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November 22, 2002

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No peach trees in Georgia, just persimmons. We explored Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, a faded town of intricate balconied houses, a fort overlook, centuries old churches, and a 50 foot woman holding wine and a sword. Sound like Europe (besides the metal monster woman)? Mapmakers say Georgia is a part of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East because it's a cultural and geographical collision. Asian, Arab, and European empires have played tug-o-war with Georgia throughout its history. It first came together when a number of small principalities united from the 10th to the 13th centuries. Most people know about Georgia as Stalin's homeland, but don't let your opinions of him influence feelings about Georgians of today. We had our dose of local hospitality. At our hotel a nice man held us up in the lobby with two champagne bottles. He won Jill over by calling her Bridget Bardot, and then we had a conversation, sort of, in Russian. The most interesting part for them came when they quizzed us about American salaries. We downgraded the actual figures but still amazed them because their salaries amounted to $20 per month. Pensioners receive $7 per month. They literally thought Americans roll in money but we diffused this image by talking about the high cost of living - money comes in but it goes out just as fast.
For a Tbilisi view, scale the cliff behind the Kldisubnis church and head towards the metal monster woman - or just buy a postcard.
The Narikala fortress, a colorful history: began as a 4th century Persian citadel, then controlled by Arab emirs, Turkish khans, imperialist Russians, and always coveted by the Georgians.
The leaning, patchwork balconies add to Tbilisi's charm.
Tbilisi has a Grand Sheraton yet we prefer the Hotel Iveria, a home for refugees from Georgia's war with its breakaway province of Abkhazia (only the third floor remains open for travelers). Outside, tenants close off their balconies with plywood to create another bedroom. Inside, the people show extreme hospitality, refusing to let us go to our room without first sharing some local champagne.