Running with the Cows (or, “Til the Cows Come Home – Georgia Road Trip, Part 10)

For a long time I’ve been meaning to write about the Cows of Georgia. I’ve been meaning to write about them, because they were one of the ubiquitous features of our trip to Georgia last summer.  But that was a long time ago. So many ridiculous items (‘coups’, orange-haired presidents, dictatorial referendums, etc.) have taken their places on the daily agenda since then that the cows just sort of got left by the side of the road, so to speak.

In fact, during our trip, the cows were more often occupying the center of the road than the side of it. But since the time I decided to write about the Cows of Georgia and the time I actually got around to writing about them, I’ve had a lot of time to wonder why it is that I find cows so fascinating.

Picture: “Hanging out the Laundry” (it’s a box)

Box_ÇamasirOpen

I have an ex-boyfriend who grew up in a small town in Germany who once told me he had always wanted to have a cow for a pet. At the time, I thought that was sort of strange. Now, however, I can see the attraction. In addition to the side-benefit of daily dairy products, cows are definitely more human-friendly than cats, and while not quite as cuddly as doggies, they’ve got big, beautiful eyes that they obligingly turn in your direction the minute you point a camera at them – unlike doggies, who instinctually manage to look in the other direction the second you press the shutter (or tap your touch screen).

Picture: Collage with Cows

film-gibi

The cows in the collage above are photocopies of paintings I did of (duh) cows. They are actually pretty small (about 10x15cm), and I did them all in one sitting because I was tired of people looking at me like I had two heads when I didn’t nod yes when they asked, “So, you do oil on canvas?” I made a dozen or so, and hung them in a “3-person-exhibit” at the Gümüşlük Art House shortly after I had first moved to Bodrum. The other 2 ladies exhibiting were as suprised as I was when a French tourist came in and bought almost all of them. “What? Don’t you have cows where you come from?” asked one of the ladies. All I could do was pocket my cash and smile. “Actually, we do.”

But we don’t have them on the beach. At least not on Long Island.

Kadıkalesi is the first place I ever saw a cow wandering on the beach, and I was fascinated. It was not an uncommon occurrence, either. In the wintertime, when the beaches were empty of tourists, they’d be hanging out with their kankas, enjoying a bit of beach grub.

I never did see a cow on the beach during the summer tourist season, but I did get to wondering, and after a couple of cows made their way onto trays that formed a wall installation with a couple of naked Greek statues and some Ottoman women on their way to a hammam (and I am really sorry I don’t have a picture of that), I finally did a picture I called “Cows on the Beach”. It was inspired in part by the witty lady from the exhibit in Gümüşlük.

Picture: Cows on the Beach

Welcome to Turkey

But away from the cows of the Aegean and on to the cows of the Black Sea…

Picture: Cows in the Highlands

georgia-mitrala-cows-3191

Yes, there were cows hanging out by the sea in Georgia, and in “the lush Georgian highlands”, but like the ones in Turkey, they were solitary, or with at most a single friend or family member. The ones inland on the way from Üreki to Kutaisi were in herds.

Nothing wrong with that. Kinda makes sense. “Herd of cows”… (“Heard of cows?”… heh-heh-heh….)

But herd of cows on a highway? Well, no actually…

Returning from Kutaisi, we had apparently hit cow rush hour, and the traffic was horrendous. It was moving in a maddeningly slow pace, and what’s worse, in the wrong direction.

I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but I just don’t have the energy to tease it out. It’s bayram, and the heat wave from Libya has arrived at our doorstep and is expected to last until the end of the holiday.

And then there’s another national holiday coming up, I’m sure, in a few weeks, marking nearly a year since we started out on our Road Trip to Georgia. In fact, the anniversary is not to mark our road trip – but don’t get me started on that, because I don’t have the energy for that, either. Enough to say that last year, we had accidentally decided to take a holiday abroad at a very interesting time. This year, we’re doing it on purpose. And when we get back home, all I want is for everything to be normal again. And I don’t want to have to wait until the cows come home.

I hope you all have enjoyed joining me on this vicarious, virtual trip around Georgia and some of Turkey. I know I promised lots of things that I didn’t deliver on (like a description of Zafer and the Laz Beach Party at Limanköy, and more photoshopped bathers, for example), but like I said, and as you know, a lot of things have happened over the past 365 days. To keep up with me on this journey we call – well, this journey we call something or other –  feel free to sign up for my Blog, which, I promise, will from now on no longer engage in 10-part series of anything.

And for now, just a few more cows… 

Picture: Cows on the Highway

Cows

Picture: Cows Still on the Highway, Receiving a Good Talking To

Cows getting instructions from my husband

Picture: Cows on the Highway (but at least heading in the right direction now)

Cows in the right direction

Picture: A Smiling Cow on the Highway

Cow smiling

Picture: Cow in a Collage

Nature out of Balance

Picture: Another Cow in a Collage

Toredor

Georgia Underground (The Caves of Prometheus) (Georgia Road Trip, Part 9)

I have been in search of diversion since July of last year, if not longer. Considering that 2017 already looks like a year I’d rather skip altogether, I think I’ll just continue trying to secure a little more diversion – this time in color.

When we left Ureki (See Georgia Road Trip, Part 8), it was with some regret. Harun and I may not be what you’d call “beach people”, but we are certainly “coastal people” (heck, we’re even “bicoastal”: alternating between the west of Turkey and the east of the US), and there we were, about to head inland.

Literally.

Inside the land.

Underground.

The entrance to the Prometheus cave is rather  unassuming, and I imagine that it was discovered in the same way that many of the underground cities in Cappadocia were discovered – i.e., a farmer out in his field spies a crack, digs it open a bit, and: “surprise”!

Like the underground cities in Turkey, the Prometheus cave is now a national park site. Unlike the underground cities, you can only see the caves as part of a tour – a 2-km underground walking tour. For a little extra dosh, you are supposedly able to make part of that tour by boat, or so I had read, but the boat tours require a certain amount of water that was lacking while we there – the hottest and driest part of the summer – which is also the perfect time to spend some time in a cave.

(A literal cave. As far as figurative caves go, from now until 2020 sounds all too appealing.)

And now for your visual entertainment, may I introduce…

The Caves of Kutaisi

dscn3290An unobtrusive entrance…

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An immediate surprise…

dscn3296An underground tour route…

dscn3305
Filled with ups and downs…

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Some subtle lighting…

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And some less subtle lighting…

dscn3327No photoshopping required…

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(For the lowdown on all things cavey, you can check out the website of the  Georgia National Parks Service. And FYI (given, I believe, that Georgia is relatively new to capitalism in general and tourism in particular), the park officials will let you camp out overnight within a stone’s throw of the ticket booth and the WC, as long as you wait until the official closing time to pitch your tent. Not taking them up on their offer was only our second-worst decision regarding accommodations in the Republic of Georgia. For our worst decision, stay tuned for Part 10 of the Georgia Road Trip.

Georgian Beaches (Georgia Road Trip, Part 8)

When Harun and I planned our Road Trip to the Republic of Georgia, well, as Lou Reed once said, “those were different times”. I know I promised (you and me both) that I’d keep up with the story of the road trip, including photos during and artwork after, but what with coups, bombs, witch hunts, elections, more bombs, even more bombs, and a few mass shootings for good measure, well, it really is hard to concentrate, whether we’re in Turkey or the United States. In an effort to wind up the Georgian Tale before it becomes just a vague memory, let’s move on from Kobuletti to Ureki.

And let me say this: Ureki is better than Kobuletti.

Ureki has magnificent magnetic black sand that is supposed to be good for you.

Ureki has an Azeri kebabci who has his sheep meat shipped in daily on a bus from Azerbaijan to Tbilisi (and who uses fresh coriander in his salad, which is good news for those of us who don’t have the “makes-coriander-taste-like-soap” gene).

Ureki has cheap and cheerful Georgian wine in plastic bottles sold on the street and outstanding wine in real glass bottles available at the corner markets, of which there are many.

Ureki has hotels where instead of a sign reading “no food or drink from outside allowed on premises”, you will most likely find a very large refrigerator where hotel guests are expected to store all the food and drink they’ve purchased from outside and brought onto the premises. (As the best of our hotel’s Georgian Cuisine consisted of what I can only call gruel – although it was damn good gruel – this is a very good thing. Another good thing was that in addition to gruel, our hotel came with a caretaker who spoke rudimentary Turkish from her erstwhile days taking care of old people in Ankara, and she came with a sister just a phone-call away with even better Turkish, since the phone call was to Ankara, where she was still taking care of old people.)

Ureki has touts on the main drag who will help you find a hotel. (This was helpful for us, considering we were among the masses of non-Georgian tourists for whom the Georgian alphabet is very curly – although it would have been more helpful if we had a better command of Russian, which is the language of Georgian tourism, which leans heavily on cars full of families from Russia and Armenia. We managed with “da”, “nyet”, finger-counting and a phone call to a Georgian health-care worker in Ankara.)

Ureki has a parking-area-cum-campgrounnd that is shaded by sweet-scented pines and is right on the edge of the beach. (I can recommend it highly for parking, but less so for camping. Let’s just say that when we decided to make use of its camping potential – along with a number of others with TR plates in amongst the RUSs and AMs – we were treated to a bit of all-night entertainment from a few friendly Georgians who managed to strategically place themselves next to our tent and endulge in a rather boisterous, vodka-fueled party; they were even more friendly in the morning, once they had taken up their hotel-touting positions on the strip – greeting us with a “Good morning, Turk! Perhaps you would like to stay in a hotel this evening?”)

So, now, here are a few lovely photos from the beach at Ureki. (You will notice, I took a few liberties… )

Photo 38 (Ureki No. 1): Green Umbrella

Gurcistan Beach 1 - green umbrella.jpg

Picture 39 (Ureki No. 2): Black Sand (and Parachute)

gurcistan-beach-2-black-sand-w-parachute

Picture 40 (Ureki No. 3): Beach Boy

Gurcistan Beach  3 - umbrella boy.jpg

 

 

 

 

Kobuleti, Kobuleti – It’s Better than Bodrum AND Antalya… (Georgia Road Trip, Part 7)

I hope you enjoy reading something that I can assure you is lighter and more uplifting than the current international bestseller, “Woe to Us: How I Learned to Survive the Elections and Love The Donald”….

To pick up the nearly lost thread of my Georgian Road Trip saga, I’d like to point out that the best thing I did before Harun and I hit the road for our marathon trek around Turkey and across the border to the northeast was to find this web site for what I guess is the Georgia National Parks Service. The site is a bit unwieldy, but that’s because it’s got so much information- places to stay, caves to explore, valleys to traverse…

Basically, I was looking for camping spots in the mountains, near the water and to the southeast of Tbilisi. It was up in the air as to whether or not we were going to make it as far as Tbilisi – if we could find enough to interest us without going so far afield, then we would avoid Tbilisi, even though it is the capital and even though we’d heard it was more interesting and less expensive than Batumi, which we had been told to avoid as being a typical “border town” – a sort of Georgian Tijuana, I suppose.

After studying the great Georgia National Parks Service website for clues to some kind of an itinerary, I came up with 2 possible first stops: either Mitrala National Park, or Kobuleti. The 4-hour wait on the Georgian side of the border while Harun was being alternately grilled and stalled by the Turkish border police (who I suppose were being extra careful because of “fleeing attempted-coup perpetrators”) decided it for me: Kobuleti.

There were two main reasons for this:

  1. A Turkish gentleman who also had a fellow-traveller ‘waiting’ in customs recommended Kobuleti as “better than Bodrum and Antalya”

  2. By the time Harun finished ‘waiting’, it was already evening, and it didn’t feel like a good idea to be driving up a mountain in Georgia in the dark, particularly when:

    a. we’d been warned about the poor conditions of roads in Georgia, and

    b. the Georgian alphabet looks like this: , ლ, etc.    (which, I think you can appreciate, is not something I expected to be particularly helpful in pointing me in the direction of either Mitrala or Kobuleti or anywhere else, for that matter).

In fact, as it turned out, Kobuleti was a big enough place (in the Georgian scheme of things) that the road signs marking the way to Kobuleti actually said ‘Kobuleti’ in addition to ‘ქობულეთი’ – which was rather helpful, indeed. What was rather less helpful was that, as we soon found out, the poor road conditions in Georgia were equally matched by poor road signs.

Please note that this does not necessarily mean there are no road signs; in fact, as we made our way down the (I must say, in this instance, well-paved) road to ‘Batumi -ბათუმი’, we began to see many signs for’ქობულეთი – Kobuleti. Unfortunately, none of signs appeared to be indicating anything that looked remotely like something that could be the road to ‘ქობულეთი – Kobuleti’ – which should have been the main road running up the Georgian Black Sea coastline – either because the signs had no arrows to point to a road, or because the arrows pointed to place where there were no roads. At least not that I could decipher.

(By the way: Harun is The Driver, I’m The Navigator. I’m always The Navigator. It’s my job. It’s been my job ever since I was old enough to read a map, because like Harun, my dad was always The Driver, and if my mom were The Navigator, we could find ourselves driving down the road to somwhere in the middle of Queens, instead of Manhattan, NYC – which for anyone not familiar with New York, would be sort of like finding yourself on the road to someplace in Indiana instead of NYC – not that I am intending here any slur against Indiana, it’s just that Indiana is on my mind today, thanks to a little hasty research on our new US Vice-President Elect… but I digress…).

Under the circumstances, I was able to find one sign that had an arrow that actually did (sort of) point to a road -which – are you surprised by this? – turned out not to be the road to ‘ქობულეთი – Kobuleti’, but to – who knows? – perhaps the Georgian equivalent of Howard Beach (which, by the way, is nothing like Bodrum or Antalya – or Kobuleti).

This is when my visual communication skills came in handy. Before the road took us completely away from any kind of civilization, we found ourselves driving past one solitary individual walking down the side of the road – perhaps the last guy out after locking up one of the darkened, deserted warehouses along what was not the road to Kobuleti. We pulled up alongside him, I offered him a drawing pad and a lead pencil, and in what could have passed for confusion in any language – eyebrows drawn together, hands waving in circles, rising tone on the final syllable: “Kobule-ti?”

In response, we got a reasonable lead-pencil facsimile of a traffic circle or intersection and a long road stretching out – need I say it? – in the opposite direction from where we were heading. “Madloba” – I might have said, had it been a few days later (other than Kobuleti and some other lovely place-names, “thank you” is the only Georgia word I was able to acquire), and thus we headed away from Howard Beach and through the dusty side roads of Batumi back towards the coastal highway and our first stop actually inside Georgia week after we first started out on this Georgia Road Trip.

As it turns out, Kobuleti is not nearly as big as Antalya. It is not nearly as big as Bodrum. It is not even as big as a lot of places that are not nearly as big as Bodrum. Had we blinked, we might have missed it.

Perhaps if I knew some Russian, I might have noticed the little cardboard signs tacked up in front of some houses that I later figured out translated into “Room to Let”. As it was, all I could do was tell Harun to “pull over” in front of a shop that was announcing itself as the ‘Istanbul Perdeci’ – or something or other. It really didn’t matter if the place was selling curtains (“perdeler”) or not, what was important was that somebody in there most likely had something to do with Istanbul and thus would most likely: a. speak Turkish and b. be willing to assist non-Georgian-speaking Turkish-speakers in finding a place to lay down their (our) weary bones in Kobuleti.

(Here I must pause to pat myself on the back for my skills as The Navigator, which involve being able to ‘read the cultural landscape’ in addition to being able to read a map.)

In the space of time it takes to make a single phone call, we had a room at the lovely ‘?? Hotel’. The ‘??’ was conveniently located 2 doors down from the Istanbul Perdeci, both of which were on the main road through Kobuleti, which we also learned from Our Man at the Istanbul was just a block away from the beach.

Our Man at the Istanbul also introduced us to a Georgian fast-food-cum-bakery that was conveniently located 2 doors down from the Istanbul Perdeci in the opposite direction of the ‘??’ So, after a little haggling with the proprietors of the ‘??’ – once again using drawing pad and pencil as facilitators – we dumped our bags in a clean and modest room just a block away from the beach and headed out to enjoy our first greasy-doughy-cheesy-Georgian fast-food delights, which we held in our hands and ate as we walked towards the beach in the dark.

To bring this little narrative to a close, I will just say that despite our initial referral to Kobuleti as the Bodrum or Antalya of Georgia, we did not enjoy a beach holiday here. We arrived in the dark, and the next day was clouded over, so we ended up driving back towards Batumi and checking out Mitrala National Park, where, unbeknownst to Harun, I was planning to engage in a little ‘zip-lining’ through the trees. In fact, just as we got up to the start of the ‘zipper’, it began to rain, and so we ended up heading back to the ‘??’ where we had left our bags, and the next morning, we decided to head north out of Kobuleti in search of an even better beach.

I am afraid you will have to wait for the next installment of the Georgia Road Trip to get a glimpse of a Georgian beach – but here are some pics of the beautiful Mitrala National Park on a foggy, rainy day…

Picture 31: Castle on the Way Back to Batumi georgia-castle-3142

 

 (I suppose I could have Photoshopped out the apartment blocs in the background, but then you might not get the sense of how much Georgia and Turkey have in common…)

Picture 32: Castle on the Way Back to Batumi, againgeorgia-outside-castle-3145

(You will notice the not-bright-blue sky. Just another day on the Black Sea…)

 

Picture 33: The Luscious Landscape of Mitrala National Park

georgia-mitrala-green-w-blue-sky-3161(Now admit it, isn’t a bright-blue Photoshop sky just the ticket?)

 

Picture 34: Resident Guide at Mitrala National Park

georgia-milli-park-guide-with-knife(Note the knife… a little bit of Photoshop and we’d’ve had that glinting…)

 

Picture 35: Resident Cows at Mitrala National Park

georgia-mitrala-cows-3191(Cows were a theme on this Road Trip.)

Picture 36: Resident Residence at Mitrala National Park

georgia-mitrala-for-rent-3190(Had we only known, we might have stayed here. Enlarge and you can read the tel. no…. Just sayin’…)

 

 Picture 37: Fog at Mitrala National Park

georgia-fog-3159No Photoshop here. But I promise you lots of Photoshopped beaches if you return for the next installment of the Georgia Road Trip… Just sayin’…

 

 

Across the Border, Finally. (Georgia Road Trip, Part 6)

Across the Border, Finally. (Georgia Road Trip, Part 6)

A horizontal line drawn from a point midway along a moon-shaped cove on the eastern end of the Black Sea represents the end of the Republic of Turkey and the beginning of the Republic of Georgia. To the north of the line, sunbathers are sprawled on the sand. To the south of the line, the beach is empty. Instead, there’s a crowd of people milling about in front of, next to and behind a line of vehicles – semi-trucks and tour busses, mainly – all with their motors turned off. Every 10 to 15 minutes, keys are turned in ignitions, motors rumble, and drivers move their vehicles forward a few meters. The process is repeated, again. And again. And again.

Picture 27 Sarp: The Bordergeorgia-border

On the occasion that we were participating in this exasperating bit of car choreography, the performance lasted about 8 hours!

Not that this is a border-crossing you’ll be breezing through on a normal day (the driver of the tour bus behind us said a couple of hours’ wait was normal); however, the Andy Warhol-John Cage proportions of this production can be attributed – as so many other things in Turkey are being attributed these days – to the ‘July 15 coup attempt’ – after which various and sundry perpetrators were found to have made their escape through – ta-daaa – this very same escape hatch.

If you’ve been paying attention, the ‘previous episode’ of this tale left off somewhere around Çorum, which is nowhere near the Georgian border. Thus, in the effort to speed up this virtual-border crossing (Would that I could have sped up the real-time event!), I’ll just present you with some higlights, in bullet-points, with a focus on highways, in case you ever find yourself in a car travelling along the Black-Sea coast of Turkey towards the Georgian border:

  • The highway from Central Anatolia (Çorum) to the Black Sea (Samsun) gets you there much quicker than you’d think.

  • Samsun has a confusing highway system, but once you find the shore (and a parking space nearby), it’s just as pleasant as walking along the Izmir Kordon, albeit (believe it or not) a little more humid.

  • The highway between Samsun and Ordu is one giant speed trap.

  • The sea looks lovely from the highway, but getting to it is nigh impossible, especially since heading east, by the time you spy a bit of sand or rock that makes you want to say ‘that looks like a nice place to stop’, you’re way past any exit (if there was one in the first place).

  • One of the easiest places to ‘get off the highway’ is Ünye. We got off the highway to go to the Social Security Office and get a print-out to show to the border guards (‘extraordinary times’, we are in) so that we could exit the country. While it turns out no one at the border showed any particular interest in these particular papers, it was worth stopping, as we chanced on a melon that was truly delicious.

Picture 28: Unye: The Melonunye-melon-3132

  • For a prettier (way prettier) drive, get off the new highway and onto the old highway that hugs the coast between Perşembe and Ordu.

  • There are some lovely places by the seaside east of Ordu all the way up to Georgia that cannot be seen from the highway. If you are not in a hurry, it might behoove you to pick an exit – any exit – and get off and back on the road again, heading west. Drive slowly in the right lane until something ineresting pops up.

  • Something interesting will pop up if you get off the highway around Limanköy, after Rize and before Artvin. (You will hear more about Limanköy on the return trip.)

Now, I have to admit, despite the fact that Harun and I had been romanticizing our ‘Trip to Georgia’ for around a year, sadly,  the banality of the new highway and the wait at Sarp/i made the actual ‘Crossing of the Border’ seem more like a denouement when it should have been a climax. Because everyone other than the chaufeur needs to get out and walk across, the pedestrian line is a lot longer than the line for cars, and since it’s my name on the registration of our Toyota (which is now even more well-travelled than our erstwhile Twingo), it was Harun who had to do the walking. This meant that 30% of my border-waiting was actually done on the other side.

I’d love to share with you my pictures of the lovely Orthodox church at Sarp, of the architecturally unique Georgian border installation (someone’s idea of an airborne submarine?), or even of the signs posting the exchange rates given by the shops servicing all those who wait (showing a correlation between the number of meters walked and the number of lari pocketed), but in fact – I have none. (Note to self: Possible title for next novel: ‘Dead Batteries’.)  Instead, you will have to make do with a few snaps of the lovely architecture of Batumi and some classic Black Sea Fog.

Picture 29: Batumi (1)batumi-arch-deco-2-3200

Picture 30: Batumi (2)batumi-arch-deco-3201

Picture 31: A Little Black Sea Foggeorgia-very-green-1-3155

And as an end note, I’d like to offer a little explanation as to what this attenuated ode-to-a-road-trip is doing in a blog ostensibly devoted to ‘process/progress’ (at least that’s what it says on the tab):

It’s that art/life, thing, ya know?
I mean, we can’t be in the studio all the time, now, can we?
Every once in a while we gotta get out there and take the pulse, see?

So, the road to Georgia – and back – was like holding a big long index finger tight over the national wrist-vein. It’s been a while processing the data, but things are not looking good.