An epic journey from Australia to Germany by car
  • Day248

    Border crossing Turkey to Bulgaria

    November 13, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    This border is a special one. We're entering the EU! After many months of traveling, with an Australian registered car and our new four-legged family member. We're prepared, but we're still kind of holding our breaths. Will everything go well with our car paperwork? Will we be able to buy a greencard (European car insurance)? Will they mind Bear?
    In order to calm our nerves (and tire out Bear), we take a prolonged lunch break at Edirne. The center of the town is pedestrians only and it has a lively markethall atmosphere to it. We have our last balik ekmek (fish sandwich) from the local fishmonger, stock up on veggies from a small market vendor, get some bread and some goodies for Bear from the butcher. Afterwards we enjoy a lovely stroll along the city's river, trying to animate Bear to run much more than we feel like. He's excited but mirrors our full bellies causing a certain type of after-lunch-laziness. Alright then, off we go.
    We reach the border around 3pm and pass the Turkish side within 5mins without getting out of the car and any type of customs check. Easy!
    After driving through an obligatory desinfection station and paying a fee for it on the Bulgarian side, there are a few cars lined up and we need to join the queue. Turning the engine off usually is Bear's cue to be able to get out, so of course, he wakes up. With both of us staying in our seats, he calms down again, but surely, no deep sleep anymore. Oh well...
    Once it's our turn, I have the pleasure of passing our documents to the nice border officer, as he, too, operates out of a window and neither of us has to get out of the car. Yet. The car registration is a bit frowned upon, but quickly accepted. The only problem is that we don't have an insurance yet, so the officer is going to keep our passports until we've purchased one at the exit gate. Fair enough. Customs control happens right afterwards, Tom needs to open up the back. I try to keep Bear busy and lying down, but the officer only takes a quick look, nods and waves us through. Deeeep exhale and off we go.
    Next is buying a vignette to be able to drive on Bulgaria's roads (only possible with cash, 8€ for seven days) and afterwards, we get the green card. The booth is located after the last gate, but we could park at the side of the booth while getting everything done. Again, payment is possible only in cash. There is an ATM close by but luckily we still have dollars that we can use. The greencard is $60 for one month.
    Tom takes the new paperwork back to the border officer who returns our passports and that's it. It just took one hour, we're back in the EU and Bear officially is an EU citizen as well.
    (PS: unfortunately no border pictures. I was too tense to remember 😜)
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  • Day234

    D915 - "D" as in death road

    October 30, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    It seems if you’re trying to find a nice road that is worth driving it in a Troopcarrier from now on we have to look for roads whose descriptions online include “death”. The D915 seems to be one of the few wild roads in Turkey. Maybe the only one. It was recommended to us by other Overlanders so we put it on our To-Drive-List straight away.
    The drive starts at the Black Sea heading South towards Bayburt. At first the road takes us through tiny mountain villages, built in such steep terrain that the hairpins that lead us through the towns already feel exciting.
    Once out of the villages the valley becomes tighter and finally closes. This is where the real climb begins. I think it’s good that you can’t really see the road from the bottom. Otherwise it might have been to intimidating. It must be the tightest switchbacks we have done so far.
    I even had to reverse a few times to get around the corners (which might also be a testament to my limited driving abilities).
    While the valley behind us is covered in clouds once we reach the top the landscape on the other side of the pass is reward enough for driving up there. The scarcely vegetated hills remind us somewhat of Scotland’s wild north. Here the dirt road ends and we are back on bitumen.
    We find a lovely camp spot with plenty of firewood a few kilometres further down the road and let the Mullah serenade us into our so far coldest night (-7C at 6am).

    Off to a great start Turkey!
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  • Day233

    Border crossing Georgia to Turkey

    October 29, 2019 in Georgia ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Border crossing here we come! We've spent so much time in Georgia, without crossing any border, that it almost feels like we forgot the drill. Not really, I guess, but having Bear with us doesn't make crossing a border easier. Or so we think.
    We reach the border at Sarpi after a nice little lunch break just a few hundred meters in front of the border on a deserted pebble beach. Once it's our turn to drive through the Georgian officer motions that I need to walk through the passengers' gate, while Tom and the dog can stay in the car and drive through. Nothing new so far. My passport is quickly stamped and I wait for Tom in No-man's-land, with several ladies approaching me, apparently wanting me to take cigarettes to the other side. No thank you, I'm worried enough as is.
    The Australian registration of the car isn't recognized at first and I watch Tom and Bear waiting in the car, while the chief officer (who had just refused a child leaving the country with its grandparents because they didn't have a passport for her) is being called to have a look at it. He gives his ok and Tom drives towards me.
    I'm eager to share the bureaucratic burden, and my name is in Bear's passport, hence I decide to take him with me through the pedestrian border control on the Turkish side. We split up, wish us luck and it's all "see you at the other side" (neither of us being sure we'll make it).
    There's quite a few escalators and long hallways and I'm a bit nervous Bear would do a wee here (he hasn't been inside of buildings much so far). So I carry him part of the way, but put him on the ground for my passport check and then customs. The customs officer has a look at Bear's passport, is happy he reacts to his name (phew), makes sure Bear wouldn't come too close (I guess he doesn't really like dogs) and waves us through. We made it!
    Now, Tom will have to make it, too, but I'm not too worried. It takes a bit more time but then Bear and I hear Hans's familiar motor roaring. Hurrah!
    Tom tells me that the passing through the Turkish side was super smooth, he had bought insurance already and only merely escaped being asked out for a date by the (female) border officer.
    Well, success at all fronts, Turkey here we come.
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  • Day230

    Vintage fest at Château Iveri

    October 26, 2019 in Georgia ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Is there anything better than unexpectedly being invited to a grape harvest party at a boutique winery that is currently setting up a great hotel in addition to their already beautiful restaurant?
    Tom and I can't really believe what just happened. We we're simply waiting for a light to turn green in Batumi's city traffic, when a well-dressed gentleman from the car next to us, asks us how we've been enjoying our visit to Georgia. He quickly establishes that he's a man with many hats: the dean of the local tourism faculty, the owner of a vineyard and one of the friendliest Georgian we've met so far. He and his son mention a vintage fest happening the next day, invite us to join and give us a business card to follow up with any questions.
    What a pleasant surprise! We don't have plans for the following day and it turns out that the vineyard is located in Adjara, an area we had wanted to visit for sure. There is no saying no to this opportunity (especially as they allow us to bring Bear along as well).
    Hence, Saturday we get up, dress a bit nicer than our usual travel wear, buy a bottle of cognac and some flowers (what do you take for such an occasion???) and make our way to Chateau Iveri.
    We have no clue what to expect and are eager to find out! A little detour later, we arrive. Dr. Beridze and his son Iveri welcome us and tell us to feel right at home straight away. Iveri gives us a quick tour, past the impressive open kitchen, ruled by his mother's firm (and very skilled as we're later to discover) hand, into the dining area that is beautifully decorated with Georgian cultural artefacts and in the end into the winery where 3-4000 tons of grapes a year are knowledgeably turned into wine. The weather is beautiful, more and more people arrive (all friends and family we learn) and then it starts: everyone is sent into the vineyard to harvest the grapes, accompanied by a traditional Georgian music band (to keep up the motivation, we're told). Oh what fun.
    The many hands master the task quickly and then it's time for lunch. A real Georgian "Supra" (feast) with a "tamada" (toastmaker), music, incredibly scrumptious food and plenty of Château Iveri's own wine, awaits us. The initial shyness at the table -certainly due to language difficulties- passes quickly. Good food, wine and great company can't be resisted and help to smooth over the edges. Tom and I are having a blast and can't believe how lucky we are. This is Georgian hospitality at its best. This is Georgia!
    After a few glasses of wine, mainly in honour of a new grandchild born to our table neighbours, I'm even brave enough to join the dancefloor. This party just couldn't have been any better.
    And just before I get too drunk, we pay our respect to the amazing hosts and make our way down to a nearby river campsite.
    If anyone travels to Georgia and happens to be close, make sure to visit Château Iveri, even if it's just for a glass of their delicious wine. You won't regret it!
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  • Day229

    The Black Sea

    October 25, 2019 in Georgia ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    To be honest, I haven't expected to ever be swimming -or visiting for that matter- the Black Sea. It simply hasn't been on my radar. But now, that we finally reach it, coming down from the mountains and having spent an awesome night in an old castle ruin, I am realizing how much I've missed the ocean.
    And while the Black Sea certainly can't compete with the strong waters lining Australia's East Coast, it doesn't have to.
    It's a crystal clear, calm water body, inviting us in for a swim, despite the cooler temperatures and it almost being winter. The rubbish on the beaches is a sad sign of just how much plastic ends up in these waters, too, but still.
    All in all, we're having a fantastic time camping at the beach and Bear LOVES the sand/smaller pebble stretches.
    Seeing dolphins the morning we depart was just the icing on the cake.
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  • Day228

    Svaneti region

    October 24, 2019 in Georgia ⋅ ☀️ 10 °C

    Most travellers reach the Svaneti region via Mestia, in the West. As you might have read in our previous posts, we came from the East, hence the first village we got to was Ushguli. The village is stunning! Most of the old stonehouses have been converted into guesthouses, but that doesn't harm the village's charme. Maybe, it even adds to it? I don't know.
    Upon arrival, we explore the tiny streets and have a delicious home cooked lunch. The prospect of bad weather (it's gotten windy and cold all of a sudden) urges us to go back to the car and find a suitable campspot. Apart from going back to the pass we came from, there are two options: following the road to Mestia or driving on a 4WD track towards the glacier.
    We decide for the latter and with Bear as third passenger we make our way back there. Luckily, the bad weather passes and we can enjoy the stunning scenery. No wonder this place is a hiker's paradise.
    A small fire (we're in a National park after all) keeps us warm in the evening and during the night I am yet again forever grateful for Zuzka's sleeping bag. It definitely dropped below 0°C.
    Bear's presence, however, is now fully taking over my thoughts and plans, leaving little room to think about the cole. Also, the next day, once the sun has reached us, Tom takes Martin for a bikeride instead of me and Sara, Bear and I just go for a short walk. I am jealous of the hikers traversing the valley in this glorious weather, but at the same time, I'm more than happy and content to simply be with Bear. At least we see the glacier from our campsite.
    As Bear can't do long hikes or rides yet, our activities in the Svaneti region are now limited. We still enjoy an afternoon in Mestia (a more established town than Ushguli and well equipped for the high number of travellers that make it their base for hiking), as well as another rest day in the glacier valley behind this town (yes, there is another one). Oh glorious mountains, you're simply stunningly beautiful.
    And while it's hard to leave Svaneti, we cherish every little bit of our journey down to the Black Sea, this time on the "proper" road.
    Do not miss this area when visiting Georgia!
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  • Day228

    Random observations in Georgia

    October 24, 2019 in Georgia ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    We staid in Georgia for 30days! The longest time we've spent in one country during this journey so far. Quite interesting, considering the country's size. But there is simply so much to do and see. If it didn't get cold, we could easily have staid longer, too, I think.
    Anyhow, spending this many days in one country, allowed us to dig a little deeper than usual. Here is a few observations we've made:

    There are thousands of stray dogs around. In touristy areas, they usually rely on the visitors for food and they're super used to humans and being loved. We've learned of several dogs that accompany hikers for the day, making their excursion even more fun (we had one of them, too). Big, small, bred dogs or mixes, they come in every color, shape and temperament. All of them had a big heart!
    In not so touristy areas the dogs were usually curious, but super shy as well. At one hostel we were told that the strays find it hard to survive the winter as all summer they were fed by tourists and in winter, there is simply not enough food to keep on sharing with them. Heartbreaking! Hence, it's great that there are several organizations and government initiatives working to control the population. Dogs that roam around freely, but are chipped in their ear, have been vaccinated and neutered, in order to prevent further reproduction. In general, the human population likes their strays, too, and mostly the dogs are well looked after. If only they had a home, too.

    The other omnipresent animal around are pigs. They mostly roam around freely, some have a wooden triangle around their neck, probably to keep them from entering fenced areas. Super cute!

    But not only animals can be seen. We've noticed a lot of properties have benches in front of their yards, and every so often neighbours meet here to sit together and have a chat. A tradition that should be practiced everywhere in my opinion. People connecting.

    When looking at those properties, I also noticed that very often there is a big house and a small house right next to it, featuring the same style. Is this modern multi generation families having found a way to live together? Or is it remnants of a wealthy family in the big house and their servants in the smaller one? I really can't tell and unfortunately we didn't get a chance to ask anyone, so this will remain a mystery.

    Georgians love to drink wine. Supposedly their winemaking goes back 8000years. Qvevri, the natural wine, would be a huge hit back in Australia! And not only big scale wine is sold on the market. As you don't need a special license to sell alcohol, homemade wine is sold on every corner. Almost every house has its own grapes growing in the yard. Fascinating!

    Georgia also features many many churches (most of them dedicated to their patron St. George or the female saint Nino). The churches or monasteries are usually picturesquely built on clifftops or next to water sources and are super beautiful to look at. Same applies to the castle/fortress ruins that are dotted along the countryside.

    But not only are there castle ruins. The Soviet era created massive buildings that are now unused and slowly decaying. Family houses have been left to rot as well. Was it too expensive to maintain? Or did the owners move to the city and simply couldn't sell it? Hard to tell, but I'd happily renovate some of these houses and move there in a heartbeat.

    In terms of traffic, many Georgians drive like maniacs. Seeing that many cars without a front bumper really wasn't surprising anymore after a few days of driving.

    Last but not least, here is an interesting fact concerning the Tusheti area only: as many sacred sites are built following either a male or female principle and it shouldn't be unbalanced, please don't be offended by "no women" signs. It's age-old tradition and not meant to annoy anyone. We didn't see the same anywhere else in Georgia, but being considerate when visiting any religious site is highly recommended anywhere in the world.
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  • Day228

    Camping in a castle - a princess tale?

    October 24, 2019 in Georgia ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    This must be one of the most extraordinary campspots on our trip.
    After saying goodbye to the mountains and a relaxed drive down, the Kudliks had found this spot for us. Originally heading for a closeby river (we're all drawn to water), they had been stopped by a border post who couldn't let them go further. The border post was right next to Rukhi Castle and we find the family parked next to a smaller river between the post and the ruins.
    Upon arrival, Martin quickly suggests to park inside the castle. A kind of narrow entrance gate leads into what might have been the marketplace, surrounded by the walls, just underneath the remnants of the old fortress. The pigs and cows grazing inside seem inviting and so we drive in.
    How beautiful this place is! Surprisingly, it stays quiet for the whole duration of our stay, no one minds us being inside and the cows, wild dogs and pigs remain pleasant company.
    Is this how the former inhabitants experienced their life here as well? It might have been utterly different, but we certainly feel like Kings and Queens for one night.
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  • Day225

    Bear

    October 21, 2019 in Georgia ⋅ ☀️ 8 °C

    Time to spill the beans.
    We adopted a dog. "Bear" decided to become a travelling dog in Ushguli. We had just returned from lunch in one of the guesthouses, when he showed up with two more adult dogs at our car. As rain and a thunderstorm were approaching, the Kudliks and we had actually planned to leave and find a nice campspot straight away, but Bear made Tom and me stay a little longer. What a cutie!
    When Tom finally convinced me to leave, he ran after the car. And that was it. I persuaded Tom to take him along to see how he would cope with vanlife. We would return to the same spot the next day anyways, so if worst came to worst, the dog would be returned and no harm was done. And Tom said yes!
    Poor Bear went through a bumpy 20min car ride (probably the first in his life) until we reached the Kudliks' campspot in the nice valley behind Ushguli. However, Martin got me so scared, mentioning Bear probably would have a home already, that Tom, Bear and I turned around again to go to the village and find his owner.
    But no one there knew him. Instead, the guesthouse owners encouraged us to take him along, one less stray on the road. Just in case, I left my number behind so that I could be contacted if someone missed him. 3hrs later, we returned to the campspot with the dog. Bear took the drive much better this time and simply snuggled up on my lap.
    From then onwards, he is simply the best puppy ever! He tells us if he has to go out at night, he walks on a lead, he doesn't mind driving, he hasn't chewed on anything he wasn't supposed to yet, he behaved awesomely at the vet and in the city and and and.
    Long story short, I think he chose us to be his family and I couldn't be happier! Thank you Bear for being part of our life now!
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  • Day223

    Goerdzi pass

    October 19, 2019 in Georgia ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Well, taking the direct route to Mestia is easy. So why not try and go up further East, via Lentheki and the Goerdzi pass?
    Thankfully friends of ours had done it just a week before and reported good conditions apart from muddy parts and a construction site at the end. The Kudliks and we are intrigued. We don't have our 4WDs for nothing, right?
    And the drive is beautiful! Slowly making our way up past tiny villages, the views are simply spectacular. You got to love autumn colors.
    But then, just a few kms before we reach the top, there is a huge construction site and mud everywhere. It looks like a landslide had come down not long ago. Water is still flowing down the road through 30cm deep mud over a stretch of about 200m uphill. Martin and Tom inspect the road and decide to go for it. After all, there is no turning back now and also plenty of construction workers around to help, right? Excavators are doing their best to flatten down fallen rocks from the landslide. 4WD, low range and diff lock activated Hans works his magic, guided by Tom's capable hand and feet and of course we make it through. Enough excitement for today though. Just after the site, we decide to camp on a grassy spot overlooking two valleys and shadowed by huge mountains. If it wasn't for the noise of the construction site and the prospect of even better camping in the Svaneti region, we could have staid for longer I dare to say.
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