Nothing for it, it’s back to Europe then!

Posted by on 20, Jun 2010 in 2010 - The Caucasus, EuroAsia, Turkey

Nothing for it, it’s back to Europe then!

Tbilisi_001After 2 extra nights in our lay-by watching it rain and the dolphins consider becoming land species we decided it was time to head back to Europe. So, 40 minutes later we were jostling for positions at the Turkish border with a dozens of other vehicles. On the way to the border we past miles and miles of parked trucks. As we edged forward one car space every 5 minutes or so we thought it must take weeks for those lorries to cross the border. It was in the end pretty painless especially on the Georgian side but as usual the Turkish controls were bedlam.

Once again as we crossed the line on the map the scenery, houses and people all changed in appearance. Gone were the endless blocks of apartments crammed together and back came single story buildings. The dramatic backdrop of mountains that we hugged along the Turkish coast were replaced by lowlands and the plants became almost tropical. Palm trees and what look like mango and banana trees replaced the hazelnuts trees tobacco and tea. As for the people it was like going home. The men and women dressed ‘normally’ and there was a much more even mix of them. We’d got used to the cafés and beaches being largely an all male domain but that seems to have gone too.

Our first town was Batumi. We came to a roundabout and naturally picked the wrong exit and drove through the centre of the town. The roads ceased to exist and you drove on a mixture of potholes, mud and rubble. Taffy swayed around like we were in a force 10 storm but eventually after a few miles of this we took another wrong turn and ended up back at the first roundabout! The town itself was a falling down almost shanty town Affair with bustling food markets and second hand clothes stalls spilling over onto the muddy street. It felt incredibly poor.

We had another go at our roundabout and this time a couple of streets away from scenes form slumdog Millionaire we rolled up in Las Vegas. The sea front boulevard is immaculately kept lined with plants and palms, fantastic new 5 star hotels, pools, tennis courts water parks and a Ferris wheel. It is an impossible contrast to the shopping centre, but if it attracts the tourists it will bring the money to refurbish the rest of town. Some of the old buildings would shame Vienna. They are brightly coloured, with incredibly ornate facades and simply stunning. If this is a glimpse of the future of Georgia then it will be the new millionaires playground.

We found the tourist information and found that they had ‘abolished’ the campsite. We are rather hoping this was a bad translation rather than some Aldeburgh inspired initiative! They told us to try the Botanical Gardens who kindly let us stay here overnight. We staggered over to the cafe for a drink – the bar lady introduced us to her family, came in to see Taffy and gave lindas back a massage! And we had a bottle of wine for £4!

We’ve restocked with food where we had the whole store in stitches when I said ‘moo’ to get milk and for £9 got 6 bags of food including beer! The store owners family then came for the now customary tour of Taffy and we gave the eldest lad a bottle of Strongbow which they all loved!

The Police have been along to see us and told us to keep our windows closed at night and that they will keep an eye on us so we would like to say everyone here has been incredibly friendly and kind and indeed we would had we not had the misfortune to speak to the British Embassy.

We asked if we could have our visas sent back there. “No”
Could they tell us if the M27 was safe to drive on “No”
Well it says on the FCO site to liaise with the Embassy if you are going to areas on that route so can you tell us anything about these areas we should know “No”
They said that everything was on the web site. But it says on the web site to speak to you. Everything is on the web site. Hopeless. Now Mr Cameron, if you really want to save a few million why don’t you abolish the British Embassies, after all everything they can possibly tell me is already on the website!

The FCO is notoriously safety conscious. If someone breaks a toe on a beach somewhere the FCO will issue a travel warning. When you read the travel advice for a country it almost always scares you half to death. When you arrive you usually find that you are made to feel very welcome and in fact feel more scared in London! Many seasoned travellers we have met now ignore the FCO completely. It cries wolf too often and its warnings lose their effect. We like to travel safely, but wherever you go there is always some danger. One of the things we find about travelling further a field is the warm welcome you get from the locals. We met a man today who had never met anyone from England, a boy who had never seen a map in English and all of them went out of their way to make us feel welcome. You certainly get the impression that if they thought it would be unsafe for us to stay here they would have made it clear to us. We find this local contact is a better indicator of how safe an area is, that and you own gut feeling- if it doesn’t feel right we don’t stop.

That said we aren’t aiming to go to Abkhazia and south Ossestia the two breakaway republics in Georgia, but it would have been nice to have spoken to a British Embassy official who could have given some perspective to the warnings the FCO dish out.

So we have decided to stop and ask the police what they think when we get near the areas that the BE say we should talk to them about and then do what they say. If they think we are in any danger they will I am sure give us an escort or stop us driving there. Here ends the Reed rant!

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