Hey there again! I know, I know, it’s been a little more than a week since my last blog post for everyone. What have I been doing you ask? Well, this past week I decided to take a break from village life and crossed the country to visit the resort city of Batumi on the Black Sea with some of my fellow English teachers I met during orientation. Four of us from the same region (Kakheti) travelled to Tbilisi where we planned to catch an overnight train to Batumi. However, this is Georgia and something we’re all learning is that plans don’t usually fall into place: we went to the train station at about 2pm on Sunday and found out that all of the trains out of Tbilisi to Batumi were full until the next day. After quickly considering our options, we walked outside to catch one of the numerous marshrutka vans waiting that would gladly take four English speakers across the country for 17 Lari each (this is about 10 USD). So, we piled into one of these buses (along with a few other people) and set off on the 6+ hour ride to Batumi.
Now, you must understand that these marshrutka rides aren’t exactly fun. I might be 5’3’’ but there was little to no leg room even for me and a Georgian marshrutka driver is probably the scariest thing to put in charge of a quickly moving vehicle since they will pass any car (even with oncoming traffic) and swerve across the road if they feel like it. But, I must say that the scenery around us was beautiful (as we literally went across the country), cars must pass through the mountains that are covered in trees and I can only imagine the colors in fall on them! And then, we were relieved when we finally spotted the Black Sea from the windows because it meant the journey was almost over. We stopped occasionally on the way to drop people off and to buy snacks, so we finally made it to Batumi around 8:30pm pretty tired, and anxious to find out hostel. Some other teachers from our orientation group were already staying at our hostel so it was nice to see them again and to hear about everyone’s host family situation thus far.
The next morning we woke up and decided to explore the city for a bit. We first stopped at this really cute café for coffee and yummy pastries and everyone who brought a computer got to use the fastest Wi-Fi internet we’ve used in a few weeks (the small pleasures in life!). We stopped by the most interesting fountain I’ve seen in a while, where the mermaids represented had water sprouting out of their breasts. We also found the statue of Medea and the Golden Fleece a few blocks from the sea. Then we made our way down to the Black Sea beach area which spreads the length of Batumi (and the length of western Georgia for that matter). We wandered out on the pier before putting our feet in the water. The water was pretty warm but the entire beach is just filled with rocks. It was definitely a little different than about 99% of the beaches I’ve ever been too, and it was a lot more uncomfortable to walk on. I spent some time gathering some rocks (hey, free souvenirs!) and watching the surrounding people enjoy the beach. There are a few fountains around the area (which light up at night and play music) and several sculptures are placed along the seaside. Some of the most famous landmarks here on the Batumi beach are the Alphabetic Tower and the Ali and Nino statue based on the book by Kurban Said. It’s really cool because during the day, the two individuals are intertwined but then at night they are both lit up in different colors and separate while moving in slow motion to reconnect with one another.
|The fountain with the water shooting out of interesting places.|
|The rocky Black Sea coast!|
|Medea and the Golden Fleece statue. From Wikipedia, Medea was the wife of Jason (leader of the Argonauts) and he came to ancient Georgia to retrieve the fleece.|
|Ali and Nino statue|
Batumi is definitely an interesting city because the great majority of its growth has come in the last five years. There is a certain European feel to the city in terms of the newer architecture we saw along with all of the cobblestone roads and it is continuing to grow judging by the amount of construction that was taking place all over the city. New hotels and apartment buildings are being built for wealthy Georgians and foreigners and even Donald Trump is supposedly going to lend his name to an upcoming Trump Tower Batumi. Georgia really wants to join the European Union (EU) and this city definitely shows how much effort they will put into making the nation actually mimic a more European look; it would be awesome to visit the city again in five years to see the progress that’s been made. One of the cooler buildings they are constructing even has a Ferris wheel built into the side of it! It wasn’t finished yet so we took a nighttime ride on the big Ferris wheel next to the Black Sea instead.
|Wasn't finished yet :(|
There were about eight teachers from my group staying at our hostel during our time there so we tried to do a variety of things so that we could experience Batumi properly. One night four of us went to a dinner that was supposed to feature a jazz ensemble and quartet playing classical Georgian music but instead we were treated to what seemed like Georgian karaoke featuring singers from the large dinner party in the restaurant (mind you, it was only us four and this huge dinner party/supra of 25ish at the restaurant the entire time). The music was super loud and mostly prerecorded but I thought the singers were pretty good and as garish as the whole thing sounded it was cool to hear some traditional Georgian singing (which is something that Georgians are known for, someone from almost every family can sing or play these traditional songs). Like a variety of things we’ve experienced already in Georgia it wasn’t what we were expecting but it was definitely something to talk about later.
The next day my fellow teachers Kathleen, Kelsey and I went to the Batumi Botanical Gardens. They are located on a hill next to the Black Sea and while we were getting a good leg workout in climbing the many hills I got some awesome pictures and views of the Black Sea! They had plants from all over the world and it was neat to think that they can all grow successfully in this climate even if they are from places like Nepal or South America.
|One of the views of the Black Sea from the Botanical Gardens|
Other cool things we did as a group this week included trying to find a Stalin Museum that is apparently in Batumi according to a guidebook we had. So after wandering through a shopping district that sold mainly things to repair and build houses, we asked a Georgian man where we could possibly find this museum and he lead us to a locked gate with a littered yard in front of a small house. The only thing that would set this building apart as something associated with Joseph Stalin was a bust situated in the front yard; it was preserved so well that you could still see his famous mustache from the road. I thought it was really striking that an infamous ruler such as Stalin was still preserved in plain sight for anyone walking by to see, but I suppose he is technically from Georgia and certainly played an important role in the history of former Soviet Union countries. Since this visit turned out to be a bust (get it?) we went to the Batumi art museum, which while small in size, was cool to see some Georgian artwork.
|Joseph Stalin bust, mustache and all.|
So in the end Batumi was a great break for us English teachers who, after spending a few weeks in our villages, were craving some different scenery and a chance to speak English fluently with someone who can relate to the experiences we’re having in our villages. It’s definitely different than a city like Tbilisi but Batumi was able to show us more aspects of Georgia that we are still uncovering as we spend more time in this country. The people were still nice and hospitable and the food was just as good, but the city was more cosmopolitan than the quaint villages we’re calling home for the next few months. I’m back in Apeni now, but I’ve definitely got the travelling bug to see more of the beautiful country (except maybe not all by marshrutka) and I although I won’t have as much time to travel once school starts on September 17th, I’m looking forward to discovering more of Georgia’s beauty and hospitality on the weekends.
More adventures to come! Gaumarjos! (“Cheers” in Georgian!)