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Georgia and Azerbaijan

© The Guardian

Over the weekend, I began to finalize travel plans for the year. I will go to Montana in a few weeks, then take a short trip to Iceland with my nephew at the end of March. We are waiting for his passport to arrive, and it will be his first journey abroad at age 8. Then it will quickly be summer, my least favorite season, and I will remain in Virginia because I don't like the seasonal summer crowds or heat. In autumn, I need to pick another international destination to explore, and Georgia is at the top of the list. I think October will be a good time, because the suffocating heat of summer will have passed and hopefully there will still be seasonal blooms and greenery before the dull winter arrives. U.S. passport holders no longer need a tourist visa for Georgia, so there are really no hassles other than booking a plane ticket and deciding what to see. In this regard, I need your help. Who has local contacts in Georgia that may be willing to help, or serve as local drivers/guides? As usual, I want to be away from larger cities and in the mountain and village areas.

It's possible I could combine a short trip to Azerbaijan at the end of the journey, but a visa is required for this country. What do I need to know about Georgians and Azerbaijanis? Who has been to these countries, and what are the best regions to visit? I think it will be almost impossible to learn the Georgian alphabet, but I've heard Georgians are very hospitable and I'm a big fan of Georgian cuisine. :) I'm aware of the 2008 conflict, and just finished a book called "The Guns of August 2008", but I don't know the modern political climate between Russia and Georgia.

Thanks, as always, for your advice and guidance! If you know local people involved in the tourism sector who may be willing to help, please send them my contact information!


( 107 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jan. 19th, 2016 04:14 pm (UTC)
I’ll send you contact at Facebook. Her name is Nana, she is living in Tbilisi, Georgia. She speaks English.
Jan. 19th, 2016 04:15 pm (UTC)
Perfect, thanks Olga!
Jan. 19th, 2016 04:26 pm (UTC)
If you want to visit Svaneti, where your pic was taken, I can give you contacts of guesthouse where I worked. It is a decent place. Owner's name is Xenia Parjiani.
Jan. 19th, 2016 04:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, can you please send me her contact information in a private message? Does she speak English?
(no subject) - morreth - Jan. 19th, 2016 04:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - platonkhegai - Jan. 22nd, 2016 08:57 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 19th, 2016 04:26 pm (UTC)
I was to Georgia but it was long time ago, when I was 19. And it was Tbilisi only. Nevertheless I liked it a lot. But when I compare to recent photos in the net, there are huge changes...
It's a pity now no one I know lives there...
Jan. 19th, 2016 04:31 pm (UTC)
I know people in Tbilisi, but I'll probably only be there one or two days, and then I'll venture away from the city. :) I would prefer to work with locals due to language barriers. Otherwise, I doubt I'll be able to knock on the door of a herdsman in the mountains and be able to communicate. But maybe Georgians are more open and friendly, and less scared of the camera in comparison to the older Russians I've met when traveling on my own. :)) Not sure.
Jan. 19th, 2016 04:51 pm (UTC)
I recommend this. If you've never been to Svanetia, go there, it's one of the best places on this planet.
Jan. 19th, 2016 04:52 pm (UTC)
I've never been to Georgia, or anywhere in this region. The closest has been Russia, but it seems to me that Georgia and Russia are now quite different. It will be interesting to compare the two countries, and share my impressions. :)
(no subject) - redheadrat - Jan. 19th, 2016 05:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 19th, 2016 05:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jan. 19th, 2016 04:59 pm (UTC)
I learned the Georgian alphabet in one week, it's not very difficult. But actually you dont need it.
Georgia is much adapted for tourists, compared with Azerbaijan as different as heaven and earth
Jan. 19th, 2016 05:03 pm (UTC)
Well, this is good news. :) But there's usually no tourism infrastructure in the types of places I wish to explore, because they are off the beaten path. For instance, I want to meet with locals, see a village home, learn more about every day life, etc. outside city areas. This requires the ability to somehow speak with locals, and I doubt the older Georgians living in such places know English. But maybe I'm wrong.
Jan. 19th, 2016 05:02 pm (UTC)
Georgia has come a full circle in the last decade to become once again a tourist paradise. People are generally receptive and you can expect most people over age 30 to have decent knowledge of Russian language. People in the tourist industry who are under 30 may have some good English skills.

I think you will find plenty in Georgia to fill your spare time, but as for Azerbaijan, getting info maybe a little harder due to still very active rift between them and Armenia, so reviews maybe extremely skewed due to ongoing refuge crisis.

I can get you in touch with people who recently traveled to Georgia as well as some people who lived there (my mom lived first 20 years of her life in Tbilisi).
Jan. 19th, 2016 05:06 pm (UTC)
Sure, you can send me the contact info of people who recently traveled there, or give them the link to my FB page and they can write me there. Thank you! :) Mostly I'm interested in Georgia. Azerbaijan is just a side thought given that I'll be so close I thought about exploring this country also. Depends on how much time I have off from work.
Jan. 19th, 2016 05:11 pm (UTC)
My voice goes to Azerbaijan!
Baku is Paris of the East)))
It is a mix of acient, classicism and contemporary.
I recommend you to stay in Old Inner City (Icheri Shekher), where are a lot of small cheap hotels and you can live in the heart of this city, discovering old mosques, hammam, caravanserais, Shirvanshah's Palace, Maiden Tower. It is not far the sea-front with the great view on Flame Towers (especially at night), Museum of carpets and other sight-seeings.
You can also have a trip to Qobustan (petroglyphs museum) or Mud Vulcans, Atashgah (Fire Temple, zoroastrian place of fire worship), Qala (ethnographic museum)
Food - "Firuza", "Nargiz" (recommend by locals)
Jan. 19th, 2016 05:38 pm (UTC)
I'm not a big fan of museums, but it's always interesting to simply walk the local streets and markets, or sit in a cafe to observe the locals and their customs. :)
(no subject) - e_g_o_r_i_u_s - Jan. 19th, 2016 07:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 19th, 2016 05:35 pm (UTC)
Finally I met american who know that Georgia not only the state of USA. )))
Jan. 19th, 2016 05:37 pm (UTC)
Haha! :) I don't think I'm the only one. One of the young ladies in my Russian classes had a sister living in some remote part of Georgia. I think there are quite a few Americans living there, and the U.S. has a Peace Corps. branch in Georgia. I researched it, because this will hopefully be my next career. :)
(no subject) - mesier - Jan. 19th, 2016 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 19th, 2016 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Peace Corps - (Anonymous) - Jan. 24th, 2016 01:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Peace Corps - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 24th, 2016 01:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Peace Corps - (Anonymous) - Jan. 24th, 2016 02:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 19th, 2016 06:20 pm (UTC)
don't forget to get vaccinated. be careful and drink water only from bottles and don't eat local food. seriously, their culture has problems with hygiene. and one more thing, you should know that almost all organised crime in the former ussr came from georgia. they were like the italian mafia in usa in 30s. this was their specialty and it's still actual.

o my.. i forgot.. maybe you want to visit stalin's museum, yes, it's in georgia. they proud of him but it's pretty strange because almost all in the world condemned his crimes including russia.
Jan. 19th, 2016 06:22 pm (UTC)
I know Stalin is from Georgia. I just read a biography about him. :) There are plenty of babushkas who still hold Stalin's picture up on posters in admiration. I can't understand this phenomenon honestly. And why should I be scared of the Georgian mafia? They wish to kidnap American ladies for ransom? :))
(no subject) - ext_2832598 - Jan. 19th, 2016 06:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jan. 19th, 2016 06:56 pm (UTC)
Georgia is definitely one if the best countries I've ever been to. It's totally friendly for tourists. Youth speaks English better than Russian (sometimes they don't speak Russian at all). And you should definitely visit Svaneti. Your pic is from Ushguli, it's worth visiting. The main town of Svaneti is Mestia. You can go on some 1-day hikes from there. You should see Ushba! It's one if the most spectacular mountains in Svaneti.
Jan. 19th, 2016 06:58 pm (UTC)
I love mountain landscapes, so Georgia seems perfect. :) I have a few friends that traveled there in recent years, and they really liked it. Only nice things to say about Georgians. Plus, it's very affordable for an American. :)
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Jan. 19th, 2016 07:11 pm (UTC)
Perhaps I will like it more than Russia!
Georgiaaaaa, Geooorgiaaaa... - (Anonymous) - Jan. 23rd, 2016 04:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Georgiaaaaa, Geooorgiaaaa... - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 24th, 2016 01:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
... - (Anonymous) - Jan. 23rd, 2016 04:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jan. 19th, 2016 07:17 pm (UTC)
We (a group of four) have been at Georgia at the past September-October and we hired this person for the time of the visit: https://www.facebook.com/paata.shubladze.52

I would definitely recommend him. He make tours on Georgia places. We visited all the famous (and not so) places, Batumi, Tbilisi, little towns and villages I can't recall their names now...
He drives a mini-bus and knows a lot about Georgia.
Jan. 19th, 2016 07:23 pm (UTC)
Great! I wonder if he speaks English? How much did he charge you for such services?
(no subject) - pinkjackal - Jan. 19th, 2016 07:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 19th, 2016 07:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jan. 19th, 2016 07:40 pm (UTC)
A friend of mine was in Georgia multiple times and wrote a guidebook that has recently been published. It is in Russian though.

Georgians do have a reputation of being hospitable and very friendly, and the mountains of Caucasus are stunningly beautiful. I think that every Russian of the older generation has some sort of love affair with Georgia that lasts till today. Older Georgians, too, have some sort of nostalgy towards the ex-Soviet Union. Today the relationships are disturbed by the politicians, but things calmed down since 2008 a lot, and deep in the soul all people want to live in peace. I know you think the same, so there will be no disagreements whatsoever.

We can travel to Georgia as tourists visa-free, and it is finally talked that Russia will lift visas for Georgians as well. That will be good news.
Jan. 19th, 2016 08:07 pm (UTC)
I've been wanting to visit the Caucasus Mountains for a long time, so Georgia seems like a good introduction. I think all older people are somehow nostalgic for some aspects of Soviet times, at least it seems that way based on comments my readers leave. I did not know that Georgians still need a visa to visit Russia.
Jan. 19th, 2016 07:53 pm (UTC)
Why Грузия (the Grooziya or the Gruziya) is also called as the US state of Georgia?)))
Jan. 20th, 2016 09:08 am (UTC)
Because Россия is Russia, Russland, or even Krievija (in Latvian, they knew us before we became Russia).

Georgia is actually called Sakartvelo by locals.
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 20th, 2016 02:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Jan. 20th, 2016 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jan. 20th, 2016 01:02 am (UTC)
Have you seen the movie "Mimino"? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5blURTqmYUg it has english subtitles.
I made georgian food and we watched this movie with my american friends once - they loved it! I found Geogian wine "Khvanchkara" http://georgianwinesociety.co.uk/about-georgian-wines/ in the local liquor store and we had fun.....
I know Armenians that were kicked out of Georgia(they were refuges), but they are very friendly people. This is the most beautiful place in the world! I went to Caucasus Mountains when I was a child (maybe you should have a male companion, now that I'm thinking about our experience with my mom:) she is a tall attractive Russian woman and we had lots of attention).
Jan. 20th, 2016 01:23 am (UTC)
And there is this other movie "In bloom". I saw it last year here, in America but it shows what was happening in Tbilisi in 1990-s (the ny times article http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/10/movies/in-bloom-on-two-young-girls-growing-up-in-tbilisi.html?_r=0) you should know about this too. It was a very hard time for their country. This is a very good movie too http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2991224/combined It's about old guys from Estonia living in Georgia and growing mandarines (this is where you would want to go next because Tallinn is a city from a fairy tail!) You said you liked drama? This film was nominated for Oscar.
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