We are of course in a very different Georgia than the US state that Billy Holiday sang about. The Georgians call their country Sakartvelo, and their alphabet and language is called Kartuli. It is a very pretty script and it sounds pleasant to the ears, but it is impossible to understand. I have taken up studying Russian again, as this is a language that we can use here and in Armenia and in all of Central Asia. And in Russia of course.
A quick round-up of the highlights of our last days cycling in Turkey: we´ve seen bottlenose dolphins playing in the Black Sea, our only shower in the last few days was also jumping into the sea at the end of the day, and we´ve put up our tent with two lovely families who looked after us and cooked for us. The road was busy but with plenty of space for us. The tunnels were scary but at least they had two lanes per direction and very good lighting. A couple of times we were stopped by a driver who hosted or knew of another cyclist and passing on messages. A highway grapevine for bicycle travelers!
Again the by now familiar small culture shock at the border. Turkey is modest and demure in dress, friendly, fun and super hospitable in demeanor, the towns are doing well and still developing, we are cycling on three lane smooth tarmac. Turkish food is wonderful but we felt apprehensive about eating in public, in mostly empty restaurants, because of Ramazan. Turkey is muslim, Georgia is orthodox christian.
Enter Georgia and the road narrows to a two lane ´highway´ taken over by crazy cowboys in huge cars who take traffic rules and signs as mere polite suggestions. They do not in any way feel obliged to obey the rules of the road if they don´t feel like it, or if their car is bigger than the one they are overtaking. Still, the bosses of the road are the pretty brown cows that dreamily amble onto the highway and force the traffic to slow down.
It´s hot and people are only half dressed, men are only wearing shorts and letting it all hang out. Scantily clad women are on billboards, advertising casino´s and booze. People are drinking beer in the middle of the day and enjoying food. Georgia has a distinct cuisine and we are loving the bread filled with melted cheese and egg, the khachapuli dumplings, the grilled meat, the simple tomato and cucumber salad with licorice-like dark purple mint. All of it is amazingly tasty.
Georgia feels a bit more unkempt, a bit wilder than Turkey. The sense of freedom that comes with this wildness makes us on the one hand relieved: I no longer feel obliged to wear long floppy pants over my cycling shorts, there is no more guilt over eating and drinking alchohol. We feel free. On the other hand I miss the more demure and civilized, the less in-your-face, demeanor of Turkey. Especially since none of the Turkish families who hosted us in the last couple of days were in any way judgmental about us non-muslims and happily fed us amazing food, just because we were strangers who showed up. The culture of hospitality in Turkey is simply awe-inspiring for us cool Northern Europeans but luckily for us this is one cultural trait that extends across the border into Georgia and Armenia.
Batumi: Vegas on the Black Sea
It´s tropically hot when we arrive in Batumi and we decide to stay until Critical Mass happens this Friday. Critical Mass is a monthly gathering of cyclists, happening in cities worldwide to reclaim the street for cyclists. There will be more bicycle travelers joining us. We met up with Verena from Austria who will join us to cycle up to Mestia, there is a group of Iranian cyclists, Claire is a solo traveling UK woman and yesterday we bumped into a Polish trio of cyclists.
Batumi is a fun but crazy place; a beach resort, a gambling and partying city for Turkish, Iranians, Israelis and Russians. At night there is live traditional Georgian music on an outdoor stage and people are busking on the boulevard. There is some ´interesting´ architecture such as an upside down replica of the White House, a tower celebrating the Georgian alphabet and a building with a golden ferris wheel stuck on the facade some 20 floors up, conceived as a university but never used since power changed hands and the new government abandoned the project. We meet Dutch Corrie and her Georgian husband who run a hostel here. Over a glass of excellent Georgian wine they tell us a bit more about how things work (or don´t work) over here. It´s a fun place but we realize how spoilt we are in NL, where we always have clean water on tap, gas and electricity, and pensions are paid on time.
Brexit through the gift shop
On another note, about ´things not working´. Today we read the news about Brexit winning the referendum. It´s incomprehensible. I know I have just described the differences between Turkey and Georgia, but more striking to us at every border crossing is how similar all the people that we meet are. There are many more similarities than differences between people. Cultures, cuisines and habits blend gradually across large areas instead of being strictly defined by borders. In the end everybody wants the same; a job, an education, some fun, the option of travel. A chance in life. I can´t believe how people can be so close-minded and to turn their back on the rest of the world. I made a joke to the UK traveling girl: nobody lives on a island, but oops, the UK does! I worry about my UK friends and family, and about the future of the EU.
We are playing around with our photo sharing options and we’ve found a way that saves us a truckload of uploading hassle. We are now linking directly to our Drive folders with ‘best of’ pics per country. The links are on the photo page. Please let us know if you can access the photos ok. Enjoy 🙂