Day 4: Trabzon → Batumi written in Georgian (Batumi)

Continue reading: →Day 5: Tbilisi

Black Sea coast between Georgia and Trabzon
Black Sea coast between Georgia and Trabzon
Getting up at 6:30 in the morning is not what I call a relaxed holiday, but we have a long way to go today. After a short breakfast in the lobby we go to the bus station and get on the bus to Hopa. The bus leaves at half past eight and goes all along the Black Sea coast. Sometimes I think I can see the giant summits of the Caucasus range appearing on the horizon, but it's only clouds. Around noon we arrive in Hopa, where we look for a bus to Sarp at the border. All we can find is a minibus, which takes us first to a petrol station, than back to the bus terminal, again to the bus station and so on and so forth - until the last seat is finally taken. The coastline with its high mountains touching the Black Sea is getting more and more spectacular. It's only 17 km to Sarp, the street is modern and as broad as a motorway - without any traffic at all. Around 1 p.m. we pass a long tunnel and end up at the first checkpoint.

All we can see are several gates and lines of fences and no people. The crossing looks deserted, but someone approaches from behind and shows us the way. It only takes a few minutes to get out of the country. Next we walk to the Georgian side of the border.

  • Station No 1: A heavily armed Russian soldier wants to see our passports and asks where we will be going to. In Russian, of course. Despite his guns and pistols and everything he's quite friendly.
  • Station No 2: The man behind the window speaks excellent English, checks our passports and asks about our first impression of Georgia. What a stupid question - the border is only 50 m away, so we haven't seen anything yet. However, what a nice person, I think, but suddenly he says "That's 3 dollars each!" "What is that for" I ask, and he replies "For new computers!". And prints out a receipt. Must be something like an official bribe. Later we will find out that every traveller had to pay the same fee.
  • Station No 3: A young, friendly woman at the next window, stamping our visa. All we can hope is that she stamps the proper visa and not the second one for our return.
  • Station No 4: Customs. Forms are available in Russian and Georgian only. I fill out the forms and hand it over - the official nods and doesn't want to see our luggage.
  • Station No 5: An officer sends us to a small building. There we find a fat, hairy woman checking our passports again. What's her job anyway? We don't have the slightest clue. Then she suddenly says "That's 1 dollar each". Since we have two visa of which one should better not be seen by the officials, I decide that it's not a good idea to argue. I give her one dollar for the two of us, which seems to be enough - she sends us away. Other travelers we will meet during our trip noticed the same woman and, same as we did, wondered about her function. We decided to call the money she asked for "fat hairy woman toll".
  • Station No 6: Some soldiers at the last gate. They want 5 dollars before they would open the gate. "Forget it man!" I say in Russian and smile. The soldier grins at me and opens the door. And that was it - easier than expected.

Oriental Store in Batumi
Lofty interior of a shop in Batumi

Before we can change some money, someone pushes us to a Marshrutka - the ex-Soviet Union version of the Turkish Dolmus, the omnipresent shared taxis. We are not in a hurry, but there's not much at the border and Batumi is too far away to walk. The fare per person is one dollar - slightly more than usual, but we don't have Georgian money yet and so we agree. First impression: Georgia is cow's paradise. They are everywhere and they are somewhat stoic. Countless cows are hanging around in the streets, in the gardens, the road ditches and even on the beach! No one seems to take care of them, so I wonder how the people can find their cows. Road conditions are really bad and all the houses look rather Russian. Everything looks a little bit seedy and sometimes even deserted - but not dreary. A lovely setting, reminding me of the Russian countryside. After quite a while we arrive at a vibrant square in the city of Batumi. So, this is Georgia. Georgia? Or shall I say the Autonomous republic of Achara, a country with its own police and paramilitary groups, ruled by an autocrat, who seems to be honoured by his people? A small stretch of land full of corruption and nepotism. But these are things mostly remaining hidden from passers-by like us.

Unfortunately we have no idea where exactly we actually are. Street signs are rare and, if existent, in Georgian only. It looks like the central square of a bigger city, but when I have a look at the map in Lonely Planet, the central square is supposed to look completely different. Someone notices that I look pretty confused. Two Georgians approach and try to help us. After a few seconds I notice that the two are deaf mute. I show them our map, but they either cannot read Latin script or they are illiterate. A wild gesticulation match starts. Explaining a Georgian what I want is one thing, but explaining a Georgian deaf mute what I want is a new challenge. Another Georgian notices the obviously funny discussion between us. Almost all of the street names in the newest (actually the 1st) edition of the Lonely Planet are out-of-date, which is why it takes a while until we understand where we are. Let's do it step by step, I think, and simply ask which direction the harbour can be found. Okay, got that. We are where I thought that we would be, but now we can be sure. We say thanks to the three Georgians - what a hospitality! - and walk to a nearby exchange booth. A strikingly beautiful blonde asks with a smile, whether we are okay or if she can help. "Thanks, we are jolly well, except for the fact that we don't know where we are", I answer in Russian. She is grinning and says "Well, in Batumi, Georgia!" Say what. She seems to know more about the city she is living in, and explains where we can find the beach, the restaurants, the train station and so on. Another man joins us after a minute. The pot-bellied man is rather small and has an arch smile. Soon we end up talking about Germany, and after a while I ask him if he's the owner of the exchange booth. He is. And of course we can change money. The man is really extremely friendly - as all the others (except for the fat hairy woman) we've met so far. As soon as we step out of his booth, a begging child appears. And another. And one more. They're orbiting us like satellites, touch our clothes and tug at our luggage. Since India, I don't give money to begging children. "Go away" I say in Russian, but it takes a couple of minutes until they leave.

Market in Batumi
Market in Batumi...
Welcome to the kingdom of Achara!

Train station!? Indeed, there's a train! And a couple of kiosks. And a tiny building with a timetable. How can you call a train station "ugly" when it's not even a train station? Let's buy a ticket, I think, but suddenly there's a guard standing next to me telling, that we needn't buy tickets. He leads us to a blue and white, typical Russian carriage and shows us a compartment with two berths. The fare is 20 Lari per person. Later on we will notice that this was his guard's van, so he would have to sleep elsewhere on the train. That's extra money for him and no loss for us - his compartment is as big (well. narrow) as the others. This is how Georgia works. There is still enough time to spare. The guard tells us, that we would just have to cross the garden behind the train in order to get to the beach. We leave our luggage in the compartment and open the door to the garden. A woman comes out of a cabin in the garden and starts to curse us. Oops, that's her garden. I tell her that the guard has told us that we can cross the garden and that I feel sorry for that. She's still cursing and swearing in a thick Russian accent, but soon she's smiling at us and allows us to go to the beach.

I didn't mention the cows for a while in this chapter on Batumi. Which has nothing to say - of course there were cows at the train station and on the road to the train station as well. We still have plenty of time, and so we go back to the centre of Batumi to see the churches, the vibrant but pathetic market place and so on. Before sunset, I go swimming behind the train. The sun slowly disappears behind the Black Sea and offers a great view. But wait a moment - it's August, and it's half past seven. That's pretty early. Maybe too early? And so I get the idea to check, whether there is a time difference between Turkey and Georgia. There is a time difference! And it's not just one hour but two hours! Which means that it's almost 10. The train is leaving in a few minutes and we don't even have something for dinner. Within a few minutes, we grab some bread, something to drink and two chicken halves. Five minutes later the train leaves - a couple of minutes too early! But the train is everything but speeding - it's slowly wheeling. Maximum speed is around 30 km per hour. The train is rumbling and wobbling and it stops at every tree. At one tree, or is it a train station!?, hundreds of people rush the train and it's getting extremely loud. And so we lock the tiny compartment and somewhen start to sleep.

Continue reading: →Day 5: Tbilisi

 

 

  • There are several buses a day from Trabzon to Hopa. It takes little more than 3 hrs, the fare is € 4 or so.
  • From the small bus terminal in Hopa one can go by bus to Sarp, but far more frequent are shared taxis (Dolmuş). The ride takes 30 minutes only, the fare is around € 1.5. The last stop is right in front of the border crossing.
  • At the Georgian side of the border crossing, taxis and marshrutkas (see information on Georgia) are waiting for customers. It's possible to pay the marshrutka in US dollar - than it's 1 dollar per person. The regular fare seems to be 1 Lari per person (half the price). The Marshrutkas go straight to Batumi's central square Tbilisis Moedani.
  • It's also possible to take a long-distance bus from Trabzon and Istanbul and elsewhere to Batumi/Tbilisi and even to Bakı (Baku). Those buses cross the border at Sarp/Batumi, but as far as I have heard, most passengers are forced to pay higher bribes. Remember that it's easier to say "no" when you are on your own. It's cheaper and more interesting to go on your own and catch a marshrutka or bus on the other side anyway.
  • There's one overnight train a day from Batumi to Tbilisi. A sleeper on that train costs around 20 Lari per person. The train leaves at 22:15, but it's a good idea to get there half an hour or so in advance, since the train might leave a little bit earlier. The train arrives at about 7 a.m. in Tbilisi. Don't expect a dining car and water. Bed sheets cost an extra fee.

 

 

  • On the train. The monotonous noises and the wobbling let everyone sleep quickly. Still, travelers suffering travel sickness might have a hard time.

 

 

 

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