Georgia

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Georgia is a country in the Caucasus. It lies at the eastern end of the Black Sea, with Turkey and Armenia to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Russia to the north, over the Caucasus Mountains.

Population: 4,555,911 people
Area: 69,700 km2
Highest point: 5,201 m
Coastline: 310 km
Life expectancy: 77.51 years
GDP per capita: $6,000
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About Georgia

Background

Georgia is a land filled with magnificent history and unparalleled natural beauty. Archaeologists found the oldest traces of wine production (7000–5000 BC) in Georgia and even more interesting the remnants of oldest (1.8 million of years) hominids out of Africa were discovered in Georgia. For those of us in the West, we unfortunately get precious little exposure to this stretch of land between the Black and Caspian seas. However, this is changing drastically.

Georgians are not Russians, Turks or Persians, nor do they have any ethnic connection with other people. However, there are theories which link Georgians to Basque, Corsican and North Caucasian people. Georgia is a multi-ethnic state, the dominant ethnic group are the Kartveli, but other significant Georgian ethnic groups include the Mingreli, Laz, and Svan (all of whom speak Georgian languages distinct from the national language, Kartuli). Georgian language is in its own language group, completely unrelated to Indo-European or Semitic languages. Georgians have been embroiled in struggles against the world’s biggest empires (Mongol, Persian, Ottoman, Russian, etc.) for centuries. This little country was invaded many times and destroyed as many. However, Georgians have managed to preserve their cultural and traditional identity for 9,000 years. The countryside is covered with ancient towered fortifications, many of which house ancient churches (including one of the oldest in Christendom) and monasteries.

Christianity was introduced into Georgia in the first century, and became the official national state religion in the mid fourth century (Georgia was the second nation to adopt Christianity, after Armenia) with the evangelism of St Nino of Capadoccia. The Georgian cross is recognizable, for it was forged by St Nino with grape vines and her own hair. The grape and the vine thus hold important places in Georgian symbolism.

The conversion to Christianity meant that Georgians would have a historical cultural leaning to the West instead of with the Muslims in the region (Turkey and Persia to the South). Nonetheless, Georgian culture stands at the cross-roads of civilizations. Its culture and traditions are the product of the influence of its neighbors and of its own unique civilization.

During the Soviet era, Georgia was the "Riviera of the Soviet Union" and was renowned for its cuisine and wine. Russians may love vodka, but the Georgian wines were favoured by the Soviet elite. During Soviet era, Georgia flooded Russian markets with high quality tea, wine and fruits. The Georgian Black Sea coast, in particular (Abkhazia and Adjaria), enjoys sub-tropical conditions and beautiful beaches (imagine pine trees and mountains covering the coast line).

Georgia, on the periphery of the Soviet Union, also contributed greatly to the dissolution of the Soviet Union with nationalist calls for independence (and the Georgians have catalyzed the dissolution of empires before). Georgia stood on one of the key routes of the Silk Road and now plays a significant geopolitical role, being located at the crossroads of Central Asia, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East, and currently contains important oil pipelines leading from Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean coast.

This proud nation is still in transition after the fall of the Soviet Union. Tense relations with Russia (and deepening friendship with the USA and the EU) has led Russia to close its markets to Georgian exports, badly affecting the Georgian economy. Russia has closed its border with Georgia since 2006, while Russia's allies, the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have also closed their borders with Georgia, and have maintained the strict economic embargo against Georgia ever since. In 2008, the country went to war against Russia over South Ossetia, in which the Georgians were defeated within days, leading Georgia to lose 17% of its territory, Russia to diplomatically recognizing both separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the severance of diplomatic relations with Russia, which had a serious impact on the economy.

Imagine cities with narrow side streets filled with leaning houses, overstretched balconies, mangled and twisted stairways, majestic old churches, heavenly food and warm and welcoming people. All of this with a backdrop of magnificent snow peaked mountains, and the best beaches of the Black Sea.

People

The Georgians have exceptionally strong traditions of hospitality, chivalry, and codes of personal honour. They believe that guests come from God. Friendship is prized highest among all the virtues. It is celebrated in Shota Rustaveli's 12th century national epic, The Knight in the Tiger's Skin ("ვეფხისტყაოსანი" or "Vepkhistqaosani"), in which a person's worth is judged by the depth of his friendships. The Georgians are proud, passionate, and fiercely individualistic, yet deeply connected with each other by a shared sense of belonging to a greater Georgian family. Women are highly esteemed in society and are accorded a chivalric respect. The statue of Mother of Georgia (kartlis deda) that stands in the hills above Tbilisi perhaps best symbolizes the national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine with which she greets her friends and in her right is a sword drawn against her enemies.

Food

The cuisine of Georgia is justly famous throughout the former Soviet Union (visitors to Moscow will have noticed the amount of Georgian restaurants). Popular national dishes include khachapuri (a cheese filled bread, it more resembles cheese pie) and khinkali (minced, spiced meat in a dumpling, served in enormous quantities). While the khachapuri comes with every meal (and it is very possible to get tired of this), khinkali is usually reserved for its own separate meal, where Georgian men will down 15 huge dumplings like it is no big deal.

Mtsvadi, tasty grilled chunks of marinaded pork or veal on stick with onions, is another staple. But this is by no means the end of the list of wonderful dishes, usually flavored with garlic, coriander, walnuts, and dill. A traditional Georgian feast (supra) is truly a sight to behold, with a spread that no group could finish, accompanied by at least 20 toasts set to wine or brandy.

For a quick snack, you can try all variety of ghvezeli pastry stuffed with meat, potatoes, cheese, or other ingredients, usually sold in markets and on the side of the street. Be aware of western-style dishes (pizzas, hamburgers etc.) though, which are usually a pale copy of their true selves. It is much better to try local food.

The fruit and vegetables here are bursting at the seams with flavor, and very cheap. Even if you only speak English and stand out as a foreigner like a slug in a spotlight, you can get fruit and vegetables in the market for a mere fraction of what you would pay in, say, Western Europe. Grabbing a quick meal of tomatoes, fresh cheese, puri (bread), and fruit is perhaps the most rewarding meal to be had in the country.

If you can, try and get yourself invited to dinner at someone's home (this is not too difficult in Georgia, owing to their hospitality and general desire to stuff foreign visitors full of all the food they can afford). The food in restaurants is an odd set piece of the same dishes over and over. But Georgian cuisine is far richer, and has an untold number of dishes to try, prepared from scratch with fresh, locally grown products (although supermarkets are now spreading throughout Georgia). Try and get your hands on ajabsandali, a sort of vegetable ratatouille, made differently according to each family's recipe, and which is wonderful. Another streak of dishes made out of lamb (chanakhi, chakapuli) is simply delicious. Finally, there a lot of vegetarian dishes (mostly in western parts of Georgia) which are surprisingly tasty and accompany most of local parties with heavy wine drinking.

Drinks

Chacha

Chacha (ჭაჭა) is a home-made fruit-based distilled clear spirit (liquor), analogous to Italian grappa. Chacha is made of grape pomace (grape residue left after making wine). It can also be produced from non-ripe or non-cultured grapes and in some cases fig, tangerine, orange, or mulberry. It is usually bottled "manually". It can be purchased in Mom and Pop corner markets, Farmers Markets, back alleys and basements throughout Georgia. There is also commercially-made chacha that can be found in some shops and supermarkets. The term "Chacha" is used in Georgia to refer to any type of "moonshine" made of fruits.

Wine

Georgia has one of the oldest wine-making traditions in the world and has been called the birthplace of wine (also as "Cradle of Wine"), due to archaeological findings which indicate wine production back to 5000 BC. Due to this fact, Georgians have some of the best wines in the world. Thanks to the ancient tradition of wine production and amazing climate, Georgian wine holds its strong competition with French and Italian. Definitely try out Georgian wine. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to export home-bottled wine, which is often the best kind. Georgian wines are actually quite famous. It may be true that they are little known in the West, but this definitely does not include some 280 million people in the former Soviet Union where Georgian wines remain a welcomed drink at any dining table.

Red

  • Saperavi (საფერავი sah-peh-rah-vee)
  • Mukuzani (მუკუზანი moo-k'oo-zah-nee)
  • Khvanchkara (ხვანჭკარა khvahnch-k'ah-rah) - semi-sweet
  • Kindzmarauli (კინძმარაული keendz-mah-rah-oo-lee) - semi-sweet

White

  • Tsinandali (წინანდალი ts'ee-nahn-dah-lee)
  • Kakheti (კახეთი k'ah-kheh-tee)
  • Tbilisuri (თბილისური tbee-lee-soo-ree)

Imports of Georgian wine and mineral water have been banned by the Russian government, because of the political tension between the two counties.

Beer

Georgia produces a growing number of local beers. A beer tradition has existed in Georgia since ancient times in the mountainous regions of Khevsureti and Tusheti. After independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia revived its beer production and introduced its high quality beers to the market. The first and most popular Georgian beer was Kazbegi. Today, beer production in Georgia is still growing, offering high quality beers (thanks to the high quality mountain spring waters in Georgia and to German designed beer factories). There are also many foreign beers such as Heineken, Bitburger, Lowenbrau, Guinness, etc.

Georgian Beer

  • Aluda
  • Argo
  • Batumuri
  • Bavariis Herzogi
  • Kasri
  • Kazbegi (ყაზბეგი q'ahz-beh-gee)
  • Khevsuruli
  • Lomisi
  • Natakhtari
  • Tushuri

Mineral Waters

Georgian mineral waters have exceptional and interesting tastes — very different from French and Italian varieties. The most famous Georgian mineral waters are Borjomi (ბორჯომი bohr-joh-mee), Likani (ლიკანი lick-ah-nee), and Nabeglavi (ნაბეღლავი nah-beh-ghlah-vee). But there is a plethora of less well-known springs located in small towns and alongside roads throughout the country that is worth sampling. Be forewarned that Borjomi isn't just ordinary sparkling water - it has a very high fluoride content and it may take some time to get used to the taste. It is however quite popular also outside Georgia (in the former Soviet republics).

Lagidze Waters (Soft Drink)

Mitrofan Lagidze (ლაღიძე lah-ghee-dzeh) is a surname of a very famous Georgian businessman of the 19th century who produced very popular soft drinks in Georgia. Nowadays these waters are called “the Lagidze Waters”. Lagidze soft drinks are made only with natural fruit components, without any chemical, artificial sugars or other additives. The most popular flavors are estragon/tarragon and cream&chocolate. You can find them bottled in stores.

Shopping

  • Gold & Other Jewellery – Gold, silver, handmade & other miscellaneous jewellery and precious stones are very cheap in Georgia and the quality of the precious stones, gold and silver is superb. Many foreigners visit Georgia to buy jewellery because of its cost and quality.
  • Art & Paintings – Georgian artists, such as Pirosmani, Gigo Gabashvili, David Kakabadze, Lado Gudiashvili, Korneli Sanadze, Elene Akhvlediani, Sergo Kobuladze, Simon Virsaladze, Ekaterine Baghdavadze and others, are famous for their work. In Georgia you will find many art shops, paintings and painters who sell their works on the streets. Their work is of high quality and is often very good value.
  • Antiques & Other Miscellaneous Gifts – in Georgia you will able to find many antiques not only from Georgia, but Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Russian and European as well.
  • Georgian wine, as much as you can. Georgia is the cradle of wine making, and with 521 original varieties of grape you will be sure to find excellent wines.
  • Cognac. Georgian cognac is unique as it is made from Georgian wine. Try Saradjishvili 'Tbilisi' cognac.
  • When heading outside the cities, you might find an original hand-made carpet for sale.
  • Georgians love to drink, so the country has a seemingly infinite number of beers, wines, liquors and distilled drinks. To take home, buy a bottle of chacha, a potent grape vodka somewhat similar to Lebanese Arak.

Georgian export commodities (especially wine and mineral water) used to be widely counterfeited in the domestic and CIS markets. For example, the Borjomi bottling plant used to produce roughly one million bottles of Borjomi per year, but there were three million bottles sold in Russia alone!

Recent update (Dec 2007): government together with business circles has initiated a large-scale fight against counterfeit wine and mineral water so the sale of counterfeit products has almost been eliminated. However, when stocking up on bottled wine, it is best to buy it at large supermarkets which have better control of their procurement compared to smaller stores. Such supermarkets are Goodwill, Big Ben or Populi. The same applies to mineral water.

The quality of wine making improved immensely in recent years following re-orientation of wine exports to EU markets.

Costs

Currency: Lari, 100 tetri = 1 lari
Currency code: GEL
Exchange rates:
1 USD = 1.66 GEL (March 2013)
1 EUR = 2.16 GEL (March 2013)
1 GBP = 2.50 GEL (March 2013)

When exchanging money in banks, be sure to present your ID. In the small money changers' booths available almost anywhere in the country, this is not necessary. These booths may also have slightly better exchange rates. When traveling beyond Tbilisi, be sure to exchange money before the trip as exchange rates are more discriminative in rural areas. The Georgian lari is a closed currency, so be sure to change the remainder of your money back before leaving the country. Most importantly, be aware that some Georgian ATMs other than those in Tbilisi may not accept foreign cards. This can be a potentially serious problem if you are caught without cash during non-business hours or on weekends, so have some cash. Also, while prices are generally very reasonable in Georgia, a side effect is that many small establishments and taxis will not have change for large lari notes (especially 50 or higher), so travelers are advised to carry plenty of smaller notes and coins.

If you visit Georgia for one week, you would have a great time if you bring $700–$800 USD with you. With this amount you will be able to stay in a good hotel, go on wonderful sightseeing tours and eat good food. All other items such as gifts & jewellery might require more. For more details try searching and contacting travel & tourist agencies.

A budget traveler would have little difficulty getting by (and staying very well fed) on less than $150–$200 per week, even in the capital. Allow another $30–$50 for travel and sightseeing. (November 2008)

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Georgia (country) on Wikivoyage.

Cities in Georgia

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Tbilisi is the capital city of the country of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Mtkvari river. The city covers an area of 726 km² (280.3 square miles) and has a population of approximately 1,345,000.

Interesting places:

  • Metekhi Church
  • Sioni Cathedral
  • Anchiskhati Basilica
  • Narikala Citadel
  • Tbilisi City Hall
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Batumi is the capital city of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara in the country of Georgia. Its coastal location and sub-tropical climate make it a popular city for vacationers across the Caucasus. It's the party capital of the region with a night life to match which increasingly includes big name international ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Batumi University
  • Era Square
  • Batumi Beach
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Poti is a port city in Samegrelo.

Interesting places:

  • Poti Central Park
  • Poti Cathedral
  • Rioni Bridge
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Sighnaghi (Georgian: სიღნაღი) is a town in Georgia's easternmost region of Kakheti and the administrative center of the Sighnaghi District. It is one of the country's smallest towns with a population of about 3000.

Interesting places:

  • Bodbe Monastery
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Kutaisi is a city in the Rioni Region of Georgia.

Interesting places:

  • Bagrati Cathedral
  • Gelati Monastery
  • Givi Kiladze Stadium
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Mestia is a city in Upper Svaneti, Georgia.

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Points of Interest in Georgia

There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Georgia:

  • Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery in the Rioni region.
  • The historical monuments of Mtskheta.
  • The Upper Svaneti region which is the highest inhabited region in Europe.

Moreover the capital of Tbilisi offers a range of sights, among them it's Old town with the Narikala Fortress. Gori, the birth city of Stalin also hosts a castle, the church of Gori Jvari and the ruins of Uplistsikhe, a bustling town over 3,000 years ago. Other places to visit are the mineral water town of Borjomi, popular among Russian Czars and the Black Sea beach resort city of Batumi. In addition to that, Georgia is located in the middle of the Caucasus mountains with some peaks reaching over 5,000m.

Metekhi Church - Tbilisi

Batumi University - Batumi

New Athos Monastery - Sukhumi

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral - Mtskheta

Gori Fortress - Gori

Bagrati Cathedral - Kutaisi

Lake Ritsa - Akhvadzha

Alaverdi Monastery - T'elavi

Vardzia Monastery - Vardzia

Bodbe Monastery - Signagi

David Gareja Monastery Complex - Udabno

Sioni Cathedral - Tbilisi

Anchiskhati Basilica - Tbilisi

Narikala Citadel - Tbilisi

Tbilisi City Hall - Tbilisi

Freedom Square - Tbilisi

Kashveti Church - Tbilisi

Tbilisi Botanical Garden - Tbilisi

Era Square - Batumi

Art Museum of Georgia - Tbilisi

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