the rest take underpasses. In my humble opinion, this is a ridiculous thing to allow for very downtown of the country's cultural, political, economic and tourist capitol.
Nonetheless, I'll lay off of spouting at the mouth, and focus on other aspects instead. It was very interesting to be in this city, just a few hundred kilometers due north of Baghdad. Historically, it has close ties with Russia. It is also one of the oldest Christian cultures. From my own cultural bias/origins, my impressions were of the Georgian culture and architecture as being well on its way to the orient. Some of the houses that I have seen, I have not seen anything similar anywhere else. Lots of lattice work, detail design and interesting angles and large jutting out balconies and overhangs.
Very invigorating thermal baths in the old town, which I visited together with Edit and the Estonians. Georgian orthodox churches are also quite unique from other orthodox churches I have seen in Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia. Since pictures speak a thousand words, I will try to save myself the writing hassle by instead displaying the pictures of these ... okay, tall angular brown-colored religious buildings, often placed on a hill.
If the above mentioned architecture was not enough to make me feel like I had been transported a great deal to the east, the Georgian alphabet and lettering everywhere certainly finished the job. Lots of shapely squiggles, soothing to the eye. I needn't be bored in Georgia, cause whenever I looked up, I could have lots of fun trying to decipher the letters, which brought me almost to a full solution of the puzzle set by the end of my time there.In the shadows of the Kazbek
A bit of literary license there, since it was quite sunny up in the mountains, no shadows in sight. Although on the first day clouds did envelop the peak of the Kazbek mountain, which is the highest mountain to date that I have seen with my naked eyes: 5033 meters. Kazbek is on the Russian/North Ossetian border. The Chechen border was also no more than 10 kilometers away.
It was wonderful to be in the high Caucasian mountains, very high mountains indeed, utmost beauty and wonder. With Edit we hiked for three days in the area, explored a mountain monastery, were pulled as if by a magnetic force in the direction of the great Kazbek. Had a wonderful Georgian breakfast, complete with homemade hadzhipuri and matsoni (the first a savory breaded cheese pastry, the latter a thick yogurt), in the village of Sno. Sno is a medieval village, composed of stone houses and a stone tower in the center of it. This kind of tower can be found especially also in the Svanetis mountain areas. From what I have heard, there are villages wholly composed of such towers.
Some foreigners do come to this area, as it has a reputation for being great hiking country. We ran into a British couple, a whole Polish hiking crew, and in a hotel we stayed in a French man and Levan, an artist from Tbilisi, who all made for enjoyable company.Toasting
Georgians are a very hearty people and love to drink their tasty, sweet wine late into the night, toasting to friendship, to love, to women, to mothers, to children, to each other, and to much more. It is a very intimate situation where one is able to open up to the others gathered around, and be happy and exuberant in the face of sharing these moments with other fellow humans gathered together. While women may be allowed to take it easy, men are usually encouraged to finish each glass along with each toast, and subsequently be filled back up again to the brim. Since Georgians have a higher alcohol tolerance than most of their western counterparts, one has to become crafty and shrewd in thinking of ways to stick with the toast, yet pour as little as possible down the throat. I was told by Levan from Tbilisi
that the average Georgian can drink two bottles of wine a day and one bottle of vodka. He did not seem to be exaggerating. The opportunity should not be missed here to stress that Georgians love music and love to sing. Thus singing is often just a moment away, and it matters not what talent one has to give, one's heart and soul here are what is meant to shine.Beauty
Georgian people, men and women alike, are beautiful. Dark complexioned, a touch of mystery, deep eyes, dark hair. Had I been less shy, I might have asked half of Tbilisi if I could take their picture.To come back
would be very nice. When I travel, I usually view my enterprise as something of just a part of a larger fabric in space and time. I see and enjoy things that I like and that I want more of. And I hope to come back and engage more. Also in the case of Georgia, I had glimpses of many things that might beckon me to some future exploration at a later date. I have still to go to Svanetis, a place that the author Wendel Steavenson has described as the most beautiful place on earth. For the sake of being in mountains, there is never really a good reason not to come back, or not to spend more time there. And for the sake of hospitality and promises of once returning, there is also no reason to consider those hollow words.