Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Few weeks after booking the tickets to Georgia, I saw this CNN commercial, which is pretty cool and fairly, though promotionally, realistic. The only objections I have is the fact that the infrastructure outside of the main urban areas is far from modern, which is not how they portray it. But otherwise it's all true, old culture, the sea, the mountains, amazing food and wine, friendly, exciting, different.
It felt good being in Georgia. One of the major benefit is the fact that it's largely unspoiled. No mass tourism whatsoever, and hopefully it will never happen. Tbilisi is a bit like what Prague and Budapest used to be before the stag party tourism. The city is old and beautiful, fairly big, but small enough to be able to walk pretty much anywhere. We stayed in a small private hotel with good reviews, and as always, that meant also good recommendations for restaurants and things to do. I enjoyed Tbilisi a lot, but I don't have the urge to return to Georgia for city tourism.
The Caucuses though, well that's a totally different story.
We booked a private transportation from a travel agency, which was inexpensive and included small SUV,  the driver and a guide with decent English. I just couldn't imagine sitting in the marshrutka (public transport) for 4 hours and not being able to stop and enjoy the views. And the views were unbelievable. This was by far the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen. It's intensely green, scary steep, crystal clear air, perfectly white snow, the people amazingly friendly and very few tourists once again. We didn't reserve a place to stay, but end up lucky. Brand new "hostel" type of place with very decent food, as there are no restaurants that high in the mountain. Hiking was so great that I am hooked for real climbing next. As referred to before, my enthusiasm is too big for my own good:) But seriously thinking of undertaking a "beginners" mountain climb in the next year.
This photo is taken below Mt. Kazbegi, which is right next to the South Ossetia region, still disputed with Russia and a bit unstable. I felt safe in the country. No post-war signs either. I was amazed that me speaking Russian did not provoke any negative reactions amongst the locals. The only place we were reminded about the war was in the National Museum in Tbilisi where they have a historical exhibition about it, which was moving, but did not give me the chills as other, similar ones. Maybe the Georgians are more forgiving, who knows. When you stop people on the street to ask for directions, they sometimes call friends to make sure they can direct the best possible way. I have never seen that before. And smiles... oh, the smiles.
Landing in Moscow made me realize what I miss the most which living in Russia. As a Russian friend described it: "People that smile on the street are either crazy, foreigners or fools". That says it all.
I haven't run in two weeks since contracted a very persistent cold while sailing in Greece, so yesterday, after a good 16K I felt like me again. Soon I will be running even more, after kiddies. Very close to walking i.e. running these days. Oh joy:)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's easy to fall in love with Greece. The ultimate Mediterranean culture, stunning, old, spiritual, fairly well-organized, with traditions in tourism and hospitality and it shows. Easy to have a blast there, easy to not want to leave. It's also easy to understand why the Greek don't seem to work too hard. Why? There is so much to enjoy: spending time with the large familia, good weather, food, ouzo, the sea, you name it, they have it. "Manual labor" is name of Spanish football player according to the Greek, as our skipper cheekly informed us.
Protests were going every day at the main square in Athens while we were there. I thought it was a joke that people used to be able to retire at 50. It's true. In contrast, they just increased the retirement age in the Netherlands and is now 68! Grrrr. Guess who is paying for the Greeks lifestyle, the Dutch, the Germans and few other frequent visitors of the Greek Riviera. I would suggest a free Greek salad and a beach chair next time...
I truly believe in the EU, just sometimes it strikes me as an oddly managed enterprise. A bit of a modern day Robin Hood, good concept in theory, but prone to make uneducated choices with unexpected damaging consequences.
Bulgaria also proved to be a resources drainer. Couple of years ago the EU stopped the subsidies that was pouring towards the Balkan after discovering major faults it their appropriation. Some people got very rich on the EU expenses.
And there is Spain, and Ireland and Portugal. I am getting worried. Between that, the DSK scandal and the latest Berlusconi fiasco, the European news lately remind me of a Latin soap opera which leaves you with a very bad taste.
On the other side of the ocean, one of my favorite cartoon character, Sarah Palin appeared again with the latest mind-blowing display of ignorance. The Daily Show gave it a good go, which I surreally watched while high in the Caucuses in Georgia using wifi was far better than the one in our downtown Moscow pad. This word is changing by the minute.
Georgia was breathtaking. Started pretty bad with arriving at 3am together with, what it seemed, a group of rough gastarbeiders high on alcohol and machismo which flies pretty bad with me, especially when sleep deprivation is involved. But once the sleep hours were recovered, generous breakfast consumed and Tbilisi old town discovered, I was in awe. TBC...