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Battered Batumi

Despite arriving at the airport and checking in with plenty of time to spare, I

Batumi's Medea and the Golden Fleece

almost missed the Batumi flight. When the boarding call didn’t show up when expected, I noticed a very delayed United flight to the U.S.was using the same gate, and figured we would also be delayed. I had forgotten that Istanbul airport tends to employ buses rather than jet ways, and that boarding closed 15 minutes before scheduled take-off. Fortunately, I checked in time, and just made it along two walkways and through a secondary screening onto the last bus. Ten minutes later I boarded a crowded plane – I think many passegers were going to Hopi in Turkey – they would be put on a bus back across the border.

Then I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with a beaming smile and a hearty “Welcome to Georgia” from the immigration officer. The taxi tout waiting beyond Customs was a more expected sight. This time I remembered to ask the ATM for an uneven number of lari (or GEL) and I had previously asked my prospective B&B how much to pay for the taxi, so I was prepared. I had to show the tout actual cash before we could agree on a price – but I have to say that the immigration officer turned out to be much more typical of Georgia.

After the Hotel Ritsa ignored my emails, and the Rcheuli Villa wanted 90

A downtown Batumi street

euro, I had picked the Dzveli Batumi, which was in the old town, and my driver had a really hard time reaching it. The town was installing water mains in already messed up roads, and walking, never mind driving, required extreme care. Mud and stones seemed the major components, puddles were pools, and the potholes could swallow a person.

Since it rained almost the entire time I stayed in Batumi, I had many opportunities to watch the roads turn to rivers and then back to roads. The main ones were somewhat better, but Lonely Planet’s claim that “strolling around the leafy, low-rise central streets is a real pleasure” is way off. It’s more like walking an obstacle course, with a twisted ankle or soaked feet as the booby prize. And off the main drag a torch is a real necessity after dark. Since many intersections had heavy-duty metal “bridges” spanning the first couple of feet between sidewalk and road, I can’t help feeling that the LP author may have read too many Tourist Information office brochures. I had this feeling several times in Georgia…

A "street bridge"

Despite my email confirming the reservation, my B&B didn’t seem to be expecting me, but took me up to a room anyway. The sheets, towels and TP arrived shortly afterwards. I had to make my own bed, but this seemed common in homestays and guesthouses in Georgia. I didn’t make it completely the first night, as the duvet cover was damp – I used my silk sleep sack instead. The room came with AC (needed to cut the humidity) and an attached bath, and only cost 30 euro with breakfast, so no complaints. Although the English-speaking owner wasn’t around much, one of the kids spoke some English. Like virtually all the Georgians I encountered, he was eager to help.

Again, the “lively cafes and restaurants” promised by LP were nowhere in evidence. Maybe they had closed for the season? I did find the Kafe Literaturuli a nice place to hang out, and the Privet iz Batuma served very good kachapuri – Georgia’s signature cheese pie – much better than it sounds. In general, Georgians seem to eat out in groups, often just men, so a solo female diner is a bit of rarity.

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