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Georgia, an Invitation to Explore

Jonathan van Bilsen



April 12, 2024

Georgia, an Invitation to Explore

There are many places throughout the world, with unique and extremely interesting sights. Unfortunately, many of them are unknown to most of us, and are either too far, too obscure or simply places we presume to be uninteresting.

My love for travel has taken me to numerous places not on my radar. Fortunately, for one reason or another, they seemed like unique locales to visit. One of these destinations was the South Caucasus country of Georgia.

The Caucasus mountains are located in an area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea with the country of Georgia lies right in the middle. The area has long been a centre of turmoil between its neighbours, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey.

Visiting this area was quite a revelation and I was captivated by its beauty and the charm of its people. Normally I travel with a guide who either has a car or uses a driver. I find this allows me to plan my own itinerary, stop as long as I want at local sights and see what I want to see.

I actually flew into Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and after a week of travelling there, made my way to the border of Georgia. Unlike anywhere I have travelled before, there is an area about half a kilometre long, which is considered ‘no man's land’. My Azerbaijani guide was not allowed to enter and had to drop me at the entrance to this mysterious concrete road, with gates and fences on each side.

Suitcase in hand, and I was glad it was on wheels, backpack on my shoulder, off I went, marching through this eerie stretch of land. When I arrived at the other end, the process was similar to any other border crossing. Visa and passport checks, suitcase inspection and a stamp of approval (thank goodness). My guide was waiting on the other side and off I went.

Georgia was occupied by the Soviet Union for many years and gained its independence in 1989, when the Soviet system collapsed. It was more of a forced independence and suddenly the nearly 4 million inhabitants of this mountainous country, woke up without infrastructure.

When the Soviet Union fell, all amenities stopped. There was no electricity, water was difficult to obtain, there were no trading partners and most of all, there were no resources in place. It was a time for rebuilding, which would last many years. Electricity did not reappear on a regular basis for four years and food was rationed. It was extremely difficult for a country dependent on its occupying neighbour for nearly seventy years.

I started my adventure in the capital city of Tbilisi, a city with just over a million inhabitants, about a quarter of the country’s population. A cable car takes you to the top of the mountain high above the city where I spent some time visiting Narikalacastle, a reconstructed 4th-century fortress.

The thrilling cable car ride over the Mtkvari River and up to the fortress's entrance, offers spectacular views and passes along the iconic St. Nicholas Church, which dates back to the 13th century.

In the distance was the Bridge of Peace, a bow-shaped viaduct, over the Kura River open only to foot traffic. Since its opening in 2010, the structure has become an important pedestrian crossing in the city,

Another interesting site in Tbilisi was the Italian courtyard district. At first I thought it to be an area populated by Italian immigrants, especially when I looked at the ornate doors. That, however, was not the case. The term originated during the communist era because these courtyards became very noisy and the loud clatter was associated with Italy.

After exploring Tbilisi, I made my way to trek up the third highest mountain in Georgia, Mount Kazbek. The drive was scary, yet quite invigorating. I am not sure what was more challenging, the roads or the sheep.

The journey offered breathtaking views amidst the stunning landscapes of the Caucasus mountains. Towering at over 5,000 meters or 16,000 feet, it presents a formidable yet rewarding challenge for hikers and climbers. The expedition to its summit, which I did not do, provides awe-inspiring views of glaciers, alpine meadows, and the iconic Gergeti Trinity Church. I went as far up as the Church and found the views to be stunning. The clear skies and chilly air made for very crisp vistas and great photographs.

I wanted to visit the Georgian city of Gori, the birthplace of Josef Stalin. Gori's rich heritage dates back to ancient times, with archaeological evidence revealing its significance as a strategic settlement along trade routes.

I explored the Stalin Museum, which showcases artefacts and exhibits detailing the life and legacy of the Soviet leader. Despite controversy surrounding Stalin's rule, Gori maintains a complex relationship with its most infamous native son, and boasts one of the few statues of the Soviet leader still in existence today.

Outside the house where Stalin grew up stands a railroad car. I was surprised to learn that Stalin had a terrific fear of flying and refused to board an airplane. The railroad car was his sole means of transportation, whenever he visited places outside of his immediate vicinity.

Visiting the country of Georgia was like stepping back in time. The picturesque scenery, quaint villages, friendly people, and the modern city of Tbilisi, made this trip one I was glad to have done.

You can learn more about Georgia by watching an episode of photosNtravel on YouTube or mainstream television, starting April 7th.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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