European city by the sea, Batumi, Georgia
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Published: October 7th 2014
Jason and the Argonauts landed in Batumi (referred to as Colchis in antiquity) in search of the Golden Fleece. I did not travel by sea nor did I attain a Golden Fleece like Jason, but I did take a lot of pictures to share with you and I have some fresh ideas.
Friday Archil told me that the next day we were going to Batumi for the weekend. Batumi is one of the most western cities in Georgia, hugging the Black Sea coast and positioned on the Turkish border. When Archil and I had spoken a few years ago Batumi was still looked at as a port city to the slavik nations and the Middle East, but I can tell you a lot is happening in Batumi that you might find interesting. Let me explain.
Tbilisi is in eastern traditional Georiga. To get to Batumi we had to drive over 5 hours on some new roads built by the most recent government run by Saakishvilli, and some old soviet road.
Saturday morning we woke and headed to a science fair being hosted by Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia. There must have been at least 80
white tents with different schools and groups showing how science is fun. One interesting remark I must make is how these younger generations are gaining exposure to different ideas in math, and science. This kind of idea and teaching seems to help them think about different ways to solve their own problems. I was told that someof the key backers of research around the city here are European. There was a presentation contest judged and sponsored by a German Gymnasium or Government entity, where a representative from the Germany Embassy in Tbilisi spoke. I know she was just a representative for the embassy, but her English was quite bland and verbiage rather disappointing. I would recommend she go see a English tutor. The other big sponsor was a Polish university. The market in the mall I wrote about is owned by the French. The European influence in Georgia seems to be growing.
In the middle of the science fair I was standing amongst a crowd of Georgians and out of no where this guy greets me. I learned that he had retired and moved abroad from the US a few years ago and worked for the US peace corp
after retiring. He was from Kutaisi towards Batumi, but was very interested in teaching English to mid level speakers. It just so turned out that aArchil and I had this conversation about increasing the cultural exchange and especially helping more Georgians learn English by using more effective methodologies. John, Archil and I got into a fairly lively discussion and here is a picture from the conversation.
After talking to John and seeing the students combine various chemicals to produce various outcomes from huge bubbles, to sticks through balloons. something hit me and it was not sitting well from breakfast and I felt sick to my stomach. My amusement with a 6th grade baking soda volcano feigned quickly as I entered a new adventure - finding a public restroom in a foreign country. After two quick fails at asking for a bathroom from strangers I ran into Archil who assisted me when it is an unfortunate moment to be lost in translation. Upon entering he told me the restroom would not be "comfortable", but I didn't quite know how to interpret that. What he meant was there will be no toilet, just a hole in the ground and toilet paper
is BYO-TP. Now I must say this happening was a rarity and most if not all places I visited have high quality facilities, but don't expect much, if anything, from the public restroom sector. After I exited the bathroom Archil and I went to get Turkish coffee and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I would go on to order it at almost every stop along the way to Batumi where we sat down to dine.
In the coffee shop, we met up with Salome, Archils wife, Luka, his 2 yr old son, and Archils Uncle Gia (Gi. Is the term for Giorgi in Georgia).
We exchanged cars and upgraded to at least an 8 cylinder, diesel run Toyota Land Cruiser. We loaded up on some Socar diesel (Azerbaijan oil company) and we were off. Archil had told me about his Uncle Gia before, but it had slipped my mind this was the same uncle Gia he spoke about. Gia had lived in Georgia all his life, and is most well known for his career in politics from the end of the 1980s to the early1990s ( I believe it was
1993) Gia was the representative from Georgia to Russia. We shared any stories over our 5 our drive. It seemed to pass quickly and the initial roadways out of Tbilisi were fairly new, but at a certain point the highway turned very narrow, two lanes with houses lining the roadway. Archil and Gia explained some of the old soviet planning models, and I have noticed as I travel there are three basic construction types you see now. One is the churches, monasteries and buildings from centuries ago, the other is the soviet apartment buildings and general purpose buildings, and the third is the Saakishvilli. Any time during our trip I noticed something new or nice I was informed it was built during the last decade when Saakishvilli was the President.
We stopped twice on our drive west once at the middle of Georgia and the second in Kutasi. As we passed through rural towns I learned about the way agriculture worked in Georgia. Certain towns were known for certain goods. Some towns in the west grew citrus and tropical fruit, while towns in the southwest were known for sugar cane, others for Apples, grapes, and Plums. The farming industry
is so organic it is wonderful to enjoin and eat fresh and local. In Kutaisi we stopped at Bargardi Cathedral. It was recently renovated, but was destroyed back during the last time the Persians invaded hundreds of years ago.
Even though it was dark and had started to rain that night I could see light in the distance, and we cruised into Batumi. It turns out one of Gias colleagues owned a condo on the top floor of a new high rise in the city so we were invited to stay as guests. That night we ate at the McDonalds in Batumi, and I ordered a Royal with Cheese (had to go with the Pulp Fiction reference, Pat)..I took a picture of the view at night and in the morning. What a view!
In the morning we woke early got the car and drove south towards Turkey. Within minutes from the beach mountains stretched to the sky, with a humid tropical feel to the place we drove to the Turkish border. There were no coffee shops, so we bought energy drinks and drank them on the beach. After the last sip and a quick pic we returned to
Batumi. Archil, Gia, and I took a ride on some brand new cable cars, labeled ARGO, to an outlook.
Here is a view of what we saw at night and during eh day.
During the ride up and at he cafe at the top we discussed the problems of the modern political systems and Gia provided somE Interesting insight to guide the discussion. It turns out at countries with a population of 5 million or 315 million have similar struggles.
There is no doubt that from an economic development perspective the port city of Batumi is growing and resembles more of a European seaside resort than a port city. Throughout the city at night I saw construction of major apartment buildings and new architecture, but few people or men working since it was night. Naturally I was curious to find out if I would see men working on the buildings in the day. Bear in mind when I woke up on a Sunday morning at 8 am to the sounds of cranes beeping, jack hammers and tools striking steel. i would say 80%!o(MISSING)f he buildings we're be worked on that
day and I found out why.
Ukraine. It's that simple. All of the Black Sea tourism that would typically go to Ukraine did. Not like the idea of sharing a beach with pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian army. A bit to much of a hot zone. So this summer Batau I was uniquely positioned to capture the bulk of European vacationers. They love it since the amenities they seek are simple, good restaurants, good lodging, and the fact he local currency is weak versus the euro also makes Batumi the optimal choice for many. I think if I were to describe the environment to a US colleague it would be this. Imagine taking the feeling of Miami, Atlantic City, and old world Europe. Saakishvilli did wonderful things here and as a foreign visitor I would like to go back during summer instead of the off season.
To give you an idea on how big this summer was look to Gia's hotel room rate. It was a middle of the road establishment, priced at 70 lari in the last year, this was the off season and it was priced over 120 lari. That
is a significant increase in the rental rate and gives you a snapshot of the inflation of prices in this former soviet port city turned seaside resort.
Next we ate lunch at Gias, a place known for its Adjarian Khachapuri, which served as a meal in itself. It arrived at the table fresh from the oven with a pool of hot cheese crisped on he top with and egg and a tab of butter. We toasted wih Hertzog Pilsner and mixed in the egg and butter with the cheese, and began the meal. What a meal, I was full after several bites, but powered through the resistance from my guy. I took a before,during and after picture to prove I finished the meal.
After lunch we got to speaking and the idea of restaurants and how most Pittsburghers might enjoy Georgian cuisine given our history as a meat and potatoes type of city. I think I will try to make several types of Khachapuri when I return home for others to try. I am thinking about three types, Buffalo Chicken, Steak Ranchero, and the Original Adjarian Khachapuri.
Also, we ended up playing bill
ares at a local pool hall and concluded our evening at a traditional Ukrainian Restaurant next to a boulevard by the sea lined by some 20,000 palm trees which were a gif. To Saakishvilli for a Sheik in the Middle East. We ate pea soup, drank Ukraine juice, and ate lightly fried Ukrainian fish from the Black Sea. At one point I realized the restaurant had free wifi, and I had left my charger in Gia's car. I asked for his keys and retrieved my charger. Upon returning I gave him back his keys and aArchil pulled me to the side. Very quietly he said, "Tim, just so you know, in Georgia it is very impolite to ask for the keys of a car you do not own and not be with the owner of the car." In that moment I felt slightly embarrassed and the pause lasted for several seconds, but Archil ended up saying he was just joking with me. Everyone at the table had a laugh and it became another one of our running jokes (pizza and?, katuna, it is very impolite, etc). I will also share the Katuna joke. Apparently you are supposed to accentuate letters
different ways and most of the time I try hard to speak like a Georgian and work on my Tbs and Hahhs, but the other day I met one of Archils contacts named Katuna, but the K is silent I guess and I didn't realize it. I was saying Katuna may you pass the soda or Katuna what do you think about that. Nothing seemed wrong, but when aArchil and I were in private he explained that very time I had called her Katuna with a K I had essentially said the word for Chicken Butt. Pronunciation is very important.
We drove back along the old soviet rode that winds through the western Georgia landscape. We left at 8 pm and returned around 1:30 am in the morning. I ad to be up at 7:30 am with aArchil to go to Buckswood. I met the founder of the school named Sandro, whose host family father in the US back in the 1990s had graduated from Duquesne University years ago. He explained he returned from a full scholarship in 1993 to a school in Georgia in the United States to the newly formed Republic of Georgia
where electricity for 30 minutes a day was lucky and there were major problems with food supplies. I think few will argue that Georgia has come a long way and is growing, and I only hope the political environment improves so that additional reforms, not unlike the ones Saakishvilli implemented continue.
Here are some basic thoughts I need to write down and share to set the record straight for the Republic of Georgia:
- The national police force is robust and always present, throughout the alleys and on the major roadways. Each officer is required to turn on a camera for his cruiser and when he interacts with any person. Safety has improved here greatly.
- Georgians produce and seem to consume more locally grown and sourced foods than anywhere I can think of in America
- The natural resource that is water can quench the thirst of the country and serve as an excellent clean source of power generation
- The mountains in many areas create natural borders hard to navigate
- Luxury cars are very popular in Tbilisi, I have never seen more BMWs and Mercedes cars driven
- Compressed natural
gas is a popular fuel source here that many cars use
- Georgians love to have supras and have many traditions
After spending time here the one thing that is the single biggest challenge for Georgia will be on the education policy and methodology. Archil taught me this and it makes sense. Longer term the way Georgia enters the world stage from a developing country to a developed country is by teaching students subjects in Georgian as well as English. If you are reading this blog post in the US you might think of this as a fairly straightforward statement, especially as an English teacher reading my blog post. But the unfortunate part is that you are not here, in Georgia, to see some of the cultural and social barriers to instituting this policy. However, there are institutions and people here at Buckswood and Archil Sumbazde who understand that while economic development and construction are great in her near term, many modern developed countries are serviced bases and speak English. Reforming and moving the needle on ways to improve the teaching methods of Georgian teachers will be critical moving forward in this country. how do you do it
and where to start? I believe and think Archil can be a critical person in the reform process.
I realize that I write a lot in these blog posts, but there is so much more I can share in person when I return. And to a certain extent there are things I have described, that you can only experience if you come here. If I wanted an all inclusive beach vacation Georgia would not be appropriate, but if you are an adventure seeker you won't be disappointed in Georgia.
I am now sitting in Archils house preparing to go to Tbilisi for the day, but it looks like I will be traveling to the wine making region Khaheti tomorrow and this after it's sulphur baths and then a 20 person supra with Archils closest friends and family. What a day ahead.
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