Batumi: Black Sea Casino Town

Posted by in Culture, Travel

The ultra cool Nova and the futuristic McDonald’s (not the one in the square as mentioned below)

BREAKFAST IN BATUMI

If you’re a late riser then Batumi could be your town. Even the McDonald’s opens at 10am by which time (in the summer) it’s already hot and half the day is gone. There are few exceptions; modern coffee NOVA (8am), a street over on Gorgasali is Provence (9am) and Blue Elephant near McDs in the square. So I end up going to SPAR and buying a yogurt and coffee – cheaper if nothing else.

Oh if you’re expecting a pain au chocolate with your coffee that too is for now a pipe dream. More common is an actual dessert; chocolate mousse, chocolate cheesecake etc). Hardly what you would want for breakfast. Batumi is like Monaco, Macau and others; a Casino town and maybe those utilising such places are big on bright lights, less so on the early morning sunlight.

Hotels against the blue.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Batumi is surprisingly packed with interesting architecture (old and modern) but some say it’s lost its charm with the huge hotel chains lining the Black Sea coast along Egnate Ninoshvili St – Le Meridien, Radisson Blu, Hilton and Marriott (currently being built). If these are outside your budget there are plenty of hostels to accommodate but some close during winter.

The city makes the most of its coast with a long boulevard which is a nice walk beginning around the moving sculpture Ali and Nino. I’m not a huge fan of sculpture but this is one of the rare occasions when it really is mesmerising. Watch for long enough to see them pass through each other and on certain angles appear to kiss. 

When I and a friend call in at the classy Sable (it has one of those outdoor sitting areas common in Paris) and order Omelettes we’re not expecting to be waiting half an hour later (how bloody hard is it to make an Omelette!?) My dessert arrives first – it’s good but why, just why would you think someone wanted the dessert first, Jeez!?

Yummi, a small store just up from the Armenian church, have all sorts for sale including the Churchkhela (grape and nuts that look like sausages). The only way I can describe theme is they’re like a wine gum with a nut inside. Some call them Georgian Snickers – not sure I’d go that far.

Ali and Nino ponder the Alphabet tower.

ALPHABET CITY

Another of the unmissable sights in this part of Batumi is the Alphabet Tower designed by Spanish Architect Alberto Domingo Cabo. It’s unusual in that the Georgian alphabet spirals up its exterior and ascending in its glass lift (20GEL about £6) was a little unnerving. 

A bit like Charlie and the Glass Elevator it seemed to take ages for the top to arrive. 130 metres – modest by world standards but still high enough. The Le Meridien has a small golden Ferris wheel in its design but I’ve never seen it in use so perhaps it is just cosmetic but why put it there just to be a decoration? 

As I’m in tourist mode, I treat myself to doing the Cable Car about a 10 minute stroll along the waterfront housed in a modern pointy building. 30GEL (£9) to go up and down – bargain. Cable cars are always so strange, like a slow motion plane gently drifting up on a wire with the occasional jolt when it takes the towers holding the cable. About a 10 minute journey each way.

It was a beautiful day (no U2 pun) and I’m glad I did it. At the top the breeze was just right for me to take a latte outside on the terrace overlooking the cable cars darting out and making their descent back down to the main drag. So 50GEL to do both Alphabet Tower and the Cable Car.

Japanese garden and the always closed public library.

THE SCENT OF MAGNOLIA

Magnolia trees line the boulevard right up to the Japanese Garden and beautiful blue university. The art museum and central library lie on opposite ends of the same block – you could call it Batumi’s unofficial cultural quarter. The latter is never open and the art museum doesn’t look up to much – but that all depends on what’s showing, the price if memory serves was a reasonable 6GEL to enter.

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ALL AROUND

Batumi buses are mainly small or relics from the Soviet era, however there are some eco-buses doing the rounds. The train station calls itself central but is anything but, Batumi must be one of the few places where the freight trains stop closer to the main city than the passenger trains do which from what I’ve heard are excruciatingly slow as turtles – four hours just to Kutaisi – so a lot of work to do with Georgia’s transport infrastructure. That said who are we Brits to talk about transport infrastructure!

The airport is a mere two miles south (you can see the runway from the summit of the cable car) but it’s mainly charter. Only Turkish really use it and can charge for the privilege. If you’re really in a tight spot to depart try Pegasus (Ryanair and Easyjet haven’t got here yet and Wizz have scrapped their Luton service into Kutaisi, so budget options are limited).

You play it, I’ll squawk it Elton.

OUTSIDE THE CITY

The Mtirala national park includes the crying mountain in other words its always raining, muddy and I can’t see the appeal of going there unless you really love mud, cow shit, horse shit, low cloud and winding roads that can make even the most seasoned traveler queasy. 

Just when you think you’ve got there (the sign for the park appears with a ranger) you aren’t really there. 20 minutes later and you’re still winding up and down side to side wondering if this place actually has a car park. You even get charged 1GEL to use the bogs and these are squat jobs, I’ve been in more salubrious places for free; crazy old world.

Much better is the Dendrological Park way up past Shekvetili with more bamboo, an aviary and lemurs! And the Musicians Park which is a brilliant idea; statues that when approached play their hits! Miles Davis, Elton, Whitney, Hendrix, Beethoven, even 2Pac but strangely no Bowie. My favourite though is the fast paced Georgian folk music accompanying Iliko Sukhishvili and Nino Ramishvili.

It’s hard to fathom why more cities aren’t doing this kind of thing; a Brit musicians park in London, a Scots band park in Glasgow? Grunge in Seattle, Aussie bands in Melbourne or Sydney. It seems odd to me that only a backwater in Georgia thought of it. Getting back to Batumi, some say it has its rainy days, but in the sunshine it’s hot, bustling and near enough unbeatable.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

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PLAYLIST
Lightbulb Sun – Porcupine Tree
Boulevarde – Icehouse
Avenue of Trees – John Foxx and Harold Budd
The Scent of Magnolia – David Sylvian
Bird – Dead Can Dance
Georgian music from the Musicians Park

Photos: KH