First, second and other.. impressions of the Republic of Georgia

Flag of Georgia

Georgia! საქაართველო!

Land of contrast! Where the ladies wear super fur coats, and step over the largest holes in the street ever imagined.. The first impressions are so incredibly mixed!

Fur coats and destruction
First, the people: The most welcoming, warm people you have ever had the chance to know. They feed you until you can no longer speak or move, and then more food comes from the kitchen! Obviously of low means financially, they carry themselves with pride, show nothing of their lowered economic status, and show you more friendship and goodwill than you can imagine.
I had the incredible advantage of entering Georgia as a member of the family. The love was immediate between us. What a privilege to be admitted in a family. 
When it comes to family, there is rarely been such togetherness. As soon as I arrived in Georgia, a member of the family died. A sad, sad event, as she was loved by many. Being admitted in that circle was not only moving, it was an incredible experience. So, this was Week One in Georgia..
When a person is about to pass on to another world, the whole family gathers around and bathes the person with its presence, including laughter, but also tears, as you see the old person depart. As such a gathering recently, 40 or more people were present, helping the elderly grandmother to pass on to the other side. A large table was set, then another at the end, then another and then the food began to come, wine began pouring, and although people were there to surround the moribund person, they laughed, ate and drank as always, remembering the great moments with that person. What spirit!

Funeral rites and customs:

ancient tombstone
village of Koda
The great lady passed on. She will be buried in the village where she spent her entire life after a four-day wake. A great feast is being organized where close to 500 people will come and celebrate her passing with, once more, a great deal of food, wine, more than likely tears. She will be brought to the Orthodox church, and blessed by the Orthodox priest, a constant figure in the lives of the people of Georgia. The priests participate in all walks of life, but that subject will be addressed later. Then, a sermon will be said. Women will wear a scarf over their heads to enter the church. The body will then be carried to the cemetery, high on the hills of the village of Koda, and will be buried there. The feast will begin thereafter and will last way into the night. Tables have been brought over, as well as benches. Large steel poles have been extended from the fence to the house’s upper terraces, and will serve as temporary roofs for people as needed for wind and rain. 2 days prior to the burial, the ladies are already preparing all the food needed for the feast. They are not getting together for the food, but to give the person a send-off of importance. The Western culture has much to learn about this custom, which allows people of all ages, young as well as old, to recognize the importance of a person, and the reality of death. The casket cover is in front of the door, a beautiful cross on its top. It is black, and the cross is slightly askew. It is the cross of Nino, who evangelized Sakartvelo, and made a cross out of grape wines and...her hair...
Nino's cross in Sameba.
The lady is resting in the lower part in the upper bedroom, in a wake led by her female children and grandchildren. Crowds of ladies in black, dozens at a time, file from the streets, to the house, and through the bedroom. Four days she is there, on a constant watch. The scene around the house is impressive, as the men welcome all day, in the cold and the wind. The male members of the family are lined up, and receiving anyone who comes in to pay their respects to their departed one. The ladies are in the back of the house, cleaning dishes that will be used for the funeral feast, or preparing the food. The immediate members are not allowed to work, simply to watch and wait. Most all of them are entirely dressed in black, a color that the immediate members of the family will wear for the rest of the year.
A large modern tombstone in Koda
The cemetery in this village is on the outskirts of the village, on the hill. The winds blow heavily most of the year, but the cemetery is protected by a curtain of cypress trees. The graves are large and more than double the size of a Western culture grave. They are easily 5 square meters for only 2 people. A likeness of the person, usually of the couple, since they mostly rest together, has been etched into the slab of marble. Their names, birth and death dates are the only bits of information on the stone. The tombs are then surrounded by a row of stones, only a few inches high, that determines the boundaries of the tomb. There is, next to every tomb, a table and some benches. They are used for picnics next to the graves, where people who come and talk to their departed members set up food and drinks. It is customary to drink 4 or 5 glasses of wine, and to spill the last part of every glass on the space where the person is resting. This is not, however, done the last of the burial, but at later visits.

Let's talk about the food!

From khachapuri to khacharuli, to perashki, and passing through satsivi, the national dish, you will never go hungry in Sakartvelo! Based on ingredients that won’t cost an arm and a leg, they fill you up, just as the people do. Most dinner include a type of bread, such as khachapuri, a soft bread filled with grated cheese, and baked in a pan on the stove top. The cheese used is a sort of feta but has less salt. It ressembles a great big quesadilla, but the bread is fluffy, and warm. It is wonderful! Satsivi is a chicken or turkey dish, where the meat is cut and kept with its skin, boiled and then the magic begins: a sauce of nigosi, walnuts, one of the main products with citrus fruits in Georgia. The sauce also have special ingredients:“suneli, and marigold which makes the sauce a bright yellow, and gives it a taste unknown to most taste buds. That spice is....Turmeric!?  Satsivi is eaten cold, or at room-temperature.
Eggplants or “badrijani” are prevalent in the Georgian cooking, and they are often seen in thin slices, as "badridjani nigvsit" where the eggplant has been fried and cooled. Then, a sauce made of walnuts, again, spices and coriander, fresh and also in powder and a little garlic, is added to the inside of the eggplant slice and the whole thing is closed up tight. They are eaten cold also, and make a wonderful dish.

Perashki! Bring it on!
Perashki is made of bread, “puri” and potatoes, “kartopili”. The potatoes are cooked and mashed with some salt and pepper, some spices added and then they are covered with a soft bread dough made with yogurt. The last step is to fry them in oil. Although this make make your cholesterol levels shake for a while, it is tasty and you won’t need more than a couple to fill your stomach. 

In the winter, fresh vegetables are not very available, but you will find cabbage. The markets also offer beets, green onions, cilantro, lots of parsley, carrots, and all types of root vegetables. Beans and grains are also prevalent. The red kidney beans are cooked Mexican-style, and cilantro is added, along with onions. They can also be eaten in a sort of soupy mixture, and boiling hot! Oatmeal made with milk, rice in milk with bits of apple, romi, a type of wheat pudding ressembling a white polenta, all these are eaten for breakfast, along with bread. And, will you say...when do you eat? The Georgians eat at all times of the day! They will eat in the early morning, sit down again at 10, have a "chai", or tea, at 11, eat lunch at 2, again at 5, and then, of course, the evening meal! No, you will not go hungry in Georgia!

Let us not forget to mention the Khinkhali!
Pass the pepper!! and watch the fingers!
It's hot!

Khinkhali are little pocket of wonderful meat and juices, and if the juices don't run down your sleeves, you have failed to eat them properly! A normal person can easily eat 5 or 6 of these little wonders, largely covered with pepper, and downed with a large amount of beer..They are what could be called dumplings or ravioli, Georgian style. They are great!
Yesterday, I actually had khinkali sulgunit, in other words, with cheese in them! They were great too, but I misses the juices that form in the meaty ones. Yeah for meat!

The landscapes:

Well, crossing the border from Turkey, the sights are quite incredible. Batum'i is a port town, and an obvious retreat for summer vacations. The tourists seem to be quite in demand there. There are some nice, very nice hotels, where the best can be had for as little as $60 a night. One of these hotels in the center of Batum'i even boasts a very fancy restaurant at the top of its rooms, with full service, a large fish tank and beautifully gilded tablecloths. The food is very good, and very reasonable. Then, the drive from Batum'i to T'bilisi changes. The scenes in the little villages are surprising, with pigs, cows, and goats, along with chickens, free-ranging in the streets! Watch out! And if that is not interesting enough, watch for the HUGE holes in the streets! The government has failed to repair them lately..The same holds for the whole country. Georgia is a volcanic, mountainous, earthquake-shaken country. The roads don't hold long.

You can see people getting water from a local water hole, as there might not be any running water in the houses. Imagine yourself about 100 years ago...Yes, you did know your neighbors very well, and your house could have been quite rudimentary. This country seems to have stopped growing. And then, you look closer, and everyone has a cell phone! Then, open your eyes and notice the satellite dishes on the roofs of the houses. How startling!

The villages don't lack for charm. Little stores pop up everywhere, and sell, for the most part, a lot of the same things, mainly citrus fruits, lemons and oranges, a ton of bananas (where do they come from? Apparently, Turkey! Can't be...), and lots, and lots of bread and....of course: TEA!

Tea is, or was, the largest production here during the time of the Soviet Union! Bushes and fields of bushed now stand idle, as no one has had the money to take over the fields..


A surprising city. Imagine a city of great arts, architecture, writers, and people of high intellectual qualities, and you have T'bilisi. Now, imagine it in disrepair. Compare these pictures:
Soviet-style buildings and garage rooftops
This one is of the buildings outside of town. There are dozen of these and, at one point, they were the proud accomplishment of the Soviet Union. All these buildings have some redeeming value, as they are all differents, with architectural differences. The inside of these buildings, the individual appartments have architectural design such as entrance columns and high ceilings with medallions, but the outside have been turned into a half-hazard collection of whatever everyone wanted to build on small plots of land they claimed their own after the fall of the Soviet Union. People decided to build themselves a garage, and demolished the parks that had been made for the children in the center of these buildings. Since the laws were non-existant, everyone took what little space they could, and they kept it. It is not against the law to take such land, and the government is talking of tearing all these down and rebuilding from scratch. A nice idea!

The second picture is next to the Opera. It is the statue of the builder of the opera. These statues are everywhere. They are not necessarily of political men, although there are a few, but mainly of people who have been painters, writers, dancers, artists of all kinds. Georgians are known for the Arts, and for the gold. Remember the Golden Fleece? Well, yes, it came from Georgia!

Sept 2013:

Since the first publication of this page in 2008, things have changed in Georgia, and yet, they are the same.
 First thing:
The streets have A LOT less holes. They have made an incredible effort to make driving easier on the tires, but yet people still drive like crazy maniacs. Just yesterday, someone passed me on the left (good, good) and decided to come so close, he broke my rear-view mirror(bad)! They weave through traffic like bats out of hell. I have driven here since 2008 and I see more police officers now, but people don't seem to worry about cutting a double white line at night, in the rain, in full traffic! They figure the oncoming traffic will leave them room!  So, there went my mirror..

The Georgian police has really tried to change things. For one thing, the era of corruption seemingly gone, all the new police building are very visible. They want the working of the police to be transparent. Here is the local police building. It looks like the new bridge in town, loads of glass, and a curved shape. The transparency is in the glass. It is a statement, but it really seems to have changed since the arrival of soon-departing Saakashvili. All new police buildings are extremely well-guarded, and see-through.
The police building in the neighborhood of Massivi
Second thing:
In the effort to bring tourists, major buildings have been either built, renovated, or destroyed. There are some real good ideas behind that, but the tourists will be and are not fooled. These things have been built for them, and do not profit the average citizen who is paying to support them. In the end, I do believe this will be a good thing, but right now, it is simply widening the gap..
..garbage cans are everywhere! Truly the best thing I have seen here! Big dumpsters for people to use and clean! T'bilisi is a very windy city and plastic bags were flying in all the trees before. It is getting better. Now, if we could eliminate little tiny cellophane bags completely like in most places in Europe, where you HAVE to bring your bag, or you have to buy one, that would be great.  
Today, I was told by the woman "Gestapo-trained" security guard at the front of the local grocery store that I could not bring my empty recyclable bags with me.. She made me check them in a locker! Then, at the cashier's stand, I was given 3 large plastic non-recyclable bags to put my groceries in.. Totally assenine! Of course, I proceeded to get my bags back, and put the plastic bags in...Argh!
Maybe this will come later..Let us hope someone understand the lack of logic of it...

With the influx comes a variety of new needs. Restaurants, for one. Georgia has great places to eat. The menu is always pretty similar, and prices vary little, unless you go to a place where the tourists are likely to go. There, expect to pay double.. Old Town Restaurant, for example, or Dzveli Kalaki, in T'bilisi, is a real tourist trap. We tried it, knowing this would be the case. The decor is very cool, but portions are small, service is slow, and food is expensive.
On the other end, Khinkali Center, on Rustaveli blvd, has quite a menu, and caters to locals. For 2 people, 15 khinkali, 2 beers, a mineral water and a large salad will cost you under 20 GEL, or 9€. The decor is fun, too. Across the street and up to the left a bit, try Georgian Cuisine/Pasanauri. That is my personal favorite dowtown. Locals only, good food, good prices and nice relaxed atmosphere.

Right around the corner from Khinkali Center, you also have Khinkali House. No mystery what you will eat there either. Try the kababi, you won't be disappointed either. One per person, with 5 khinkali and a salad to share, and you will have plenty to eat.

Be aware, however, that most places do not have any way to take a Visa card. Bring cash, laris, preferably, or the change will cost you..Visa cards are taken more readily since 2014, but it is still easier to pay cash at most restaurants. Places where tourists are now have credit card machines..for a good reason...

ATMs are the best way to get € or $, or GEL. One recommendation is to not take GEL from the ATM, the exchange rate is not so good. Exchange booths are everywhere, but try to go away from the center to exchange money, as they prey on tourists by taking a percentage, or simply,cheat you out of the total amount...Don't think they stop at tourists either..Count what they are giving you back!
Either way, ATMs or exchange booths for GEL, life is still cheaper here, if you live like locals. But it would be cool if the country started taking credit cards more readily. 
All around, the changes are evident in T'bilisi. Maybe not so much in the rest of the country. The Black Coast is becoming a playground for the rich, but fails to show you the "real Georgia", Kobuleti being the only exception to that statement. It still belongs to the natives, and it shows,ant it is nice...The government has done nothing to update it.. Still better than Batumi, aka Las Vegas..
A must see in T'bilisi?

the "nicer" and more expensive restaurant
If you want to see the differences, the past and the present, the wonderful history of the Georgian people, go to that! It is cheap. It takes a few hours to go see it, and you will have wonderful pictures. Also, eat at the restaurant above. There are 2 restaurants, one next to the other. One of the restaurants is cheaper than the other. It is up to you to choose. The cheaper one, Askaneli, a khinkali joint, serves great local food, such as Khinkali, of course. Try the "tbilisuri khinkali", yummy... The guy makes them there, and you can watch and take pics of him too...Great service and great view from both. The other restaurant (see pic here) has a great beautiful balcony, but the prices are triple. Clean bathrooms outside of both the restaurants. 
My favorite: Shida Kartli House!

To get there, take the marshrootka/little bus to Vake, the end of line 170, and get a taxi to go uphill to the museum. Go to the main road going back to town just outside the parking lot and hail a taxi. It will cost you another lari or 2 for 4 people. You will see a road going up from where the marshrootkas park, at the end of the parking lot to the left. That is the steep road to the museum.You can also later walk up (watch for cars!) from the museum and check out Turtle or Tortoise Pond, Koostba, and grab a beer by the lake after a long walk in the museum. Walking down to the marshrootka parking lot is feasible too, but watch on the bends of the road for taxis going full speed...I do not recommend walking from the bottom of the hill to the museum, it is very steep and you need your energy for the museum, which spreads many acres.
This outside museum is really an absolute must to understand the people. Don't miss the "kartli" section!
Below is the inside of the open roof of the "kartli" house, made entirely out of wood. Kartli is the region around Tbilisi, and where the word "sakartvelo" comes from, meaning Where the kartvelis live. This museum is truly incredible!
the inside of the timbered roof of the Shida Kartli Home

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1 comment:

  1. what a discription it makes me want to come for a visit...