08 May 2019 11:14
09 May 2019 10:37
We sent our last report from Georgia, where we were really looking forward to returning to Turkey. After all, we had really enjoyed being there last summer, on our way eastwards. Now we are in Serbia – and haven't been even been in Turkey. In fact things turned out even worse: we had to cancel our trip to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea in Israel, which was the last Xtreme place on our itinerary. That was a huge disappointment. But here's the story as it unfolded.
Before heading off from Georgia to Turkey, we washed and cleaned our Axor, then spent some time enjoying the peace and quiet in our camp on the shore of the Black Sea. Some policemen paid us a visit at one point – but only to give us a friendly greeting. The next encounter with officialdom was to be far less pleasant.
When entering Turkey I had to pass through the border checkpoint on foot, as in so many countries previously. On these occasions I am usually much quicker than Mike, who has to deal with the paperwork. So I was not surprised that I was kept waiting this time as well. But then it turned dark outside, and through a window I could see that Mike was still in discussions.
Finally he came to the barrier on foot and told me I should go back to Georgia. Mike did a U-turn with the Axor and we joined the queue to enter Georgia again. We were to clear everything up with the Turkish consulate. Fortunately the nearest one was only 20 kilometres away. So what was going on?
It turned out that Mike had been banned from re-entering Turkey for two years after our last departure. I have to go back a little to explain the reason for this: during our first stay in Turkey, an agency in Switzerland had sent us our duplicate passports with the visas for Iran. According to Swiss law, we were only permitted to carry one passport each. So we sent our first passports with the entry stamps for Turkey back to Switzerland.
We had made copies of the stamps. But these were not accepted by the border official when we were leaving the country. In fact there was only a problem with Mike's passport. Mine was apparently perfectly in order. It was only after four hours of discussion that we were allowed to enter Iran. We thought that was the end of the matter, but far from it, as it turned out. To have the ban lifted, Mike should have gone to the Turkish consulate in Switzerland, which was certainly not an option.
So we looked for alternatives to get from Georgia to Europe. We could have returned to Russia and then headed for Switzerland via the Ukraine, but that would have been a huge detour. After some research we found there was a ferry service across the Black Sea to Bulgaria – from Batumi to Burgas. The next one was due to sail three days later. We contacted the ferry company and reserved a place.
Nonetheless, this was nothing to be pleased about. Our original plan had been to take a ferry from the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean to Israel, via Cyprus. The only alternative would have been to drive from Bulgaria to Greece, then take the ferry from there to the Israeli port of Haifa. But that would have cost 6000 euros – much more than the passage from Turkey and too much for our budget. In short, we were fed-up to say the least.
At least we now had an opportunity to relax by a beach in Georgia for three days. Though one mission was vital: withdrawing money in the national currency, the lari, and changing it to euros – the ferry company insisted on euros in cash. While wandering back and forth between the bank, currency exchange booth and ferry office, we were even able to laugh about the surreal situation.
We spent the night by the harbour, and at 4 a.m. we received a call that the ferry was about to start loading. The deck was only half-full, and we were given a cabin for four. Even Aimée was allowed in too. This was followed by two sleepy days in which we only went on deck occasionally to let Aimée out and visit the canteen. Arriving in Bulgaria, we were treated to another two hours on board the ferry: the computer system of the immigration authority had crashed.
After the mess we had gone through, it was high time for some sightseeing. One of our destinations was Bulgaria's "UFO" in the middle of the country, the Buzludzha Monument honouring the socialist movement on Hadzhi Dimitar mountain. The monument is no longer accessible to the public, but it is an imposing sight nonetheless.
What you can see in abundance in Bulgaria is monasteries and churches. We were particularly fascinated by the "Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity" in a gorge by the Yantra river. It is built against the rock wall, and impressively colourful inside. An abandoned house clearly belonging to the complex was no less intriguing. This is where we discovered old robes, chests and furniture, as well as more than 100 year-old documents, all randomly distributed around the rooms.
In fact one can pick one's way around many abandoned buildings in Bulgaria. That same evening we explored a ruin while camping in the vicinity of a cave. After the expanses of Russia, where one can often drive for two or three days before reaching the next town, we found it a welcome change to be able to visit two or three points of interest each day.
A few days later we parked our Axor by a dam lake and saw a number of wild boar, so we put our Secacam game cameras out for the night. We had previously only captured images of small animals, but this time there was even a wolf, plus images of deer and badgers. The cameras were positioned only 300 metres from the truck. Since then we have been more careful when letting Aimée out last thing at night.
One of the highlights of our detour to Bulgaria was a chance visit to Sofia on precisely the 140th anniversary of the day when the city was proclaimed the capital of Bulgaria. There was a ceremony outside the gigantic Alexander Nevski Cathedral, and the national anthem was played loudly in the cathedral square.
There are also many abandoned buildings to explore in Serbia. All in all, the country has much to offer tourists. And because we were travelling before the main season, we were able to enjoy the sights just for ourselves. Serbia is mountainous, and the roads are sometimes very narrow and winding – which presents a challenge for drivers. We also had to negotiate a large number of bends before we found a vantage point with a view of the Uvac ravine. However, the view of the winding river more than made up for the journey and a number of scratches on the Axor.
We are now parked in a quarry. A good place to camp, by the way, as quarries have solid ground on which you can't get stuck. You are usually on level ground, and protected from the wind. It's quiet in our mobile home. Mike is asleep, and recovering from a bout of flu. We are already in the same time zone as Switzerland. The prospect that we will soon be looking for jobs again, and will have to "fit in", feels rather strange. But fortunately we still have a few weeks and a fairly long journey ahead of us.
4-Xtremes – the tour of superlatives.