Caucasus Journey XIII: From Tbilisi to Artvin

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
It's been a busy few days. My own fault of course. Rather than doing the sensible thing and flying directly from Tbilisi to Istanbul, I came up with the idea of traveling overland to Van, Turkey, then flying back to Istanbul from Van next Sunday. What can I say? I'm a sucker for stretching things out. 
The road back to Istanbul begins here
It was a beautiful morning in Tbilisi when I set off Saturday morning for Kutaisi. My landlady, Lalli, who lives in the apartment next door, came by with some snacks for the road, and then I took a taxi to the bus station. The taxi driver was a guy who'd taken me to the archive a few times, and when we arrived at the station he flagged down a marshrutka that was just pulling out. They were heading to Kutaisi, and stopped to pick me up.
The trip to Kutaisi lasted four hours, through the same mountains and villages that I'd passed on my way down a month earlier. The main difference between the trip down and the trip back up was the weather. It had been pretty cold the day I'd come down in early April, but now I just wore a t-shirt and jeans and lazily read a book I'd been dragging around with me since Istanbul.  
Having already spent five days in Kutaisi back in early April when I was doing research there in the archives, I wasn't really in the mood to stick around. I got a room at a hotel for just one night. In the evening, I had dinner with a history professor at Kutaisi State University that I'd met the first time I was in the city, but called it a night pretty early. A trip to Batumi awaited me the next day.
On Sunday morning, I had a great breakfast at my hotel, then took a taxi to the bus station and caught a marshrutka to Batumi.

The trip from Kutaisi to Batumi is only a couple of hours, and the last thirty minutes or so are very scenic as you cross over the mountains and the Black Sea opens up before you.
It was mid-afternoon by the time I got to Batumi, and really hot. I checked into a hotel--the Artvin, which is where I'd stayed in April, didn't have any good rooms left, so I got a room at the Beso next door--and changed into my shorts. I immediately headed out towards the municipal beach--a very rocky stretch of coastline about a half-mile from the center of town. When I got there, I saw that a number of people were swimming in the water--although as is often the case in the former USSR hardly anyone ventured more than a few meters off the shoreline. 
Relaxing on the rocks in Batumi
I hadn't been planning on taking a swim, but since I was wearing gym shorts I couldn't resist. The water was by no means cold--certainly it was a lot warmer than Lake Michigan is this time of year. There were a number of small jellyfish close to the edge of the water, but otherwise things seemed okay. 
On Monday I had a really full schedule. First I went to the archive, because during the course of my work in Tbilisi I realized that there were a couple of things I wanted to re-check in Batumi. It was a nice reunion with both the documents and the archive staff. Madonna and Pridon were staffing the archive reading room, and we chatted a bit about Kutaisi and Tbilisi while I waited for my documents. After ninety minutes or so of working, I bade them farewell and went downstairs to talk to a few more people before heading over to the city library, where I was to meet Tengiz, the first person I met in Batumi and the guy who'd found the archive for me back in early April. Tengiz and I had lunch--fittingly enough, Adjarian-style khachapuri, with eggs served on cheese with plenty of butter mixed in for good measure.

After lunch, I went back to my hotel and caught a taxi to the border. While I had walked from Turkey into Georgia without much trouble in early April, when I got out of the taxi on Monday there was a large crush of people on the Georgian side of people waiting to cross into Turkey. The mass of people standing under the hot sun [fortunately I had a hat] didn't seem to be making any progress at all towards the passport control window and it looked like I'd have to wait a few hours at least. After about twenty minutes, however, a border official came over and herded about twenty of us from the back of the 'line' to another passport window that had just opened. From what the others in line told me, crossing from Georgia into Turkey can often take 2-3 hours, so I felt thankful to have gotten through relatively quickly. 
Batumi has a cool vibe
On the Turkish side of the border I was greeted by a nurse wearing a surgical mask who asked me if I had the flu. She took my temperature with an electric thermometer which she pressed against my forehead, then gave me a slip of paper to show the passport officials to indicate that I'd passed through the flu test. 
Once I'd crossed into Turkey I took a shared taxi into Hopa, and immediately caught a bus to Artvin, about two hours away. Behind me, two old men were speaking in the Turkish Black Sea dialect, which I found extremely difficult to understand. They started chatting with me after a little while, however, and switched into a more recognizable Turkish. 
The road from Hopa to Artvin was really pretty, taking me through forests and moutains with the Black Sea behind us.

En route to Artvin
I got into Artvin in the late afternoon. On the bus from Hopa I'd started talking to a guy named Deniz, who was visiting his wife here. She's a doctor doing mandatory 'Eastern Service', a program through which doctors and teachers from the west of Turkey have to work in the east of the country for a year or two. Deniz helped me find my way into the center of town and, as someone who comes here a lot, knew a good hotel to recommend to me.

There isn't much going on in Artvin. Indeed, I only came here only to break up the journey to Kars, as there are no buses going directly to Kars from Hopa. I walked around for thirty minutes or so in the late afternoon, then went out for dinner in the evening. The views are really spectacular, but generally Artvin is a pretty quiet place. 
Now it is Tuesday, and I'm getting ready to take a bus to Kars in a couple of hours. Wednesday, I think, will be spent in Kars, and I plan to spend Thursday traveling from Kars to Van. Friday and Saturday I think I'll be in Van, and then plan to fly to Istanbul from Van on Sunday. 
All in all, I feel a little guilty taking these few days to travel, especially since my work in Georgia has now given me a lot of new ideas about issues I want to research in Istanbul. But having read so much about people traveling to and from Kars (which was part of Russia from 1878 to 1920) during the course of the research I've been conducting over the past few years, I just couldn't resist visiting the place while I'm in the region. And, having made the decision to go to Kars, I reasoned that traveling to Van (which I've wanted to visit since the early 1990s) would only cost me one more day in the archive, so what the hell. 
Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to write a few lines and pass on some more photos once I've made it to Kars.