A Decade of Living in Georgia: the Good and the Bad…

I moved to Georgia in September 2009, the year after their short war with Russia. Ten years on, I reflect on living in Georgia, the country not the US state (it needs qualifying every time). I am often asked do I like Georgia? Well, my answer is “Yes and no”. Everywhere I have lived (England, Wales, Australia, France and Georgia) has had positive and negative aspects.   Some things I like, and some I don’t (as with any country, there will be the inevitable few, who will say the tired “if you don’t like it go back to where you came from!“). On balance I’d say I’m very happy here and have no plans to move. This is my own very personal viewpoint, I realise others will have different likes and dislikes, particularly with regards to the Khachapuri (cheese-bread)! I have also lived exclusively in the capital, Tbilisi, which I appreciate is very different to living in a Georgian village.

So let me look at those likes and dislikes in more detail:

Light

I love the fantastic light. Lots of clear sunny days make for good photos. Coming from England, where sunny days are rarer, this is a great blessing.

light in the stairwell
light in a stairwell in Varketili

Mountains

The mountains are spectacular, some are higher than any in the Alps (Mont Blanc is 4810m, Mount Shkhara in Svaneti is 5193m). As a draw-card, I think this is what would  really attract tourists to Georgia.

Khevsureti
Khevsureti, one of many scenic mountainous regions in Georgia

Women

I might get into trouble for the next observation; but I find Georgian women are very pleasing on the eye, strangely many Georgian men seem to fantasize about Ukrainian women. I have been married to a wonderful Georgian woman for many years now.

P1320600
Georgian model in Old Tbilisi

Georgian Cuisine

Georgians rave about their cuisine, one list places Georgian Cuisine as 4th out of 48 European Cuisines ranked behind only Italy, France and Spain. This may be sacrilegious to state but I am not so impressed and miss English roast dinners and puddings (UK cuisine was ranked 13th) . I don’t really like khachapuri, their signature dish, a cheese filled pastry, I find it too salty. I do like khinkali and churchkhela. Georgian meals are important events and most birthdays and holidays are marked with a feast or “supra”. Georgians are also proud of their wine and claim to have been the nation which invented wine back in the mists of time, some  8000 years ago, a claim for which there is substantial archaeological support in the region. Georgian Wine

mtsvadi
Mtsvadi (მწვადი), Georgian Barbecue, a popular dish at supras (Georgian feasts)

The Georgian Language (დედა ენა)

The language is a real nightmare for me, using a different and unique alphabet and having long words with tricky consonant clusters. I lived in France for six years and can get by reasonably well in French, but Georgian is a different story. I explore this in a separate blog :  The Georgian Language is one of the most Difficult to Learn detailing my travails with the language. Maybe it is just my brain isn’t as malleable as it once was.

P1630272
signs in Georgian

Rubbish

One thing that saddens me is despite the Georgians singing so much that they are proud of their country, so many of them litter with abandon.

rubbish
litter near the roadside

Cars

I’m crazy about cars, though strangely I don’t drive here (see traffic later in the post). I love seeing the old Soviet cars around.

GAZ Volga 24 with crates
GAZ Volga 24

Work

As a native English speaking teacher with many years experience teaching English, I can find plenty of students here, many people want to learn English and there are not a lot of native English speakers with whom I need to compete. I have taught English since 1994, first in France, then England and now Georgia. The cost of living is relatively cheap, particularly public transport and accommodation, which are much cheaper in Tbilisi than in London, but wages are also much lower.

Safety

Tbilisi feels a safe city, I have had no troubles, apparently it hasn’t always been like this, in the 1990s there was a lot of street crime. Walking around late at night in an English city on a Friday or Saturday night is more intimidating than walking around Tbilisi at night.

Public Transport

The public transport, though cheap can be very overcrowded. The newer buses are better with air conditioning and less pollution. There are just two metro lines.

on the bus blog

Traffic

The traffic is scary at times, the drivers have little respect for pedestrians and won’t necessarily stop just because you are on a pedestrian crossing. When asked by Georgians what I don’t like I usually say “the traffic !” and they nod in agreement, though apparently it is even worse in Iran.

crossing by Drybridge Market
Traffic won’t necessarily stop if you are on a pedestrian crossing

Another gripe I have with the traffic, is seeing far too many drivers using their mobile phones with seeming impunity.

driving and using phone
driving and using the phone

Religion

Religion is important here, despite the Bolsheviks trying to stamp out religion in the past, there are many new churches and most Georgians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. I have been baptised into the Orthodox church but I find their intolerance of other denominations rather un-Christian, I feel I maybe losing my religion. For example: Georgian Orthodox church takes aim at Armenian Church. My wife is quite devout and prays twice a day, every day.

P1040469
Svaneti Museum Crosses

Smoking

Smoking is very common here, it is cheap compared to Western Europe and many smokers seem oblivious to those around them, it pains me to see people smoking around children. Smoking has recently been banned in public buildings which is good, although it often means smokers congregating around the exit, puffing away.

smoking and kids
You can poison your own lungs, but do you really need to poison the children around you?

The 1966 Italian epic Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone was entitled “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly“…. for ugly, we have in Tbilisi the Biltmore Hotel.

Biltmore Hotel
The Biltmore Hotel

Zufa Jafaridze commented: “The ugliest building right in the center of Tbilisi, where it shouldn’t be, ruining the view and the beauty of the city, but wait, it gets even worse at night when the giant ad monitor flashes into your eyes when you go outside, it never should have been built there and I hope it will be removed.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Caught in the Rain

May and June are the wettest months in Tbilisi, there can be sudden heavy downpours.girl in the rain

girl in the rain 2

It is a good idea to carry an umbrella with you. Although, some men consider it effeminate for a man to carry an umbrella. On some of the public toilets the symbol for men is a pipe and for women an umbrella.

In the 1750s, an Englishman, by the name of Jonas Hanway, began carrying an umbrella around the rainy streets of London.

People were outraged. Some bystanders hooted and jeered at Hanway as he passed; others simply stared in shock. Who was this strange man who seemed not to care that he was committing a social sin?

Hanway was the first man to parade an umbrella unashamed in 18th-century England, a time and place in which umbrellas were strictly taboo. In the minds of many Brits, umbrella usage was symptomatic of a weakness of character, particularly among men. Few people ever dared to be seen with such a detestable, effeminate contraption.

Citizens Observing Jonas Hanway with Newly Invented Umbrella
Jonas Hanway walking into the rain, with an umbrella. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Remembering 9th April 1989…30 years on

9th April is a national holiday in Georgia.

P1100721
floral tribute

On 9 April 1989, 30 years ago, Soviet troops attacked Georgian demonstrators with clubs and sharpened spades outside the Parliament Building in Rustaveli Avenue. The clashes left 20 people dead, mainly young women.

 

9th April 1989. The Berlin Wall was still standing, the Ceausescus were still breathing and events in Tbilisi which included hunger strikes reached a climax. The events of 9 April 1989 were the culmination of weeks of demonstrations for Georgian independence and against separatism of Abkhazia.

The demonstrations were mostly peaceful. At their peak, about 10,000 people are estimated to have been present.

An hour before the attack the Georgian Patriarch, Ilia II, begged the crowds to leave the Square.

 

Minutes before 4am on 9 April, General  Radionov told his troops, who had been requested by Jumber Pastiashvili, first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, to clear the square, in front of the Georgian government building, on Rustaveli Avenue, by all means available. The Soviet troops attacked the demonstrators with clubs and sharpened spades. The clashes left 20 people dead, mainly young women.

P1780160

My wife, then just 21, was among the demonstrators in the square that day, she fled the square with her cousin, Tsira, fearing for their lives, they sought refuge in Rustaveli Theatre.

9 april post 2
Khachkar (or Armenian cross stone) memorial to the  innocent victims of Tbilisi’s April 9, 1989 crackdown outside Ejmiastin Armenian Church, Avlabari, Tbilisi.

Photos of the events can be seen here: April 9, 1989: Soviet Crackdown In Tbilisi

views

p1760979
Cable cars and Kartlis Deda

Walking down from Avlabari to Abanotubani in Tbilisi presents the viewer with a wonderful vista of Old Tbilisi. There are the old houses with balconies, the river Mtkvari and looking up the hill where the cable car goes there is a silhouette of Kartlis Deda. Kartlis Deda is a symbol for Georgia, she holds a cup of wine in one hand for guests and a sword in the other for enemies.

Nine years in Georgia: the good and the bad.

Every September, I reflect on moving to Georgia, the country not the US state (it needs qualifying every time). I am often asked do I like Georgia? Well, my answer is “Yes and no”. Some things I like, some I don’t (as with any country, there will be the inevitable few, who will say the tired “if you don’t like it go back to where you came from!“). I’ve been here 9 years now, on balance I’d say I’m happy here and have no plans to move. This inevitably will be a very personal viewpoint, I realise others will have different likes and dislikes.

So let’s look at those likes and dislikes in more detail:

I love the fantastic light. Lots of clear sunny days make for good photos. Coming from England, where sunny days are rarer, this is a great blessing.

Light

light in the stairwell
light in the stairwell of our old block in Varketili

Mountains

The mountains are spectacular, some are higher than any in the Alps (Mont Blanc is 4810m, Mount Shkhara in Svaneti is 5193m). As a drawcard, I think this is what can really attract tourists to Georgia.

Khevsureti
Khevsureti mountain scenery

Women

I might get into trouble for the next observation; but I find Georgian women are very pleasing on the eye, strangely many Georgian men seem to fantasize about Ukrainian women.

P1320595
Georgian model in Old Tbilisi

Georgian Cuisine

Georgians rave about their cuisine, one list places Georgian Cuisine as 4th out of 48 European Cuisines ranked behind only Italy, France and Spain. I am not so impressed and miss English roast dinners and puddings (UK cuisine was ranked 13th) . I don’t really like khachapuri, their signature dish, a cheese filled pastry, I find it too salty. Georgian meals are important events and most birthdays and holidays are marked with a feast or “supra”. Georgians are also proud of their wine and claim to have been the nation which invented wine back in the mists of time, some 8 000 years ago, a claim for which there is substantial archaeological support in the region. Georgian Wine

churchkhela 2
churchkhela (walnuts in a grape jelly)

The Georgian Language

The language is a real nightmare for me, using a different alphabet and having long words with tricky consonant clusters. I lived in France for six years and can get by reasonably well in French, but Georgian is a different story. I explore this in a separate blog :  The Georgian Language is one of the most Difficult to Learn detailing my travails with the language.

P1630272
Georgian signs

Rubbish

One thing that saddens me is despite the Georgians singing so much that they are proud of their country, so many of them litter with abandon.

rubbish
Litter near the roadside

Cars

I’m crazy about cars, though strangely I don’t drive here (see traffic later in the post). I love seeing the old Soviet cars around.

Moskvitch x 3
Can you see three Moskvitches in this Tbilisi street?

Work

I can work here quite easily as an English teacher, many people want to learn English and there are not a lot of native English speakers. I have taught English since 1994, first in France, then England and now Georgia. The cost of living is relatively cheap, particularly public transport and accommodation, which are much cheaper in Tbilisi than in London, but wages are also much lower.

Safety

Tbilisi feels a safe city, I have had no troubles, apparently it hasn’t always been like this, in the 1990s there was a lot of street crime. Walking around late at night in an English city on a Friday or Saturday night is more intimidating than walking around Tbilisi at night.

Public Transport

The public transport, though cheap can be very overcrowded.

on the bus blog
on the bus

Traffic

The traffic is scary at times, the drivers have little respect for pedestrians and won’t stop just because you are at a pedestrian crossing. When asked by Georgians what I don’t like I usually say “the traffic !” and they nod in agreement, though apparently it is even worse in Iran.

crossing by Drybridge Market
there is no guarantee cars will stop for pedestrians on a crossing

Religion

Religion is important here, despite the Bolsheviks trying to stamp out religion in the past, there are many new churches and most Georgians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. I have been baptised into the Orthodox church but I find their intolerance of other denominations rather un-Christian. For example: Georgian Orthodox church takes aim at Armenian Church. My wife is quite devout and prays twice a day, every day.

metekhi church
Metekhi Church

Smoking

Smoking is very common here, it is cheap and many smokers seem oblivious to those around them, it pains me to see people smoking around children.

smoking and kids
Do they have to smoke around a young child?

Biltmore Hotel

The newly built Biltmore Hotel doesn’t fit in with the Tbilisi City Scape, there are many other examples of modern architecture at odds with the city skyline but the Biltmore really stands out like a sore thumb.

P1630289
Biltmore Hotel…

There are many other positives and negatives, maybe I will expand this post next September as I celebrate a decade in Georgia. Please add your thoughts in the comments.

A Canadian ex-pat who has been here even longer than me expresses his reasons: here

Laughing doves building a nest

Laughing dove nesting
Laughing doves building a nest

Spring sees many birds building their nests. This pair of laughing doves is building their nest in the entrance to a business centre in downtown Tbilisi. The nest is a very flimsy platform of twigs built in a low bush and sometimes in crevices or under the eaves of houses. Both parents build the nest with males bringing the twigs which are then placed by the female.

Laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis).