Friday, December 3, 2010

A week in Tbilisi

This is Day 5 of a rather fascinating week in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

I am here principally for business, although sneaking in a few minutes of dinner and a child’s portion of the remarkably good Georgian wine has been quite possible. It is, of course, quite different from the summer both climatically and in the sense of the city.

Cities live and breathe, have seasons and moods just as their individual inhabitants. They have characters and idiosyncrasies and change with the relentless passage of the year.

Late autumn in Tbilisi is very pleasant. The weather has been good, the last leaves fluttering around, the traffic as disobedient and manic as ever and the local populous hurrying around in that special way of the underemployed. The metro, deep and mostly Soviet, is full all of the time; full of folks dressed in the apparent national colour of black. Now and again someone dressed in brilliant beige or olive green illuminates like a Christmas decoration. Otherwise there is a sombre tone of dress, possibly reflective of the mood or possibly because they like black.

I decided to go for a ride; having figured out how to buy my ticket (one buys a card at any station and then, in the nstyle of most city transit systems, loads it up with money), and head off. A single ride costs 40t (25 cents) for the first of the day, the second is 30t and the third and subsequent ones 20t.

I headed out to the end, remembering to note where I got on. It was at თავისუფლების მოედანი, and I made careful note so I would be able to find my way home. The end of a metro line is often odd; built originally at the distant end of a city, they now lie in suburbs of little consequence, the city having grown up and beyond them many years since. In this case, the line was built in 1967, and Tbilisi has expanded considerably. It is a 'hood of scruffy shops, sidewalks, apartments and many people wandering around; it is a place of bingo parlours, money changers (US$1 = 1.1752 or thereabouts), flower sellers and shops peddling a motley assortment of things. Worth an hour of anyone's time, but having exhusted avery opportunity for interest or humour, I headed back into the station at ახმეტელის თეატრი and headed back to თავისუფლების მოედანი for a restorative.

Georgia is an astonishing country. For all of its difficulties, it remains a nation with heart, drive and an infectiously positive outlook; barriers rarely exist, development is on track and those willing to join in are welcome. Everything is being reviewed and renewed; the road and transportation infrastructure, agriculture, energy, manufacturing and every sector of business that one can imagine.

I am here for a couple of reasons; we are looking at significantly developing our promotion of the region in the US and Canada, and secondly because we worked over the past couple of months to broker a six-month lease of a Canadian aircraft to come to Georgia.

The plane will be used principally on a route between Tbilisi and Mestia, the major centre of Svaneti. The project began in August, really, when I was visiting Svaneti with my family; having met the folks who had built a new ski resort and spent time discussing access, we were approached in October to help advise on a suitable aircraft.

The result was the delivery on Thursday of a Twin Otter from the Calgary-based Kenn Borek. It is a fine aircraft, and perfectly suited to the difficult mountain terrain; the pilots are resting today after the long ferry-flight, and tomorrow will start exploring the routes across the mountains into Mestia.

I am pretty excited by this whole development; a modest domestic aviation industry, and although a single Twin Otter won’t get the Star Alliance excited, it is a start. Routes between the capital Tbilisi and Batumi on the Black Sea, neighbouring Yerevan and some other regional towns will assist both tourism and local development.

And that, according to many folks here, is the sort of catalyst that they need.

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