Two years ago this very day I was in the glorious and gorgeous country of Georgia, enjoying some relaxing Festive travels as another hard year of touring drew to a close (the irony, I know!). Exploring the ancient ruins and treasure of Tblisi, meandering amongst the sights, bright lights, running along the Mtkvari River, gazing at the golden fountains of Kutaisi, marvelling at the gorgeous architectural ensembles of monasteries and churches and losing myself in the ancient cave city of Uplistsikhe, aptly titled ‘God’s Fortress’, another life changing journey instilling to this very day musical inspiration within your humble Scottish troubadour.
It seemed there was almost too much to see and to experience, and the trip even included a visit to Northern Azerbaijan, which may be recited in a separate tale, should this become a regular feature on my blog – of that, you, my wonderful readers can decide. So, it was with a sense of sadness that on the last full day in Georgia before returning home to Scotland, I realised I had not yet visited the brand new Georgian Parliament Building in Kutaisi, and at that time the main seat of the Georgian Parliament (Parliament has since returned to Tbilisi). My fascinations with both modern architecture and politics necessitated a visit but how, with just the late evening left before an early morning flight back home.
The answer transpired some hours later when I decided I would wake early, and run in the morning to the Parliament Building, if I took my mobile phone with me (normally I don’t, as many reading this will testify which has led to innumerable incidents of varying degree of hilarity – why do all paths in the woods surrounding Nurnberg look the same?) I could document the visit as required.
So the next morning, I awoke at an ungodly hour and slipped into my running shoes after quickly reminding myself of the 5km route to the Parliament Building, fortunately a relatively straightforward one. I felt a little lethargic, not used to running at such an early hour, but soon found a comfortable rhythm which I was able to hold without too much trouble.
Always someone who prefers running where the rhythm is not disrupted, I often find city running a nuisance due to its stop-start nature, the temerity of pedestrians to be walking against my running route, traffic lights, crossing roads, I’m sure fellow runners reading this can empathise. It is the last of these inconveniences that take on particular importance in a Georgian context, please understand – though Georgian people are amongst the most welcoming and friendly I have encountered, Georgian drivers are the most aggressive and chaotic I have ever experienced. During my time there I had quickly learnt that whether or not a Georgian driver chose to stop at the zebra crossing that it was by law supposed to, was completely random, and more often than not the driver would carry on regardless of the welfare of the pedestrian. In short, crossing the road in Georgia, even at a pedestrian crossing, was putting one’s life at the mercy of these maniacal drivers. As an aside, I would advise any future travellers reading this to use the subways wherever possible instead of the pedestrian crossings, and if using the latter, wait until such time that the traffic is definitely far enough away that it cannot reach you by the time you cross.
Back to the run, as I approached the thoroughfare upon which the Parliament Building was located (I still had some way to go, it was just at the start of a long straight) I realised I was on the wrong side of this road and therefore would need to cross. Somewhat handily, there was a zebra crossing immediately ahead and the road, although a dual carriageway was fairly quiet in both directions.
As I was about to step onto the crossing I noted there was traffic slowing down obediently in the near lane to allow me to cross whilst in the far lane still some distance away was an old Mark 3 BMW 3 Series in an obnoxious green colour. The lanes were wider, the carriageway itself much wider than the equivalent thoroughfare might be in Scotland. Notwithstanding this, I reasoned I had more than enough time to make it across given how far away the BMW was, regardless of whether or not the driver observed the relevant traffic laws.
As I stepped out onto the crossing and jogged across the first lane, I noticed that the green BMW was suddenly moving a lot faster than it had previously been (perhaps the driver didn’t like my orange trainers but surely they couldn’t be any more obnoxious than the colour of his car) and was rapidly approaching the pedestrian crossing. As I approached the end of the first lane, the car previously waiting obediently accelerated away with a steady stream of traffic behind it. The driver of the green BMW still had time to brake before the crossing and at that precise moment in time, I believed that he would.
What happened next still haunts and disturbs me, as I began running across the second lane I caught sight of the driver of the green BMW, a heavy set and stocky man with a shaven head, not unlike some of the monstrous men I’d seen valiantly serve Georgia on the rugby field. He did not look at me but had his eyes fixed straight ahead down the road, stoically, in seeming ignorance of my presence, and the speed of the car appeared to increase again. I realised there and then, I wouldn’t make it running at the speed I was currently going and also knew I couldn’t go back into the first lane due to the continuous flow of vehicles behind me. My only choice was to step on the gas and hope I would have enough to make it.
Those of you reading this who have known me since my schooldays (not that long ago, come on……!) will recall I was a talented sprinter in my youth. The old techniques my athletics coach taught me came flooding back – high knee drive, pump the arms, quick strides and I burst straight into a short sprint to the central reservation, just making it there as the green BMW flashed past, vanishing around the corner before I could even draw breath.
A little shaken, adrenalin flowing through my veins, I crossed again to the other side of the road, and continued on my way to the Parliament Building, where somewhat subdued to start with, I tried to dismiss what just happened and treasure the experience, for who knows when I would return to Kutaisi?
In the almost two years that have elapsed since this near death experience, I have often thought back to it. I can still clearly picture the driver’s face – what on earth was he thinking of? Clearly, he had seen me, why didn’t he react and slow down? If I hadn’t sped up, then I probably wouldn’t be here to write this tale – thank god the old pickup in speed was still there! Was he high on drugs, alcohol, or just another maniacal Georgian driver?
I’m sure the experience may at some point find itself into a song, if you hear a reference to a green BMW in a future lyric then having read this, you will know to what it relates. And as for the driver, if by some strange and mysterious twist of fate he happens to be reading this – please take heed of this tale the next time you take the wheel, unless you want someone’s death on your conscience.
As for the Georgian Parliament Building – here it is pictured below, for what it’s worth, I have no regrets in going to see it, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I just about lived to tell the tale. And in my humble amateur architectural view, a striking and stunning example of Eastern European modern architecture.
If you’re reading this, and have enjoyed it, be sure to let me know, and another ‘Onwards He Travels’ tale shall follow next month.
Thanks, as always, for your support.