I mentioned that I’ve been busy lately with friends coming and going.  Well, one of those friends would like to share his thoughts on his trip to Georgia with you.  Richard lives in Ukraine, and came to Georgia in early August.  If you’re interested in hearing more from him, check out his blog at http://dcinthedonbass.blogspot.com/  I hope you enjoy his post!  -Em

“Several months ago, my girlfriend and I were looking at Em’s post about Kazbegi and thinking to ourselves, “We have to see this.” Fortunately, we both were living in Ukraine, so getting there was relatively easy, and we were able to come for vacation this August.

In the course of 11 days, we saw many different parts of the country–starting with the beaches in Batumi, we made our way to Borjomi, Kazbegi and finally Tbilisi. We shamelessly stole ideas of where to go from Em’s blog. One guest house owner asked us which guide book we were using, and we had to admit we didn’t have one. Everything we knew, we’d gotten from this site.

Overall, I was impressed with the incredible effort Georgia has made to move beyond its past and become a more comfortable place to live and visit. When my flight arrived at 3 a.m., I was greeted at the airport by children in traditional costumes offering baclava and water. At 3 a.m.! Everywhere I looked in Batumi, I saw evidence of efforts to make the city more livable, from the newly-installed bike paths and bike-sharing system (similar to the ones in Paris and Washington, DC) to signs everywhere in English. Of course, the city was also under heavy construction, and seems to be vaulting towards a future as an extremely expensive enclave for the wealthy. But for my money (limited as it is as a Peace Corps Volunteer), Batumi was an unbeatable experience; the sun and the waves were still free, and supremely relaxing.

Here are some other highlights from our trip:

-Swimming in a natural hot spring in Borjomi and bottling our own spring water.

-Being blown away by natural beauty in Kazbegi. I couldn’t help a twinge of pity for the poor village folk who live there and have to climb a mountain every Sunday to go to church, but for a single visit it was great.

-Enjoying the glorious gastronomic opportunities Tbilisi has to offer, with Em as our guide. Of course we had plenty of traditional Georgian food, but also tried everything from curry to tacos to Lebanese food.

-Finding our way to the Ferris wheel overlooking the capital. The view from up there is fantastic, and once you know the right bus to take (#90), relatively easy to get to. We actually found there was a series of stairways leading up there as well, which in the summer with a good-sized bottle of water and a camera can be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

One final impression Georgia left with me that was quite profound: the police. I can’t describe what a pleasant relief it was to spend some time in a place where serious measures are being taken against corruption, even if they are still perhaps not perfect. Coming from Ukraine, where foreigners (and, well, everyone) are routinely hassled by the police, this was a breath of fresh air. Aside from the fancy police stations with their glass exteriors (a literal take on the “transparency” notion), I marveled at other such efforts as a corruption survey issued to foreigners leaving the country, asking for details of any bribes requested during one’s stay. Grace notes such as this left me thinking Georgia is on the way up in the world, and certainly someplace I want to come again.

Maybe I’ll even try to learn that crazy alphabet.”