Op Ed: From point B to B - one Bakuvian girl's travel notes on Batumi
“Would you believe it?! My mom bought an apartment here! And you wonder how she did it? Quite simply she was just passing by, she saw an ad, made some calculations, decided that it was not that expensive and bought it. The house will only be finished in two years though. Then she will move here together with my dad and they will open a shop here. They will bake Azerbaijani sweets. It’s so great, isn’t it? I’m so happy for them. They will start a new life, and what’s more, among such beauty… My dad? What about my dad? He is fine wherever my mom is, be it in Azerbaijan, Georgia or even Kathmandu.”
That’s how a vacation to Batumi changed Azerbaijani Elmira Aliyeva’s life. Or, to be more precise, is going to change it over the next two years, unless the developers let her down. As for my own trip here, for better or worse, it has turned out to be not so momentous.
It’s been four years since I last visited Batumi. Over this time for me it has managed to transform from a mere geographical place to something mythical. And, to tell the truth, I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the sudden opportunity to make sure it actually existed. That’s not because going to resort towns in season is “mainstream”, but because I’m a snob.
However, my desire to escape from my dead end job to the unfamiliar sea and spend time with my friends came out on top. In addition, four summers later, I really wanted to get back to that ‘point B’ and compare it with the impressions I had then.
I’ll put it to you like it is. There was nothing to compare. As it turned out, my previous impressions had almost completely left me. However, I had plenty of new ones.
For a Bakuvian, the Black Sea beach is completely tiring. The shore and the seabed are too rocky, so that anyone accustomed to the sandy Caspian is completely at a loss about how he/she is supposed to move around here. The sea gets deep too quickly. The water is very clean though and the beach chairs are very cheap (and sometimes even free).
Vehicular traffic in the center of Batumi, in August, is the tenth circle of Dante’s Inferno. The drivers, who are discontent with the traffic here, create the traffic jams themselves. It’s not bad enough that traffic is so terrible on its own, but the police also add fuel to the fire, blocking a section of road here or there from time to time, urging everyone to make a huge detour.
Food in the restaurants and other life pleasures are more expensive here than in Tbilisi. Moreover, the 10% service fee included in the bill, has almost no influence on the waiters’ efficiency. However, everything is very tasty, and you will be served a bucket full of mussels in a tangy cheese sauce in the ‘FanFan’ café. By the way, four years ago, I dropped into ‘FanFan’ café when it had just opened and now I was extremely happy to learn that it all worked out well for this establishment.
Batumi is a city of contrast. It looks like buildings from different eras, from all over the world, were brought and randomly put here, as if in a warehouse. And now, an Art Nouveau-style blue mansion is beside modernism, while the gilded, pretentious Trump Tower is next to Nikita Khrushchev’s shabby legacy. Let’s say, you go down the narrow street lined with palm trees, trying to resist the feeling that you are in Nice, but then you turn round the corner, you suddenly find yourself in a neighborhood that strongly reminds you of a ghetto. Although, it’s a nice, funny ghetto, with plush toys drying on the ropes.
One man tells another one on the beach: “Apparently the rain is already coming from Kobuleti.” It immediately seems to you that the rain is a living, reasonable creature, slowly but vigorously walking down the mountain road, wearing a cloak over a naked body. It will come soon. It’s high time to put the kettle on.
Once you find yourself in Batumi, you realize how disaccustomed you are to things written in Russian. The most common thing you see is ‘apartment for rent’. The entire city is filled with such ads and you gradually have the impression that the whole city is up for rent.
It’s a city of women without makeup, with wet hair, wearing shorts, the women who have forgotten for a while about such excesses as cosmetics, push-up bras, hair dryers, high-heeled shoes, etc. People of many nationalities, dressed in different attire and beautiful in their relaxed naturalness, are walking in the streets.
“Everything is more expensive in August. Absolutely everything, even a public WC,” complains a tourist, who has spent more than a month here. “A couple of weeks ago it cost 30 tetri, whereas now it’s already 50.”
If a car navigator can more or less find the way around the city center, it’s will be helpless and get confused in the outskirts. Then you have to stop and ask the residents for directions – the domino players, the housewives who are dusting off the carpets, the guys repairing bikes… They will sincerely try to help you, shouting back and forth from balconies, trying to figure out if Kikvidze street is here and whether it exists at all, waving their hands in the supposedly right direction. And in between all this they offer you to rent a house right in their courtyard.
I think I have a new ‘idiot’s dream’: to visit Batumi in late autumn or winter. When the sea cools down and sighs with relief, because nobody goes into it anymore, squeaking with fear and pleasure. When the hordes of tourists are leaving the area. When the agitated street noise dies down. And the city is left alone with its residents. What is the city like then?