Woke up at 9:00 am. That's early by " Stayed out on the balcony half the night drinking wine and picking on a cheap guitar" standards.
There was no getting around the early hour. Today I'm bound to a schedule. I made friends with the guy who drove me from the airport to my hotel in Tbilsi originally. His name is George. He speaks no English, only his native Georgian and his not-so-native Russian. He's picking me up at 10 am to take Sergio and I to Batumi, with a stop or two along the way.
George proves himself reliable and arrives right on time. Along the way, tells us every minute detail about the sites on the ride to Gori, where we will stop and I will check out the Stalin museum. Sergio translates everything to me. Lots and lots of info, the higher percentage of which is pertinent.
We arrive at the Stalin museum, built on the original property (including the house which holds original furniture) where Joseph Stalin was born. After perusing the Stalin gift shop (!) I hopped on the guided tour with other tourists from around the world including Israel and Russia. It was kind of surreal. The guide didn't give me much info that I didn't already know, and was moving along in a hurried manor. I saw some rare pictures, documents, one of the "Red Czar's " "death masks", his "Marshall's coat" and lots of other personal effects. It was real strange. I actually boarded and walked through Stalin's personal bullet-proof train car, taking cell phone pics of the interior, including his bedroom. The place is built like a Cat D-9 and completely air conditioned from the original period. I sat down on at Stalin's chair in the meeting room. Although it is deteriorating some, this carriage was a like a Lincloln Mark V in it's day. The phrase "Some are more equal than others" springs to mind. I have a fascination with world history during WWll and the "Stalin period" of Soviet Russia, so I'm glad I took the tour, weird as it was.
After the "promenade dedicated to the pinnacle of world's most prolific murderer", we make for Batumi, up and down steep mountain roads. There are bulls, cows, goats, pigs, horses and all sorts of animals; crossing, standing, walking or running in and out of the road. I got hungry so we stopped at a beautiful open air restaurant, and copped some BBQ. Not barbecue like we have in the States that we all know and love, but It was delicious. Props to George for knowing the stop. It dawns on me that he is obviously a veteran of this excursion.
There are pottery vendors, fresh fruit and veggie vendors, and all sorts of interesting locals and small towns along the way. There seems to be more of the "Soviet era" ruins of factories and buildings to be seen than in Tbilisi.
Upon arrival to Batumi, we get to the Lion hotel, and I'm told that my room isn't ready. Not only is it not ready, but they have rented it to someone else. The rest of the hotel is sold out, save for a crap room which you enter THROUGH the side of the reception, the shower being about two feet from the reception desk. I'm less than happy with this prospect, and I pop the top off a bottle of Georgian beer with an intentionally loud, shotgun-blast of sound. I admit that this is a learned skill that I sometimes use for effect. This gets the hotel clerk's (who speaks English) attention. I explained to him (if by explained I mean used high volume, alcohol drenched speech peppered with four letter words) that I didn't come on an eight hour drive to sleep on the street. My reservations were in order and I had a confirmation number. He looks at me as if he's pleading for his life. I fix an iceberg stare on him. This wasn't going to end well, I thought. At least not for him. George immediately comes to the rescue. He looks at me and in broken English said something like "Don't worry, we have no problem." He immediately located much better accommodations at a more expensive, yet decent rate. Hotels during the summer here are NOT cheap. (250 USD per night for a decent place. 400 to 2000 PLUS (!) USD for the Radisson or the Shearaton) I was installed in a "four-star-three-room-suite (which in the States would have been a short-stock 3 star) for about a hundred bucks a night. Better-than-good-enough for me for sure. I felt lucky to get it, and this would be home for the next 40 hours or so.
I took a walk down to the Black Sea, and it's beautiful. I felt really far from home, until I encountered a slew of McDonald's street sign ads by the beach. One can't avoid Doritos, Snickers or Lays potato chips in the shops. The USA looms large, many, many miles away. I went to a local pub that had food and ordered up. It was less than great, and I was given a cheap beer in place of what I ordered. It became painfully apparent that this place was some sort of former Soviet based brothel. I politely declined the services, finished my beer and grub, then hauled it back to the hotel for my guitar and a nightcap. Sometimes you can win and lose at the same time.