Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spring Break Adventure: Batumi

So Richard ended up having something come up at work the week of spring break....not feeling like taking the kids on an international adventure by myself, I opted to head to the coastal town of Batumi on Thursday. Richard was able to join us Friday afternoon.

The roads between Tbilisi and Batumi get narrow and curvy as you go through the mountains. The drivers are very confident and will pass on blind curves. In order to avoid having white knuckles for the 5-6 hour drive, we opted to take the fast train. It takes about the same amount of time but I could sit back and relax. Also, the kids and I have never rode on a train. Amtrak in the US is very sporadic in coverage for trips. For the handful of trips I have ever researched, the trip would take substantially longer than driving or involved a greyhound bus ride between two stations (?!?!)....

Getting tickets for Georgian Railways ended up being quite a challenge. Their website would lock up every time I got to the payment I gave up on that. I could go down to the train station and buy tickets but there was the potential for a language barrier. I found out that tickets can be bought at the pay box I went that route. Everything was in English, until I got to the screen to pick my departing city....all the cities where in Georgian.....ugh! So I asked a Georgian who works in the CLO office to help me. The pay box we went to got to the 'how many tickets screen' and then said 'the machine is almost out of paper, come back another day'...aaaahhhh! Finally, I asked my housekeeper to go with me. The first pay box we went to also brought up the out of paper message so we tried a different company's pay box.....success! (Luckily I thought ahead and brought paperclips with me, so as tickets printed I put different colored paper clips on the different days since I could not read anything in Georgian that printed out (D, M, C going, R going, and all 4 of us coming home). We also splurged and got first class seats (about $4 more per ticket).

Richard dropped us off at the train station and off we headed on our 5.5 hour adventure armed with drinks, snacks, camera, fully charged iDevices, coloring books and some toys. It should be noted that the train has overhead storage bins (good for air plane carry on size), I was trying to have less to deal with and crammed all our stuff into a large suitcase, I did find places to stow it on both trips, but smaller bags would be better in the future.

The train ride was pretty uneventful. We knew another family on the train, so Mason had a friend to play with and I had a coloring buddy.

We stopped at a number of stations along the way. This one was very welcoming. At another station, there was a middle-age gentleman wearing a conductor hat waiting to greet arriving visitors. It was super cute, I was just not fast enough grabbing the camera to get a picture of him. I was actually surprised that the train was packed on all our trips (even the ones in the middle of the week).

We opted to stay at the Radisson Blu Batumi. It is a little bit pricy but we had heard good things. It was very nice, just about a block off the beach and within walking distance to a variety of restaurants. Even when we took a cab across town to the zoo it only cost a couple dollars.

After checking in, we did what any family with kids does....headed to the pool! Clarissa looked so adorable cuddling with me after her swim!

After our swim, we headed to go find some dinner. On our way, the kids ran through some shrub mazes.

We also found what Mason dubbed the "fountain of inappropriateness" (otherwise known as the fountain of Neptune). The best way to make a tween feel uncomfortable......find this statue! There is a large golden Neptune (nude of course....this is art!) surrounded by some cherub looking babies and some nude mermaids.

I kind of dug the moon hanging out over Neptune's shoulder....gave it more of a Greek god feel. Recall I said it was a fountain....water sprayed from the mermaids' nipples!

After dinner, we watched the sun set beautifully into the Black Sea.

The next morning after our free breakfast at the hotel, we headed down to the Black Sea. On the way, we had to pick some flowers!

We found lots of unique patterned rocks (of nearly every imaginable color combination!).

We saw a lot of moon jellyfish floating in the water.

And the kids threw a ton of rocks into the water (that's what they are there for, right?)

More rocks......I don't feel this would be a super comfy beach to lay out on in the summer.

It was kind of odd to be walking along the beach in short sleeves and flip flops and see snow covered mountains on the horizon!

Cleaning pebbles out of her shoes.....

Afterwards, we walked out on the pier. There were a couple rusty railings....definitely kept my hand on Clarissa.

We then headed over to a playground. We climbed, played on a spinning toy, and nearly got impaled by dinosaurs!

Disregard the people safely playing in the

We then headed down the boardwalk. Just enjoying the warm sunny day, we had no real destination in mind. I took lots of pictures of the beach art (I'll save some of it for Monday moments....there is a lot of art and I took a lot of pictures).

Colorful lifeguard stand.

More beach art.

The kids started getting hungry and we found out that the most gorgeous McDonald's was not too much further down from where we were at (Huffington Post claims it is the most gorgeous). Pretty cool looking if I say so myself.

After lunch we headed up the boardwalk a bit more, a got a great shot of the snowy mountains behind Batumi.

We also found a cool lighthouse like tower. It had a restaurant on the bottom floor. When we got to this point, we got a text Richard was about to disembark the train, so we cabbed it back to the hotel.

After Richard's arrival, we headed to the pool again. Clarissa loved that the hotel elevator was a giant mirror. Every time we rode in it, she would strike a pose....too funny!

We ate dinner at the Hotel's "Clouds" restaurant (did you guess it was on the 18th floor). It had a great view overlooking the city. (disregard Clarissa's silly face.....)

After dinner, we headed back out to the ice cream/gelato place we had found the day before. Afterwards, we walked through the Europe Square. Before I knew the name, I commented to Richard that the buildings looked just like the buildings in Warsaw. In the middle of the square there was a monument of Jason and the golden fleece. 

Around the sides of the pillar there were different scenes depicting Jason and the Argonauts quest in Georgia.

Mason brought his backpack with him and we headed back out to the boardwalk but headed the opposite direction. He wanted to collect some rocks (I didn't want to carry rocks all day so he had been banned earlier). As I glanced over and saw him practically shoveling rocks into his bag, I limited him to 10 rocks....(we are moving in a few months....gotta watch that weight!).

The sky was overcast this evening, so the sunset was not quite as spectacular. We found the couple having coffee statue (or a tea party) and played around.

We found the Ali & Nino sculpture (also called the Love Statue). Depending on what angle you view it from you can see one figure or two separate figures. The figures can also appear to be kissing.

I had been scanning the water all day for dorsal fins (I can't go to the beach and not do and was quite excited when we spotted a group traveling.

It was even more exciting when they switched directions and started leaping!

Due to getting a great shot of its coloring and doing a little internet research, I'm fairly certain it was a pod of Black Sea Common dolphins.

With the sun set, we headed back to our room. According to my activity tracker, the kids and I had walked nearly 18,000 steps and we were tired!

The next morning, we cabbed it to the zoo. Trip planning fail....the zoo doesn't open until 11 (we got there 10ish)....oops. We saw a few of the ungulates but the small mammals and birds were gated off. We did stop and snack on apples by the zoo. And what do you do when your legs are tired?

After the zoo fail, we decided to head up the boardwalk some more to find the WHERE sign. That sign is very far away.....but we finally did find it after several hours of walking (oops sorry kids, but I was on a mission). 

Richard also photographed a life guard station.

More pebbley pebbles.

We did find some more beach art.

Including a giant pair of flip flops.

Also found an upside down building, Mason thought he was being funny photo bombing me, but it provide some perspective!

After we had lunch we headed to dolphinarium. Even though their website and any travel book I read said they have a show at 14:00.....when we showed up to get tickets for that show we were informed they didn't have a show until 17:00....uh okay. So they have a 15 minute swim with a dolphin program, so we inquired about that. The lady at the ticket counter with all the pricing/buy here signs for the swim program told me I had to call and make a reservation. Again, nothing we had read mentioned reservations....ugh, fail #2 for the day. On the bright side, before catching a cab back we got a picture of this huge mosaic.

After going for another swim, we headed over to the ferris wheel. Since she saw it from the train, Clarissa had been begging to ride it. 

Unfortunately, as we went to get our tickets, you had to be at least 7 years #3....broke poor Clarissa's we solved that by having ice cream after dinner for the third night in a row. We did try on some new shoes.....

We also played on some large boulders.

This is right before a group of middle school girls walked by, they all checked out Mason, and then did that middle school girl giggle (he was totally oblivious to all of that).

Super sillies!

We enjoyed the building next to our hotel all lit up at night.

We could also view the Georgian alphabet tower from our room.

We ended up walking just over 23,300 steps on Saturday! While most of what we had planned Saturday didn't work out. We did have fun just relaxing along the sea.

Sunday morning we caught the train back to Tbilisi (and Monday morning there were snow flurries in Tbilisi). Our trip to Batumi was fun and provided us a nice break in a quaint little seaside town.

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