Our SPOT tracker is not working at the moment, so we are on the hunt for new batteries. No worries, we survived a full week with Ellen & Wiebke and are safe and sound in Tbilisi. The plan is to head off to Azerbaijan in a couple of days. More news and pictures will follow soon!
After queuing for three hours and making about twelve new Turkish friends, we crossed the border to Georgia.
We headed for Batumi, a pleasant seaside town which played a huge role in the oil business in the late 19th century. All the oil coming from Baku was transported by train to Batumi where it continued further by boat over the Black Sea.
We read somewhere that we could get our Azeri visa in Batumi, without a letter of invitation. So we headed for the consulate, filled in the forms and got the visa the next day! Saved another 120$! We will put it in Willem’s savings account for future repairs...
Cognac and cars don’t go together well...
We headed north towards Tsiashi, a small town with natural hot springs. Signposting is not a very Georgian thing to do, so we ended up combing the area by car to find the springs. We saw some steam coming out of a pipe, got out of the car wondering if this was supposed to be the place. Genadi, who lives next to the spring, saw our puzzled looks and welcomed us into his garden. He showed us his big green house, sponsored by an Israelian company. The green house is being kept hot and humid with the water coming from the hot springs. This way he has fresh fruit and vegetables all year round. Also, the whole village has hot water because of these springs.
After a long chat in Russian, English, Polish and lots of gestures and home made food and cognac, we thanked Genadi for the great afternoon and parked next to the river around the corner for a nap. We went for a puddle in the hot spring “bath” and got ready to continue our trip to the north. But, we didn’t notice the swampy grassland when we drove down to the river, and we couldn’t get back up the hill! We got stuck in the mud up to the doors of the car, and winging did not prove to be an option. We went back to Genadi who helped to get a tractor of a friend to pull us out. It was an ancient fossile tractor, but it did the job and even received some applause. Genadi didn’t allow us to continue towards Svaneti and insisted we’d stay with him and his family. Thanks to you all for the great afternoon, evening and morning!
The car was totally covered in mud after this swamp adventure, so Willem was in desperate need of a wash. Shiny like new, we set off to Mestia in the Svaneti mountains. Svaneti is almost like a little country within Georgia, with it’s own language and special food. The landscape is marked by many defensive towers which were used to house the villagers in times of war.
We stayed at a campsite with lots of fanatic hikers and felt we had to at least follow one of the trails. We decided on an eight hour trek to a couple of mountain lakes. We never did reach the lakes but managed to get to 2543 meters! This is the highest we’ve ever been so far. Crazy to imagine we will be driving at heights of 4000 meters on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan...
The next day we drove towards Adishi. We tried to get to it over the mountain range, but at 3000 meters high the road ended and even Willem couldn’t get us any further. We enjoyed the view, played a game of Yahtzee in the car and drove back to reach Adishi through the pass. It was a beautiful drive over a very rocky road. The tiny town is lovely; nine families live there only in the summertime and the cows and pigs follow you curiously as you go around the tiny alleys.
We hobbled back to Mestia and drove back to the south to visit the amazing Vardzia cave city. To get there we had to drive over a gorgeous mountain pass with wooden cottages. They are developing the area by building ski resorts, but we are wondering how cars will get there in the wintertime, over these seriously crazy, narrow and damaged roads...
We continued through the most beautiful valley to get to the cave city. An impressive place; over 400 monks used to live in these caves in Byzantine times, and a few still live there today. The cave church is still being used and we were lucky to bump into a bearded monk in a big black robe who opened the doors for us to have a look. He waited outside talking on the phone via his headset. A funny sight.
Below the cave city and next to the valley river was a nice place to spend the night. We met Meris and his family from Lithuania. He organises 4x4 safari’s and was doing some research to maybe do some off road trips outside of his country in future. We sampled some Lithuanian spirits and chatted about his off road plans by the campfire.
In the meantime...
We are fascinated by the way the Georgians bake bread, it looks so pretty!
We noticed that Caucasian cars look like the cars you drew as a child; square and simple. But it’s a miracle how all the Lada’s survive these roads! We try to avoid the biggest gaps and criss cross the “road” to spare the tires, while in the meantime being overtaken by a Lada!
We suspect that the Georgians learn how to drive a car with one arm out of the window at all times. Even when the window is half up, the armpit must be on show. Because driving with two hands on the wheel is not done here.
Actually, we suspect that the Georgians don’t take driving lessons at all...they drive like serious madmen here...cutting corners, overtaking at the worst possible time with near-death experiences as a result, creating five lanes on a two lane road, overtaking on the right when you are waiting for the traffic lights, and so on and so on. Never thought I’d say this, but Bucharest was better.
We actually crossed the border to Georgia a few days ago, so we felt it was time for a big catch-up on the adventure stories. Browsing through our pictures and notebook, we feel we have left Turkey with the warmest, funniest and loveliest memories...so many beautiful and kind people, pretty villages, good jokes and amazing landscapes, we wouldn't mind spending another month here!
We packed away our snorkels and left the sea side to continue further towards the east. The landscape and the way people look changed with every 100 km, and the sun got hotter and hotter. We stopped at a petrol station completely exhausted from the dust and the heat. There we met Ulan; a cow tradesman, who also trades car parts and has his own fruit and veg business. He offered us to stay the night at his house and proudly showed us his cows. One of them didn't know yet, but it would be its last night in the shed; she was scheduled to go to the butcher's the next morning. No wonder Ulan struggled to get her into the truck!
A small pit stop at the Denizli Mitsubishi car service was made (yep...) and we met Osman, who kindly helped us to translate everything AND who told us NOT to continue BEFORE seeing Pamukkale. And how right he was...it was amazing to see the bright white landscape and turquoise pools in the middle of the dry sandy surroundings...
It probably also was the most touristy place we had visited so far. An excellent moment to start a new chapter in our picture taking madness: taking "OPP's" (Other People's Pictures). It's the best thing to do not to get annoyed with Russian tourists. You can find the result here. Be warned; this is serious business (to the people in the pictures!) Here's a fine example:
We escaped the bright sun and stopped at Lake Eğirdir. We stopped at a car park right next to the lake and met Ton and Leo, from HELMOND! They do say there is a chance to meet your neighbours when you're on holidays but this is crazy. They are travelling with their mobile home and enjoying the local way of life in each village they visit. And, they know my dad. (pap, ik heb het er nog even over met je!)
It has been a dream for a long time to wake up to the balloons hoovering over the beautiful rocks in Cappadocia...We arrived late at night and parked the car at one of the panorama points in Göreme. Not knowing this would be the perfect spot to wake up at. A little tear of happiness when we woke up at 5:15 to see the first bubble-like contours in the rising sun...
We explored the fairy chimneys, dived into the deep underground villages, marvelled at the churches with their beautiful frescoes, climbed inside the pigeon houses and wandered through monastery valleys...We met Ahmet who happily showed us all the secret passageways, wells and other farmer's apricot orchards. It was fantastic...Willem easily managed the off road paths leading to the best viewpoint spots. We enjoyed a nice glass of Turkish wine on a gorgeous plateau in the middle of the wild rocks and saw the balloons go by at 20 meter distance the next morning...A small fairytale...
We headed north towards the Black Sea coast. It was a bit of a trek, so we made sure to add a few stop-overs along the way. Good thing we did this, otherwise we would have missed the "Balikli Kaplica"; a little river where you can puddle between little fish who clean your whole body!! Tomek put on his tiny '70s swimming trunks and happily jumped in to sit between all the hairy men in the men's part. I on the other hand, carefully sat down in the water in the women's and children part, fully clothed! I was invited to sit with the men in the end, where there were even more little fish nibbling away on you arms and legs. Wonder why...
In the meantime...
We accidentally deleted the shower picture...sorry Ellen en Hanneke!
çay-loving folks. It's kind of like Rummicub (ja mam en Petit, jullie zouden hier heeel goed in zijn) but it's more like Fase 10 but without the cards (Wieb, El, Han, ik zeg Turkije volgende zomer?)
I bought my first Anatolian trousers at a market in Eğirdir. They're great (literally great, they stretch out to fit three people) Spot the flowery pattern in the pictures; the Turkish ladies approvingly nod and compliment me when I wear them!
Tomek also has a new outfit, but that's a more permanent one : )
After having spent ten days in the hectic city of Istanbul, we picked up our car and decided it was time for some serious seaside lounging. But we didn't leave before discovering the Istanbul nightlife with Fatih. He took us to a delicious Şiş restaurant for a long dinner. We tasted the most amazing lamb meat and roasted vegetables, accompanied by, of course, a nice glass of Lion's Milk (Raki).
Suddenly rain started pouring down and we had to run through the Beyoglu streets to the next place; a reggea club on the top floor of a six story building. We danced till we couln't dance anymore and saw the sun come up while the taxi was taking us over the Bosphorus bridge. Thanks again Fatih, for the great night!
A friend of Fatih told us about the island of Burgazada, one of the Princess Islands in the Sea of Marmaris. We decided to have a look, packed the tent and took the ferry. We arrived when the sun was setting and found a nice little beach where we could put up the tent. There was a bachelor party of a young couple and we were invited to sit with them. We made a campfire and chatted in the evening sea breeze.
The next morning we met the old man who spends his days on that beach. He has a little hut where he displays all the things he finds on the beach. With the biggest, kindest and proudest smile he pointed to the sea which he calls "Factory", and then to his hut which he calls "Museum".chatting over çay...
In the afternoon we met up with Simon, a German guy who works for the German Ministery of Foreign Affaires in Istanbul. He had lived and worked in Kyrgystan for three years and had lots of information to share. Thanks Simon, for all your tips and maps!
We had to spend one more night in Istanbul before our visa for Kazachstan were ready. We looked for a camping spot close to the consulate, but unfortunately the campsite that once was there, closed down many years ago. (They forgot to take away the signs though..) Luckily, a very kind man arranged for us to stay at a parking next to his restaurant. We took an evening stroll directly under the flight path of the Atatürk airport. Crazy how close the planes were and how many kept on coming to land! And an even bigger airport is currently under construction...
We woke up and were offered çay and simit peynir (breadroll with sesame and cheese) by the parking guard. The start of another wonderful day in Turkey.
We continued our journey towards the historically important Gelibolu peninsula where we had some fishing lessons of a local fisherman. The secret is the three-hook-system; triples your chances! Apparently "ensis" (a straight razor shape shell - scheermesjes) function as excellent bate. And it proved to work! We caught ourselves a lovely dinner.
It's bizarre to realise what an important piece of Turkey this peninsula has been in history. The Dardanelles waterway between the peninsula and the mainland forms a gateway straight to Istanbul and was heavily attacked (and protected) during world war I. It is at this point that Atatürk proved a true hero protecting his land. He became the founder of the modern Turkish state. You cannot pass a street without seeing his image, he is the country's biggest hero.
The next morning, we took the ferry to Asia. (Always wanted to write that!) It sounds impressive but in fact it was a 20 minute boat crossing from Eceabat to
We followed a tip of Piotrek from the 4x4 garage in Wroclaw and browsed around the Edremite Bay for the best spots. We ended up in a beautiful lagoon style waterfall close to Adatepe. Many Turkish families were having their afternoon picnic there (of course!) and we spent the afternoon sharing melons and stories.
The peninsula at Ayvalik is a popular place for fishing and diving. We checked with a local fishing shop for the best spots and got a small map to find our way. At one point the road just stopped and you could walk to the next island!
The landscape there is surreal, such dry land and such a blue sea. Harpoon fishing is big here, we met a few guys who were chasing sea bass in the bay where we put up our tent. Unfortunately
In the meantime...
We discovered that the Turkish love their wheelcaps. Preferably the shiny, rotating, sticking-out-Ben-Hur-style type of wheelcaps...
We became addicted to our hammock...
It's huge and fantastic. (Although Tomek prefers not to share it) If you ever consider getting one, get it from here.
This is how we do our dishes; at roadside waterpoints whilst surrounded by curious goats and picnicking Turkish families:
We had many requests on how we shower, picture will follow soon : )