(November 2007)

Georgia: yes I visited the ex-Soviet state. Calm, virtuous, and generous people live in this fine democratic nation that claims to have invented wine, and from which the word Caucasian is derived.

This country is not only full of history but it is a world apart from the West. Western priorites (e.g. making money) seem unimportant when in this unique country straddling the boundary of Europe and Asia.

Please note: This trip will be related in a different, almost fragmented, manner that is not my custom. Bob and I did not do as much as we normally do on our trips. We didn't rush around the country like as in past trips. I did most of my travelling in my Georgian brother's car. I also met many of Tornike's friends. In this country friendship and family are valued above money and prestige.

Georgians will give everything to guests, which initially was very foreign for me. I appreciate generosity but Georgians re-define this word. If you ever visit this country be ready to say no! I can see Georgia burgeoning into an economic powerhouse within the next decade. Its democratic government welcomes Western business and the Georgian people are skilled.

I do not know the name of this church that is situated on a cliff overlooking the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi. Inside we witnessed an Orthodox service.

The view of Tbilisi from the cliff on which the Church is built. You can see Sameba Cathedral and ??? Cathedral brightly lighted in this dusk shot.

The next day we piled into Tornike's car and went to a road race east of Tbilisi. There was only one police car and one could freely walk around the pits. The hopped-up Japanese cars race around the track. In the background you can see Soviet-built apartments.

One car rolled over a few times. People ran across the track to see if they could help, or videotape.

The racing cars are street legal (wouldn't be here).

People congregated around the racing cars in the pits while the crashed car was seen to.

Then the crash was cleared and yellow pace car started leading the competitors back onto the track.

In America you can't cross the course during a race, or after it, or before it... but in Georgia you cross it like any other busy street.

The crowds get quite close to the track.

And just to remind you that you're in the countryside, sheep are just beyond the pits.

Another car lost a front wheel so they stopped the race again and we got to see the cars up close on the course! I could get used to this. It's a lot better than watching rally cars on TV.

With the race nearly finished everybody started to walk back towards the pits.

Then, some of the crowd took their cars out onto the track. Here you can see Tornike and I heading out in his maroon BMW. Seat belts are not worn on the streets but before racing Tornike told me to wear my belt.

He then raced his friends. I was impressed because I think he lost to only one other car.

I think this is a building of the state university.

The streets aren't that different than the West: littered with German cars and buses.

Tornike took us to a football (soccer) match at Boris Paichadze National Stadium. Not only did the guards check us for tickets but also to make sure we weren't drunk. Alcohol is not allowed in the stadium. The Georgians played the Lithuanians. Notice the police in riot gear in the first row.

The scoreboard is more modern than many in America.

When it was sure Georgia would lose, the police stood up and turned around to face the crowd. Quite a deterent! The Georgians are not a violent people. They get loud and angry but do not become violent, instead they calm down again. They're much like the Greeks and Italians in this respect.

As we left a Georgian walked up to me and asked me a question, in Georgian. I replied yes and he just fumed and then turned around and walked away. Tornike later told me that he asked if I was Russian. Not a smart move after the Lithuanian team had just crushed the Georgian team. This episode does show the kind (if very emotional) spirit of the Georgian people.

Back out in the streets one of Tornike's friend (unfortunately I forget his name) and I discuss the best way to remove Tornike's car. He "shoehorned" it into a tight spot that was immediately outside the stadium.

Notice the police behind us. Georgia is a safe country.

Another university building, I think?

Did I tell you that the Georgians like American products?

And I guess British landmarks, too!

In the hills above the city is Turtle Lake. I understand that this is a popular spot during the hot summer days.

The view of Tbilisi from Turtle Lake.

The Beatles Club. Can you hear "Back in the USSR" playing?

The Parliament of Georgia.

The incrediblely overpriced Marriot Tbilisi in Freedom Square. Rooms start at $250! For that much money one could stay in a decent place in Hyde Park!

Not the world's best photo... this is the statue in the center of Freedom Square.

Sameba Cathedral in old Tbilisi. This church is probably one of the largest ones that I have seen. It is not as tall as Notré Dame or St Paul's but is probably as large.

A view of the dome from the inside.

We then drove through the old city and Bob took this photo of the area. In the background you can see the Mother of Georgia. This grey statue holds a cup of wine and a sword.

I believe this is the Narikala Fortress.

The view from this commanding position is very impressive!

Soso and Mira in front of the church inside this fortress. Soso is the father of Tornike. He has, sadly, died not long after this photo was taken. God rest his soul.

Behind them one can examine Metekhi Church and see modern rectangular bricks on top of masonry. I asked about this and was told that they rebuilt the church on the foundations of the old building. The original building dated back to the fourth century. I don't know about you, but I cannot imagine that!

We went inside the church but, out of respect, Bob took no photographs.

This overlook allowed the Georgians (Christians) to drop rocks on the invading Muslims.

The little domed buildings are Roman bath houses. They don't make houses like they used to!

The very steep and narrow passage that Soso drove his car through to get inside the fortress. It was very funny because he said "hold on" and floored the accelerator, only slowing a bit to honk at pedestrians who flattened themselves against the sides as the car ripped by. Amazing!

Metekhi Church and the statue of King Vakhtang Girgasali. He founded Tbilisi.

Stylish apartments near the river.

On Georgia Day Mira, Bob, and I walked Rustaveli Avenue with Soso and Dali. It was a wet night. People stared at my blond hair because I did not wear a hat and it got very wet. The color of the hair is obvious when wet.

In fact, most Georgians stared at me. I think many had never seen light hair before seeing me. Later that night, I made a joke while I was drinking with Tornike and his friends that Georgians think I am from outer space. This elicited a lot of laughter. I think I voiced what they were all thinking

The music in front of Parliament (pictured above) was good. Not Audioslave but unique and entertaining. Also, there were people dancing in traditional Georgian dress. There's a lot of culture in this country!

Inside St George Church near the Parliament building. Many Georgians were shuffling in and out to pay their respects on the holiday.

Tornike, a friend (I forget names so easily-- damn it!) and I drove into the mountains to see a winter rally. The road was clear but wet so nothing very exciting happened at the corner we stood near. It was like most races: lots of waiting and being a bored!

What was funny was the other people. The little boy in the red coat offered me vodka from the coke bottles at his feet in the snow! To Georgians I look Russian, remember? I declined and asked how old he was. He was eight! Start them young, I say.

Tornike and I playing with the camera. Waiting for the cars was a bit boring!

In this photo you can see about half of Tbilisi Interational Airport! It is a small building with only two levels. The future is bright for this country: democratic, peaceful, and fun. I suggest that you see it for yourself! No visa is required for American citizen.

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