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The new Dubai?

Travel between Georgian cities is by way of marshrutkas – minivans driven by madmen. In Kutaisi, they leave from the bus station car park and stop whenever they are flagged down. It costs 10 GEL to go nearly 180 km so they’re an inexpensive way to travel. But the ride – oh the ride. On the way to Batumi, I slept. On the way back, I watched with a fascination that bordered on pure, unadulterated terror as our driver made a third lane in the middle of a two-lane road, playing chicken with oncoming traffic. Although we managed to keep all wheels on the ground, at times it seemed as if we’d topple over or take off. I made my peace with the world, said my last act of contrition, and figured that if it was to be my last Monday in Marydom, so be it. It was one helluva ride.

IMG_5751 (600x800)BT BAtumi 1 (600x800)IMG_5710 (800x600) (2)We’d seen posters for Batumi in the airport when we landed. High-rise, modern hotel buildings overlooking a 6km promenade that separates the city from the stoney beach [pack those water shoes]. But even so, I wasn’t prepared for it at all.

BT BAtumi 2(600x800)It’s being billed as the next Dubai but it reminded me more of Baku, Azerbaijan. All the major hotel groups have a presence. Bling is on the verge of making a major debut. And the young and the beautiful are flocking to it in droves. [And yes, that is an 8-cabin ‘big eye’ built into that tower – amazing.]
IMG_5702 (800x600)IMG_5699 (800x600)IMG_5720 (800x600)IMG_5705 (800x600)The space on the city side of the promenade is sculpted to within an inch of its life. There’s even a bamboo forest. Landscaped gardens. Manicured lawns. Carefully tended trees, plants, shrubs and flowers, provide a backdrop to some interesting statuary.  The most famous one (although I’d never heard of it, let alone heard of the city) is a mechanical one – The Lovers. Based on the story of Ali and Nino (whom I met in Baku) it’s apparently something to behold. I only saw it action later, on YouTube. Worth a watch.  Another series shows cutouts of boy/girl/love while a third focuses on shoes… massive empty shoes just waiting to be stood in. Add those to the oriental musicians, the dolphins, the angels and the famous people and the place is like a massive open air gallery. Even the graffiti is amusing.

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IMG_5743 (800x600)Step off the lawns and the paved promenade though and you might well be in a different world. We didn’t have time to explore as much as I’d like to have done so it’s on the list for a return trip. I suspect though that there’s far more to the city than glitz and glamour. It will be interesting to see how it copes with the wealth that’s pouring into it. As Baku shows all too well, not everyone benefits equally from new-found prosperity. Those who keep the city turning over, those who dot the i’s and cross the t’s and make sure the lights stay on, might wake up one day and wonder what happened. Those who keep the city turning over, those who dot the i’s and cross the t’s and make sure the lights stay on, might wake up one day and wonder what they missed.

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It has anIMG_5764 (800x600)IMG_5770 (800x600)IMG_5774 (800x600) interesting history. It’s been occupied by the Ottomans, the British, and the Russians. It was here in 1902 that Stalin called strike and got the boys a 30% pay increase just a month or so later. This might well have been where he got his start. The price of real estate has trebled since 2001 with Kazakh investors pouring €100 million into the region.

There’s a market for what Batumi is growing into, though. The water sports. The fishing. The boat trips. The beaches. The night clubs. The designer shops. The fancy restaurants. It has it all.

After a hectic two days in Kutaisi with its markets, its cathedral, its dinosaurs,  its caves, and its monasteries, it was good to head for the coast. And we’ll be back.

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Real cutlery, personal pillows, and stray dogs

Emirates1Real cutlery. A real, stainless steel, knife, fork and spoon. And flying economy, too. I hadn’t realised how budget airlines have become my norm. RyanAir, Wizz Air, EasyJet – they’re my standard. So any airline that goes above and beyond is impressive. And Emirates is certainly that. The food was excellent – all of it. And I love the way they refer to the overhead bin as a hatrack – harking back to times gone by. Reminds me of a photo I saw on FB recently but didn’t save: one of a couple in the 1950s on a flight will full crockery and cutlery service, wondering how luxurious flights would be in the future… man, did they ever get that wrong. Oh, it’s still luxurious, if you can afford it… but I ain’t in that financial bracket. Still, it was nice to get real cutlery for a change…

Fast forward through Dubai to Bangalore and the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Electronic City. A far cry from IBIS or the Mercure (not that there’s anything wrong with either of them). I could get used to being called Miss Mary. Everyone is so incredibly nice and friendly and helpful. And everyone smiles. What a concept! Even if it’s something that has been drummed into them during their customer service training (which I doubt), they’ve long since owned it and it’s become their own.

I like having my own iron and ironing board. I like the complimentary shoe shine and the daily papers. I like the bath (big enough for two) and the shower (big enough for four) and the bed (big enough for a small army). I like having a bathroom scales, a coffee dock, and a recliner. But most of all I like that I can have choice of five different pillows.

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It’s been about seven years since I was last in Bangalore. It’s now called Bengaluru and has been since this time last year. Other cities have also changed their names: Bombay became Mumbai in 1995; Madras changed to Chennai in 1996; Calcutta to Kolkata in 2001; Trivandrum to Thiruvananthapuram in 1991; Pondicherry to Puducherry in 2006; Poona to Pune in 2008; and Orissa to Odisha in 2011. I’ve asked a number of people why and no one seems to know the answer. It’s just the way it is. Like so much in this part of the world.

Time goes slower here. People work on a different rhythm and cycle. No one is any great hurry. I was delighted to see that the traffic is still chaotic, that lanes are but wishful thinking – and that the old Banglo saying still holds: all is fair in love and war … and traffic.

When I was here last, I completely missed Electronics City. And I wonder how? It’s hard to get my head around the numbers. This one city is home to nearly three times the population of Ireland – just one city! When I turfed up for work this morning, I was just one of 40 000 clocking in to that one company. It takes up acres and acres of room and has no fewer than 16 different access gates, fully landscaped gardens, and its own amphitheatre.

Electronics City itself is home to some 200 IT companies housed in 1.3 sq. km (332 acres). It was first envisaged in the 1970s as the Silicon Valley of India. And it’s impressive. Very impressive. In the software industry  here (when it comes to developers and designers) there are more women entering the industry than men. Not quite the same picture as in Europe. This imbalance  is reversed as their careers progress, with just 10% of women in the boardroom. A shame.

But the numbers… the numbers…

The city is the third largest in India and one of the first to have electricity back in 1905/6. The ratio of stray dogs to humans is 1:37 = a lot of stray dogs with some 12 people bite by one every hour (who counts I wonder?)  It’s home to the highest number of cigarette smokers in India, the highest percentage of engineers in the world, and the highest number of suicides in the country. I’m drawing no correlations here.  Everything about it is massive. A Banglo friend tell me that it’s lost its heart – it’s not what it used to be. While it’s certainly bigger, is it better?

It’s my third visit and I’m mesmerised by it all.

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Grateful 41

You know those plants you have in your living room, he asked, what do you call them?

Maud, Thelma, and Louise, I replied, wondering why he wanted to know.

I meant, what kind of plant are they?

They’re yuccas.

Did you buy them?

Nope. I sort of adopted them from a mate who moved to Dubai and needed someone look after his girls. The one to the left, Maud… she’s had eight kids that I’ve pawned off on other friends.

20140320_190212_resizedI was wondering where this was going. The Feng Shui lady said they were bad news – I should get rid of them because of their pointy leaves. Granted, this was back when Maud looked like a small forest all on her own. Since she birthed all those babies, she doesn’t take up nearly as much room. But her leaves are still pointy. I’d resisted all entreaties to get rid of all three ladies so far, and wasn’t quite able for another onslaught of well-intentioned advice. And, I’d grown quite fond of my girls. The place would be very quiet without them to talk to.

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That’s good – good that you didn’t buy them. You’re not supposed to buy them. In Australia, they’re known as the happy plant – plants that you give to people. When they get too big, you lop a bit off and pass it on.

Well, was I ever grateful that I hadn’t gotten rid of them altogether. And, better still, apparently yuccas flower – big white flowers. They haven’t show anything but green all the years I’ve had them, but it’s nice to know that one day they might surprise me.

At the end of what was a cantankerous week, where I wasn’t in the best of form, I’m grateful for random moments like this one that illustrate so beautifully that there’s always more than one side to any story. It  also emphasised what I already know but all too often forget – I should trust my gut. Yes the experts might say one thing, and the books another, and friends and colleagues give different advice still, yet ultimately, that feeling in my gut won’t steer me wrong. The thing is to remember to listen to it and not to drown it the opinions and expectations of others.  Note to self.

So many men

Walking out of the airport in Chisinau was just a tad intimidating. A strange feeling for me, a woman who is somewhat allergic to oestrogen and far more comfortable with manageable doses of testosterone. The flight from Budapest to Chişinău was in one of those planes that have had some longtitudional sectioning – you know – where the seats go A, (skip B and C), D, (skip E), and F. We landed, we cleared passport control (first time in a long time I’ve been asked why I’m visiting a country and first time ever that I’ve had a legitimate business reason that was completely at odds with the rather dishevelled appearance I presented.). Still, they let me in. I sailed through to baggage claim, where my bag was waiting for me. I walked through customs and straight outside to where my taxi was waiting. Clockwork came to mind.

But walking through the front door to be met by a crowd of burly men in black coats was, as I said, just a tad intimidating. I had a flashback to landing in Dubai many years ago but at least these Moldovan men saw me, where as the lads in Dubai tried to walk through me.

I used to drive a 20-year-old Toyota Starlet – and it’s still parked at my parents’ house at home. This taxi was older though – much older. You could have carbon dated it by the smells alone. Somewhat amusingly, the one car broken down on the road into the city, blocking traffic, was a very new looking Toyota Passat. The drive into Chişinău was lined with high-rise panels (tower blocks) and for the first time EVER, I found myself drawing comparisons, not with Ireland, but with Hungary. These panelházok are a little more ornate that what we have (Get that ownership! What’s happening here?) in Budapest and rather than lone tower blocks, they’ve been rather creatively stuck together so that, in fact, they don’t actually look all that bad… at least at night.

We passed what could have passed for a South African township just on the outskirts of the city and it struck me that Moldova ain’t exactly rolling in dough. That said though, every other building lining the main street seems to be either a bank or a jeweller’s. And the one shop I ventured in to would have been at home on Bond Street. (Does that say more about my taste than the economy…I wonder.)

Tonight, in Moldova and Romania, St Nicolae comes and leaves sweets in your shoes if you clean them and leave them outside. Am half-tempted to park my loafers outside my hotel-room door to see what happens!

After wandering the streets for a couple of hours to get my bearings and in a half-hearted attempt to find a restaurant, I opted for the hotel menu. Whatever else about this city, it can’t be done for false advertising. They said that my Mămăligă would consist of  200 grams of pork, 220 grams of cornflour, and 25 grams of cheese and they were right. Mind you, I think the pork was beef and the cornflour was polenta but other than that, it all weighed in and was delicious.

Tomorrow, in daylight, should be interesting.