I don't have a simple explanation for why I wanted to go to the Caucasus. I have a generic interest in the former Soviet Union, but I don't even have a good explanation for that. I can, however, list a few of my reasons for even thinking about this trip. In no particular order:
My actual decision to go was triggered by a chance encounter in late November 2002 at the Fair City Mall in Fairfax, Virginia. I was wearing my fleece jacket from Mir Corporation and a woman stopped me, asking if I'd been on a trip with them. I told her about my trip to Tuva and she told me about taking their Treasures of the Trans-Caucasus tour. I'd been considering that very trip and had, in fact, mentioned it to someone the previous week. So I took the conversation as an omen and, before long, I called up Mir to sign up for the trip.
Why an organized tour? With limited time, that's an efficient way to see a fair amount of territory. In addition, this is not an area with a very developed tourist infrastructure. There's little public information at tourist sites, and particularly little in English. While I know some Russian, I'm far from fluent and Russian is still a second language in all three Caucasus countries. In addition, both Georgia and Armenia have their own scripts, neither of which I can read at all. In short, I'm not that intrepid.
The complication came in March, when they hadn't gotten the minimum number of people for the tour. My options were to take another tour, do the trip independently, or cancel outright. After thinking it over (and noting that the other tour dates didn't work for me), I decided that an independent trip was the best approach. That also enabled me to make some adjustments in the itinerary, particularly in Georgia. I should note that Mir (through their local partners) arranged drivers and guides, hotels, sightseeing, many of the meals, etc. so that "independent" didn't mean I wasn't on an organized tour. They also booked my flights on British Air, when my attempt at using frequent flyer miles failed. And they handled the visa applications, which are relatively complicated for this part of the world. All in all, I was very pleased with their service. For details, read on.
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Copyright 2003 Miriam H. Nadel
last updated 31 May 2003