Bye bye farm!

At this very moment, we are getting ready to leave the farm we have been working on. This afternoon, we will try to find a winery that is open to visitors, but then we will head back to Tbilisi. We actually wanted to drive through the mountains and pay a visit to Telavi, the biggest city in the Kakheti region. However, a part of Tamara’s tooth came off yesterday, so she made an emergency appointment with a dentist in Tbilisi, which gave us no time to wander around this region any longer. Moreover, Sparta has an appointment with the vet on Saturday and we desperately need to find a good mechanic for the car. So, back to the city!

The last week has been pretty challenging. Temperatures are around 30 degrees during the day; at 8 o’clock it’s already too hot to have breakfast in the sun. We tried to start working as early as possible, but plans usually changed overnight, so we couldn’t start before we had been instructed. We planted many tomatoes over the last few days and yesterday we finished off with a field full of kale. Although it’s actually a little late in the season to plant vegetables, we really hope they will survive and grow into delicious crops!

Yesterday night, we had our goodbye barbecue. We have been here together with a Malaysian couple and their daughter and with a French couple and their daughter. Our German host bought some meat, we brought in a bottle of wine and the puppies were all playing around the fire. It was a lovely evening and a good way to complete our work here. Now, the final goal is to get Tiny out of this place, because we are parked in the middle of the hilly farmland!

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!

 

Moving on to our new Workaway in Gudauri

Last Thursday, after we had safely driven down from the dog shelter, we went to another mechanic. We’ll spare you all the details, but on Friday we were finally sure that we were able to make it to our next Workaway in Gudauri. We still had some days before we had to be there, so we decided to spend our time in Tbilisi. We booked a room for two nights and settled in before heading downtown.

It was Friday night and we had left Sparta in his box. Yay, dinner for two without being disturbed by our little man! We first wandered through the old town and then found a place to eat. We had been willing to try the real Georgian kinkhali for a while and we ordered two of each sort. They look like Chinese dumplings, but are bigger and filled with all sorts of things: cheese, meat, mushrooms, herbs… They were joined by a bottle of Georgian wine (Kindsmarauli) and a ceasar salad and we really loved them! Also, we definitely needed some time together.

The next morning, we took it easy and went back to the city center around eleven. This time, Sparta came with us, which resulted in a lot of walking and doing tricks with him. Fortunately, the weather was awesome and we could have a coffee on a cute terrace, followed by a kachapouri (bread with cheese) on a bench in front of the clock tower. We paid a visit to the post office and then took a taxi back to our hotel. We were exhausted! The rest of the day we spent relaxing in our room and cooking our own dinner. We were totally ready for a new adventure!

On Sunday morning, we left Tbilisi to drive to Ananuri to visit its monastery. It took us only one hour to get there, so we had a lot of time to explore the monastery. Unfortunately, it was very small and even though it had an amazing view, we were quickly done. Thus, together with Sparta, we walked around the village for a while and then sat down for a homemade coffee. At night, we cooked our own dinner again. Cooking in the van is always nice when it’s getting colder outside, because it will raise the inside temperature. Besides, we really enjoy our cozy and quiet nights in our Tiny home!

When we woke up on Monday morning, we got really excited about the next part of our drive to Gudauri. We were going up in elevation, so we were getting back to the snow! The side streets were all impossible to drive, so we only stopped when we arrived in the place where we were going to spend the next few weeks. Gudauri is the biggest ski resort in Georgia, so we found many restaurants, hotels and rental shops. We warmed ourselves inside a modern bistro and then found a place to spend the night. It was a parking next to the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument, built in 1983. There was a lot of snow around the monument, so we had some fun playing in the snow and taking photos. It was going to be cold during the night, which meant that we had to boil water for Sparta again!

During the night, a lot of snow had fallen. We wanted to go back to Gudauri, so we had to drive through the 15 cm snow that was still lying on the parking area. After some coffee and a slow breakfast, we took our chances. It was tricky to get up the hill and back to the road, but after four tries Tamara managed to get the car on the asphalt. Hooray! Carefully, we drove back to the ski resort and parked the car in between the many cars that had arrived that morning.

So, after getting to know the place and some of the staff, we definitely think we are going to like it here. Our job is to speak English to the staff of a restaurant that is situated right under the main ski lift. We sleep in the van, because they are short on beds, but we actually don’t mind not staying in the crowded staff rooms. We managed to get an electricity cable to the van, which means that we can plug in our heater and we will definitely not be cold! Yesterday we already went skiing/boarding and many of the pistes are very good, although some of them need a little more snow. The sun is shining, we can be outside most of the day and we can play in the snow. What else would we want?

 

Around Tbilisi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Turkish hairdressers, a lot of mechanics and visiting Konya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Winter in Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next: Konya, Cappadocia and the Black Sea!

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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!

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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