The other side of Batumi

June 8, 2017

 

 

Batumi has billed itself as the picture perfect resort with amazing scenery, modern architecture, beautiful structures and an affordable cost of living to visitors or residents. Along with this they also offer one of the longest visa-free waiver programs of any country, allowing 98 countries the opportunity to stay for up to 360 days visa free.

 

After one year of research on Batumi, our team at Holiday Travel Network decided to take Batumi up on that offer and see exactly what makes it so popular and if it truly is the hidden gem of the Black Sea.

 

Initial analysis over the preceding months revealed one thing even before arrival. The customer service for most business (especially real estate companies) is nominal or non-existent…. putting it lightly. Countless emails have been sent to companies trying to get details on vacation rentals, long-term rentals and even sales. But close to 90% of these were unanswered, and the few that did reply and promise to check options, never replied. Will get more into their real estate market shortly.

 

LET'S FLY TO BATUMI

Flying directly into Batumi isn’t the easiest of tasks, however Turkish Airlines offers affordable and great service directly from Istanbul. You may also get flights from Ukraine, Russia and for a few months of summer; Dubai via FlyDubai. For a “popular tourist resort” we were actually expecting a larger airport catering to the thousands that flock there during summer, however it was more of a slightly modern comparison to Melville Hall Airport on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Our flight was the only one on the ground that morning, disembarked via stairs and walked directly into the arrivals area. This was capable of accommodating one international flight at a time (comfortably), 4 – 6 immigration desks and directly behind the desks you’ll find the belt to collect your luggage. A few steps away you have customs and you’re on the outside of the airport. Expect NO shopping on this end.

 

 

Despite the airport being a let-down, possibly what lies on the outside would more match the true vision of Batumi. Our taxi driver was there waiting patiently with a sign as expected (I say patiently as we were in immigration for quite some time while they verified passports, possibly the first visitors from the Caribbean). The ride to the apartment was quite reserved as our driver didn’t speak English… or Georgian… possibly Ukranian or Russian. Anyway this gave us the opportunity during the ten minute ride to take a closer view of the surroundings, which in all honesty looked a lot like some Caribbean islands than what was pictured.

 

VACATION APARTMENT RENTAL

Due once again to a lack of professional customer service, we were only able to receive a response from one agency in Batumi with regard to holiday rentals. Our communication with the agency was surprisingly great and the representative replied almost immediately to any queries.

 

The studio apartment was listed at $250 + utilities + 50% security deposit ($125). A pre-arrival deposit of $25 was paid and the remaining at the apartment (turns out there was also an upfront fee of $15 for TV & Internet due on arrival). The inside of the unit was quite clean, spacious, well organized and also had a great view of the mountains from the balcony. Unfortunately this about where the positives ended.

 

Side note to all property managers and vacation rental owners; when renting a property, it MUST have at least one roll of bathroom tissue. Needless to say this apartment had none. If families are travelling with their kids and maybe after a long haul flight, the last thing they need to is go walking around the city looking for a supermarket before their kids can use the bathroom.

 

Speaking of negatives, this apartment also has no on-site maintenance, security or property management. You walk straight off the pebbled / gravel carpark into the building and elevator…anyone! Twenty-four floors, three elevators, two working and one which didn’t seem the safest at times. There’s also a small coin box in the elevators which you must deposit 10 / 20 tetri (appx 0.05 / 0.10cents) each time you want to get to any floor… up or down. Completely unheard of! A few times we took the stairs as a form of fitness and it was more evident there was no form or property management… stairways were dusty from construction work, cigarette butts, old containers, boxes from construction and even dog feces which was clearly there for weeks if not longer.

 

 

 

Despite all the appearance negatives, the two that truly stood out and made this the worst vacation rental suitable for a feature on the next Steven King movie.

 

(1) The mattress was approximately 6” thick and possibly past its prime. So to sleep well you needed to position yourself between the springs which poked at every part of your body. There was a mattress pad on top as well but this could have been a sheet of paper as it offered absolutely no relief.

 

(2) Batumi (and most of Georgia) offers apartments for sale in a number of forms, black frame, white frame or completed. Unlike Western real estate where you may purchase an apartment turn-key or without furniture; in Batumi you may purchase with just walls. That is no stucco, no tiles, no electrical work, no fixtures… NOTHING. So with that said, this apartment building had many available apartments which were under renovation. One of said apartments was either right above or next to ours so EVERY morning from about 8:00AM there was the constant noise of hammering and chipping away at sections. This went on every day for the 3 weeks there; including weekends and public holiday. We asked the agent at if any other apartments were available but was told the same that most apartments will have construction going on. So if you’re planning on going to Batumi for a “relaxing” vacation, beware of the vacation rentals. Hotels may be a much better option.

 

BOULEVARD VS THE REST

When you do a search for Batumi and immerse yourself in the images and photos; the Boulevard is exactly as it appears. Seven kilometers of the most beautifully landscaped areas, modern and unique buildings, high-rise apartments, restaurants, dedicated bike trails, parks and the Black Sea encapsulating the whole picture. They Government or Tourism Board (not sure which division it falls under) takes exceptional care of this area. During our time there they were busy repairing old walkways, fixing benches, re-planting trees and maintaining the general upkeep of this stretch of Boardwalk before the busy summer season started in a matter of days. This by far was the most attention to details we’ve ever experienced in any country regarding tourism areas.

 

 

Batumi is exactly as they portrayed it in the videos and images… but not quite. That attention to detail and perfection does not extend to the broader “Batumi”. Every image and video you may have seen depicting Batumi is actually a depiction of those 7km of the Boulevard and immediate surroundings. Take a step across the road from such popular landmarks like the Colosseum, Orbi Towers…take your pick… the opposite side of the street is a drastic change in atmosphere. As Georgia was once under Soviet ruling, you are immediately taken back to that time with old buildings which could have been taken right out of that era. You are greeted with the contrast of beautiful 30+ storey glass buildings on one side of the road and old buildings where residents aren’t afforded such luxuries and lines of laundry are strewn from one old building to the other to dry.

 

From our apartment on the twenty-third floor we could see the reality of this even more clearly and the countless new high-rise projects being built between these older buildings. A few things are apparent and unfortunate at the same time. The consumer subsistence minimum for the average Georgian citizen is ($57.06 USD as per the Department of Public Registry), which puts all of these apartments out of the reach of the average citizen. Secondly as fast as these apartments are being built, they are mostly unoccupied with less than 50% occupancy. This often times leaves a magnificent building and the grounds and car park completely neglected. Lastly, with such poor customer service and response rate from real estate agents, it is not surprising to see the high number of vacant apartments.

 

POWER OUTAGES IN BATUMI

I’ve heard stories of power outages there and didn’t really think much of them as it was a whole 2 weeks until the first one came. This power outage took everything with it…there was no power, thereby no internet, no power to the building so no source to pump the water, so no water. Luckily this apartment had a gas stove… but of course the igniter was electric, so no cooking. This first one lasted just about 2 hours which wasn’t too bad, but a slight inconvenience. A few days later the electricity was good, but there was no water for a few hours.

 

The last major power outage that took everything again with it happened a few days before our departure. All utilities went at about 11:00 AM and remained off until well after 10:00 PM. Around 6:00PM it came on and off about seven more times but did not remain for more than forty minutes before going back off again. Unfortunately, when there’s no power to the building, this also means no elevator. So being on the 23rd floor, the thought of taking steps down and back up wasn’t a pleasing thought. Something to consider; with a building without onsite reception or property management, the thought of being stuck in an elevator without power is very discomforting. Not to be outdone by the day before, but this happened again the very next day from approximately 8:30AM – 3:00 PM.

 

THE KIDS

Have you ever watched the movie Hostel where the kids attack grown men and women for candy? Though not as extreme and hope it never gets to that stage but this is the best comparison that came to mind.

 

During one walk past the Boulevard and into the Old Town Square, there was the constant honking of horns that caught our attention. Glancing across the street there was a group of kids no more than eleven years old with one girl standing in the road and her hand on the hood of a limousine preventing it from moving. By the way they were dressed it didn’t take long to figure they were begging for money.

They were a good few meters away so didn’t think much of it and went back to trying to get a few photos. Against better judgement to leave prior; the same girl saw us and ran over and latched on to my leg while sitting on the floor and begging me for money. Impossible to move with a child attached, I gave her all the change in my pocket but apparently this wasn’t enough. This went on for about two minutes before one of team members walked around the corner where we passed security outside a few embassies. Their only advice was to do whatever we had to do to get her off. So said so done and never ventured back.

Figuring this was a one-off incident, it happened the very next day with near the park on the Boulevard except this time he was hugging at the waist. To be less intrusive another kid decided to follow us every step until we gave him change.

I can tolerate if you are asking for money and someone passes by to offer, but being physical is completely uncalled for. In a city which depends heavily on tourism, I can see this being a big problem if not dealt with early.  

 

 

IS IT WORTH THE TRIP

Overall Batumi is definitely worth the experience. They’re some great attractions that can’t be missed, namely Dolphinarium; also you’ll never be without a bite as they’re countless restaurants along the Boulevard at affordable prices. Also the friendliness of some persons you meet along the way just make it absolutely more relaxing. But with that said, Batumi shouldn’t be marketed as “Batumi” as this personally is a gross misrepresentation of what the city really is. Their marketing should be more correctly identified as “Batumi Boulevard”. You are not going to buy a ticket to Cuba and expect a street of old world style and the rest of the country straight out of New York City. Conversely you won’t be going to Dubai and expect the likes of Lima, Peru. So when images of Batumi are portrayed, visitors should be immersed in more than just a 7km stretch of the Boulevard.
 

 

Side note for a few places which need assistance in customer service:

Beeline – poor online and in-store service

Zurab Pataradze (Government of Adjara): read message, no reply

Manejeri Berdia (Real Estate): - read message, no reply

Batumi-Realtor (Real Estate): to assist on property search, no reply

Orbi Group (Real Estate): Sent emails no reply

Basisbank -(Banking) read message, no reply

Solo (Banking): replied initially, request info, no reply
Eco Taxi Batumi: read message, no reply

 

 

 

 

 

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