Our hotel turned out to be fine. The a/c was excellent, and the breakfast menu had English, which we thought was a big win.
Today we were going to Gonio, about 15 minutes down the coast and famous for having perhaps the best preserved ancient Roman fortress in the world. Out on the street we flagged down a marshrutka – the Georgian version of the Turkish dolmus, a shared taxi – minivan. We crowded in a with a bunch of locals, most of whom were going to the beach, since the beach at Gonio is much better than the one in Batumi. We were let off outside the fortress and I shoved some Lari (the Georgian currency ) at the driver – I handed over a handful of coins with little idea as to how much we had to pay but it was incredibly cheap.
The fortress has a huge perimeter wall – it is really very impressive, so we paid our entrance fee and went in. It turns out that most of what remains in the fortress is the perimeter wall! Inside it is mainly empty, or at least it’s all been covered up with the detritus of time. Trenches have been dug here and there, and we saw some graves, but there was nothing in the way of explanation. It was stiflingly hot and humid, and there may have been 10 other people wandering about at most. We climbed up the battlements (very precarious), looked into some watchtowers, avoided falling into bottomless pits and explored around. On the one hand, it was incredible that this ancient building has absolutely no security or guides or anything, leaving us free to do whatever we liked – we could have walked away with some of the ancient for all anyone seemed to care. And climbing up and down the walls seemed to be allowed, though with no security fences anywhere it was extremely dangerous indeed. Certainly we liked the freedom, but this site absolutely needs to have a laid out trail with explanations of what you are seeing, and it needs safety barriers all over the place. Right now you need to use your imagination and your common sense.
After about an hour we had to leave. The heat was too intense. It must have been awful for the Roman soldiers in summer, stationed on the very edge of their empire in Gonio.
Luckily for us, the fortress is right opposite the beach. Gonio ‘s beach, like the other beaches nearby, is all pebbles, but it really is a very pretty place – a beautiful sea, backed by green hills – and we had a good time. The water was much safer than in Batumi, and scattered around the beach were little restaurants and cafes, more like huts than anything else. We based ourselves at one of these, and after our swim we had a good lunch. We couldn’t understand them and vice versa, but luckily for us there was a Russian tourist there who acted as interpreter.
After lunch we took a cab back to Batumi. The kids had seen a water park and were very keen to go, so we asked him to put us off there.
The water park was an almost surreal experience, which we would repeat later on in Tbilisi. Situated near rows of old Soviet apartments, it was a totally modern water park that would fit in to any country in the west. The parking lot was full of the latest model Mercedes’, Porsches, you name it. It cost us about $40 to enter – expensive in any terms, so clearly this was a place for the very few Georgians that could afford it. The kids had a lot of fun,with the water slides, pools etc. If we ever had a chance to mix with the who’s who of Georgia, this was it. Unfortunately once again, very few people had any English.
Eventually we made our way back to the hotel. We were leaving tonight on the train, and we had arranged a late check out so we could relax and wash up. On the way to the hotel we popped into a huge wine store – Georgians believe that wine originated in Georgia and it is plentiful and cheap. We also bought a huge watermelon for about $1, which the kids proceeded to demolish. The streets were full of watermelon and melon sellers – if you had asked me what the primary crop in Georgia is, I would have said melons!
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