I won’t lie, before I started to this trip, I didn’t even know Georgia existed (yes it sounds silly but whenever I mentioned to someone back home that I was going to Georgia, they would also say cool, America is so fun!) so I didn’t really know what to expect. Living in the Western world, I think you sometimes forget the rest of the world is advancing and just expect to turn up in another country and see a bunch of villagers herding sheep.
Georgia took me by surprise and turned out to to be one of the coolest countries I have ever visited!
To get there we travelled by a ‘martshuka’ bus (a Ford transit van stuffed with seats) to Sarpi in Turkey which is a Black Sea town bordering Batumi in Georgia. We had been told many times that the Sarpi border crossing gets busy so it best to try and cross the border late evening or very early morning. So in true Alexei and Shama style we decided we would cross the border slap bang in the middle of the rush hour at 5pm!
We would have been a little earlier but we obviously stopped for a final kebab just in case they don’t sell it in Georgia! As we got off the martshuka, I felt quite smug – the place was empty! Ha! Crossing would be a breeze! So off we trotted to the towards the crossing expecting to moonwalk our way through.
We did it – Güle güle Türkiye, Kamarjoba Georgia!
We turned the corner and there in front of us was a giant crowd of feisty, orange haired, pedalpusher-wearing women yelling at each other like they were getting ready for war! The queue did not look like it was moving and there were more and more people arriving every second, we had to get stuck in otherwise it would be Christmas before we saw Georgia.
Reluctantly, we approached the crowd and I let the wave of sweat wash over me. Alexei was doing his best to tell me that ‘this is part of the adventure, try and find the entertainment in it’ but having my hand up someone’s armpit whilst a man has his sweaty moob on my back was rather challenging. For the next 40 minutes we were pushed and pulled through the mosh pit towards the immigration kiosk where I finally felt a moment of relief. I could almost smell Georgia, we were almost there or so I thought.… cue the pushing grandmas who magically appeared shoving their papers past my face to the immigration officer! We were not happy about this, it felt like it was forty degrees in the building and sweat was literally dripping from the ceiling onto my face. We did (well Alexei because I am not as brave) the only thing we could do, play dirty. Alexei slapped the grannies papers away and presented our shiny passports to the clearly impressed officer. Couple of stamps later and we were in!
We skipped through the airport-like tunnel out on to the tarmac of the bus station ready to catch our first glimpse of this new foreign land. Just like most big bus stations from around the world, I should have known what to expect – gypsies! Just hanging around smoking, staring and not looking particularly friendly! I knew the real Georgia was nearby, we just had to figure out how to get on one of these crazy buses that were attempting to run everyone over! After observing for a few minutes, we flung ourselves on to a random bus that had its door open and shouted “Batumi, Batumi”. The bus driver nodded and we were on our way!
We didn’t know much about Batumi but we were told it was a popular beach resort. Meh, this is Central Asia I thought, how much of a resort could it be?! Maybe a couple of restaurants and even a bar if we were lucky. The bus door opened and …… hello Las Vegas!!!!! We were surrounded by flashing lights, casinos, boutiques and pouty Russians dressed up in impossibly high heels. My immediate thought was ‘oh god, we look like tramps!’ Here we are in kebab stained t-shirts, looking like we have been on the road for 6 months after only two weeks! And Alexei only has one pair of smelly shoes!’
Interesting statues… a bit of public porn for the laidback Georgians
Batumi was a shock to the system after our quiet tea drinking days of Turkey but we were ready for this new adventure and hey, we finally got to have drink! With a look of determination, we headed off to find our guesthouse for the night, the curiously named ‘My Warm Home’. I hoped they meant it would be cozy rather than their creative description for the lack of air conditioning. It was 8pm and 30 degrees, with humidity of 90% after all!
Like a mini Dubai in the middle of Central Asia / far Eastern Europe
Before we could get to ‘My Warm Home’ however, there was one tiny issue – crossing the road! Batumi seemed to have let all of Georgia’s crazy possessed drivers out on the town that night, all ignoring traffic lights and lane markings and basically driving everywhere including the pavements. We are pretty used to crazy drivers, I mean we survived Vietnam, but this was a different ball game. As soon you stepped in the road, the cars would speed up and drive directly at you! It was pretty scary, the first few times we walked alongside an old man and used him as our personal human shield. Made sense as he’d get hit first and from the size of his belly, I’d say he’d already lived a good life!
After wandering the backstreets which looked more like Milan than middle Asia, we found our place for the night. It was at the back of a mean looking estate of flats, which if you were in London would probably give a wide berth, but the online description did say ‘we don’t look like much from the outside but we are all good inside!’ and we were on a budget.
We ended up staying somewhere around here – not quite Las Vegas but quirky and cool to see ‘real’ life + we got free ‘chacha’ so who’s complaining?
After four flights of concrete stairs we were greeted by a big Georgian guy wearing a wife beater vest who looked completely pissed! “Oh no, I hope this isn’t a scam” I thought, scars of ‘murderer’ (see our Van blog post) still fresh in my mind. “Where from?” he asked/ shouted. “London, UK”. “Err not look English” (all of this was in Russian with Alexei helpfully translating). I explained my heritage then all of a sudden a huge smile appeared and the drunk man stuck his hands up in the air ready to screw in lightbulbs and began jumping around, singing and dancing like he was in a Bollywood movie! “Ah you India!!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t understand Hindi so just smiled and said ‘yes, very good!’ Satisfied with my response he returned to the sofa and continued drinking himself to oblivion.
‘Boat’ style Adjarian Kachapuri – two words… CHEESE. BOMB.
‘Medyok’ (honey) cake… layers and layers of honey, cream and cake. Georgia is a horrible place!
Ice cream in a cake sandwich. I know what I’ll be putting in my lunchbox when we get home….
Compot – a fruit juice made by boiling whatever summer fruits / berries are available. Not sure what berry this is, but it’s deliciously sour and sweet, and we only got to try this ice cold compot because an old man dragged us into his house to offer this as we were walking past – love Georgian kindness
The guesthouse was actually amazing and totally lived up to its description. We had a private room with a huge bed, five HUGE wardrobes (seriously) and most importantly a free bottle of Georgian wine and a bottle of ‘chacha’ (an infamous Georgian spirit which is 55% alcohol) all waiting for us. This was great start to Georgia (minus dodging the dangerous drivers) and also an introduction to Georgian hospitality, which we found out later can only get better! The end.
The local poison, Chacha
A few more shots from Batumi, a great little seaside city on the Black Sea: