Are we in Asia yet?
There is no definitive view of when Europe ends and Asia begins. Some bodies say it is the crossing of the Bosphorus (Istanbul). Others say it is the Black Sea (so we’re still in Europe, then). Another is that the Northern Caucasus countries are in Europe while Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are Asia. I’ll take this one, as a compromise. So, I’m in Asia, right.
I was sad to leave Turkey. I really enjoyed it. Certainly, there are some aspects, like anywhere, I’d be less enthusiastic about. But on a public access forum, best to leave these unsaid. The people are friendly and the country as a whole, simply amazing. An abiding picture in my mind is of a tractor going slowly down the ‘hard shoulder’, with fields of produce all around. Husband was driving and his wife was sitting in the trailer behind. Both had simple, hard working lives. I don't want to romanticise probable poverty, but it was a common scene. I will get a pic on my return leg.
The border was a slow affair. Lots of queuing. Trucks have their own lines whereas cars and coaches follow a joint lane.
I’ve mentioned that Turkey has a windscreen-based identification/motorway toll system. It can be useful to avoid money exchanges at tolls but, sneakily it can also be used to collect speeding fines. Apparently, all fines have to be paid at the border, before they will let you through. Over about 2,000kms of driving, in a country where speed limits vary by the metre and there are many, many cameras, I felt it was inevitable we would have clocked up a few. So I was waiting for the sudden arrival of the guys with AK47s, once they logged my number plate. But no, they checked and declared I was free to go. Shurely shum mishtake? One customs officer tried to get some revenue by looking at the containers of food. “Lots food, why?” How could a few packs of Ainsley Harriot tabbouleh be so valuable?
The Georgia Customs guys just walked up and down the queue, smoking fags. Sometimes they would stop and ask “Where you from, where you going, what’s in car?” How long have you got! But I think the fact the car is French registered is a useful deterrent. What if they don’t speak French, and I don’t speak English. Leave it alone, too much bother. Maybe.
Immediately on the border gate as you pass into Georgia from religious Turkey, there was a huge poster opposite. It was for a casino and had lots of scantily clad showgirls obviously having a wow of a time. Talk about contrast, and maybe a bit insensitive to their neighbours…
A whole posse of hustlers met me as the gate went up and I passed into Georgia - money changers and car insurance salesman. Fortunately, I’d got the insurance (for what it’s worth) online beforehand so didn’t need to stop.
The country has its own alphabet, Mkhedruli, which seems very alien (it means ‘of the horsemen’, apparently). Some letters are numbers too, just to make things tricky. Currency is the Lari (about 3 to the $US). Songstress Katie Melua grew up in Batumi, Georgia before moving to Belfast (insert thrilled emoticon here!). Also, Eduard Shevardnadze, ex-Foreign Minister in the Gorbachev era, became Head of State of Georgia, after the USSR imploded. And who could forget Joseph Stalin, who had a dacha in nearby Gori and died there too.
I had a bit of a comms outage, just as I approached Batumi.
My phone, or at least Three, decided there was no point in having a data carrier in Georgia. To make things worse, I didn’t have maps for Georgia for the Garmin. Not a great problem until I tried to locate the hotel I’d booked. I had no physical map of Batumi. So I tried showing the phone to taxi drivers. They scratched their heads. I tried members of the public. Still no joy. I phoned the hotel. The Receptionist spoke very little English but oddly suggested I drive along a few backstreets until I find it! Batumi is a big city! There were hardly any road names on buildings and if there were any, they were written in that blimmin' Mkhedruli alphabet. Eventually, I stopped a taxi driver and said that I will follow him in the car and offered him the issue as a personal challenge. He spoke no English but phoned them and got some info. He struggled to find it though. Eventually, it turned out that the Batumi Palm hotel (which I booked) was once called Batumi Realm and they hadn’t quite got round to putting the new signs up yet. I’d driven past the hotel about 4 times, and the taxi driver twice. Aargh! The “call me Mr Holiday” Manager got a bit of an earful and a suggestion that he pay my taxi bill, to reinforce the point.
But the room was good (sea view!) and the car had a nice safe garage to rest the night.
Oh, after making those calls, Three sent a text to say that as my balance was now £45, calls
were blocked. The text suggested I call a number to sort it – oh yes, how do I do that then?
Batumi is a seaside town – well city. It portrays itself as a Black Sea Las Vegas. As such, it does bling very well indeed, as well as the usual contrast of scruffy, fading concrete apartment blocks of another time.
I had a wander along the seafront at about 7 in the morning. It was already fairly warm and there were even some people swimming in the sea. The beach wasn't great - more soil than sand really. But the Black Sea, shock, isn't black at all but a sort of rather glorious cobalt!
With no navigation to hand, leaving Batumi and finding the right road to Tbilisi proved rather difficult. I had assumed that you find a main road and look at for a sign to the capital city. Nooo. Even locals didn't seem sure. It took me over an hour and I still think I found the scenic route. Yes, it was pretty with long horned goats and cattle roaming everywhere. Very rural and thus, progress was slow. I think I turned up in Tbilisi about 7 hours later. I had stopped at a roadside cafe with, amazingly, very fast wi-fi broadband. The owner spoke good English and asked lots of questions about, surprise surprise, Brexit.
I will leave my exploits in Tbilisi and early morning tangles with the law in Azerbaijan for the next blog.