Ian Colvin is a historian and researcher at the University of Cambridge who works on the South Caucasus, Byzantium and Sasanian Iran. Alongside work for the School Classics Project, he is Director of the Anglo-Georgian Archaeological Expedition to the important site of Nokalakevi in Samegrelo, West Georgia–a project he established in 2001 in collaboration with the Georgian National Museum. Ian has been working with Steppes Travel as a tour leader travelling to Armenia and Georgia, amongst other destinations, for over five years. He will accompany our group tour to Armenia and Georgia in May. We asked Ian to share his thoughts on who has inspired him, his best travel advice and more…
What country surprised you?
Romania. I recently attended a Black Sea Symposium on Black Sea Antiquities in Constanta in the Dobruja. The mixture of Latin and Slavic language with Orthodox Christianity, Greek and Roman antiquities, and former-Ottoman overlordship, as well as recent Soviet Bloc and EU membership painted a fascinating set of contrasts—firstly to the historical Little Scythia that I knew from the Roman and Byzantine sources; and secondly to the history and culture of the facing Georgian coast of the Black Sea where I’ve worked in recent decades. My Georgian and Romanian friends recognised common difficulties their peoples faced in their relations with the neighbouring Russian state, and in dealing with the post-Communist legacy. The Romanians contrasted their own struggles with political corruption with Georgia’s successes in recent decades; the Georgians looked enviously at Romania’s membership of the EU.
How often do you travel?
Several times a year, mostly for work.
What is your most amusing travel story?
When I was 18, before I’d learned any Greek, I remember on my first trip to the country being taken aback when I was berated by a waiter for not knowing how to say ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in his language. Although a part of me bridled at the rebuke—with the naïveté of youth I thought I was doing quite well with my smattering of Latin, French and German, and it was a bit much to expect me to have already mastered Greek as well—the justice of his request that one make an effort stuck with me, and I do now try to learn a few words of the local language when travelling.
Where is next on your travel ‘bucket list’?
So many possible places. I’d like to see more of the Middle East (especially Iran), the Balkans, Russia and the Ukraine. And I owe myself a return to Turkey and Greece. But I’d also like to follow in the footsteps of the Emperor Justinian’s general Belisarius, so a trip through Italy visiting sites of the Gothic war may be somewhere in my near future.
Do you consider your carbon footprint when you travel?
Because travel is largely for work, I confess I do not. I probably should.
What is the one essential you travel with?
Laptop. (Work again …)
What is your best piece of travel advice?
Pack your toothbrush, a book, and one set of clean clothes with your hand luggage. You can never be sure when your suitcase might be delayed.
Who has inspired you to do what you do?
My teachers at school and university, and my parents.