Wednesday 19 November 2014


Turkey is one of my favorite countries! Friendly people, spectacular landscapes, lots of history, and more yummy food!

We crossed the border into Turkey with no problems. We arranged a bus to take us all the way from Batumi to the Sumela Monastery and then to Trabzon, our overnight stop. The duty free shop was happy to see our group. They made lots of money.

After the border, we headed out away from the Black Sea into the mountains. The Sumela Monastery was built by the Greeks in AD 386 on a steep cliff face. It is quite a steep walk up to the Orthodox building, but well worth it. This is an important cultural and historical site in Turkey. There is also a café at the top where we bought post cards and ice creams and apple cay (tea).

Then it was back to Trabzon for the night. We are going to catch an overnight bus to Gӧreme tomorrow. This means it will take us one day (night) instead of the normal two to get there. And also we have a full day to explore Trabzon before catching the bus.

Sumela Monastery

Trabzon and the Black Sea

Our overnight bus
Gӧreme is truly a magical place unlike any I have ever been. It is in a small valley surrounded by fairy chimneys – pointy conical volcanic ash rock formations formed by erosion with dug out dwellings inside. The town has a laidback atmosphere with terraced cafés all around the cobbled streets. We are staying here for three nights, giving us enough time to do everything we want, although there is so much to do here! Our hotel is half building half cave. The rooms are chiseled out of the ancient rock. It creates a unique and cozy atmosphere in every room.

On the day that we arrived we all went exploring the little town. We couldn’t stay out too late, because we had hot air ballooning scheduled for four thirty the next morning. We were all looking forward to it, especially after seeing all the balloons in the air when we drove into Gӧreme that morning.

The ballooning was an amazing experience. My advice is always that if you are going to do one activity anywhere in the world, do the scenic flight. Compared to other places in the world, it is affordable and well organized in Gӧreme. We had a really good pilot that took us close to the rock formations and high up in the air. He managed to land our balloon right on the balloon trailer like a smooth operator. Great success!

After the ballooning we went back to our cave hotel for breakfast before we were picked up for a full day tour of Cappadocia. On the tour we went for a close-up walk around the fairy chimneys, for a pottery demonstration, and for a visit to one of the underground cities. These cities are amazing. They were dug out in the Bronze Age as hideouts in dangerous times of invasion. The best way to think about them is to imagine an ant’s nest with mazes of tunnels and rooms. The bigger cities housed up to twenty thousand people at a time.

The last day in Gӧreme was free time again. Everybody went off doing different things. Brooke, Paolo and I hired a car and drove to the Ilhara valley, ninety kilometers to the south. We went for a walk up the fourteen kilometre valley. There are several monasteries and churches chiseled out into the rock cliffs along the way. Very interesting! Marjo and Michelle went for a hammam. John and Dani and Michelle went carpet shopping. The girls went trinket shopping and lounging in coffee shops. Liz and Zoe went hiking in one of the countless tributary valleys. And the cats slept in the sun.

And oh yes, we all went for a group dinner to eat the local specialty, stew in a clay pot. This is pretty cool. They cook your stew in a little closed clay pot. When it is done the only way to get it out is to break the pot open. Very nice…



Hot air ballooning!

We caught another overnight bus to Istanbul. Our final destination! It is unbelievable that three months are already coming to an end. It seems like we were in Kathmandu yesterday, but it also feels like ten years ago. It is difficult to explain, but if you are the kind of traveller that embarks on epic expeditions, you will understand. So much happens in a compacted amount of time. Sights, relationships, experiences, culture shocks, good times, crises, tensions, relief, hiking, sitting, sleeping, 4x4s, buses, trains, airplanes, climate changes, altitude changes, sleeping in sixty different beds… crazy!

Istanbul is a massive city. I think you need six months here to explore everything. This is my fifth time in Istanbul, and I have never been to the same place in it twice. There is too much to see and do here. We are all scattering about and organizing our next moves, but we made some time for a last group dinner. We went to a good restaurant and almost all of us ordered the fillet mignon with a good bottle of dry red. I wonder why? Do this expedition and find out!

Dinner ended with a slideshow of selected pictures through Brooke’s lens. It is a good way to end an expedition like this. We experience so much that by the end of it you forget what happened the first two and a half months. A slideshow recap puts it all in perspective.

Thanks to all our Odyssey overlanders for this unique expedition! We definitely did it like no other overlander group has done it before. No truck, landslides, Chinese cops and drivers, snow and ice, visa denials, Caspian adventures, and overnight buses. Who’s got better stories to tell?


Thursday 13 November 2014


Georgia, one of my favourite countries! There is so much history in this area that you don’t even realize you know. Think Bible stories and Greek mythology.

We said goodbye to Azerbaijan and hello to our second last country. Our local guide, Nutsa, and driver, Valentina, waited for us outside the immigration office. Already we felt welcome in their country.

It was a short drive to Sighnaghi, where we are staying for two nights. In fact, all out drives in Georgia will be short. It is not a very big country. But we will spend lots of time on the road. There is so much to do and see in Georgia that it is impossible to get anywhere quickly.

We are staying in homestays again. It is not the same as the ones in Kyrgyzstan. But it is not all that much different. There is even more hospitality, if you can believe it. We are staying with Nana and Lali in their houses.

Sighnaghi is a small little town at the top of a hill. There is a four kilometer wall around and through the city. You can visit the nearby convent. You can even see the snowy Caucasus Mountains some sixty kilometres away from town. But the best thing is that at last we can drink some decent wine! Many of the unique Georgian wine varieties are nothing to write home about, but then there is the Saperavi variety. I will say nothing more. Just remember the name and make sure you try some when you get to Georgia.

We went for a fancy wine tasting and dinner at the Pheasant’s Tears winery and restaurant in town. They make outstanding wine you can find all over Georgia in fancy restaurants and fancy wine shops.


We had a busy day today. We visited the Gremi Monastery and the Alaverdi Cathedral. The cathedral was built in the eleventh century, is fifty metres high and was the highest Cathedral for more than one thousand years.

After the cathedral we went to a bee keepers operation. They explained how things work and what problems they face. There is more to honey than what you would think!

Then it was off to do a wine tasting. It started out slow. The Georgian wine is not what we are used to back home. But after the first couple of tastes things got better and the wine flowed more freely. The wine maker brought out his cha-cha and drinking horns. He invited us for dinner and we got our first real big Georgian feast. What an experience. A toast was made to everything and anything – from our mothers to the weather. There was some more wine bought and we were off to our guesthouse. It is in an old mansion converted into a guesthouse. I hope everybody gets up tomorrow morning!


Alaverdi Cathedral

Bee hives

Honey extractors - modern equipment contrasts with the traditional bee keeping
Wine cellars
900 litre clay pots are buried under the ground, these small holes the only evidence!
The top of one of the clay pots - the grapes are loaded into the pots through here, and then left to ferment with regular stirring

Georgian feast
Traditional Georgian toasting horns
Toasting is much more than just "cheers" in Georgia, instead they are heartfelt toasts covering all aspects of life
More wine!

Tbilisi is Georgia’s capital city. Like many of the cities in Europe and Asia, it has an old part and a developing new city around it. We are staying right on the edge of the old city with a spectacular view over it all.

Nutsa took us on a city walking tour and showed us the sights and explained about the history. The city was founded in the spot because of a natural hot spring. The king at that time built baths around it and it became a hot spot for travellers on the silk route to pull over for some down time and a business meeting. We also walk past a mosque, left over from one of the short periods when the city was under outsider rule. We ended our walk at the quirky bell tower outside the puppet theatre. The clock struck noon and out came an angel to hit the bell.

On our last night in Tbilisi we went for another Georgian feast and dance show.

On the way to Tbilisi

On the way to Kutaisi we stopped at the Stalin Museum in Gori to get the official history of Stalin. It is a big impressive building in an otherwise not so big and impressive normal Georgian town. Stalin’s childhood house next to the museum building seems to fit better.

After that we went to the Uplistsikhe caves. It is an ancient city dug out of the rock on the side of a hill. It makes you think of Turkey. We had lunch there and then headed on to Kutaisi, a large town on the way to Batumi, our last stop in Georgia.

Stalin museum

Stalin's childhood house

Batumi is on the Black Sea. It is a big port town and economically important to Georgia for the oil and gas that runs through it.

We have two nights here; one full day to explore the relaxing streets of this quiet town. We headed off to a coffee shop for the morning and up the hill with the cable car after lunch. There is great view of the sea and land and city from the top. It is a great place for a sundowner.

The Black Sea, Batumi

Dancing fountains

Farewell Georgia, hello Turkey!