In Telavi I met three young British backpackers who had arrived in Batumi by train from Armenia, and headed out again just 18 hours later. They hadn’t found the lively bar scene they expected, either. I lasted my full three nights, and I did find things to do despite the rain – sometimes a ferocious downpour, sometimes just a drizzle. (After all, you can’t have a temperate rain forest without rain.)
I checked out the beach a couple of times, and I must say, the North Sea rather than the Black Sea came to mind, especially with beach-goers sitting, English-fashion, fully clothed. I did stop by to watch the musical fountains near the beach my last night, and very pretty they were. In general, the Georgians seem to go in for elaborate fountains – artificial use of all that rain – while turning their backs on natural waterways.
I particularly wanted to see the Romano-Byzantine fort 11 kms south of
Batumi at Gonio. The site is completely enclosed by walls and towers, although I’m not competent to judge how much was Roman and how much Byzantine. Since I hadn’t taken my hiking stick I did not make it up the treacherous-looking steps at the corners. Regrettably, the “luscious gardens” were seriously overgrown, although the fruit trees were bearing.
The Turkish border, just 6kms further south, was, of course, a front line during the Cold War. Now its open, and the road running between the fort and the sea is once again an important commercial artery, although the area – sea to the west, forested mountains rising steeply to the east, feels very remote.
My second morning the sun suddenly appeared, so I set off to visit the Botanical Gardens to the north. After I out-distanced the bus group that arrived at the same time, I had the place pretty much to myself, aside from some sickle-wielding gardeners cleaning up the verges.
And it is a big place – a long and narrow 27 acres (11 hectares) – with seven different ecozones, ranging from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas. There are good views of the sea, quite far below in places, and some formal flower plantings. The Sea Park at the far end, on the day I visited, would have been more aptly named a water park, as it was soggy at best. I had just reached that point, standing in the rather forlorn and graffitti-ridden sea overlook (which also overlooks the railway line) when the rain started up again.
I also visited a couple of museums, both suffering from an air of neglect – someone had to be tracked down to issue me a ticket – and with old-school displays. The artifacts at the Batumi Archaeology Museum (NOT listed in LP) were, however, impressively old, starting back in the Mesolithic. The area is probably most famous for the Colchian civilization – think Jason, Medea and the Golden Fleece. More glass beads than gold on display, though. The exhibition finished with the Greek and Roman periods.
The Adjara State Museum (Batumi is in the autonomous republic of Adjara, and has nice government buildings to prove it) on the other hand, is completely missable – aside, perhaps, from some petrified wood. Dusty old rocks, hideous, huge china vases, and lots of stuffed animals, fish and birds in glass cases.