While planning my recent trip to Georgia, I ran into this conversational hurdle more times than I could count.
Curious friend: Where are you going?
Curious friend: Atlanta?
Me: No, not that Georgia. The country of Georgia.
Curious friend: Oh. Where is that?
It’s a fair question. Most of us here in the States are very familiar with the Southern Georgia, but remain hazy about its homonymous twin. A former Soviet Bloc nation squeezed between Russia and Turkey, Georgia is small, with cultural ties to Europe, Persia, central Asia, Turkey, and Russia. It’s also, in my opinion, the next great travel destination. During my week here, I was blown away by the food (lengthy feasts known as supras) the Alps-like mountains, and the extremely warm, generous people. And, while the Georgias are admittedly very, very different from one another, I couldn’t help but make a few playful comparisons.
1) They both have mountains worth traveling for
State: Home to the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains.
Country: Home to the Great Caucasus Mountains, which are unforgettable—and tailor-made for hiking, skiing, or simply taking in the scenery. The northern regions are the true adventure destinations: Kazbegi is known for Mt. Kazbek climbing with views of the Gergeti Sameba Church, and Svaneti is known for fantastic trekking through remote mountain villages.
2) They’re both famous for their beverages
State: Atlanta is internationally famous as the home of Coca Cola.
Country: It has one of the oldest wine regions in the world and the wines, while part of the national fabric for thousands of years, are just now gaining international acclaim. A visit inevitably results in copious amounts of delicious local varieties—such as Kakheti’s Saperavi reds —being ‘forced’ upon you.
3) …And their over-the-top hospitality
State: Southern hospitality is alive and well.
Country: Hospitality here may be even more legendary than the American version. A stranger in our land? No problem, say the people of Georgia. I was shocked by the number of impromptu dinner or drink invites we received from near strangers. My favorite involved the sharing of a bottle of wine with a road-side construction worker! I was taking a shared minivan to the Kazbegi region, and we had a 30-minute pitstop along the way. There was a construction crew nearby and they were quite interested in me, trying to practice their English. And this led to a bottle of wine being pulled out....
4) They both go nuts for nuts
State: Loves its pecans.
Country: Loves its walnuts. Walnut sauce—a mixture of chicken stock, spices, and an oil made from crushed walnuts—tops most salads, and was the biggest culinary pleasure I encountered. It pairs very nicely with the hearty dish known as khatchapuri, a raft of bread filled with cheese and egg. In a word, yum.
5) Neither is a stranger to extreme weather
State: Hot, humid, unbearable summers.
Country: Long, cold, unbearable winters, particularly in the mountainous areas where snow is abundant and temperatures regularly fall below zero. When I went in mid-October, it was a beautiful 70º F during the day, but dropped to a brisk 35º at night.