One of the best parts of living in Kiev, Ukraine—apart from actually living in an amazing, world-class city—is the proximity to many other interesting cities and countries. 

With just a short flight, lasting anywhere from 1-3 hours, you can find yourself in places like Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Cyprus just to name a few.

For New Years, I visited my old stumping ground of Lithuania, a mere one-hour flight from Kiev. I spent two years living in the capital, Vilnius, so I know the city really well.

Last week, I took advantage of this opportunity and flew in a completely different direction: to Tbilisi, Georgia where I spent 5 days.

Georgia has been on my radar for a while now. It’s certainly a country I kept hearing great things about, ranging from its legendary hospitality to picturesque cities and amazing food.

Out of all of those three, I was only really familiar with the latter: food. Back when I lived in NYC, I used to frequent a great Georgian restaurant in my mostly Russian neighborhood.

Here in Kiev, Georgian restaurants are seemingly everywhere, so not even two weeks go by when I don’t checkout a new Georgian restaurant and try some of the amazing Georgian specialities. 

Georgia is an interesting country. While it’s not geographically in Europe, it has aspirations of joining EU and NATO one day. For the most part, the people look and act European, probably closer to Southern European countries such as Italy and Greece.

Corruption and Soviet Past

Georgia was one of the first post-Soviet republics to undergo a “rose revolution” where an ex-Soviet leader was deposed and a new, pro-Western leader came into place.

As a result, Georgia became closely aligned with EU and America instead of Russia. 

This conflict culminated in a brief war in 2008, with Russia gaining control of two provinces: Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Some say this is Russia’s hedge against Georgia further integrating into EU and NATO.

After talking to some locals about this, I got the feeling that this revolution and change of government resulted in lower corruption and a slightly more efficient and transparent government. Of course, countries truly change over longer periods of time, so it will be interesting to see what’s Georgia is like in 10 years or more.

Costs

Even with all the talk about modernization and Westernization, Georgia is pretty poor. It’s poorer than both Ukraine and Russia (not to mention richer Baltic countries such Lithuania) and is probably on the level of Moldova when it comes to the quality of living. (Although Tbilisi is much nicer than Kishinev, the capital of Moldova).

While the capital, Tbilisi, has a bunch of nice restaurants and lively bars, as soon as you wonder past the old town and away from the tourist-infested streets, you’ll see exactly how poor the country is. Plus, this is Tbilisi I’m talking about—the capital and the richest city. The rest of the country is even poorer.

In Tbilisi, the prices of food are pretty much on par with Kiev, but the apartment rentals were much cheaper. I was able to rent a pretty nice and spacious apartment for around $20/night smack in the center of old town. 

If you’re on an even tighter budget, you can easily score a decent place for as little as $15/night in a good location as well.

The capital: Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi is a pleasant little city with a population of a bit over 1 million. There’s an old town with its narrow little streets and charming cafes and restaurants. Then there’s the newer part of town with a wide boulevard and things like H&M, Zara and other popular Western brands.

I stayed in the old town, so all I needed to do was get out of my apartment, walk one block and be surrounded by all the hustle and bustle. The newer part of the town isn’t as charming, and I don’t really recommend basing yourself there.

While there are plenty of places to eat and drink (Georgia’s most famous drink is its wine), the overall problem with Tbilisi is that it’s just too small for someone who likes to live in bigger cities.

So, if you’re a big city guy like me, you’ll find the city just a tad too small and provincial for what you’re used to.

Is Tbilisi good for expat living?

One thing I kept hearing over and over again is how suitable Georgia (and Tbilisi) are for living, especially if you’re an expat or digital nomad.

I kept replaying that thought in my head while wandering around Tbilisi, but ultimately realized that this wouldn’t be a city I could ever see myself living in.

As I mentioned above, the city is too small for my tastes. That, along with the language being completely undecipherable to a foreigner like myself (the letters are unlike anything you’ve seen before), it’s just not a city that I can see basing myself for an extended amount of time.

Perhaps if I had reliable contacts in the city that could help me get setup and acquainted with the country and culture, that all might change, but it’s certainly nowhere near as an easy city to get settled as compared to Kiev or Prague.

On the other hand, if the smallness of the city and its confusing language doesn’t phase you, and you’re attracted to the overall feel and personality of how this place differs from a typical European city, this may just be the city for you.

Masculinity 

Georgia—as well as the surrounding Caucus region with countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan—is a good place to observe what real masculinity is all about.

Georgian men are no pushovers and Georgian women are super feminine. I would say this dynamic is even more pronounced here than in Eastern Europe.

While Eastern European men are masculine and women are super feminine, there are elements of femininization that are seeping into the culture courtesy of feminist culture in Western Europe and USA. 

Georgia, not being in Europe at all, is a bit more removed from the harmful influences of the EU. As a result, masculinity in this part of the world is very traditional.

I spent some time with a Georgian acquaintance and his girlfriend. While he isn’t some macho man, the way he carries himself and behaves to his girl was unlike anywhere else I’ve seen in the world. His masculine frame was simply unbeatable.

As a result, his girlfriend reacted by being super feminine around him and enjoying his company.

Final thoughts

I liked Georgia. Tbilisi is an easy city to explore and is a nice gateway to the rest of the country. The food is awesome (after eating Eastern European food all my life, you can only eat so many Borsch and dumplings before getting bored), so eating relatively exotic food was a nice bonus.

At this point, I view Georgia as a nice escape from the daily life here in Kiev, Ukraine. The flights are cheap and, in mere two hours, you land in a completely new country with its own customs and traditions and great food.

Additionally, as a tourist, the smallness of the city becomes an advantage instead of a disadvantage. This way you don’t need to spend lots of time and money navigating the city and finding what you’re looking for. 

Tbilisi was a nice gateway to Georgia. In the future, I hope to explore more of Georgia, including the coastal city of Batumi as well as some of the more inland cities. 

However, being a big city guy, one of my future plans is to visit other big capital cities such as Yerevan in Armenia (I’ve already visited the other big capital, Baku, Azerbaijan). Plus, it would be cool to check out another country in the same region.

While I’ve been enjoying living here in Kiev, it’s nice to be discovering another benefit of the city: quick and easy escapes to new and exciting destinations that I wouldn’t be considering otherwise.

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