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armeniab

Last week, I turned 44 and it's time for my annual birthday trip. The decision on where to travel came quite easily - back to the Caucasus!

This region is like a wonderful partner - there was an immediate connection when we met, and it goes beyond the mere physical elements. Of course, the stunning contours of the landscapes, and excitement of something "new" to explore are what initially led me here. But it's more than that. I love the Caucasus because they are both calm and wild at the same time. Perhaps it's difficult to comprehend, but there is a sense of belonging here. The countries are small, completely different from the massive geographic swells of my home country, or even Russia. This is part of the appeal - that you can conquer an entire nation in a very short period of time, and simultaneously ignite a spark in the soul and mind with all of the stunning mountain landscapes, ancient sites and warm, friendly people. It's an intoxicating blend of Earth, mountain, sky and human curiosities...with the negative aspect of increased heartbeats due to the wild driving culture you must endure to reach these remote places. In such environments, boredom never arises. There is a real sense of feeling alive beyond the mere habit of breathing each day, or going through the routine motions of adulthood that trap us. Boredom - it is the most brutal enemy for me personally. I'm always fighting it off, and can't stand to be captured or held hostage to it for even short periods of time. Yes, I need adventure, stimulation - maybe similar to a young child. :))

I will depart for Tbilisi next week, spend a few days there, and then drive to Armenia. If you know interesting places in Armenia, colorful people, or any other facts you wish to share, please write in comments. If you missed my prior stories about Georgia, you can read them here, and there are still many which remain unwritten.

Sorry for the very long absence from the blog. I am alive and well...and hope the same is true for my dear readers!

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I've started to paint a nice picture of Georgia in my first few posts, but this doesn't mean everything is so rosy there. The country is no different from others, with both good and bad sides. The difference is that as a foreigner I notice many problematic things which Georgians may consider "normal", when in fact they're confusing, and even incomprehensible, for a foreign tourist.

You can look at this cover photo and perhaps it stirs some type of nostalgia for those who grew up in Soviet times. :) These old LADAs are everywhere on the roads in Georgia, and I'm always amazed at how many people are stuffed inside them. Often the small cars are weighed down with heavy loads attached to the roof, barely moving down the road. I wondered several times if some of these people ever made it to their destination point. Many of the old cars are in bad shape, and probably shouldn't even be on the road. However, as far as I can tell, there is no type of inspection requirement for machines, no emissions testing - nothing to control the quality or safety of the cars on the roads in Georgia. And this leads to #1 on the list for "bad Georgia"....Read more... )
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This is one of my favorite photos from the road trip in Georgia, taken in motion from a car window while passing. However, it's very symbolic of life throughout the country. Outside of Tbilisi, Batumi and a few other larger cities, Georgia is one big rural village, immediately transporting you to a different time and place. For all its beauty, the country is very poor, employment opportunities are limited, and people are tied to a simple existence without a lot of luxuries to which most of us are accustomed. This is part of the country's beauty and fascination, at least for me - an American coming from a middle class, stable environment. A woman who has had plenty of opportunities to achieve almost anything she wanted in life. Nothing has been handed to me, for everything I worked quite hard -  getting various degrees and a high education, fighting for positions at work, numerous other things...

I tried to find some statistics about average wages, but they are inconsistent. Figures released in 2015 show that women in Georgia earned an average salary of 697.3 GEL ($270), while a male earns 1,126.8 ($440). So, we can see that men earn substantially more there, regardless of business sector. The average pension is about $75. There is free health care, but nothing is really "free", and more favorable care can be arranged by getting private insurance costing from $10 - $50/month. With such poor wages, this seems almost impossible for most citizens. Georgians pay a flat tax on salaries and fees - 20%. If annual income exceeds 40,000 GEL ($15,600), the State will require additional taxes which are determined by the value of real estate owned by the family. At least, this is according to current information available here. Due to the fertile nature of Georgian soil, food is quite cheap - fresh fruits, vegetables and grains are all produced locally. With meat is another issue - sometimes expensive, and not the best quality, unless you like fatty dishes.

I can't really say how living in Georgia is different than life in Russia. In some ways, the systems are the same and village life in each nation mirrors the other based on my experience of traveling in remote parts of both nations. Cultures certainly differ in their openness, friendliness and tolerance for diversity. Georgians by nature are quite animated, friendly and talkative; Russians more cold in appearance, and less animated as a whole. But people are just people....:)

What do you think? Could you live in such a village? This is something I continually ask myself... and the answer remains inconclusive.





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At various points in life I was chasing something, and there is one common thread to all the pursuits. Adventure, curiosity or wonder have always been tied to the chase - whether it was an intriguing man I was trying to figure out, some exotic location I was trying to make my way to, or some natural landscape I wanted to experience in person rather than simply admire from my computer screen.

In Georgia, I was able to chase clouds - yes, I love them! At many points during the journey they were hanging so low it felt like I could reach out and touch them with my fingers. One such place was along the Georgian Military Highway, which connects Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia. It is also the site of the only official border crossing into Russia, at least this is my understanding. The border used to be restricted to CIS citizens only, but is now open to all. If you're looking for a day trip from Tbilisi, this is my recommendation, and let's see why.Read more... )
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We can say that cultures and cuisines vary around the world, but there's a common thread - most humans eat and sleep on a daily basis. If you're lucky enough, on some days you also get the chance to sing, dance, or engage in something uplifting for the soul. In Georgia, there is a huge culture of food, filled with many tasty, aromatic and flavorful dishes. The best part of all of this - it is so cheap! :)

Throughout the journey, I spent most evenings on the road at homestays, which are sometimes the only option in mountain regions. The cost for all of the rooms was a standard $50/per night, and this included hearty breakfasts and dinners. This cover photo is from the start of the road expedition, and this house was my favorite from the journey. Wonderful table filled with all kinds of homemade Georgian foods to fill the belly at the end of a very long and strenuous day of driving. I grew to crave this delicious yogurt soup, and ordered it frequently during the trip because the more traditional soup - "kharcho" - was too spicy! In general, Georgians like to stuff everything with decadent fillings - peppers, eggplant, potatoes filled with nuts, curry paste, spices - lots of other things buried in the pockets.

Today Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, where we gather around the table for huge feasts and fellowship, so it seems like a good time to begin the reports from Georgia and speak a bit about the food and lodging options. Let's go...Read more... )
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I often seek refuge under trees in times of deep confusion or when in a reflective mood. I can't articulate why I find them so powerful and spiritual, but it is so. Deep roots here, with fortress walls behind it. Mighty, mighty place in the mountainous country of Georgia.

Where there is a tree, there is hope. Something stirring in the soul, as leaves dance with the breeze, sometimes drifting onward to a new place at the mercy of the winds. Sometimes being stubborn, clinging to the branch on which they have always existed. Nature's rattle, immediately calming. Under trees some of my dreams have been born, romances ignited and poems imagined. Yes, where there is a tree, there is hope...at least for me.
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Imagine a place where the mundane patterns of normal life disappear, and you're transported into a fairy tale of sorts. This is my Georgia, the way I'll remember this magical little corner of the globe. A fairy tale for a brief moment in time, yet I don't believe such lands of enchantment exist in reality. Life is a constant ebb and flow. We are always swimming along, and against, various streams and tides in life. For me personally, it's sometimes confusing to know which route to take.

Georgia - it was full of wonder and discovery on many levels - from stunning mountains to the ancient, narrow pathways of Old Tbilisi, fortresses glowing atop hills in the night sky, and of course Georgians themselves. I think all those readers who wrote about these "wild" people have never stepped foot in this country. I love so many things about this place, and of course some things made me uneasy and caused culture shock.

I can't find the proper words to describe my time there, but I'm now back in the USA and have returned to monotonous and boring office life. Mostly I want to thank all the native Georgians who took such good care of me during my visit, and all the friendly and helpful strangers I encountered along the way. When the words come to me, I will write them here and tell more about my journey. We covered North, South, East and West, having some real exotic and off-road adventures along the way. I didn't carry my big camera, and all photos were taken with the new iPhone 7. Somehow I just wanted to focus on the experience, and not worry about getting the best shots. Simply existing in, and absorbing, each moment.

It has been my longest absence from the blog since I began writing on LJ. I hope some of you are still here, and that you're doing well - staying warm with the arrival of winter. Cheers from the USA! :)

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It's very amusing to hear impressions and stereotypes about Georgia from my Russian readers. Unfortunately, I don't think I have many native Georgians reading this blog. I will be there in two weeks, and will spend several days in Tbilisi at the beginning and end of the journey. Please send me a message if you are there, and have time to meet for coffee or a quick chat.

In the meantime, I can't fully grasp current relations between Georgia and Russia, despite having read a lot of articles on this topic recently.  The most common stereotypes about Georgians repeated to me by Russian readers:

(1) Georgians are very, very lazy - especially Georgian men;
(2) most mafia in Soviet times were Georgians - yes, constant warnings about the Georgian mafia! :));
(3) they are hot-blooded Southerners, loud, animated; and
(4) continual comments about the wild men of the Caucasus'!


In fact, I think there is quite a long history of Russian females being attracted and drawn to men from the Caucasus, though I don't know the precise reasons why. The most amusing comment in my recent post about celibacy came when a reader wrote - "Думаешь горячие кавказские парни ее разморозят?" Well, I am not a piece of meat that needs to be dethawed! :))  Anyone who immediately attempts to do so will likely fail, and it does not matter if he is from the Caucasus or right here in Washington, DC.

The route is already planned, and I'll journey through the country with a native Georgian, spending most of my time in village areas. I think outside of a few larger cities, the whole country is a big village! :) If you have suggestions on places to visit, things to see, please write in comments. Thanks and pleasant week to all!
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womanwithsuitcase

It seems the time has come. All my life, I've constantly thought about it. Packing my bags and moving to another country to live short term. Long term for me isn't an option for one simple reason. I'm too close to my family - they are my emotional support system in life, and my main social circle. To be half-way around the world from them for an extended period of time will not work, nor be beneficial to my emotional health. Where to go is the main question, and how to support myself while I'm there?

I'm already on my third career in life, and have grown bored with it - now I'm ready for the fourth. Working in the legal field has run it's course, and after 15 years the downsides now outweigh the upsides. Being a lawyer has been intellectually stimulating, challenging, and of course provided me with a very high salary during the last decade. However, money has never been a driving force in my life, and I'm really a simple person, not craving many material possessions beyond the basics. I began to research possible options and discovered one program that seems to fit all my parameters...Read more... )
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Before we get to Russia, let's talk about Georgia. My big expedition for the year will be to this country, which is described in almost all articles as a "tiny, but proud nation." I always try to read a bit about local customs before stepping foot on foreign soil, learn a few basic phrases in the local language, and understand a bit about the current political climate of the nation. To this end, I even purchased a book called "Georgia - Culture Smart", which explains how to behave in the country to avoid trouble. A huge part of the book is focused on traditional gender relations, warning Western women about the wild and untamed men of the Caucasus. :))

I place almost no weight on these types of books because they are always overly cautious with their interpretations and warnings, and I really don't fear offending locals when I'm a guest in their country. If you're running around trying to be so prim and proper all the time, there's no room for true adventure, or learning about local nuances from the mistakes you make when dealing with natives. I think it's always best to just be yourself, and simply live and learn along the way.


Yesterday, I came across another article explaining ten things you should never do in Georgia. Almost all of them focus on supra etiquette, as these huge meals and gatherings are a main part of Georgian culture. Let's take at the things this simple American woman should never do during her visit to Georgia. Then, we can think of a similar list for Russia. :)Read more... )
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© The Guardian

Over the weekend, I began to finalize travel plans for the year. I will go to Montana in a few weeks, then take a short trip to Iceland with my nephew at the end of March. We are waiting for his passport to arrive, and it will be his first journey abroad at age 8. Then it will quickly be summer, my least favorite season, and I will remain in Virginia because I don't like the seasonal summer crowds or heat. In autumn, I need to pick another international destination to explore, and Georgia is at the top of the list. I think October will be a good time, because the suffocating heat of summer will have passed and hopefully there will still be seasonal blooms and greenery before the dull winter arrives. U.S. passport holders no longer need a tourist visa for Georgia, so there are really no hassles other than booking a plane ticket and deciding what to see. In this regard, I need your help. Who has local contacts in Georgia that may be willing to help, or serve as local drivers/guides? As usual, I want to be away from larger cities and in the mountain and village areas.

It's possible I could combine a short trip to Azerbaijan at the end of the journey, but a visa is required for this country. What do I need to know about Georgians and Azerbaijanis? Who has been to these countries, and what are the best regions to visit? I think it will be almost impossible to learn the Georgian alphabet, but I've heard Georgians are very hospitable and I'm a big fan of Georgian cuisine. :) I'm aware of the 2008 conflict, and just finished a book called "The Guns of August 2008", but I don't know the modern political climate between Russia and Georgia.


Thanks, as always, for your advice and guidance! If you know local people involved in the tourism sector who may be willing to help, please send them my contact information!

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