At first mention, a trip to Georgia doesn’t sound especially exotic. “Oh, cool. Atlanta? Hasn’t Grant Taylor already destroyed that place, along with all the other skaters who live there?” That’s when you have to make the conversation awkward by saying, “No, not the state. The country,” which is usually followed by a response like, “Hm, never heard of it.” Georgia is a small, Ex Soviet Republic located in Eastern Europe right on the edge of Western Asia. The country is rich with its own culture, language and amazing food, as well as a a serious tradition of wine making. In fact, the region of Georgia is thought to be the birth place of wine making, with evidence of this ancient craft dating back over eight thousand years. Wine remains a defining aspect of the Georgian culture today, which was demonstrated at the passport check in where, after stamping our passports, each member of our group received a complimentary bottle of wine. In all my traveling I’ve never received more than a pamphlet from the grumps checking passports at immigration. A personal bottle of wine? As the first stop along the Caucasus trip, we all took this as a sign for good times to come.
In total there were eight of us traveling together as we planned to zig zag our way through the Caucasus, a mix mash of different nationalities and backgrounds. The Russians, Gosha, Alexi and Kirill, made life easy for the rest our group, handling nearly all communications with the locals. Since Georgia was formerly part of the Soviet Union, Russian is still a commonly spoken language in the country. Georgia does have its own language, a language that to an American sounds a lot like Russian but really has no relation in origin, nor any other language for that matter. It’s one of the few truly coded languages left among humans. Madars Apse was along for the ride and was also able to help translate, as he’s a Latvian and seems to be able to speak a little bit of every language, including a fluency in Russian. Joining me from the United States was Pat Duffy, the legend himself who is now living in Finland. From England we had Barney Page who, along with me and Duffy, didn’t help with any of the translating on this trip. Leading our platoon into the battlefield was Patrik Wallner, the enigmatic Hungarian who was responsible for planning this adventure.
A few other fun facts about Georgia:
While I assumed the majority of the free world looks back on the presidency of George W. Bush with disdain, I was surprised to find that Georgia may be one of the few countries to revere it. The main highway leading in and out of the capital city of Tbilisi is named after the infamous Texan and a picture of the former US President is even plastered on the road sign. Looking into it, aside from Texas, Ghana is the only other country in the world where you can find yourself driving along George W. Bush Highway.
Prior to this trip, I knew very little about Joseph Stalin, the man who was the leader of the Soviet Union for nearly thirty years and is responsible for more genocidal killings than Hitler. It turns out Stalin is from a small town in Georgia called Gori, where we made a point of visiting. While Hitler’s reign of terror over Germany claimed roughly six million deaths, Stalin’s may be closer to twenty! These appalling facts were brought to light only after his death, at which point all of the hundreds of Stalin statues around the Soviet Union were torn down or demolished. One of the last to remain standing is in Gori, next to a museum dedicated to the despicable dictator.
After being in Georgia for a few days, there are two things that become apparent about the locals. One, they’re all very friendly and welcoming, especially to Americans. Two, all of the men are named Giorgi. Ok well not all of them, but nearly. Next time you find yourself in Georgia, test this out by going up to every man you see and say, “Hello Giorgi.” My guess is that nine times out of ten they will look back at you with a stupefied look, trying to remember when they had introduced themselves to you before, but happy to see you again anyways.