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Thursday September 18

This morning we do the unit on Transportation of Dangerous Goods.  They are interested to hear that the principles are almost exactly the same in both countries. In fact, TDG seems to be very consistent from one country to another.  The participants ask lots of questions.  They agree that they require only an introduction, not a complete certificate course, and say my presentation is fine.

 

Deputy Mayorof TibilisiAt 3:45, Taimuna picks me up and takes me to City Hall, where I meet with Ghiorghi Karbelashvili, Deputy Mayor of the City of Tbilisi.  Despite being very busy because of the upcoming elections, he makes 15 minutes for me to “present my credentials” as the Ambassador-at-Large for the City of Dryden.  I make a little speech, which Taimuna translates and present him with the certificate from Dryden.  Taimuna takes a picture with my camera and I assure him that he will be in the Dryden Observer in a couple of weeks.  He is very gracious and expresses his sincere appreciation for our efforts to make this kind of contact and for our interest in the development of Tbilisi and Georgia.  He speaks briefly about his area of responsibility, which is urban transportation.  It is a very positive experience and I think it is worthwhile to make this sort of contact.  I trust Mayor Wintle will be pleased with my efforts.

 

After that, I stroll along Gamsakhurdia Avenue again and have a couple of cold Kasbegi’s in a little restaurant.  I love this city!  It is a bustling and lively capital, but not frenetic and insane like most European cities are any more.  There is a pleasant relaxed air about it.  The people stroll along arm-in-arm and they chatter and laugh as though they are thoroughly enjoying life.

 

Brunhilda and MayaAt dinner, several old friends and some new ones join us.  Maya is Brunhilda's Georgian friend, who teaches German language at the University.  She speaks beautiful, fluent German and is a brilliant simultaneous translator.  Also at dinner are Niko, Constantine and Nino #1.  Constantine tells me he has recently quit his job as a policeman because he is so disgusted by the rampant corruption that is commonplace.  He doesn’t say, and I don’t find out until later, that he held the rank of Lt. Colonel – a pretty impressive career for a man who is only about thirty-five years old.  I think the situation must be extremely bad to make him give up a job like that.  Unfortunately, corruption is such a big a problem, that they need honest and honourable, men like Constantine, very badly. 

 

Nino and BesomThis evening, Nino brings her fiancÚ, Besom.  My first impression is that Besom is a simple man, perhaps a mid-level civil servant, a manager in a factory or some such.  I kind of wonder that he is engaged to the beautiful and sophisticated Nino.  When I ask him about his work, he is taciturn and says only:   “I don’t really have a job.”   Later, I get to sit beside him and talk some more.  I find out that Besom speaks excellent English along with half a dozen other languages and he owns a company, which buys and sells oil!  He buys oil in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan etc and sells it to Britain, Spain, Italy and other countries.   I suspect that Besom is very rich.  His father lost his position as a director of a large company when the Soviets left.  Besom bought him a farm, so he would have something to do in his post-soviet life.  On this farm, he grows watermelons and other crops and has 100 cows – not just a little hobby farm.  Besom also has a small sideline:  a company, which imports and sells computer equipment.  Dea asks me to send some pictures back after I get home, and I should send them to Besom.  Foolishly, I ask Besom if he has a good printer.  He says, with a small smile:  “We should have.  Yesterday, we received two shipping containers of printers from Taiwan!” 

 

Friday September 19

Dr. Boris arrives this morning with a litre of his homemade red wine and instructs me to take it home to Canada and drink it with my wife.  It is very kind of him but it sure is going to make my backpack heavy on the way home.  The group asked for my presentation on International traffic Signs.  It is no surprise to me that they know more about the topic than I do.  After all, Georgia uses international traffic signs and Canada doesn’t. I have a collection of overhead transparencies with the various road signs and everybody gets a kick out of identifying what each one means – and arguing about what each thinks they really mean!  The Signs session doesn’t take long so I offer a presentation on Crossing Borders in North America.   They agree and seem to find it interesting too.  It is like science fiction to them.  I explain how a Canadian trucker faxes his documents to a customs broker and the shipment is cleared before he even arrives at the border.  In most cases, our trucks clear customs and cross the Canada - U.S. border in less than ten minutes.  They tell me that it is not unusual for a truck to wait for more than a week to cross the Georgia Russia border and that the process always involves the payment of substantial bribes.

 

Ghia TsipuriaAfter the session, Mr. Darchiasvili introduces me to his friend, Ghia Tsipuria (right), Secretary-General of the Georgian International Road Carriers Association.  Ghia is an intense, Type-A personality who chain-smokes and talks non-stop.  Unfortunately, although his English is good, he has a very thick accent and I have to concentrate very hard to understand him.  He and Mr. D. load me in their car, without telling me anything and head out of the city.  Eventually, I discover (when I have a chance to get a word in edgewise) that we are going sightseeing and then they are taking me to dinner.

 

Cathedral of Sveti-Tskhoveli.We drive about 20 km north of Tbilisi to the ancient town of Mtskheta, located at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers.  Mtskheta was the capital of the Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century B.C.  until the thirteenth century A.D. when Tbilisi was founded. It is very scenic as the town is located in the deep valley of the river.   We visit the cathedral of Sveti-Tskhoveli (left) and the Samtavro monastery.   Tiny Orthodox chapelIn a corner of the Samtavro churchyard is a tiny, fourth-century chapel (right), erected on the site where St. Nino used to pray.  Georgian churches are all impressive, but the monastery-church of Jvari is really spectacular! It is located on a very high cliff, overlooking the town and the place where the two rivers join.  We arrive there just at sundown so I can’t take any pictures.  The church itself is very old, dating from the sixth century A.D.  I would like to come back again and have more time to take it all in.

 

Then we go for dinner.  The restaurant is part of a resort complex on the edge of the river.  Apparently, these places are very popular in summer, when temperatures routinely reach 40C.  The restaurant has many terraces built on different levels, from the top of the riverbank down to water level. A large boat moored to the bank, has been converted into a floating restaurant. Water from the river is pumped up to the top and allowed to flow down in waterfalls and cascades.   Even in the hottest weather there is always a cool breeze off the river and the waterfalls help to make it cooler as well.  It isn’t that hot in September but it is still a very appealing place.  Each table in the restaurant is separated from the others by partitions and swinging doors so that guests dine in privacy.  Unfortunately, the partitions don’t block out the selections of Georgian Folk music, played at ear-splitting volume on a very bad sound system.

 

Dinner is wonderful and features a variety of Georgian delicacies.  Nearly every meal starts out with a big serving of kachapuri (a cheese pastry, sort of like a pizza).  Georgian salads are delicious:  fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, other interesting ingredients and are flavoured with very unusual and tasty herbs.  Then comes baked mushrooms, served, still sizzling, in a clay dish,  that could be the best mushrooms I have ever tasted!  Next, shashlik (shish-kebabs) and some small roasted birds, sort of like Cornish hens, but they are wild and people hunt them for sport.

 

Saturday September 20

This morning, at 05:00, another CESO Volunteer arrives on the red-eye flight from Vienna.  Denis Stephenson is a retired business teacher from Sheridan College in Oakville.  He will be here for three weeks, teaching in the business faculty at the State University.

 

Rustaveli Avenue.Today I set out to explore more of Tbilisi, especially the old town.   I take #2 minibus like a veteran and get off in the middle of Rustaveli Avenue.  This is the main downtown shopping street of Tbilisi.  It is lined with big shady trees and is a favourite place for people to stroll, look at the shops and each other and enjoy the ambiance of the city.  The Georgian Parliament building, the Opera House, the State Museum all share the Avenue with shops and restaurants, sidewalk vendors and panhandlers, fancy hotels and stately old buildings.  One of my favourite places is Prospero Bookstore. Prospero is like a mini-McNally Robinson. It has a good selection of books in several languages, a coffee bar with excellent espresso and cappucino, a shady outdoor patio and an internet cafe. All this in a space about the size of our living room. It has a very relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.

 

Tibilisi City Hall.At the end of Rustaveli is Freedom (formerly Lenin) Square (with no statue of Lenin in the middle any more).  I take some pictures of Tbilisi City Hall (left) and then walk down Pushkin Street towards the Mtkvari River and cross on the Baratashvili Bridge.  On the other side, I climb up to the Metekhi Church on a high cliff above the river.  From here there is a fabulous view of the ruins of the Narakila Fortress on a ridge high above the old town.  Saturday is wedding day in Georgia and each church processes through anywhere from six to ten weddings.  In this churchyard, there are at least four brides, bridal parties and sets of guests, either coming or going, all at the same time.

 

I stroll back across the river and wander into another churchyard where yet more weddings are taking place.  I am studying my map and guidebook when a voice says:  Niko Akopian“Excuse me.  Do you speak English?”  I look up to find a very nice-looking, and very polite, young man in his late-twenties.  His name is Nikolas Akopian and he is Armenian (it was an Armenian Churchyard).  Niko is a doctor, actually a gynecologist, who studied medicine in Knoxville, TN.  He wants to also become a priest and helps out in the church as a lay person.  Apparently, the priest said to him:  “That man looks like a foreigner. Go and speak to him.”  Niko shows me his church and explains the distinctions between the Armenian, the Georgian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic religions.  It is very interesting.  Traditional bakery.Then he takes me on a walking tour of the old town, through narrow, crooked streets that I wouldn’t explore on my own and shows me ancient houses, old churches, a traditional bakery (right) and many other sights.  He is very personable and intelligent and we have excellent conversations.  At the end of the afternoon, I invite him to join me for dinner and he choses a rather plain restaurant where the food is excellent and reasonably priced.  Niko says the wine in the restaurant is too expensive, so he runs down the street to a shop and brings back an excellent bottle of local red wine. Which we drink!  It is the best wine I have had, so far, in Georgia.   Altogether, it is a fascinating and rewarding afternoon with a warm and genuine person, so typical of all the Georgian people I meet.  Every day is a new adventure!

 

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