Thursday, July 16, 2015

Trabzon, final destination

Yesterday we reached Trabzon via the coastal route from Batumi, Georgia. The only reason why we returned into Turkey after Georgia is that we have an air ticket to Amsterdam from here. Maybe this had been different with a better planning in advance :-) .
Trabzon is a city of app. 250.000 and very crowded in the centre area. We have a nice room with our own balcony overlooking the port and with a view on the planes landing and taking off from the local (our) airport.
Today is the last day of ramazan. Although we were informed otherwise ramazan is very well notable in this city. Many facilities closed, difficult to find a coffee or sandwich before 20.00 hrs. But tomorrow this will be over, fortunately, pffff. Also to our surprise there are many women completely covered in black (burqa, niqab). We were told that the coastal area would be more modern, but this does apparently not apply to the complete population.

For those who are interested in the stats of this trip:
In two months we did 2800 kms through Greece, entire Turkey, into Georgia and back into Turkey. Both Turkey and Georgia are very mountainous countries, so altogether we climbed more than 23000 meters. This made it sometimes a tough tour, but also a very rewarding one. Especially the eastern-Anatolian high plains with their abundance of flowers and the mountain passes between 2000 and 2550 altitude were beautiful and made a deep impression on us. Not to mention our awfully nice encounters with the Turks themselves.
We feel very satisfied with this trip, again we feel priviliged to have had such wonderful experiences.

View from our room

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Batumi, completely different

Tbilisi was the farthest east we went during this trip. A nice terminus for us. As we have some more days and our flight back to NL is from Trabzon we travelled back to the Black Sea coast by bus yesterday. A 7-hour trip it was, but the Metro-buses are big and comfortable and there is even a bit catering on board. Our bikes were in the cargo-hold beneath, I only had to take the front wheels out.

We were so surprised when we rode into Batumi town yesterday afternoon. We are used to scruffy streets, paintless ramshackle houses, dirt and dust, but nothing at all of that. The old town is spotless. Clean, everything beautifully restored, romantic streets, a historic centre that can compete with any western-European one. Batumi has been a seaside resort for more then a century and the boulevard area is magnificent. Then there is some beautiful architecture and some, rather silly, skyscrapers. This town is a complete contrast with all the other towns in Georgia we visited. It is the capital of an independent republic within Georgia, we later heard. We saw the parliament building. Maybe this fact, and the revenues of its long history as a seaside resort, result in this totally surprising shining place.

Friday, July 10, 2015

In Tbilisi

In 4 stages we made it to Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. Our impression of the country is one of rather much poverty. Compared to Turkey it is obvious that the Turks have done much better in recent times: roads are better there, cars newer, houses better. It's easy to imagine that the geographic location of Georgia, it's rather isolated site, it's small size, it's communist past and still the continuous threat of Russia in the north are factors that cause the current situation. Don't forget that Russia is still occupying part of Georgia, a comparison with what is happening now in Ukraine is easily made.
In the mean time we have learned to get along with the Georgians very well. We are now staying in a small agreeable hotel in a quarter of small streets, with a bit of a scruffy market and lots of little shops. A huge room, ensuite actually. Staff is friendly and service fine. Yesterday they did their very best to help me get our bus trip to Batumi organized and when all of that was finished we were presented a one liter pitcher of home made wine.(Every Georgian makes his own wine it seems).
In some parts of this city you feel like in a European city. In “Old town” there are some little streets with only restaurants, terraces and bars. Very touristic, but nice. Prices are twice the prices we had to pay elsewhere in the country. Some main streets even have 'grandeur'. But as soon as you look into a side street you will see unpaved roads, disrepair, dirt, dust, ramshackle houses. The majority of cars is very old, obviously used cars from all parts of the world are imported, a striking number of them has the steering wheel on the right hand side. There are a huge number of those very small shops, on the pavement you will stumble over people selling all kind of small things and there is a great number of beggars. Most repulsive is the mothers who are sitting on the pavement and who have trained their little toddlers to beg agressively, clinging to passers-by and even hitting them if they don't get something. Seeing that I feel like hitting the mother in the face and holding them responsible for ruining their children this way.
But this all belongs to cities like this one. For countries like Georgia there is still a long way to go economically, politically and culturally and my hope is that it will be given the opportunity to do so. You learn a lot from travelling. Here and now I realize again how lucky we are to be citizens of a West-European country. Wish at home more people would be aware of that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


On our way out of the valley from Borjomi to Gori we stopped for a nescafé. It was still early and three men were sitting on the same terrace having breakfast. One of them came up to us and asked about our journey and the bikes. He appeared to be a Brit who worked on the finalization of a pipeline from the oil fields in Azerbeidzjan, through Georgia and Turkey to the Mediterenean. “A huge strategic project”, he said, which is true obviously.
Then I asked him about the Iranian oil-trucks that we saw hoisting themselves up over these high mountain passes from Turkey into Georgia, did he know more about them? As a matter of fact I thought it was a means of avoiding the Iran oil boycot, and that the Turkish and Georgian governments co-operated in that. But according to the Brit it is worse than that. His answer came quick and without hesitatian: “Isis-oil. Everybody knows, nobody does anything about it.” According to him the trucks come from the areas in Iraque that are under Isis occupation, and they take the oil through Syria and Turkey into Georgia. But, was my remark, the Turks and..... “Well, the Turks don't like the Kurds, so...”
It silenced me for a while. This man works in the oil world, he is bound to have more information than most. Would this be true, and it is not unreal to think it is?
Then here we are, witnessing how ugly and dirty geo-politics can be.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

New country

The day before yesterday we left Turkey after more than a month. In the last village in Turkey, a really backward hamlet it was, I stopped at the top a small hill to wait for Eveline, and a man, my own age, came up to me and asked, at least that was my impression, where we were from. Then a hand and foot conversation started, with Eveline and another man joining. The man could mention various cities in the Netherlands and as far as we understood he had worked in NL and returned back to Turkey maybe 30 years ago. Such conversations we have often had. And looking these people in their faces and seeing how genuinly sincere and interested they look at us, we only can express our appreciation of the warmth and openess of the Turkisch people. I regret having taken hardly any photos during these occasions, the expression of the faces are only printed in my mind.

How different were my first impressions in Georgia. The customs officer not looking at us and not saying a word before his “Welcome to Georgia” after he had taken all the time to silenty scrutinize and stamp our passports. Policemen and other people hanging around staring at us, silently and with blank expression in their faces. Then, 500 meters past the border, a petrol station with a coffee-bar. Again the staff completely ignoring us, stiff and flat faces. But after my pro-active action (loudly asking if they had coffee) we got it, with a smile, and when we left we didn't have to pay. Difficult to put these things together. Later, when we greet people, they will greet back, but only on our initiative  so different from Turkey. We know we are not a daily phenomenon on this road, but very often we were “not seen”.

Our hotel in Akhaltsikhe on the contrary was very nice and warm and it seems that now, a bit farther from the border and lower in the valley, people seem to be more communicative.

So we might getting to like the Georgians as well, but like them as much as we do the Turks remains to be seen. Maybe the Georgians are more restrained in new contacts, whereas many Turks immediately react on your presence with merhabas and hos geldiniz (hellos and welcomes). Remains of Soviet times??

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Three Santos Travelmasters in Oost-Anatolia

You may know that we travel on bikes that were specially designed for travelling over the world. It's a young Dutch brand, Santos, the type is Travelmaster (26 “ alu). Equipped with Rohloff speedhub and belt drive, Magura rim brakes etc. In the Netherlands it's one of the favourite brands among bike-travellers. Until now we never saw a foreigner on a Santos bike. Until now, because last week it happened. In the far east of Anatolia, 50 k from the Georgian border in the far away mountain village of Hanak there is one. This is the story: in Hanak there's one of the few Warmshowers-hosts in this part of the world. We were in touch with him; Cüneyd Isik, a young policeman. He could not host us as he was having a nightshift. But to our surprise a cyclist came riding up to us when we were approaching Hanak after 90 k and a mountain pas of 2215 altitude.
It was Cüneyd on his bike and to our big surprise he was riding on a shining Santos Travelmaster, exactly like ours. Our mouths fell open, what is this? He appeared to be a big fan of the brand and is one of the few Turkish Santos owners. It caused a special bond between us. He accompanied us to the ögretmenevi (teachers' house) where we would stay the night, we had a nice chat, took a picture and off he went to do his duty.
Unique photo, a crowd of 3 Santos Travelmasters in East-Anatolia