18-10-2016

Driving in Georgia

This is an excerpt from this new Georgian wine book about what it means to drive in Georgia.

When visiting most wine regions in the world, the question always arises: to hire or not to hire a driver? Usually this is for the sake of everyone on the adventure wanting to drink as much as they want and no one having to opt out as the designated driver. This is perfectly reasonable but for some countries, such as Georgia, the choice is a bit more, shall we say, “layered”.

Driving in Georgia is a full contact sport. There is no such thing as taking a leisurely drive out one day as the Georgians rightfully earned a reputation amongst the former USSR countries as being some of the most aggressive drivers there are.

There seem to be as many Georgian specialties in driving maneuvers as there are implements to drink Georgian wine. The most famous however would be the “Georgian Onion” wherein one car overtakes a slow moving vehicle on the left to then be overtaken be another vehicle overtaking him to his left. This is sometimes augmented by someone else overtaking to the right of the slow moving vehicle at the same time. This is both impressive and terrifying to witness.

There’s the “Caucasian Drift” wherein drivers use the line between two lanes as a point to position the middle of their car. Generally more benign in its inherent danger, this is a regional “technique” and also happens in Armenia. Georgian drivers do specialize in making incredibly fast stops though and having brake lights that barely function if at all.

Then of course there is the fact that the cows own the roads of Western Georgia and you can encounter herds there any time of the day or night. Or then from the Soviet Era there are still countless Ladas in shambles, dragging down the roads both unwilling to die or yield to traffic traveling anywhere close to the actual speed limit. The Ladas can also create the “Iron Curtain” which is a cloaking cloud of dark, thick exhaust that hides them from view.

In the rural areas, accidents are plentiful and spectacular when they happen. In Tbilisi, it seems that grazing your car is just a city dweller’s way of saying “hi!” And, the right hand drive cars from Japan that slipped in to the country add another touch of spice in to the mix as well.

If this doesn’t turn you off to hiring a driver (who are generally the same price as a rental car) then you can indeed pick up a rental car at many locations in Tbilisi. Just keep in mind that what initially seem like good prices are outweighed by the fact that companies, even ones with international name brands, will be renting you a vehicle with 100,000 if not 200,000 kilometers on it. Oh and it’s advisable to pick up something on the 4×4 side of things as the roads around the wines regions (like in many parts of the world) can be a bit rugged.

Otherwise, pleasant travels!