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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Well, it's not that I went crazy and took a plane to that "mysterious" city :p but as the tournament is being played right now I thought I could post this fantastic report made (by recently retired :sad: ) British player Lucie Ahl during the 2000 tourny. Though a bit long it's really worthy to see how life in tour is in these post communist about glamour in the ITF circuit :lol: :lol: :lol:

The Batumi Diary
On tour: Lucie Ahl, Helen Crook, Louise Latimer, Julie Pullin
Event: $75,000 Batumi, Georgia

The beginning:

4.30am Friday It was cold, wet and dark on the pavement outside of my flat waiting for the cab which was half an hour late to take Hel and I to Heathrow to meet Julie and Louise.

Comfort is probably not a word that springs to mind, but compared to the journey ahead, this small battered old Peugot was first class travel!

After checking in for our flight to Tblisi which is the capital of Georgia, (former USSR) and getting away with our overweight baggage which was stuffed with goodies (and protein) for the week, we headed straight for the plane.

We flew via Vienna and encountered a 2 hour delay but eventually arrived in Tblisi at 6.30pm. In an old van with wet seats we then had our first experience of the not-so-flat roads. We reckon that in Georgia, the phrase “off the beaten track” must mean driving through someone’s lounge as main roads just don’t exist!

We were taken to the local tennis club and venue of the previous week’s tournament, where we picked up some other girls and headed for the train station and the overnight train. The station seemed to be the local hangout. Ten girls with tennis baggage walking through this packed out dirty building - we certainly looked like outsiders and I’m sure the stares we were getting weren’t due to our stunning good looks!

After being told their was no room initially, we then boarded our 4 bedded carriage complete with bullet-holed window at 8pm! The train was packed and our luggage seemed attractive to the other passengers (as did we I am sure!) Thankfully, the door locked but the guard did have round the clock access as we discovered when he burst in without knocking to ask for our tickets!

The train journey was 12 hours long with about 20 stops and at an average speed of about 20kmh! Despite the painstakingly slow speed each time we pulled out of the station we were all flung off our beds due to the non-smoothness of the train or skill-less driver and I actually almost landed on Louise one time. I was only saved by the bags we had to stack in the gap.

At the risk of grossing you out, we really have to mention the toilet and the smell. Touching anything was out of the question and breathing was unwise too, it really was pungent in there. This was the only time the train seemed to be speeding along as we all tried to hover (and strengthened our thigh muscles in the process) and perform on the very uneven tracks!

At 9.30am Saturday, the toilet smell had stretched into the whole corridor and mixed with the resident Georgian stale smoke and we eventually pulled up at Batumi train station feeling fresh and revived after our comfortable 26 hour journey

The tournament:

We thankfully got a room at the club hotel which was nice and clean albeit a little damp. Starving hungry, we ventured over to the bar/restaurant (which is like a nightclub) for a breakfast of frankfurters and bread!

We all got a 20 min hit in before the heavens opened and it then poured down until Monday morning! During the short burst without rain we ventured out for runs and passed security men who were positioned all round the club complete with black suits, walkie talkies, dark glasses and guns. The mafia was definitely present.

Our runs gave us the chance to see a bit of the town and obvious things that spring to mind are the cows and horses randomly standing in the road and the people who just stand around doing nothing or trying to sell anything (for example individual cigarettes) and everything they can. With the club situated on the sea front there was also a big wheel which was rust colour with dashes of white paint which was actually working and definitely a scary white knuckle ride if I ever I saw one!!

So other than training and rising to the daily challenge of getting rice / spaghetti or other edible food there wasn’t much to do until the rain stopped on Monday. And we were then grateful of the chance to hit and get ready for our matches.

Louise was first up on Tuesday and not only did we have to deal with the joys of Batumi but we were also faced with the short set, best of 5 set trial scoring system. Louise’s experience was something we all lived through in the 3 hours it took her to win 5-4 in the 5th!

The rest of us played on Wednesday where Julie won and Helen and I lost. Hel and I also played doubles but lost in 5 sets.

I was feeling very miffed about the tennis but a little joy was brought into my life when i was told that there was a bus at 7pm to Tblisi airport. It was a bit stressful as we only had 20 mins to pack and if we missed the Thursday 5am flight we wouldn’t get home until Saturday afternoon! So Helen and I threw our stuff in our bags, said an emotional goodbye to Julie and Louise who (although a bit jealous) were slightly pleased by our early departure which left them with a few extra goodies.

About 9 players somehow squeezed into the hired van with our baggage with not an inch of space to spare. It could have been a world record actually and it certainly was a trip of a lifetime!

We were squashed up the front with the driver who like most Georgian men, had unfortunately forgotten to wash his clothes, hair and body and put his deodorant on. As it got darker, we found out the van’s headlights were about as powerful as a pocket reading torch. They did actually both work though, unlike many of the vehicles coming toward us which were disguised as motorcycles with their one source of light! Not too worry though, the revelation that they were trucks was quickly dealt with by a quick swerve!

Having hit a massive pothole, been on two wheels, peed in a ditch and reversed down a motorway, we arrived at the airport at 2.30am. Shorter than the train but still agonisingly long for 350km!

Grateful to stretch our legs we then piled into the terminal where we had to wait until 5.40am. We were exhausted, but glad we tried the bus on the way back as it all adds to our experience!

So after a packed plane journey home we arrived at Heathrow at 8.45am (12.45pm Georgian time) and were home and dry but we still had to wait an hour for the booked cab (won’t be using that firm again) which eventually took us home.

Julie progressed to the quarter finals and Louise lost her next match, but they did manage to get on the Friday flight which had they missed, they would have been stuck in Georgia until the following Tuesday!

Back at my flat, I got into the bath with the brillo pad and scrubbed off my souvenirs from Georgia which consisted mainly of Lada and tobacco fumes!

On a serious note I did really enjoy the experience of going to Batumi and although we had difficulties the people were all friendly and hospitable. And I think speaking for all of us, it really reminds me how lucky we all are living where and the way we do!
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