So we crossed the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul and are now officially in Asia. After our short visit to Istanbul, we split up with the other Belgian team ‘Silly Coincidence’ because they needed to take another route to go into Iran. Our first planned stop was Amasra, a small port town at the Black Sea. After 7 hours of driving, we finally arrived there at sunset. But unfortunately, it was too crowded and too difficult to find a good camping spot. It was already dark when we drove further to find a place to sleep. This became an extra 3 hours drive until Cide, where we found a small hotel at 11pm. We just went for it because at this time, and with all the mountain roads, it became too difficult to camp. We had some late night köfte in town and went back to the hotel for a good night rest. However, we didn’t know that the local minaret would wake us up at 4am.
When we left the day after, we noticed that our engine made more noise than it normally does. It looked like we had a turbo engine on our little Lada. We quickly found out that there were some holes in our exhaust pipe so we went to this small typical Turkish village to find a local mechanic. It wasn’t so hard because it looked like every place on the square was a mechanic. We just stopped at the first one that we saw, but it seemed like everyone had his own specialty. This guy drove our car, together with us two on the passenger seat to another mechanic. It wasn’t very easy to explain to just weld the exhaust pipe so he just fitted a new one on the car. Maybe that’s for the best. While I went in search for an ATM, Myrthe was treated like a princess. After a bit of a delay, we finally went off to Trabzon, our last stop in Turkey before we went to Georgia.
After having breakfast, we went to the Turkey – Georgian border. We wanted to be there early because we’d heard some horror stories about waiting for six hours in your car until it’s your turn. These were no lies. We needed to go to the back of a long queue which wasn’t moving at all. There was no toilet to be seen and there was just one small shop at the border itself (which we just saw when we finally arrived there). In total, we ended up waiting for more than 7 hours. We played word games and had some small talk with the Kazakh family that was also waiting behind us. The border itself was pretty standard, but this was the first time that the passenger and the driver had to split up. Myrthe wasn’t prepared for this, so she was wearing shorts and needed to queue up in line between 30 men that were looking at her. We eventually got into Georgia at 11pm. Batumi was our destination of the day but we didn’t have any plans of where to sleep. It became immediately clear that the Georgian drivers are the craziest of all. They don’t seem to care about the traffic rules, neither does the police. The most dangerous thing on the road aren’t the crossing cows, sheep or horses, but the drivers. We first went to the Botanical Gardens a little bit outside of Batumi because we saw on our Maps.me app that you can camp over there. This was already closed. Then we went to another hotel but our GPS sent us through some roads that were in a really bad state. Eventually, we stopped at a hotel at the side of the main road back to Batumi. The extremely flashy sign should have warned us but we just went for the super overpriced room because it was already super late. The sheets had blood stains and there were even cockroaches falling down from the ceiling. Enough said…
The day after, we first went to Batumi to have some lunch. It was difficult to find an ATM that worked with our MasterCard and Visa cards. Apparently, not every bank in Georgia accepts credit cards. When we finally got some Georgian Lari and had a stroll through the city and along the beach, we went to eat at a local small restaurant where we had some real Georgian food. It was truly delicious! Myrthe had some Khachapuri, a bread with meat, onion, and herbs, and I took the Lobio Nigzvit, a bean stew with herbs and walnuts. We also had some of the traditional Khinkali’s to eat with it. We didn’t know how to eat these things so we just ate it with our cutlery. Of course, this was totally wrong because Khinkali is finger food: you first take the dumpling at his knot, make a hole in the side and slurp all the soup out of it. After this, eat everything except the topknot. We recommend everyone to try Georgian food, it’s so delicious! We didn’t have a wow-feeling with the city so we just went with a full stomach to the Botanical Gardens of Batumi. It was only 16 Lari which is around $4 per person. The price was actually really cheap because you can easily spend a full day at the Botanical Gardens just wandering around or having a picknick. We saw the half of the gardens in 4 hours time because we still needed to drive to our next destination, the Kinchkha waterfalls.
We booked a guesthouse at the beginning of the waterfalls, called ‘Discover Kinchkha‘. It was up high in the Georgian mountains so we arrived quite late after dark. This didn’t matter for our hosts and they immediately gave us a tour around the house and did everything to make us feel at home. They didn’t speak any English, only Georgian or Russian, but that didn’t matter because, one way or another, we easily understood each other with the help of some gestures. The lady of the house even made a delicious typical Georgian breakfast where everything was homemade! It was time to hike to the waterfall, which is one of the tallest (~90 meters high) of Georgia. The hill towards it was very steep and the extremely warm temperature didn’t help the situation, but eventually there, it was awesome. We were almost alone and swam in the small natural pools all noon. If we had more time, we would have done the Okatse Canyons too, a 700m-long walkway along the edge of a 100m-deep canyon with a viewing platform that hangs right out over the middle. But we had to keep moving to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
Back again, we arrived really late so we couldn’t do much that night. The day after we went through the old city towards the funicular which brought us 800-metres above the city. This was also the place where Mtatsminda Park was, an old USSR-style amusement park. Don’t get us wrong, this park is still in use! But it looks like the attractions never had a maintenance ever since. The park had a strange vibe because there weren’t a lot of people on the amusement rides, we even saw some operators sleep in their booth… The entry to the park is free, however, if you want to do an attraction you need to top-up a plastic card with some money. We couldn’t resist doing the ‘Splash’ attraction. It was like nothing we’ve ever done before. The attraction was so small but in the end, we had never come out of an amusement ride as wet as this time. While the water was still dripping off our clothes, we went back down with the funicular railway to get some lunch. Immediately when we came out of the funicular, we saw a small cozy cafe/gallery called ‘Rhea’s Squirrels‘ where we had a lovely time. The food was really tasty and not expensive at all and we finally managed to get some decent beer with it! After this, we moved on to Lagodekhi, the most northern border town because we heard that this is the easiest/quickest to get into Azerbaijan. We drove through multiple little villages when suddenly, out of nothing, a car passed us by with a guy holding a big rifle out of the car window. Once in Lagodekhi, we went to the ‘Bio Yard Hotel‘, which wasn’t really a hotel but more like a guesthouse. The owner made 10 little chalets to stay in but that night we were the only ones there. Nevertheless, we had a pleasant evening with the son of the owner and a colleague of him. We had some beers, watermelon and they even let us taste their homemade Georgian wine (which was delicious but had a thicker texture than normal wine)
It was time to go to Baku in Azerbaijan to get our ferry across the Caspian Sea. The border crossing was pretty straightforward. The car got checked, we paid $15 for the road tax, $10 for the car insurance and that was it. Immediately after the border, we noticed the amount of Lada’s driving around in this country. We were sure that if we would break down, it’d be easy to fix it here. They told us in Georgia that Azerbaijan is known for its best döner, so we had to try this! We must admit, it was the best (and cheapest, only $1) we have eaten so far.
Next stop is Turkmenistan but we have to take the ferry first…