Weekend in Batumi -- Resort on the Black Sea
On Friday after work five of us headed to the train station to go to Batumi, a small resort city on the Black Sea about 300 miles west of Tbilisi. The train had large sleeping compartments with two beds in each. Since the rest of our group consisted of two married couples I was the odd one out and bought an extra ticket for 15 lari ($7.50) to have a compartment to myself. We had been warned that there was no restaurant on the train so one of the couples got their hotel to pack fine lunches for us. At each of the frequent stops people would get on the train to sell soda ("Lemonati"), mineral water and cheese pastry. We had our box lunches, admired the view (it stays light until almost 10:00) and went to bed.
At 6:00 the attendant for our car woke us up to announce that we were almost to Batumi. Because of construction the train stopped five miles short of the city center so we took taxis to our hotel. We arrived and knocked on the door. The manager (who spoke no English) explained that our rooms were not ready yet but that we should have some breakfast then go explore a bit of Batumi before settling into our rooms. Then Victor Lortkipanidze, a Georgian friend of mine from the Parliament Budget Office arrived. (His home is in Batumi so he leaves Tbilisi on as many week-ends as he can.) He apologized for not meeting us at the train station and said that he would show us Batumi.
But first we had to have breakfast. It was a typical Georgian breakfast, though you never know exactly what you will get. Bread with butter (at other meals you don't get butter with your bread), cheese, salami, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, Turkish coffee and tea.
We left the hotel and walked a block and a half to a big park on the Black Sea called the promenade. The beach had little sand, mostly small round stones. In the park were many monuments and food concessions. Also lots of flowers. Everything was well cared for. We walked past the edge of the park to an odd brick structure. It was at least 100 yards long, open on one side, two stories high, with a cement floor divided into rooms twenty or thirty feet across. I wouldn't have guessed that it was to be a super market! When it is complete vendors will rent a table or a room and sell their goods there. Apparently it is sure to succeed because the President is a major stockholder in the enterprise.
(A short digression is in order. Batumi is in the Autonomous Republic of Adjaria within the Republic of Georgia. The Georgians and the Adjarans are still working out exactly what that means, but one thing we do know is that in Adjaria they have their own president Aslan Abashidze in addition to President Sheveradnadze. Abashidze has been president there since independence. Five years ago when the rest of Georgia was on the edge of anarchy and it wasn't safe to be out at night, Abashidze would not permit Batumi residents to put iron bars on their windows because that would imply that there was a crime problem. In Adjaria there was no street crime. Politicians and their friends may have stolen government assets, but it was perfectly safe to walk through the park at three o'clock in the morning!)
We walked past the port of Batumi and saw sacks of flour being unloaded from a boat. They used a crane to do the unloading, but the system seemed to be for people to put the flour sacks into a huge metal box that was open on one side, then the crane would lift up the box and dump all the sacks into a truck. We stopped at an outdoor cafe next to the port for some mineral water before returning to the hotel to settle into our rooms. Then we went with Victor and his daughter (an eye doctor) for an Adjaran lunch. All over Georgia they make wonderful cheese pastries and each region has its own specialties. The Adjaran variation is to take it out of the oven and crack an egg into the bowl shaped pastry, then bake it for a while until the egg is cooked like a soft poached egg. It is delicious but very filling.
Meanwhile Victor explained that his son in law had gone to buy us our return train tickets (you can't buy round trip tickets) and had been told that the train on Sunday was sold out. But we shouldn't worry, he had called the Prime Minister's office and we would get our tickets. So after lunch I went with the son in law to the train ticket office where he presented the form from the prime minister's office. After about twenty minutes of discussion and dozens of telephone calls we got our tickets, though I still don't know exactly what was going on because Victor's daughter was the only one in the group who spoke English and she wasn't there. But I didn't complain!
Then we all got into two cars and Victor showed us around Batumi. All of the houses are bright white, which is quite a contrast with Tbilisi where almost everything is gray. We drove up to the top of a big hill in the center of the city with a fine view from a decaying concrete structure. Victor explained (though his daughter) that this had been a Young Communists structure and that there had been many events here.
Then we drove ten miles south to the Turkish border. One of our group made the mistake of taking a picture of a sign above the border station that said "Good bye". The guards jumped out and demanded that she give them her camera. It took quite a while to convince them that she had just taken a picture of the sign, but eventually they let her keep the camera. Just above the border were cliffs going down to the Black Sea where there was a beach and also big rock islands. People were fishing in boats and from the rock islands. They seemed to be catching dozens of very small fish, only three inches long. These are very popular when fried in bread crumbs.
Later we had a light dinner at one of the cafes in the park by the sea in downtown Batumi. It was a typical light dinner – tomatoes, cucumbers, shiskabob chicken and pork and fried potatoes. Then we sat in the park to watch the world go by. There were many people of all ages walking, bicycling and roller skating around. Before too long a thirteen year old boy came up to us and asked if we were from America. He explained (in very good English) that he attends a Turkish/Georgian school in Batumi where all of the instruction is done in English. Before long his mother and sister and several of their friends joined us and invited us for tea at their house the next day. There are many tourists in Batumi, but most of them are Georgians with a handful of Russians. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union there were thousands of Russian tourists, but now most of the hotels are filled with Abkhazian refugees.
The next morning Victor took us to the Batumi Botanical Garden. They are huge and impressive. They have thousands of acres, divided by continents. So in the North America "division" they have several Sequoia trees. They have banana trees and all sorts of plants that I wouldn't have guessed would grow in Georgia. We were given a guided tour by a professional botanist. I liked the way the Botanical Garden combined the museum/educational aspect with football fields and picnic areas. Lots of people were in the park even if they hadn't come to look at trees. They were just having a good time.
After touring the park, Victor directed us to a small pavilion where a huge lunch with lots of wine and toasts appeared. As usual for Georgia, it took two or three hours to have the lunch and make the appropriate responses to the toasts.
Then we left to go back downtown and say goodbye to the friends we had met the previous evening on the promenade by the Black Sea. They of course invited us in for lots of food. Grandmother showed us how to make the cheese pastry (Khachapuri).
Then we headed off to the train station for the overnight trip back to Tbilisi, arriving here just in time for a shower before going to work.