Of course Americans have great fun with the name of the country just west of Azerbaijan - Georgia, just like our state, hee hee! Though in Russian it's "Gruzia" and in Georgian it's totally different, something like "Sakarvelo." Well, whatever it's called, it's absolutely wonderful. I just got back from spending several days in Tbilisi with two of my Ukrainian friends, and I'm still feeling enchanted by the place.
There are so many reasons why Georgia is a wonderful place. First of all, the nature is stunningly lovely. The Georgian Caucasus and rich and green, and dramatic rivers, caves, and freshwater springs are everywhere. Even the capital city feels like you're buried within nature; trees are everywhere, and striking stone churches are perched high on the hills around Tbilisi. Secondly, the food is amazing. Georgian is one of my favorite cuisines in all the world. They have wonderful cheese-filled breads, meats roasted in sauces made from nuts or fruits, and of course every meal is accompanied by wonderful house wine. Georgians are very proud of their wine, and it's popular all throughout the Soviet Union. I went to a wine-tasting with my friends, and while most of the wines were too sweet for me, I found several that were great and very cheap considering the quality. Too bad my bags are already so heavy, or I'd have bought several more bottles! And then there's the wonderful Georgian people. Sure, people are people everywhere, and there are good people and bad people everywhere. But there's an optimism and a yearning to be western mixed with old-fashioned friendliness that's really refreshing in Georgia. One evening we sat on the balcony and shared a bottle of vodka with the young men who worked at our hotel. After a few hours, we were all friends, and we felt comfortable enough to ask about the recent war with Russia. I was stunned at how open-minded they were about the whole thing. There was no animosity towards Russia or the Russian people. It was all "just politics" for Russia, and they knew that. They wanted friendship with Russia, but feared this wouldn't be possible as long as Russia insisted on being Georgia's "Big Brother." But there was a bit of bitterness about the unwillingness of the west to step in and help, something they really had expected. For years Saakashvili and the Georgian government has been proclaiming its love of the west, its desire to join NATO. Almost everytime I saw a Georgian flag, there was an EU flag right next to it. Isn't this what we wanted all throughout the Cold War? For a Soviet state to turn its back on Russia and come running to the US with open arms? Georgia's arms are open, but the west isn't really hugging back. Poor Georgia. Invaded by Russia and nobody even noticed.