Food, Travel

Getting to Know You, Batumi

I’m finding that in Georgia I am more susceptible to advertising. If something is advertised on television, something that I want/need, there is a good chance it will make its way into my “basket”. I have noticed this about my host family as well. Items I see on television appear in the house: a certain Russian chocolate bar, Barambo candies, Tide laundry detergent, and Blend-a-med toothpaste. So it’s not just me. In a sea of largely unfamiliar products I find myself reaching for a brand that was paraded across the television screen, succumbing to the false logic that because I saw it on television it must be good.

In this case, advertising and word of mouth led me to have higher expectations for the city of Batumi than it appears the city can make good on. As advertised on television, Batumi is all sea and sizzle: restaurants, art, night life, leisure, etc., etc. Yet after having prowled the city for four hours yesterday I was sore in foot and wondering what Jason and I were going to do for the next 2 ½ days. Only endless construction and deserted cafes here.

In fairness, I must state that April is not at all the “season” for Batumi. Batumi is a summer destination. When the weather gets hot, the city is said to be flooded by Georgians and foreigners alike. However, while many places are said to “seasonal” by nature, I feel that visiting them out of season you would still find enough to occupy your visit. Batumi, on the other hand, feels like a wasteland for the unprepared tourist. There is little to do other than wander the never-ending Promenade and stare at the gentle Black Sea.

And of course, none of this is helped by the fact that it has rained the entire time we have been here. Last night I felt like shaking my fist at the Adjaran Department of Tourism, whose advertising was responsible for luring us here, and the treacherous Powers-That-Be that had turned my Easter vacation into a soggy mess.

That was yesterday.

Today I felt a slight warming in my feelings towards Batumi. Nothing had really changed in terms of the weather or things to do, but perhaps in having shaken off the lingering influence of well-edited commercials, I was open to experiencing the Batumi-where-people-live and not just Batumi-the-tourist-getaway.

Wandering the market I enjoyed, as I always do, the piles of fresh greens. Preparations for Easter were evident in the squat towers of paska, Easter cake, and the root which is used to dye eggs red, available in either little bundles or already ground.

Back on the Promenade, which runs for kilometers along the sea, we finally found the Ali and Nino statues. Our desire to find them proof of yet another advertising success. We’d been unable to see them from the street due to a mound of dirt and several tractor-like machines. Though not as impressive as expected (sigh), I did find that there was a dry patch of rocks under the edge of the platform that allowed us to take a break for a little while. From our shelter we had an unimpeded view of the Black Sea which was quietly lapping on the shore just feet from us. Off in the distance, we saw dolphins, yes, dolphins arcing in and out of the water. A sight I enjoyed very much.

The beach is Batumi is not very beach-like by California standards. I was surprised to see that there is no sand. All rounded colorful stones, from the size of your hand down to small pebbles. Somewhat treacherous to walk on, but we were very pleased by the sound that the rocks make when the waves are pulled back out, a pleasant clatter. And I was very pleased by the amount of polished sea glass there was to be found. Both Jason and I are amassing collections.

After wandering the beach, fixedly staring at the ground for more sea glass, we moved to the lush Promenade and explored the many paths, monuments, and fountains. Picture taking a-plenty. We found a very nice café and had lunch: mushroom soup and pizza sans mayonnaise on top (a Georgian thing). I enjoyed an excellent americano and then went and bought myself a 4 GB flash drive. As I told Jason, I have now joined the 21st century. (The last flash drive I had was a whopping 40 MB. Yeah!)

So there were things to enjoy that second day: sea glass, dolphins, good coffee, and lush rainy gardens. Advertising gave me false expectation, but Batumi is working hard to show me its true colors underneath all the marketing flash.

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