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.

One of the best parts of Turkey: Cappadocia

As promised, here is the story about one of our most favourite parts of our journey so far. From Konya, it was only a couple hours to Cappadocia. After another fantastic breakfast and a good shower, we left the house of our hosts and started the trip to Göreme National Park. The road was boring, so we got very excited when we saw the first signs of rock formations and valleys. As we drove up to our spot for the night, we were in awe of the prettiness around us.

Getting to the parking spot was a bit tricky, because it was in the dirt and on the edge of a cliff. Fortunately, Tiny does a very good job in off-road driving, so we found the best spot in no-time. We took out our camping table and chairs and attached Sparta to a long line. This view was amazing! After a short coffee break, we walked a small distance to a place where a lot of cars and vans were parked. There was a small café and some tourist shops, as it turned out to be the lookout spot over Love Valley! Many people were taking pictures of each other, with the funny-shaped rocks in the valley below on the background. We walked a little further, did some tricks with Sparta and then returned to the van for a hot meal and a quiet evening.

Since Sparta has to pee early every morning, one of us has to get out of bed. This time, it wasn’t a punishment, as the balloons were already floating over our heads! It was freezing, so we put on a lot of clothes. Then, we went outside to watch the sun come up while as many as 50 balloons were up in the air. Sparta found it too cold, so he went back to (our) bed and after a while, we went back too. However, we opened our back doors and watched this amazing event until most of the balloons had landed. Two of them even landed right next to us!

After breakfast, we left our amazing park-up and drove to the town of Göreme. This is the heart of Cappadocia, where many tourist shops, restaurants and hotels are situated. Moreover, this town owns a lot of old cave houses, which are sometimes still in use or converted into a hotel. We walked through the center, but soon found ourselves walking toward the Open-Air Museum. As we almost never go into such overly crowded places, we only watched the view, walked by the little shops and went back to a less touristy place. Sparta was already very tired, but we let him off the leash for a little while and then put him in Tamara’s warm and comfy jacket. On the way back to Göreme, we walked up to the ‘Hidden Church’, which was unfortunately closed. The walk to the church was very nice though, so we enjoyed it anyway and then returned to Tiny.

The next destination was the cave town Uçhisar, which’ immense rocks are visible throughout the whole area around it. There was still snow here, what made the giant rocks (with holes for windows) even more astonishing. Although we didn’t want to walk up all the way to the castle on the top of the rock, we walked around for a while. One of the smaller rocks had been turned into a café, and an old man invited us in for some tea. He told us that he was born here and that the house has been owned by his family for four generations. The rooms were covered in carpets and we could climb all the way up to the 5th floor. What a great way to build your house!

We felt like we still had to visit many more places in this area, but we were already pretty tired and we didn’t want to walk anymore. Therefore, we only stopped at a look-out point, took a quick look at the castle in Ortahisar and watched the brand-new cave hotels in Ürgüp. Then, we drove to a viewpoint on the other side of the valley, where according to Park4Night was a nice place to spend the night. Indeed, the place was great, but getting there was another adventure. When we were finally parked, we walked around the place with Sparta and then settled in for the night.

The next morning, we were woken up by the growling sound of jeeps. They were preparing two balloons for take-off! One of them was right next to our bed, so we weren’t able to sleep anymore and got out of the van. Though the view of the ascending balloons wasn’t as beautiful as the day before, we loved watching them lift off. Soon, they were all gone and we prepared ourselves for leaving. Today, we were going to visit one of the famous underground cities. However, we felt like walking around the Red Valley first, so we parked the van and started our hike. This valley has beautiful colours, therefore it’s name. The trails are a lot of fun, there are rocks everywhere and Sparta could walk around freely. We loved it!

After leaving the Red Valley, it took us about one hour to get to Kaymakli, where the underground city was opened for tourists in 1962. It was one of the bigger settlements: it could house about 3500 people. The last people who used to live here, were Greek Christians who had to hide themselves from the Muslim rulers. After the Greeks were expelled in 1923, the city was abandoned and was only used as cellar or horse stables. Although the city has 8 floors, only 4 of them are uncovered. We followed the red arrows into the depths of the earth, visiting living rooms, hallways, a church, storage rooms and stables. Sometimes we even had to crawl through narrow tunnels! Luckily, the way back to the exit was marked by blue arrows so we wouldn’t get lost. We had been in there for only half an hour, but we were both very intrigued by the way people must have lived here. It was definitely worth seeing it!

Online, we had read that we could fill up our gas bottle on a campground in Göreme. Therefore, we had left our almost empty bottle there that morning, so that we could pick it up after we got back from Kaymakli. As it is winter, we were very happy to have two full gas bottles again. Unfortunately, it was now time to leave this pretty landscape and head up north. Our visa would expire in one week and we still wanted to visit some places on the way up to Georgia. The first stop was Kirsehir, where our new friend Esma lives. We arrived around dinner time, so we immediately received an amazing meal from Esma’s mom. Afterwards, we went for a walk through the nice-looking park in front of their house. The rest of the night we spent playing Ligretto, as we had totally gotten hooked-up to that game when we were in Isparta. Fun!

In the morning, we were delighted by another phenomenal Turkish kahvalti. This definitely is our favourite meal from now on! We also had a nice warm shower and another walk through the town, but sadly we had to move on soon after that. Thank you so much for all you’ve done for us Esma!

We drove to the border with Georgia in 4 days. On the way, we stopped in the lovely town of Amasya, where the river is flanked by beautifully lit old houses and where the graves of ancient kings are hidden in the wall of the mountain. The weather turned cold and wet, so we couldn’t really enjoy our stay in the city of Trabzon. Besides, during our drive on the Black Sea coast, the sea was mostly invisible behind the buildings. We therefore kept driving and almost only went outside to walk the dog. When we finally reached the border, we were very excited. After a little detour back into Turkey (oops!), crossing the border went very smooth and we could enter Georgia within 15 minutes. Yay, a new country!

The first days in Georgia have been very wet. It has been raining most of the time, but we are staying in an AirBnb and we don’t mind being inside for a while. Sparta loves it too, because he doesn’t like to get wet either! We walked on the boulevard, explored the supermarkets, went for a run, visited another mechanic for the car (and there is nothing to worry about!) and watched a lot of episodes from The Blacklist. Now, we are getting ready to the next part of our travels: Tbilisi and the beautiful nature of Georgia!

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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Meeting tons of people

Our days in Antalya were really lovely. The weather wasn’t great, but we managed to go running some days and we biked to the city center once. Antalya has a beautiful old city center, where many little shops are located next to the harbour. We also went for a couple of walks in between the showers and found out that this city is really modern and lively. Other than going out, we talked to Deniz and Ada a lot. We played games, had some nice dinners together and went to see Deniz’ parents. We definitely felt at home with them and really hope to see them again someday.

On the day we were supposed to leave for Isparta, the weather was suddenly really good and we decided to stay and go to the beach one more time. We even went swimming! The waves were very high and we loved being able to swim in the sea on December 16th. After lunch, we finally left Antalya and drove to the city of Isparta. The views over the mountains were amazing and we saw a lot of snow on the mountaintops. Once we arrived in the city, we tried to find the café where we were meeting one of the other volunteers. However, the streets were very busy and some of them were really narrow, so we parked the van in one of the bigger streets and walked to the café. It’s actually more like an apartment, where people come in every night to speak and learn English. We will be staying here for Christmas and New Year’s, so it was nice to meet the people that are also here during those days.

At the moment we were writing this blog, we had already spent three nights at the language café. We’ve met many people: students from all over Turkey, international students, English teachers and many other people that live in or around Isparta. Many of them visit the café every night, so it’s nice to see those familiar faces coming through the door. We usually just spend the night talking to all these people and playing many games. Once, we went out for drinks with some of them, which was a lot of fun. All in all, we like being here a lot and we think we could certainly stay here for a while.

Because there are so many volunteers and not enough bedrooms, we are sleeping in the van. We actually don’t really mind, as we really love to sleep in our own bed. During the days, we just walk around the streets and take it easy. On Wednesday, we went hiking to the nearest lake, together with two of the American volunteers. It was a lovely walk and we enjoyed being outside and in the sun. The next couple of days are going to be sunny as well, but from Sunday on, it’s going to be a lot colder. We really hope that we will be able to go skiing/snowboarding on Davras mountain anytime soon!

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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