After hanging out in Kutaisi, we headed for the Black Sea coast and the city of Batumi. We had been in Georgia for two and a half weeks at this point, so there was plenty of familiarity. By this time, we could rattle off the names of foods to waiters, confidently navigate public transportation, and handle basic transactions like buying water and bananas from maghazias. We were really getting comfortable in Georgia and feeling pretty pleased with our self-sufficiency.
We found a cheap hotel room in a place that we were pretty sure was not a brothel, and after a few days we decided that it was mostly not a brothel (only a few guests seemed to be paying an hourly rate). There was always hot water, the air conditioning worked, the location was good and the price was right.
Batumi is a strange place. It has the laid back vibe of a resort town, with a lengthy boardwalk and big shiny ferris wheel to go along with it. Tall palm trees line both sides of the cobblestoned main bulvari and at night they are illuminated in hot pinks and electric greens. Fountains explode in synchronized exuberance to loud pop music and there is an abundance of public art in the form of modern sculptures. There are big name hotels like the Sheraton and the Radisson, and the latter’s all-glass top floor luxury bathrooms allow you to relieve yourself while enjoying a commanding view of the city.
Then there is the public image that Batumi is trying so hard to shake. Half the sidewalks are torn up from a massive city-wide public works project, providing opportunities to participate in some rugged urban hiking every other block or so. There’s a nearly empty mall that seems to be a product of the questionable “if you build it, they will come” business strategies that we’ve seen all over Georgia. The marshrutka station is a bustling anthill of vans and taxis, restaurants and money changers, beggar children and little old ladies squatting on stools in front of their tables of sunflower seeds and cheap cigarettes. The chaos is actually a little exhilarating if you’re not in a hurry and you know how to navigate it.
One of our favorite things to do was to go to the restaurant next to the port and watch the shipping containers being moved, and the fishermen dipping their poles into the sea and the kids doing cannonballs off the dock.
We never actually managed to do any swimming of our own. We took a bus to Sarpi, the border town with a cleaner and less crowded beach, and I braved swarms of (non-stinging) moon jellyfish and waded out up to my waist. In the end, their ability to slowly pulsate their pale gelatinous bodies and surround me wherever I was standing was just too creepy to bear.
We met with numerous friends-of-friends. We had a great time hanging out with Emily, Ariana, Denise, and Amy (some of Sean and McKinze’s fellow PCVs), who were responsible for introducing us to the aforementioned port restaurant, a hookah cafe, and a chill little place called Vinyl. It’s not too often that you can sip a brew on the sidewalk next to an Iranian consulate.
Chuck, a friend of our friend Crissa, met up with us at what he called “The Treehouse,” a breezy beachside cafe that didn’t seem to have an official name. Besides taking the only of picture we have of us in Batumi (thanks!), he gave us a list of great places to eat in Batumi, and we spent an evening hopping from place to place with him and some of his TLG friends. At one point, we ended up in a tiny basement club (smaller than Iowa City’s Yacht Club) that was filled with what we can only describe as lively “Batumi hipsters.” The staff kept the door locked and you had to request to be let out. Apparently this was done for security purposes. Let us hope there is never a fire.
At a restaurant one night, a group of Polish men on holiday stood and sung their national anthem, hands on hearts, before the football (soccer) match they came to watch, and sent a jug of wine to our table. One of the men came over and introduced himself and gave us buttons with crossed Polish and Georgian flags. He shook our hands and took our pictures and tried in vain to get our Facebook contact info. He was very charming, if a bit inebriated.
One evening we were negotiating with a taxi driver. Due to my limited language skills, “negotiating” is an incredibly sophisticated strategy that involves me acting surprised at their first price and then forcefully repeating the price I want until they cave. He rejected my counteroffer with a long-winded diatribe and I recognized only one word: benzini. I turned to Tony and told him that the driver says he cannot afford gasoline at my price and we turned to walk away. Another driver who was observing the exchange asked in amazement if I was Georgian. Even though I knew my “translation” was a lucky guess, it was a nice compliment.
Although we weren’t tired of Georgia, we began to feel the tug of the road again and decided it was time to get ourselves to Turkey. We had a final late night khachapuri on the evening before we left. We sat at a table next to the marshrutka station and tried to ignore the clouds of exhaust as we wondered how long it would be until we could devour slices of that salty, cheesy goodness again.