Black Sea Cruise: Batumi, Georgia - and mythology
By day 3 on board the MV Aegean Odyssey I finally got my morning breakfast routine down to a fine art. The Lido deck “healthy breakfast” opens at 6 am – so I pull on my shorts and a top and head out of my cabin to the deck. I fill a bowl with creamy Greek yogurt, walnut pieces, and fruit, pour a cup of coffee, and take it back to my cabin to enjoy. I add my almonds and Gojii berries to the yogurt and have the perfect breakfast.
Our cruise had one stop in Georgia, in Batumi, the administrative centre of the autonomous republic of Ajara. If you are wondering, as I did, exactly what that means, this is how I understand it. In 1921 Georgia was taken over by Soviet Russia as the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the Soviet Union until 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved and the Russian Federation took over. Struggling economically and politically from the 1991 breakup, in 2003 Georgia had the Rose Revolution resulting in democratic and economic reforms. Internally it has a couple of autonomous regions, that want to be independent states, and Ajara is one of them. How autonomous they are is not clear to me. As we drove around Batumi, it was very lush and green, reminding me a bit of Madeira which I visited en route from Cape Town to Southampton. One has the impression that the locally grown produce is plentiful and cheap.
The mythological connections to Georgia fascinate me. Georgia is located south of the Caucasus Mountains on the Eastern coast of the Black Sea. In classical times this is where the independent kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia were located. See the map in “Where in the World is the East?” Colchis was the kingdom to which Jason and the Argonauts travelled to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
The mythology of the Golden Fleece lies in the tale of the children of the cloud goddess Nephele who had two children with Athamas, a king in Boeotia, in Central Greece. The boy was named Phrixus (curly) and the girl Helle. When Athamas ditched her for Ino, Nephele took off (and the clouds with her!) and the result was drought. Ino plotted to kill her step-children but Nephele sent a golden fleeced, winged ram to save the children. Crossing the strait that connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara, Helle fell off and drowned - in the strait named after her as the Hellespont (now known as the Dardanelles).
Phrixus arrived in Colchis where he took refuge with Aeetes. After sacrificing the ram, the Golden Fleece hung in a grove sacred to Ares, until Jason, aided by Medea, (daughter of Aeetes) performed the three tasks that Aeetes assigned him and took the fleece. When Jason and Medea sailed away in the Argo, Aeetes chased them. Medea killed her brother Aspyrtus and threw pieces of his body into the water. Ah - what one does for love! Aeetes stopped to pick up the pieces and Jason escaped.
I find it fascinating that there is a statue of Medea proudly displayed in the town square. One would think she would have been vilified as a traitorous daughter of the city rather than celebrated. Incidentally though mythology has the golden fleeced ram as being the ram sired by Poseidon after he transformed the nymph, Theophane (grand-daughter of Helios, God of the Sun) into a ewe, it seems that there is an actual reason that golden fleece could have existed - namely that in panning for gold, fleece was used to trap the gold particles.
But back to modern times.
Our excursion was to the Batumi Botanical Gardens, founded by botanist Andrey Nikolayevich Krasnov. It was for years operated by the Georgian Academy of Sciences but is now an independent institution, celebrating its 100th year anniversary.
We learned about the history of the gardens. They are laid out in geographical zones – Caucasian sub-tropical, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, South America, Himalayas and Mexico. Plants and trees have been imported from all over the world. I found this interesting particularly when it seems that today each country is very rigid about not having any “alien” plant species imported either intentionally or by accident.
The excursion was a good choice. The gardens were very lush and we enjoyed a very pleasant walk before returning to the bus and back to the ship. Back on board we lunched on the Terrace deck and enjoyed the sail-away from Batumi. Next up the Ukraine where we stop at 4 ports, including Odessa..