Driving all the way back

Leaving Turkey, we drove along the coast, all the way from the South East to the North West. We weren’t in a hurry, because the wedding we wanted to attend in The Netherlands was still a couple of weeks away. However, because of the summer heat, we didn’t feel like staying too long. The last place we visited, was the city Edirne. The big mosque was beautiful, but as we slept next to it, quite loud! We only stayed for one night and we arrived at the Bulgarian border on August 23. People had told us that it was a busy border crossing, but that it was easy to get through. We kept our thumbs up!

In between Dutch, German, Austrian and British cars (packed with Turkish families), we waited to get into Bulgaria. As we got closer to customs, we got more scared: many people had to open their trunks and the officers were even opening suitcases. We didn’t bring any illegal stuff with us, but we did have a dog without the right papers! Luckily, we got through in a jiffy; Sparta was in Europe! The only problem was that we got a Bulgarian vignette for just one day. We had to hurry to the Romanian border.

After a long day of driving, getting into Romania was easy. We spent the night next to a monastery and continued North the next day. Fortunately, our friends from @Easy_overland were in the same area, so we met them in an old quarry, and we spent two nights together. It’s so great to spend time with amazing people with the same way of life! The dogs played and found many bones, we made campfires and we talked about going back. We all agreed, that going back was the best thing to do, for now.

On Wednesday morning, we said goodbye and drove a beautiful (and unfinished) road to Oradea. Here, Nienke worked as a volunteer in 2009, so it was really great to catch up with the founder of the organization. The border crossing to Hungary the next day was very easy. From now on, we would drive to The Netherlands in a straight line. Still, nobody knew we were heading home!

We passed Hungary and arrived at the Austrian border, where we had to wait for a long time. Apparently, many families came back from their summer vacation and wanted to go home as fast as possible. When we finally got to customs, the guy asked where we were going. ‘Only a transit, ok!’ he said. He handed us a form and we could go. However, the form said that we had to options: we could either drive through Austria and leave on the same day, or we had to go in quarantine for 10 days.

Actually, we had planned to stay in the mountains one day and go for a hike, but that was no option now. Driving to Germany right away was no option either, because it was already late, and we were tired from crossing Hungary. So, we decided to spend the night at a TIR parking, with lots of trucks, but also a nice shower, and continue the next day. Getting into Germany was no problem at all; apart from the signs that said we needed to get tested or go in self-quarantine, everything was normal. We spent our last night on the road next to the Concorde factory, where they make these huge motorhomes. Luckily, we weren’t the only home on wheels that was a little smaller!

Finally, on Saturday the 29th of August, we arrived in The Netherlands. A little sooner than expected, because corona kept us from enjoying more time in Austria. In the following days, we surprised our families and some friends by just showing up at their doors. Peek-a-boo! They were all flabbergasted, but very happy to see us again. After the people we are closest to knew we were back for a while, we could also tell everybody through social media.

So, we are back in The Netherlands. We have driven through a big part of the country to see our friends and family, but we have also been very busy with finding a house and a job. Besides, we had to arrange registration, health insurance and sim cards, which all took a while. It seems like we got everything under control now, although we are still job-hunting.

We’ll keep you posted!

The Western coast of Turkey

Driving, driving, driving… We did a lot of it! Even though we don’t like to be in the car so much, we wanted to go to the coast, where we could cool down in the sea. We have started to love Turkey, but being here in the middle of summer is a little too warm for us!

Finding a place to sleep in this season is not easy either. Many spots on Park4Night aren’t available anymore and other places are full of locals. Still, we found a nice bay with a pretty boulevard, where we could park close to the sea. Sparta played with some stray dogs and Nienke went running along the beach. Lovely!

Then, we went to Çanakkale, one of the most famous places in Turkey. During WWI, this was the location of a great battle between England, France and the Turks. Because the (much smaller) Turkish army could stand her ground for a long time until she fell, it was an important moment in Turkish history. After this huge battle, the Ottoman empire crumbled down and Turkey became independent.

We first visited the city of Çanakkale itself, with its long boulevard and modern city center. As food in Turkey is very cheap, we hardly ever cook ourselves and we enjoyed lunch in one of the small streets. Next, we went back to the car and got onto the ferry to the peninsula across the water. It was the first time on this trip that Tiny was on a boat! We loved it. Next to one of the little cafes on the coast, we found a place to spend the night. If it wasn’t for corona, this part of Turkey had probably been filled with international tourists, but now there were only some Turkish tourists. And us, of course!

The next day, we explored the peninsula. Whereas other parts of the Turkish coast are very crowded with resorts and restaurants, this part was very quiet. We saw sunflowers all around us and every now and then, there was a war cemetery or a monument. During the war, 22.000 soldiers died here. Although many of them are unknown, they are all honored on the numerous cemeteries. All in all, we learnt a lot about the battle of 1915, which we both found very interesting.

After this long day of driving and visiting monuments, we were happy to find a great place to sleep. We parked the car on top of the rocks, with a lighthouse at the end. Below us, there was a small beach with the most beautiful water we had seen in a long time. Some people were already there, but this spot was so amazing that we climbed down anyway. Compared to the sea in the South, where the water was warm, this part of the sea was freezing cold! What a relief, after so many hot days.

Now the question is, what do we do next? For now, we’ll just stay here for a while, to think about our next destination. Please let us know if you have any tips!

Visiting friends and looking for Sparta’s family

The past week was all about visiting friends.

First, we visited our friends Mustafa and Sibel in Kemer. We met them in December, when Tamara’s family was visiting. They were so welcoming in December and it was exactly the same now. We stayed longer than we had planned, enjoying their lovely company. We also swam in their pool, ate some delicious food and explored Kemer a bit more. I think we could have stayed here for another week. And we might have, if it wasn’t so hot! Even at night, it would still be over 25 degrees, which made it pretty hard to sleep. Luckily, we could keep our windows open, since we parked next to Mustafa’s house. When we go wild camping, it doesn’t always feel safe to do this. Especially in this area, where there aren’t many off grid places. There are houses and hotels everywhere!

After our wonderful stay in Kemer, we drove up North, towards Isparta. Since we had some trouble finding a good place to park for the night, we decided to drive up Davraz mountain. This was the place we went skiing for one day in December. We found a great and quiet place for the night and the next morning, we were planning on driving to Isparta. Before we did, we decided to drive to the little town where we had found Sparta! We hoped to see his mom there, or maybe his siblings. Unfortunately, we had no luck. We did take Sparta out of the car and walked around his birthplace for a while. No idea if he still remembered any of it, but he always enjoys a walk!

In Isparta, we stayed with our friend Farzane. It was fun to be back in the city where we worked in December. We got a haircut (our last one was here as well, over 7 months ago), did some shopping and went for drinks in the places we liked. After 2 days we said goodbye again, to head towards the West. We want to explore the coast above Izmir a little more and we will also visit Canakkele. We have heard that it’s a really fun city.

Beach days

The past week, we have been living near the sea. First, we found a great spot with no other people around and where Sparta could run around freely. We love Turkey, but we really don’t like the way people treat nature: after a picknick they just leave their trash behind, either in a plastic bag or all over the place. That means that in most places we want to stop and stay for the night, there’s garbage everywhere. Sparta loves it, because there are a lot of chicken bones and nice-smelling tissues he likes to eat… but also a lot of glass and plastic. So, in those places, we have to keep him on the leash. He really doesn’t like that! And we don’t either.

Fortunately, we found this great place on the beach, without much garbage. Of course, there were tissues and empty bottles around, but not everywhere we looked. Besides, it was so far from the main road, that only now and then another car showed up. And there was enough space for Sparta to run around! We therefore decided to stay for three nights, to enjoy the quiet and to relax a little.

As we were the only ones on the beach, we spent the entire first morning there. Sparta went swimming for the very first time! (And the only time, so far.) The sea was very clear and beautifully blue. The sun was burning, so we had to use a lot of suntan lotion and stay in the shade as much as we could. However, the lotion we had bought in Georgia turned us into snowmen and apparently, it didn’t work at all! At night, we both had a bad sunburn on our backs.

The days flew by and we finished almost all our food. Since we don’t use our fridge (it’s on gas and it uses a lot of it, especially in summer), we hadn’t brought much fresh food. Thus, we ate pancakes, rice crackers and canned food from The Netherlands that was still in the back of our cupboard. We had been using our shower to get rid of all the salt and sand on our bodies, so we were almost out of water too. It was time to get back to the real world!

We drove the beautiful coastal route, approximately 200 kilometers to our next spot. On the way, we filled our water bottles and bought some food. The weather was still very hot, so we were happy to arrive at the parking of an ancient site, 400 meters above sea level. It was a little windy and had a great view over the sea. As the sun went down, we walked through the old buildings and enjoyed being back in this part of Turkey.

The next morning, we said goodbye to the new friend we made and started driving. We passed many huge holiday resorts in Alanya and Manavgat; some of them closed because of corona. Then, we arrived in the little town of Side, next to Manavgat. It’s also very touristic, but it has a different vibe: no big hotels, but only small B&B’s and cute restaurants. We parked on the beach, next to a restaurant where we were allowed to use the shower and the toilet. We had lunch there, went swimming and in the early evening we walked to the center. We were amazed by the way people had used ancient ruins in the new buildings and streets: walls, columns, a theater and a temple were scattered all across town. We loved it!

On Tuesday, we left Side and drove to a restaurant to have breakfast. Have we told you about Turkish kahvalti before? Well, if you’re ever here, don’t miss it! It’s definitely our favourite meal in this country. Afterwards, we continued our way to Antalya, to meet up with Deniz and Ada, where we stayed for a week in December. It was great to see them again! They also let us (and Sparta) sleep in their apartment, because it was too warm in the car to be able to sleep.

Another stop we wanted to make in Antalya was the mechanic. Although the radiator hasn’t been leaking anymore, we wanted to make sure everything was fine. We met with a Turkish man who used to live in The Netherlands. As a retired car mechanic, he wanted to help us by looking at Tiny. He told us that now the radiator isn’t leaking, it should be no problem to keep driving with it. On top of that, he assured us that the other little things we had noticed, were no problem either. So, no garage retreat for us!

After we had used their pool and we had had lunch together, we left the mechanic and his wife. We were very proud of Sparta that he had been such a good boy in both the apartments and with both of the families! At this moment, we are in Kemer, meeting with another family that we met in December. Even though we hadn’t planned to go back to Turkey, it’s very nice to see all of them again. And Sparta loves all the attention too!

Back in Turkey

As you probably know by now, we are back in Turkey after our six months retraite in Georgia. This country is truly gigantic! We have driven many kilometers through the Eastern part and we have mostly seen drought, although there are some lakes and reservoirs as well. We keep looking for them, because the temperature is between 35 and 40 degrees in the day and around 25 degrees at night. We would have loved to have airconditioning now!

Although we’ve been on the road a lot, we’ve also seen many amazing sites. You can see them in the video below. From now on, we will drive the coastal route and mainly enjoy swimming in the sea and drinking cold sodas. Let’s head back to Antalya!

Our last week in Georgia

We arrived in Turkey! We didn’t go back to Tbilisi after all, because Sparta’s test results weren’t sufficient. Thus, we already crossed the border last Tuesday. All in all, we spent 6 months and 1 day in Georgia, so we can actually say we lived in Georgia for a while. We enjoyed it a lot, even though the circumstances weren’t the best. But, now it’s time to explore Turkey again!

In the video you can see what we did in our last days in Georgia.

 

One year on the road

We have been on the road for exactly one year! Last year, on July 15, we left The Netherlands for our live-changing trip to the far East. Because of corona we have only come this far; to Georgia. According to our plans, we should have been in Kirgistan by now, but as you know, that is impossible at the moment. However, we are happy that things turned out this way, because we have met many great new friends during our stay in this country.

During the 12 months that we have been moving from place to place, we have tried to spend as little money as possible. Our plans were to stay on the road for two to three years, so we had to save money to be able to do that. We keep track of our costs every day and we put them in the computer every month. Because of our travel-versary, we made a colourful chart to get a good view on the money we’ve spent.

Some of you might be surprised; we are actually quite surprised too. When we lived in The Netherlands, our monthly costs were much higher. Here, we spend much less money on housing (as we are sleeping in our own van and in nature) and on diesel (as it is much cheaper). Also, our health insurance is half the price and we don’t have to do groceries when we are doing a Workaway.

Another benefit of working half the year (in 2019) and travelling the other half, is that we got a lot of tax back. Because our yearly income was much less than calculated, the tax on our income was lower and we received a nice surprise in May. All in all, this means that we’ve had a very cheap year! Who says travelling is expensive?!

Yesterday, we said goodbye to some of the new friends we made here in Georgia. If it wasn’t for corona, we would have never met them. Even though things have gone differently from what we had expected and we’ve had some difficult moments, we are grateful. Georgia is a beautiful country; we have seen almost all parts of it. It has mountains, beaches, lakes, wild nature, fresh fruits and veggies, both extremely high and low temperatures and of course: friendly people.

It’s almost time for us to leave. Right now, we are driving back from the last part of the country that we wanted to visit: Svaneti. We spent time with our friends, hiked up the mountains and played with a lot of (stray) dogs. Because we have to pick up the results from Sparta’s rabies test, we have to go back to Tbilisi one more time. After that, it’s really time to go: we will go back to Turkey. We have no idea what we’ll do the next couple of months, as all the other land borders are still closed. We’ll figure it out as we go!

Driving from the sea to Svaneti

Oh what a great feeling when you find out that your radiator is leaking, AGAIN! All our coolant was gone on Friday morning, so we decided to go straight to the mechanic. The nearest Tegeta Motors was in Kutaisi, only an hour away. However, the mechanic who could work with our car (Peugeot isn’t common here in Georgia) wasn’t available until Monday. We therefore continued driving to Tegeta in Batumi, where we had a good experience in January. Unfortunately, they also didn’t have time before Monday, so we spent the weekend on the beach. Not bad at all!

Of course, on the exact moment that the mechanic checked our radiator, it wasn’t leaking. He also hadn’t been able to find us a new radiator, so all we could do was continue driving until it started leaking again. We thus drove up North, towards the last part of Georgia that we still wanted to visit: Svaneti. On the way, we saw a huge forest fire. It’s so sad to see so many trees burning!

Right now, we are close to Mestia, a well-known town in Svaneti. It’s beautiful here! As you might expect, the radiator has started leaking again, so we have to check the coolant level every time we want to leave. But, we will not let it get us down! Once we get back from the mountains, we’ll go to the mechanic again. Now, we will first hike up to one of the glaciers here!

 

Georgian hospitality

We’ve been in Georgia for more than 5 months now. When we first entered the country, our expectations were pretty high. Not only about the nature and the culture, but also about the people. A lot of Turkish people had told us about the hospitality of the Georgians. We found it hard to believe that it could be even better than in Turkey. The people there were all so welcoming and friendly, how could it be better? Even our guidebook and some online source mentioned the hospitality, so our expectations were sky high.

To be honest, the first couple of months were kind of a letdown… Maybe because it was winter, but we really didn’t see much hospitality at all. We hardly met anyone, since people were inside a lot. Hardly anyone tried to communicate with us and there weren’t many smiles at all. Most people just stared at the ground or looked a little grumpy. We were pretty disappointed and sometimes even longed back to the nice Turkish mentality. Adding to this fact that the weather was pretty bad the first months we were here, we have to admit: Georgia was not one of our favorite countries at all.

Luckily, things have changed! We are not sure what caused the change, maybe it really has to do with the season and the sun, but boy have we noticed the hospitality lately! Georgians love to go out for BBQs and picknicks and just this past week, we were invited to two of those! Not by people we know, just by random strangers on the edge of a national park.

We spent the last couple of days in Borjomi National Park. Tiny was parked just outside the entrance of the park, in a big picnic area. When we got back from a short hike to a pretty church, two very friendly ladies came up to us. “Modi, modi” (which means come, come), so we followed them and were invited to sit with them. They were having a big family picnic and they really wanted us to join in. Unfortunately, the only one who spoke some English was an eleven-year-old girl. But, with our little bit of Russian and the little girl’s English, we were able to communicate and we had a really fun afternoon with some delicious ‘Shaslick”.

The next day, we got up early to go on a long hike. The hike was rough; the way up was very steep and we even needed our hands to climb up some parts. The view on the top, however, made up for it! When we got back in the afternoon, we just wanted to put our feet up and not do anything at all. We did joke around a bit, because there was another BBQ going on and all the smoke was blowing in our direction: ‘hmm, maybe they will invite us too’.

It was only a minute after we said this and a man came walking in our direction with some Shaslick. He told us to follow him. It’s very hard to say no, because they really insisted and so we did. There were about 20 people on the benches: all teachers from a nearby village. They were having an end of the year BBQ and said they would be honored if we would join them. We had a blast: we enjoyed a meal with 6 courses, sang, danced and had a fantastic afternoon. Again, there was only one lady who spoke English (the English teacher), but that didn’t spoil the fun! It was so nice of them to invite us. We don’t think we would ever ask two random strangers to come and join in on our parties back home and share all our food and drinks. But who knows, maybe we would by now!

Besides these invitations, we have had a lot of people coming up to us lately to invite us for drinks or just to give us food (lots of watermelon, so far). We also got so much wine, we almost get more than we drink! By now, we can definitely say that we were wrong in the beginning: Georgians are super hospitable!

One of our other highlights this week was visiting the cave town Vardzia. Around the year 1200 it was built by ‘King’ Tamar and her dad and it was exposed due to a big earthquake. The city is humongous. We walked around for almost 2 hours and still didn’t visit all the caves, tunnels and ‘houses’ that were there. We did walk a ton of stairs and small tunnels; some were pretty scary too! We spent the night on the hill facing Vardzia, it was beautiful! We also went to a lovely castle in Akhaltsikhe and because of Corona, the entrance was free. It was a huge complex with even a mosque inside!

To end this week’s blog, let’s talk about what we are going to do tomorrow. It’s our never-ending story; we will visit another mechanic. This morning, we were all out of coolant, again. Whenever a mechanic ‘fixes’ our radiator, it always only seems to last for a couple of weeks. Maybe they all use the ‘Egg trick’ our friend Lex told us about. Who knows… Hopefully they will be able to fix it for real one day, preferably tomorrow. We still want to drive up some high mountains and we don’t feel comfortable doing that with a broken radiator. So, please cross your fingers for us!

Exploring new parts of Georgia

After we had left our apartment in Tbilisi last week, we went to see The Chronicle of Georgia. It’s a huge monument on the Tbilisi Sea, which was closed when we tried to go there a while ago. Unfortunately, it was the territory of a group of stray dogs and one of them attacked Sparta. Thus, we went back into the city, back to the vet. Sparta didn’t like it at all, but he definitely needed some stitches.

Because Sparta needed a check-up on his wound on Tuesday, we weren’t able to go far from Tbilisi. Therefore, we visited  Mtskheta, Jvari Monastery and Lisi Lake. When the vet said that the wound was healing well, we could finally leave the city and go South-West, in the direction of some places that have been on our list for a long time.

Outside of the city, it really feels like corona doesn’t exist. People are curious and happy to see foreigners and nobody cares about the 2 meter rule. To show you how beautiful Georgia really is and to give you a better impression of our journey, we’ve made another movie. Wow, it feels amazing to travel again!