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Our route:

08.05.03 - 09.05.03:
  • Batumi

    10.05.03 - 12.05.03:
  • Kobuleti

    13.05.03 - 14.05.03:
  • Batumi

  •   Georgia
    On this page, we (will) describe our experiences in Georgia. Apart from the travelogue for this country you will also find a number of links to useful sites, ranging from general information to embassy homepages.

    Written by: Dorrit

    Georgia: Problem, strab, dollar, vodka and champagne.

    During the past week in Trabzon we searched extensively for information about Georgia on the internet and in travel agencies, but the result was very meagre. Therefore we were not really well informed about this country when we left for the Turkish-Georgian border at Sarp (at the black sea), which is infamous for its greedy custom officials. At the Turkish side all of the staff are wearing mouth cover as a precaution against SARS. Turkey seems to be working hard to keep SARS out.

    At the Georgian side the fun started immediately at the first counter: US$ 16 for examining our passports, if we did not pay we would not get our passports back. We asked for a receipt and got it too, but without amounts we discovered later. The second round started with the examination of our van: US$ 20 "present". A CD would be okay as well. I have "searched" for a suitable CD for them until they did not want to wait any longer and let us pass without paying any "presents". The road tax of US$ 65 had to be paid, though. When we saw how bad the Georgian roads were, we couldn't help thinking that the tax (although we got an official receipt with amount this time) benefited no other road than the one to some official's pocket. All in all US$ 230 (incl visa) for 2 weeks holiday.

    Park in Batumi On our way to Batumi, once one of the better Soviet-resorts, we had to avoid not only the deep holes in the asphalt, but also several cows lying in the sun on the warm road surface. Many contradictory impressions: besides beautiful villa's with large green gardens there were also run-down concrete Soviet-blocks. Every 500 metres there was a police post and all of these stopped us. The last one claimed that we had ignored a red traffic-light and asked for US$ 50. When we mentioned the words "chef" and "consul" he left off though..

    Batumi too offers many contrasts: entire suburbs full of run-down and crumbling Soviet-blocks, but also broad promenades, lanes lined with old trees and 19th century mansions in the style you may find in The Hague or Heidelberg. Limping and sickly cats that roam around the dustbins, fighting about bits of food with the chicken, but also lovely green and clean parks along the seaside. Also on the car front there seems to be no middle class: all you see are either age-old Lada's or brand new Mercedes, BMW or Audi with blackened windows, freshly "imported" from Germany (still with German licence plates) for the Georgian elite. Besides all these new impressions we also need some time to get used to the Georgian alphabet (a bit like Hindi) and to the fact that it is 2 hours later than in Turkey, 15 km away to the south. Here, it is not fully light until 9 am and not dark until 11 pm. MiG

    The next day we explored Batumi and its parks and terraces. In one of the parks we had a closer look at a MiG that was exposed there by means of statue. We also visited the 1960 Soviet aquarium with its 50 cm sized piranhas. We asked the guy in the ticket office if we could get a third party insurance somewhere, but this is non-existent in Georgia, so we will just have to drive around uninsured like everyone else here. If you have an accident you will have to pay your dollars anyway.

    traditional Georgian dances In the parks and on the boulevard sunflower seeds and cigarets (per piece!) are sold by old ladies on slippers that are far too small for them. Men are playing chess in pairs and from a concrete lyre-formed Soviet speaker music resounds. It could have been a James Bond decor.. We had some lovely shashlik at a harbour terrace, after 3 months porc-abstinence in Turkey. Later that evening we attended a show to celebrate the 9th of May, the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany. Children in the most beautiful traditional Georgian costumes were performing all kinds of marvellous dances, partly even on their knees.

    Soviet architecture On the 10th of May we ventured a bit further into Georgia. We drove from Batumi along the coast to the village of Kobuleti, 25 km further to the North, and needed 4 hours for it. Every 500 metres there was a police post and every single one of them tried to rip us off. The first claimed we could not carry our spare tyre in the front cabin. "Problem!" "Strab!" (= punishment). 80 lari (= EUR 40) he wanted. He even started filling out an official ticket. When I looked closer this proved to be a home made copy of an official ticket book. We refused to pay anything and threatened with chef and consul. Rather than letting us pass, he started shouting. I shouted back and that seemed to help a little. After 15 minutes the "strab" sank to US$ 20, then to US$ 2 and finally to our half empty bottle of old Fanta. We took the deal and after 30 minutes could finally drive on. Only to be stopped at the next police post 500 metres further down the road. This one had a "problem" with Coen's beard and moustache that were not on his driver's licence photo. "Strab". No way! We just waited till they had enough of our faces and realized we would not pay and then let us pass. They even waved us out. It nearly seems that they have some sort of respect for you if you refuse to pay. Unfortunately, we were only able to drive another 500 metres before the next policeman stopped us and wanted to see our "deklaratsia". We did not fill out any declaration forms at the border, since nobody gave us one. We pretended we did not understand and they got out an example in cyrillic. If we did not have one of those we had a "problem" and had to pay a US$ 200 "strab". The prices are going up. We bluffed our way out and shouted that such a deklaratsia was only for Russia and not for Georgia (unfortunately we were not sure about this) and that we would complain to chef and consul if they did not return our passports to us. Again much shouting on both sides and another 30 minutes passed before we could finally start the next 500 metres leg of our journey. Etcetera, etcetera. How very tiring.

    Ansor, the chef In the seaside resort Kobuleti, full of villa's and brand new Mercedes 500's with blackened windows we found a safe place to stay in the garden of a former tea trader from the Soviet era. He showed us his enormous house, complete with marble staircases and bearskins on the parket floors. He also invited us for a glass of champagne in his garden, where he told us about Breshnev times, when the world was still in order and the Soviet Union was still big. Meanwhile, the James Bond movie continued on the street: a Georgian funeral procession passed by, complete with open coffin (the body was covered with a silver colored satin sheet) and loudly crying widow. The coffin was put in a truck with open back and as it drove away, flowers were thrown out of the back of the truck onto the road.
    On our way back from the market in the centre of Kobuleti - where pigs and cows roam about the dusty road and eat the garbage - we were stopped by a drunk and fairly agressive police officer that demanded to see our passports. Luckily, his more or less sober colleague took him away in time.

    picknick Georgian style We stayed a few more days at the tea trader's place and went to the beach. We had some good times with him (Anzor), drinking brandy and champagne and playing guitar at night. He seemed to enjoy our being there. We also took a long walk along the coast but that was rather depressing. The coast looked as if there had been some heavy fighting in the past: burnt down villa's, a pier bombed in halves and a crumbling boulevard gave the impression that this must have been a fashionable resort once, but the civil war had ended this rather abruptly. We were invited by a group of young people to join their picknick and spent three very nice hours with them, before they unfortunately had to return home.

    Originally, we wanted to drive to T'bilisi (Tiflis), the capital of Georgia 400 km further east. If, however, you need 4 hours for 25 km like we did last week, you won't manage the 800 km to and fro within the two weeks of your visa. So, we decide to drive back to Batumi and spend another day there before returning to Turkey. On our way back to Batumi we seemed to have more luck with the police and could get there fairly quickly. Maybe last time we shouldn't have ventured out on the road on a Saturday morning, when they were all looking for someone to sponsor their Saturday evening vodka... (we later heard that the police hadn't been paid for months, which explained a lot) In Batumi we had more lovely shashlik and more time getting a sun tan at the pebble stone beach.

    Back at the border every uniformed person wanted money from us again, luckily we were helped by a nice Georgian, so that the custom officers did not insist too long. We indeed had had to fill out a deklaratsia on our way in, and now another one on our way out. It seemed to focus on the amount of cash we were carrying a little too much, so we took the risk and only declared the amounts in our purses. Later, I read that they have the right to confiscate all cash that you did not declare, but thankfully they didn't search the van or check if we had filled out a declaration form upon entry...

    Our impression of Georgia: it is a very beautiful country, with friendly people, but very poor and best visited without your own vehicle.


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    Always hand over your international driver's license and your international car passport to the Georgian police, never your national ones!


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