A charming little country on Europe’s eastern edge.
After the Baltic states, Georgia is the former Soviet republic which has tried the hardest to integrate with the West. In a way, Georgia is a prisoner of history and geography with the mighty Caucasus Mountains, separatist enclaves, Russia, and distance itself isolating the country from Western Europe. The tragic 2008 war with Russia has hardened hearts and frontiers, and Georgia’s future is more dependent on western support than ever. Three major pipelines carry oil and gas through Georgia from the Caspian region to the Mediterranean and Black seas, which explains American sponsorship of Georgia’s bid to join NATO. Politics aside, Georgia is a fascinating country to visit with easy visa-free entry for most visitors. The capital Tbilisi revolves around Rustaveli Avenue from Republic Square to Freedom Square, roughly parallel to the Kura (Mtkvari) River. The Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theater, National Theater, Parliament, and Museum of Georgia are all on this street. Below Freedom Square is the Old Town with its churches, synagogue, and the Tbilisi History Museum. Guarding the city to the south is the 8th century Narikala Fortress which offers excellent views. The extensive Open-Air Museum of Ethnography in the hills west of town is also worth the trip. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was born in the city of Gori on the railway from Tbilisi to the Black Sea and there’s a large museum in his honor in Gori. The gracious Black Sea port of Batumi has a wonderful Botanical Gardens and a well preserved Roman fortress on its outskirts. However Georgia’s top attraction is the mountain village of Kazbegi on the Russian border where an excellent day hike brings one to Tsminda Sameba Church with its sweeping view of the central Caucasus.