Silke and Hauke

We are Silke (24) and Hauke (28) and this summer we left Germany for a cycling trip towards Asia. silke.grabhorn@web.de haukehinz@yahoo.de
Living in: Elsfleth, Deutschland

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  • Day84

    Our way south out of Baku along the blue shimmering Caspian Sea was in the sense of oil production. We passed countless kilometers of pipes, refineries and flames of the burning waste gases along the road. Yes, Azerbaijan is the land of fire!

    The lazy two of us reached the Qobustan National Reserve one hour before darkness so that we had to camp in front of the gate. The policemen promised to take care during the night against a small obolus. Somehow we had mixed feelings but in the end it was the right decision to stay.

    The next morning, the museum of the reserve turned out to be the best museum we've ever seen abroad - it was absolutely worth to make a slight detour to get there. We then climbed up the mountain behind the museum to see the prehistoric rock art of the people who had lived there at least 20,000 years ago. Not only the petroglyphs but also the bizarre rock formations are really fascinating.

    Leaving the reserve, we just tackled some of the famous mud volcanoes when a taxi driver insisted on taking us the 10km up to them because it would be impossible with bicycles and the wild dogs would bite us. We declined with thanks and an hour later we had climbed the volcano site, without any bite :)

    The funny noises of the bubbling mud which scared us easily with a fresh splash in the face, hardly made us to stop watching the
    moving mud. At sunset, we had the volcano all to ourselves and were again fascinated by the surreal landscape.
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  • Day82

    Baku is historical, Baku is fascinating, Baku is chaotic, Baku is delicious, Baku is developing fast, Baku is full of interesting people, Baku is vivid, Baku never sleeps, Baku is hilly, Baku is the "City of Winds", Baku is full of palaces (key word oil boom) - in short, Baku is an impressive metropolis.

    We stayed four nights at Nariman's place who is living with his cousin Nabi. From the balconies of his flat in the 19th floor we had great views over the city. During our stay we got to know more family members including four nephews and were kidding around with them while Nariman's mum and aunt prepared traditional food like Dolma, Kutab and Plow. As Nariman is doing some renovation work in his flat Hauke could help him with some electronic stuff, which led the two of them to do some shopping at a big bazar whilst Silke discovered the city on her own as she is not that much into electronic stuff...

    Another day, of course, we met our friend Tural again who is currently jumping from one radio or TV interview to another after more than 2 years on the road. Our day was really amazing, thanks again for everything Tural! Even for him strolling around the old town and the city center was quite interesting as some places had changed. We climbed the Maiden Tower, which had actually been the city's main landmark before the famous flame towers were built.

    As you can't pass a town in Azerbaijan without a park or monument which is dedicated to Heydar Aliev, you can not only find parks in Baku, but also the Heydar Aliev Center with its remarkable architecture. We saw different exhibitions varying from Azerbaijan history and culture over puppets to Chinese contemporary art - and a lot about "him" (which you can easily skip without remors if you don't want to spend a whole day). We also met some of Tural's friends, had a tea with Dimar and his son Murat and a great feast with former colleagues. This evening we should also learn that an Azerbaijani never drinks alcohol without a toast on something so that everybody took time to propose a toast. And never forget that the last toast of a night is always dedicated to the parents!

    To get rid of the hangover, the men joined early next morning to have some Khash: Heavy soup with cow feet, along with cow tongue and stomach as sides. Sounds disgusting, but helped.

    Entering the metro which is built so deep that it also serves as a bunker (and photographs are forbidden), reminded us of video scenes from the metro in Tokyo, solely there are no "pushers" (yet). There was no chance to enter, so we went up again, but going down there had been absolutely worth it just because of the beautiful mosaics in compliment to the famous poet Nisami. People in this region love poetry!
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  • Day78

    The hospitality continued by giving us more fruits and sweets and inviting us into a tea house. People even left no stones unturned to help us: A hotel owner himself runs off to buy a new battery, a computer expert is called to print a form (finally, Hauke ends up in his office and shows him how to print) and a reception lady puts perfume on Hauke at breakfast. Did he smell so bad? :)

    As the weather became pretty good again, we remembered ourselves why we had chosen the hilly, northern road through Azerbaijan. The landscape fascinated us while it changed from colorful forests to bleak but light green and suddenly we found ourselves within an arid environment which felt like a desert. To be correct, this area, in which the metropolis Baku is located as well, is a semidesert because it has slightly more vegetation than a desert.

    Not only the landscape, but also the road itself with its serpentines is remarkable. We don't remember how many times we climbed up to 900m and quickly dropped to 400m again.

    The acquaintance with the three speechless companions rounded out our first desertlike experience :)
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  • Day74

    Questionable border procedures, three days of rain, muddy showers from passing trucks and the clouds hanging so low that we could only see a few mountain peaks - our start into a new country could have been better.

    However, people immediately took much care of us when we arrived totally soaked through and dirty in a motel or hotel. Maybe because we're looking so pitiful?

    Apropos pity, 'Piti' would not become our favorite Azerbaijan dish. Fatty lamb meat cooked with chick peas in a soup stock in a large mug simply wasn't ours. At least we learned how to eat it in two courses. And the dining room had a cosy fireplace where we could heat up.

    It can hardly be overseen that national pride and Heydar Aliev are omnipresent in Azerbaijan: Giant flagpoles, all sizes of flags, houses in national colors, oversized placards of and streets, parks, buildings and companies named after 'him'.

    Although the border control felt a bit like chicanery (from one gate to another, paperwork here and there, panniers off and on and a 'Good Luck' in the end), we still feel welcome in this country. We earn "Salam, salam!" from all sides, children with their mothers are waving, smiling and practicing their English with us or following us on their mountain bikes. Some people stop by and give us fruits, nuts and sweets and are curious. And others rip us off when we're buying pomegranates. Which was actually the first time on our trip, we believe :)
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  • Day71

    Nana & Vazha made us a truly warm welcome in Lagodekhi with coffee, bread and cheese by their fireplace. They have a beautiful house, surrounded by a garden full of vine stocks, pomegranate and persimmon trees. Each year they pick three tons of grapes, from which Vazha turns one ton into vine for their personal use.

    Pretty quickly during our conversations, we decided to stay a day longer to explore the Lagodekhi National Reserve, Vazha had been working for 28 years as a director, by foot. Our 1-day-hike to the Black Grouse waterfall whetted our appetite for more hiking in this area.

    Nana prepared us super delicious Georgian meals and, not to forget, without Vazha's experience and help, our trip would have ended in Lagodekhi for the moment when the axis of Hauke's front wheel broke during a minor repair - true to the motto "Don't push too hard (Nach fest kommt ab)". According to Murphy's Law, we didn't carry a spare part, so Vazha and Hauke drove around the town to find something they could use - and luckily, in a small hobbyist workshop, they found a suitable shaft - a bit bent and rusty, but better than nothing! And after almost 500km, it still works :)

    Our last two evenings in Georgia were really cosy, sitting together by the fireplace, chatting (two other travelers from Poland arrived in the Guesthouse as well), drinking homemade wine and reading.

    For sure, one day we'll visit this beautiful country again solely because of the people's kindness, the beautiful mountains and the delicious food!
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  • Day69

    Endless offerings of grapes, grape juice, churchkhela and wine along the road through colorful mountain slopes resolved all doubts that Kakheti is a true wine-growing region. So we ended up camping between vine stocks and enjoyed the silence a day ride away from metropolitan loudness.

    We found out that traveling on the main roads by bike increases the chances to run across people we met before, so did Julia & Pierre stop by when they saw us. As for the climb up to Signaghi we needed more time than expected we didn't make it to meet up again with these lovely guys.

    However, the ascent was absolutely worth it as Signaghi provides stunning views over the surrounding valley and the Great Caucasus. The town itself is very well restored and quite touristy with plenty of guesthouses and restaurants.

    Unsurprisingly, we found ourselves within a group of Russian tourists and tried our best to keep up with drinking homemade wine and dancing the Georgian style to Georgian live music.
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  • Day66

    Entering Tbilisi had been quite a challenge for us as the traffic became just crazy with 6 lanes in one direction used by 8 cars, and us on our bikes far-right. But, with great self-confidence, we made our way and enjoyed to pass any jammed car.

    Our first stop was the bicycle monument and we were wondering which sense it makes in Tbilisi because we didn't see any other cyclist and the only other people stopping by were tourists jumping off the sightseeing buses, taking pictures and jumping back on the bus. We also saw lots of new cycle racks nobody uses, but at least there is one bicycle lane in one of the streets. Beka later told us that Saakashvili, a former president of Georgia, is a cycling fan.

    During our time in the city, we realized that almost everybody wants to drive a car, although modern buses and cable cars are going everywhere - the air quality says hello. On the other hand, we found the city to be remarkably clean and groomed, with nice green parks and gardens - despite there is a lot of construction work going on at the moment.

    We stayed at Beka's place for 4 nights. He is a great host, a real sportsman and chances are not too bad that we meet up again in Iran, the destination for his next cycling trip.
    Speaking of Iran, after two visits to the Iranian embassy in Tbilisi, we finally got our visas from the helpful staff! In the meantime we used our days in Tbilisi very well to explore the city by foot, bus and cable car and found it definitely worth to discover the surrounding hills and as the weather was pretty good from there we obtained beautiful views over the city. Back in the valley, the old town distributed a special flair while we were tripping over broken pathways, inhaling the smell of bed eggs near the historical sulphur baths and watching the bustle.

    Cheers from Oguz in Azerbaijan! :-)
    Silke & Hauke
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  • Day63

    Looking forward to our reunion with Tural in Gori, we speeded up and chose to cycle on the motorway for the first time. Moreover, we're not yet in the mood again to go slalom on the bumpy side roads.

    In Gori, which is actually Stalin's birthplace, we met Tural in the lovely Nitsa Guesthouse, had a Georgian feast together and admired the daughter of the house playing the piano. What a great host family! We decided not to visit the Stalin museum as it is said to not review the history in a proper critic reflective way. However, at least the giant Stalin statue has been removed. Or as a French guest commented on the Stalin cult 'What an impression would a Hitler-statue in Germany make?'.

    Next day, the three of us hit the road towards Tbilisi and cycled together until we split up at Mtskheta as Tural wanted to meet another friend and we decided to pay a visit to Mtskheta. Contrary to Gori, we found this city to be in a better shape, but significantly more touristy. However, the cathedral is quite impressing and we could practice our Russian with a nice Georgian granny in our guesthouse.

    In the meantime we've left Tbilisi behind us and are having a lunch break in a roadside family kitchen. The border with Azerbaijan is getting closer. Pictures of Tbilisi will follow...
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  • Day61

    After a few "what the hell are we doing here?"-moments, we found cycling through this gorgeous landscape to be worth any effort, with all the colors, valleys, creeks and waterfalls, the snow, sun and clouds, the coldness and warmth. We definitely want to come back one day to hike to the more remote Adjarian villages hidden in the mountains.

    It's been easy to find great camp spots next to a river, especially the beautiful Kura river makes you thinking about pitching the tent every few kilometers.

    Back on asphalt after more than 50km on difficult terrain, we came to appreciate smooth roads like never before.

    Another anecdote: Silke needs to speed up buying groceries if she doesn't want Hauke to cycle slalom behind - in Borjomi (which is actually famous for its healthy waters), there was enough time to get invited for three shots of vodka and some sausages, Gagimardschos!
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  • Day58

    Our first thought when leaving shimmering Batumi: 'Let the adventure begin!' We encountered cows, pigs and horses in the city and on the roads, black exhaust clouds, overstuffed crammed vans passing by, tobacco, vine and khaki fruits in the trees, kids racing against us with their bike and lots of warm smiles!

    We came to the Dandalo medieval bridge, set up our tent and joined a campfire with two Georgian and two Saudi Arabian guys, enjoying Arabic coffee, Caj, Tamr (dates from Saudi Arabia) and a pile of lamb meat - thanks for the invitation Nasser, hopefully you enjoyed the snow and the mountains!

    Climbing on, we came to Khulo where we were received by an old man on the road, hugging us, talking, screaming, laughing and following us into a café - apparently not even the locals understood what he was saying. But did this crazy man have a presentment?

    After that, a Belgian guy who plans to open a hostel in Khulo told us the road would become worse - and what happened not even 3km further? A big bang from Haukes rear wheel and not only the inner tube but also the tyre bursted. We fixed it and continued, as the road continued to become worse and steeper. Time to set up our tent! We decided to start early the next day to master the last 25km to the pass (1300m in height to go, >5% average climb) to have an extended lunch break in the sun with stunning views from the top. However, the road conditions became a nightmare and it took us more than six hours to get to the top, completely exhausted but super proud!

    Everything in Goderdzi seemed closed down because the hiking season is over and the skiing season would start in December, but luckily, a little hotel was open and we could get any room we wanted. When we entered the restaurant it still felt like the hotel was just open for us but an hour later, Julia, Pierre and Michelle from Russia and France came in and it started to fill up with Georgians drinking and singing their songs - what a great atmosphere on the summit, surrounded by clouds.
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  • Day56

    A cabin with seaview, three meals a day, sunshine, an endless sea and a freight ship called 'Drujba' (means friendship), what did we want more? Well, there was more: At the port of Burgas we met Tural from Azerbaijan who has been cycling all around the world and whose contact we received from Bojan in Negotin. We shared a cabin, of course, and his stories are just amazing. We experienced the crazy truck drivers acting out a solid drinking culture and participated by investing the rest of our Bulgarian money in beer, longdrinks and Schnaps. Gagimardschos!

    Several cute, playful dolphins were guiding us and the beautiful skyline of Batumi with the majestic Caucasus Mountains behind welcomed us to Georgia.

    Heavy spasms in both legs after almost one week without cycling? Hauke almost had to call a taxi for the 3km from the ship to the hostel, but we made it. After quickly checking in our room, we saw the three of us heading towards the next Georgian restaurant with a thrill of anticipation. To say it with Turals words: "This is the moment I've been waiting for more than two years!" (Although he could have gone directly from Azerbaijan to Georgia instead of round the world.) But since we tried our first Khinkali with him we absolutely understand his feelings about this delicious, delicious Georgian specialty, jammy! Combined with Georgian wine and Chacha, even better.

    Batumi looks really impressing and has obviously done a lot for tourists with a well maintained, palm-lined promenade, casinos, clubs and hotels but we were eager to discover the real Georgia and left the next morning to climb the Caucasus Mountains.

    We said goodbye to Tural who would chose a more straight forward route on his way home and promised to meet in Gori, Tbilisi and in his hometown Baku, for sure. See you there, then!
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  • Day53

    With directions from our insider Jaap we felt confident to cross the upcoming range of hills and reach the Black Sea within a few days.

    Cycling along little-used roads through beautiful landscape during a seemingly never ending gypsy summer, we've developed more and more love for this country and its people.

    However, the village of Sungurlare ought to dampen our mood as we found ourselves within reams of garbage surrounding this village. We've already seen and documented a lot of trash along the roads and within the fields in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria but this beats everything so far on our journey - the picture below is just a small snippet. Of course, there are reasons and attempts to explain this mess and we understand that people are working hard and fighting for their daily bread to survive - but what gives people the right to treat our environment like this, no matter how their living conditions look like? We're wondering what we can do about it on our journey to make at least a tiny little change...

    With slightly more than 3000km on our clock we've reached the Black Sea in Burgas. After spending two relaxing days on the beach, today, we're going to jump on a freight ship which will take us to Batumi in Georgia within three nights. We've refused our plan to cycle through Turkey as the Eastern highlands have already seen frost and snow - hardly imaginable how it would look like if we would get there in more than a month :)

    However, we're super excited to get the chance to explore Georgia!
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