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Voice of America: Charm alert! Georgia welcomes Russian tourists!

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Oct. 14, 2012, 7:21 p.m. | Op-ed — by James Brooke

Georgian men prepare to press grapes near the town of Gurjaani, 110 kms east of the capital Tbilisi, on September 22, 2010. Gurjaani located in the Georgian region of Kakheti is one of the centers of Georgia's wine industry. AFP PHOTO / VANO SHLAMOV
© AFP

 Nervousness was in the air the other afternoon when my S7 Airbus, packed with Russian tourists, touched down at Tbilisi’s international airport.  The tourists walked down a sparkling glass corridor to a terminal that Russian bombs narrowly missed four years earlier during the war with Georgia. They meekly lined up in the no-visa line at passport control.  Crisply uniformed Georgian immigration officers sitting in glass booths carefully inspected each red passport, embossed in gold with the double-headed eagle. Each border control officer then reached under his desk and, with a practiced move, returned every passport with an unexpected object. It was a 200-milliliter bottle of red wine, packed in a crimson gift box and stamped: “Welcome to the Land of 8,000 Vintages.”

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