A nation in love with tea (Chi) as much as the Brits, where backgammon (Tavla) is taken almost as seriously as being a good host; Turkey had been more than good to me but it was refreshing to cross another border and find a new and very distinctive land spread before me.
The most noticable change was the weather which had been chilling even in Anatolia and had now taken on a definitley autumnal feel as I cycled along the black sea coast accompanied by blustery squalls. The subtropical lushness of Alara was a marked contrast to the continental aridity from which I had emerged. Suddenly thick green vegetation punctuated by waterfalls proliferated.
I crossed the border under dreary skies which occassionally summoned the will to drizzle.
A couple of punctures had convinced me that my two remaining inner tubes required some back up and my lovely new cycling shoes had lost a cleat screw for which I had no spare so I decided to head into Batumi in search of a bike shop.
The first one I found didn't sell inner tubes. A bike shop that doesn't sell inner tubes was a suprising turn of events but the friendly owner made sense of my odd hoping charades and helpfully took a screw of mine and cut it down to the right size allowing me to resecure myself to the peddales. Thus stabalized I headed off and found a shop which did have tubes and pondered my next move.
The drizzle had been steadily gaining in vigour and I was keen to have a look around the city before leaving the sea behind me (perhaps until the Persian gulf) so I went in search of a hostel and found one which fit the bill before emerging to explore into skies which had cleared miraculously almost immedietly after I parted with the money for a roof over my head.
But I was gald I stayed. With little expectations Batumi unfurled itself as a gloriously bizzare small city fizzing with new cash where crazed architectural developments abut traditional and faux traditional forms.
20 years ago Batumi was a rundown town with little to recommend itself. When Georgian's or visiting Russians, Turks and Armenians wanted a holiday on the black sea it was to Ochamchire that they went. The troubles in South Ossetia and Abkahazia put pay to that and Batumi recieved an influx of investment followed by visitors.
New cities don't usually do it for me but I found Batumi charming.
Colourful and carefully designed the broad streets and open plazas were a pleasure to wander.
The architectural regeneration was often good with quality materials; stone, iron, brass, cobbles, marble abounding. The mixture of orthodox, Jewish and Muslim religious building provided an enjoyably cosmopolitan air.
The legend of Jason, his argonauts, and the golden fleece pervades the city which claims to have been the site of his adventure. There are many theories about what the golden fleece represents; the bringing of sheep husbandry from Georgia to Greece, a tome containing the secrets of alchemy, the ideal of royal power. Perhaps the most convincing is the idea that it refers to the technique of using a fleecy skins to pan for gold in mountain streams.
Whatever the truth, or lack there of, Batumi has run with it and now fleeces tourists with manifold trinkets and has gilded the city to better reflect the myth.
The faux classical constructs of gleaming white pillared marble juxtopose the more daring and interesting modern forms of which the city boasts many.
Of course the soviet past has not been entirely expunged but somehow the social housing with its jaunty red panelling seemed rather fine to me. Clearly I was in a dangerously good mood.
Batumi is at it's best on the water front where a broad pedestrianised walkway runs for miles behind which an impeccably maintained and popular park spreads. This was a welcome and marked contrast to the vast majority of seaside cities I had recently enountered in Turkey which were bisected and scarred by busy roads running along the coast,
Those blue covered tables are free to play open air pool tables. Awesome.
There's even a magnificent cycle path! The first I had encountered since Switzerland which immedietly disposed me well towards Georgia and Batumi in particular.
The beach is stoney and average but the careful development elevates it to loveliness.
The park continued to amuse as it descended into barmyness.
Dinosaurs are of course the natural accompliment to austere sculptures and who wouldn't want a lifesize naked blue Na'vi standinf vigil outside the kids playground?
The oddities were not confined to the park.
Only the middle one tickled my fancy mainly because they served London Pride. Deciding that my budget for the day was already blown what with staying at the hostel I threw frugality out the window and treated myself to a pint. At 2.90 GBP it was cheaper than in London which pleased and depressed me in equal measure.
The Quiet Woman Pub had waitresses dressed in St Trinians oufits and football on the tele but I soon retreated to the relative sanity of the hostel with a cheap bottle of good Georgian red and witnessed a downpour of such savage intensity that it caused a power cut. I now felt rather smug about my decision to find lodgings rather than camping.
A fine start to my visit to the caucuses.