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An update from Evaneos

Current situation in the pleasant, refreshing country of Georgia

The Georgian countryside is intensely green right to the horizon. There are churches and crosses on the tops of the cliffs, and cultivated fields on the plains. But from your window you will see traces of its Soviet past, enormous empty buildings and a poverty that is striking. If you want to explore the country then you'll need to use the vans. The driver will drive fast, overtake Ladas dangerously, smoke, and make the pretty girls sit next to him, whilst he sails over the holes in the road. The passengers make sure everyone gets to their destination and smile widely when travellers say "madloba" (thank you). In Georgia there are no fixed road rules, alcohol is drunk without moderation and the people are very proud of their culture. Georgia is a country that is modernising by dividing itself in two: the towns versus the countryside, with its agriculture and natural regions for tourism, which in turn creates a country with a double identity, townspeople vs. peasants. 

Georgia today 

Georgia is in western Asia, in the Caucasus. It is bordered by the Black Sea on the west, Russia in the north, Azerbaijan in the east and Armenia and Turkey in the south. You can also add Abkhazia and South Ossetia, countries which are only recognised by Russia. 

Georgia has a population of 3.7 million of whom 1.1 million live in the capital, Tbilisi. The independent territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have populations of 40,000 and 180,000 respectively, which are included in the 2014 estimated total population of the country. 

Its main towns are Kutaisi, Batumi, Rustavi, Sukhumi, Zugdidi and the capital. In the independent territories the languages spoken are Russian, Abkhaz and Ossetian, Azeri and Armenian are spoken in the frontier regions and the country's official language is Georgian. 

The currency is the Georgian Lari or GEL. In June the exchange rate was 3.56 lari to the pound. Economically, a growth rate of 2.3% is expected for 2015, although the previous year had a 4.7% growth rate and it was 3.3% in 2013. 

The national festival is on 26th May, the day that the Democratic Republic of Georgia declared its independence in 1918. At that point, the country was emerging from nearly a century of Russian domination but it wasn't until 1991 that Georgia officially became an independent nation.

A view of Tbilisi

Your trip to Georgia

Internal transport in the country is frequent, beginning at 8.30 a.m. and ending around 9 p.m. Most people in Georgia use  "marchroutka" (fairly uncomfortable mini-vans) for travelling inside the country. There are also trips like Batumi-Tbilisi or Tbilisi-Borjomi which can be done by rail, the trains going once or twice a day. The trains are quite comfortable and there is a class with sleeping berths for night travel.

To get to Georgia, the cheapest flights go via Amsterdam to Tbilisi. There are numerous options available from most British international airports. If you want to enter over the border from Turkey, then you can do it at either Sarpi-Batumi, orTürkgözü-Vale. If you have travelled through Turkey to get to Georgia you will have seen some magnificent countryside. 

Whether you are entering Georgia by plane or by land you will need a valid passport. Since June 2015 British nationals no longer need a visa to visit Georgia, You can stay for up to a year, visa free.

There are bureaus de change in all the towns and bus stations. Most hotels and restaurants take credit cards but, depending on where you are, it's still preferable to have a bit of cash on you. Waiters and taxi drivers appreciate being tipped. 

Food and drink are excellent value for money. Georgia considers it invented wine and you will find more wine merchants than there are in France, which makes it a great destination for a wine tasting holiday. If you have luxury tastes you shouldn't be disappointed and the prices are not too high.

The current situation 

Georgia has spent the last 24 years trying to find the peace and economic and political stability that it has today. A two-year civil war broke out in 1991, just when its status as an independent country became official. They had to wait for the return of Mr Shevardnaze,  the former Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, to obtain the beginnings of an organisation. In 2003, after the Rose Revolution, the new president,  Mikheil Saakashvili, (who was re-elected for a second mandate), took the country closer to the United States, the EU and NATO. In 2013 Giorgi Margvelashvili, a member of the opposition movement, "Georgian Dream", became the 4th president of Georgia bringing a breath of democracy to the country.

The armed conflicts with Russia in 2008 and 2009, which coincided with the global economic crisis, caused the country to suffer a serious crisis from which it is gradually exiting thanks to foreign investment and trade with the EU. However, the benefits of economic growth are not evident in the agricultural regions. The current president, Margvelashvili, has launched a modernisation programme for the country which will last until 2020.  

While this "renovation" takes it course, if you go to Georgia you will be able to see a country that doesn't have many tourists or much tourism, something that is quite rare nowadays. You'll meet welcoming people who live very modest lives, who face their future day by day and their present with a glass of Chacha while they watch the beautiful green fields and perfect countryside before their eyes. 

Silvia Garcia & François Vioud
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