No, not as in peaches and Atlanta. Georgia as in the Republic of and Tbilisi. But, as the old song goes it is on my mind.
This morning my husband, sister, and I returned from a very short but fascinating trip to Tbilisi and environs. We were not alone. It seems that most of Israel is there! Our private driver picked us up at Tbilisi’s airport and spoke to us in Hebrew. His mother had worked in Raanana for seven years. Our hotel was absolutely packed and most of the other guests were Israeli. Who can explain or understand Israelis? Such creative and free thinkers, the greatest hitech minds in the world and yet, when it comes to vacation, we all like the togetherness of other Israelis. It’s either all or nothing. Today’s hot destination may be quite passe six months from now. But today, Georgia is hot. Fully loaded planes leave BGA daily and, to be honest, the country doesn’t disappoint.
Georgia is less than a two and a half hour flight from Tel Aviv and similarities do exist between Tbilisi and TA. Both are bustling big cities with lots of lively activities 24/7. Tbilisi is very hilly which gives it an edge in the beauty department, but it’s far easier to walk around flatter Tel Aviv. But Tbilisi at night is a wonder. It’s simply magnificent with its striking monuments and contemporary buildings lit up to catch the moon’s reflection. Truly breathtaking……..especially if you climb up to check them out for yourself up close! No need however. The old city has a clever cable car system to whisk you up to the top. You can see the panorama from the car, and when you reach land. And it’s a wonder.
We were lucky to have a very sane and refined driver. But caution must be exercised with taxis. You see anyone can be a taxi driver in Tbilisi. No special license required. Last night, for example, we gave our driver a well deserved night off and decided to take a taxi back to our hotel. Of course we took the first one that came by, not noticing until we were ensconced that the front window was completely fractured. Ok safety glass would work so let’s get on. Put on our seatbelts. Well, no. We had three halves. No higher mathematics could put them together. And oops. My door didn’t exactly close. I’m well padded. No problem. Oh no! The taxi driver had no idea how to find the Holiday Inn (a very nice place by the way). So he thought we’d be happy at the Marriott. We were kind of stubborn about this since our clothing was waiting to be packed at the Holiday Inn. So he zoomed around the city like a maniac until my husband finally recognized our neighborhood. We all had a similar reaction: if this had been a roller coaster ride at an amusement park and we knew we’d get out intact, it would have been fun. As it was, it was a bit of a heart pounding experience.
Our trips to the Georgian countryside were spectacular. Mountains and rivers and cows on the road. These were not sacred cows but they wandered the roads with impunity nonetheless. Trucks speeding down the road. Cars passing. And cows calmly lying in the middle of the road. Vehicles don’t stop or slow down. Cows ignore vehicles. A stalemate but, yet, we saw no signs of any carnage. Inexplicable.
We also encountered quite a number of meandering pigs. Some covered in mud. No need to figure out why we don’t eat them! They are kind of cute but really filthy.
The chickens and ducks that were on the road were fewer and less frequent but we saw plenty of them as well.
Oh yes. Quite a few horses too.
Georgia is a predominantly rural agricultural country with high poverty levels. Many people grow their own food and subsist on it. We visited our driver’s grandparents who live in a tiny village with practically no traffic. They have no indoor plumbing, using an outhouse for their sanitary needs. When we arrived the grandma had put out a spread of delicious cucumbers (honestly, they were delicious), sweet tomatoes, homemade bread, cheese (which we did not eat) and pickles. All were grown on their property. They had homemade wine and vodka and a storehouse full of canned fruits and vegetables, enough to last them through the winter months. Quite remarkable in the 21st century.
What was really inspiring about Georgia, though, is that, unlike many places in Europe where we’ve visited with some guilt, like our recent trips to Moscow and Warsaw, there seems to be no history of Jew hatred, pogroms or any virulent anti-Semitism. Jews left en masse to build the State, rather than to run away from tyrants. Synagogues are not defiled and we saw several in outstanding condition, beautifully maintained and still operational with vastly reduced attendance numbers. There appear to have been good relations throughout the centuries between the Jews and their Christian neighbors. I hope real historians don’t burst this bubble for me. It was refreshing not to see the turned over gravestones or historical markers identifying where Jews had lived before they were exterminated. Georgia almost seems like Camelot!
Of course the poverty is pervasive and we saw absolutely no signs of industry, except for tourism. I’m not equipped to evaluate whether this can bring in enough foreign currency to make a difference but Israelis were spending away, as were we. Prices are quite reasonable and its still possible to buy souvenirs that don’t come from China. Of course, it’s also possible to buy souvenirs that do come from China. Caveat emptor.
Suffice to say, we are, all three, enthusiastic about our trip. Very!