Surprising Destination: Batumi, Georgia

 

Originally part of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, Georgia was separated out to Russia, with Batumi one of the largest cities in the region of Ajaria. It has a population of about 125,000. This seaside resort has a different climate from Trabzon, with a much more Mediterranean flair, including citrus, olives and palm trees.

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Even though it was formerly part of Russia, people speak Georgian. There has been a major attempt to re-brand the city as a Las Vegas of the Black Sea, while still maintaining the charm of the original construction.

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We started our trip through the Batumi Botanical Garden which is part of the Mtirala National Park. This park is about 5 miles outside the main city. It has been in operation for >100 years, designed and conceived by Russian botanist, Andrey Krasnov, which incorporates about 113 hectares of park space. There are 21 different zones in the park, with the upper and lower park, bamboo groves, an Australian, Mexican and Mediterranean regions. All plants and trees are labelled and year the plant started, documented on the main part of the plant. It is a very lush area, and a lovely walk, affording views of the city in the distance.

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After a brief lunch, we explored the city. There is a very active port, including a Naval station, with many fountains and parks. The buildings are quite reminiscent of New Orleans (USA), with wooden and stone construction, metal balconies, and beautify scroll work. Lamps and trees line the streets.

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There is a major effort to bring in casinos and hotels, and I am not sure how this may change the nature of the downtown region over time -- but it is beautiful at present. Of course, there are numerous abandoned hotels, just seemingly deserted overnight!

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Piazza Square has a complex of hotels, restaurants and cafes with beautiful mosaics and stained glass, with lively musicians playing throughout the day and night. The St. Nicholas church is one of the oldest Greek Orthodox churches in the city.

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We continued through Europe Square (formerly Era Square), which is lined by an eclectic variety of buildings, which together create a fantasy land or fairy-tale like appearance. 

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This is a mixture of bell époque buildings, with an astronomical clock installed in the former National Bank of Georgia building. The clock shows the moon phases, zodiac, sun and moon placement and a fabulous chime. The gold rimming glints beautifully at sunset, sending shards of sunlight around the square. There are replicas of other famous buildings, along with a link to the original Greek history, with a Medea statue in the middle, including a true golden fleece.

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There are large areas for congregation, including the famous McDonald's that everybody must go to. Many casinos surround this space, but so do some other buildings.

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Batumi is a summer resort for Russians, and thus even though Russian is a second language, they love to gamble, and thus the growing number of large casinos.

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The Monument of Ilia Chavchavadze is an opera house with a Neptune statue. The building is a monument to one of the founding fathers of the nation, and he is well known for motherland, language, and faith!

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Batumi Boulevard, built in 1881, lines the Black Sea, and stretches for about 5 miles along the coast of the city. There are numerous beaches, cafes, bars, fountains, fisherman, a lighthouse and famous buildings. Entertainment, activities, and life abound along this street.

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Two things of note: the alphabetic tower and the Ali and Nino moving statues. The alphabetic tower is a 427 foot cylindrical building created to look like the double helix of DNA, listing all 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet, with a large "disco-ball" at the top that blinks different colors. The restaurant at the top rotates.

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Finally, you must set aside about 15 minutes to watch the entire Ali and Nino moving statue exhibit. The story: Set in Baku, it tells the story of a Muslim Azeri boy, Ali and a Christian Georgian princess Nino, in their struggle to be together. Their families deny them for decades. However, they finally succeed, get married, and he goes off to war, and dies. Thus, the eternal story of tragic and unrequited love is shown.

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These are large metal sculptures of a man and woman, set on metal pedestals, designed by Tamar Kvesitadze. These begin a slow movement and rotation towards one another, and ultimately, kiss and then fuse, perfectly aligned aluminium plates which allow the two to become one--although not actually ever touch one another, as they plates show the separation, and then slowly drift apart again. The whole movement cycle is about 5 minutes, but it is not always running, so you have to wait until it does (if you scroll through the photos fast, you can get the sense of movement).

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The Ferris wheel is nearby at the waterfront and you can get a view of the city for about 50 cents (10 minutes).

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DrFumblefinger posted:

Thanks for sharing this destination with us, Lester.  

I'm curious - how was the food in Batumi?

I am a vegetarian, and thus the very heavy reliance on fish products from the Black Sea made for some creative eating. A Mediterranean type cuisine along with traditional "Russian" foods were readily available. There were lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts, which were prepared in flavorful dishes. 

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