During the autumn study trip with the Contact Committee, we went to Georgia. In November, a group of UPS students spent a short week in the capital Tbilisi to learn about the political situation in the country and learn about Georgian culture. Here’s what we found:
With a few hours of sleep in the body, after a long flight, we started our first day in Tbilisi with a study visit. After strolling through the steep cobblestone streets in the autumn sun, among Soviet boast buildings and friendly street dogs, we reached the organization Transparency International. There, we learned about Georgia as a pioneer in the region on issues such as corruption and democracy, and got a clearer picture of the country’s political situation.
After a lunch in the sun, the day continued with another study visit. This would be one of the most memorable visits to the trip. Thanks to contact with a former Georgian Uppsala student, we got to meet a minister from a shadow government for one of the Georgian outbreak regions of Abkhazia. The local TV channel was present and interviewed some brave members of the travel company.
Then followed two hours of the minister’s stories about Georgian culture, incomprehensible jokes about how expensive Norway is and happy appeals to Georgian from an expert on human rights. Happy but tired we went on to one of the fantastic food group selected Georgian restaurant. There, our first real meeting with the Georgian food culture took place. Natural wines, Georgian dumplings and other delicacies filled our stomachs. After that the bed hung up and an eventful first day went to its end.
The second day in Georgia began with a study visit to the Swedish Embassy. The meeting was very educational and gave a different perspective on the conflict with Russia. We also received information about the current parliamentary situation and the background to the demonstrations that have taken place in Tbilisi in recent months.
In the evening, dinner was approached with Levan, a Georgian businessman who is close friend of Henning’s father. Our host really took the opportunity to make the truth of the mythical Georgian hospitality. As we stepped into the intimate restaurant located on the edge of the Kura River, within walking distance of our hotel, we were met by a world-wide view. A long table was prepared, with a sandwich table of traditional Georgian home cooking, rows of decanters with the world-famous Georgian Qvevri wine and several waiters, ready to serve us the colorful and inviting food. The dishes were of great variety, and the offerings ranged from yogurt sauces and cheese knots to chicken stew, grilled vegetables and everyone’s favorite dish on the whole trip, the grilled trout with pomegranate sauce. At the end of the table sat a tall man, with shirt, vest and a warm smile on his lips. Levan welcomed us to the best imaginable start of the trip, and for hours we watched as tonight’s “tamada” (cf. toastmaster) and talked about family, friends and other things of great importance in Georgian culture.
Day three was an intense day. In the morning we visited the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom South Caucasus, a newly started organization working to spread liberal values in the country, similar to a think tank. After a quick lunch, the group later moved on to the EUMM headquarters in the city. There we met the two Swedes who, via the Folke Bernadotte Academy, are posted in Georgia. The purpose of their work is to work to ensure peace in the area. In the evening, the party-goers in the group experienced Georgian culture by visiting the mythical techno club Bassiani.
The day began with a much needed rest. One of the city’s famous spas invited hot sulfite-rich baths. Two masseurs scrubbed each bather carefully according to Georgian tradition. After a relaxing morning followed an afternoon of free play. A gang went out to the outskirts of the city to visit Stalin’s underground map room, in which his old printing press stood and collected dust. More than a hundred years ago, propaganda magazines were printed in secret with calls for revolution, which then spread among the citizens. After the visits, the group took up one of the many mountain peaks surrounding Tbilisi, using the city’s swaying cable car. There, the view was enjoyed before the entire tour company met for dinner followed by a return trip.
The last day of the trip meant that the group set out from the capital to experience some of the Georgian nature and a full day trip up the Caucasus was a fantastic natural experience. The tour began with stops at Georgian castles, churches and magical vantage points. On the way home, a hungry bunch of us stopped for lunch it was served with grilled food with the long-awaited sun on our faces and the Caucasus mighty mountain peaks in the background. Back in Tbilisi, the day and the tour ended with dinner and wine tasting of traditional Georgian wines. The group agrees that the Georgian food culture is a very underrated one.
After almost a week in this colorful country, the group woke up early in the morning to move back to Uppsala. The travel company was, in parallel with an understandable exhaustion after the previous days’ adventures, characterized by a collective sense of happiness.