The Black Sea

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We wake up early, and get to the bus at 7:30 for a long long ride to Batumi. It was supposed to take five and a halfish hours, but our marshrutka driver was the most popular man on the planet and was on the phone for the entire drive. I was worried he would run out of battery, but luckily he brought a charger.

We arrive at the seaside city around at around 15:00, to a drizzly rain and tempestuous clouds. But there’s something strangely satisfying about weather like this at the beach. It seems out of the ordinary, like a warm day in the depths of winter. It’s oddly refreshing, and all I can do is enjoy.

Batumi is a weird city. I honestly didn’t have Batumi on my list at all. It looked like a terrible mix of Las Vegas and Monaco, and not appealing to anything I enjoy. But Georgia’s second largest city offered a lot that I wasn’t expecting, and I ended up enjoying it more than a lot of Western European cities. Yes, there are some casinos and Russian tourists filling the beach, but it’s got a certain weird charm to it.

Simply from an architectural point of view, Batumi is bizarre. Just five minutes from our hostel is the European square, featuring a giant art-deco statue of Medea holding a bright gold fleece, and some other strange assortments of buildings.

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I’m particularly fascinated by the architecture of the Batumi Tower.

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It towers over the landscape, and was apparently supposed to be a University but is now being renovated into a hotel and apartments. What’s that golden spinny thing? My hope is a Ferris wheel. What’s that giant gold Nike swoosh? No clue. My guess is maybe Jason’s and the Argonaut’s sail. I don’t know, it’s a weird building but I adore its weird post-modern craziness. It truly doesn’t give a shit, and it doesn’t care what you think about it.

We walk towards the tower, which is right by the coast and dip our toes in. Since it’s raining, the coast is completely free. This is rare, as apparently the coast is packed in summer months. The water’s a lot cleaner than I was expecting, and it’s perfectly warm.

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I just like sitting and listening to the sound of water playing with smooth stones.

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We wander through the city and find a little park cafe to sit for a drink. Suddenly a downpour begins, so we settle in and enjoy. Some Georgians make eye contact with me, and point to their beers. I smile and wave back and point at my coffee. One of them comes over, and starts rambling in Russian at me. I get the point that he wants to buy me a beer. He’s a little perplexed by the fact that I’m refusing, and says “No pay. No dollars. I buy.” Neither of us really want a beer, to which he can’t understand, so he goes back and starts talking with some other locals.

I’m programmed to be a little distrusting of random people offering me free beers, but perhaps I have to let that go. I kind of regret not getting that free beer, even though I wasn’t at all in the mood for one. But maybe adventures would have ensued. Georgia is a place where one can trust strangers. Not once have I felt in danger, or in jeopardy (other than the intense marshrutka rides), nor have I felt that I would be subjected to pickpocketing or robbery. People are happy and honest here, much more so than a lot of other places. It certainly is giving me some faith in humanity to travel through here.

But we continue drinking our coffees and listening to the rain. I have to run to the bathroom and find this in the doorway.

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The bathroom attendant babushka had a mound of kittens. Every bathroom should have a mound of kittens.

As we arrive late, we start to get a bit tired and make a hunt for some food. Dinner is much more affordable here, and we find a nice Georgian place with great prices, good food, and huge portions. It’s in the main square, and they’ve put together a little live band. They’re playing some legitimate Georgian folk music, with a lot of instrumental noise, clapping, and loud chanting as vocals. A guy is playing a drum with subdivision rhythms reminiscent of an Indian tabla. Another is playing a string instrument looking like the crossover of a Russian balalaika and a Turkish saz. A guy with a cool hat is on the accordion, and everyone else is chanting and clapping.

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A guy at the front row keeps getting up and dancing, and a waitress just randomly steps in to dance with him.

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They  do a circular dance with a lot of twirling and peacocking from the man, and it’s pretty cool to watch a guy do it in flip flops in the rain. When he gets tired, he just strolls back to his chair nonchalantly and gets back to eating his chicken barbecue. I wish more people could just randomly stand up and start dancing, because why not? It’s fun and looks good and everyone enjoys it. Screw it. It’s probably healthy to randomly dance in public every now and then.

We wander around some more, and look at a famous statue of Nina and Ali.

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The statues are constantly in motion, and every now and then pass through each other. The story goes, Ali is from Azerbaijan and Nina is from Georgia. Because of religious differences, never truly be together. So every night, they move around in circles and pass through each other but can never truly be one.

It’s weird, quirky art and statues like this that make Batumi worth the visit for me.

The next day, we plan on making a journey to the Botanic Gardens. They’re about a 20 minute bus ride outside the city, so we hop on the bus (which are just minivans with a ceiling handrail) and head out of town. When we get there, we discover that the fee for the garden is $8, when we had read on the internet that it was only $2-3. That perturbed us a bit, along with standing in line with a hoard of Russian tourists to even get into the park. So we bailed and headed to the coast which is conveniently right next to the gardens. Here, we ate sunflower seeds and watch a storm come rolling into Batumi.

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The coast is chill and quiet, maybe because it’s raining and no one wants to be on the beach. Or perhaps every tourist is in Russia watching the World Cup. Regardless, no one is on the beach. I notice how sweet people are with their children here. They smile a lot, and seem to be really loving. A dad sits in the water, smiling and trying to lure his little son in with him. But the waves are a bit too much, and the kid says “no sir”, but it’s still a cute moment to watch. There was an Azerbaijani baby on the train from Baku that would not stop crying, but other than that Georgian kids have been really well behaved. On our marshrutka ride to Mestia, a little girl about 6 years old sat on her babushka’s lap for the entire five and whatever hours. She was so relaxed and just napped in her babushka’s heavy field working arms. I’m not sure what goes on behind the scenes to raise these good kids, but I’m glad their so relaxed and well behaved. I also don’t know if you’re born just being a cool baby, or if your raised to be one. Perhaps being cool is in your DNA a little bit? An evolutionary mechanism to pick up chicks and pass on the coolness genes? I guess cool people usually make cool babies, so that theory could hold up. But I digress.

We sit for a while and head back into town, and I want to do something a little bit American. I want to go to McDonald’s.

But this isn’t your ordinary McDonald’s.

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It’s the coolest McDonald’s in the world. Part of the building is a living wall with outdoor eating, and it’s really well designed inside and out. Why is it here? Great question, but it’s just another weird piece of architecture to add to the Batumi landscape. We wander more, finding another great cheap restaurant for dinner and head into a craft beer place for a decently cheap pint of good local beer. Beer, in general, is really good here, and we honestly haven’t had wine. Aside from a bottle of wine our host in Kutaisi gave us from his vineyard, we haven’t had a single drop of wine from the country that invented it. That’s a little bit crazy, and I kind of regret that. But it’s just a reason to come back!

We wake up to our last day in Georgia. It’s a bit bittersweet, as we’ve been out for nearly two and a half weeks in Georgia. But the experience has been really memorable. I always wonder what I’ll take away from a trip, and this trip is no different. The biggest thing I wish to take away is to just be a more hospitable and welcoming person, a bit more Georgian in life. Smile at more strangers, say bless you when someone sneezes, held old babushkas carry their giant bags of potatoes. Simple things like this go a long way to make someone’s day great, and I can easily incorporate more of it into my life. Georgian’s go above and beyond, and living in Denmark for three years has hardened me in a lot of ways. I’ve grown a lot more secluded than usual, and I don’t necessarily open up as much as I do in other environments. When I move back to Denmark next January, I hope I’ll be able to open up a bit more and bring a bit of warmth to the Arctic north.

Our flight to Budapest is at 5:50 am from Kutaisi, and we’re still in Batumi. Luckily, there’s a company that drives directly to the airport at 1 am for $6. We arrive at the bus stop, and sit and wait for passengers to show up. There’s one minibus with a nice young driver and a lot of people. The driver gets on the phone and calls people for about 20 minutes. The website said “don’t worry, we’ll have space for you!” so I guess that’s what he’s doing. He gets off the phone and ten minutes later a low riding Mitsubishi with a cracked windshield and neon hood lights vrooms up behind the minivan. Guess that’s our ride.

The next two hours pass in a haze. I was sitting in the front of a lunatic Mitsubishi driver who wanted to go back to bed. It was probably just the minibus drivers friend, who could use a couple extra lari. So he was flying. Luckily, I was dead tired. It’s the only time in my life I’ve almost felt so tired that I was drugged. I physically couldn’t keep my eyes open, and every time I would I would nod my head a couple times and then pass out again. It made the ride a lot more bearable. Eventually, we arrive in one piece in good time at the Kutaisi airport. I love that convenience, something like that would never operate in Denmark. If I want to fly from Billund, the biggest airport in mainland Denmark, it takes me about 4 hours to get there from Aalborg. That’s a train and a bus. If I drove, it would take about 2. It also costs me about $30/40, and the flights leave early in the morning so you have to leave equally early. It makes no sense that’s there’s no minibus driving there. Here, a guy has a minivan and a friend in a Mitsubishi, drinks a cup of coffee, and makes a decent amount of money by Georgian standards.

It’s early, and we have to wait for security to open. It eventually does, and we wait in one of the tiniest airports I’ve been in. But they’ve designed big leather beds in the dark shadows of the corners, with fake grass outlining the beds. So about ten people can snuggle up on it, and I take a quick nap before getting on the flight. For me, this is just another flight of many. But for Ivana, we’re soon going home. So this is a moment of passing vacation, and soon to be family craziness. We sleep our way through the flight to Budapest, and awake back in the ‘civilization’ of Central Europe.

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