“It’s because the grass is greener on the other side.” argument is void when it comes to me aggressively defending this town as not one of the Caucasus’s best, but worlds. It then goes without saying that after internally debating whether or not to jump on the first train to Batumi, (especially after spending the previous night in a freezing police station in Vanadzor) a resounding vote was reached to purchase a ticket for the following day and see if Tbilisi could show its teeth for an event like New Years. I should be hung for even doubting. The concert at Freedom Square of closed off Rustaveli Street was amazing. Seeing my favorite bartenders and Peace Corps clan up from Yerevan for the festivities made it even better. Discovering a jazz club playing outstanding blues and other sounds was a great way to conclude the following day and hop on the 11 pm train to Batumi.
You’re probably wondering what the hell I was doing in a Vanadzor Police Station on New Year’s Eve. Some environments are appropriate for certain stories to be told by those who can truly appreciate them. This is not one of them.
7 am at the Batumi Train Station, pitch black and having no clue as to how one meanders to the center of town is an amazing feeling. Eventually I just sat down in a marshutki and took off. The sunrise on the Black Sea here was cold and yet warm at the same time. Snow tipped mountains as a backdrop for the cement buildings which have been layered with various coats of red, green and purple, made sense to me. Ultimately a decision had to be made of how exactly I would reach Budapest from Batumi – land or sea. Air was not an option.
Going back and forth with myself over sitting on a bus for a day, or meandering around a cargo freighter for two, with consistent access to a bed, bathroom and probably booze (the package deal –if you can call it that – included meals the workers were allotted.) overtook the bus option. This unfortunately, though that’s always debatable in Georgia, meant I needed to put out for a place to stay.
The night prior to leaving Batumi was spent with more wandering and stumbling upon a spectacle occurring near the center of town. It consisted of the following: a motorcyclist and trapeze artist. Entertaining the faithful as they scaled back and forth up a 45 degree angled wire suspended several hundred feet above ground to a cheering crowd, the trapeze artist dangled from underneath the motorcycle doing all sorts of absurd moves. The enthralled might as well have had tears in their eyes observing what may have seemed like the 8th wonder of the world to those below. All this was performed to tunes from the Gladiator soundtrack. Yet again, like Tbilisi the day before, debating to go or stay, stay won again.
After watching Davit and Nino do their thing, it was back to what has to be one of the shittiest holes in all of Batumi. Nursing a few Natakhtari’s, I watched Restrepo in Russian – the film by Sebastian Junger, whose bar I visited a few years back in New York City. Not a bad documentary. However, I got sidetracked by the beauty of the Korengel Valley – especially when it snowed – that I failed to pay any attention to what the platoon was doing. One thought occurred: is it completely out of the realm of possibility to put a ski lift there. No pun intended whatsoever, but consider for a moment how great it would be to see neon-red beards operating the lifts and knowing those aren’t guys from some U.S. punk scene, but tribal Afghans. No hospitality training required. They already check all those boxes.
We set sail on the 3rd and arrived in Odessa on the 5th. This leaves me with approximately five days (at the time of this posting -four) to circumnavigate through Ukraine, Moldova and Romania and reach Budapest to remind myself why exactly it is I left this area, which is still being debated.