Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Chilly Weekend in … Batumi?

Batumi is well known resort, thronged with Eastern European tourists. Located on the coast of the Black Sea, near the Turkish border, this beautiful old city is steamy beyond belief during the summer months of the year – I know, because I was there in August and swore never, ever to go back during hot season! So a few weeks ago, a fellow PCV, Karen, and I took a long-planned trip before the humid stink hit and headed out of town to visit our friend James, who teaches in Batumi, and one of the “other Sara(h)’s” – a fellow IOD volunteer who works in a small town about 20 minutes south-east of Batumi with the impressive name of Khelvach’Auri. Here’s a look to orient you:

From the middle of Georgia (Gori) to Batumi, about a 5 hour drive.

From the middle of Georgia (Gori) to Batumi, about a 5 hour drive.

So, in our efforts to avoid the heat, we headed straight into a chilly gloom, punctuated by cold rain. Apparently the week before it had been the most beautiful weather, but, of course, we missed that. 🙂 Karen came into to Gori the day before we left, and we had a very pleasant dinner at my site mate Russell’s new apartment with another visiting PCV from Orzugeti in the west, Colton. Colton nearly cried because there was an avocado in the salad I brought. It was a very moving movement.

The next morning up bright and early, off to the marshutka station. At first we were doing very well – in spite of the fact that I used the wrong pronoun in asking for tickets (a fact I realized about 2 hours later, but mitigated somewhat by the fact that Georgian is the most perplexing language I’ve ever encountered. Yesterday, while helping my 15-year old host sister Salome with some English, we figured out the the verb “to have” has 4 forms in English for simple present, past and future, for all pronouns – have, has, had, and will have. Georgian has 32 forms for the same verb in those 3 tenses, not counting certain modifiers and conjugations that I don’t even know. I rest my case.) – and we got tickets, found our marshutka (called “marshes” by us lazy foreigners), and got good seats toward the front. Off we went, only to break down about 10 miles out of town on the highway. According to the driver, the marsh’s “guli” (“heart”) was broken,which even though I knew very well also means “motor” still cracked me up. The police showed up and said we had to move to other side of the road where the shoulder was wider. They all pushed the marsh, with us in it, across the highway and nearly right into a ditch. I said to Karen, hmmmmm, maybe we ought to get out, just as the driver started shouting “get out! get out!” (in Georgian of course). Off we clambered into the rain, and a little very old lady dressed all in black with startling blue eyes said to me, “jandaba!” which means, honestly, “shit!” More cracking up, the marsh gets pushed back off the ledge, and we all stand on the edge of the highway waiting for other marshes to come along with room for us. Karen and I got one pretty quickly, but it was super full and our seats were separate and not as nice, but hey … that’s life in Georgia.

Things started looking up as soon as we arrived in Batumi. We had arranged for an apartment on Airbnb and the owner picked us up, which was very nice of her. The apartment was downright luxurious, really clean and nice, with a good shower and fully-equipped kitchen, including a washing machine, which Karen immediately started utilizing, as she does not have one where she lives in Ts’alka. We met up with James and some other volunteers and had Turkish food for dinner. In spite of an unbelievably complicated mix-up with the service of the food, wherein James and I unknowingly ate other peoples’ dishes and then somehow ended up with one extra plate of food, it was delicious and fun. Then we went to a bar ….

That is a White Russian in my hand. :-)

That is a White Russian in my hand. 🙂

After a heavenly night’s sleep in a bed with a mattress that was actually flat, rather than the trough I sleep in at home (it’s not that bad, just sayin’ …), we all decided to go to Batumi Botanical Gardens, just outside of town. The wisdom of our decision was confirmed when we got in at “Georgian price” (3 gel) rather than “foreigner price” (8 gel) by showing our residency cards. Hey, we’re on a stipend here, every lari counts!

The gardens were fantastic, really. Even though it was cold and cloudy, that made all the walking so much more tolerable, and since it’s spring, lots of stuff was in bloom. Well, you all know me, I was really thrilled at the opportunity to take some flower photos, which I present below. Unfortunately my little point-and-shoot is not always quite up to the task, but I got a few good ones – click on them for full-screen to really appreciate how gorgeous these blooms were.

Beyond the close-ups of the blooms, the gardens themselves were beautiful. After months in cities, the sounds of birdsong, wind rustling in leaves, insects chirping and water running were just so refreshing. Here’s a few photos of the general environment (and a few of us):

So, then that evening we ate Acharuli (also called Adjarui) khachapuri (puri being bread) – that’s the kind with egg and butter in it, which if you search for “khachapuri” on the internet is what always comes up, though actually there are many different kinds – here’s a picture, yes it’s really that good.

khachapuri_50ba7a5bb83f8

Then, on to more bars. No photos but suffice it to say there were more White Russians involved. By which I mean the drink, not guys, though there were plenty of Russian guys around! Batumi is extremely popular with Russians … James speaks fluent Russian, and he used it almost exclusively the whole time we were there, much more than Georgian. Interesting.

The next morning sun was shining through the windows, briefly, but since it was Orthodox Easter and everything was closed, we decided to head back home. After a fairly uneventful trip, marred only by a woman who screamed at me in Russian and shot me enough dirty looks to last me the rest of my life, apparently due to the fact that I had the nerve to talk with Karen behind her and I was keeping her from sleeping at 1:30 pm on public transportation. That was offset by the taxi driver who took us from the highway into Gori, who actually answered my “thank you very much” with not only a “you’re welcome,” but actually looked me in eye, smiled, and stroked my arm a little bit. It was so sweet, and so unusual.

So that’s it for Batumi. Of course, plenty else going on, but in line with my theme of trying to just tell one story at a time, I’ll stop here. It’s worth mentioning that next week I will be among a group of 25 volunteers who are going to the airport to greet the 58 new volunteers – the G15’s. It just seems unbelievable that we were greeted the same way (cheering, banners, and running a tunnel of volunteers, feeling completely overwhelmed and very welcome at the same time). Now I am a seasoned PCV … nooooo, that’s not possible! I just got here!

I’ll leave you with these two images – the first at the Botanical Garden, and the other on a wall in Batumi. I like these.

IMG_1497 IMG_1499

Uplistsikhe – the Lord’s Fortress

So a few weekends ago, two volunteers stopped by in Gori on their way home from Tbilisi back to their homes in the west of Georgia. They arrived dragging a huge, incredibly heavy, bright red duffel bag up my 5 flights – one of them, Helen, had picked up a care package from home at USA2Georgia in Tbilisi and was taking it back with her. Helen is a G14, in my group, and we know each other. She brought along a G13, Sarah (there are 5 of us!), who will be heading home in a few months. She had never been to Uplistsikhe, an ancient cave town, just about half an hour outside of Gori … so, off we went.

We walked up to Gori’s marshutka/bus/taxi/bazaar station, where Sarah deeply impressed me with her language abilities. Vastly superior to mine, but then, pretty much anyone’s are. She negotiated a fair price with a pretty friendly taxi driver, and we drove through villages by the river chatting with him. He said he had been a soldier in Iraq – did you know that Georgia sent military there? 2,000 between 2003-2008, according to Wikipedia.

The day was cool and cloudy, but a bit of blue sky peeking through, perfect for a little bit of a hike. Uplistsikhe is perched up on the top of a very steep hill, with a small church at the summit. There is a big sign at the entrance with some history, and a bit of interpretive signage identifying buildings, but not much beyond that. We all regretted not having read up on the history of the place before we came. Here’s the scoop:

“Located in Eastern Georgia, Uplistsikhe (literally “Lord’s Fortress“) is an abandoned rock-hewn town which once played an important role in Georgian history. The place was founded in the late Bronze Age, around 1000 BC, and continued to be inhabited until the 13th century AD. Between the 6th century BC and the 11th century AD, Uplistsikhe was one of the most important political and religious centers of pre-Christian Kartli – one of the predecessors of the Georgian state.

Archaeologists have unearthed numerous temples and findings relating to a sun goddess, worshipped prior to the arrival of Christianity. When Christianity arrived in Georgia, the city lost importance in favor of the new centers of Christian culture, most notably Mtskheta and Tbilisi. Nevertheless, life continued in Uplistsikhe. Christian structures have been built, and for a short time Christianity and the old faith coexisted in the city.

After the Arab conquest of the royal city of Tbilisi, Uplistsikhe’s second heyday began when the town became the residence of the kings of Kartli, during which the town grew to a size of around 20,000 people, evolving into an important caravan trading post. When Tbilisi was recaptured in 1122, Uplistsikhe faced an immediate and rapid decline, culminating in the destruction of large parts of the city during the Mongol conquest in the 13th century and the subsequent abandonment of the rest of the town.

The cave town, covering an area of almost 40,000 square meters, can be divided into a lower, a central and an upper area. The central area, which contains most of the rock-cut structures, is connected to the lower area by narrow tunnel. Most of the rock-cut structures are without any decorative elements, aside from some of the larger structures which contain some stone carvings.

At the top of the complex is a Christian stone basilica, dating from the 10th century. The rock-cut structures include a large hall, called Tamaris Darbazi, pagan places of sacrifice, dwellings, as well as functional buildings, like a pharmacy, a bakery, a prison, and even an amphitheater. The rock-cut structures are connected by tunnels, while other tunnels had the purpose of an emergency escape route.

Uplistsikhe is remarkable for the unique combination of styles from rock-cut cultures of the region, most notably from Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) and Northern Iran. Most of the unearthed artifacts can be seen at the National Museum in Tbilisi.”

From Atlas Obscura

There weren’t too many people around – apparently in summer, it’s swarmed, I shudder to think … the heat, the masses of people, the climbing … yeach! So glad we went in off-season. We climbed up, stopping to take photos of course, :-), here are a few:

Here are a few shots of the church, which was small and very beautiful. We had to tie aprons around our waists so that we were nominally wearing skirts (mine kept falling down), and wrap scarves around our heads.

The last photo – my favorite, perhaps.  We were all the way at the top, even a little bit above the church, and this is what we saw:

View from the top, to the west. I believe that's the Mtkvari River, which flows through Tbilisi.

We just stood in silence and appreciated it for a while.

Then we started hiking back down. We got a little turned around, went down a few wrong paths, it was kind of funny … we finally found a long flight of stairs, kind of hidden, back down to the main path.

The tunnel out!

When we started down, we weren’t sure where it led … but all’s well that ends well, we made it home in plenty of time for dinner at the Sports Cafe and a leisurely evening drinking my host grandmother’s cherry cognac at my place afterwards. All in all, a very satisfying day.

Next weekend I am going to Batumi, all the way to the southwest, with fellow PCV Karen. We are staying at an apartment I found through Airbnb, and meeting up with some of my favorite volunteers, whom I don’t see very often because they live too far away! Batumi has a very, very different look and feel from Eastern Georgia where I live, so I’ll try to take some good photos and post them. Until then …