“You’re going to Georgia? You mean you are flying all the way to the United States just for a long weekend?”

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That was the response I received when I answered people’s question of, “Where are you traveling to for the long weekend?”

To be honest I don’t blame them; the world is a large place and a lot of smaller countries are overshadowed by the more popular destinations. I was obviously not talking about Georgia, the U.S. state… I was talking about Georgia, the Eastern European country. Now when I say Eastern Europe, people immediately think of Slovenia, Hungary, Romania… Georgia never features on their radar. With that being said, I think we all know that its time for a PPG- Panda’s Progressive Geography lesson!

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The Republic of Georgia is located in Eurasia, between Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Their currency is called Georgian Lari and the spoken language is Georgian.

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Georgian history dates back more than 2,500 years; in the past, much of Georgia’s territory was besieged by its Persian and Turkish neighbors along with Arabs and Mongols over the course of the 7th to the 18th centuries. After 11 centuries of mixed fortunes of various Georgian kingdoms, , Georgia turned to Russia for protection. Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Independent for three years (1918-1921) following the Russian Revolution, it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR and its royalty exiled. When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, post-communist Georgia endured civil unrest and economic crisis for most of the decade, but has been more stable under democratic government in the 21st century.

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Recently the United Arab Emirates celebrated their National Day thus giving us a nice little 4 day weekend which was the perfect excuse for this Panda to gather up a friend and catch a flight to Georgia. Besides a close proximity to the Middle East (its only a 3.5 hour flight from the UAE) and the fact that its cheap as chips (it really is inexpensive), there are a few other reasons that make Georgia  the perfect weekend getaway from the Middle East (or anywhere else really):

 

– WOW! The Landscapes!

For being such a small country, Georgia has quite an array of landscapes. Tbilisi is a tiny city. Even more, Georgia is small too. Combined, it’s all endlessly explorable. Located between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains, there’s varied landscapes packed into this small country. Lowland lakeside towns on the Black Sea beg for attention alongside snow-covered slopes.

Expat Lynx and I started our holiday in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi… the quaint homes perched atop the slopes of the city are reason enough to visit this pretty capital. Intricate balconies sigh from tired buildings. Cobbled streets ramble through historic neighbourhoods. Sweet, shady trees along streets reminded me of roads in Prague and Cape Town simultaneously.

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But head out of Tblisi for an hour to see some rather different landscapes like this little church complex in Ananuri overlooking the sparkling turquoise-colored Aragvi River and Zhinvali Reservoir. How gorgeous is this view framed by the mountains?

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And move out even further by driving another hour or two to Guduari where you need to prepare to have your breath taken away by this wintery wonderland…

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And these landscapes are just the tip of the iceberg! I think I could stay a week in Georgia and not explore the many different diverse landscapes on offer in this small gem of a country!

– Ooh La La! The Architecture!

Centuries of Persian, German, and Russian architectural influence is visible everywhere you go in Georgia… its incredible really. If someone showed me these photos I would have a hard time guessing that they were taken in Tbilisi, Georgia!

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I mean seriously… is this Tbilisi or Tehran?

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The architecture in Georgia is an interesting kaleidoscope of various styles and definitely something worth admiring!

 

-Oh So Yummy Food!

In general, I have very little food expectations when traveling to Europe. I certainly don’t choose European destinations for their cuisine like I do when I travel through South East Asia. However, Georgia surprised me- cultures brushing against each other over the centuries resulted in a range of delicious dishes. In addition to meat in large supply, the country offers Mediterranean fares like salads, bean soups, cheese, and Georgian pizza.

One Georgian food that’s found everywhere in the country is khachapuri- Georgian cheese bread. There are many variations of this treat that are region-specific. The most recognizable is acharuli khachapuri, which is bread-shaped like a wide canoe with pointy ends and filled with melted cheese, a raw egg and slabs of butter. You eat khachapuri by mixing up the cheese, egg and butter with a fork, then tearing off pieces of bread and dipping them into the melted cheese mixture.

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I definitely came back 5 kgs heavier simply because of this addictive dish! The other thing I really enjoyed were these Georgian dumplings served in this super cute manner:

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You remove the pastry lid and the dumplings are underneath in a creamy gravy (sorry for no dumpling pictures but I was hungry and they were delicious!). There is definitely something for everyone in Georgian cuisine with the ingredients tasting fresh and unique.

 

-Many countries for the (inexpensive price) of one!

Now what I REALLY enjoyed about Georgia was the fact that I felt like I was in so many different countries at once. While walking along the cobblestoned streets of Tblisi (which took me back to Ljubljana, Slovenia), I watched Muslim men entering a mosque to pray (which took me back to Istanbul, Turkey).

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As we drove out of the city and the mountains formed a backdrop of the scenery I was reminded of driving past the Alps in Austria. Playing in the snow with Expat Lynx took me all the way back to South Korea where I had my first encounters with snow (and I had hope they would be my last encounters with snow but oh well!).

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Georgia is surrounded by so many different cultures and therefore has all the good qualities from each neighbour. Russia in the north, Turkey in the West, Armenia and Iran in the South and Azerbaijan in the East. It’s a great mix and you can see as well as feel a lot of those elements everywhere around the country.

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In Conclusion,

For this panda, Georgia was both reassuringly familiar and genuinely exotic. The streets were European, but what’s that gorgeous alphabet the signs are written in? The national religion is Christian, but women cover their heads in churches with no pews just like women in mosques in the Gulf. Georgians- like everyone else- love bread and cheese but sometimes crack a raw egg over it. Because… why ever not?!

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Gloomy but still great!

Honestly, if you need a change of scenery Georgia is the place to escape to – its easy to enter (visa on arrival for GCC residents), has the most developed tourist infrastructure, some of the friendliest people, utterly delicious cuisine and the widest variety of sights and activities. I usually offer some tips to people about the country at this point in any post, however you don’t need my advice for Georgia. It is EASY to organise tours/rent a car/book a hotel and generally enjoy your holiday whether you’re a type A pre-planner to a spontaneous backpackers. As I type this, Georgia does not yet feel overrun with tourists, but get there fast as it likely won’t be long before the secret is out!

P.S. Just so you know, I will be off traveling to a destination that has been a lifelong dream of mine in the next week….

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Remember to find me on Instagram (@expatpanda) for all the exciting updates 🙂 Until the next post…

 

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