Yes, another Sunday, another ‘Spotlight’, and today we’re heading to Georgia and its second (or maybe third) city of Batumi. It sits on the eastern edge of the Black Sea, and has a population of 155,000 or so (so not particularly big). However, it is pretty much Georgia’s second city, and it is by far the biggest city over that side of Georgia.
What can I tell you about Batumi? Well, I’m not going to list a bunch of highlights, but it is a special city for me. Why? Well, I lived in a small village in Western Georgia for three months a few years back now teaching English. Batumi was the nearest city, and it was where I went to catch up with others in the teaching program and if I wanted to buy anything etc.
Not that it’s like a major city, really as far as Georgia is concerned, you’ve got Tbilisi the capital and that’s about it. There was a bit of criticism of the government at the time that they were too centralist – that all the money the country used on works went to Tbilisi. And looking at the roads etc it did feel like that was on the money.
But it doesn’t mean that Batumi doesn’t have its own charms, which it did. And the cafes were the highlight for me and others in the program who had found themselves based in quite remote locations. There were a couple we frequented, but basically anywhere with wifi was a goer for us!
A bigger group based in the Adjara state met once or twice which was nice and we shared a meal in a sort of open square. The apartment buildings were interestingly coloured, and despite the money being poured into Tbilisi, Batumi often had major works going on on its streets.
Batumi is a sea port and the Black Sea was quite impressive and beautiful, even if most of the time it was damned cold there. A walk along the ocean is certainly a recommended thing to do, one of the main sights on the shore is the ‘Alphabetic Tower’, which I didn’t climb but probably should have!
A bit up from the main hub you find the Batumi Art & Musical Centre. I visited twice. The first time was in the first few days in Georgia as part of the entire new teaching group which were undergoing a weeklong orientation, and we were bussed out to Batumi for the night. We saw Georgian dancing and music, and would you believe it – the President at the time (now lives in the Ukraine) was also in attendance!
I returned later that year, I can’t quite remember what the bill was but I think it was Opera. This was as a teacher from my school, a few had decided to go to the Opera and I was invited. The building itself featured a lot of glass and was quite striking.
Two other highlights of this city – one I bought the wedding rings for my wife and I there in a market. I brought the measurements to a vendor and chose the kind of gold I wanted, and collected them I think a couple of weeks later, so that is a particularly special memory for me. I had a lot of help from my host family for that and the price was really good!
One of the highlights of my time in Georgia was going to a Georgian wedding. People the whole time were just so friendly, but this was the most fun. The snow and sleet had taken hold of pretty much all of Adjara State that day, and Batumi had turned white. It was November, and December turned out to be better weather, and the floor of the venue was so wet someone could have really hurt themselves.
As far as I know, no-one did though! The tables were covered in food and wine – Georgia is famous for its wine, especially the home-made wine which every household seems to make regardless of whether it is a Muslim or Christian family. The dancing was raucous – the men love to dance in a way which I couldn’t help thinking looked like a peacock! It was a memorable night.
I also, as is my tradition, had a night in the hospital. Maybe it was two. Less fun. As was the transport out of Batumi – shared mini-buses to Tbilisi were a little hellish at times. I finally left the city on the overnight train – a much better option!
Today I see there are a number of sights recommended online, from the mosques to the Dolphinarium. Not to mention a cable car I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when I was there. Interesting! But Batumi holds different sort of memories for me. It had a bit of character, full of rewarding experiences. Do you have such a place? Please comment below! And… May the Journey Never End!