As the curtain is lowered in St Petersburg on my participation in a portion of the long B2B trek, some reflections: it has been an extraordinary trip with its unique character still to be composed and reflected upon when the travel stops.
Probably the most outstanding feature has been the overwhelming, very public display of support and interest in the Dodge and the Whippet, both in Georgia and from the bottom to the top of Russia. This has involved everybody – from motorists, truckdrivers, passers-by, hotel staff to, probably most notably, the police force. It certainly has catalysed contact and friendliness that otherwise would have been slow to develop. We are all going to suffer from a deficit of mass attention and warmth having been spoilt for so long. In their different ways everybody seems to be saying “bravo”.
Accommodation and meals have been consistently good to very good, including our camping and roadside “boiling the billy” (often with fresh fare, fruit and vegetables bought along the road). Probably the only major negative relates to the driving which to Australians not yet familiar with local customs appears suicidal. Two other quirky bits are the dreadful, jagged railway and tramway crossings and the lack of consistency in stair heights and sometimes widths in the same stairway – a major trap for the unwary.
To me, Georgia and particularly Tbilisi are very attractive and I hope to return. Russia is strong and whilst a hugely disparate mixture of development and decay, is a civilised and “comfortable” country albeit with many challenges to surmount in its transition from a regimented to a free economy. I would happily live and work here to see these changes continue to happen at first hand. One now better appreciates the lack of media balance we are exposed to outside Russia and we are in an improved position to question its veracity. Our Russian contacts expressed similar views about their internal version of events, that is, what should they in turn believe?
On the personal side, six very different people travelled comfortably and cooperatively together, each contributing in their different ways. My particular admiration and gratitude go to our leaders Ian and Bill for their vision, skills and positive attitude and for having me “along for the ride”.