I started the day at with breakfast on the rooftop here at the Hotel Old Town. The hotel room was a little underdecorated but any shortcomings are more than made up for on the rooftop terrace with a panoramic view of Butumi.
I decided to start my city tour my renting a bike as Batumi sprawls for miles along the Black Sea. Last night I walked and walked and seemed to make no progress. The layout is also odd with no straightforward way to get from my hotel to the rocky beach. There’s a strange muddy potholed track that links the main road with the seaside promenade.
I noticed extensive orange bike lanes so I decided that was the way to go.
I hopped on and started pedaling south. On my right was the sea with a wide beach that narrowed the further south I went. There were occasional drink stalls but few people were on the wide, pebbly beach. Perhaps the water was still cold?
The main activity was getting the town ready for the tourist onslaught that was about to happen. There were lots of workmen hammering, drilling and assembling all the stuff that keeps strollers amused from roller coasters to food stalls and fountains.
On the land side there were a series of parks interspersed with glass towers and massive construction sites. Massive. Clearly there is some major money pouring into the town. The bike path came to an end a good 7km from where I started. I slowly pedaled back, glad I had decided to stay in the old town and not on the outskirts.
Looking for the tourist office brought me more into the part of town with stylish 19th century buildings punctuated with the occasional skyscraper.
The tourist office staff was friendly and informed me that there was no bus to Yerevan. Armenia cancelled!
I headed back to the area near my hotel for a halal lunch, realizing that this was clearly the more working class part of town both at the time of construction and now.
Still the city was not really adding up for me.
So I decided to take the a cable car ride to the top of a nearby hill. It was a long ride and dangling over the city was slightly more nerve wracking than I had thought. The views were spectacular of course.
Somehow I expected something like the shopping mall that tops Victoria Hill in Hong Kong but truth was that after admiring the view there wasn’t much else to do so I came down and went back to the hotel to rest.
I left again around 5.30 when the light was golden and then began to really appreciate the beauty of Batumi. It’s not really about the coast although I did like the port area with boats and fishermen. The big event was the arrival of a ship commissioned to report on the ecological condition of the Black Sea. Reporters and TV cameras lined the dock, waiting for the crew to disembark.
No, it’s really about the urban landscape. Aside from the amusement parks, there are shady parks adorned with fountains, swan ponds, and gardens.
Then, there’s the architecture. There’s not a single boring building in the whole town. With glass towers and brick buildings laced with gilt glittering in the sun, statues and ornamental balconies it is really a feast for the eye. Belle-Epoque, Art Deco, neo-Classical: it was all present and accounted for.
The best part was Piazza. What a perfect square! I wound up having dinner at the Piazza hotel on the square. All was discreet, elegant and classy. I feasted on chicken with huckleberry sauce accompanied by an excellent wine while a jazz tape provided the perfect musical backdrop.