Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Katya, Arthur and I went to a week's holiday in Georgia in June 2012, four years after the Soviet (oops, I mean Russian – but is there any difference?) invasion of the country and illegal annexation of parts of it. The first thing that struck me on arrival is that it was like arriving back in Europe from Kazakhstan or or Russia: the air smelt of freedom. This was the first time I had felt that in any post-collapse-of-communism country except the Baltics. One knew it was going to be a nice place to be from the moment the immigration officer at the airport handed back our passports with a smile and the words 'Welcome to Georgia'. Now that's a first for that part of the world! (I read that a couple of years back that visitors were being given a free bottle of Georgian wine along with their returned passport at the immmigration booth. I don't think any country can beat that.
It was hot as hell (but lovely) and Arthur was an immediate hit with lounging locals as he was wearing one of the T-shirts with a Georgian flag on it that I had had made for us in 2008 to wear around Almaty to annoy the mostly Russia-supporting public there. From the moment we stepped out of the airport, old men sitting about the place would call him over and pinch him on the cheek approvingly, wreathed with smiles as they pointed at the garment and said approving things.
We took a taxi to our hotel, the drive taking us along George Bush Avenue. That was a feel-good moment too. The hotel we had chosen turned out to be very nice, in a raised location above the town. They served their own home-made wine by the glassful from an earthenware jug and I was soon rather content.
The hotel provided one other odd excitement during our stay. It's the only time this has happened to me in any of the many hotels I have stayed in. One of the guests in the room next to us died during the night (we heard some kerfuffle) – of a heart attack, brought on by a couple of days enthusiastic drinking according to one of the staff. It was all dealt with calmly and efficiently.
Of course we were there to sightsee and Tbilisi was a lovely town. Ancient and full of churches. Lovely old architecture, some a bit dilapidated but with restoration under way. Stinking hot, though, as I remember it. But plenty of cafés to cool off in.
Because Tbilisi lies in a basin, there are plenty of places for looking at fine views of the town. Our lovely guide Elena was a great help.
Saakashvili's new footbridge was a fun addtion to the old city and the shady squares were wonderful
The old houses and streets were wonderful and I even rather like the Soviet giant monument of the Georgian lady
We also went out of town. In particular we visited Mtskheta, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Kartlis (Eastern Georgia), which is where Christianity was proclaimed the country's official religion in 337 AD. Georgia claims to be – probably rightly – the first Christian nation in the world. So here are some views of Mtskheta and the 6thC Jvari Monastery, the Monastery of the Cross. The Monastery stands on the rocky mountaintop at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, overlooking the town of Mtskheta.
After that, we drove on to Uplistsikhe, a troglodyte town in eastern Georgia by the river Mtkvari. Some parts date back to the early Iron Age, others to the Middle Ages, so early paganism is now topped by early Christian structures. The long tunnel with a staircase was a secret tunnel down to the water that enabled the fortress town and church to survive sieges, e.g. by Moslem invaders. Oh, and Arthur is not reciting a prayer in the church, he's playing with the candle flames.
Finally, we visited Gori, birthplace of the swine Stalin. Here's his personal railway carriage (doesn't look that posh!) and the rather amusing pavilion erected to protected his early home from the elements. Katya did not want to be photographed with the bastard and I had to insist. Arthur just chortled.
And that was our visit to Georgia. A very fine country indeed which I would love to revisit. Next time, however, I will be a little bit more careful about what (or rather how much) I eat. For the first and only time in my life, I had a small 'crise de foie' as a result of eating too much delicious khachapuri!
All photos bar 3 taken with a Fujifilm 100 camera. (The other 3 were iPhone4 pix)