Batumi is Georgia’s foremost Black Sea harbour and beach town, and judging from its modern construction obviously booming – although taste is another matter.
Batumi, as far as I can see, has three distinct elements. There is the beach front, for which it is famous, and the associated Batumi Boulevard. There is the old town, a fairly straightforward network of narrow cobbled streets, lined by shops, restaurants and a range of old houses, from Art Nouveau to corrugated iron. Ever diminishing, more and more houses seem to be left to rot, and will ultimately collapse. And there is the modern construction boom, ever increasing, and no stopping it replacing all those old collapsing houses, as well as ever expanding along the Boulevard towards the west.
We stay in a lovely hotel in the old town, only downside being that I have to manoeuvre the Monster carefully through the small streets. But once safely left at the hotel parking, we are free to wander the alleys, admire some of the old houses, balconies, and enjoy the many restaurants. Yet, even here it is not easy to find fresh fish, the Black Sea doesn’t seem to provide a rich catch.
The sea front includes the natural harbour, protected where the old city protrudes somewhat into the Black Sea. There are just a few ships, the coastal strip is dominated by a Ferris wheel and an intricate homage to Ali and Nino, characters in one of the most beautiful love stories I ever read. The two metal wire statues are slowly rotating into each other, and away again. A few more tall buildings dominate the skyline here, like the Alphabetic Tower, the Meridien Hotel – with its own weird little Ferris Wheel incorporated -, and the tiny little mosque. Around the corner, southwest-wards, stretches what is called the Batumi Boulevard or Seaside Park, originally a few hundred meters, designed at the end of the 19th Century, now stretching over 7 km. The first part is quite nice, lots of green in between the city centre and the beach, good facilities as bars and cafes, and those all-important ice cream stands.
But the further along the beach front we go, the more it turns into that third element of the city, the modern construction boom. All the big hotel chains have their representation, some quite nice, but others pretty ugly, culminating in the shape of a horseshoe, for instance. It is not that there is no effort to produce something attractive, it is just that in most cases this effort has failed – not helped, of course, by the apparent lack of planning. Interspersed with the hotels are the apartment buildings, some obviously from quite some time ago, some newer constructions, and many not even finished yet. The absolute winner in bad taste is the building in the shape of the Colosseum, a monstrous attempt to copy the Roman original. The Grand Gloria Hotel is a close second. Yet, I find it difficult to turn around and head back; every time I need to push a little further, to the next horrible construction. And to the next Soviet-style apartment building remaining in between the modern highrise. And at the end of the afternoon is official: Batumi is indeed the town with the most varied, yet ugliest apartment buildings I have ever seen – and that says quite something! But: photogenic they are, I think. Make sure to scoll down all the way!
Next: the Adjara region.