So after five days of travelling through the heart of Turkey, we have now moved into uncharted terrain. A country from which we had no idea what to expect, let alone prepare for. We had now dipped our toes into the Caucasus region, which consists of three countries – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. It costs £100 for a British national to get a visa for the former, and the middle one is impossible to visit from Turkey due to deep-rooted historical differences and fighting. Thus, we went for the closest, and easiest, country for us to visit from Turkey. Hello Georgia! The country…not the state.
Gladys Knight took the Midnight Train to Georgia. We took the midday bus. Not quite the same. A few quick bits of information to help you understand more about this former Soviet state that is similar in size to Ireland. Georgian is the official and most used language – and one of the most unusual I have ever seen – yet Russian is commonly spoken, in spite of Russians themselves not being particularly popular here after the short war between the two countries in 2008 over the potential breakaway of two Georgian regions. It has a population of 4.7 million, and the capital is Tbilisi. One other thing that we didn’t realise – there is a two hour time difference between the Turkish and Georgian sides of the border crossing at Sarp. Our fears that the Sun would set at 4pm were thus soon eradicated.
The west coast of Georgia sits along the Black Sea, and it was a coastal town where we decided to decamp for the evening. We stopped in a place described as ‘Georgia’s summer party capital’. Clearly arriving in winter wasn’t going to provide us with the experience that many Georgians, and indeed foreigners, receive when visiting Batumi. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good, but I can imagine that this place is reverberating with positivity and happiness in the summer months, when the subtropical climate is at its warmest.
In spite of the lack of people, we were pleasantly surprised by Batumi. What struck us more than anything was the atmosphere of the town. From the cobbled streets and dimmed, old-fashioned street lamps, to the French balconies and vines crawling up the walls of old, crooked houses, Batumi seemed to possess a strange yet justifiable cross of an old, classical European city and a town from Victorian England. I could visualise Sherlock Holmes walking down these streets in the dead of night, the ambience merely adding to the aura of the place.
The city possesses some more striking historical landmarks such as old churches which are magnificently illuminated at night, and an evening stroll through the quiet lanes of the town led us to some of these wonderful buildings.
This nostalgic air is arguably under threat, however, from some of the new developments rising rapidly in order to earn and cement Batumi’s place as a summer hotspot. Spectacular modern landmarks, from the large statue of Medea unveiled in 2007 to the unique and at this moment incomplete ‘Alphabet Tower’ are beginning to dominate Batumi’s low skyline. Whilst the fusion between old and new seems to work right now, it would be a shame to see Batumi’s more traditional design disappear under the shadow of grand hotels and casinos, like in so many modern cities.
One thing we had researched before arriving in Georgia’s ‘second city’ was the food eaten by the locals. We are already accustomed to drinking their relatively sweet red wine, and needed some food to accompany. Georgians are fiercely proud of their rather heavy dishes, and the national dish is called khachapuri. This is a thick flatbread curled up at the sides to create a crust, which then has a layer of cheese in the middle. The Batumi take on this staple dish also contains an egg, and is known as ajaruli khachapuri. It is delicious!
During our time in Batum we also savoured khinkali, which are meat-filled dumplings that you hold at the apex and eat around it, and ojhakuri, which consists of meat, potatoes, onions and garlic. It’s fair to say that you wouldn’t come to Georgia to lose weight. Heavy, hearty fare.
The relaxed air of Batumi, from its gentle dancing water fountains to the languid waves lapping the dark, stony beaches, was a pleasant surprise for us. Even a child letting off a firecracker inches in front of us cannot taint the positive feeling we have towards this town. It is one which will grow in international consciousness as the tourism industry continues to develop, and has been a very encouraging start to our travels through Georgia.
Love you all