Iceland and Georgia: At opposite ends of Europe’s geography and culture.
I always found it mildly amusing that in the days that British Midland flew from London to Tbilisi, their early afternoon departure was usually from a gate adjacent to Icelandair’s flight to Reykjavik. The gate, 21 I believe in Terminal 1, was a slightly odd one, as passengers for these flights were corralled into a single room, and frequently had passage from the shopping area disturbed by an inflow of arriving passengers.
Nevertheless, passengers from London bound for either or Europe’s extremities of Iceland and Georgia found themselves mingling on a daily basis. Being an aficionado of both countries, I found myself in this waiting room several times, and occasionally, bound for one, would meet a friend bound for the other.
It was arriving at Keflavik’s rather pleasant airport this morning that made me recall this curiosity, for in the last five or six years, Icelandair has grown enormously while Georgia’s aviation industry still languishes in the dark ages.
This morning, flights from a dozen or so North American cities were lined up to slide down the glide-path into Keflavik ready to mix and match their passengers for the continuing flights to a wide variety of European gateways. Their “hub and spoke” system is brilliant, effective and being Icelandic, pretty efficient.
The growth in passenger numbers transiting Keflavik is eye-watering, and by offering one-stop service between such a variety of cities, their aircraft are full.
Which, of course, is just as well; Iceland itself is a wonderful country to visit, of this there is little debate. It is a country that only this year celebrates its 70th birthday of its independence from Denmark. During this period, it has grown from a very basic, subsistence economy to its current position (bankruptcy notwithstanding) of growth in so many areas of high value-added activity.
There are advances in energy, genetic mapping, architecture, medical innovations and so many more; the contemporary culture of the country is vibrant, and visible in its arts, audible in its music and most certainly evident in its culinary arts.
And look where it is; the unkind among us might describe Iceland as a windswept rock, perching in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, its inhabitants really being more akin to Polynesian islanders with a veneer of Scandinavian efficiency, and really a place for derision before investment.
While there may be a smidgen of truth behind these cruel sentiments (particularly about the Polynesians, try to get an Icelander to answer an email), it belies one of the most satisfying parts of the Icelandic culture, their need to incorporate the past in the future.
Georgia, too, as my regular readers (and thank you for reading, and particularly commenting) will know, I have been mesmerized by Georgian music, art, architecture, food (and wine) and innovations for some time.
It was this neat juxtaposition of attitudes that became the other element of my wry amusement of Heathrow airport’s flight dispatch; it is this passion for the past, passion for the pure integrity of the “soul” of the nation that is common to both Georgia and Iceland, and to a degree that I have rarely found elsewhere.
These are both countries that have had their fair share of troubles, and while similarities between the two will by necessity stretch the imagination, I shall mention only a couple.
Firstly the deep understanding of their history, passed on in Iceland through the fabulous Sagas and in Georgia through the dogma of the Orthodox church and its attendant oral history, and secondly through the ability of each country to develop rapidly without abandoning their centuries-old culture, customs and the patina of activity that so vibrantly marks each nation.
British Midland no longer flies from London to Georgia, and the mingling of passengers bound to Europe’s extremities has, perhaps, moved elsewhere. It was, however, always a pleasure for me to see that my two favourite European countries shared a connection that was observed by so few.
I am only here for a couple of days, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of my close friend Clive Stacey’s business, the London-based Discover the World, and I am sure that the celebrations at the Hotel Ranga, which is where we are now ensconced will last well into tomorrow, and possibly the day after,