Georgia vs. Armenia: Deathmatch of Ancient Civilizations

A deathmatch between two ancient wine-drinking civilizations that struggle with their neighbours and legacies of ancient conflicts.

How to best describe my journey through Georgia and Armenia, off-the-beaten-path destinations that I explored on my motorbike for a few weeks? There are just too many impressions, pictures and stories from the trip for the story to be easily digestible, so I‘m presenting you a good old gladiator-style deathmatch.

Disclaimer: Everything written here is highly subjective and based on my particular experience. If you think I’m wrong on some points, send me a note.

1. History & historical sights

Both countries have a few thousand year old history. Both of them were superpowers of their time. Both were among the first Christian nations and both built complex buildings and churches while most of other nations were still trying to figure out how to raise cattle. Both have impressive architecture — you don’t even have to enter any of numerous monestaries, but seeing them surrounded by mountains or hills or rivers is an eye-candy in itself.

Score: TIE

Georgian monastery, Armenian monastery. A tie.

2. Relationship with neighbors

Georgians and their neighbors: not only did Russia invade the country a few years back, they also support the independence of two regions that are internationally recognized as part of Georgia.

Armenia has one region that belongs to Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) under de-facto control. It also has an enclave within its territory that belongs to Azerbaijan (Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic). It is in war in Azerbaijan. It has severed diplomatic ties (and closed border) with Turkey.

To sum up: Armenians hate Turkey & Azerbaijan. Georgians like Azerbaijan & Turkey. Armenians like Iran & Georgia. Georgians hate Russia (and are often dismissive of Armenians).

Score: TIE

Georgians like to remind us of their great history and courage by putting huge swords in the ground all around the country.

3. Friendliness

My overall impression is that Georgians are more depressed and cold and that Armenians are more curious, hospitable and friendly. It seems that Georgians have more of a depressing post-communist spirit and they have more rainy days.

I base my impression that Armenians are more friendly on two crucial pieces of empirical evidence. One, the number of waves I get when passing by from kids and grown-ups was much higher in Armenia. Two, the number of meaningful or semi-meaningful conversations I had with the locals was also much higher in Armenia (e.g. “Where are you from? Hrvatistan? Good football”).

Score: +1 Armenia for all those waves

You check into the hotel in Armenia and then you are forced to drink vodka and communicate in Russian. Too bad.

4. Cars, roads & drivers

Georgia has bigger, more expensive American style cars. Armenia has mostly old Ladas & trucks. But most of the cars in both countries run on gas instead of gasoline or diesel, actually many gas stations are exactly that — gas stations (you can’t buy petrol there). In Armenia you often find concrete constructions to self-repair cars along every major road, something very needed in the country of Ladas. In Georgia, especially in Tbilisi you will find dadaist road design, where roads go over, under, left and right of you and you often have to stop to think how does the one go straight.

It sucks when your Lada stops in the middle of desert. Fortunately, people help each other.

Roads are in a bad shape in both countries, but Armenian roads are slightly worse. The scenery along the way and the pleasure that you get from riding a motorbike on curvy roads was top notch in both of them.

Shitty roads, amazing scenery.

But Armenia still wins. It offers fresh water from the spring and exotic resting places along every road for travelers tired of bad roads. A great use of public resources and something that should be copied everywhere.

Score: +1 Armenia for taking care of travelers.

Thirsty? Why don’t you have some spring water! Tired? Why don’t you take a rest in a graveyard overlooking a lake?

5. Exotic rating

Calling a country exotic sounds very imperialist. But for the purposes of this very superficial competition, let’s have it anyway. I won’t mind if you call the part of the world where I’m coming from exotic. It often is.

You will encounter cows, sheep, donkeys on roads in both countries. You will experience languages that you don’t understand and will have to communicate with hands, legs and a little bit of Russian. You will see interesting infrastructural solutions (gas pipes flying through the air). Roads will often be unpaved. You will be able to top-up credit on your cell phone or pay your utility bills on ubiquitous kiosks in both countries (this is really cool high-tech exotic feature). You will sometimes have to pay a coin to be able to operate an elevator in Georgia.

Wanna go up? Insert a coin! Don’t have a coin. Walk 10 stories, it’s healthy.

But since Armenia is landlocked, surrounded by enemies and feels more isolated from the rest of the world (it’s accessible only through Georgia and Iran), I think it has an edge here. Also, chess as a national sport and is taught in schools. This is (unfortunately) still quite exotic, and I feel they have to get some points for that.

Score: +1 Armenia for chess

Have you seen chess bar anywhere else in the world? Plus point!

6. Nature

Georgia has higher and more impressive mountains (the Caucasus mountains). Armenia’s best and most impressive mountain (Ararat) is unfortunately not even in Armenia, but in Turkey. Armenia has a huge Sevan lake. Georgia has Black Sea. Both have picture-perfect plains and rivers and gorges and cliffs.

Score: TIE

This could be either of the two countries. Actually it’s Azerbaijan, or Karabakh region to be more precise.

7. Food & drinks

Both countries have ages old tradition of making and drinking wine. Georgian is supposedly sweeter, Armenian is supposedly less sweet. I didn’t quite get that, but the main impression for all the wine I tried in both countries was: really drinkable. Not as in “it’s OK, you can drink it”, but as in “it’s amazing and you can drink it like water”. My impression is that Georgia has a larger variety of wines and they seem to appreciate the whole wine culture slightly more.

When it comes to non-alcoholic beverages, let’s talk about lemonade. Georgia has this tradition of making “lemonade” that is not exactly made from lemons but a mix of sparkling water, freshly squeezed juice of an unknown fruit, lemons and herbs. Every place has its own homemade “lemonade” and it’s always delicious!

Woa! I’ve never heard of red lemons!

It’s hard to say which food is whose in the region where population moved around so much and where dominant cultures and ruling superpowers change every few years. In general, I had an impression that Georgia had an edge when it comes to food.

Score: +1 Georgia for lemonade

No really, it’s amazing!

8. Economy & standard of living

Armenia is visibly much poorer, thanks to the fact that over a third of population lives below poverty line. But when it comes to numbers, both countries have similar GDP and GDP per capita (quite low).

Unlike in more developed Turkey, water here is potable pretty much everywhere. Almost everyone has access to gas and electricity. People are well educated. These are some important positive legacies of communism that make a difference even quarter of a century after its fall.

Score: +1 Georgia for less poverty

Why wouldn’t we build a fence from dead cars?

9. Bureaucracy and the police

Both countries have a police force with super-fancy new cars that drive around with red and blue lights always on. I think they saw too many American movies and think very highly of themselves.

Armenian police also has some fancy cameras inside their cars that record speed of incoming traffic. Armenians also have a lot of speed traps (when the speed limit is 30km/h on an open road in the middle of nowhere). You will have to pay to import your vehicle into Armenia, and then also pay to export it. And pay some fee to a “broker” who is in charge of the process.

Altogether, the impression is that Armenian stater really wants to squeeze money out of you on every occasion. That feeling is not great.

Score: +1 Georgia for less annoyances

Getting a speeding ticket after falling into an Armenian speed-trap. Paying to export my own vehicle from Armenia. Happiness!

The final result

Although I don’t want to make any Georgian or Armenian friends angry, I do honestly think it’s a tie. 3:3 to be more precise. Georgia has an edge when it comes to food, wine, economy and annoyances, Armenia has an edge when it comes to friendliness, exotic rating and amenities for travelers.

Would I visit these countries again? Absolutely! I would and I would stay much longer. To anyone thinking about whether to go to this region, I say: GO! I also wholeheartedly recommend taking a motorbike with you — there are just too many beautiful places just on the side of the road that you cannot see if you travel by car or bus.

Thank you Georgia thank you Armenia and so long!