When the world first came into existence, the Creator had a big meeting where he divided up the earth and gave different pieces of land to all the people of the world. As luck would have it, the Georgian people were having a supra (a grand feast) the same day, had a little too much wine, got sleepy, and completely missed God’s big meeting. The next morning, finding themselves without a place in the new world, the Georgians found themselves facing God.
“We missed your meeting because we were feasting and toasting in your honor,” they earnestly explained. “We all fell asleep because we toasted you too much!”
God smiled, recognized their honesty, and because there was no other land left, he gave them the heavenly part of the world he had saved for himself.
The Georgian creation story is no exaggeration – Georgia is both a natural paradise, and a country full of people who know how to eat, drink, and be merry. Batumi, a Western Georgian city situated on the Black Sea, is no exception – in fact, Batumi is a paradise within paradise. In Batumi, amazing Georgian food is just a little bit tastier, the semi-subtropical weather is just a little bit nicer, and of course, the Black Sea is right there. Whether it’s riding a bike along one of the longest seaside boulevards in the world, relaxing in the gigantic botanical garden, eating a plombir (пломбир – a delicious ice cream whose main flavor comes from the heavy cream it is made of) on the beach, or taking a walk amongst the dancing fountains in the city center, Batumi is just delightful.
Though less well known than the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Batumi serves as an awesome place to vacation or study abroad. Here is handy little list of 9 amazing things you can learn/experience in Batumi:
1. Learn/Practice/Use Russian Language Skills
Because Georgia was a part of the Former Soviet Union, Russian is still used across the country – Batumi included – and Russian signs, menus, and speakers abound. In the summer, Batumi is a popular vacation spot for former citizens of the USSR, and because Russian remains the lingua franca in the post Soviet space, Batumi’s Russian only gets better in the summer. Russian tourists love Batumi, and many speculate that with the complicated situation in the Crimea, more Ukrainians, many of whom also speak Russian as a first language, will choose to vacation in Batumi this coming summer. Useful Russian vocabulary you probably learn well while in Batumi may include the following: медуза (jellyfish), дельфины (dolphins), пляж (beach), рыбаки (fishermen), маяк (lighthouse), and of course, мороженое (ice cream).
2. Learn How to Properly Eat Adjaruli Khachapuri
Khachapuri (ხაჭაპური, хачапури), which literally means “cheese-bread” in Georgian, is a staple throughout the country and each region has its own khachapuri style. After only a few days in country, you’ll learn that while khachapuri is a consistently delicious meal, not all cheese-bread-dishes are created equal. Batumi, capital of the Adjara region, has arguably the best khachapuri style in the country. Adjarans fill a shallow, boat-shaped bread bowl with a melty mix of cheeses, a generous slab butter, and then crack an egg over the whole thing while it’s still hot, letting the egg cook on its way to your table. The result is a delicious, albeit messy, breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Eating this bread-boat is kind of tricky, but Georgians in Batumi will be more than happy to show you how it’s done. Though served all across the country, Georgians seem to agree that it’s best to get it in Batumi – or in a restaurant with an Adjarian chef.
3. Check Out the Gonio-Apsaros Fortress
While fortresses aren’t uncommon in Georgia, this fortress in Batumi is worth special note. It is one of the places Matthew the Apostle lived after Christ’s death – and one of the graves on the premises is allegedly Matthew’s final burial place. The site is also linked to Jason and the Argonauts. Georgia was where Jason searched for the Golden Fleece, specifically focusing in on Western Georgia along the coast. According to legend, the fortress is the burial site for Apsyrtus, son of King Aet, killed by Jason.
4. Eat seafood in Batumi
Being on the Black Sea doesn’t just mean Batumi has great swimming – it means Batumi has great fish. In a couple of casual seaside restaurants, you can go to the fish market next door and decide exactly which fish you want on your plate. In Batumi, fresh means your lunch was swimming at breakfast. (This is an article about Georgia, so it should probably have more than one bullet point dedicated to food.)
5. Take on the Georgian Language
So say you’re studying Russian, and you think you’re pretty cool because you can match Cyrillic letters with their correct sounds. In addition to your Cyrillic mastery, in Batumi, you can practice with another beautiful letter system – one of 12 unique alphabets in the world. Although the Georgian language (or “Kartuli” in Georgian, which looks like this if spelled in its native alphabet: ქართული) is famously challenging, even small language victories come with huge rewards. Georgians are usually very excited to hear foreigners drop a few phrases or vocabulary in Georgian and doing so will often gain you respect and make you friends. On top of all that, the language itself is incredibly beautiful. Georgian words are generally based on a system of roots with suffixes, prefixes, or both, which lends to really poetic translations. For example, the word for “pregnant,” in Georgian is “orsuli” (ორსული) which can be broken down and literally translated to “two-souls.” You can also learn some of the language’s useful vocabulary like my personal favorite: “shemomechama.” (შემომეჭამა) This means, “eating past fullness because your food is delicious.” (Be careful, in Georgia, it’s easy for this to happen very frequently.)
6. Experience “Intangible” Cultural Music
Georgian traditional music is world-renowned, and special enough to be on two different UNESCO heritage lists, the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” (added in 2001) and the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” (added in 2008). Georgian traditional music is made unique by its heavy use of polyphony – a term that refers to music has more than one melody line played simultaneously. Batumi is a great place to explore music from Georgia and beyond, as it is home to a number of music festivals each year with guests from inside and out of Georgia. This summer in particular, Batumi will host an International Music Festival that promises classical and Georgian folklore music, and master classes for youth.
7. Inspect Subtropical Flora in the Batumi Botanical Garden
This gigantic garden, originally opened in 1912 by a Russian botanist, is located just north of Batumi up high on a cliff looking out over the water. The garden includes local vegetation and subtropical plants from other warm parts of the world. It’s one of the largest botanical gardens in the post-Soviet space and an official member of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International since 1997. Because of its size, it’s worth a full day of wandering, if you have the time.
8. Experience Life in an Autonomous Region
Batumi’s region is officially called “The Autonomous Republic of Adjara” and has an interesting historical and current relationship with the rest of the Georgian state. During Soviet times, Adjara briefly had its own SSR status made up most of the 10% of Georgia that voted against leaving the USSR in the 1991 referendum. Batumi lived outside of Tbilisi’s control with strong ties to Russia between 1991 and about 2004, and now peacefully exists under central Georgian power.
9. Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites
While Georgia is full of ancient city ruins and rich history, it currently has three sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List (and 16 on the “tentative list,” which means they’re awaiting approval). One of the three official UNESCO sites, that of the Bagrati Cathedral of Dormition and Gelati Monastery complex, both added to the UNESCO list in 1994, are only two hours away from Batumi, near Kutaisi. The Bagrati Cathedral, originally constructed at the beginning of the 11th century, is considered an architectural masterpiece. The Gelati Monastery complex is not only architecturally and artistically magnificent (Georgian frescos are a thing of beauty), but also steeped in history. Many famous Georgian Kings are buried on site, including David the Builder. Gelati is also the rumored location of one of Georgia’s most famous rulers, Queen Tamar, a woman so powerful that she is, to this day, referred to as “Tamar the King.”
If you happen to be one of the lucky ones to make it to God’s favorite part of the world, don’t forget to spend some time in Batumi.