OK, you’ve been to Paris, Rome and London. Isn’t it time to see another part of the world, a beautiful country with an ancient culture and modern approach to hospitality?
I’m talking about the Republic of Georgia, not to be confused with the American state of the same name. I’m talking about “the real Georgia.”
Georgia, one of 15 former Soviet republics until 1991, is becoming a travel destination in its own right.
“If Ukraine used to be known as the Soviet Union’s bread basket, Georgia was known as its orchard,” said native Georgian Nunu Zazadze on a recent visit to the United States.
Zazadze, who teaches English in Georgia, spent six months in Davis, Calif., studying advanced English at California State University, Sacramento.
While in Northern California, Zazadze met many people who were interested in traveling to Georgia and other former Soviet republics, but didn’t know where to go or what to see.
“That’s when I decided that there was a place for me to help introduce Americans to the real Georgia,” said Zazadze.
“We have four real seasons,” she added, “plus big cities with museums and opera and small towns with spas and country inns.”
Zazadze has traveled widely in her native land and can show visitors Gori, the birthplace of Stalin; Borjormi, home of the Romanov summer palace, now a popular spa and hotel; and Tblisi, the country’s capital. She will be pleased to show you the ancient capital of Mtskheta, less than an hour from Tblisi.
And Zazadze has connections to the best of daily life behind the scenes. Her relatives have a small restaurant in Gori specializing in Georgian food.
“I can order a special meal to your specifications in advance for a group of two to 20 people,” she said. Georgian foods include hearty soups, barbecued meats, meat dumplings, cheese bread, fresh cucumber, tomato and vegetable salads.
If you would like to visit schools specializing in art and music, Zazadze can arrange a special invitation. Perhaps you’d like to see Georgian students perform an American play in English? She can arrange it.
If you would like to order a special piece of hand-made jewelry in gold or silver, Zazadze can introduce you to the artisans who have made her personal jewelry.
Things to buy in Georgia include pottery, paintings, handmade scarves and shawls, wood products and embroidered goods. She can also arrange for an evening of opera or dance.
Or perhaps you’d like to see a national or international soccer match in Tblisi? She can arrange it.
“Soccer is very popular, everyone follows the games,” said Zazadze.
OK, are you convinced? Come on over, Georgia is waiting! This is what Zazadze recommends:
Fly into Tblisi. Whether you’re making a visit to Georgia part of a longer trip or the ultimate destination, Zazadze will meet you at the airport. She will provide transportation to a hotel of your choice and price range.
After a rest and a meal, she will take you on a tour of the city.
“There is so much to see, I recommend tourists spend three days exploring Tiblisi,” she said.
“We will go to Old Tblisi where the original settlement of the town was on the banks of the river,” she said. Churches, fortresses, Sachino Palace, baths and bookstores are part of the scene in Old Tblisi.
She also will take you to old-fashioned pharmacies that sell natural therapeutic remedies in the form of teas and herbs.
The newest church, the Sameba Cathedral, opened in 2006. It is a Georgian Orthodox church, said Zazadze.
“I would be happy to take visitors to a service there,” she added.
Tblisi also is home to modern museums – art museums and museums holding Georgia’s most ancient treasures – jewelry and other exquisite works in gold and silver.
“In the evenings we can visit parks where there are fountains, live music, and people gather to meet their friends,” she said.
Then she will take you by minibus to a town high in the mountains – her home of Akhaltsikhe, population 55,000, which is about three hours away. The topography of the area looks much like the foothills of Colorado.
A wonderful day trip from Akhaltsikhe is a visit to Vardzia, a cave town/complex representing the apex of cave architecture that has been partially destroyed by earthquakes. Many ancient ruins exist – this is a fabulous place to visit.
A lovely drive to the Sapara Monastery, which is still in use today, is another must. The domed church of St. Saba, built in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, is part of the monastery complex.
You will love Georgia, particularly when you meet the real Georgia.
To make plans with Nunu Zazadze as your guide, you need only phone directly from the United States to her cell phone. She will take care of everything for you in Georgia. From the U.S. dial direct at 011 898 21 61 81 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
--Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at email@example.com