As most of you know, my leave date was delayed until Oct. 24th. I was perfectly happy since it’s given me more time to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather here in the northwest and, more critical, find a real winter coat. I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of real winter while packing the first round, especially having to get around without a car and work in an office which may or may not be heated. Or so I’ve been warned. But I’m feeling much more confidant now that I’ve purchased a body encompassing down jacket.
I’ve run into a surprising number of people who’ve been to Georgia over the past week and the good news is I’ve heard consistent reports that the countryside is beautiful and the food is excellent (wine too), with plenty of vegetarian options. I’ve heard other, less substantiated tales of aggressive male mating rituals and female dress preferences, but I’ll leave those details for future posts once I’ve ascertained their veracity.
I’ve also had time to do more reading about Georgia (mostly USAID and UN environmental reports), which I won’t bore you with just yet (believe me you’ll have plenty of the environmental stuff in future posts). Instead, below are a few highlights from Wikipedia. Disclaimer: they are not in order of importance, a reflection of my political views (although a few asides may have been added in), a direct copy from wiki, or verified from any alternative source and could, in fact, be completely erroneous, for which I take no responsibility.
- Georgia is the oldest wine producing region of the world and archaeologists have found signs that wine production started between 7000-5000 BC (the Neolithic age). Due to many millennia of winemaking, the traditions are entwined with the country’s national identity and wine exports to Russia were a huge part of their economy until Russia banned Georgian wines in 2006.
- Joseph Stalin was an ethnic Georgian whose real name was Ioseb Jughashvili.
- The Georgian language is in its own language group, completely unrelated to Indo-European or Semitic languages. Here’s a taste: საქართველო This means Georgia.
- Georgia reached the peak of its political and economic strength during the reign of King David and Queen Tamar in the 11th and 12th century (well known in western history…what you haven’t heard of them?). The countryside is now covered with ancient towered fortifications, many of which house monasteries and churches (including one of the oldest in Christendom).
- George W. Bush became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the country. The street leading to Tbilisi International Airport has since been dubbed George W. Bush Avenue (I won’t hold it against them).
- Despite being overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian, Tbilisi is one of the few places in the world (Sarajevo and Paramaribo, Suriname being others) where a synagogue and a mosque sit next to each other–and in Tbilisi, just a few hundred meters from the Metekhi Church (above, see pretty picture taken in summer).
- The capital, Tbilisi, where I’ll be based, lies along the banks of the Mt’k’vari River and has 1,480,000 inhabitants. It’s named for the area’s numerous sulphuric hot springs and has lots of Turkish type spas.