Should we stay or should we go now?

Last week, we were still sure that we would stay in Georgia, but things have changed so rapidly… First, we have to tell you that we are still doing good and are still feeling safe here in Georgia. However, the thought of going home crosses our minds pretty much every day.  This has everything to do with all the information we get through different channels.

Every day, we see pictures of other overlanders/travellers who have returned to their home country. They are all very sad to pause travelling, but they are really happy to be home too. All of them have different reasons to go back home, but they all thought it was the best thing to do in the situation they were in. By now, it seems like there are still only a few overlanders on the road and we are among them. Should we have left when all of this started?

Besides seeing all these travellers go home, we get e-mails from our government almost every other day. They provide us with the latest information about the situation in Georgia and tell us about the last possibilities to come ‘home.’ We got our first e-mail about the ‘last flight’ home last Friday night; the flight would leave on Saturday morning, so we would have never been able to get on. After that, we got another e-mail saying that there would be two more flights leaving Tbilisi, but both of these flights were leaving when we were still in quarantine in Gudauri. Now, there is another option: Georgian airlines is flying to Amsterdam one last time to pick up Georgian citizens. We could get a ticket to come along. It will leave in 5 days and this might be our last chance to go home… again(?).

Here are some thoughts we would like to share with you, if we do decide to go back to the Netherlands (we wanted to type ‘home’, but right now, ‘home is where we park it’ and that means Tbilisi, Georgia):

  • Getting on this flight would mean that we probably can’t take Sparta: he got his Rabies shot, but we would need proof that he doesn’t have Rabies. This is done with a test, but we believe that this can’t be done in a couple of days.
  • It would also mean that we would leave our house behind. We would have to find a safe place to park it, which might be doable with the help of the Embassy, but it doesn’t feel great. When would we be back? Will it still be ok then? How do we handle the export of our car (our car can’t stay in Georgia much longer)?
  • Flying ‘home’ means that we would probably have to go into quarantine for two weeks, by ourselves without seeing any of our friends and family. After these two weeks, where will we go? We think (and hope) that some of you will offer to come and stay with you, but no0o one knows how long this situation will last. And again, we won’t be visiting anyone else till corona settles down.
  • What about our health insurance? We are allowed to go back to the Netherlands only 3 weeks a year. That means that we have to go back to our old insurance, which (we’ve been told) is not easy.
  • Last but not least, what would we do at our temporary home? We know a lot of our friends and family are a little bored because everything is closed and so will we, but besides that we don’t have a job to go to either. On the positive side: we would be close to friends and family and we would be in a country where we speak the language and where we understand the information we receive.

For now, we have decided to stay in Georgia. We were allowed to leave Gudauri last Tuesday, so we did. We walked up the beautiful mountains one more time. Tamara took her snowboard and did one final run. Then, we said our goodbyes and left Drunk Cherry, the restaurant where we stayed for a month.

At the moment, we are in an AirBnB in Tbilisi. It’s situated close to the old city and we still feel pretty safe. Yesterday, we went for a long walk in Rike park. It felt very nice to be able to walk outside again. We felt ‘free’ again, even with the Corona situation surrounding us. The streets were a bit empty, but for now it’s still no problem to go outside. A lot of people wear mouth covers, but they still walk in big groups. We’ve tried to keep our distance, but a lot of locals don’t seem to bother. When Nienke bought a bottle of wine, everything was disinfected: from her hands, to the bottle of wine and the money she gave to the vendor. People talk to us in a friendly way and we still feel welcome. We’ve heard many stories in which foreigners were called ‘Corona spreaders’ or were even chased away. Nothing of that has happened to us so far. Tonight, we will meet up with some other Dutchies who are stuck here as well. We will talk about the situation and who knows, maybe change our minds about staying again.

The Georgian government seems to be handling Corona pretty well. A lot of people are under quarantine. They make sure that people really stick to it by guarding them. Schools have been closed for weeks already, just like a lot of shops. So far ‘only’ 88 people have been infected and 0 died; we can only hope that these numbers are correct and that it doesn’t increase as much as it did in the other countries.

Things might get worse here too; maybe we will go in a total lockdown one day. With the help of a Facebook community we found ourselves a place to stay for as long as we want. So, we will stay here, for now…

We would love to hear your thoughts about our decision!

 

 

 

 

 

Overlanding in winter

We have been on the road for 8 months now and we have been living in Tiny for 15 months more. That means that this is our second winter in our van, although this one is way different than last year’s. Whereas we stayed in The Netherlands last year, on our campsite in the woods, we have been moving around this year.

The first feeling of winter that we experienced, was in Turkey in December. We took our winter coats from the roof and we saw the first snow. Because we were doing our Workaway in Isparta and we stayed in an apartment, we didn’t mind the weather and we enjoyed the fresh air. We even went skiing/snowboarding one day!

After we had left Isparta, we drove through Turkey and spent some very cold days in beautiful Cappadocia. It was only when we moved further up North that we noticed that overlanding in winter can be challenging; we had many days of rain and snow while entering Georgia. At the same time, we had troubles with Tiny and had to go to the mechanic several times. Fortunately, we were still able to continue our way towards Tbilisi.

As we had read that Georgia is a wonderful country for spending time in nature, we went looking for some nice places to visit. However, only one site was open: we visited the Prometheus Cave near Kutaisi, which we enjoyed very much. We also drove up to a gorge, but there was too much snow in the mountains to be able to get to the parking lot. Thus, we went to see the (very boring) city of Kutaisi instead. As we had some nice sunny days, we didn’t mind the cold at all and we visited Gori and its fortress. Our days in Tbilisi were also amazing, even though we spent a lot of time at the mechanic again.

It had been three weeks since we had left Isparta, so we were ready for our next Workaway. We stayed put in the mountains for two and a half weeks, spending our time with the cats and dogs in the shelter. With a lot of wind, some snow and hours without electricity, these days were very cold! We loved walking the hills with the dogs, though. After we had spent two more days in Tbilisi, we moved on to our current Workaway. We didn’t want to travel around too much, because Georgia has a lot of mountains and therefore a lot of snow in the winter.

We arrived in Gudauri in the middle of a snowstorm, which we actually liked very much. Sparta had a lot of fun in the snow and our heater kept us warm during the cold evening. The next morning, we arrived at the ski resort where we would spend the next weeks, working as English teachers in a restaurant. We noticed that we wouldn’t have a lot of work, as the staff wasn’t very interested in learning English after work hours. We thus bought a 10-day lift pass and went skiing/snowboarding every other day. What a great place for us!

And then, last Sunday night, the Corona madness started… Although we had thought we would be safe in this remote mountain resort, we ended up in the heart of the problem. It turned out that some Czech tourists had brought Corona to our restaurant on March 4. This meant that we had to close immediately and stay in quarantine for a while. Meanwhile, it has been snowing terribly for days and we cannot go outside (at least not further than 5 meters from the entrance). So, our car has been snowed in, everything gets wet all the time and we are constantly plowing our way to our side door. We are still sleeping in the van, which we don’t mind, but it’s getting a little bit annoying. When we want to get out in the morning, the snow comes all the way up to the door and Sparta totally disappears when he jumps out. Besides, the car is getting rusty and icy and we hope we will be able to get it out once the quarantine ends.

For now, we are quite happy that we are in a restaurant with plenty of food. We are obligated to stay inside, but it’s warm and dry and Sparta has a lot of space to run around. We’re getting a little bit bored and we are worried about what will happen in the next couple of weeks, but we are sure that we will stay in Georgia. Hopefully, we will soon have fully recovered from Corona – if we’ve had it at all – and we can get the van checked once we get back to Tbilisi.

All in all, our winter has been both amazing and demanding. On the one hand, we wished that we had stayed in a sunny place to spend the winter. On the other hand, we have really enjoyed the snowy mountains. We miss our friends and family, but we are happy to be able to talk to them every day now most people in The Netherlands have a lot of time on their hands due to Corona. We stay optimistic and we believe the world will recover from this madness.

Please take care of yourselves and the people around you!

 

What else would we want?

“The sun is shining, we are outside most of the day and we can play in the snow. What else would we want?”

This is how our blog ended (the one that we wrote two weeks ago). By now, we know the answer to this question: we want more students and more work. This might sound a little silly when we are in this great ski resort, as to most of you it might really sounds like a vacation. We won’t try to complain too much, but some days we feel a little useless here. We like to be helpful, useful and busy. Here, we feel like we just have to talk a little and that’s it. But we need more.

Of course, our days on the slopes are awesome, but we don’t go up every day. On the days that we stay at the restaurant we are actually a bit bored. There is not much else to do around here besides skiing or snowboarding. Even though it’s a great place to spend your winter vacation, we have walked all the paths and we have seen all the shops (hardly any) by now. Thus, we just hang around the bar/restaurant and try to ‘work’, but these days go by so slow.

Let’s tell you about one of those days. We usually get up around 8. We walk Sparta and have a coffee in Tiny before we head over to Drunk Cherry, the restaurant/bar where we work at. We ask the chefs to prepare us some breakfast (yes this is pretty great! We’ve never eaten this many eggs in our life though) and eat our breakfast. At 10 AM we go upstairs to wait and see if anyone wants to have an English lesson during working hours. It’s the end of the season and a lot of the workers seem bored in the morning; there isn’t much to do between 10 and 12. But instead of improving their English, the waiters just hang around the bar, smoke on the terrace or play on their phones. We hoped that changing the lesson time from free time to working hours might give us more students, but that didn’t happen so far. So, we just wait around, do some things on the computer or play a game. We even started learning Russian! Around 12 we go back to the van to go on a walk with Sparta. Then, we go for lunch in the basement again, usually some soup. After that, we play with Sparta some more, sit outside on the balcony, read a book, play a game, go for another walk and try to chat a bit with the waiters. Most of them don’t really feel comfortable speaking English, so we haven’t really made any friends yet. Some of them are definitely really nice to us, but they keep their distance and without a mutual language it’s hard to communicate.

At 5 in the afternoon we finally have a real lesson; it’s the most exciting part of the day usually. (Although these students don’t always show up or feel like a lesson either.) Jimmy and Giorgi are our regular students and they are both beginners. We have a lot of fun teaching them and they are really improving! The lesson usually lasts 30 minutes to maximum 1 hour. Afterwards, we have dinner: staff food, something else every day, it’s not as good as the food that they serve at the restaurant, but some night it’s pretty tasty! And we get amazing leftovers sometimes! At 7, we hope to give another lesson, but then most of the times no one shows up either. As we are usually sitting in the staff room, we have small talk with the waiters who come in for their breaks (most of them live here until the season is over), but it’s always very short and a one-way conversation. Between 8 and 9 we go back to the van and just watch some Netflix or play another game.

As you see, it’s a very relaxing day, but we have had so many of these that it is starting to get quite boring. So, now we try and keep busy with some other chores too: every couple of days we bake cookies to go with the coffees they sell at the restaurant. We also cut a lot of stickers last week, but the manager said there are enough now, so we won’t be doing that anymore.

We tried to create another job: we put up a paper offering our services as nanny’s, but I guess the season is getting to an end. So far, we only took care of a child twice. We keep trying to get people to come to our English lessons by changing the times, location etc., but so far, no luck. Oh well, I guess we will just go skiing some more. Unfortunately, there’s not really enough snow for that. A lot of it has melted and it’s more mud then snow at the moment. This weekend it’s supposed to snow again, so hopefully we can do some real skiing/boarding on Tamara’s birthday again! And on our boring days… we’ll just try and enjoy the sun :).

Around Tbilisi

While we drove from Gori to the beautiful ancient city of Uplistsikhe, we lost all of our coolant again. We saw the pink fluid dripping out of the radiator, but we decided to visit the site first. Together with hitchhiker Asher, we walked the many steps of the stairs in the tunnel, that led from the river to the old cave town. There were rooms cut out in the rocks, some of them without roofs from the everlasting erosion. The once so important Queen Tamar had her own hall here and there’s a church overlooking the valley. The video in the museum told us that this city was one of the main trading sites on the route from Asia to Europe. Very interesting and beautiful to see!

Once we got back to the car, we had to fix the coolant problem. Nienke had just emptied our bottles with coolant in the tank that morning, so we didn’t have any left. Fortunately, some friendly men helped us and assured us we could fill it up with normal water. One of them even looked under the car and tightened a screw, so that we could drive to Tbilisi without losing all of the water again. We definitely had to find a decent mechanic now!

When we arrived in Tbilisi, we had some troubles to find the right entrance to the Peugeot store. The traffic in this city is very stressful! We finally found out that this shop wasn’t able to help us (even though they are Peugeot!), so we went to Tegeta Motors again. We found this shop very reliable in Batumi, so we had some hope for this one in Tbilisi too. Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to help us, so they told us to come back on Saturday. That meant we had to wait for two days! We therefore drove to a nice park-up on the Tbilisi Lake and settled down for the night.

On Friday, we had to go to the vet to get Sparta’s last vaccination. We found a great clinic that belongs to the Agrarian University and they were definitely very trustworthy. Next to the rabies shot, Sparta also got his microchip so that we can prove that he is rightfully ours! Because we couldn’t drive very far and we had nothing else to do, we drove to Tbilisi mall and walked around the stores for a while. The weather had turned really bad, thus we decided to have lunch in the mall and go to the cinema after. Sparta was exhausted from going to the vet, so he slept the whole afternoon while we enjoyed our first movie on big screen in 6 months.

The next morning, we immediately went back to Tegeta Motors. We had made an appointment with Wild Goose for 11 o’clock, so we wanted to get it fixed as soon as possible! Fortunately, the mechanics told us that they could fix the radiator easily and that they found another problem too, which they would also fix. We took a taxi to the city center and told them we would be back later to pick up the van. Then, we finally met with Tanja and Michael again! They truly had made us an amazing breakfast, which we enjoyed with some sparkling wine and a lot of coffee. The rest of the day we played with Sparta, talked to our new friends and relaxed a little. Hopefully, our car troubles will be gone for a while now!

On Sunday, we went out to check out Tbilisi center. Wild Goose took us up with the cable cars and pointed out all the great spots that could be seen from the hill. They showed us around the old center, took us to a lovely coffee place and told us where the best markets are. We loved the city tour very much and we will definitely be back there to see some more of Tbilisi! The rest of the day, we had another delicious diner together, drank some more wine and talked a lot about all our travels. Thanks for having us T+M!

Monday, we went to Lisi Lake to have one last day of relaxation with each other. We would start a new Workaway on Tuesday, so we really needed to have some alone time. On Tuesday morning, two guys came to pick us up with the van of the company to guide us to the place where we would spend the next two weeks. Luckily, it hasn’t rained for a while and the road was dry, because there was no asphalt for about 15 km! After some bumpy last kilometers, we arrived at a big blue house in the middle of nowhere. 40 dogs immediately started barking at us! That was a very loud way to be welcomed into their territory.

Thus, we will be working with the dogs and about 20 cats here for approximately two weeks. Until now, Sparta is both excited and scared, but he is doing better with some of the other dogs already. We really love the walks we take with a group of dogs twice a day. The house is very dirty and so we have also been cleaning a lot of sh*t, which we – of course – don’t really enjoy. Cuddling with all of the dogs really makes up for that though!

In the next two weeks we will spend a lot of time with very cute dogs and cats. If one of our readers is interested in adopting one of them, please let us know! There are flights to Tbilisi every day and it’s a beautiful city, so you could definitely make a nice trip out of it ;).

When in the countryside of Georgia, do not trust Google!

We have been in Georgia for 10 days now and some of these days we really long back to Turkey. Maybe it’s because of the wintery and rainy weather, the bad roads, the horrible drivers, the lack of meeting friendly locals, the lack of western style coffeeshops, or our own high expectations (we watched the Dutch tv show ‘Wie is de mol’ and we mostly remember a beautiful country), but so far, we haven’t fallen in love with the country yet. Besides this, Google really doesn’t help us out here either. We have used Google a lot these past months: for communication, finding places, opening hours and so on. However, somehow Georgia and Google aren’t linked very well. Let’s start by telling you about this past week; with that we will get to all our annoying Google moments.

After leaving Batumi, we drove up north for two hours. We went to Poti, a small city where we just wanted to walk around, drink a coffee and read a book. We walked around the whole city, but there was no such thing as a café or restaurant where they served coffee. We were pretty disappointed and decided to head to our P4n at the beach to make our own coffee. It was a relaxing afternoon and Nienke even decided to spend an hour cleaning up at the beach. Good for her! The downside is that after one hour, we weren’t really able to tell which part of the beach she had cleaned. There is just so much rubbish everywhere!

The next day, we drove a little further east to visit the ‘Prometheus cave’. We had to wait for a while to join an ‘English speaking’ tour guide, but when we finally entered the cave it was totally worth it! (They charge tourists more than double the price as locals. We kind of understand why, but it does seem a little unfair too, especially since there was not much info in English.) The part of the cave that was open to visitors was 1.4 km long and we climbed 800 steps (up and down) to enter 5 different ‘rooms’ with tons of stalactites and stalagmites. They even had light and music in some of the caves; it felt like we were walking around in Droomvlucht (a ride in a Dutch amusement park)! We spent the night at a parking lot in a huge park, in front of a spa. We even thought of going inside, but the tourist prices made us change our minds.

Our next stop was at one of the canyons. We knew they were closed on Mondays, but decided to drive there anyway. We wanted to spend the night at one of the parkings and then visit the next day. At the first canyon it seemed impossible to spend the night and as it was still early, we changed our plan. We had been passing ‘wineroute signs’ the whole morning and today seemed like a great day for wine tasting! So, we looked online and found three places that seemed interesting and were open (according to Google). To make a long story short… they weren’t. We took a good detour to get to some of them, so by the time we got to the last one, we were pretty frustrated! No wine for us, so instead we just drove to the second canyon.

The road to get there was pretty steep and soon we found ourselves driving in winter wonderland. When we finally got to the canyon, it was impossible to park: the parking lot was covered in snow and ice and when Nienke tried to drive on to it, Tiny didn’t like it at all. So once again we left, deciding to come back for a canyon visit in spring. (If we are still around.) Luckily, our day ended really nice. We found a great park-up in a valley, close to a river and next to some cows. The sun was shining and a friendly guy came by and tried to talk to us for a while. He didn’t speak any English, but the word ‘vino’ is pretty international. He left after 10 minutes, but came back half an hour later with a friend and a huge two liter Bavaria bottle. Filled with vino! Both of the men didn’t speak English, so we had to use Google Translate to communicate. We are not sure who made the Georgian-English translation, but it did not work at all! When they showed us what they wrote, it said: ‘Bats fly low as quality’ and more sentences that just did not make any sense. We have never had this happen before with Google Translate, but this time we couldn’t even understand the subject of each sentence or question. They really didn’t say anything about bats (that’s what a friend of theirs told us later, when we ended up calling in help from a translator). Since it was impossible to communicate, they left us alone after a little while, leaving us the bottle of wine. So, we did get to do some ‘wine tasting’ after all!

It had been 5 days since our last shower, so we really needed to find one. Sometimes we go to a gym to work out for a while and then use the shower. We therefore decided to look for one in the second biggest city of Georgia: Kutaisi. Google found three gyms close to the place where we had parked, so we put Sparta in his cage and left with a big bag filled with sports clothes, clean clothes (finally!) and shower stuff. After one hour, we had found one closed gym and two gyms that didn’t seem to exist anymore. We had even asked for the help of some locals, but it just wasn’t our lucky day. No gym and no shower. However, they did have a great café with good coffee, so we decided to treat ourselves to a piece of pie too. It definitely helped to make us less grumpy and so we continued to find another place to park during the night. We did still really need that shower though!!

Yesterday, we decided to try one more time: let’s find a gym and have a proper shower! But, before even reaching a gym, we got super lucky! A guy we were talking to via Couchsurfing told us that his host wouldn’t mind if we had a shower at his house! After parking the car, we looked on Google Maps to see where the shower was compared to our van: what a coincidence, it was only a 2 minute walk! Nika, the Georgian host, offered us his shower, some great Georgian food and even explored the town with us. We were in a town called Gori. It’s a pretty famous town, because this is the town where Stalin was born.

Together with Nika and our new friend Asher, we visited the Stalin museum and the Gori fortress and had a lovely day. It ended with a trip to a nice restaurant. It was our first time eating out in Georgia and we were amazed by the low prices. So far, we had been buying our own food in the supermarket, which costs as much as it does at home. Eating out, however, is really cheap. We might do that a lot more! And we are hoping that maybe the Georgian cuisine will help to make us change our minds about Georgia, because so far, we don’t really like this country. Maybe visiting Tbilisi might also help us change our minds, because we have heard wonderful things about the city. Let’s hope so!

Turkish hairdressers, a lot of mechanics and visiting Konya

This past week has been very interesting, with a lot of new Turkish experiences!

First of all, the Turkish hairdresser. We hadn’t had a haircut since we’ve been on the road and we both really wanted to get one. In our last week in Isparta, we decided we shouldn’t postpone it any longer and we should just try. We didn’t want to leave Sparta alone for a long time, so we decided to take turns in going. First it was Tamara’s turn. Nienke came along and after a lot of hand gestures and Google Translate, we thought we managed to show them the desired haircut. After washing, two young men escorted Tamara to her seat. We had a good laugh about it, because they both started combing Tamara’s hair! When they finished cutting the layers, they started straightening Tamara’s hair. There was even a third men who joined to help. (For those who don’t know: Tamara’s hair is already super straight!) We were really curious why they were doing this, but both men didn’t speak any English at all. When they were finished, they ‘told’ Tamara to get up from her chair. Then the scariest part started: they got a raiser and started shaving Tamara’s hair! Luckily, they were very good at their jobs and so the result was nice. After one hour they were finished and we walked to the register to pay. The place looked really nice and since three men had been working on my hair, we thought it would be very expensive. It wasn’t: we only payed 5 euros. Incredible how they can make any profit like this! The next day, Nienke had the same experience.

Visiting mechanics, lots of them
We were less fortuned with Tiny this week. With the help of some of our new Turkish friends from the café, we took him to the mechanic. We had to get the heater fixed before we would go to colder places! Fortunately, we got a call the next morning. While trying to fix the blocked radiator, the mechanic made a mistake and damaged the whole radiator. Great, now we needed a new one… The Turkish guys told us that it was better to go to a different mechanic, so in the end of the day we did. Apparently, this guy didn’t want to do it, which made us a little scared. Tiny is not just our car, it’s our house and besides this, we really needed to be leaving soon. Our visa is about to expire! Luckily for us, another mechanic came by who said he thought he could do it within a couple of hours. So, we went to the 3rd garage and left Tiny there, hoping this guy would be able to fix it.

That same night, we got a call saying that Tiny was fixed, so Nienke went with one of our friends to pick him up. Meanwhile, Tamara was trying to run the café with only one other volunteer there, Sparta having his crazy minutes and lots of guests. Luckily, it didn’t take long for Nienke and Ömür to get back with the good news: everything was fixed and we now had a working heater. After some goodbye drinks and dinners (with our new made friends who we won’t forget and who made our time in Isparta incredible), it was time to leave Isparta. We had been there for almost one month and although it was definitely amazing, we were looking forward to being on the road again.

We left Isparta on Saturday morning and we had been driving for about 2 hours, when suddenly Nienke pulled over on the highway. One of the dashboard lights turned on and after checking the book, it turned out that we were low on coolant. The last mechanic probably made a mistake, because something seemed to be leaking too. With no extra coolant in the car, we decided that Nienke would hitchhike to the first gas station, while Tamara and Sparta would stay with Tiny. It took about 10 minutes and 3 cars (no one spoke English and Translate doesn’t always do the job), but then Nienke found a ride. The gas station didn’t have any coolant, so the helpful workers called the ‘Jandarma’ (road police). When they arrived at the gas station, Nienke took a ride back with them. They took a quick look under the hood and told us that we needed to get to an OtoSanayi (mechanics, again…). They told us it was okay to drive and that they would give us an escort. Since the closest turn of the highway was pretty far away, one of the officers got behind Tiny’s wheel. He drove backwards on the highway for about 5 minutes and pretty fast. I have to tell you that it was quite scary! After half an hour and 4 bottles of coolant, we were good to go again. We did make it to Konya that day, but there is a weird sound coming from under the hood, the coolant level is pretty low again, the suspension seems broken again AND the clutch is acting a bit weird. We lost our trust in Turkish mechanics (there is even a saying here that states that when you enter the ‘OtoSanay’, you never leave again) and decided to drive to Georgia and get a good fix there. Fingers crossed that we make it there before we have any more serious issues.

Visiting Konya
Our first stop while slowly heading out of the country, was in Konya. This city is famous for the Whirling Dervish and Mevlana. We arrived in Konya a lot later than planned with our adventure with Tiny, so we didn’t think we would be able to visit the Dervish ceremony anymore. Luckily, our host Deniz (from Antalya) has friends in Konya and they invited us to come and stay with them. They told us there is another show on Sunday and that they would love to take us. After a great dinner and a wonderful Kahvalti (if you ever visit Turkey, don’t forget to try the real Turkish breakfast, it’s our favorite meal of the day here), we went to the cultural center in Konya. We visited a couple of the museums and learned a lot about Mevlana and the Dervish. After the museums, it was finally time to attend the real ceremony. At first it felt a bit like we were attending a church service, but when the Dervish started “whirling” it became really interesting. They turn and turn and turn until the music stops and then they go again and again. When doing this, they are supposed to reach a higher kind of state…

Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time to visit downtown Konya. We wanted to have some days left to explore Cappadocia! And glad that we did: we left Cappadocia yesterday and it definitely was one of our highlights in Turkey. We will tell you all about it in our next blog!

 

P.s. For photo’s, take a look at our Instagram!

Winter in Turkey

We’ve seen our first snow in Isparta! Last Saturday our host Emre took us to Davras, a ski resort close to the city. We had moved our winter gear from the roof to the inside of the van the day before, so we could leave early. While driving up the mountain, the surroundings slowly turned white. A little before we arrived at the resort, we stopped to rent ski’s for Nienke and a snowboard for Emre’s friend. Then, we finally reached the first Turkish mountain we were going to glide down from!

After buying our one-day pass for only 12 euro, we took the first lift up. The view looked amazing! We took another lift to go all the way up the mountain and cautiously went down the first slope. It felt great to be on ski’s/snowboard again! Although our Turkish friends were sore after a couple of slopes, we kept speeding down and going back up. At some point, we heard someone yell ‘Tamara, Tamara’! It turned out that our German friends Lisa and Martin had also gone up to Davras! We skied down together a couple of times and then said goodbye to them. Even though we would have loved to stay longer, we went back to Isparta around 4 o’clock to start up the café.

That night, David and Michelle spent their last night at the café. We played many games and a lot of regular guests came in to say goodbye to them. Afterwards, we went outside to drink ‘salep’, an amazing hot drink that is made out of wild orchids. As they were leaving the next morning and we offered to drive them to Antalya, we had to make the van ready for a drive. So, in the morning we put the winter gear back on the roof, made the bed and found a spot under the table for Sparta’s cage. When we finally wanted to leave, Tiny didn’t feel like it: he didn’t start! Fortunately, our Turkish friend Esma was with us and rapidly found a mechanic to find the problem. The battery turned out to be dead and the man brought a new one to replace it. Meanwhile, Esma brought out some tea and we played with Sparta until the mechanic was done. After only one hour we could hop in the car and leave! Thank you Esma!

The drive down to Antalya was beautiful. As we were leaving the mountains behind, it started to get warmer the closer we got to the sea. Since it was already late and we were hungry, we decided to skip the waterfalls we wanted to visit and go directly to the shore. Sparta loved to run and smell all the new things on the boulevard. He even played with another puppy on the beach, although he was actually quite afraid of the bigger German shepherd! We had a great lunch (dinner?) at Food in Box and after we dropped Michelle and David off at their hotel, we finally said our goodbyes. We really enjoyed spending time with this amazing couple and we will definitely miss them!

That night, when we had parked on Lara Beach, it started raining. Sparta spent his first night in the van and we slept in our own bed after two weeks on a couch. Even though we woke up many times from the heavy rain and the strong wind, it felt great to be ‘home’ again. Sparta did a good job in sleeping 11 hours straight; he hopefully likes to live in Tiny as much as we do! Because it was still pouring and we couldn’t find a parking spot in the city, we drove back to the boulevard to get a coffee at Starbucks. Then, we went back to the house where we had spent one week while being in Antalya. Deniz and Ada were very happy to see us again and of course we were happy to see them too! We had a delicious lunch, talked a lot and then went back to the van. It was time to return to Isparta!

Once we arrived in our ‘hometown’, everything had turned white. The rain in Antalya had been snow in Isparta! Unfortunately, our parking spot in front of Esma’s house was taken, so we had to park the van somewhere else. We only had two hours left before the café would be open, and we hurried to the apartment and made ourselves dinner. Despite the weather, many people showed up at the café that night. As usual, we played a lot of games (mainly Ligretto/Dutch Blitz) and talked about the pronunciation of the English ‘th’.

Our plan was to leave Isparta on Friday the 10th of January. Until then, we still had many things to do! We had to go to the hairdresser, do laundry, go to the vet, and go to a mechanic to fix our heater. As it is Thursday today, we are almost ready to leave. However, our car is not… The mechanic we took the car to, said that the radiator – or at least a part of it – needs to be replaced, because it was full of rubbish. He tried to empty it, but somehow, he has made it worse. Thanks to our friend Ömür we can actually understand what is going on, although it is still difficult to get the full picture. So, now we will stay a little bit longer. We are hoping to leave Isparta on Saturday though!

 

Next: Konya, Cappadocia and the Black Sea!

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Jacuzzi, sauna and cocktails

After a Friday night with fresh fish on the BBQ, we woke up to an exciting Saturday: Tamara’s family would arrive that afternoon! We had breakfast and we left Antalya to drive to Kemer, where they booked their all-inclusive hotel. Because we were early, we biked to the city center and walked around for a while. We still had to get a Turkish Sim card, so we went to the Turkcell store as well. Then, all we could do was wait.

Finally, they had arrived! It was so much fun to see them again, after such a long time! They immediately wanted to come with us to see Tiny, so we walked to our parking spot and took some family pictures. Then, we walked into the hotel, checked out their rooms and went to the reception to ask if we could join them for dinner. Oops! It turned out we had been trespassing, because without being a hotel guest we weren’t allowed inside at all! Joining them for dinner was possible, but we had to pay for being inside the hotel AND to have dinner. Together that would be 55 euro each… Really?!! So, we talked and talked and talked and finally we managed to have dinner for ‘only’ 25 euro each. However, for us it was seriously forbidden to go up to the hotel rooms!

The next morning, Tamara’s mom talked to the woman in the Guest Relations office. She agreed with us coming into the hotel for a maximum of one and a half hours per day, in which we could even drink one cup of coffee. But still, it was forbidden to go to the rooms! We felt really bad, because the only reason they were all here, was to spend time with us. Now all we could do was meet them on the beach, in the city center or have one coffee with them in the hotel lobby. Therefore, on Sunday morning we met them on the beach. In the afternoon, we went to see all the shops around the hotel with mom, dad and brother Robin. Still, going back to Tiny we felt awful when they were having drinks in the hotel and we were banned to the other side of the gate.

Eventually, we decided to book a hotel room for three nights via Booking.com. It costed a lot of money, but it made us feel much better to know we were actually going to spend more time with our family. Before checking in on Wednesday, we rented a car on Monday and went to see the cave tombs in Myra (where Sinterklaas is from, for our Dutch readers). We had lunch in a cute harbour, showed them the beautiful coastal road and had coffee and cake next to the beach in Finike. On Tuesday we all went to the market in Kemer and had dinner in the city center. Then, on Wednesday, we went to the hotel to get that famous pink bracelet. First, the guards didn’t even let us in (because they knew who we were), but they eventually understood that we booked a room and let us through. At the reception we received our room keys, bracelets and some information about the facilities. One of the women said that, for some reason, they gave us an upgrade and we got a room with a jacuzzi. She took us there and indeed; we would stay in a lovely suite with two balconies, a huge bathroom and a jacuzzi. Party time!

Unfortunately, the jacuzzi doesn’t actually work. However, we are really happy to be able to have a proper shower! We also love the sauna and the patisserie and of course we can eat everything we want during breakfast, lunch and dinner. But most of all, we can have (terrible) coffee with the family, drink cocktails after dinner and play card games whenever we like. A little vacation within our ‘vacation’!

 

Horses and other good company

We have noticed that autumn is really here now. The two free days that we had last week were spoilt by a lot of rain, so we couldn’t really explore the surroundings. However, we biked to the supermarket and had a coffee on the beach with our host.

In the weekend, we had to work two full days. Because we had seen very dirty boxes on the other ranch – 2 km from ours – we went there to clean them. The people who live there are really sweet, but unable to understand anything in English. When we finally knew where to find all the tools and where to put the horse shit, it turned out to be a really nice job! After a hot lunch they had made for us, we went back to Berke Ranch to help out with customers. Unfortunately, the season is over and there aren’t many people in the hotel. Subsequently, there also aren’t many people coming to the ranch for horseback riding. On Sunday we had to help out in the afternoon, but there was virtually nothing we could do! Because we were very bored, in the evening we went to sit by the fireplace in the hotel. The guys that work in the hotel joined us and we ‘talked’, played a simple card game and had some tea. Thanks for a little distraction!

On Monday, we had a free day. Our host would be at the ranch at 10 o’clock to take us horseback riding, so we were really excited! Unfortunately, right at that moment there were customers with children wanting to ride, so we had to help saddle the horses first and walk around with the kids. Eventually, we left for our ride a little before noon, together with two other Dutch women (tourists) that came to Berke. The five of us rode through the forest to a waterfall that had dried out, but it was beautiful anyway. We talked a lot with the Dutchies and enjoyed the ride through nature.

Later that day, after a nice and warm shower, some visitors arrived! A big yellow bus came down the driveway: ExpeditionFamilyHappiness came to the ranch to meet up with us! We were really happy to hear about all their travels and we spent the whole night talking. The next morning Inge helped us in the stables and with clearing some land for the horses. Alex and the kids played on the ranch and after we finished work, we joined them. It feels so great to meet with like-minded people! We enjoyed our meals together, played hide and seek, read books and cuddled with the cute dogs that live on and around the ranch.

At the same time, we encountered many problems with our host and the guy we had to work with. Our host was never around and when he was there, he didn’t talk to us. The worker didn’t speak English, so working together was difficult. He just didn’t understand that we are Workawayers and not regular employees; he told us to keep working, even though we had made too many hours already. Thus, we made the decision to leave the ranch.

Today (Thursday), we said goodbye to the family, who had spent three days with us. After many long hugs they drove away, to their next destination. We took a shower, gathered our stuff, put the bikes back on the van and went to the hotel to say goodbye to the friendly workers there. Even though we would have loved to spend more time with the horses and at the ranch, we left with great relief. We drove to Kemer, treated ourselves with a terrific meal and talked about what had happened. Apparently, not all Workaways are as great as the ones we had had before!

The coming week, we will spend some time together. We will visit places and try to relax a little. Next week we will drive back to Kemer, to welcome Tamara’s family to Turkey! We are really looking forward to seeing them. But first; adventure!

 

By the way, because of the hassle on the ranch, we didn’t make a vlog. Also, Wi-Fi is too bad to upload pictures, so please check our Instagram if you want to see some!

Hospitable Turkey

Crossing the border into Turkey was quite an experience! Our first thought was that it was super easy, and we were already cheering that it was so easy, only to find out a couple minutes later that we had only passed the exit border for Bulgaria. Entering Turkey took a lot longer. There was a long line of cars and every car seemed to be checked thoroughly. Some people even had to open and empty all the bags and suitcases!

We were a little worried: if they wanted to check Tiny like that, we would be at the border for a whole day! When we finally got to the ‘checkingpoint’, we opened our sidedoor and the officer opened his eyes really wide. We could see him think ‘how on earth am I going to check all of this’. He opened some cupboards (and didn’t close them again), took a look in our overly filled bathroom, crushed our – just bought – enormous leek and then looked at his colleague. The other guy kept saying the word tourist and I guess that was helpful, because he was finished in just 5 minutes. They were just telling us that it was ok and that we could move on, when a loud alarm rang. All the systems shut down, so even though we were good to go, they couldn’t add us into their system. Luckily the rebooting didn’t take very long! All in all, it took about 1.5 hours to cross the border. Borders have been pretty easy so far, but from now on they will be a challenge!

First days in Turkey
Our first stop was in a city called Edirne, just across the border. To drive on the highway in Turkey we needed a so called HSG sticker. Some other overlanders adviced us to get them at the PTT (just like the one we used to have in the Netherlands!). After we got some Turkish Liras from an ATM we walked into a gas station and ask for the HSG sticker. To our surprise, no one spoke English, so after trying to point it out we had to use our phone to show them what we were looking for. They finally understood what we were talking about, but unfortunately the PTT was closed for lunch. We decided to keep driving and avoid the highways. After another two hours on the road we ended up in Silivri, a nice city on the seaside. We found a really good place to park the van, close to the sea and a park. We weren’t alone; our neighbour was a Turkish van. Since it was already pretty late, we decided to look for the PTT the next day. The van was parked next to a really cute boulevard, so we enjoyed a lovely evening strolling the boulevard and dinking some coffee. Again, no one spoke English, but we could just point out what we wanted. When we got back to the van, our neighbour came to our door. He went out to get us a delicious Turkish bread!! It was really hard to communicate, but we tried to show him how thankful we were!

The next day we walked to the nearest PTT and tried to explain that we needed the HSG. It felt impossible, because again no one spoke English and we needed to tell them a lot of details about the car (weight, license plate, distance between the tires etc.) to get the right form. All of the people we had met so far are super friendly and everyone is trying to help, but without language a thing like HSG is really hard to obtain! Luckily there was a customer who spoke German, so she helped us by being an interpreter. Our van is a category 2 and this PTT office only had category 1 stickers, so we had to go to another one. The friendly lady who spoke German even offered to take us there! It took almost the whole morning, but now we are in possession of an HSG sticker! We have no idea how to charge it yet, but hopefully we will figure that out soon.

Getting to Tuzla, Istanbul
We knew driving in Istanbul was supposed to be pretty crazy, and it was! Especially since maps.me took us to a tunnel that was only 2.80 meters high. Tiny wouldn’t fit and we had to take a different road and then we ended up driving in downtown Istanbul! It’s really busy and cars come from every direction, so we were really glad to get out without any damage! We already got to see a lot of huge mosques and the bridge over the Bosphorus, which made the scary driving a bit more enjoyable. It was really cool to see the sign ‘welcome to Asia’ when crossing the bridge! The family that we are staying with this week lives in Tuzla. It’s an area in Istanbul, about 40 km away from the big downtown. It’s also quite busy, but a lot better than it was in the city centre.

Our first week of Workaway
The family that we are staying with now, are really welcoming. Our first night, we enjoyed a lovely dinner with them and some friends. Tiny is parked in front of the apartment on a parking lot. Our main job is to help them improve their English and we also help with some little household chores. Besides, we will look after their 4-year-old daughter a couple of times. It’s a little hard because she doesn’t know a lot of English, but so far it has worked out. On our 3rd day the family took us to the city center. It takes about one hour by train, but it’s a direct line and it costs only 1 euro! They took us to the famous Sultan Ahmed square and we walked by all the main sites. When we are by ourselves and when Nienke’s dad comes (this weekend!) we will tour Istanbul some more. On Tuesday, it was a National holiday (like Indepence day) so the family took us to one of the Princes’ Islands: Buyukada. It’s a really nice island. The houses are very pretty and huge and there are no cars on the roads. Most people walk up to a famous church on the hill, where the view is spectacular, but some people take one of the hundreds of horse carriages. Of course, we walked. The last part of the climb was really steep, but the view was totally worth it! We enjoyed some drinks and Burek on the top and watched Istanbul from a distance. The city really is humongous, and we can’t wait to explore it some more!

For those who were wondering and saw our Insta story: Tiny is fixed again! Tiny really didn’t like all the crappy roads and speed bumps anymore and was making a lot of noise. That’s why we decided to get a check. Both the suspensions were broken and Tiny stayed overnight at an ‘otopark’ somewhere in Istanbul. It was a bit scary to leave him behind, but the next day he was still there with new suspensions!

 

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