Monday, March 19, 2007

Take You A Ridin' on the Train-Train

So Saturday night last, K. and I left our cold, cold apartment at 9 in the post meridian, and caught the subway to the train station, where a sleeper cabin to Batumi awaited...

The "new" train turned out to be an old Russian thing, leaving us to wonder what the "old" train was. And purchasing first class tickets seemed to mean that we got the entire cabin, which usually sleeps four, to ourselves. Either that, or first class tickets still kind of suck. Basically there were four benches, two attached about midway up the wall. There was a tiny little table, and some rubber curtains which velcroed shut, so that we wouldn't be bothered by the light. We ate some oranges and chocolate that we brought with us, drank a little beer, and tried to sleep to the gentle rocking/swaying, and occasional stopping of the slow train. It was actually quite a nice ride.

Our train pulled into the station around seven in the morning -- far to early for anyone other than street cleaners to be up anywhere in the country. So we got our meager belongings together and set about exploring Batumi.

Batumi is a small city in the far bottom right corner of Georgia -- in the "Autonomous Republic of Adjara" I think back in 2003 and 2004, before the Rose Revolution, and before Saakashvili put the boot to the local warlord/Supreme Comander "Aslan Abashidze," Adjara was far more autonomous and bananna-republican than it is now. Now there are well-dressed polite police, just like everywhere else, and trash cans that most people seem to avoid using, and a brand-new looking amusement park, and more. The city is actually pleasantly not in need of too much repair. Despite the (untrue) assertions of a recent article which claimed that all the manhole covers had been stolen and sold for scrap -- I'd say that Batumi was one of the most clean, orderly, un-broken places I've been in Georgia.

It was wet. Spring is the rainy season, also the cold season, so K. and I walked around waiting for the hotels and coffee shops to open up, and tried not to get rained on. We walked to the beach, and played a little bit among the rocks. We found the only early-bird cafe in the city, and drank some steaming hot turkish coffee.

We found a great hotel -- called the Montpelier. And this is when K. turned to me and said "you realize that we're starting a trend here. When we got engaged, we celebrated at a little B&B. When we got married, we went to Montpelier (vt) and stayed at a hotel. Now here we are on our first anniversary, and we're at a hotel." So next year we're going to Montpellier, France, and going to a hotel. It's only right.

We then spent most of the rest of the day wandering around. First we went to Gonio -- supposedly a huge, completely intact ancient Roman fortress. It was a little bit out of town, but the minibus took us right to the gate. The castle wall was huge, and stretched a good New York City block to each side. And peering in past the gate, you couldn't even see the back wall. But it was closed.

Then we went back walking along the beach. A big, brand-new ferris wheel, which looked really nice was sitting right on the waterfront. It was a bit windy, but we walked up anyway. I was impressed by how new and safe it looked --most everything in Georgia has at least a hint of danger to it. But it was closed.

Walking on, we found the Aquarium. Apparently during Soviet times, this was a dolphin research center. Statues and pictures of dolphins are all over the city -- there are dolphin statues in different parks, a mural of divers swimming with dolphins -- this place was known all over the USSR for their dolphins. walking in, we saw a beautiful coi pond full of giant goldfish. And we walked up to buy a ticket and go see the much-touted dolphins. You can guess what we discovered. It was closed. A pattern began to emerge.

Luckily, they couldn't close the beach. It's a rock beach -- which was actually nice, since the sand didn't get in our shoes, and it was way too cold to swim. And the waves made a lovely crackling sound as they beat on the shore.

For dinner, we ate at this little English tea shop.. then to celebrate our one year anniversary, we bought a bottle of champagne, and headed back to the cold, cold hotel. Next year can only be more luxurious.

Upon waking, we discovered, to our chagrin, that the 10:00 train home wasn't actually arriving, and we were five minutes late for the 8:25 train -- which normally wouldn't be a problem in Georgia. That would still give us time to eat breakfast and have a leisurely walk to the station. But apparently trains are on schedule here, so we missed it.

No problem, there's marshrutkas (mini busses) that leave every hour. We ate, paid up, and went to catch the bus. And proceeded to have the most harrowing drive of our entire lives. While Batumi is a rainy sub-tropical haven on the Black sea, with palm trees everywhere, and Tbilisi has had the driest, warmest winter in years (in the five months we've been here, less than a week of rainy days) the between parts of Georgia, are apparently a giant snowy mess. Add to that our driver who was working his way through a pack of cigarettes (and a box of matches) as well as engaging in a series of increasingly red-faced phone calls concerning a young ten-year-old boy in his care in the front seat (who kept stealing his cigarettes) and the only thing more engaging than the drama in the front seat of the bus, was the drama out the windshield, as we drifted around the road like a sailboat. I kept wishing our driver would use more than (or at least) one hand to drive, especially given all the freezing sleet that was pelting the road, the windshield, and us, every time he rolled down the window to smoke another cigarette.

This is the danger I'm talking about. I finally had to go to sleep.
And then we were home. Hooray!


Anonymous said...

this is kinda lame, but congratulations. the year went by so fast! love from jeliot and the cat :)

Sofia said...

Being a Georgian (who lives in the US). I find your blog amusing and wonderful. I love the funny stories with a "hint of danger." It seems like it has been a little rough but enjoyable. I love the translations of Tabidze.
Thanks, Sopo