Saturday afternoon I got a call from TLG. “The President has invited you to Batumi to see a production of the Georgian play Keto and Kote. It’s like the Georgian Romeo and Juliet but with a happy ending. Meals, transportation and hotel rooms will be provided by the Ministry of Education.”
That was some seriously awesome news.
So Sunday morning I woke up early and dragged my tired self to the Radisson to get on a bus and begin the epic seven-hour bus trip to Batumi. The bus was air-conditioned and surprisingly comfortable. We got lunch in Kutaisi – a nice Georgian banquet with breads, mchadi, sulguni, khatchapuri, roast chicken, french fries, salads, and various vegetable dishes that I largely ignored.
My favorite part of the bus ride was seeing the Black Sea. At some point I just looked up from my book and I could just feel it. The scenery of Georgia – the ever-present mountains in the distance – was gone, and there was just a row of trees with sky behind them – and I knew. Suddenly we passed the trees and there it was, giant and blue and peaceful. Water thrills and relaxes me, and I think that living in Tbilisi, after growing up on the Atlantic coast, makes me subconsciously miss the ocean. Whenever I leave the vicinity of the ocean or the sea, I feel a pang of anxiety, like I might never see it again. I definitely want to retire near the ocean.
After the miles of shoreline and quaint towns, Batumi felt paltry and touristy and out of place. To me the entire town smelled like diesel fuel – I imagine from the giant Socar plant and the railway lines carrying oil from Azerbaijan into Turkey and points beyond and the diesel fuel powering the ships in Batumi port. I can imagine Batumi becoming really nice, one day – perhaps in some post-industrial era – but it reminded me a lot of Maspeth, Queens – the industrial area of factories and the section of Newtown Creek that’s so polluted that it runs an oily mucosal green – and I didn’t like it at all.
Batumi Art House was gorgeous, though. And we got to stay at two really nice hotels – half at the Radisson and half at Intourist – and I heard tales of pools and spas and other amenities, although I was too tired after the long day to do much other than sleep in my amazingly modern room with the ridiculously comfortable pillows. We ate a late dinner at a great restaurant that served really good pork mtsvadi. Radisson breakfast was just okay – typical hotel stuff, nothing even close to being as good as what I cook myself for breakfast. Eggs and potatoes were a little dry, bacon was great, cake was a little dry, you get the idea.
Honestly, though, the best part of Batumi was the show itself. Keto and Kote was fabulous – absolutely fabulous. I wrote a long, detailed review of it on my personal blog, so check that out if you want to read about the show… which by the way, was nothing like Romeo and Juliet whatsoever. For one thing, it was a comic opera, not a tragic play, but the dissimilarities are so numerous and significant that they don’t even really bear mentioning.
We stopped at McDonald’s in Kutaisi on the way back, although I didn’t eat there – I’m not a fan of McDonald’s, and even if I were, there’s one a ten minute walk away from where I live in Tbilisi – but instead ditched the TLG bus and met up with a friend who lives in Kutaisi and went to Mirzaani (although there’s a Mirzaani a five minute walk away from where I live in Tbilisi) and then to a truly marvelous gem of a cafe called Tetri Kveebi that sits overlooking the Rioni where all those white rocks stick out of it. I had the most amazing Turkish coffee and a really good crepe with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. I caught a late marshutka back to Tbilisi – it was surprisingly pleasant for my first inter-city marshutka trip. The seat was decently comfortable, I had a window next to me so I didn’t have to sweat or smell people, and the ride took just under four hours, including a rest stop. Perhaps I’ll be less trepidatious about inter-city marshutkas in the future.
In any case, I’d like to thank the President and the Ministry for taking us on this trip. I really enjoyed it – the show, the opportunity to finally see Batumi, the bonding with other TLG volunteers, and the overall experience – which means that out of four official TLG excursions I’ve been on in my year in Georgia, I’ve loved all four of them. They’re definitely one of my favorite perks of being a TLG volunteer.