Batumi on the Black Sea

 Batumi/Gonio Fortress/Batumi Botanical Gardens

It’s a quick run down to the Georgian/Turkish border.

And…is it a bad omen that the road sign says “Good Luck” (in English no less!) as you are leaving the country?  It does give pause for thought.

The drive through the Batumi neighborhoods on the way down was a bit unsettling as it is very depressing to see the

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grim and gray concrete tenement style housing.  The crazy thing is watching brand new obviously more upscale condos, hotels and apartment housing going in right next to the soviet housing.  It begs the question..”who will buy in that neighborhood?”  And do the city fathers plan on leaving the concrete tenements there after completing the new skyscrapers??? One has to wonder…..

 

The short ride to the Turkish border is another bit of a time-warp.  Many transport trucks are stationed all along the highway, parked in vacant lots, stacked up at the border.  It is obviously a very busy entry and exit portal.  And apparently many Turks travel across the border into Batumi for the casinos.

After a few quick photos we backtrack to the ancient “Gonio Fortress” DSCN5702 which was built by the Romans in 90 BC and is Georgia’s oldest fortress.  The fortress was, for a while, being actively excavated but funds ran out and excavations were halted.  However there is a small museum at the site and a short walk-through produced some interesting facts.  One very significant belief is that the apostle Matthew is buried at the fortress.   However, to date, no additional excavations have been allowed to possibly verify this thought.

We return to Batumi for lunch overlooking the Black Sea and then a short visit to the Botanical Gardens is in order.  These gardens are unique throughout the former Soviet Union as they were designed and created by botanist Andrey Krasnov(1862-1914) who traveled the world studying  multitude of flora.  He decided after careful consideration that this part of the Black Sea coast would be an ideal place for a botanical garden.

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Thus he began the collection of trees and plants from all over the world. It consumes 111 hectares(275 acres) and supports nine specific floral growth regions – Caucasian humid subtropics, East Asia, New Zealand, South America, the Himalayas, Mexico, Australia, and the Mediterranean. You can travel the hillsides of the gardens and follow the various zones from subtropical to alpine flora.    It is springtime and there are multitudes of blooming plants and trees all around seeming to be flourish quite well here on this “Green Cape”.

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Unfortunately it is time to go…we have another long drive today back to Tbilisi and we will be on the road well into the late evening.

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From Mountains Sublime to the Ridiculous (well, sort of)

DSCN5231 Mestia / Batumi  

We arrived into Mestia before dark and were treated to blue skies and a rising “almost” full moon.  Such a nice change of atmosphere as opposed to “wearing” the rain.  The air is crisp and fresh and clear. Night is coming on and the temperature is dropping.  It’s a most spectacular setting with this ancient village nestled deep in a valley below the towering Caucasus Mountains.

This sight would rival any mountain village in Europe or the States.  Take a look at the header on my blog page and you will see a panorama of these mountains. Keep in mind that Russia (Chechnya and  Dagestan) are just over the mountains.  Might want to Google Earth to get your bearings.  This part of our glorious planet is still fairly untouched by the civilized hand, rugged and wild.

DSCN5205It’s an early morning(amidst errant snowflakes) and we’re headed into the village to check out one of the unique defensive towers…called “Svan Towers”.  Meeting up with one of the locals whose family has lived in these towers for generations, the lady is happy to give us a tour of the old(primitive) living quarters and a chance to climb up into the tower.

These towers are synonymous with this region of the country known as “Svanetia”. During the Middle Ages these towers were used for protection as well as communication.  They could signal their neighbors in the valley with fires lit atop the towers. As soon as the next one saw the signal then they would light their fires and the signal would be passed from tower to tower thereby warning/alerting the entire community of impending danger.  Each of these towers is exactly the same style and construction, same dimensions and height.  They each had 4-5 “floors” made of wood and windows at the top for viewing the surrounding valley.

The living quarters could hold upwards of 25 family members in a split-level accommodation of

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cows on the bottom, people on top.

Now I know the Swiss built their houses with a “barn” underneath and somehow that seemed to make sense…but this arrangement seems a bit too personal..no such thing as “personal space” back then.  Those were rough times and any bit of warmth surely helped.

Survival was far more important than having a

DSCN2120stylish interior.  When you consider the hardships these people endured it certainly explains how simple their existence was.

So now for a climb up into the tower.  We are lucky as most towers are not “climbable” since the wooden floors have long since rotted away, but our host has maintained the floors in her tower so we venture forth.

Access is by a very steep set of stairs to a small platform at the door…mind your head OUCH! or you are likely to come away with a nasty knot on top!

Once thru the opening it’s another steep ladder/staircase up to the next level.  There’s not much space in here and you immediately are faced with yet another ladder…too much for me.  I’m DSCN2141sharp…I get the idea with just two levels.

Once I’m down and out…. we’re off for a long day’s ride to the Black Sea resort town of Batumi.  It’s about 267km(166 miles) and about 5.5 hrs away.  The roads are definitely not super highways so 166 miles is a little “longer” than what we are used to back  home.

The trade-off is a lot of interesting sights and scenery along the way including dodging those cows and pigs again.  Along the way a quick stop for lunch at a tiny roadside “cafe”… with tables all set and ready for us….the staples DSCN2185
appear…tomatoes and cucumbers, khachapuri cheese pie and local beer. The cafe overlooked the northern end of the Enguri Reservoir. Everything is delicious and what’s better it was a “small” meal and quick to help us on our way.  I must confess….all this going and going and going had my batteries on low and a recharge was needed…so, I slept for a few miles. Hey, sometimes you just “gotta” do that.

As we made our way down to the coast the topography of the land started to morph into the typical coastal lowlands…more waterways and streams heading to the sea.  Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate therefore you’ll find no luminous reports of sunny shores and waves crashing on the shoreline.

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It was a grey afternoon and that translated to a fairly monotone landscape.  So, when we saw the skyline of Batumi looming on the horizon it was a bit surreal.

Government entities  and private investors are hard at work trying to transform a glum “soviet-style” cement city into possibly….

“Las Vegas Casinos? or maybe

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Disney World?     Or…?  Well, I’m not quite sure…suffice to say its an amalgamation of many imaginations.

Ready….Set….I don’t think so….GO!

I must confess…it’s been awhile since I have traveled internationally.  Frequent travelers can relate to the almost packed bags standing ready at the call…with a separate set of toiletries and travel clothes that with only a few minor adjustments would suffice for just about anywhere in the world.  Something that I used to do almost every month and never got tired of… has now become a major event.  I feel like this is an entirely new experience.  So much has changed in just a few years.  This upcoming whirlwind tour to the Republic of Georgia has the adrenaline pumping and the questions flying! In order to get ready…maybe a little more background info….

This region of the world has so many legends and tales of antiquity that it’s more like reading a book of ancient explorers.  The countries surrounding Georgia (Eurasia) roll off your tongue like a litany of legends and fairy tales… Azerbaijan,  Armenia, Turkey, Russia….each one evoking visions of storybook characters with exotic sights and scenery.

Jason and the Argonauts, the Odyssey,  and the ancient Kingdom of Colchis heavily intertwined with the Ancient Greek gods long about the Late Bronze Age (15th to 8th century BC) which saw the development of the significant skill in smelting and casting of metals.  This began long before the skill was mastered in Europe.  This area is seriously OLD!

This is where Eastern Europe meets Western Asia and it is a narrow band of territory just slightly larger than the state of West Virginia.  The entire country has only about 4.6 million people.  Our state of South Carolina has 4.6 million inhabitants all by itself!

So, I am almost set….ah but not quite!  The TO DO list has a few more items to be crossed off and then…it’s out the door!

There is such a thrill of adventure in seeking out “foreign” soil, meeting new people and learning of they storied history and struggles.

Do we EVER get it right?

Gentlemen need not worry…Ladies..this is all too familiar for you.  How many times do you ask yourself…

 “What shall I pack for this trip?”  Probably that little sentence jumps to mind every time you get ready to take a trip, right?  Even the smallest little junket requires some wardrobe thoughts.  Some could be more difficult like combining tropic sports with gala banquets…or a warm weather/cool weather destination…even the static business trip demands wardrobe considerations.

So, when one plans to explore an entirely new part of the world…we first ask people that have been there…”What kind of clothing is appropriate?”  Then our next step is to head to the internet to “Google” the destination and see what folks “look like” in pictures…and of course the next most important step is to find out what the WEATHER is going to be.

Now I have not stopped to count the multitude of weather sites on the internet….but invariably no matter how many sites you visit to check out the weather for the upcoming trip, each site will give a different weather “prediction”.  Possibly it will show a string of “warm days” followed, of course, a string of “chilly days”.  Therefore, it is simply a matter of counting out the days until the trip with this formula of warm and chilly days to figure out what the temps will be when you arrive at the destination.  Right?  Really?  If it were only that simple!

I have bounced between 3 or 4 relatively “reliable” weather sites, have asked the “locals” what to expect…and I am still in a tizzy as to what to pack!  Why is this so difficult?

It would probably be equally effective to just throw darts at a clothing chart. Or blindly grab anything and everything in the closet and toss it in the bag.

Travel is my profession and I still don’t get it right!  Therefore, once again, my suitcase will be stuffed with those “just in case” items that will probably never see the light of day and I will manage just fine with a few choice basics……

….wishing once again that I had not brought all this junk along!

Georgian Milestones…..Did you know?

In this world of “Guinness World Records”  it seems that everyone, everyplace and everything must be a historical milestone.  History measured in firsts, biggest, highest, oldest….etc.  Well, Georgia has it’s fair share of amazing historical “Firsts, highest, oldest and foremosts” to joint the ranks of important “facts” of our world.   Let me name a few –

  • A 1.7-million-year-old skull(really, really old) found during Dmanisi archaeological excavations is the oldest evidence of human habitation in Europe. It proves that there is almost one-million-year gap between Dmanisi and any European early-human site, making Georgia the homeland of the FIRST European.

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  • Legendary Jason and the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece – an ancient Greek myth based in Georgia. Numerous gold artifacts have been found in the area and Tim Severin’s recreated voyage of 1984 proved that the story of

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    the Golden Fleece could easily be true, especially considering Georgia’s centuries-old tradition of getting gold particles from

    flowing mountain rivers with the help of the fleece.

  • Grapevines have been cultivated in the fertile valleys of Georgia for about  8000 years. With over 500 varieties of endemic grapes and the world’s first cultivated grapevines, the traditions of viticulture are entwined with the country’s national identity. It is also believed that the word “wine” is of Georgian origin (“gvino” in Georgian).  Gives new meaning to “aged” wines.

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    Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

    UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Georgia boast multiple sites

Ancient Capital of Georgia – Mtskheta Svetitskhoveli Cathedral – 11th century
Jvari Church – 6th century
The Town of Kutaisi – Gelati Monastery – 12th century
Bagrati Cathedral – 11th century
Upper Svaneti – Medieval Watchtowers
Ancient Christian Country

  • The Caucasus Mountains stretch for about 1200km between the Black and the Caspian seas – a natural boundary between Europe and Asia with summits over 5000m, including Mt. Elbrus (5642m) – the highest in Europe.
  • At 2200m Ushguli is the highest settlement in Europe. The medieval Svanetian watchtowers of Ushguli is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is one of the largest in Europe and the first national park in the Caucasus.

So many notable sites encourages a traveler to spend considerable time just on the historical highlights…yet there is much more to discover in this small country.