This is not the Georgia that Ray Charles once sung about but someone should sing about it, because so far it has been nothing but excellent.
The astute followers of this blog will note an Azerbaijan-sized gap in our records, and this is because we were unable to ever make it there. After waiting an additional ten days for a visa which would have allowed our crossing of the Caspian Sea into the port of Baku, the bureaucratic incompetence of those handling our application left us wondering whether we would in fact be celebrating New Year in Kazakhstan. As a result, Plan B was deployed; to make a beeline to Tbilisi in Georgia. We’re not overly concerned with this omission, as by all accounts, Azerbaijan sits comfortably in the company of the likes of Qatar, Dubai and Bahrain, as statements of needless excess and inequality. And as they begin construction of the tallest building in the world (nudging Dubai’s unnecessary efforts into second place), we wish them luck with what will undoubtedly stand forever as a monument to their oil-rich ineptness and short-sightedness. Perhaps we are a little bitter about the whole affair….
Georgia has indeed been in our thoughts during the final throes of the Central Asian leg and the obvious contrast upon arrival into Tbilisi was a welcome relief to the continent we had left behind. One of the immediate observations during our first stroll around the cobbled streets of the city were the frequent and conspicuous presence of EU flags, which is odd for a country not yet part of the European Union. However, there is certainly a European feel to the place, in its architecture, people, cuisine and conveniences. In a clear sign that we had crossed some sort of cultural boundary, as we indulged in the luxuries of coffee, chilled wine and flavoured food, a fellow diner paid a restaurant bill by swiping her i-phone on the credit card machine; the closest to this we had seen in the last few weeks was an i-phone t-shirt. If ever engaged in a debate over where exactly ‘The West’ begins or ends, we can say with some confidence that the answer – at least in 2014 – is the Caspian Sea.
Notwithstanding a potentially skewed opinion from our drought of cosmopolitan cities, it would seem that Tbilisi has a lot to offer. If you live in Europe and have yet to make a Ryan Air weekend break here, this is a strong endorsement to do so.