12 May 2013

Batumi to Tblisil

(I never wrote anything about Georgia. This is the as is draft of what I started to write.)

Days 7-10, 1-4 May

Day 7 started with with the first of the border crossings, Turkey to Georgia. We all got through very quickly (under 30 minutes), but then had to wait another 1.5 ish hours for the truck to get through - Daisy draws attention, so everyone wants a look (mostly just so they can get a better look). That and there's always paperwork. Endless bloody paperwork.

As we crossed the border we found our local guide, Zaza. Or more accurately - he found us; we stand out.
Zaza was with us from border to border and made everything so much easier - having someone who knows the lie of the land, the language, the customs and how (and where) to get things done made our time in country far more about experiencing what was there as a lot of the local logistics had already been taken care of. If nothing else thanks to him Tony & I were able to sort out our visas for Azerbaijan quickly and easily.

Thinking back on the land crossings I did in Africa (the European ones don't count) and none of them were like the Turkey/Georgia border - a real sea of humanity, with endless people watching. The car with a fridge hanging out the back of it, masses of people with their luggage waiting for their coach to get through Customs, taxis and cars everywhere - all dropping off and collecting people, money changers all offering exactly the same rate, small shops which seemed to mostly just sell alcohol, and for some reason - a casino. Great for people watching.

There were also beggars, which reminded me (rightly or wrongly) of the "professional" child beggars in London. One, a girl aged about 5, latched on to Olly's leg and did the full works to try and get money from him - after we managed to almost literally pry her from him she went another way and I saw her a few minutes later trying it again with a different group of tourists - it worked that time. Her ability to turn on/off a range of emotions to try and get what she wants (needs?) at that age is surprising.
She had what I took to be an older sister (about 10-11) and what I'd guess was her mother, who had a babe in arms too, both of which were begging. I saw them later in Batumi around the hotel, which for better or worse makes me think of the London "professional" beggars. (note to self: find a better way of describing a "professional" beggar.)

The border cross also gave us the first taste of Georgian food - a cheesy bread, something which would turn up every day. It also turned up later that day over dinner, which was a sampling of traditional Georgian food - the food we'd eat almost exclusively for the whole time in Georgia (the exception being camping, where we had some much needed vegetarian food - the Georgians really like pork).
We ate (far too much) very food for our entire time in Georgia.

The morning of Day 8 (2 May) was spent sorting the visa for Azerbaijan (see other blog post) and then wandering the streets of Batumi. The few hours of walking around radically changed my view of the town.
The evening before Kim, Rachel and I had gone for a quick walk, which ended up along the sea front, which showed Batumi as a modern town with hints of Soviet, something reinforced by the walk to/from dinner (a place called The Ship) - a modern, well sculpted, park and fairly prosperous looking streets.
I took and blogged a few pictures with my phone, but as one of the pictures didn't upload properly I deleted the post and added that to my "sort it later" list. I still haven't got around to reuploading them and probably won't until I can extract pictures from my camera, within which is a better sample of the town.

From the entrance to the hotel you could see a market, but only once we'd explored it (one small street) and the surrounds (many streets) did we (me, Tony and Brian) get a better (more accurate?) feel of the place.
The market itself was something Brian described as "Africa meets Stalin" and I can see what he means - small stalls selling a small amount of produce, it felt like they were scratching a living. To add to this, the market was next to a new shopping centre & gym. The surrounding buildings had a distinctly soviet feel to them, where the further away from the sea front we went the more soviet the buildings looked & felt.
The surrounding shops were all very local, typically specialist, shops, the housing was soviet style low-rise blocks, laundry hanging everywhere.

The night should have been spent at a homestay and technically was - it is just that they've invested the money made from providing homestays and invested it in their home (a great thing) and made it a small hotel - not exactly a homestay, although obviously there are no complaints about people doing whatever they can to improve their lives - it is what we all strive for in our own ways.

Day 9. 3 May 2013.
This is being written on Day 16, even if it is posted later....

The day started with what was to become a staple of Georgia, a visit to a monastery.
In my 8 days in Georgia I have probably visited more churches and monasteries than I have in the previous 8+ years - it is interesting to look around them, especially as I was in a Russian Orthodox country during their Easter (no chocolate bunnies to be be seen anywhere), especially given that their faith is engrained in to the everyday.