After a month travelling in South East Turkey it was time for us to head North. We were originally really keen to visit the beautiful area around Lake Van and take our time travelling up to our next stop, Georgia. However, with the current disturbances involving the Kurdish PKK we were strongly advised to skip this region, for our own safety and ease of transport.
As a result we hopped on a bus in Mardin, South-East Turkey and in just thirteen hours we reached Northern Turkey and headed straight to Sarpa, Georgia. We drove out of Mardin in the late evening as the sun was setting over the dry and arid plains of Mesopotomia. The landscape was so dry and rugged, and from afar various bush fires were visible; the smoke blurring the burning red sun. We awoke ten hours or so later, to a vastly different landscape. As our eyes opened, majestic green mountains and valleys appeared, along with gushing rivers and a cloudy sky. Our bus stopped in the mountainous town of Trabzon, and the air was suddenly so different to what we had become accustomed to. Rain drops fell on our faces and we fumbled into the bottom of our bags to use – for the first time in a month – jumpers! We weren’t too sure how we felt; relieved to finally breathe fesh air but dread at the idea of re-experiencing coldness!
After a quick stop in Trabzon we decided to press onwards and reach the Georgian border before it got busy. Wishful thinking. Crossing into Georgia was a painful experience – quite literally. It did not give us a good first impression of Georgia or the Georgian people. It had a very Soviet vibe to it, and all of a sudden we were nostalgic for the friendly and cautious citizens of Southern Turkey! The border was packed with people, mainly Georgian and Turkish; the Turkish go to Georgia for cheap cigarettes and alcohol and the Georgians go to Turkey for cheap clothes and fabrics. As a result, on our side of the border, plump little women pushed and shoved their way, two or three over-flowing suitcases in tow.
Neither nationalities seem to care for or understand queuing. Although this practice is perhaps over used in Britain, nevertheless, here people were literally climbing over the top of each other. If you left the smallest of gaps between you and the metal railing, someone would be there trying to squeeze their way into it and shove past. This behaviour did not stop for the two hours we were ‘queuing’. Security officers sat smoking cigarettes nearby, not even vaguely aware of the commotion. With 20KG bags and having slept about three or fours hours the previous night, we were very tired and angry to say the least! A few swear words slipped out of John’s mouth and we politely told a few people to stop climbing over us, but it became very clear that no English was spoken here – and even if it was, pushing and shoving seemed to be the only way to get to the otherside! Alas, we pushed on through.
Two hours later we finally got through, and it was plain sailing again from there on. A minibus took us from the border straight to Batumi, a popular seaside resort, where our guesthouse awaited. Upon arrival, there was no hanging around: our monster bags were dropped off, swimming costumes were put on and then it was straight to the beach. How we had missed the beach, and being able to show any bits of skin!
Batumi is an interesting city with a mixture of old and deralect buildings, contrasted by very modern buildings and the odd skyscrapper or high-rise structure which glisten in the sun.
We were none to keen on this city, which seemed quite characterless and lacking in authenticity. On one side of the city the poverty is undeniable and buildings are literally falling down. Yet on the Eastern side and the beach front, money has undeniably been poured into big modern infrastructures; the bigger and shinier – the better. In the summer, this city is alive with Turkish, Russian and Georgian tourists; mostly young people come to party and enjoy the beach. We’ve heard stories of people having great nights out here, although we didn’t quite capatalise on that. Perhaps if we had stayed longer we would have found some charm in this odd city! Nevertheless, we were keen to leave the polluted waters and fast food joints, and after a days rest we headed straight to Mestia, a little town in the wild and beautiful North-East Svaneti region.
Have you ever been to Batumi or crossed the Georgian border at Sarp? What was your experience? If you like what we write please share, like and comment.