Saturday, August 1, 2009

Vacations in Adjara: Survival guide

For the recent years, the most affordable seaside vacation opportunity for Armenians is going to the Georgian coast of the Black Sea (Adjara region). It's much more cheaper than our own lake Sevan's hotels and guesthouses offer.

The post is big but quite informative filled with photos and useful tips. 

Getting there

By Train: The most popular transportation mean is the train. This year it started to operate since July 15 with the newly refurbished "Armenia" train by South Caucasian Railways. Here, in their official site you can see photos of compartments and rates.
It works on odd days, costs around 10 700 (Yerevan - Batumi) and reaches Batumi in 18 hours. Looks too long and the minibuses that spend 4 hours less seem to be more comfortable, but it isn't so. In train you are free to walk, have a comfortable place to sleep and if you have a big company, or at least 4 to occupy a compartment (купе), train is much more fun and can be a part of the vacation :)
[tip] The train tickets are being sold in the central station (Sasuntsi Davit), every other day, but be prepared for a looong queue. They are going on sale 2 weeks before the departure, and sometimes being sold out the same day, be prepared.
The return ticket must be purchased from Kobuleti or Batumi not earlier than 5 days in advance. The train leaves on even days.
Both Armenian and Georgian trains operate. Our train on July 19th was Armenian, but on the way back, it was Georgian on 28th. If we knew that the Georgian train would be so bad comparing to the Armenian one, we would change the date to 30th. Yep, the Armenian train is newer, in a much better condition.
Both of the trains are usually being very late.. like 2-4 hours, and it's considered as normal.

Here's the railway route in Georgia and Armenia. Not quite short one, huh?

By Car: if you own a car, you have a better option. It takes maybe about 8 hours to reach to Batumi/Kobuleti and as I have heard from people, you spend only 12 000 AMD (probably more) on petrol. Plus, you can easily move to the nearby resorts, cities not worrying about buses and their schedules or the taxis.

By Plane: Starting from July, there's a regular Armavia flight to Batumi, costing around 79 000 AMD the round trip. Yep, it's great to spend only 40 minutes on the way, but I don’t know if anybody ready to pay 79k would actually go to Batumi instead of going to Antalya, Sochi, Varna (Bulgaria) etc...


In Batumi/Kobuleti, people transform their houses whatever state they are in, into guesthouses and rent it to holiday-makers. They are ultra cheap - starting from 5$/double bed room. The conditions vary. For rooms with separate bathroom and a satellite TV, you have yet to search.
[tip] If you decide to deal with travel agencies, beware that they take the double (or triple) price you normally can get on place. Besides, you may not get what you were promised.

Starting from August 1, it's considered a high-season so the prices go up.

You may need a phrasebook of Georgian since here hardly anybody speaks other language than Georgian. The older generation people speak and understand Russian with some difficulties, but the youth doesn't speak or understand at all.

Something interesting that I've noticed in Georgians is that they always try to use the richness of their language to tell/explain you something, even knowing that you don't understand a word. They would speak half an hour and wait for your reaction/answer. You will notice it everywhere there… you see that they are sincerely willing to help but they'd rather speak minutes in Georgian than use gestures or try to use some foreign words in describing.

The dealers

In this city, it seems like everyone is trying to grab some money from you. Starting from the train, some Georgians start knocking on compartments' doors and offering an accommodation. Even the conductor starts to convince you that he knows this really good woman who has this really great house with everything you want, by the seashore, windows looking at the sea, with satellite TV, separate bathrooms for each room, etc... Whatever you ask, he will say yes, they have it. They even come to meet you at the platform, carry your bags, take with their car or hire a taxi and bring to watch the houses. When you enter the first house you realize that it's better to run away from them ASAP. It's worse than the poorest hospital rooms we've seen in the war years, one bathroom for the entire floor shared with maybe more than 5 families, no windows in rooms, there are only beds in rooms that are allocated in a way that it's hard to move around in there etc... View at the seaside? This cities at the shore are indeed narrow and long, spread at the coast, so most of the houses lie close to the beaches, however they would bring you to the farthest possible house. When you start to complain that it's not really what you wanted, they say that they have another good house, just in front, and make you visit them all and you get even more disappointed.
That's the reality. Imagine being trapped in a train for about 21 hours, carrying heavy bags you end up looking for a place to stay, visiting those houses with really poor conditions... Next time I'll surely manage it beforehand.

First impressions
For me, the vacation has to be in comfort and peace, where I have nothing to worry about and everything is taken care in advance. Here's not that case.

Finding accommodation on spot can be a tough job, especially when you're just arrived after the train ride. The majority of affordable guesthouses do not include meals, so you must take care of your daily meals yourself. We were 4 females and weren't much demanding, eating fruits, vegetables, easily prepared dishes.. For men, with their meat must-eat it will be slightly difficult. However, the food is cheaper than in Yerevan.

The region is quite poor and so are the people. When you are lying on the beach enjoying yourself, you will see a lot of kids, older women selling stuff and approaching you, asking to buy anything.. For me it was disturbing… I couldn't stand it, I was feeling obliged to buy anything and feeling uncomfortable. There are really a lot of them so you can't avoid it.

The beaches in Kobuleti and Batumi are rocky. No sand. The sea is black and the different-sized rock at the beaches are so too. The sea is mostly not calm and there are usually quite big waves. It's hard to walk in the beach barefoot, the rocks hurt. So is entering to the water. You step into the water with difficulty because of the rocks and then you get slapped by the wave that can easily make you fall down right on the rocks and hurt yourself. The big waves also bring a lot of big rocks with them so you're not only stumbled on the rocks, but you get hit by them with the water. When you manage to get into the water, you are swimming together with lots of insects, plants and dirt. There can be plastic bottles floating, paper labels from bottles and all kinds of rubbish. But that depends on the day.
People smoke, eat sunflower seеds and maize and have the habit to leave the waste just where they consume it. Thankfully, the sea is usually getting restless at night and the big waves wash everything away from beaches.
You can borrow а chaise-longue for 3 lari half-day or 6 lari for full day. If you want an umbrella too, it becomes 5 lari. The beaches are rather crowded and there are plenty of walking vendors of seeds, maizes, cookies, khachapuris, nuts and also beach beds, umbrellas, water balloons and life vests.


We were warned that there are many pickpockets so we should be quite attentive to our bags and wallets. Even in the guesthouses.
The beach in Kobuleti seemed to have a lifeguard service, although we have seen the lifeguards' "tower" always empty. While we were there once we noticed a tension on the beach, when everybody has their attention to the sea. 3 lifeguards went saving a man that was showing drowning signs. The lifeguards went swimming, without a boat. Turned out it's a bastard with an aqualung that was just teasing the lifeguards pretending he was drowning then appearing in other places far from where he was seen last time.
I didn't see any buoys in the water indicating the dangerous line not to be crossed.
When speaking to other Armenians there we got to know that a pregnant Armenian woman got drowned in Ureki, being sucked by the sand (Ureki is known to be a rare sandy shore instead of rocks). Even her husband swimming near couldn't save her. So we were told that the sandy shore isn't safe there.
Anyways, try to use air balloons (life buoys) when swimming on a wavy water and life vests while taking a boat ride or a water amusement.


Evenings there are for walking and going to cafes. The street in Kobuleti, that's on the shore is a promenade where people walk slowly in couples and families, dressed up, eating seeds and other staff :) (just like the opera surroundings in Yerevan :)
There are many open air cafes, some with live music - violins, rock bands etc… The food is cheap comparing to Yerevan. But note that not all the waiters understand any other language than Georgian. Russian is somehow being understood though we once had quite a hard time explaining a waitress to bring a Borjomi. Yes, she couldn't get BORJOMI! There is a nice café situated inside the first floor of a guesthouse [see on the pic]. Half of the tables are situated along the seashore, so you have a great view with a good music. The band is playing covers to many classic rock, blues and pop songs.

View from the cafe:

By the way, these evening walks are also useful (or the opposite) for meeting people you know that are also there. Sometimes you even forget that you're not in Armenia at the moment, since all you hear is Armenian speech and the faces are Armenian too.
However I noticed that in the evenings, when the beaches are almost empty, it's heavenly pleasant just to sit alone by the sea and watch the horizon, listening to the waves. That moment's worth the whole trip!

For the evening there is also the amusement park.

Amusement park or Lunapark (sometimes also called Disneyland :)

Near the Kobuleti city (between Kobuleti and Ureki) there's an amusement park that is a must-visit place! There are open mini-buses operating since 7 in the evening and take you there for 1 lari in 15 minutes. [tip]   By the way, since the evenings are really chilly, and the buses are open and driving really fast, you should take some scarves and jackets, otherwise you will catch cold as we did.
At the entrance of the park you buy some tickets (credits). 1 ticket costs 1 lari. The attractions have their prices like 1,3,5, up to 10 tickets. There are all kinds of carousels and attractions, starting with the Ferris wheel, to the merry-go-round. For visitors of all ages. There's a carting, roller coaster, something that lifts you up and then lets you fall almost until the ground. Things that roll, twists, lift, and do kinds of things that nauseate and make you regret for eating before going to the park. There's nothing like that in Armenia and I don't think that it can be in the near future, so don't miss the chance.
Watch the photo album

Ok ok, i know that this post is about having rest from work but i guess some people might need this information too :)
As soon as I got there, my geeky eyes started looking for the familiar @ signs, since all the writings were in Georgian and I wouldn't understand if it would be written 'internet'. I didn't succeed on the first day and decided to do it another way. On the first day, from the nearby food store I bought a sim card of the local Magti mobile (there were also Beeline and Geo cell, but I was told that their minutes are more expensive). It costed 5 lari and included 1 lari credit. I bought a scratch card for another 5 lari and started to try to read the instructions. On the first day we couldn't even guess what's the prefix for the mobile numbers. The shop saleswoman said that there isn't any, but it didn't work. My number was starting with 91 and I started to look at the advertisements and other writings including phone numbers… after a few tries I found that it's 8 :) so my full number was 891******.
Then I tried to find some instructions for activating the GPRS service. I found a help service number on the SIM card's holder and found that they have a Russian menu :) I asked for GPRS and they sent me a number I should dial for activation: "4434777937". After dialing, I received an SMS with the settings instruction but I didn't need them since my phone recognized and applied them with the SIM card.
Don't forget to turn the phone off and then on again in order for GPRS to start to work.
One more [tip]. When you buy the scratch card, you just dial the code on it with the prefix "#", i.e. '#34567690989' and you will receive an SMS indicating that your balance was refilled. For acquiring the balance information later, just dial 444 and it will send an SMS.
This is all for Magti mobile.

I was checking my Gmail through it's mobile client, using Facebook mobile, and chatting with friends on Gtalk with GoTalkMobile client. This client also includes an image sharing thing, that you can take a shot, and attach it to your message. It will upload the image to their server and send the link to the image to your chat buddy. It's great to show where you are at the moment and what are you doing :) I was using it mostly on the beach, showing the sea to my friends :)

Later I discovered some places with a sign looking like a computer. There were several in Kobuleti (near the sea shore) and in Batumi they were more easy to find, on the main streets.

Batumi is a lovely city. You will love it. You can get there from Kobuleti by buses or minibuses that cost from 70 tetris to 1 lari. It's almost half an hour to get there. Batumi has a lot of parks and nice places to visit.
The Dolphinarium is being constructed by Turks and will be opened sometime these days.
There's also an Aquarium that was so much advertised to us that we were deeply disappointed when we got there. There was nothing much :) just a dozen of common aquariums with different fishes :D nothing like those big aquariums where you enter and see sharks and biiig fishes floating around you behind a thick glass :)
Besides the main Batumi Boulevard big park (at the sea shore, having a nice beach), there's also a park called "May 5" with a small nice lake.
The city was under construction at this time and the streets and sideways were being reconstructed in the center.
Watch Batumi photo album.

Information centers
Being quite an experienced tourist, i have a habit to visit a Tourist information center and take a map, ask for tips and routes. There are couple of information centers in Batumi. The first one at the entrance of Batumi Boulevard was a small square room, where a girl desperately tried to explain us how to get to the Aquarium in her poor English. The second one was more informative and girls spoke Russian.

Botanical Garden (in Makhinjauri)
The garden is situated a bit out of Batumi, on the way from/to Kobuleti. The village is called Makhinjauri and there's also the Batumi train station situated. We went there taking a minibus from Batumi bus and auto station (старый универмаг)
This is a must-visit place! The garden is huge and includes thousands of different trees and plants brought from everywhere. I've heard that it was the first arboretum (дендрарий) in Soviet Union.
It's really very rich and amazing. All the trees have proper labels in Russian and English, and there are also  route signs for you not to get lost. [tip] Don't ask for the brochure at the ticket office. All they give is a small ugly paper with a map with unrecognizable text that was maybe originally 100px and was printed with a bad printer.
The entrance to the gardens cost 6 lari. It's a bit expensive, but i think that it's worth seeing anyways.
I especially liked the Japanese gardens section.
Watch Botanical Garden photo album

I hope my post will be useful to those you are just preparing to go to Adjara. I, myself would love to know these all before going :) Feel free to ask me any questions, I'll try to be helpful :)

1 comment:

Mira said...

Hello, Arpik!! I was in Batumi in 2006. I liked it greatly. Especially I loved the singing fountains and their seaport. The view from there is beautiful... When i was there there was a nice two-storey cafe which offered tasty non-alcoholic cocktails.
P.S. Is it your mum on the photo sitting on the seashore?