19.12.2018 - 21.12.2018
There are several differences between Georgia and Turkey that become apparent pretty much immediately. The first is the absence of tea shops: sure, tea is still available, but not places where you get a small glass of tea for almost no money and linger. The only tea shops I see provide fancy teas. Second, it is much easier to get by when English is your only language. Third, there is more food variety - I suppose there were Chinese, Indian, Thai etc restaurants in Turkey, but I hardly saw them but here, they are all over the place. They are not necessarily authentic: I have some very interesting tacos, where the taco shell is almost a deep fried bread rather than what a Mexican might use. I loved them! Fourth - obviously, given the history, Russia is a whole lot more evident - I hear Russian all the time, signs are in Russian and there are facilities specifically provided for Russians. This is probably nowhere more the case than in Batumi, which is where Russians come to gamble. There is even an Intourist (the former Soviet travel agency that controlled foreign travel through Russia) Hotel - from most angles, one of the ugliest buildings I see in Batumi, but I quite like the entrance. I considered staying here, just out of curiosity, but opt for a more reliable hotel.
I nearly didn't even stop in Batumi - the idea of a city catering to gamblers has no appeal, and while a lot of Georgians come here for the beach (it is on the Black Sea), I don't really do beaches myself and in any event it is the middle of winter. But I saw some pictures of the buildings here and had to come. My time is spent wandering the streets marvelling at what I see and eating. My first meal is in a restaurant serving traditional Georgian food - its walls are entirely made of timber, a bit like an old skool Lockwood house and the furniture is rough-hewn timber: they're obviously going for a rustic look. I break a personal rule and eat in an entirely empty restaurant and am happy with the result. I had read about ostri before leaving home, and it sounded real good - a spicy, tomato based, beef stew - so that's what I have, along with my first sampling of Georgian wine: they are very proud of it, as Georgia is one of the first places to make wine. Oddly, it is sold according to grape type, rather than winery: it does make life easier. I like the ostri so much that I plan to make some when I get home. Funnily enough, in the two weeks I spend in Georgia, I never see it on another menu.
Here are some random buildings and street scenes in Old Town Batumi that caught my eye as I wandered around
There are various Armenian Apostolic Church buildings around. I am curious to see what they look like on the inside, so try to go into this one. When I find the door locked, I manage a photo through a glass panel in the door. The lady in the photo is not amused: she comes out and yells at me - basically telling me to fuck off in Armenian, although the only word I understand is private.
There is a promenade along the beach which runs for several kilometres (I have 6 stuck in my head but have no proof), but even better, there is a garden-like park which runs between the promenade and the busy streets of Batumi. A French nobleman and gardener, Michael D'Alfons set this up in the 1880's - he is commemorated by a sculpture of him sitting in has garden, presented as a nice fellow.
In the same area, there is a University, the Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University (named after a medieval poet) which has a Faculty of Exact Science, whatever that is, among others. Like several Universities I have encountered, there are security guards at the entrance, who are bemused by my wish to come in and look round but let me proceed. There is not much to see and I need not have bothered because there is no security on the other side.
That last is the Batumi Art Teaching University I just like the building. My plan for my second night in town s to go to another Georgian restaurant, one which is very busy when I first see it but not so much the next time. The highly reputed Chinese restaurant is empty, so I give that one a miss as well. The crowd is across the road at a German beer restaurant, so that's what I have. My evening finishes with a gin in the bar on the 19th floor of the Radisson Blu hotel - it gives me some great views.
I think the last is the lighthouse, but it looks like no other I have seen, and changes colours every few seconds. The night is clear so I go for another wander in the gardens. I really don't know what this building is about: when I look in the window, all I can see is a few bunches of fake flowers on pedestals, but the building is too small to be much of a function centre.
The last building is a performance space for classical music: when passing earlier, some musicians were having a run through of a piece but there is no indication of when the public might go in and listen so I keep moving. One of the things that surprises me about Batumi is the mix of traditional buildings with the very modern, to create some odd juxtapositions, such as this McDonalds.
Going back into antiquity for a moment, there is a statue of Medea in Europe Square, clutching what appears to be a golden fleece - the object of pursuit of Jason and the Argonauts. My understanding is that they were more in the west of Georgia, that the fleece might have been metaphorical and, in any event, it was never in Medea;s possession. Someone may well know better than me.
I could easily stay longer, although I think I see most of what the city has to offer, so staying would be more about deepening my understanding of the local bar and food scene - no bad thing, but there is plenty more of the country to see.