Batumi wasn’t in my initial rough plan. I wanted to spend some quality time in Tbilisi and surrounding area and then leave enough time to go all the way to Svaneti, the highest habitat in the world.
Batumi is a casino and resort town, once an important port by the Black Sea. The city has risen to be the 2nd biggest city in the country in the last few year, surpassing old capital Kutaisi. I heard Batumi was lively and the ocean breath will ease the humidity and heat in the midst of summer. So still with much reluctance, I took the very modern train from Tbilisi to Batumi and arrived in a place that looked and felt like Vung Tau of Vietnam 5 hours later. Big crowded city filled with Russian tourists, incomplete road works, millions ongoing hotels and casino projects, messy traffic and that smell, the particular smell when you are so closed to the sea yet have so much concrete in your centre. It is the mix of salty wind and sun-dried fresh fish, of vehicle fumes and people, of sweat and food. I wasn’t sure I liked what I saw that much.
I got to my airbnb with not much difficulty with the help of a taxi driver. The apartment block is just next to the coming Courtyard Marriott hotel, the next tallest building in Batumi. By the time I figured out the location of the lift, I saw a big crowd cramming in front of the lift doors. Apparently they were broken. So I took the stair to the 3rd floor (thank god! It’d be hell if it’s on the 6th floor like in Tbilisi!). My host’s cleaner’s husband was waiting for me at the small studio with a glimpse of Black Sea from a far. I would be here for 2 nights, with a slight regret.
I rushed back to the cable car station to catch the 5pm walking tour (similar to the one I took in Tbilisi). There were a much smaller group and we took a stroll around the city centre. The city centre consisted of a number of areas based on the ethnicity of the residents – the Turkish town, the Armenian town, The European town. You know you can smell a Turkish town! The same smell I was overwhelmed with in Istanbul a few years back. Rows and rows of kebabs and Turkish grilled sausages, men with big bellies and little curly hairs, ladies with their stern faces and aprons arounds their waists. We visited an old bath house where the renovation was on-going, like any part of this town. We walked pass the Italian square where you could see incredible mosaic works from Venice, a beautiful astronomical clock and lines of average but fancy Italian restaurant are around.
Then here it is the open secret of this city – the European square where European style building lined up the street and surrounded a spacious bazaar. Our tour guide told us most of these building are only occupied on the first floor, the 2nd and 3rd floor are all vacant and no-one would use them. The youngster here are illegally using some of the empty buildings are underground party at night. So the story goes … During his reign, Mikheil Sakashvili (Misha) gathered his comrades and collected ideas from all the great nations with a fantasy to build an European city in Batumi. So he built this square and all the building arounds. He also built a massive skyscraper for the Technology Institute. When he lost power, the communism mindset of Georgians didn’t want to associate with him anymore, so they abandoned his buildings. I saw Raffles Hotel, The Metropole Hanoi Legend, The Shangri-la in those beautiful building. Misha even got closed to Donald Trump and guess what, there is a Trump Tower in the water front, closest to the statue of Ali and Nino (of which I wasn’t so impressed). Misha started the building with Trump intention to invest in Batumi. They stopped it when he went on exile, then started off again in god speed when Trump ran for office 2 years ago. The building is completed but unfortunately Trump, after his inauguration, wanted nothing to do with Georgia. So the government sold the building to a hotel group, who underestimated the cost of turning it into a hotel. Years after years, it’s currently the tallest building in Batumi and it is empty
We also passed the national theatre which is under renovation (yes the whole city is under renovation!) and was introduced to the Neptune Fountain – an Italian-inspired fountain (with many goddesses around the feet of Neptune, they all holding out their full breasts and water would come out of their tits. I have seen this before at a small drinking fountain in Amalfi. Misha built this. He was known for his love for lust.
The statue of Ilia Chavchavadze, a writer and a political figure in a noble family was also nearby. He was known to flag the national movement in late 19th century and Misha has used his figure to spearhead the rose revolution in 2003, which led to his presidential election the year after.
At the end of the tour we got to try something i really like – Georgian “coca cola”. Its flavoured soda water. Georgian put syrup of different flavour in their sweet soda and it reminded me of the sparkling water I love as a kid in Vietnam. It’s sweet and gasy, but not too much. When i first drank the real sparkling water I thought it’s yuck! the shop we got our soda has been in business since the first day of this beverage. By now you can guess whose idea that led to this national drink. Of course, Misha!
I woke up the next day bracing myself to check out the city myself so I walked along the beach to the famous breakfast place for a nice pancake plate. Then the fish market, which including me walking on an under construction bridge and sidewalk. Odd! The market was small and full of fish :)). I got a lift back to the city centre on my way back. I decided to myself people of Georgia is the main attraction in Batumi, so lovely. Then I head to the beach, THE BEACH! it’s my kind of beach, full of round pebbles. It’s like having a gentle massage without having it. The water looked rather uninvitingly black, even when the sun was out. An unapologetic color of black!
At the end, I was glad my time in Batumi was over. It’s towards the end of my trip so my physical tiredness and certainly some emotional matters arisen didn’t make a high note for me to leave Batumi.
But would I come back to Batumi?
I doubt so.