Friday, August 29, 2014

A brief visit to the kingdom of Azerbaijan (17.08.2014 - 21.08.2014)

Ridiculous expensive visa, lengthy border procedure, police every 100 meters and CCTV every 50 meters, expensive hotels, boiling heat and stinking oil wells: Welcome to Azerbaijan! 
If it wasn't for our Uzbek visa we wouldn't have come here...

You may have heard that Azerbaijan is a Republik, it isn't. It is run by the Aliyev family. The current president inherited the throne from his father. Also other parts of the government are in family hand as well as much of the money.
They try to push Baku as a holiday location (?!?) by constructing modern high rise buildings. The famous flames of Baku are one example. But of course the Azeri quality standards are so low that one of the three flames is already inhabitable, lol.

After five hours including some paperwork and insurance for our car we were finally admitted inside. Only to be stopped about 100km later for alleged speeding... Since leaving Europe/Austria we would drive as fast the street & car allowed and the other vehicles did. Not so in Azerbaijan... The cop wanted us to return to the last police post and pay a hefty fine of 200AZN (1AZN = 1€UR). Something we had been warned in Batumi and Tbilisi about :(. Knowing we still had a long ride in front of us we managed to talk him down to 50€ and could head on. 
It is quite tiring to drive in these countries: taking care of other vehicles, the street condition, pedestrians and free wandering livestock. Now we also had to respect the speed limit, which changed every fucking 200m! 

Somehow we made it to Baku in the middle of the night only to get up early the next morning for our visas. Thanks to online research we had the GPS coordinates of the two embassies, otherwise we would never have found them. Sadly the Turkmenistan embassy was closed till we had our Uzbek visa payed and collected. We need to organize this in Tehran...

Later we visited the harbor and saw the infamous train ferry over the Caspian Sea. Yes a train ferry! They also transport cars, but most of the time it is stuck in front of the harbor and you have to wait an unknown time on this stinking rust bucket (which occasionally sinks). Another reason to take the route through Iran!
In the evening we took a stroll in the city center. All the big and luxurious brands have stores here. I don't know who should buy that stuff...
One of the few attractions in Baku are the ever burning flames. Gas is seeping from the ground and keeps burning since hundred (?) of years. Sadly the spot isn't too welcoming as they have poured concrete over most of the place.
After three nights we had enough and left the city after visiting the Iranian ambassador (more of this in the next post). 

We stopped on the way south in Qobustan to snap some pictures of the stone carvings. The engravings date back between 5'000 - 40'000 years, says Wikipedia. Driving to the place we missed the ticket office so had to bribe the park guard ;)
Next were the mud volcanoes on schedule. One third of all the mud volcanoes in the world can be found in Azerbaijan. Activated by underground natural gas deposit they push mud to the surface which results in gurgling and hissing cones. Supposedly the mud is good for your skin, we didn't try it out tough. Besides us was only one other visitor around, covered entirely in mud :D

In the town of Bilasuvar in front of the Iranian border was no hotel to be found. So we decided to camp in the field. After all the field worker had left and we had just started cooking dinner a car showed up. It was the local policeman wanting to know what we did here... With a lot of hand signs we finally managed to get the message across where after he wanted to invite us to his place. After we declined we got warned about some wild animals (dog, dingo, wolf? Something with pointy ears) and he left. 
An uncomfortable night later (Genti even had heard some howling) we finally left this country...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Batumi & Tbilisi, Georgia (12.08.2014 - 16.08.2014)

After a lot of waiting on the Georgian side we where finally admitted inside and could continue along the coast.

In Batumi we had planned to get our transit visa for Azerbaijan and maybe relax a bit at the Caspian Sea. Sadly the little consulate wanted to make a quick buck. He refused us a transit visa! Even though there was the option to cross on the form we had to fill out... Also he insisted it would take five days for the paperwork or pay the double to have it immediately. As we had no other option we had to bite the (expensive) bullet and pay 150$ each!
He then took some visa stickers out of a drawer and filled them out in front of us. Five days my ass, little fat and hairy cunt. A foreshadow of corrupt and arbitrary Azerbaijan, more to come...

The rest of the days we tried to relax in our cooled hotel room or went for a quick swim in the sea. The pebble beach with its murky water wasn't to our liking, but the Russians had no objections.
After three nights we continued to Tbilisi. On the way we encountered the hottest weather so far, 41° with hot side winds. Our car felt like one of the boxes they torture people in...
Also worth mentioning are the shittiest roads so far and the lousiests driver. No wonder their cars all have some pieces missing o_OOnce settled in the nice Hostel M42 we decided to try our luck with some party. Knowing it would be one of the last time. So the next day was mostly hang over treatment and relaxing ;)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ancient Ani, Kars and over the border! (11.08.2014 -12.08.2014)

Our last attraction in Turkey was the armenian medieval capital of Ani. This former city on the silk route had its strategic location secured by canyons on three sides and a mighty wall at the front.
It nevertheless got captured and sacked multiple times. The Arabs, Mongols and last the Russians all where once master of this spot.
Because of these changing rulers there are now ruins of mosques and Armenian churches next to each other. Besides some key buildings and the wall most of it is in ruins and heaps of stone.
We climbed the fortress and had a good view over the border river to the modern Armenia. 
On the parking a little girl approached us to sell some handicraft. We declined but Genti gave her the Barbie make-up set he had bought back home :D Worth mentioning is that this is one of the more conservative spots in Turkey. We hope she didn't get into too much trouble ;)

We then returned to the city of Kars for the night. Here we ate the local delicacy, another form of kebab ;) 
The next day we crossed the mountains once more to the Caspian Sea. The woods and and wooden chalets reminded us of back home. Once at the sea we followed the highway to the border to Batumi in Georgia. Exit procedure took almost an hour. We weren't billed for speeding despite the many speeding cameras, nor for use of the motorway even dough we hadn't bought a sticker... ;)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Status Update (August 21, 2014 at 11:17AM)

Entered Iran without carnet, but some bills lighter. Mohammad the fixer nailed it. @ 39.380724,48.344757

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stats about our epic road trip!

Hard data about our trip ;)

Monday, August 18, 2014

To the Black Sea and back over the mountains (09.08.2014 - 10.08.2014)

From Tokat we headed further north and finally reached the Black Sea near Ünye (after climbing the local fortress/ruin). We had "planned" to spend some relaxing days on the coast but alas the Turks had other things in mind.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Status Update (August 17, 2014 at 01:06PM)

We made it to Azerbaijan! Took us only 5 hours to cross the border :S Now 500km to Baku. Gonna be a long day... Kisses from Genti ;) @ 41.293473,45.138689

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mysterious Cappadocia (06.08.2014 - 09.08.2014)

We arrived just in time in Göreme to see the Cappadocian landscape painted by the setting sun.

Our camping for two nights wasn't called Panorama Camping for nothing. Just meters from our tent was an overlook with view of the valley. On the first morning we got woken up by a constant humming sound. It was the hundred hot air balloons getting filled! The entire valley was full of them. The already special landscape got even better! Some the balloons came pretty close to the stone formations or the ground. Wouldn't be surprised if some of the overloaded baskets sometimes crash into something... Besides being crowded these balloon rides are quite expensive as well, so we decided to skip them.
During the day we visited one of the many underground cities in the region. Built as a retreat from raiders (not Twix) they had space for thousands of people and livestock. For some reason this seems to be on the itinerary of visitors from South Korea o_O There were bus loads of them...
The rest of the day we spent at the pool and enjoying the sunset once more.
Early next morning I got up to snap some pictures again. Later on we visited one of the popular Fairy Chimney sites. These stone pillars are created over time when the top consists of a more durable formation but the rest around gets washed away. They look quite surreal, our pictures just don't do it justice.

After this we drove up north to the Black Sea. Because of our late start into the day and little visit on the way did we make it only to the town of Tokat. The only attraction here (beside another mediocre fortress) is the local Hamam built in 1572. Genti refused to join me so I went by myself. I think he is still mad at me because of the ayuverdan massage which I talked him into in India :D Getting an oily massage on a wooden plank by two hairy men marked him for live ;)
Luckily there was a group of French Turks which explained the different rooms and procedures. I declined the massage but got a good rubdown/peeling. Haven't felt as clean for a while!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

To Ankara for another visa (05.08.2014 - 06.08.2014)

On Monday morning we dropped of Melanie at the airport and returned to the Iranian consulate a third time to pick up Gentis visa. With this done we crossed the Bosporus and made our way to Iznik. Another ferry ride took us across the Marmara Sea and closer to the ancient Roman town of Iznik. Sadly not much besides part of the city wall remain.

The following day we drove to the Turkish capital, Ankara. Initially we had "planned" to acquire the visa for Iran and Uzbekistan in Istanbul. But because of the delay on the Iranian side (and the sparse opening hours of the Uzbek consulate) forced us to rethink our options. That's why we ended up in Ankara. Having read online you get the Uzbek visa on the same day in Istanbul made us assume the same for Ankara. Sadly it wasn't as simple. The guy at the counter only spoke Turkish and Uzbek :S With some local help translating we got that it would take 5 days for the whole process... =/ It seems every embassy/consulate does things a bit differently. With some more talking we managed to tell him we would pick up the visas in Baku, Azerbaijan. For Azerbaijan we plan on getting the visas in Georgia ;) Without a visa for the countries coming from and leaving to it is even more complicated (to impossible) to get a transit visa for Turkmenistan. We still gonna trie our luck in Tbilisi and again in Baku.

After the paperwork was done we returned to the city centre to visit the Atatürk museum and mausoleum. The name meaning literally "Father of the Turks" is still remembered everywhere. Not a city without a road or square named after him. He was the founder of the Turkish republic and initiator of many reforms. For example it was on his behalf that the Turkish alphabet was introduced, having used the Arabic letters before. He wanted to transfer the remains of the Ottoman Empire into a modern republic. Not sure he would approve where the country is heading at the moment...
We then continued on to Cappadocia for the night. On the way we stopped at the Tuz Gölü (salt lake) for the view and some pictures!

Fail ;)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Gigantic Istanbul (29.07.2014 - 04.08.2014)

After leaving Greece on a new and empty motorway we decided to take the scenic route along the Sea of Marmara. Our hopes of finding a nice camping to stay for the night were unfulfilled and we ended up in a giant half finished 5* hotel.

The remaining distance to Istanbul was soon covered and the one way street madness had us engulfed. Finally we reached our destination to soon leave again and pick up Melanie at the airport.
The following two mornings we visited the Iranian consulate for our visa. I got mine but Pasqual got told to return on Monday a third time :S

The rest of the time we visited the usual attractions: Galata tower, Spice Market and Grand Bazar, Sultan Palace, Hagia Sofia and other mosques (from the outside), Taksim square, the Beyoglu quarter with its shops, restaurants, cafes and clubs. We also took the ferry to the Asian side, but as there wasn't much to see returned by train trough the new (leaky) tunnel to the Golden Horn.
Diving into the Turkish cuisine we tried all kind of kebab, shish kebab, ayran (buttermilk), lahmacun, köfte, different pide, many appetizers and even overpriced ice cream (including show) :D
On Monday Melanie flew back home and we got the second Iranian visa, yuppie! We don't know yet how to get in with our car, but one problem at the time ;)
As we had planned to get the Uzbek visa in Istanbul as well (and haven't due to the delay) we decided to visit Ankara for that. So we continued eastwards to the city of Iznik. Another ferry ride and scenic route later we arrived in this town which once was the capital of a kingdom at the Marmara Sea.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Genti + Mussels

Genti enjoying some mussels from the street vendor ;)

Status Update (August 03, 2014 at 03:43PM)

We finally made it to Asia after six days in Istanbul. Big Erdogan election party going on. Locals call him Taliban in a suit :D @ 41.025737,29.016614