We are on the road again!

It feels so good to write this! And it gets even better: I am sipping my Georgian wine (which we just got as a gift from some locals) on my camping chair in the sun, wearing a tank top and shorts and with the sound of a wild river floating by. This is what we love about travelling! We are located on the edge of the Lagodekhi National Park, in the Caucasus region. We parked our van next to a ranger station, on a big open field in the middle of nowhere. It’s just us and Polly, Brian and their dog Busso here. It almost feels like there is no Corona!

But… let’s start from the beginning. Yesterday, we finally left Tbilisi. Wow, it felt like we were ‘moving house’ again! It took us a few hours to pack up all our stuff, but then we were ready to leave. As you probably know, we have spent the last 5 weeks with Polly and Brian, a Dutch couple. Together with them, we left Tbilisi, heading towards the South East of Georgia. Close to the border of Azerbaijan are some monasteries that we wanted to visit. These David Gareja monasteries are located in a beautiful landscape. Polly calls it ‘bacon hills’, we will try to add some pictures so you can decide for yourself. Unfortunately, the last 30 km to the monasteries was all off-road. On one big bump, we even hurt Tiny again. We now have a loose (and low hanging) wastewater tank, which makes it difficult to drive off-road again. When we go back to the city, we will do another garage retreat.

However, when we got there, it was worth the drive. The surroundings were stunning and the one monastery we could visit was quite picturesque too. The bigger one that we didn’t get to visit, was too close to the border of Azerbeidszjan and the border patrol wouldn’t let us through. We guess this is because of Corona.

After visiting the monastery, we started looking for a place to camp. We were not allowed to sleep in the ‘border zone’, so we had to drive all the way back to the nearest village. Because it was getting late, we decided to ask some locals where we could sleep. Soon, a nice guy let us use his closed campsite for the night, for free!

The night was pretty bad: the wind was so strong, that it felt like we were sleeping on a boat on a wild sea! We decided to leave early the next morning (today), and the main goal was finding a nice wildcamping spot. That really turned out not to be easy! We will spare you all the details, but on our third try we finally found a spot! Without the help of the apps, but with the help of some very friendly locals who even gave us a bottle of chacha and 2 liters of homemade wine. We will probably hang out here for a while!

The spot is beautiful, and we are located 20 meters from the entrance of the National Park. One of these days, we are planning to hike up to a 40m high waterfall. We will enjoy the sunshine and all the things this place has to offer. This afternoon, Nienke already took a dip in the wild, but o so clear river! Right now, she is prepping a fire for our dinner. Wow, it feels amazing to be camping and just to be back in nature again! We are going to love it here!

 

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!

Mosques, bazaars and nice dinners

In the last ten days we spent five days in the center of Istanbul. The first time, we went together with our host family. Because the girl is only four years old, we couldn’t walk around too long, although we got a quick view on many of the main sites. A few days later we visited the city together and did most of it at a slower pace. Then, Nienke’s father and a friend of his arrived on Friday and stayed for a couple days. With the four of us, we walked around Istanbul for two and a half days. By now, we might even be able to be city guides!

It was really great to have Nienke’s dad, Jan, and Aalf here. Normally, we wouldn’t visit all the touristy things, but together with them we entered almost all the famous buildings. First of all, we walked around the Topkapi Palace, which was very interesting. Of course, we couldn’t miss the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar; we really loved wandering around both of them. Then, we climbed up to the Suleyman Mosque, that has a splendid view over the city (especially when the sun goes down!). The next morning, we visited the Hagia Sofia, which looks a lot better on the inside than on the outside. Nevertheless, its size is very impressive! Afterwards, we visited the famous Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque), although we couldn’t really see anything with all the construction works. Finally, we walked to the beautiful Galata Tower, where a lot of people were waiting to get in. We didn’t want to wait that long, so we continued walking. Besides visiting all these buildings, we’ve also walked around some crowded and nice-looking neighbourhoods and eaten some incredible (and some less incredible) food. And most of all, we had lots of time to chat and catch up! Thanks for the amazing days Jan and Aalf!

The rest of the week we spent time with our host family. On Thursday, we collected the daughter from school and took her for a tea and a simit (some kind of bread). Although she enjoyed being with us, she was very tired and fell asleep in Nienke’s arms on the way home. She slept for 20 minutes, but then she woke up and wanted to play with us. In the ten days we lived with her, she learned many new English words; most of all by playing memory!

Last Monday was our last day with the family, although both parents needed to go to work and the girl went to school. Thus, we had the morning to ourselves and did some shopping, charged all our batteries and got ready to leave the next day. In the afternoon, we walked to the school where Aytan, our host, works. She asked us to visit one of her lessons, in which the students are working on a special project about solving environmental problems. Before the lesson started, she showed us the buildings and the yard; they even have chickens walking in the garden! The school is a technical high school for teenagers from approximately 14 to 18 years old. The students take a.o. electrical and automotive classes, so when we walked into a classroom, we really didn’t understand anything they were doing. When our lesson started, we introduced ourselves to the students. Then, they wanted to ask so many questions that the only thing we did with them was just talk! It was a great opportunity for us to get to know some of the Turkish education system and for them to learn some things about (education in) The Netherlands.

On our last night in Istanbul, Nienke cooked pumpkin soup, while Aytan took care of some salads and fish. After dinner, we had another nice talk with them and said our goodbyes. We really enjoyed being part of their family and we learned a lot about Turkish habits and typical foods. If we ever come back to Istanbul, we will definitely visit them again!

Right now, we are a few hundred kilometers south of Istanbul. So far, the main roads in Turkey are quite good and we get an average of about 70 km/hour, which is pretty fast for our standards. We will visit some touristic sites during the next few days, but then we will go further down south to our next Workaway address. We really look forward to temperatures above 20 degrees, swimming in the sea and spending a lot of time with the animals on a horse ranch. Please stay tuned for more adventures in the coming week!

From Thessaloniki to Bulgaria

Last week we spent two days on the beach. It still felt like summer and we really enjoyed the quietness and the serenity. When we left our pretty spot, we were ready to visit some more touristic places in Greece. First, we went to Meteora, a magical area that is known for its rock formations and the many monasteries on its tops. We arrived in the afternoon and drove a part of the road that leads to the monasteries that are open to visitors. However, we didn’t feel like visiting one of them yet, so we found a good spot to spend the night and enjoyed a magnificent sunset over the mountains.

The next morning, we drove up to the biggest monastery of them all: The Great Meteoron. We arrived early and since it opened at nine, we had to wait for approximately 30 minutes. To our big surprise, many tourist buses started to arrive at the parking and more and more people were walking towards the entrance. Seriously? We were the first to arrive, but now they will all get in before us? So, after a short discussion we decided to leave and to go to a smaller monastery down the road. This one was called the Rousanou Monastary and is nowadays still inhabited by nuns. Before we could enter, we had to climb a lot of stairs, because the monastery is situated on the top of a steep rock. It really overlooks the whole valley! We had to put a skirt over our pants to go inside the building. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos, but the chapel inside the monastery is absolutely gorgeous. It is believed that this monastery was started in the 13th century, although evidence only shows that it was built almost two centuries after that. For sure it is really old and really beautiful!

After some more stops on the route and after having taken a lot of photos, we left Meteora. Our next and last stop in Greece was the second biggest city in the country: Thessaloniki. On the way north we passed a lot of cotton fields and at some point, Tamara jumped out of the car to grab a piece of cotton from the side of the road. Really soft! Many times, we saw big machines ‘sucking’ the cotton from the field, which was a really cool view. When we arrived in Thessaloniki, maps.me took us right through the center of the city. So, when we finally parked Tiny at a camper stop, we were happy to get out of the car. On Saturday and Sunday, we went into the city by bus and walked maaaaany kilometers. We saw a.o. the old city walls, many beautiful churches, the market, the big central square, the boulevard, the famous White Tower and a big historical arch. In addition, we walked through a super cute neighbourhood that lies up the hill. We were astonished by the steep and narrow streets, where cars were parked in the most impossible places. The atmosphere was really good; it almost felt like we were in a small village instead of in a large city. All in all, we really enjoyed Thessaloniki and would definitely recommend it for a city trip. Oh and by the way: Thessaloniki also has an Ikea! We went there to have a coffee and to buy some fake plants for Tiny J.

After Thessaloniki, we left Greece and entered Bulgaria. Right after the border we stopped to get cheaper diesel and a road vignette, which is obligated here. Then, we continued our way to Melnik, the smallest city in the country. It is known by its wine production, but also by the authentic historical houses that can be found there. Our plan was to go to Melnik, find a place to sleep and visit the town the next day. However, when we saw all the wineries, we got seduced by the smell of wine and stopped at Villa Melnik. This winery produces many different wines, but mainly red wines. We got a tour by a very enthusiastic man, who showed us the whole process of wine making and let us taste many of the (still fermenting) wines from this year. He also took us to the caves, where they keep the wine in barrels and where they collect all the bottles they have ever made in this winery. After the tour, we got to taste some more of their wines and it didn’t take long before we started feeling tipsy. Of course, we bought some bottles to take with us; we love wine! Then, we took a little break and got ready for the last part of the way to Melnik.

Through Park4Night, we found a great spot to spend the night, close to the Rozhen Monastery that is situated a little further up the road from Melnik. We visited the monastery, which was really cute and felt a little like being in a fairytale. Later, when it was dark, we saw some dogs walking around the camper, including a young puppy. We tried to call him and his mother closer, but they were too scared. In the morning, it was pretty cold and we suddenly realised that autumn had arrived. We got dressed and walked to the monastery again; we liked it so much that we wanted to spend some more time there! Back at the car, we put on our walking shoes, cuddled with a friendly cat and started our hike down to Melnik. This hike was not in our Lonely Planet, but it should definitely have been in it! The views were amazing: the morning sun was shining on the so-called pyramids of Melnik, which are triangle-shaped mountains, formed by erosion. The trail took us through the forest, down to the center of the town. There, the historical brown-white houses looked really pretty. We walked around, had a coffee with baklava and started to hike back up to the monastery. Even though we walked the same trail as before, we enjoyed it a lot. When we got back to the car, we had lunch and got ready to leave this lovely place again.

A mountain road, beautifully surrounded by autumn colours, lead us to another stunning place for the night. We made dinner, watched the sunset over the lake and went to bed early. In the morning, we noticed that we were much further north: it was COLD! We quickly made breakfast, warming our hands to a cup of tea. The road (which was really bad!) took us through the mountains again, until we reached the city of Plovdiv. We spent our last Bulgarian money on coffee and lunch and walked around the old part of the city. We especially liked the old roman theater and arena, which are really well preserved. Furthermore, the city park that lies next to the modern center is great, mainly with all the beautiful colours at this time of year. In the afternoon we left Plovdiv again, to drive a little further towards the eastern border of Bulgaria.

Now, on Wednesday night, we realise that today was our last day in Europe. On Thursday we will enter Turkey. The next three months, we will stay at three different Workaways: one in Istanbul, one on the southern coast and one in the inlands. We really wonder what we will encounter, but we are sure that the next 100 days will be just as amazing as the first 100 days.

 

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90 days and counting

Only 90 days ago, we were preparing for our big trip. Only 90 days ago, we were ready to change our lives forever. Now, 90 days later, we are looking back at the first part of our journey, even though we’re actually – still – just beginning.

The things we’ve seen and done
So far, we have travelled through 9 countries: Germany, Austria, Italy (even though it was short), Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. If you count our home country, it would be 10. Our first great experience was in Slovenia, where we’ve met amazing people who we’ll never forget. Afterwards, we were surprised by the pretty sights and great people in Bosnia. We were really pleased by this country. Then, we spent some days in the beautiful mountains of Montenegro and at some interesting sites in Albania. We loved travelling through both of them and we enjoyed our time together. Finally, we arrived in Greece to cherish the last moments of summer and to help out on a small permaculture farm in the hills. Right now, we’re leaving the lovely family that we’ve met here to continue our way to Asia. However, we will pay a visit to Athens and Thessaloniki first!

 What we love about our way of living
If we think about it now, after almost three months, the greatest change that we’ve noticed in ourselves is to live in the moment. We don’t worry about what happened yesterday or last week, because it happened then and not today. We also don’t worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week, as our plans change from day to day. We never know what the next day will bring, so why would we think about it now? We’re living in the moment and because of that, we don’t feel any stress. Besides, when we lived in The Netherlands, we always had to check our schedule if we felt like doing something. Now, we can do whatever we want and whenever we want, without checking if we have to work tomorrow or if we have to go to the gym tonight. It just feels amazing to wake up and think about what you want to do that day.

Other than experiencing no stress, we also really enjoy being outside all the time. The last year in The Netherlands, living on the campground, we noticed it too; breathing in fresh air every day makes us feel more energetic and cheerful. Of course, the weather has been terrific up to now, which makes living outside even more wonderful. We really hope to have a mild winter, so we can stay out as long as possible!

Only a few things…
All in all, we still don’t regret quitting our jobs and leaving our home country. We learn new things every day, we meet a lot of nice people and it still feels like vacation. However, we have to admit that we miss a few things… although sometimes it’s hard to understand what these things are. Most of all, we really miss our family and our friends. It’s not that we miss one person in particular, but we mainly miss talking to someone familiar, someone that we trust. Especially when we experience big cultural differences with our hosts or when we had an argument. We can of course always call someone to talk about it, but that’s really not the same as having a coffee together. And other than talking to someone, we miss being part of a group and doing fun things with them. For example, when we see pictures of our friends or family having a great time together, it can feel pretty lonely to be on the other side of Europe.

Another thing we miss, is our Dutch way of having a meal. We’ve noticed that when we’re staying with hosts, we have a hard time adjusting to their schedule. At all our Workaway’s so far, lunch has been the main meal of the day. Sometimes pasta, sometimes potatoes, sometimes soup… but it’s always been a hot lunch around two or three o’clock. Because we are used to having breakfast between seven and eight o’clock, we always get really hungry at noon! But then we have to wait two more hours before we have lunch…
Another downside for us, is that we have dinner when the sun goes down. Sometimes we aren’t even really hungry anymore, because we had a very late lunch. Other times, we want to go to bed early (we get pretty tired from working!) and having dinner right before going to bed doesn’t feel good. That means we sometimes just have a snack instead of dinner! Fortunately, the food has been outstanding in all the places we’ve been, so we cannot complain about that at all. Besides, the first box from Holland has just arrived, so we can finally have some ‘borrelnootjes’ and ‘pindasaus’ again!

Right now, we are ready for new adventures. Although we love the farm where we’ve lived for the last three weeks, we’re looking forward to seeing new places. Let’s move on!

 

 

Happy in the Peloponeese

From the beautiful island of Lefkas, we went further down to the south of Greece. Because we don’t like to drive highways all the time (and we have to pay toll), we always try to avoid them as much as possible. However, this time our GPS (maps.me) had something different in mind. Since we had turned on the option to ‘avoid toll’ and to ‘avoid gravel roads’, the app was forced to find something else. And apparently, that was not an option… The first part of the way to Patras was no problem: we drove on a decent road for a while and were then sent to the highway (without toll). Unfortunately, then the app told us to take an exit and follow a detour to avoid toll; the road we had to take was unpaved! At first, the gravel was quite nice and Tiny had no problems with it, but after a while we were getting anxious. It became narrow, bumpy and had a lot of overhanging trees. At some point Tamara would even have to get out of the car to get some bushes out of the way! After about half an hour of sweating we saw some farms and the road became wider. And finally, we saw a paved road again! After that, we adjusted the settings in the app and we entered the highway, paying toll after all. Please maps.me, don’t do that to us again!

Driving further south, we came across the bridge to cross the sea, leading us to the city of Patras. We had to pay a little over 20 euros to do that, since we didn’t want to take a ferry (and that might have been expensive too). Entering Patras was a big change: from driving in the mountains, we suddenly saw a big city with many roads, houses and a magnificent sea view. To go to the next Workaway, we had to continue driving for a little while. Therefore, we exited the city and drove for about half an hour to Arla, our new village. It consists of some houses, a small school, a tiny and a big church, three restaurants, a bakery and a mini market. Our host, Andreas, picked us up in the center of the village (we didn’t even have to tell him where we were, because the village is so small) and he took us to his property. Together with Peggy and their daughter Dimitra, Andreas owns a small piece of land with the caravan they live in, a chicken coop, an outside shower and kitchen, a big garden and a dog and some cats. We could park our van right next to their ‘house’, right in the middle of it all. We talked with them, Andreas showed us around and we immediately felt at home.

On the second day in Arla, we started work. After breakfast, our task was to cut triangles of chicken wire, that would be part of the geodesic dome Andreas is building. A what? A geodesic dome. It’s really an amazing project, in which we love to be involved. After lunch, which is usually around 2 or 3 pm, we headed to the village to have a drink and some wifi. However, everything was still closed! Apparently here in Greece, in summer, they work until 2 pm, have lunch, and then start working again from 5 pm to 9 pm. Thus, we had to wait till the bars would open, so we walked down to the next village and back. Fortunately, then we could order something to drink, before we headed back to our hosts.

On day three, we helped Peggy with preserving tomatoes and peaches. We made 8 jars of tomato sauce and 3 jars of peach marmalade. It’s so much fun to learn things like that! In the afternoon, we repotted Aloe Vera plants. In the end, we had 32 pots! It was a very productive day. Day 3 was all about sheep wool. Andreas wants to use sheep wool to insulate the geodesic dome, but it was really smelly. So, we had to wash the wool before he can use it for the dome. It was a dirty job, but we had some fun turning the wool into a piece of art!

In the afternoon, we went for a bike ride around the area. Since Nienke’s bicycle has been stolen, she used Peggy’s bicycle, which is pretty good and has 21 gears. We went down (we’re on an elevation of 250m) to find a village where we could have a drink and after about 12km we found a bar that was open. We were quite thirsty, since the weather was really hot! Next, we went to find a winery (…. + link) a little further down the road. Between the wine ranks, we found the building where they make the wine, so we asked for a tour around the winery. Really, they were the best! They explained us everything, showed us the grapes, the tanks and the machine that fills the bottles. We could even try the different wines they make! In the end, they handed us a bag of grapes, white and rose wine and a bottle of tsipouro (made from the stems of the grapes, and high in alcohol!). We are really thankful for their hospitality. With a big smile, we returned to our bikes and rode back to Arla. Because we had to go uphill, it was quite tiring. Coming back to Arla, a woman at one of the restaurants started to yell at us: “Hello! Where are you from?!” We stopped and told the people what we were doing in Arla and of course that we are Dutchies. We also asked them where we could drop off a postcard that needed to go to The Netherlands. Funnily, the guy taking care of the post was the brother of the woman talking to us, so she told us to sit down and wait for her brother. She even gave us drinks, which we didn’t have to pay! People here are really friendly, up to now. When we came back at the farm, we had dinner with our hosts and went to bed early. It was a lovely, but busy day!

Sunday at the farm was a day just like other days. We started our day with a delightful breakfast with fruits and homemade marmalade and tahine, then we headed to the gate through which you enter the property. It looked really new and hadn’t been painted yet, so that became our job of the day! Although it looked like an easy job, it took us approximately three hours to finish the whole gate. Proudly, we showed it to Andreas and Peggy, but then we found out that Nienke forgot to paint a little part of the gate… Oops! After having lunch with bean soup, we tried using our Omnia oven with the dough Peggy had made that morning. We really love the way this little oven works, but so far, we haven’t used it much. It took 90 minutes, but then the bread was ready and smelled wonderful. And it tasted delicious! After a little nap, we ended the day with a walk around the surrounding farms. We had walked for about an hour when we decided to turn around, because it was almost getting dark. Then, a truck with an old man approached us (on a tiny road up the mountain). He started talking in Greek, which we – of course! – didn’t understand. We ‘told’ him that we were walking back to Arla, so we started walking again. The guy then turned around and came back to talk to us some more! We really didn’t know what he wanted, but it sounded like he was worrying about us getting lost in the dark… or something. He pointed to the back of his truck, so we jumped in and he drove us back to the crossroads close to our ‘home’. Although it was kind of weird to jump in a truck with a stranger, we quite enjoyed the ride!

The next two days we spent on the farm. Andreas told us how he prepares his land to turn it into fertile soil. He wants to use all of it for his crops and for all kinds of trees. Nienke immediately got excited to create lessons about it, because everything they are doing here is biology! Besides helping with preparations for planting trees, we cut many branches from the old olive trees that are living on the property. By the way, we found out that you’ll find olive trees EVERYWHERE around here! Many are owned by larger farms or oil factories, but others are just standing on the side of the road. Olive trees tend to grow new stems from the bottom of the old stem. However, if you want to have a great amount of olives, you have to cut those new branches away. After working on the trees for about two hours, we were kind of done with it, so we stopped. We saw Andreas working on the geodesic dome and approached him to ask if we could help. Together we filled the first triangle with sheep wool, which looked amazing and seemed like it really is a proper way to insulate a house!

Because we had stayed in Greece for a while and we really didn’t understand the signs on the streets and on food, we spent a whole afternoon on learning Greek. Andreas told us how to read all the Greek letters and how to pronounce them. Some of them are really hard to say! After a while we somehow got the hang of it and we could even write some words down ourselves! When we went out for pizza in another town, we tried to read all the signs on the shops. Unfortunately, sometimes we couldn’t figure it out, so we might have to practice some more these next weeks!

Kalimera (good morning):

To finish off the first week in Arla, we went to the beach. Before we left, we had breakfast with our hosts and fed the chicken. Taking care of the chicken coop is mainly our job, so in the mornings we feed them (leftovers from the day before and of course their own food), change their water and check if everything is how it’s supposed to be. This morning however, we found out that one of the roosters was missing! Andreas had just bought two new roosters and some chicken a few days earlier, which we put in a separate coop. But now one of the guys was gone! We looked around the farm, but unfortunately the rooster was nowhere to be found. We then covered the coop that contains the newbies with gaze, to prevent the other rooster from leaving too. Well, let’s hope he has found a new house and wasn’t eaten by one of the stray dogs that live around the farm!

Since we’re staying at an elevation of 250 meters, we had to bike downhill to get to the sea. It turned out to be 16 km, which we covered in 48 minutes. It was pretty easy! Andreas’ parents own a summerhouse next to the sea, so we went there to park our bicycles. His mom offered us coffee and we sat down for a while and cuddled with the dog. Then we went swimming: we kind of missed it since we had been in Paleros and went to the sea almost every day. For lunch we had souvlaki and schnitzel at the neighboring hotel. And of course, at the end of the day we had to ride all the way back up to Arla again… What goes down, must come up! Obviously, it took us a little longer. We were quite tired when we arrived in Arla, so we stopped to buy a cold drink before we headed back to the farm. When we eventually got there, two stray dogs were waiting for us at the driveway. We really love dogs, but we noticed that here in Greece dogs are mainly used as guard dogs. Most of the time when we pass by a house or a farm, behind the fence a scary dog is barking like crazy! Because so many dogs are kept wild and live on big farms, puppies are born everywhere and some end up on the street. Sometimes these stray dogs don’t like people and stay away from us, but others are aggressive and show their teeth when we pass by. This time, when we arrived at the gate, one stray dog was scared of us and held back. The other one looked at us with his big angry eyes and walked in circles on the street. Andreas taught us not to turn our backs on them, so we slowly passed him, while looking him in the eye. We were really happy to hear ‘our’ dog, Bobo, barking to the other dog and helping us to enter the gate! Bobo is a guard dog, but fortunately, he’s also super sweet. Every night, he sleeps in front of our side door to keep us safe!

All in all, our first week with this family has been great. We learn a lot of new things concerning landscaping, beekeeping and gardening. The surroundings are amazing, the people are really friendly and thus, we enjoy every minute of every day!

 

Watch out! Goats, dogs and tortoises crossing

As far as we know, Montenegro almost entirely exists of mountains. At the border with Albania there’s also a big lake (Lake Skadar), which is surrounded by swamps and a piece of land where they’ve built the capital city Podgorica. However, this is only a small part of the land; the rest is rocks and valleys. Since Montenegro is such a small country, we’ve made a clockwise roundtrip which took only 5 days. Want to know the best parts? Keep reading!

When we left Bosnia, we first visited the Croatian city Dubrovnik. We found a campground in a nearby town and spent the first afternoon at the beach. The day after, we took a bus into Dubrovnik and walked down to the old town. Although it was really hot and the streets were packed with tourists, we already loved the old part of the city when we just entered it. The main street is quite wide and flanked by many shops and restaurants. On both sides, steep alleys lead up the hill, from which you have a beautiful view over the town. It’s possible to walk the city walls around the old town, but since it’s almost 30 euros pp, we decided not to. After only a few hours we were sweaty and hungry, so we walked up to the main road and took a taxi back to our campground. Of course, we ended the day at the beach again!

Leaving Croatia and getting into Montenegro, we enjoyed the coastal road. We were the only ones at the border, so entering Montenegro was very fast. We passed the city Herceg Novi and continued to drive down the road around the famous Kotor Bay. At some point we stopped to dive in the cold water, because the sun was burning again. Wow, that really felt good! After driving a little further, we arrived in Kotor. We parked the van, had some coffee and walked towards the old town. Kotor is on the UNESCO Heritage List, so we figured we really had to go there. And boy, were we astonished by its beauty! The old town walls reach high up the mountain behind the small town, whereas the buildings are packed together at the bottom, near the lake. We got lost in small streets with dozens of little shops, some churches and many tiny houses where laundry was hanging from wall to wall. Even though there were a lot of tourists, the town was way less crowded than its big brother Dubrovnik. We liked it a lot!

Because it was getting dark, we had to find a place to park Tiny for the night. On Park4Night we found a spot next to an old fortress, so we took the windy roads up a mountain and arrived there looking at the most amazing sunset. A van from France was already there and after parking the car, we introduced ourselves to the couple (girl from Portugal, guy from France). They were drinking and enjoying the view, so we got our chairs and joined them with a bottle of wine and some schnapps. It’s always great to meet nice people on the road!

After visiting the ruins of the 1986 fortress, we left the pretty spot and continued the road around Kotor Bay. The next stop was Budva, a popular beach town. When we got there, we found out that Budva exists mainly of hotels and apartments and we really didn’t feel like driving into the busy streets. Therefore, we kept driving and found many more resorts spread out across the coast. We stopped in Sveti Stefan, a place where a town on a small island has been turned into an extremely expensive holiday resort. From the outside it looks beautiful, but there was no way we could enter the island. Instead, we put on our bikinis and took a swim in the sea. We’ve never seen water that was clearer than here!

The last part of the coastal route was stunning, but we had to leave the sea to go to Durmitor National Park in the North of Montenegro. We were still driving through the mountains and suddenly we saw a lonely dog in the middle of the road (which happens a lot in this country). After a few hundred meters, he was followed by some more dogs and a big herd of goats! They slowly walked by and fortunately we could pass them quickly. Meanwhile, it was past lunchtime and we were quite hungry, so we stopped at a restaurant next to the road. The waiter was really friendly and the food we ordered was simply amazing. With full stomachs we could definitely survive the rest of the day!

Driving up North we passed Skadar Lake and Podgorica, but we only stopped when we arrived in Niksic (where they brew really good beer!). Tamara found a place where we could spend the night, although getting there was a bit of a challenge! The road was narrow and bumpy, but in the end we had a really nice view over a lake and some fishermen. The next morning Nienke took a swim in the lake and after a quick breakfast we left the place to go to Durmitor NP. During coffee, we met two Dutchies on motorbikes, who (we found out later) followed us on the road up to the park. First, the road was quite wide, although it was very steep and got many tunnels. The view down was really pretty! After some kilometers, the road got narrower and it was harder to pass cars coming from the other direction. Fortunately, we soon got up to a wide-open space where the hills where glowing and once in a while a little cottage was popping up. Breathtakingly beautiful!

Further into Durmitor, the hills changed into spectacular mountains and we stopped a couple times to take photos. We arrived at a parking place where many people were hiking and there was no space for our van, so we parked 200 meters down the road at a little café. It was already midday, so we figured we didn’t have time to hike all the way up the highest peak (6-hour roundtrip). Instead, we only hiked a little part of the trail and spent the rest of the day reading. The owners of the café said we could spend the night there and since it was getting really cold (elevation 1600m!), we went to bed early.

The next morning, we left Durmitor NP and drove to Zabljak, which is said to be the gateway into the park. Oops, we used the other entrance! Indeed, the town was full of hotels and B&B’s and many cars were heading to the parking place at the start of the popular hiking trails. We went to Ivan Do campground, where we parked Tiny and put on our hiking boots. The main sight close to the campground is Crno Jezero (Black Lake), so we first walked around the lake, which is really pretty! Then, after buying some ice-cream, we walked to another lake a little further away. Although we hadn’t planned for it, when we got back to Ivan Do we had walked more than 12 km! That meant we earned the rest of the day off, enjoying a hot shower, a glass of red wine and a good book.

Our final day in Montenegro was our 50th day on the road. Like day 1, we spent the whole day driving, although this time our average speed was much lower. We really love driving through the mountains, but sometimes it can also get a little scary. At some point, in the middle of the road, the engine light in the car turned on and we heard a ticking sound. Nienke immediately turned the car to the side of the road, right at the point where the only cove between the trees was. Shivering, we opened the hood and checked whatever we knew to check. Nothing. So now what? Nienke turned on the engine again, but now the engine light was off! And no more sounds… So we could go? Only 1 km away there was a huge parking that belonged to the Tara Zipline. We entered the parking and one of the employees approached us. He wanted to help, so we opened the hood again and he checked a lot of things. Then he said nothing was wrong, so we could go! To calm down, we had some coffee and pancakes, checked the bridge over the Tara canyon and continued our way down South. The road was beautiful and despite our worries about the car, we enjoyed every minute of it. At some point we picked up two hitchhikers from Germany, who wanted to join us until Podgorica. After we said goodbye, we only had a few kilometers left in Montenegro. We were quite hungry, so it was definitely time for burek!

The last part of Montenegro wasn’t really exciting. However, we had to hit the brakes for a little animal that was crossing the road! A tortoise! All in all, our 5 days in Montenegro were really amazing. It’s a charming little country with lots of things to do and see. Excuse us if this blog was a little too long to read, but there’s just so much to tell! We really wonder what we will come across in Albania =).

 

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One week, two ER visits

Wow, this has really been a crazy week!

The weather was perfect for swimming, so we went to the river a couple of times. Of course we had some work to do as well, so on Thursday we started sanding some new beams to fix the rotten beams on the benches we had been painting. Somehow, Nienke managed to get a piece of wood in her thumb! At first, she didn’t notice and continued working, but eventually her thumb couldn’t move anymore, so there definitely was something wrong. The splinter was quite long and it had gone all the way into her flesh…

So, in the afternoon we went down to the valley and drove to the emergency room in Tolmin. We waited for almost an hour, but then the doctor called Nienke in. He said: “You came to the right person to fix this problem!” First, he checked the wound and confirmed that there was a piece of wood under the skin. It really hurt when he touched it, so he had to use a local anaesthetic to numb the whole thumb. The needle went in three times! Only then Nienke didn’t feel anything anymore.

Although Nienke was quite curious about what the doctor was doing, she looked the other way while he cut into the wound. It only took a minute to get the splinter out! It was about 2,5 cm long… Fortunately she didn’t feel a thing and after some bleeding, the nurse dressed the wound. While Nienke’s thumb was still ‘sleeping’, we walked back to the car and continued our day.

Friday was all about painting again. The slats we had painted before had to be oiled, so it took about the whole day to finish them all. On Saturday, we had lunch at Andrej’s parents and on Sunday, there were many visitors at the house. Meanwhile, Tamara wasn’t feeling well. Her stomach hurt and she had to pay many visits to the toilet. On Monday and Tuesday we stayed at the house and Nienke did some work on the garden, painted all of the new shutters for the house, helped with chopping wood, walked with the dog and went for a run (also with the dog). But Tamara was only feeling worse…

On Wednesday morning we decided to pay another visit to the ER in Tolmin. The doctor hadn’t arrived yet, so we had to wait for her. When she arrived she asked some questions, examined Tamara’s abdomen and measured her blood pressure. Eventually she sent Tamara to another room so that they could take some blood for examination. Again, we had to wait, so we went to the coffee shop and sat down.

When we got the results, there was actually nothing wrong with the blood. The doctor provided Tamara with a prescription for activated carbon and some advise to eat solid foods. Then we went home.

By now, Nienke’s thumb has healed pretty well, but Tamara is still sick. Hopefully the pills will help and she’ll feel better soon. And let’s hope that we don’t need to visit the ER anymore in the next few months!

 

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Time to say goodbye

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”

© Winnie the Pooh

 

The last few weeks were quite hard.

First, we had to finish all our school stuff, which was quite a bit of work, especially for Tamara. Besides, finishing the year with the students is mostly fun, but also kind of hectic. At the end of the week we both had our goodbye parties at work. That truly was the weirdest day of happiness and sadness all at once!

The next week was full of goodbyes. We had both scheduled many coffee-breaks, lunches and diners with friends and family, to spend one last moment with them. At least, for the time being… Meanwhile, there were many things that had to be arranged, like insurance, our postal address and some shopping. All in all, we rarely had one moment to rest or to talk to each other properly.

We spent our last weekend in The Netherlands with our (grand)parents. Those days were calm and full of food and hugs. Oh, by the way, there was some shopping too, since finding some essential things had proven to be hard.

On Monday morning we had only one person left to say goodbye to: Tamara’s sister Sharon. We had breakfast together, but we soon had to go to run some last errands. Sharon walked with us to the van, made some nice photos and waved us goodbye.

Although saying goodbye had been really hard, we were also happy that we could finally drive off. Like Winnie says, we are lucky to know all these amazing and loving people that we had to say goodbye to. It’s not a goodbye to last forever; we are convinced that it’s only a goodbye until we meet again.

Thanks to everyone who has been a great friend, either very close or further away. We will miss you.

Until we meet again.

Counting down the days

In less than a month we will have left the Netherlands.

We have been asked a thousand times if we’re getting nervous for our trip and yes, we are. The date of departure is getting really close now, so we’re literally counting down the days. There even have been moments in which we already had to say goodbye to people. That’s quite scary, to be honest.

Since we’ve still got so many things to do before we leave, there’s a lot on our schedule. We’re getting a bit tired of all the preparations, which means we’ll probably be relieved when we actually drive off. The last weeks we’ve been working on Tiny: he got his check-ups, new back tires, a 12 to 240 Volt inverter and some spare parts to bring with us. Last week we gave Tiny a bath and yesterday we sold his sunscreen. The next thing on the list is to add a roof rack for more storage options and to add our logo and website on the outside of the van.

In the meantime, we got new passports, we got our vaccinations, we ordered business cards and we bought goodbye-presents. A big task that’s left is to get rid of the last things we don’t need anymore. A lot of stuff needs to be tossed away, but there’s also the car, a bicycle, a coffee machine and a table with two chairs. Hopefully someone will be happy to adopt them. In addition, because we have to leave the municipality we’re currently living in, we need to arrange an official post address to be able to receive mail from the authorities. Let’s hope they won’t make a fuss about it (last time they made it quite hard).

All in all, time is moving quickly and we’ve already completed a lot of the things on our list. However, the hardest part has yet to come. Saying goodbye to our friends and family will definitely bring up many tears.