Unidentified flying objects in Georgia (pine chafer beetles)

Unidentified flying objects in Georgia (pine chafer beetles)

We both got quite freaked out last night when pitching our tent: two huge things kept flying at us and wherever we moved they seemed to chase us. We thought they were hornets and knowing they can sting multiple times, we dived into our tent as soon as it was up.

In the morning while packing we found an amazing male Polyphylla fullo beetle, otherwise known as the pine chafer /ˈtʃeɪfə /, sleeping on the tarp covering our bike. It was two of these that had been flying at us, not hornets. When we tried to get it off the tarp it hissed at us defensively.

Didn’t mind posing for a few snaps though. Isn’t it beautiful? We love nature. 🙂

Some interesting facts about pine chafer beetles:

  • Body length up to 4 cms.
  • Found in North Africa and Europe.
  • Males have a large antennal fan.
  • They make a scary hissing sound when feel threatened.
  • Adults eat pine foliage.
  • Larvae feed off the roots of grass and similar plants and take up to 4 years to fully develop.
  • Adults fly around at dusk in June and July. You’ll know they’re near when you hear a very loud buzzing.

Please feel free to add to or question our facts about pine chafer beetles. 🙂

Swimming with dolphins

Swimming with dolphins

Swimming with dolphins in the wild at the coast of Batumi

A week ago we spotted dolphins just off the coast of Batumi. Not just one or two, there were loads of them swimming in groups everywhere. I got very excited and the idea of going in to swim with them in the wild seemed like a dream.

At the time we were with new friends from Poland, Gosia and Rafal, and I managed to convince Gosia to go in with me. I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to do it on my own, but knowing that someone else was also up for it, I started to believe that this really was possible.

We rushed to the apartment to change to swimming clothes, get blankets, warm clothes, and prepare hot tea for when we came out of the sea. We even took vitamin C before heading back to the beach.

We knew that the water would be cold, but we hoped it would be warm enough to get out to the dolphins and back.

We walked very quickly back to the beach, partly because we were excited and didn’t want the dolphins to swim away, but also because we wanted to warm up our bodies before going in. Once there, we quickly changed and braved the freezing cold water.

For a very short time I thought it wasn’t too cold, only to discover after about 15 seconds, that being in this freezing water was unbearable. Starting from my feet and quickly spreading upwards, was the burning feeling of icy water. Without hesitation we both admitted defeat and got out!

We felt a sense of disappointment, but on the other hand we both felt proud and happy that we had tried.

Any water between 0.5 and 5 degrees is considered freezing. In these conditions it is expected that after about 15 minutes exhaustion or unconsciousness occurs. Looking at our little adventure from a time perspective, I think we made the right choice not to persevere. Swimming with dolphins had to wait for a better occasion.

Interesting facts about dolphins:

  • Dolphins never sleep; they use their left and right side of the brain in turns to stay awake.
  • Dolphin skin is like silk.
  • Each dolphin has a name which other dolphins use to call each other.
  • Dolphins live in a tribe which has got its own language.

There are no living creatures in the Black Sea which swim faster than dolphins.

Riding a Motorcycle in Georgia (the country in the Caucasus region)

Riding a Motorcycle in Georgia (the country in the Caucasus region)

Riding a Motorcycle in Georgia (country  in the Caucasus region of Eurasia) can be a tricky business. Here’s my few words of advice.

  1. In Georgia motorcycles are not respected by drivers who often try to push in front of you. Even riding assertively in the middle or more towards the left doesn’t help. They will try to get past you either on your left or right hand side.
  2. On roundabouts the rule is “there’re no rules”. Be ready to give way at any time, even when you think you have right of way. The rules across Georgia seem inconsistent and drivers are obviously confused.
  3. Expect to see many cars cutting corners, meaning that you will have to get out of the way to avoid a collision. Maybe it’s a way to save some petrol, who knows. :p
  4. Riding a Motorcycle in Georgia - Cows on the RoadDomestic animals are everywhere, especially hiding behind corners and inside dark tunnels, where they shelter from the sun. Very dangerous for bikers. High speed cruising is not recommended. Always be ready to stop.
  5. It’s normal to overtake another vehicle even if there’s a car coming from the opposite direction. Seems like the common belief is that there’s enough space for 3 cars, not mentioning a motorcycle, which remember is invisible to most drivers, so don’t be surprised to see a car overtaking straight at you.
  6. The road accident rate is highest in all Caucasus countries.
  7. You will see a lot more accidents when it rains, it’s as if people don’t realise they are supposed to slow down when it’s wet. Or maybe it’s because of old or not matching tyres, which are plentiful in Georgia
  8. Don’t be surprised when drivers beep at you, flash lights at you, wave at you or drive curiously 1m behind you.
  9. Avoid the main Kutaisi – Tbilisi road if possible, it’s an extremely busy road and cars drive very quickly. Most of it is a single lane and accidents happen often.
  10. You will have to speed to stay with the traffic. I found it relatively safer to go faster to avoid cars overtaking Some cars in Georgia look like like thisme all the time, but this meant that sometimes I had to ride 70 – 90 km/h through villages. Police check-points and speed cameras are almost non-existent. Speeding seems an acceptable way of driving.
  11. Interestingly, I was told that to pass a driving test, you don’t even have to go on a public road. Driving tests take place entirely on a practice square outside cities.
  12. The condition of main roads is relatively good. They are pretty well maintained and there’re no big surprises, except animals. But once you go off the main road, expect to see anything.
  13. We’ve never been stopped by police in Georgia. They are not looking for foreigners to stop to ask for a bribe. In this respect, it’s safe in Georgia.
  14. There’s no obligatory MOT car check, so anything that moves can be seen on Georgian roads.
Batumi Travel Tips

Batumi Travel Tips

It took us a while to find our way around Batumi. For that reason we had created this “Batumi Travel Tips” post for you, to make your stay in Batumi as enjoyable as possible.

Food and drinks in Batumi

Just off the main square (see map, number 4), there’s a small fast food place that makes tasty and very cheap Georgian snacks. You can buy them from as cheap as 60 tetry. It’s busy all day, so the snacks are always fresh and usually still warm. The one filled with cabbage is our favourite (ask for “composti” to get that one) but you can try many different ones, with red bean paste (lobiani), meat, cheese, potato, chicken & dill, etc.  The ladies who work in this place are friendly and patient.

Kiziki Restaurant was recommended by locals and we think it’s the best places to eat in Batumi. It’s not fine dining, but the food here is always fresh and tasty, the prices are very good in comparison with other places, and the staff are always friendly. In most places in Georgia it’s common to have a minimum of 5 khinkali (Georgian dumplings), but here you can order as few, or as many, as you like. For directions see map, number 9.

In Batumi most places allow smoking. We managed to find a nice smoke-free café (Boulangerie) that makes a very good coffee and some other snacks at reasonable prices (e.g. 3GEL for a cappuccino, cakes from 80 tetry). It also has free Wi-Fi. Boulangerie is located just off the main square (see map, number 2).

If you like to try different beer when travelling, this place is a must. It offers 3 varieties, of which dark stout called Black Velvet is our favourite. It costs 2.20 GEL for a glass (0.4L). Bring your own large plastic bottle for a takeaway. For directions see map, number 10.

The fish market

If you fancy eating fish, you should go to the fish market. They have a good selection of fresh fish for a good price. You can also have it prepared for you for an additional 3 GEL just next door. When we tried this option, it took more than 1.5h before our fish was cooked. When you go there, don’t take locals recommendation to buy sturgeon (beluga) as it’s endangered! For directions see map, number 8. It’s about 20 minute walk from the centre.

Daily shopping

In Georgia there are not so many supermarkets, as most produce can be bought fresh and at a better price at local bazaars. Centrally located (see map, number 5) Goodwill is one of few supermarkets, but if you’re looking for fruit and veg or eggs, go just 500 meters further along on the right, and you will find a good selection of small market stalls and locals selling pretty much everything.

If you are looking for an authentic experience of a Georgian bazaar, ask for “Boni Bazaar”, it’s about a 30-minute walk from Goodwill. It’s a 2 storey building. Locals there are very friendly and will often let you taste before you buy and if you’re lucky you’ll get some chacha (local vodka) to try for free.

Usually local people advise to buy the wine in plastic bottles. It’s mostly good quality and the price is much better. For example you can buy a 3.5L bottle of semi sweet for less than 20 GEL. White is very much hit-and-miss. Available in most shops in Batumi.

Attractions

If you’re lucky, you will be able to spot dolphins near Batumi beach. They sometimes come as close as 50 metres off the shore and swim in large groups. There are times when you can see them each day for a week. The best viewing point is just left of the Nino and Ali moving statue when you’re facing it. For directions see map, number 1.

For a rainy day, you could treat yourself and book a spa day in the Sheraton hotel (see map, number 6). They have a 20 metre swimming pool, Jacuzzi, gym, Turkish hammam and wet and dry saunas. It costs 50 GEL per couple and you can stay there for as long as you like.

Other useful places

In the local library you can find free internet 7 days a week.  They have a very good selection of English language books in the American Corner. Membership costs 3 GEL per year. You need a passport to sign up. For directions see map, number 7.

We discovered that the ATM at TBC bank offers better exchange rates than other banks in Batumi when withdrawing money. With TBC bank we saved about 5% on each withdrawal.

From what we’ve seen, it’s pretty easy to get an Iranian visa in Batumi in the consulate. For most European Union citizens, the cost is 50 Euros to get it in one week, and 75 for next day service. Opposite Goodwill there’s a little photo shop where you can have a picture done for your visa application.

Post Office is situated on Baratashvili street (see map, number 3) and costs 3 GEL to send a postcard to Europe.

Transport and accommodation

It‘s possible to take a morning train from Batumi to Kutaisi for as little as 2 GEL per person. The train is pretty comfortable, but you need to rush in to get a seat as it gets pretty busy. Also it takes between 3 to 4 hours, whereas by car you get there in less than two, but for that price you can’t complain.

In our experience the most convenient option to travel from Kutaisi airport to Batumi is to use the bus service that will be offered after you come through security (marshrutka). There’s a sales desk near the exit doors. It costs 16-18 GEL and is very reliable. Also you need to remember that there’s no ATM in the airport, but you can buy tickets with a bank card. The airport is situated just next to the road to Batumi and it seems pretty easy and common to hitch-hike.

When it comes to accommodation, we stayed in TJ Hostel for over a week. Run by a very friendly family, this small budget hostel is a place to meet other travellers. The price is 10 GEL per person or 20 GEL for a double room. TJ’s is located in Makhinjauri (train station area) about 20 minutes from the centre but very easily accessible by marshrutkas (1 GEL each way). You can book a place at this hostel through Facebook. Just send a message to Teona.

Let us know if our Batumi Travel Tips were useful.

Batumi travel tips, map