There are few countries like Georgia
Day 1,822 since October 10th 2013: 157 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross)
“For the best moments of your life”
“For the best moments of your life” used to be the tourism slogan of Georgia but I think it may now be “Georgia, Europe started here”. Both pretty good and the latter one strengthens Georgia’s position on its bond to Europe. There are some great tourism slogans out there and my favorite might still be “Incredible !ndia”. Is Georgia European? We will get into that.
Well first I had to get to Georgia. And without flying that is a heck of a job from Israel! There is however always a solution here in life and this far into the Saga I hardly have the patience to smile and say thank you when someone tells me that something is “impossible”. So across the Mediterranean Sea we went and when the ship finally reached Istanbul I hit the ground running. No time to waste…I want to go home but still have some way to go in this “endless tunnel of countries”. I had my bags packed and I was ready to leave the ship early in the morning. However you cannot do much about immigration and customs procedures so I had to wait for the agent who did not collect me until 1pm. That hurt a bit as I had been scanning the internet for busses to Tbilisi in Georgia and I had found that they typically leave Istanbul at 1pm and 3pm. And I was not keen on losing a night in Istanbul no matter how wonderful the city is. I was however hoping to meet up with my friend Percin Imrek for coffee but he was out of town. Percin however directed me to Esenler main bus station. Once the agent got me out of the port I was quickly on a bus which got me to a metro which got me to Esenler. Then the fun began…
You can spot the Black Sea in the back.
I might just quickly say that I have very fond memories of Istanbul. Almost exactly a year ago my sister Trine explored Istanbul together with me. I also finished a four month long motorcycle adventure when I rolled into Istanbul back in 2010. I spoke at Percin’s event a year ago along with fellow friend Gunnar Garfors. Lots of good memories. I was however now trying to get away asap. Esenler has around one gazzilion ticket offices and I picked the first one I saw. The clerk behind the desk spoke limited English and it took a while from “there are no busses to Tbilisi today” to “there is a bus that can take you in that direction”. I boarded an overnight bus to Trabzon in Turkey near the Georgian border and beautifully on the coast of the Black Sea. Minutes after getting out of that bus I boarded another bus which got me to Batumi just across the border in Georgia. And then without pause I got into a minibus from Batumi to Tbilisi and arrived to Georgia’s capital around 11pm. Tired. That was the end of 34 hours compact travel adding another 1,646 km (1,023 mi) to the Saga. That is not necessarily a lot but it is when you have no legroom, your neck and back are sore, the busses keep stopping to drop and pick more passengers, when cows walk out in front of the bus and the driver slams the breaks… Yeah, the cow bit was quite common in Georgia which is a spectacularly beautiful country. And probably the greenest country I’ve seen for about a year.
I'M A GIANT!!! :)
Fortunately for me Georgian hospitality kicked in straight away. Back in September 2017 I was making a presentation of Once Upon A Saga before an gathring of Maersk Managers who were briefly assembled in Istanbul. A great deal of those people were country managers for countries which I was still to visit. One of them was Irakli in Tbilisi. Nino Kurtskhalia is the General Manager for Tribeca Hotel in the very heart of Tblisi. Nino used to work with Irakli at Maersk but after seven years she decided it was time to try something new. Tribeca hotel opened up about a year ago inside a charming building from 1872. And you’ve guessed it! Irakli told Nino about me and Nino offered me a complimentary stay which was like winning the lottery!! So late at night I dragged myself to the reception counter and met two big smiles welcoming me to Georgia. Then I headed up to my room and began working until 3am at which point I quit and went to sleep. I got up early the next day and had a world class breakfast at the hotels buffet. Georgians take food SERIOUS! Then I worked out which bus could get me to the Iranian Embassy. We have already been to Iran within the Saga but I will need to transit Iran before long as a part of my master plan.
Tblisi suffers from the same problem as other very old cities: the roads are to narrow to expand and traffic is getting worse.
Unfortunately I have been struggling somewhat with the Iran visa lately. My friend Gunnar Garfors says he got the e-visa online in a matter of three days. That’s also how it should be for me. However the first time I applied it took more than a month and I even had to go to the embassy to ask what was going on? This time my first application was cancelled after several weeks of waiting. Then I picked the more expensive express option hoping that the visa would be ready for when I reached Tbilisi. I fully understand that I have a highly unique profile by now. The last time I checked my status on MTP (Most Traveled People) I was ranking among the 500 most traveled in the world. I often get asked if I’m a spy even though it’s usually just as a joke. 157 countries is no small thing and a number of the countries I’ve been to flash red on immigrations radar. I made my way inside the embassy and when it was finally my turn I got to go to a different room for more waiting. Eventually I got to talk to a great guy who addressed me like this: “Hello…it’s me…” One love Adele ;) The next day I received an email confirming that I should come back to the embassy with my passport so that I could receive my visa. It’s 4 km (2.5 mi) between Tribeca Hotel and the Iranian Embassy. That not really far but it’s kind of too far to walk and also pretty time consuming with public transport. Meanwhile I applied for the e-visa for Azerbaijan and after only three days I got an email confirming that it was ready for me to print out and bring to the border. Now that is easy! Georgia is much easier for me than that though…I just arrived at the border, addressed immigration and within minutes I received a “welcome to Georgia”.
Can't you just feel the energy!!! These amazing people make up the Maersk Line and Sealand teams in Tbilisi. And they took amazingly good care of me!! Love these people! I first met Irakli (Country Manager standing next to me) in Istanbul in 2017. This was my 32nd presentation of the Saga at a Maersk office. Keep on keeping on guys! :)
I’m up to my eyeballs with work and not happy about it. The Red Cross, social media, visas, tickets, meetings, interviews, presentations, lack of sleep, stress, planning, deadlines, conflict areas, safety, more planning…oh boy! I could really do with a good assistant who could take some of all the pressure off my shoulders. But I think it will all get easier soon. With the Saga I’m basically working three jobs at once: the logistics of completing the project, coordinating, meeting and promoting the Red Cross all over the world (191 countries) and maintaining social media which in other words is communicating with 40,000 people. Yeah, and then I’d also like to do some things for me. And most people don’t seem to understand it at all. And I personally figure it’s because I’m doing something which is completely unrelatable for most people. So most people find something they can relate to which is travel for leisure or travel for business. And that is not comparable to what I do. I’d argue that nearly five years away from home would be a lot less hard if you were stationed at a location where you have your home, favorite cafes, friends, familiar surroundings, routines, work etc. Now what I do is change my location from one country to the next every 11.6 days onm average. I live out of a duffel bag and I say hello and goodbye all the time. The Saga has surpassed 213,249 km (132,506 mi) in overall distance and that is a VERY conservative calculation. So a fun fact would be that if someone traveling 4.88 kph (3 mph) followed my exact route and left on October 10th 2013 as I did…then that person would be the exact same place as I am now.
The metro line is deep underground and began operating back in 1966. It services some 95 million passengers annualy and is a very efficient way to get around part of town.
The Saga will get easier because the countries are getting easier. And as I plan to depart Tbilisi tonight (Friday) and reach Baku in Azerbaijan tomorrow, I will arrive on a Saturday and I can try to work my stress levels a bit down before Monday when my first meetings begin. I wish, I wish, I wish this project was financed!! Then I wouldn’t need to worry about that. These days I’m making some pocket change here and there by completing a few online tasks, inserting links in old blogs and writing articles for magazines. It’s not much but it is something. A project like this should be financially sponsored given all the publicity it can offer. However I’m not even negotiating with anyone at this point. Just imagine: media in nearly every country, branding on clothing, links on social media posts, at public speaking events and a reach of tens of thousands of accounts across social media which will continue to grow. My main problem is marketing and PR. I somehow need to make “the world” understand that traveling to every country in the world by means of flight and without are two completely separate things. Heck, I’d be home long ago if I was permitted to fly. And I also think I need to convey that what I do is basically hard work and not a yearlong holiday.
Tbilisi was founded about 1,500 years ago and is a great capital surrounded by mountains and split by a river.
Now, everything above this line is basically just my way of saying: “sorry Georgia”. Because I have really not seen, tasted, tried or experienced enough of this unbelievably amazing country. I could spend months here!! I figure that a lot of Georgians might read this blog and think that what I’m about to say is something I say about every country. However those of you who have been following for years know that it is not the case: Georgia is a very fine country and probably ranks amongst my favorites. In fact I’m absolutely positive that my fiancée would love it here and that makes for great odds that I will one day return as a tourist. First of all these people really know something about food and you are unlikely to spend more than 10-15 minutes in Georgia before someone asks you if you have had khachapuri? It just so happened to be my first Georgian meal. I have however advanced to khinkali by now. You are unlikely to know what either of that stuff is and some proud Georgian might murder me for not describing it proficiently. No surely not - they are sweet people :) Khachapuri is a slightly pizza looking round bread with cheese inside and it tastes great. Your are however likely to gain a lot of weight if that’s all you eat. Khinkali are relatively large dumplings with meat and soup inside. You eat them with your hands, bite a hole into them at first and drink the soup and then you nibble away at the dumpling until there is no more meat left. Then I might also just add that they have something here called churchkhela which I first saw in Cyprus but I now know that it originally comes from Georgia (until the Armenians in a weeks time probably will tell me that it comes from there). It is a sort of candle shaped candy made of grape must, nuts and flour. It hangs on a string in colorful variations. Georgia has a very rich food culture and that alone would make my always hungry fiancée happy ;)
Irakli invited me out for khinkali on my last night in Tbilisi. Good stuff :)
They are also pretty cheese-happy, beer-happy and wine-happy! Especially wine needs to be mentioned as Georgia is home to more than 500 varieties of indigenous grapes and I figure Georgians have worked out to make wine from every one of those grapes since they began production more than 8,000 years ago. They actually pride themselves in being “the cradle of wine”. I can’t judge too much on the earliest wine but I turn my thumb up regarding what I have tasted. And my fiancée wouldn’t mind a glass of that either. Georgia also references itself as: “Europe started here”. Well Georgia, you can be whatever you want these days. The sky is the limit. Europe is not easily defined as you have your geographic Europe, your political Europe, your cultural Europe and probably a lot of other ways to measure Europe as well. It is said that human remains dating back 1.8 million years have been unearthed in Georgia and are acknowledged as the first Europeans. That relates to the idea that humans originate from Africa and made their way around the world by walking out of the continent. Apparently some of those Africans made a pit stop in Georgia before turning left and becoming Europeans. However why not just skip a link then and say that Europe started in Africa? And I believe that the first humans (Homo Sapiens) walked the earth some 180,000 years ago but I’m getting off track now. Georgia has a really strong wish to be considered as a European country and you see the flag of the European Union all over Tbilisi. That is great and Europe loves Georgian's who now can visit every EU country without first applying for a visa. Georgia is east of Turkey though so many would consider Georgia as a part of Asia. It does feel quite European though. It’s a bit confusing and often classifies as Eurasian. I’ve had crocodile five times in my life and I always found it to be a mix of fish and chicken. It’s not chicken though and it is not fish…it’s crocodile. Georgia; you are crocodile :)
These guys are Lasha and Sandro. They work at Rustavi 2 which is one the largest TV stations in Georgia. We had a good time filming at various locations and ended up at "Fabrika" which is a must visit place for anyone going to Tbilisi.
I can't read a thing here! But it looks pritty. Fortunately it alters between Georgian and Englsh.
Before this runs off as a way to long blog I’ll just say that Georgia is insanely unique and deserves your visit asap. Like for instance Georgians don’t say Georgia. They say საქართველო which is transliterated into Sakartvelo (land of the Kartvelians). Both their language and writing is completely unique and does not resemble anything else! And it’s downright hard to pronounce but that’s not a problem because you won’t run into it a lot. There are only approximately 5.2 million speakers of Kartvelian languages worldwide so in size it’s sort of like learning Danish: it won’t get you very far in life but it’s your own secret language. The writing looks super cool though and I can’t help but to think of music when I see it. It looks completely lyrical to me. In a few days I have come to learn that Georgians are very proud of their country. I Get that. I too would be proud if I was from Georgia. And I fully understand national pride. I’m fortunate to be from the great kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe. I’ve spent nearly five years visiting and learning about countries and have so far reached more than 150. The way I see it, our world is constantly changing. There are few countries that are 1000 years old. Before that? Oh me oh my... So sometimes I wonder...which of the countries we know today will still be around after another 1000 countries? We seem to think our countries will last forever. I doubt that will be the case. Even for my precious Denmark. I wish peace and good lives for everyone on earth. And I hope that as many as possible will work towards that.
You'll find bits and pieces of the past all over Georgia. this bridge runs over the river Mt'k'vari.
Georgia is not that old as an independent country because history happened! And this region has certainly seen some history! Colchis, Iberia, Kingdom of Abkhazia, Kingdom of Georgia, division into three Kingdoms, Russian annexation, Independence from the Russian Empire, Soviet re-conquest and finally independence from the Soviet Union (1991). That was a quick 3,300 year history lesson for you. But people have lived in these lands from long before that. Tbilisi is the capital today and was founded around 1,500 years ago. It’s a cool city with all sorts of architecture: buildings from the soviet era, modern skyscrapers, classic old town buildings and quickly erected suburban regions. Tbilisi is packed with restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and lots of cool hangouts. I really like the people I have met and I think it’s quite clear that they appreciate quality things in life like sitting down at a café with a friend or celebrating an event. Georgia is of course not without its problems because there is no such thing as a problem free country. However the country is perfectly safe and has an endless amount of things to offer its guest.
Religion is not to be underestimated in Georgia. Saint Nino brought it to the country some 1,700 years ago.
Apart from the beer, wine, cafes, restaurants, churches and architecture you have lots of caves, castles, ruins, mountains, forest, lakes, rivers and you can even go skiing and swimming on the same day if you time it right. Skiing is said to be good in Georgia and that doesn’t sound unlikely given that the highest mountain, Mount Shkhara, is at 5,068 meters (16,627 ft). All of that nature however also creates some extra work for the Georgian Red Cross whom I had the chance to meet with and share a bunch of photos and stories with. They were a great bunch of people and somewhere there is a group photo of all of us but I don’t have it yet. The Georgian Red Cross is busy with a variety of things such as disaster management, health and social care, organizational development, public relations and communications, dissemination of Red Cross values, promoting blood donation, promoting road safety and much more. You can learn a lot about the Georgian Red Cross by clicking on the hyperlinks I've created.
Georgian Red Cross Society Headquarters in Tbilisi.
The Georgian Red Cross has a close cooperation with the Danish Red Cross on a variety of projects and programs. Georgia unfortunately has a large amount of IDP’s (internally displaced persons) from relatively recent events. This entry could now become really political but I’ll let you speculate or make your own investigation to why there would be IDP’s in Georgia. And I’ll tell you about a Mexican soldier and politician who more than a hundred years ago said: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!” Porfirio Díaz said that and served seven terms as the president of Mexico. I’m very happy that Denmark is tucked away between friendly nations such as Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Baltic countries and Germany. Being a small country near a large and powerful country can no doubt be daunting. If Porfirio Díaz had lived in Georgia today he might have said something like “Poor Georgia, so far from God and so close to Russia!” And that’s as deep as I will go into that subject. I’m however delighted to say that the Danish Red Cross has some amazing people located in Tbilisi. Mads is a delegate, Sophia is an intern and Nino is…hmmm…I guess I didn’t quite listen? I can’t remember what Nino does but I can tell you that she is named after Saint Nino who brought Christianity to Georgia some 1,700 years ago. Nino is obviously local while Sophia and Mads are from Denmark. They do a stellar job in collaborating with the Georgian Red Cross on the topic of youth resilience concerning the IDP’s. The aim of the youth resilience project is to empower young IDP’s and Red Cross volunteers to be active citizens in their communities with creativity, social responsibility and empowerment by being inspiratory for their peers. Mads, Sophia and I had the chance to sit down for dinner one night and taste the local cheese and beer. They are definitely strong and dedicated Vikings whom we can be proud of in the high north of Europe.
His face definately indicates that he has had it with the sprinklers! :)
Perhaps Mads and Sophia are just nice people or maybe some Georgian culture has rubbed off on them. The hospitality in Georgia is by no means to be overlooked! Once you make friends with a local here I think you might just have a bond for life. Georgians are quite emotional people and I think that is a very strong quality in the age we live in. These days the world is quickly filling up with emotionless cyborgs with smartphones chronically attached to their hands. I’ve seen that change spill in over our world during the past five years and it is getting worse. Georgians also spend time starring into their phones but they are not emotionless. I’ve had the pleasure of many quick encounters in just a few days and it has been a real pleasure. Oh my…I have so much to tell you but I think this is enough for now. Please know that Georgia is a very affordable country to visit as my daily budget of USD 20 is enough for food, accommodation and transportation. And if you should be so lucky to come to Tbilisi then please stay a couple of nights at Tribeca Hotel. I’m sure you won’t regret it :)
Copright issues ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - lost a bit of my heart in yet another country.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga