Arriving at the D’ Vine hostel in Batumi I was in high spirits, due mostly to the early finish and the ease with how things had progressed during the morning. As I struggled my way through the gate and into the courtyard, I was greeted by the proprietor Daniel who asked if I’d booked (no I hadn’t) and was informed they were full up. My head dropped, until Daniel continued on to say “but we can always make room for a cyclist” and my smile returned.
The hostel although small, was a hive of activity with visitors from all corners of the globe. Daniel, his wife Nina and their new puppy called Jabba (who stole all the attention) were very friendly in making me welcome and then feel at home and I quickly settled in.
Before long I was swapping stories with the other travelers, however once I was told the Azerbaijan embassy was just around the corner I had no hesitation in running round and waiting in line to see the consulate, who was on lunch. An hour later and I finally got to ask for my visa, to which I was informed it would take three working days (it was Wednesday) and I could pick it up on Monday. This meant I would be in Batumi over the weekend and six days in total, longer than what I’d prepared for.
I informed Nina I’d stay two nights in the hostel and then could they recommend a place I could wild camp. That was my initial plan, which of course changed and the result was beyond anything I could have hoped for… see below.
The ride from Sarp to Batumi although short, was enough to confirm what I had heard about Georgian drivers and I took no liberties on the road. There was one incident when I was on a roundabout and got cut up, so I know to be careful. This continued as I walked around the town – It’s the only time I’ve seen zebra crossings where cars will not stop and you will get run over if you expect them to.
The town itself was a pleasant surprise, I really enjoyed wandering around and the beach area in particular was excellent and kept nice and clean. Even though there are pebbles and not sand it was very busy (the water was warm when I went for a swim) and seems to be the main focal point, being overlooked by the majority of the towns other highlights.
Many of the buildings are relatively new with more under construction. The feeling I got is one of growth and prosperity.
Here’s a few more images from my wander…
Fronting the beach area is an area known as ‘the boulevard’ where you can find cafe’s and restaurants, including a McDonald’s.
There was a beautiful statue of a fairy, but unfortunately I was unable to isolate it from the background:
Back at the hostel and I had made friends with Hansi, on holiday from Finland. He’s quite a character and has such a carefree attitude I loved being around him. Of course I now have yet another invitation to Scandinavia – hope it’s not too long Hansi!
But the surprise of my stay at the hostel was running into an English teacher working and living in Vietnam called David. Once he learned about my IT skills I was put to work and once completed we came to an agreement over payment, which involved my hostel bill and a hearty local meal. Thank’s David and don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to go ahead with the website, or maybe I’ll see you in Vietnam.
Hansi was responsible for my hangover on Monday morning, having kept me out till 3 a.m. We had found a bar playing Beatles records and I was more than happy enough to sing along!
I was still a bit blurry eyed as I called at the Azerbaijan embassy to pick up my visa, but the long queue was enough to make me call back a little later and then elated when asked what dates I would like on the visa, I chose 20th August, as this would give me a few weeks to explore both Georgia and Armenia.
And so I was back on the road, heading for the caves of Vardzia via the very imposing Goderdzi Pass. The road out of Batumi was busy, but once I’d cleared the outskirts it turned into reasonable tarmac, least for a while.
However once I started on the pass, it was soon real off-roading. It took me two days to climb the to the summit and as I pitched my tent in the field next to the local store (I was too tired to consider descending) I was told to go to the weather station just around the hill where I would be given a room for the night. What a result, the rain had just started to fall and I was inside out of the wind.
After a reasonably early start the next morning I made my way gingerly down the mountain, the road was horrendous and how I wished for full suspension on my bike! Once I reached the valley floor I made my way to Akhaltsikhi, with it’s impressive fortress sat on top of the hillside.
I needed to stock up on supplies as I’d found it impossible to find milk or jam in the mountains, not a mistake I will make again. While looking for a supermarket I came across the towns only internet cafe, which is where I’m uploading this update from. Next up – Vardzia.