Archives for posts with tag: the Black Sea

My trip to Poti was a bit different from most of my other travels, because I was not there as a tourist, but on a business trip. As such, I didn’t have a lot of time to putter around and see the sights, but I did stay in a hotel and eat in some local restaurants. In the center of the city is a quite large and pretty-looking park, though I didn’t have time to visit and stroll around. In the park is the city’s cathedral, which was modeled after the Hagia Sophia–I’d be curious to see which iteration of the Hagia Sophia it was inspired by, so if you visit, let me know! We also drove past some buildings that were clearly once stunning, but are far past their prime. If you’re into “derelicte” photography, you might find some interesting fodder in Poti. Over all, the city was much nicer than I expected from the fact that it’s a major working port, and that everyone scoffs upon hearing that you’re visiting Poti. We had bad luck with the weather, and I’ve heard that gray days are not exactly uncommon there.

One of my co-workers arranged accommodation for us at the Hotel Prime Poti, and I was pleasantly surprised. The rooms were clean and comfortable, with good heat and hot water. I’d heard horror stories about hotels with bedbugs in Poti, so I inspected the room quite carefully and didn’t find anything suspicious. The breakfast wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was included. Rooms were 70 GEL/night.

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My only photo from Poti: The Hotel Prime…it’s better than it looks.

 

The food in Poti was not such a pleasant surprise, though. Knowing that Poti is in the Samegrelo region, famed for its cuisine, I had high hopes. I was sadly disappointed. Our first evening, we ate in the restaurant our local colleagues (and the Lonely Planet guide) recommended: Restaurant Aragvi. Lonely Planet describes it as “About 100m past Hotel Anchor, Aragvi serves up decent Georgian dishes amid decor of antlers and swords”[1] …I didn’t see any swords, but otherwise, I concur. One of my co-workers insisted on sampling a different restaurant the next day, so we went across the street to Restaurant Kalakuri. Our local co-workers mentioned it when pressed for suggestions beyond Aragvi, and said the khinkali there were OK. The khinkali were OK primarily because they seemed to be frozen khinkali, not homemade. The khachapuri was quite good (better than at the other place). The rest of the food was not good at all. Some of it was suffering from WAY too many greens being thrown in, and other dishes were victim of a Russian occupation–gobs of mayonnaise and handfuls of dill. We paid Tbilisi prices for this meal at 20 GEL/person; it cost twice what we paid at Aragvi (we did order more food, it’s true…but not double). I was very hungry and desperate for fruits and veggies when we returned to Tbilisi.

[1] Location 1961, Lonely Planet, John Noble, Danielle Systermans, and Michael Kohn. Lonely Planet Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan. 4th ed. London: Lonely Planet, 2012. Kindle eBook.

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I first went to the Black Sea and played in the water at Anaklia five years ago (there wasn’t much there at the time), but I hadn’t actually gone swimming until this weekend. I joined some friends for a quick weekend trip to Batumi, but we actually decided to stay in Gonio, just to the South, instead. Gonio (and neighboring Kvariati–we stayed just a smidge on the Gonio side) is known for being quieter and better for swimming than Batumi, where the focus is on sunbathing, boardwalk entertainment, and seeing and being seen. The water is supposed to be clearer than in Batumi, and you could see the bottom as far out as I swam. The water temperature last weekend was perfect, and the swimming was really enjoyable.  The scenery was stunning–green mountains leading into the ocean. The beach looks like this, though, so if you’re planning on sunbathing you might want to bring something rather thick to lay on:

Gonio Beach

Gonio Beach

That rockiness continues out as far as I could touch, and I found myself wishing for the water shoes that I hated as a child but my mother made me wear when I went creeking. If you have anything of the sort, or any water-proof sandals that will stay on your foot (not flip-flops) I would strongly recommend that you throw them into your beach bag.

 

There are often jellyfish in the Black Sea, and while they aren’t usually the dangerous kind, a sting will hurt. There were a few teeny tiny little guys in the water while we were swimming. They freaked me out, especially as I felt them rather than saw them (very odd texture). They didn’t sting us, though.

We did our swimming and sunbathing at Gonio, but went into Batumi for dinners (Adjaruli khachapuri, of course) and entertainment. The Boulevard was in full swing, and there was something for everyone. Bicycle (and multi-person bicycle thingamabob) rentals, ping-pong and billiards, concerts, bars and restaurants, ice cream peddlers, statues to take photos with, a ferris wheel, dancing fountains, a “3-D Exhibition!” of the 7 Wonders of the World…plenty of options. I was actually really impressed. Though I’d been there before, I hadn’t seen it at it’s height. You could stay entertained there for quite a long time.

We also visited the Gonio fortress, which was a pleasant surprise for me. I didn’t know there was such a major historical site nearby. Admission is not expensive (3 GEL, if I recall correctly), and the complex, dating back to the Roman period, is extensive. There is also a small, air-conditioned museum (the air conditioning was pretty great after spending a lot of time out in the sun). The walls still look quite formidable (I don’t know how much work has been put into keeping them that way). Archeologists working at the site recently discovered some Roman mosaics, but we didn’t see them–I’m not sure if that’s because they aren’t yet on display to the public, or we didn’t make it to that section of the fortress. It’s nice to stop into the historical site and get a change of pace from the beach-centered attractions in most of the area.

My friends playing around in the fortress

My friends playing around in the fortress

For the return trip, I tried the Metro Georgia bus, and I was VERY pleased. I bought my ticket online in advance with no problems. The seats were spacious and comfortable; the entertainment system, WiFi and air conditioning were all in working order; and the whole process was easy and stress-free. The bus doesn’t have an on-board toilet, but there was a stop at the halfway point where people could use the toilets (30 tetri) and buy snacks. The route runs between Tbilisi and Batumi (and you can transfer on into Turkey or Armenia). You can also buy a ticket to intermediate stations. As I was on the bus on a Sunday night in high season, it was packed from end to end, and didn’t stop at the intermediate stations because no one was coming or going. This meant we also returned to Tbilisi a bit early than scheduled–a very pleasant surprise since I like my sleep.

Though a long distance to travel for a short trip, it was a lovely weekend getaway.

Batumi Skyline

Batumi Skyline

I’ve been to Batumi before. Twice, in fact. “Well, why didn’t you write about it, then?,” you might ask. Well…because both of my previous trips to Batumi were for less than 24 hours. Given the amount of time it takes to get to Batumi, the number of things to do there, and it’s popularity as a destination, I didn’t think it was worth writing about until I had a little more to go on.

For the weekend of Orthodox Easter (which happened to coincide with the April 9 commemoration) we had a 5-day weekend. I had thought about going abroad, or possibly even back to the US, but I decided that it would be far less stressful and far cheaper to take a mini-break in Georgia.

Due to the holidays and the off-season, though, I expected many of the attractions to be closed for at least 4 of the 5 days. It was also early spring, so I expected there would be a certain amount of cold and damp. That combination made me willing to shell out a bit more than usual to have a comfy place to hang out and read, rather than staying in a hostel or homestay like I usually do. I booked a room in the Plaza Hotel, because it was a great bargain for a place with a swimming pool and fitness center. They also provided free (pretty good) breakfast and parking which made it a good deal at the off-season prices. It’s located on the upper stories of a shopping mall, which is a bit odd, but doesn’t really make a difference in the long run. It does mean, though, that the sign outside does not say hotel anywhere (and if you go there, FYI: it’s on the opposite side of the street of where Google says). The swimming pool and fitness facilities were absolutely top-notch. They’re not actually part of the hotel, though, but a separate company in the same building who they have a relationship with. That usually wouldn’t matter, but it did mean that they were closed for two days of my stay. Sadness. There are also a few strange-to-an-American rules for using the fitness facility: you have to be checked by their doctor before you can use the facilities, and there are totally separate men’s and women’s gyms. Unfortunately the  “hotel-wide” WiFi didn’t reach the room very well, so I didn’t get caught up on my writing like I’d planned… Nonetheless, it was a comfortable and relaxing place to crash for the weekend.

View from the hotel balcony

View from the hotel balcony

All of my trips to Batumi have been by private car, which is by far the way to get there that requires the least planning. There are newly-opened stretches of highway bypassing the centers of Kutaisi and Kobuleti, which sped up the trip, and will be a great advantage for summer travel. The train, particularly overnight, is the most popular way of getting from Tbilisi to Batumi. For holiday weekends and in summer it is often sold out a few days in advance, so it’s not a good last-minute option. There are, of course, frequent marshrutkas (including overnight). There is also a new bus company with 6 departures a day in each direction. This option still seems little-known, but I hope they’re successful. My friend took this route, and said it was very comfortable and convenient. Their normal prices are competitive with the bus and marshrutka, but I saw that their office in Batumi was offering some introductory deals, which would make it a real bargain. (I don’t know how long those prices will be in effect, though.)

My first morning in Batumi I went and walked along the Boulevard, despite the blustery weather. Growing up, going to the beach was on the (Northern part of the) East Coast of the US, so I’m accustomed to cold, wind, and rain as par for the course. Many people don’t like the Batumi beach because it’s rocky, but again: that’s what I’m used to. There were very few people on the beach, which I prefer. I walked along, watching the waves, and looking at the sculptures. As I’ve said before, I really enjoy public art, so the Batumi Boulevard is a cool place to stroll.

The Black Sea (not a black and white photo, just highly gray weather)

The Black Sea (not a black and white photo, just highly gray weather)

Saturday, the only non-holiday, was the only day that I was sure attractions would be operating so we went to the Batumi Botanical Gardens just outside the city. They are a real treasure! (I’d also like to see the museums and dolphinarium sometime, but with limited time, I think I made the right choice). The territory was much, much bigger than I expected and the timing was lucky because most of the trees and bushes were in bloom (flowers will be a bit later in spring, I think). Though it was gray and dreary, the rain itself held off and the walk through the park was lovely. It’s along the coast, so in addition to the flowers and plants, there are lovely views of the sea and up and down the coast, both into farms and villages and across the bay to the sparkling skyscrapers of the city.

Rhododendron in the Batumi Botanical Garden

Rhododendron in the Batumi Botanical Garden

The city from the botanical garden

The city from the botanical garden

On Easter itself, most places were closed up tight, but I was surprised that the dancing fountains of Batumi Boulevard were still going strong in the evening, despite the holiday, the off-season and the poor weather. Though it’s maybe a bit hokey, it’s really fun to watch them. I got quite entranced by the lights and water. One upside to it is that it wasn’t nearly as crowded as in summer, so you could really see the show.

One of the main attractions of Batumi is eating Adjaruli khachapuri at Retro–widely considered the best. On this short trip, I went there twice, stopping in for some breakfast khachapuri the last day before departure. It was quite indulgent, but it was vacation! It makes a pretty good breakfast–bread, cheese,egg…it works. Since the whole idea of Batumi is that it’s at the seaside, I really wanted some fish. We found Black Sea Restaurant quite close to the fish market, and went in–the location is amazing, with picture windows looking out across the sea. They didn’t have very many options because the storms making the weather dreary were also affecting the catch, but what we got was delicious. I have no idea what it was, though. They were all small fish that were gutted and fried, and you were supposed to eat the whole thing, bones and all. That was actually OK, albeit crunchy, but it started to freak me out a little when I thought about it, so I pulled out the spines. The fish itself was really delicious and fresh, and the salad came with lovely fresh lettuce. It wasn’t a cheap place, but the food was all high quality. I had read great reviews of Ristorante Venezia inside the Intourist Palace, and Italian food sounded like a great change of pace, so I was looking forward to eating there. Unfortunately, it was the first time the Lonely Planet’s Georgia recommendations have every led me astray. The eggplant parmesan and salad were really good, but the spaghetti bolognese was so bland, and the bread was just sliced regular sandwich bread that costs 50 tetri, and the waitress brought the wrong beer. None of those things are particularly egregious, except for the fact that it was RIDICULOUSLY expensive (more than the same meal would have been in Tbilisi, and lower quality). It was 73 lari for 2 people! This was without appetizers or wine…they must have charged an arm and a leg for the bread and water, because the prices for entrees on the menu seemed normal. To top it off, they didn’t accept credit cards, which wouldn’t be unusual in a Georgian village, but in a major tourist area in a nice hotel with high prices, it’s unbelievable. It was mere luck that I had enough cash on me to cover the bill; I usually don’t carry large amounts.

The drive back was far more eventful than I had hoped. It wasn’t a surprise that there was a lot of traffic, since most of the population of Georgia had gone to their ancestral villages to celebrate Easter with their extended families and roll eggs over their ancestors’ graves. What was surprising, though, was the bumper-to-bumper traffic from Surami nearly to Gori. The two-lane two-way road had 5 lanes of cars going one way, including on both shoulders. I pity the people trying to go in the other direction! What is usually a one-hour drive took more than four! What’s worse is that it wasn’t a traffic jam with a cause; there were no accidents or working construction sites. It was caused purely by bad, selfish drivers. I’d never seen anything like it. We returned to Tbilisi at 11 PM having left Batumi at noon (we did make a stop for lunch). Usually that’s about 5 hours. It was insane.

Update: August 17, 2015. For a visit to the area during high season, including the boardwalk in full swing and a trip on MetroBus, check out my Postcard from Gonio

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