Travel to Georgia

Georgia map

Situated at the strategically important crossroads where Europe meets Asia, Georgia has a unique and ancient cultural heritage, and is famed for its traditions of hospitality and cuisine.

Over the centuries, Georgia was the object of rivalry between Persia, Turkey and Russia, before being eventually annexed by Russia in the 19th century.

Since emerging from the collapsing Soviet Union as an independent state in 1991, Georgia has again become the arena of conflicting interests, this time between the US and a reviving Russia. Tense relations with Russia have been further exacerbated by Moscow’s support for the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgia’s brief interlude of independence after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia ended when it was invaded by the Soviet Red Army in 1921 and incorporated into the Soviet Union a year later.

Old part of Tbilisi 

Efforts are being made to restore the capital Tbilisi’s historic centre

The US has a major strategic interest in the country, having invested heavily in an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey. The Georgian armed forces have been receiving US training and support.

Increasing US economic and political influence in the country has long been a source of concern for the Kremlin, as have Georgia’s aspirations to join NATO and the EU.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi are never far from the surface and in August 2008 flared up into an armed conflict triggered by clashes between Georgian troops and South Ossetian separatist forces.

Post-Soviet years

Following the collapse of communism in the USSR in 1991, Georgians voted overwhelmingly for the restoration of independence and elected nationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia as president. However, Gamsakhurdia was soon overthrown by opposition militias which in 1992 installed former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze as the country’s new leader.

During his 11 years in office, the Georgian people felt increasingly at the mercy of poverty, corruption and crime. He was ousted in November 2003 following mass demonstrations over the conduct of parliamentary elections.

Bomb damage in the Georgian city of Gori after a Russian air raid in August 2008 

Conflict over Georgia’s separatist regions led to war with Russia in 2008

Once a relatively affluent part of the USSR, with independence Georgia lost the cheap energy to which it had access in the Soviet period. As relations between Georgia and Russia deteriorated, Moscow did not flinch from tightening the economic screws, and the rupturing of trading ties caused the Georgian economy to nose-dive.

Georgia has been heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supply. Like some other republics of the former Soviet Union, it saw the price of gas supplied by the Russian gas giant Gazprom rise sharply in January 2006. Gazprom has since doubled the price again. It is no coincidence that Georgia has started receiving an increasing proportion of its gas from Azerbaijan.

Breakaway regions

Since independence, the people of Georgia have endured periods of civil war and unrest as well as violence related to the independence aspirations of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both regions had close ties with Moscow, which in August 2008 announced it was formally recognising their independence.

Russian troops had operated there since the early 1990s, and were regularly accused by Georgia of siding with the separatists.

Republic of Georgia short ifnormation

  • Full name: Georgia
  • Population: 4.2 million (UN, 2010)
  • Capital: Tbilisi
  • Area: 69,700 sq km (26,911 sq miles)
  • Major language: Georgian, Russian widely spoken
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 69 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 lari = 100 tetri
  • Main exports: Scrap metal, wine, fruit
  • GNI per capita: US $2,530 (World Bank, 2009)
  • Internet domain: .ge
  • International dialling code: +995

Georgian cuisine

Georgian cuisine uses well familiar products but due to varying proportions of its obligatory ingredients such as walnut, aromatic herbs, garlic, vinegar, red pepper, pomegranate grains, barberries and other spices combined with the traditional secrets of the chef ‘s art the common products do acquire a special taste and aroma, which make Georgian cuisine very popular and unique.

Georgian cuisine

Georgian cuisine

Georgian national cuisine is notable for an abundance of all possible kinds of meat, fish and vegetable hors d’oeuvres, various sorts of cheese, pickles and pungent seasonings, the only ones of their kind.

A guest invited to the Georgian table is first of all offered to eat the golden-brown khachapuri which is a thin pie filled with mildly salted cheese; then he is asked to try lobio (kidney bean) (ripened of fresh green beans) which nearly in every family is cooked according to its own recipes; stewed chicken in a garlic sauce; small river fish “tsotskhali” cooked when it is still still alive; sheat-fish in vinegar with finely chopped fennel; lori, a sort of ham; muzhuzhi, boiled and soaked in vinegar pig’s legs; cheese “sulguni” roasted in butter, pickled aubergines and green tomatoes which are filled with the walnut paste seasoned with vinegar, pomegranate grains and aromatic herbs; the vegetable dish “pkhali” made of finely chopped beet leaves or of spinach mixed with the walnut paste, pomegranate grains and various spices. In East Georgia you will be offered wheaten bread baked on the walls of “tone”, which is a large cylinder-like clay oven, resembling a jar, while in West Georgia you will be treated to hot maize scones (Mchadi) baked on clay frying-pans “ketsi”.

Lovers of soups will be delighted with the fiery rice and mutton soup “kharcho”, the tender chicken soup “chikhirtma” with eggs whipped in vinegar and the transparent light meat broth flavoured with garlic, parsley and fennel.

Even the most experienced gourmand will not be able to resist the savoury chizhi-pizhi, pieces of liver and spleen roasted in butter and whipped eggs; crisp chicken “tabaka” served with the pungent sourish sauce “satsivi”. The famous dishes include the melting-in-the-mouth sturgeon on a spit and sauce; the chicken sauce “chakhokhbili” in a hot tomato and dressing; the Kakhetian dish “chakapuli” made of young lamb in a slightly sourish juice of damson, herds and onion; roasted small sausages “kupati” stuffed with finely chopped pork, beef and mutton mixed with red pepper and barberries.

Everyone in Georgia is fond of “Khashi”, a broth cooked from beef entrails (legs, stomach, udder, pieces of head, bones) and lavishly seasoned with garlic. There exists quite a just opinion that “the onion soup in Paris and the khashi soup in Tbilisi serve the same purpose. They are eaten by the same people-by hard workers to make themselves stronger and by revelers to cure a hangover”. Remember E. Evtushenko’s lines: “Everyone who saws, transports, builds, sweeps the neighbouring streets, makes shoes, digs ditches eats khashi in the morning”.

Admirers of Khinkali-a sort of strongly peppered mutton dumplings, a favourite dish with the mountain dwellers of Georgia-keep growing in number. Like everywhere in the Caucasus, mcvadi (shashlik) is very popular in Georgia. Depending on a season, it is made of pork, mutton or spits aubergines stuffed with fat of tail and tomatoes.

The splendour of Georgia cuisine is backed up by famous white and red dry wines, among which anyone choose wine to one’s own taste: “Mukhuzani” with a pleasant bitter taste, golden cool “Tetra” light straw-coloured “Tsinandali” with a crystal sourish touch, dark amber-coloured slightly astrigent “Teliani”, rubycoloured “Ojaleshi” with a mildly sweet, emerald-like sparkling “Manavi”, garnet-red honey-tasting “Kindzmarauli”, and dark ruby-coloured velvety “Khvanchkara”, light-green “Gurjaani” dark golden fruity “Tibaani” and many others. If to Georgian wines you add best-brand cognacs, champagne, not to mention remarkable mineral waters and fruit drinks, you can fancy what pleasure Georgian cuisine will to you.

Night Tbilisi

Night Tbilisi

The Georgian table is conducted in a wise manner in accordance with the ancient ritual. The head of the table “tamada” is elected as proposed by the host. The tamada must be a man of humour with an ability for improvisation and a philosopher’s wisdom. If there are many guests at the table he appoints assistants who in Georgian are called “tolumbashis”. The tamada’s toasts follow one another in a strict never violated order. The guest is obliged to listen attentively to each toast and appreciate the beauty of style and the purpot of the worlds said. If is not allowed to interrupt the tamada when he is saying the toats. The tamada’s assistants and other guests may only add something to the toast or develop its ideas. If you wish to say a toast, you must by all means have the tamada’s consent or else you will find yourself in an awkward position. This table ritual does not put restraints on the guests but maintains discipline at the table. The feast proceeds among jokes and is accompanied by a dance competition, table songs and music, quotations and aphorisms from the works of poets and writers.

Travel in Georgia

Throughout the centuries Georgia has been a victim of the aggression of powerful neighbours. The nation’s history has been a constant struggle for survival, interspersed with brief interludes of peace.

At the end of the 18th century, King Erekle II, a descendant of the Bagratids who ruled Georgia in the 12th century, forged a vital alliance with Catherine the Great of Russia, who was then presiding over the southward expansion of her empire. The Bagratid line was deposed by the Russians in 1801 after which the whole region was steadily absorbed into the Russian Empire.

Georgia

Georgia

A strong Georgian nationalist movement grew up from around this time, the precursor of the irrepressible Georgian nationalism which has shaped the republic’s history during the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. Although Stalin was himself a Georgian – his real name was Djugashvili – the republic suffered terribly during the purges of the 1930s and 40s. Nonetheless, many Georgians continue to this day to idolise their most notorious son.

Stalin’s repressive policies failed to stamp out Georgian nationalism. In a referendum held in April 1991, an overwhelming majority voted in favour of independence from the Soviet Union and a formal declaration of independence was made in May.

Apart from the dire state of the Georgian economy, the country’s main problems have been the secessionist revolts in the outlying Georgian provinces of Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast (where Gamsakhurdia was located) and South Ossetia in the north. The only existing mediation effort, on the part of the UN, is at a standstill and Abkhazia and South Ossetia is now effectively isolated from the rest of Georgia.

Formerly the holiday haunt of the privileged elite of the Soviet Union, Georgia is blessed with stunning scenery, a balmy climate and a rich variety of flora and fauna. Enclosed high valleys, wide basins, health spas with famous mineral waters, caves and waterfalls combine in this land of varied landscapes and striking beauty. With its stone houses built around vine-draped courtyards, and winding streets, the capital, Tbilisi, has a lively, Mediterranean atmosphere. Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia in the far northwest of Georgia, was until civil unrest a relaxed, sunny port/resort, renowned for its beaches fringed with palms and eucalyptus trees, lively open-air cafes and cosmopolitan population.

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