I am home now, sitting in my comfortable den, reflecting on my most recent trip. I am happy that I visited these 2 fascinating countries. I will admit that I knew nothing about them before the trip except the name. Like most people, when I hear the name Georgia, I would think of the State of Georgia (USA) and not the republic of Georgia. I still know very little of the two countries as I don’t know the language and my knowledge is based on the opinions of my 2 guides. Here is my 2 cents worth.
I was in Georgia before I realized that the geopolitical situation of the area is incredibly complex and can change anytime. Russia is the big guy in the region. It is so much bigger than others in the area and it can come in and take over anytime it likes (think of Crimea). Georgia and Armenia face very different challenges. Armenia is squeezed by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Georgia is getting its oil and gas from Azerbaijan and therefore supports the territorial claims of Azerbaijan. However, Georgia is allowing Russian oil and gas to flow to Armenia (I am sure some money change hands but some gentle Russian persuasion may also come into play). Armenia also uses ports in Georgia to export and import essential goods. However, Georgia does not like Armenia because of the Russian friendship. Russia still occupies some of the Georgian territories and gave away some of the Georgian territory to Turkey in return for something. As you can see things are complicated and I am sure that alliances will change again, probably in the near future.
Both Georgia and Armenia are new in the development of tourist industry; and Georgia is more advanced than Armenia. Hotels are pretty basic once outside of the capital cities. That said, it is nice not to feel like the money tree just because I am a tourist. The souvenir prices are reasonable and there is not that much room for bargain. Other than the usual fridge magnets and dust collectors, there is not that much to buy (not to my taste). The locals are friendly. I never felt threatened even in the less than desirable area of a poor city like Yerevan. They both are still try to figure out how to attract and hold tourist attention; there is only so many churches most of us can look at before we are “churched out”. It is unfortunate that the Russians wiped out many of the local cottage industries such as weaving. They are also responsible for replacing the local architecture with the soviet concrete blocks.
The food of both countries emphasize local and lots of vegetables. There are far more meat consumed in Georgia than in Armenia. The unfortunate common trait is that food is very salty; I am not sure if it is to preserve the food or what. I learned not to eat the cheese or anything made of cheese because of the salt. I can also taste the salt in the bread and that takes a lot of salt. It made absolute sense to me that heart disease and high blood pressure are the most common health problems in Georgia. Although our guide denied it, I would imagine that Georgia has an alcohol problem. Grape vines grow in every front yard and there are lots of home brew around.
Yes, churches. There are lot of them around and some are very old and of historical importance. First, both countries are masters of picking scenic locations to build churches and monasteries. Many are perched high above rivers or on edge of cliffs (see my previous photos). My guess is that some of these are for defence. Georgia has the edge here simply because it has more mountains. I am sure that some can tell the difference between Georgian and Armenian churches but I cannot from the outside. The inside of the old churches tends to be dark (small windows), small (thick walls), empty of furnitures (stand for service). The Armenian churches tends to be plain, decorated with the crosses. The Georgians like to paint the walls with biblical themes and saints and heroes.
I would suggest that you go and visit these 2 countries soon if you are interested. Both have so much to offer and both are rapidly changing.