Trip to the Caucasus
I say trip to the Caucasus because if you mention Georgia most people think you went to the USA. I did have Georgia on my mind, but this time it was en route to Istanbul, where I was catching a connecting flight to the exotic mountain republic wedged between Russia and the Middle East.
It was a press trip arranged through Essential Marbella, for whom I wrote a travel article that appeared in the July edition of the magazine. I have done this sort of thing before, but it’s always exciting, and I have to admit to being thrown back to my youth, feeling as though this was an adventure akin to Tin Tin’s case, the Sceptre of Ottokar. Ok, that story was set in a thinly disguised version of Albania, and I was on my way to Georgia, but in the end the latter proved to be a fascinating mix of the Caucasus, Balkans, Russia, Turkey and the Middle East.
With this I take nothing away from the Georgians themselves, for they are an ancient nation with a long, proud history, a rich culture and a cuisine that favours many different influences. I enjoyed it greatly, as well as the local cha cha spirit and fruit lemonades, though while the beer was fine I found the famed wine to be disappointing. All the more so since Georgia is meant to be the cradle of winemaking.
The people, though are friendly, and the nature of Georgia is a gift from the gods – featuring lush green mountains streaked with waterfalls and fast flowing rivers, snow-capped highland ranges and a balmy subtropical coastline on the eastern shores of the Black Sea. Batumi, the port and resort town I visited (and twin city to Marbella) is fascinating, endowed with layers of history and culture that encompass authentic Georgia, Persia, Turkey, Russia, the Middle East and the modern world.
Not surprisingly, the architecture is highly varied too, but I especially enjoyed the old town centre, the charming little corner shops (which open till after midnight), the long beachside promenade full of eateries, the botanical gardens and the excursion into the nearby mountains, where I sampled an authentic fish lunch by the banks of a river – for the equivalent of five euros! It was a fantastic adventure and I even learned to play backgammon and made new friends, as well as being determined to see the capital Tblisi next time and also move Istanbul to the top of my ‘must-visit’ list.
If you yearn for travel that doesn’t feel like a shopping mall/fast food tourism experience, then Georgia is a place that offers not only great beauty, but also authentic exploration and many firsts.