So, like Erik wrote, the rest of Turkey was kind of boring. I had hoped that our few days there would ease us into the real trip, allowing us to land and relax, but it didn’t.
Georgia however is everything I hoped for so far, and more. And it started at the border by meeting the first other biker Rasti from Slovakia. But the first perfect day of this trip was 28 May: our journey from Batumi to Vardzia. It was our first really beautiful road, including our first stretch of about 70 km off-road (or actually unpaved road) with water crossings and muddy patches. We even saw some snow!
Here we used what we learned in our training sessions in Holland. We thought of you, Albert, Werner and Bert. Thank you, we used what we learned!
Adjusting our handle bars for the off-road stretch:
23 degrees Celsius and snow:
The road we traveled:
Repairing some minor damage:
Lunch with Elena and Jean:
After the second water crossing, right when we felt hungry and thirsty, we found this great little shed where an old guy served us some BBQ skewer, salad and lemonade. Here “overlanders” Elena and Jean, our 4×4 driving friends from Luxembourg, joined us for this well-deserved lunch. We would see Elena and Jean several times after that and probably will later on as well. Funny to share this adventure with other travelers.
To complete the perfect day, we also mixed in visits to some sites (waterfall, fortress, monastery) and finished sleeping in the open air, trying out our sleeping bag and air mattress. All in one day.
My bed for tonight:
And the view from my bed:
I was hoping to get these experiences during this trip, and there they all were!
Of course, the next day couldn’t be perfect. That would be boring…
So, after my GPS broke down, now my intercom set stopped working and my iPhone fell, breaking the screen.
And it rained.
It came pouring down the whole day, soaking us through and through. Everything was wet. But I guess that is part of the deal too. We were happy to find a nice little hotel in Gori, Stalin’s birth town, where we could dry, having a warm shower and sleep.
We are in Georgia now. This country is a pleasant surprise – I did not have any clear expectations. I am not a “Wie is de Mol” watcher (for you non-Dutchies, this is a popular Dutch television show, the last season has been recorded in Georgia) but I caught a few glimpses and saw some beautiful landscapes on TV. But before I tell you more about Georgia, what about Turkey you say? Well, to be honest, there is not much to tell. This visit to Turkey won’t make a lasting impression like my one from 10 years ago. We went to Safranbolu, which was nice, and then to Amasra, which was also nice. Small fishing town, great weather, nice views. We picked a hotel, did some luggage rearranging, strolled around the town and harbour, had some dinner and read a bit. Slowly we are winding down. But the towns are quiet, because of Ramadan (or Ramazan as the Turks call it). Only after 8.15 there is a bit of life on the streets.
After Amasra we went on the D010 which we had been looking forward to, a great stretch of road along the Black Sea coast to Sinop. Curves, twists, hills, great views, no traffic, a perfect road. Until about 50k before Sinop, where we hit asphalt that was so fresh, it sprayed everywhere. We then spent 2 hours cleaning the tar of our bikes, it got in places that I did not even know existed. But it set the tone for the rest of the Black Sea coast. The D010 turned into a dull highway that stretches almost 700 km from Sinop all the way to the border. We wanted to see Sumela Monastery, close to Trabzon but that turned out to be closed. One year of renovation turned into three and the opening date keeps being pushed. So this is as close as we got:
But at least the road up to the monastery was very pretty. One fortunate decision we took was that we skipped the loop we planned to do from Bayburt to Of (the D915). It turned out there had been a landslide and the road was blocked. And I am not sure my off-road skills would be sufficient yet for this kind of road, or track. So what followed was another day of boring D010 until the Georgian border, which we reached at about 17:00.
There we met Rasti again, who we had seen on the highway in Bulgaria. Rasti (short for Rastislav) is a Slovak who is on a trip through Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. We went through the border together (another painless exercise), and I was struck by a completely different atmosphere than in Turkey. People look different, much more “European”, incredibly lively compared to the Ramadan-quietness of Turkey. As our insurance green cards are no longer valid, we need to buy liability (WA) insurance in the country itself. The nice lady at the border gave us a folder and pointed us to an office where we could buy insurance. But at that office they pointed us to another office (oh, it’s just 3 km, opposite the gas station). And there to another one (oh, it’s just 400m on the left). We spent the next hour looking for insurance, while darkness set in. Fortunately Rasti speaks a few words of Russian, which helps a lot. My vocabulary is limited to hi, hello and thank you. And while we were looking for insurance, we got a text message that the place we booked to sleep had no water, which meant we had nowhere to stay. So after we finally bought our insurance we followed Rasti to his hotel in Batumi, where we were able to stay the night. We ended up having some beers with Rasti and had a good time.
Batumi is the second-largest city in Georgia, a seaside resort, and has a nice atmosphere. It it called Las Vegas at the Black Sea – when Mikheil Saakashvili (the one with the Dutch wife) was president he attracted a lot of foreign investors, so there are huge glass and mirror towers of the Hilton, Sheraton, Wyndham, and lots of casino’s.
We spent a day not driving, relaxing, giving my leg some rest and walked through the park, along the beach, looked at the harbour, had a drink, read a book and wondered about the strange alphabet the Georgians have. It reminds me of Greek but I cannot make heads or tails from it. Cyrillic is easy compared to this.
The next morning we left for Vardzia. This is a huge cave monastery complex in the middle of Georgia, with caves created in the early 12th century by Christians and later. We had planned a nice route to there, just 240kms, over the Goderdzi pass, with a peak of 2000m. Well, I am happy to say that our off-road training paid off. After a few km’s the asphalt gave way to more potholes, and at some point it was just gravel and stones. But we actually had no problems, we encountered a bit of mud, sand and a few river crossings. We got though it without issues, and it’s actually fun. Just stand up and let the bike dance over the terrain, nothing to it. The landscape is stunning, it is so pretty here.
On that way met a nice couple from Luxembourg in their Landrover Defender, also on their way to Mongolia though the Pamirs. I’m sure we will bump into each other many times.
When we arrived in Vardzia, we looked at the available hotel selection and decided to test out our camping gear. So we spent the night at a camping at the river.
You see the Vardzia cave city in the background in the rocks.
Before leaving Safranbolu we had another stroll through the ancient city center and had a great cup of Turkish coffee. I am sure that in high season the little square where we sat down would be a tourist trap, but for me, on this first relaxed morning in Turkey it was just perfect. The terrace looked like a postcard, very authentic (so for sure a tourist trap) and the coffee was made on an open fire. It was served with a glass of cherry juice and some mint water. Excellent.
We left for Amasra, another ancient city on the Silk Road. It was only a 90 minutes’ drive through the mountains before we arrived at the Black Sea. In Amasra we chose the nicest hotel we could find so that we could really relax and enjoy this first rest after 5 days of non-stop riding.
We had a nice light lunch at the sea side and in the evening some fish and salad in the same restaurant. Our hotel did not serve any beer because of Ramadan, but we found a beach bar which did.
The next day our plan was to have a nice and quiet ride along the coast to Sinop. We had read that the road would be beautiful and the trip would take us only 4 hours. Little did we know….
It all started out well, we were in no hurry and stopped after an hour or so in a small village to get a tea and talk to some locals who came out to see our bikes.
The route was beautiful and windy along the coast, passing cliffs and small villages
But then the roadworks started. They had just finished laying the asphalt, and it was still wet.
It took no more that 500 yards to get our bikes as black as the road itself.
The tar had spat everywhere. Our number plates had just become black squares, the panniers were full of black spots and the rest of the motorbike was covered in a thick layer of black dripping tar.
We wanted to clean this as quickly as possible before it all dried up and would be too hard to get rid of. It took us the next 2 hours to get the majority off. At the end we were sweating and hungry, and the petrol station where we were only sold ice cream.
After this cleaning session we did not feel like continuing to Sinop anymore. We found a small town with a cheap hotel, where the warm water did not work, as we noticed when we wanted to scrub off the tar from ourselves.
But they had beer, and we finished the day with a well-deserved Ramadan menu at a tiny restaurant where the whole family who owned the place served us while having their own Ramadan diner.
The next morning, we got up early, took a cold shower again and got on our bikes. This would be a boring and long trip to Trabzon. But the road was new and quick. Without delays we arrived in Trabzon where there was again no beer. And this time we couldn’t find any nearby either. So we worked a bit on our planning for the next days, our GPS and on our movies and turned in.
Today we will leave Turkey and get to Georgia. Looking forward to the wine….
So we’ve been on the road for a few days now. So far we’ve stuck to the plan; highways until past Istanbul and then slow down. I know the previous post said we’ll take it easy, for us this meant sticking to the highways and speed limit. Our plan is to leave Europe quickly and then slow down. We’ve probably established a new record though: Amsterdam – Safranbolu in 4.5 days. We both feel we have to make up for lost time because of our late start, and it’s hard to get it out of our heads. And we both know it’s nonsense, we’ve got plenty of time and it’s about the journey and not the destination. But still, I guess it’s how the mind works. We need some time to land and get used to the idea that we are going to take it day by day, meter by meter.
On the more practical side, things are ok. The leg is fine, it will be an ugly scar but it seems to heal just fine. The bikes are running like clockwork, and I’m getting used to the vibrations and peculiarities of the bike. What I thought were strange noises and weird behaviors feel normal to me now. I’m happy we have the same bike, even our fuel consumption is identical to the liter. So acceleration, range and cruising speed is the same. And the bike is heavy. I have a luggage pack on my buddy seat, which means that I cannot mount my bike normally. Even when the bike is on the jiffy (that’s the side stand for non riders) I have to get on the footpegs to get my foot over the luggage pack on the bike. I think Paul has a video where you can see me in full grace.
We’ve crossed Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and are now in Turkey. We’ve spent the nights in smaller places, and not the larger cities like Frankfurt, Budapest, Sofia or Istanbul. Instead, we slept in Idstein, Györ, Nis and Silivri. Look it up on the map if you want to know where these places are. On those long-distance days, all we need is a dinner, beer and a bed. The beer turns out to be a challenge at times, since it’s Ramadan in the Muslim world.
The border crossings were more or less painless, the Hungarian-Serbian one took the longest, about 2 hours. I had a scare when I pulled up my car registration instead of my motorcycle registration, apparently I forgot to leave the car registration at home. One second (well, maybe 15 minutes and 2 panic phone calls) long I thought I left the wrong registration at home, but I have both with me. Well, better than the other way around. The Turkish border crossing was very easy at Edirne, in an and out in about 30 minutes. We had the visa and papers prepared, and whizzed just through.
I’m glad I’m not a truck driver trying to get into or out of Turkey. The queue at the border is 20km!! long, it was said that the waiting time is about 2 weeks. We drove alongside the queue, and it is just incredible. All these trucks!
We’re in Safranbolu now, a UNESCO heritage site. Both Paul and I have a strong deja vu – Berat in Albania looks just like Safranbolu. If you don’t believe it, just compare the pictures below.
This is Safranbolu:
And this is Berat.
Well, not quite but you get the idea.
It’s a pretty place.
Paul is working hard to edit the GoPro footage we made, to give you a visual impression of the past few days. I’m just using words for now.
Tomorrow we are going to look at some sights here, and have just a short drive to Amasra, our next stop.
And we’re off! The infection in my leg is almost gone, and the doctors in the hospital gave me the green light to take off. I need to take care of the wound obviously, keep it clean and protected but at least we can start driving. So the next few days we’ll take it easy, just German and Austrian highways with plenty of stops.
I’m feeling like Elon Musk, but not in a good way. It’s like the launch of the Falcon Heavy that has to be postponed due to the weather. My leg, which I hurt 2 weeks ago and required stitches, has become infected during the off-road training. It was an active and useful day and I forgot all about the wound, and stuff has gotten in. Although I have been taking antibiotics and they are working well, the infection is not fully gone and the doctors won’t let me leave just yet.
We have been preparing to leave for a long time now, and it’s frustrating to sit and wait. But on the other hand, leaving now would be foolish and I don’t want to have to spend time in strange hospitals being treated by doctors I don’t understand. We had a look at our planning and there is no impact, we don’t really have dates anywhere that are in danger by leaving a few days later.
So I will keep you posted – at least we have time to work on our video editing skills 🙂
Everything is packed, the to do list is done, we are ready! This week I bought a new motor suit and boots, and my saddle problem has been perfectly solved by Tijger Leathers. Thank you Remco!
So, today is Monday 14 May. The initial plan was to leave yesterday, on Sunday the 13th. But Erik’s doctor wanted to see his leg once more, before the big trip.
Erik had an unfortunate fall during sport and hurt his leg 2 weeks ago. He now has 8 stitches on his left shin, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but last Monday we had our third and last off-road training and his leg got infected.
He is now on antibiotics and his leg is swollen and does not look really pretty. I won’t post any photo….
The good thing is that it gave me an extra day to play around with my GoPro trying to make my first video. Hell, that is tough. First selecting the right clips, adding music, making it interesting, special effects, colouring, rendering, etc, etc.
Here is the first result and yes, I know, I am not there yet, but time is up. We have to pack and leave now.
So, enjoy our first video of day 2 and 3 of our off road courses. Great two days by the way at BERRT. I advise everyone to do it. Thanks Werner and Bert!
Hopefully the videos will get better once we hit the more interesting parts of this world.