Travel Diary

Friendship above the clouds

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For the last night in Tehran we were guided by our new friends to a park at the northern border of the Iranian capital. We have already mentioned that these people have a big inclination to camping, campfires and sociability. However, that this park was also so late in the evening still full of people and at each fork small tents stood and was diligently grilled, that we had not counted on again. We made a stop at a small parking lot and our friends assured us that at the latest in one hour silence should return. The tearful farewell and the mutual assurances to visit each other again as soon as possible already took the biggest part of the waiting time for rest. And yes, it became quiet around our seriousness. For the time being. Because after we had laid down comfortably in the upper floor and let the first dream shreds pass the day in review, a deafening noise and an almost inhuman vibration ripped us from our sleep. All the seriousness trembled and roared from something that could be called Persian techno. Anyone who believes that there is no youthful car tuning scene in Iran, because everything here is so strictly religious and state-monitored, is wrong. Right next to us, a small car showed that you can turn a complete car into a sound box of the highest quality. The camping families were really gone, but the exchange was not a very good one. Like Keanu Reaves in Mission Impossible we glided, as elegant as tree snakes, from the bed to the driver’s seats and took to our heels. Okay, almost as elegant at least. As a thank you for this friendly acoustic wake-up we left a tiny little cloud of smoke from Ernst’s exhaust and crumbled into the next quiet stretch of road.

The next days we had to make the way and get to see as much of the country as possible. The great experiences of the last weeks continued also in the northeast of the country. Everywhere we went we were greeted friendly, we were led to great places, which we had to have a look at, we were overwhelmed with food… so we can still appreciate normal Iranian behaviour, which we don’t even come close to describing here. We were simply overwhelmed.

Have you ever heard of Cloud Forrest? There are certainly several areas in the world where you can see the fog rising in the woods below you, but finding such a place right at the edge of a desert steppe is probably something special. Over bumpy gravel roads we made our way up to this small national park, and suddenly the world turned upside down. Where otherwise dense forests line the foot of a mountain and the summit appears bare, here it was exactly the other way around. Dense lichens covered with dew hung down from the trees, colourful flowering shrubs lined up along the paths. Everywhere a smell of fresh herbs like on a Bavarian alp.

A very friendly young Iranian stopped us unexpectedly and explained to us with hands and feet that we should rather not continue our way through this small mountain range. He showed us the reason directly and booted us around the next curves. Yes, he was right, even a real offroader would have had his difficulties with these ‘roads’. So we stayed where we were, used the time we gained for a washing day, enjoyed the view and drank thyme tea with our new acquaintance. And finally we managed to invite an Iranian to join us. Even though he might have felt a little surprised when a plate of steaming stew was put in front of his nose, he didn’t rifle himself. A success all along the line.

We also made one of the most remarkable acquaintances of our whole journey on this mountain, but we were not even aware of the consequences at this time. An old Nissan Petrol, occupied by two young men and two young women, stopped at our improvised campsite. We listened enthusiastically to our story, took a close look at the car, drank a friend’s arrak, stuck our sticker on the Nissan and exchanged telephone numbers. All in all, less than 30 minutes. It seemed like one of the many entertaining encounters, but you could already see that Omid is someone special. In the next report you will find out what makes him so special.

Hustle, bustle, cheerfulness

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On the way to Tehran we tried to find a place for one more night that was somewhat undisturbed and away from civilization. But to find something between the capital Tehran and the metropolis Karaj is almost impossible. We turned left into country lanes, tried it in industrial areas and on gravel roads. Nothing worked. Everywhere were either houses, people or “everything forbidden” signs. Almost hopelessly we turned into a road that led to a quarry. Our last hope was to pass a few houses that didn’t look very inviting and we came to a lonely homestead. It looked like a small farm. Actually we didn’t want to stay here, but it slowly got dark and we had to decide. So we looked for a small corner at a water basin closeby. And just when we had turned off the engine, the owners of the yard came out of their gate. Such a crap we thought. Contrary to our feelings, we approached them positively and asked (as we had learned) whether it was ok for them that we would stand the night here near their property. The younger man spoke English and introduced himself as Reza. I just thought to myself: Oh noooo, just like my master thesis supervisor! But this Reza was incredibly nice and didn’t allow us to stand in front of his farm, but forced us to stay on the farm. Amazing for us, because he was just getting into the car with his father and a worker and driving home to the city. We refused several times, but then we could not resist and parked on the lot. He showed us the toilet and unlocked the bungalow for us. We were allowed to use everything and should sleep inside, outside it would be so cold. We refused again several times, but how could we? Reza was so incredibly friendly! In the meantime the worker, who had almost gotten into the car, had already taken a few logs and lit a fire in the bungalow. The three said goodbye and we were alone on an Iranian farm, were allowed into the house, where the fire already burned for us. We thought, more is not possible, that is hospitality as we cannot imagine it in Germany. But after an hour Reza came back, his girlfriend Mary in tow and with several bags. Now we were fed. Resistance was pointless. He skewered a few pieces of lamb, Mary spread the blanket in front of the fire and bread, yoghurt sauce and chips were opened. And of course there was Arrak. We talked and gormandized the whole evening. We learned that Reza had actually only learned English through English/American movies. No lessons or anything like that, just watching it. We were flattened. So much willingness to learn and to speak so well, just WOW. At the end of the evening we were all well sated and Martin and I were more than just a little bit squiffy and we two plumped into bed while Reza and Mary went back to town. The next morning we still couldn’t believe what had happened to us the previous day.

Still in Tehran we also visited our new camping friends from the weekend before and were invited -richt away- to the family. There we stood, couldn’t and didn’t want to say no, but to go to an Iranian extended family without knowing any rules of conduct or having a common language would be against Martin’s and my limits. But hey, that’s what we were on our way for. So get into the turmoil! So we visited Davoud and stood in front of his family’s estate. A multi-storey house with shop, workshop and living rooms. We got a small guided tour through the shop and the workshop where several employees made bronze chandeliers and decorations. The hit in Iran, the more splendid, the better. Afterwards we went up to the living room. In Iran, wealthy families always have two living rooms. One for everyday life and one for special occasions. So we were a special occasion. We stepped into a huge room in which there was nothing more than many chairs standing in front of the walls. These were of course golden and covered with the most beautiful brocade. We hardly dared to sit on it. We were welcomed there by the woman of the house, Davoud’s Mama. Conny reached out her hand and bowed friendly. A short time later the sisters arrived with husbands and children as well as the somewhat too casual brother. The joy about foreign guests was oversized and Davoud translated like wild between all participants from Farsi into English and back again. Then it was Martin’s turn to greet them and shake hands with her mother. A resounding laughter from all corners of the room. Surprised looks on our part. Our friend explained: “Iranian women never shake hands with a stranger (only husbands).” So Martin was the first and started to reddish out of shame, laughter and room temperature. But the family was incredibly friendly, open-minded and cheerful, so that that was understood as a little joke on the side. The evening continued with wild conversations from one to the other, thousands of questions to us and Davoud’s translation skills. Sometimes we felt sorry for him because he hardly got a break.

We sat there and told until deep into the night and at the end of the evening Davoud’s dad welcomed us into the family. He said such wonderful words that we might have had one or two tears in our eyes. Around four o’clock in the morning we were able to leave under protest. We were offered the guest room but we insisted on Ernst as Laika was still there. The parents had taken us so much into their hearts that they (although dogs are unclean to their beliefs) were willing to let the dog into the house. We appreciate this offer very much, but we could agree that we stayed with Ernst in their garden. We were escorted there, but not only by our friend, no the whole family (who was still awake at four in the morning) sat down in two cars and accompanied us there. We were invited for lunch the next day, but we already knew that we would spend the whole day there, so we agreed on a breakfast. Unfortunately the plan didn’t work out to let the parents decide the time and so we sat the next day at eight o’clock in the morning (yes, only four hours later) on a picnic blanket between wild roses and other wonderful smelling flowers with Davoud and his parents and let this wonderful day begin.

We thanked them a thousand times for the friendly acceptance into the family and the evening and promptly got an escort service to a garage. Davoud’s mum seriously made friends with Laika, although she actually has a lot of respect for dogs and she and Conny talked with gestures and mobile phone photos. In the afternoon we were ready to leave for Tehran city centre. But we were not allowed to leave until our mum gave our fluffy a small, homemade pillow as a present. Martin and I were screaming because of cuteness!

We drove with Davoud to Tehran and he showed us the Niavaran Palace, where the royal family lived before the revolution 40 years ago. Beautiful, modern and yet royal!

We finished the evening with him and a friend over a dinner at the Darband. In addition we climbed a very long staircase up to a mountain. At the side every meter of this way was lined with restaurants with all kinds of delicacies. Next to the river, above the river, in the river that flowed through the gorge, stood these big carpet sofas, small plateaus, laid out with a carpet on which one sits and eats together. We went uphill for about a kilometre until there were fewer tourists and chose one of the restaurants. We ordered Ab-Goosht, a Persian national dish, from which we heard that we needed instructions to eat it. Fortunately we had Iranians with us who explained everything to us. In principle it is a kind of goulash, served in a stone pot. First one pours the liquid out into his bowl and then crushes with a kind of supplied pestle the solid components that remain in the stone pot. It is really delicious, but you would never think of eating it yourself.

We actually visited the Iranian capital because of two things. On the one hand because of the visa application for Turkmenistan and on the other hand to find a workshop again. Especially the first part was extremely important, because without Turkmenistan visa we would have had to make a big detour around the Caspian Sea and we would have had to hurry to get out of Iran, because our visa was only valid for four weeks, the country is big and serious, you know 😉 So we had to be at the embassy on time and wait for audience. Yes, it was really so. The embassy was located in a city villa, in front of which some people were already waiting. But nobody was let in. But not bad for us so we could have a short talk with Ursel and Janosch, who we met in front of the embassy and wanted to go in the same direction. The world of world travelers is very small! You meet them all again either in front of the embassies or in the laundromat 🙂 A hatch on the side of the house was opened at will and one could, as if kneeling on a confessional, present one’s request. The fact that outside there was a main road and inside one only spoke to one in a whisper did not necessarily help. So like the squirrels we squatted in front of the hatch, hoping to understand at least a few words. Well, luckily. Fortunately we had already informed ourselves before, and we knew what we had to fill in and how long it would take. We suspected the guy was saying something like Tuesday and walked away shaking our heads. The following Tuesday we called an ominous number, said our ominous number, after a band announcement had also said something ominous. And lo and behold, we were connected to someone ominous in person, whom we should call back again. But after some back and forth he told us that our visa was ready and we could pick it up. Phew, everything had worked out. The days of waiting we spent between Teheran and Maschhad, because in the latter it was possible to pick up the visa. But more of it, next time.

Further down the roads in Iran

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After we had to painfully say goodbye to our new friends, our (slow) journey continued from the Caspian Sea to the south. Our destination was Tehran, to visit the Turkmen embassy there, for visa purposes, but more about that later. We left the ‘fun paradise’ Rudsar and fought our way east and then further into the mountains. When we reached darkness we tried to find a quiet place, but this is not so easy in the north of Iran. As we already wrote everything is full of rice, tea, orange or other plantations and hardly a spot is unmanaged. Nevertheless we could find a small way behind an orange plantation and squeezed ourselves as unobtrusively as possible into a small parking bay. The night was unusually quiet and in the morning we had a wonderful view over the valley and the plantations. When we had just had a cosy breakfast, there was a knock at the door. Door open, three men in a car and a moped. “Hello, sir, good morning! How can we help you” was of course our first friendly reaction again. It turned out to be the village sheriff with an assistant and an interpreter. The moped driving translator was probably the only one they could get hold of in the village who spoke at least a few words of English. And so we tried again with our hands and feet to make clear who we are, where we come from and that we are absolutely harmless and wanted to leave right away. The village sheriff understood, nevertheless checked our papers and visa, but was incredibly friendly and wished us a good trip after 10 minutes of bantering with hands and feet and gave us his phone number in case we had problems somewhere. We thanked him and packed our things with destination Tehran. But less than five minutes later the moped rattled again and the translator came by with a huge bag of oranges, which he gave us. Of course we politely refused (at least three times in Iran, before actually accepting anything) and then accepted it gratefully. We were once again surprised by this incredible hospitality and courtesy! We gave him our internet address including Facebook and Instagramaccount and thanked him again. The dog was emptied again and then we wanted to start the engine, but then the translator came again and gave and a small tea and an orange plant in the pot. We didn’t even know what to say! We adopted them of course and they have been our constant companions ever since. If we stand somewhere and it rains, they can go out to play and get in again when it goes on. But with all the presents we really went on towards Tehran. Just arrived on the first asphalted road, the phone vibrates. Our translator created an Instagramaccount especially for us and liked us. He wrote that he would be sad that we were already gone, he wanted to bring us bread and honey. Martin and I almost started to cry because we could hardly believe this incredible cordiality. And still we write with Esmail! Thank you!

As you might see from our anecdotes, we took the country more and more to our hearts. And that because of its wonderful people. This cordiality with the unknown was met and this absolute honesty has blown us away. We said to ourselves that day that we wanted to accept and carry on these qualities.

Our further way led along a wonderful road full of curves (Sorry to the people behind us, that is all at least 1000, for the three hours delay). Ernst is aware of his guilt!). But the wonderful landscape was worth it. We spent the night at a lake (Valasht Lake), so blue that even in bad light and without sun it looks as if it had been photoshopped. See for yourself:

This night we were not even disturbed, but spent it in threesomeness. The next day we reached Tehran and were amazed how big this city is. After a short internet search we found out that over eight (in numbers: 8) million people live there. Beloved Berlin, you village! To navigate there with Ernst was again a nerve-racking thing, but went nevertheless somewhat smoothly. Our most important goals in Tehran: The Turkmen Embassy and once again a visit to a workshop. Because there were again things to do… But more about that in the next article.

 

A nation, you can be wrong about

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There is more to consider in Iran than wearing a headscarf. Something that is also very obvious at second glance, but still little known. The partly devastating glimpses of the heavily veiled women and the somewhat too friendly eye contacts of the gentlemen only dissolved when a lady approached us and let us explain from her husband on the phone that as a woman you also have to cover your buttocks, two-layered. We were already angry of ourselves that something so simple had slipped through our planning, because in Ernst’s wardrobe there was nothing at all to be found for this purpose. But we had enough US dollars with us, which were recommended in all travel guides and websites. The Iranian financial system is independent and you can’t get money at banks or ATMs. We don’t even need to start using the Visa card. Well, here’s the surprise…

On the day of our entry, the government has forbidden the exchange of US dollars in all banks, exchange offices, etc. to protect themselves from inflation. As stupid as the moment the friendly banker told us about it, we hadn’t peeked out of our laundry the whole trip. What now? Turn back to Baku? That could just about work with the rest of the $100 we traded at the border. After all, the fuel is almost free… but it should go further. The detour via the ferry to Kazakhstan was not a popular option for us either, and Iran is also one of the highlights of our trip. Then only five days in the country would be nothing half and nothing whole. After a lot of moaning we got changed another $100 in the bank, with which we wanted to make it to Tehran and ask for help at the embassy. But we didn’t get that far.

Not because something broke again, but because we were now hit by the full force of the Iranian readiness to help. At a gas station a young couple approached us, completely enthusiastic about Ernst and our journey. Immediately everything was arranged for us to exchange money. Not 30 minutes later we stepped out of a bank with a plastic bag full of cash. Yes, inflation is really moving fast.

But I was talking about hospitality… How naturally we were invited to join the two and their group of couchsurfers for camping over the weekend. We went up into the green mountains, far away from larger villages, together beside a tiny village. There were already at least 20 tents here, full of friendly faces all eager to find out who was crowding into their midst from far away. The first thing that caught our eye… no headscarves. In the middle of the forest, away from the curious eyes of the state, people were the way they wanted to be.

Many conversations revolved around the way it used to be when women were still walking through the streets in miniskirts 40 years ago. Where faith has not reigned. There was a real tingling in the air, you could feel that everyone here wants a change, but also that the things you tell each other in the rest of the world about Iran simply have nothing to do with the actual people. Half the night we had many great conversations and could take a look behind the scenes for the first time. There stand very proud, educated, hard-working and clever people waiting for their chance to prove to the world who they really are.

We didn’t like to leave these beautiful mountains, but our new friends just wanted to show us more of their country, so after the camping stay we went back to the coast of the Caspian Sea. Here, however, the thoughts separated what one may feel as beautiful, because a beautiful beach did not necessarily mean for us that directly at the water line  the youngsters in their cars drive up and downwith loud music. Not necessarily that motor gliders fly over our heads with daring manoeuvres… But as already mentioned, tastes are different. The procedure to go swimming was also a bit too cumbersome for us, because you can’t go from the beach to the sea in bathing clothes as a woman in public, of course. Instead, you can rent a boat that takes you a few hundred meters out to sea, from where you can go swimming unobserved, fully dresses, of course. Good thing the water was too cold anyway…

The sound…

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Trööööööööööt …. Short driver-passenger glimpse. Sounds nasty. Oh, the engine oil lamp is on. OK, let’s stop and see. And there was nothing revealed at first. Room and bilge controls (as we say in the Navy) were carried out. We realized we were loosing oil. We added some (we always have 8-10 liters oil in spare) and almost everything had to go in. Ernst was empty. Did we not pay attention? We had recently checked the oil level. Strange.

After a look under the car, we finally realized the extent. A trail of horror led approximately 300 meters to Ernst. Oil was sticking everywhere under the car. So it was time to find the leak. After a few minutes of searching, the culprit was identified. The oil hose (Stahlflex-hose, new, only 8000 km old) was torn. Inside. Oh great. What now, in no man’s land? Ok, short assessment of the situation and then packing everything and driving 400 m backwards to the gas station. The oil was just enough for it before the engine was completely empty again and the gas station attendant looked at us wondering. Without a common language, we could show him what was broken, but he himself could do nothing. A trucker helped with tools to extract the hose. And then?

Then the universe did the rest. A car stopped for refueling and a group of people got out and looked briefly what we were doing there. After some time, the driver came over to us and asked in excellent German, if he could help. It turned out that he and his wife had studied in Switzerland and are currently showing two Swiss friends Iran together with their daughter. What a coincidence! He helped us with the translation, and the gas station attendant and trucker had organized a taxi in no time at all, which drove Martin back to Ardabil (one hour) with his hose. There he found a workshop that could rebuild the hose directly. He took two. Then another store of oil sold. The first oil salesman wanted to cheat Martin so much that even the taxi driver said “Come on, we drive to the next one”. Then they bought original Iranian oil in canisters and speeded again to the gas station. The installation of the new hose was less difficult than the extraction and after a longer break (6 hours), we drove until late into the night and stopped at some point, tired and just next to the road.

Our mood was already somewhat muted by the oil hose incident, and we went on the next morning. We needed new money, the other had almost completely gone for repair and new oil. We drove to Rasht, away from the drought again over the beautiful mountains, towards the Caspian Sea. Behind the mountains a paradise of tea fields, orange groves and rice cultivation awaited us. Everything in lush green, the mood under the headscarf was better again. But in Rasht the next surprise awaited us.

Terror, Bombs, Destruction – Iran

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After a relatively short but complicated border crossing, we were there: Iran. So much we had heard before, now we were curious as hell, what would expect us. What we expected most of all: Conny and the hijab. So it was time to put on a headscarf. I preferred a thin scarf wrapped around my head. This headscarf brought different emotional phases with it. At first, it was “Actually, it looks pretty nice, it makes the women incredibly interesting.”, Followed by a “Hmpf, my head is itchy” and a “Why does it always slip like this?” to a “What a crap, it bothers mewhen hiking, you can not lie with it under the car and repair and anyway, who has come up with that?” until sometime to a “Arrrgh, what a shit!”

So us and the headscarf dipped into this mysterious land. We left quickly the first city, Astara, behind us after a short sim card purchase with a fingerprint and drove on the Azerbaijan border to the west. What started in the previous country, namely vegetation again, finally continued here. We drove in many curves up the mountains and around every corner it was greener and greener. It’s amazing how you can enjoy shrubs, trees, bushes and just green! During the drive we were rewarded with beautiful views over the Caspian Sea, to Azerbaijan and into the mountains.

The exhilaration was completed by the many friendly greetings and honking drivers. We passed the mountain range on the Caspian Sea and suddenly there it was again: a lot of nothing. In front of us a fairly large, rather undeveloped and quite flat plateau opened up. We drove past Ardabil to get to the next mountains. The streets became narrower again, the roundabouts, whose rules were still very incomprehensible, again emptier and the air cooler. Were it under the Caspian Sea sultry 24 degrees, we were now just back at the freezing point. And that within a few hours. One more curve and then: everything white! No snow, but frozen air humidity. Everything was surrounded by a thick layer of ice, the trees bent under the load and you could hear this soft crackle.

We looked for a lonely place and spent the night there. The next morning, the next surprise came. Ice away and everything green. Spring was finally here! With a headscarf, spring fever and finally charged sim card we headed southeast again. Back via Ardabil, direction of a large nature reserve. It meant refueling for the first time. We had previously heard that getting diesel should be difficult for tourists in Iran. Well, get to the gas station, prepare your hands and feet for communication and try. Without problems, the gas station employee put the required card in the machine and Ernst got the tank full. So far, everything ran smoothly in this country! So Ernsti started and we continue to go south direct … Meeeeeeeeeeeep! The sound was new.

Poleposition Baku

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No, we did not self-paragliding / paragliding / para-slipping. The paragliders were all already at home, and we had decided for a lonely night in nature. In one of these places we were only be visible at a great distance (3-4 km) from the road. But we were discovered. A cheerful troop of medium-aged men came up the hill with loud music in their car, we were welcomed with a big smile in the country, it was ten minutes chatting, and the spectacle was over again. We thought. Not an hour later, we saw the same car rolling in from a distance. This time they were prepared. Beer was unloaded, a chicken stuck on skewers, chopped firewood, tomatoes cut, in short, we were invited to barbecue at our house all of a sudden. After half a bottle of vodka and our last supply of Amarula we had deeply taken Emil and his friends in the heart. Unfortunately, we missed them the next days again and again, but we still stay in contact.

We once again switched from nature to our ‘beloved’ city park. But not without first looking at the city again. Kilometre-long promenades give Baku the flair of the Cuban Malecon. Everything was wonderfully tidy and clean. So we strolled for a little while and watch the sunset behind the Flame Towers.

At one of the city walks, which are not Laikas favourite, it still paid of for her. Dogs that are kept as pets, are not unknown in principle, but apparently very unusual. So Laika is now the star on many cell phone screens of Azerbaijan. Occasionally there was a cluster of 10-12 people around us and were very interested in our woof. For many people, she was even the first dog they ever petted. She is not just a little princess, but also the dog’s ambassador.

But not only nice promenades, the latest architecture and an old town were to be admired, but also the reason of the wealth of the country. Oil. From Germany we know here and there once an oil platform at sea, but what we have seen in this city, was awesome. In the middle of residential areas, parks, on the promenade, within sports facilities, yes everywhere there were these small oil pumps. There was even an oil university!

So alone for this sight it’s worth the visit in Baku. We’ve even figured out (attention, now you’re learning!) that the oil is pumped from a depth of about 500 meters and the first commercial oil well was made there. See device here.

The diversity of the city of Baku can be seen on every corner. When we arrived in Baku, we wondered about the fences erected on the sidewalks, but did not think anything about it. Other countries other manners…? Eventually, after all, we were there for a while, we saw that advertising was attached. So the preparations for the Formula 1 race were going on. By now we already knew Baku like the back of our hand and did not let it take us off the track. Ernst, the race waggon, did quite well, with an average speed of 30 km / h we were only a bit slower than … everyone else.

When finally got the package arriving from Germany, we could barely restrain ourselves to not immediately rush with full throttle to the south. It’s a good thing that we were able to slow down, because otherwise we would not have been able to keep the primeval south of the country in a worthy memory. As I said, a really beautiful and varied country.

Only one wrong turn

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So honestly, what do you know about Azerbaijan? With us, the knowledge of this small country on the Caspian Sea stopped by the fact that it is located on the Caspian Sea, the capital is Baku and a few years ago somebody from this country won the Eurovision Song Contest. That for this event, which then always takes place in the successor’s country, a hall was built, but that was it we knew. The good thing is that we really did not dare to cross the border. On the Georgian side, a sign still wished “Good Luck”, which gaves us an ambigous feeling. But luck we really did not need. Hardly anyone has experienced such a border crossing so far, after all, we were invited by the border officials to tea and cake, because there were slight delays with our e-visa. Many friendly words, personal escort to each station and also very friendly and cheerful locals waiting at the counters gave us a taste of a totally different mentality.

The diversity of this country is again enormous, so we first went on gravel roads (98% of the roads shoudl  be paved) through large hazel and walnut forests, past the bare foothills of the southern Caucasus Mountains, into a steppe and desert landscape. We wanted to see nature and the most extraordinary thing Azerbaijan has to offer were mud volcanoes. Yes, exactly, mountains that throw mud! Glorious. Said, route searched, driven, sobered. So Google Maps has some catching up to do in some places. Not only was “road” just a stuck, bumpy mud track, it was also incredibly long. We could drive 20 km of this slope only at walking pace. One always hopes, and sometimes one is right, that the road would improve after a certain time. Far from it this time.

When we could almost see our volcano, mud puddles, missing ‘roads’ and inclination angles more than 30 ° prevented us from getting ahead. A nice shepherd came to us and explained with hands and feet, that we could not continue here, but there was a way on the other side of the mountain. We examined this and found 30 cm deep furrows. Insurmountable for Ernst? Well, you know us. So we tried an attempt. Martin at the wheel, Laika asleep, Conny as a guide. We did it! We drove on and on to the volcano, whose diameter must have been about one kilometer. Just before darkness it became foggy and our volcano became invisible. We looked for a place to stay. There were no more people or houses here and we waited for the next morning. Crap. So still fog. The volcano walk we could forget. We would neither find the volcano nor return. So we said: To the direction of civilization. The same bumpy way back? Or take what seemed a little more like a way on Google Maps, but where no road was described? Well, we tried our luck on the new, unknown path. The nocturnal fog and the high humidity were against us. The path was muddy, partly the water was staying there already longer. Suddenly there was something like a dyke … With visibility under 10 m, you could now drive not very anticipatory or even know where to go. Nevertheless, we overcame most of the mud holes with a lot of momentum and one or the other bump was also a bit rough, but we were finally able to free ourselves from MudMeadowFoggyLands. Two mountain ranges further the wind blew away the fog, the sun came out and the most glorious weather was ever seen. Disappointed to have missed the volcano, despite these driving strains, we sought the shortest way to a paved road. And there he was suddenly! Our own little mud volcano. We climbed up, Martin took pictures, and unfortunately for everyone involved Laika wallowed in the mud. So this trip still had a happy ending and Laika a stealth shell.

In that part of the desert, a peninsula in the Caspian Sea, a state-of-the-art metropolis is emerging from the old city of Baku. Always alternated with old large skyscrapers from Soviet times arise here more and more glittering buildings, lit at night by many LEDs throughout the city giving a glittering face. There are two worlds that arise here directly next to each other, because all the splendor is little seen in the countryside and in smaller cities. Except, of course, the huge flags that simply can not be missed in this part of the world. Actually, here in Baku we just wanted to apply for a visa for Uzbekistan, wait for a week’s processing time and then on to Iran … But you know how it is with plans, now our wheel bearings came into play again. We had found some companies that specialize in bearings, but thex could not deliver the matching one. But what they could do was offer us to send something from Germany to their address. We were told the shipping would take 3-5 days, and that worked great in the timeline. This was one of the moments when one could jump on his grateful friends at home with gratitude, because there Marcel and Svenja immediately jumped into the car in Lüneburg, roared to Hamburg, bought the necessary parts in two shops and pushed them on the same day which we asked for help in the mail. Thank you again! Okay, in Germany unfortunately Easter was just around the corner … you might have to hold the DHL to good … but the hoped for 3-5 days were unfortunately quite two weeks.

We spent most of the time waiting in a newly landscaped city park, right on the coast. We were obviously there for a very long time, because at the public toilets we did not need to pay more after a short time, no, we even got sweets as a gift and many greetings from the gardeners and landscapers accompanied every day. Of course, we did not want to miss this time of course, so we visited the north of the country with the Candy Mountains and the extensive orchards, but Ernst should also get his care unit.

Since the engine sounded pretty bumpy after all the fuel issues in Georgia, the visit to a specialist workshop was announced. Bosch Dieselservice Baku sounded just right. Like ants, four mechanics rushed at Ernst’s heart. They listened, screwed, disguised, checked and finally exchanged the entire tank contents.

We got also a training on how to recognize bad diesel, because the quality is here under all standards. Some years ago people even talked about up to 30% water in diesel. People worked like that for over four hours … the bad feeling of not having enough cash was growing steadily. Wrongly. Because you have to help travelers, that’s the culture in this country. As generous as it was laid out here, we were already very heartfelt and the tear glands, because the guys absolutely did not want to accept money from us. Our gratitude for these people will hopefully reward, because they can be sure of them.

Uncertain waiting can become a torment. Day after day passed in the city park of Baku. But in our case we were one day lucky, otherwise we would not have met many great people who stopped on their walks and talked with us friendly and were super interested in us. A very special one was Cavid. An incredibly loveable young engineer who invited us to accompany him and his friends to paragliding in the nearby mountains. Since we had just a rather empty schedule and were curious, we agreed. Those moments when you really get in touch with people are probably the most beautiful part of traveling. We spent two great trips in the remoteness of the southern Caucasus with the buddies around Cavid, were accepted directly as belonging and had a lot of funny and interesting conversations. Whether we dared to take off ourselves …?

Georgia – No Joy for Us

I was once taught somewhere that feedback always starts with something good and ends with something good. So you pack that not-so-awesome thing between something sweet. I’m trying this now with the next country on our trip. So Georgia … here’s your feedback:

Beautiful landscapes rise with the small and the great Caucasus in this tiny country, also coasts and the associated subtropical maritime climate are not missing here. So you can say this country is geographically blessed with everything you could wish for. Beach holiday in small Dubai (Batumi), snowboarding on the always snow-covered glaciers (Kazbegi), hiking in green valleys (Tusheti), climbing on rugged mountain slopes. There is something for everyone and in the smallest space. But just because it is small, it does not mean that everything can be reached quickly. This has not necessarily to do something with the streets … yes, we have seen better, but also experienced much worse. No, it is the inhabitants of this jewel that make the driving a martial art. There are stripes on the ground, but nobody really cares, as well as traffic rules in general. A sheer ruthless attachment, scratches, horns and trimmings push the beads of sweat on the forehead within a few minutes. So it’s really not surprising to be unable to find a car without dents and scratches here. Someone even drove against our parked Ernst (do not worry, Ernst won). Without seperation of labor in driver and navigator, we would have been completely lost here. Unfortunately, this mood of driving seems to have seized on the faces of most of the people, because we mostly hoped for friendly faces in vain. And yet, this country is also home to good hearted people who thankfully sacrificed for small friendly gestures.

So … everything sounds worse than it is, but honestly we were not thrilled in the end. On the first evening we met our friends from Greece again and Laika was able to live out their natural play instinct with Reco. After two days together, our ways separated again, we visited the small blossoming coastal town of Batumi and moved on a straight line towards Tbilisi, only interrupted by a lonely bath in a hot spring. The rush was due to the first embassy visit, so we wanted to be able to easily enter Iran later. The one-week waiting time in and around the city was just nerve-wracking, because every little car ride was the ordeal of good humor by the war on the streets. Add to that the uncertainty of how long we really have to wait. So we spent the time with trips to the local climbing gym, tried to run errands of other spare parts, drove to the nearby mountains in order to gain distance to the people (this new altitude record for Ernst 2700m) … And again and again Ernst just turned off during driving. Without warning.

But in itself it went on and on. And every time we thought we had found the mistake … First we had identified the water separator as the cause. It was completely rotten, so we get it out. Then we thought the fuel filter was blocked (you always hear of the bad fuel in these countries) so synonymous exchange it. Then we thought we had a lot of air in the system, maybe a leak somewhere, partly we renewed the pipes and hoses … and yet one day on the way to the mountains … off. And this time he did not switch on again. The night right on the busy street was not the nicest thing on the trip, yet it’s always comforting to have everything with you. Ernst started fine on the next morning, but we wanted to fix, so we went back to the valley to clear the next suspicion … bad fuel. The gas station attendant at the next station was also of our opinion, and he often hears the problem and helped us friendly with the de-fuelling by means of a suction hose. With the new fuel Ernst ran again … we thought. The luck lasted only about 200 km to the day when we wanted to leave Tbilisi with the Iranian visa in the direction of Azerbaijan. >We did not even reach the city limits … and so we found us standing on the highway:

  1. To push a LT Florida alone is almost impossible
  2. Helpful Georgians are unfortunately rare
  3. Listen to Conny, she’s almost always right. Conny wanted to take of the tank since the beginning to see if everything is still ok in it, just I refused the bunch of work, it normally is. So I was able to confirm her suspicions with the preliminary step to the removal. With a twisted wire, I fished a piece of cleaning paper out of the fuel hose … While being clogged we were not wondering anymore that Ernst had no fuel one time or the other.

Quite frankly, if it had not been the few nice people who invited us to home-brewed vodka at night or created a way for us to do our laundry, we would have been very disappointed with this country. Sure, it was the wrong season. Not winter anymore but not spring yet, so that the real beauty was hidden from our eyes. Unfortunately, the road traffic is mainly remembered. And so we give you some advice: If you ever want to visit Georgia, do not explore it by car 😉

PS: The thing about the vodka: One evening we were north of Tbilisi, near Norio, in a nature park. Dense fog, darkness, and bad road forced us to stopp, before we reached our actual destination, a monastery. Shortly after dinner, there was a knock on our door. The first thought: Oh no, we’re standing here on someone’s property and should go away. But it was not like this. A man with his dogs asked us for help. Us. His friend had been broken down in front of us with his Lada and now he needed start-up help. That was not a problem and so we pushed down the Lada until he drove again. Out of gratitude the man invited us to his home. Contrary to all fears, it could be an axe murderer, we went after a few refuse with him. We learned that his name was Tornike, that he lived in Austria for a while and that he was setting up a restaurant on the farmstead of his father. His German was a bit rusty, but with each glass of vodka it was more fluid. We had to drink, too. The good self-brewed. With only 80%. A miracle that we did not become blind. At some point we were able to leave, but he wanted to keep us there. The next morning we visited him again to say thank you and saw only the wonderful property! So if you’re around there, be sure to visit him, he’s looking forward! Here are the coordinates: 41.815276 N, 44.964335 E

 

The Unintentional Reunion

The time in Antalya was really great. The helpfulness, which certainly far exceeded the economic benefits of the workshops, has burned into our hearts. Therefore, it was a bit hard to turn your back on this city. Some other highlights awaited us in the west of the metropolis. The entire landscape is simply gorgeous at this time of the year. Not too warm, but still green, the Taurus Mountains rise from the sea. At one of these mountains we met Mattis again, whom we were allowed to accompany a day in sport climbing. We both used to hang on ropes on a mountain once, but the whole atmosphere of this climbing camp (Geyikbayiri) infested us, so a few days later the space in Ernst was reduced again by a little bit of equipment for own climbing trips.


In the southwest of Antalya are beautiful ruins of ancient settlements and cities that impressively demonstrate the grandeur and progressiveness of the ancient peoples. Large flagstones, heated bathhouses and amphitheatres built on the hillside make most of today’s buildings seem short-lived. The road led us further south, along winding coastal roads, and all without a cracking rear axle. The destination is a mystical place where Greek hero Bellerophon is said to have defeated Chimera on his winged horse Pegasus. The fire-breathing monster is said to be buried behind rocks and its fire is still bubbling on the surface. Dozens of small gas flames licked here in Carali for hundreds of years and let one understand that one can believe in this myth. Practically, marshmallows are also sold at the foot of the hill. Roasted over an ancient fire, they taste at least twice as good.


The drive back to the east came along with a strange noise from the rear axle. No, not the clacking, something new, a hum. Our way back again led through Antalya, so we decided to visit our well-known workshop again. On the way there, the troubleshooting guessing ran at full speed, and so we could report directly on arrival that probably the universal joint of the drive shaft tried to give up. Normally they will always help you immediately. There does not seem to be any dates. First come, first serve. Unfortunately we were not the first, so we were put off to the following day. And since we had a little time pressure on our neck and we did not feel that the damage was particularly acute, we decided to continue traveling to Alanya. Our impatience was punished. After only about 40 km, the noise became so incredibly loud that we stopped, asked questions about the nearest workshop and repaired the damage there. But why was the entire axle so hot that even the spray water evaporates on it? A short time later, on the way to Alanya, we had the answer. The universal joint was just part of the problem. Something was still wrong back there. The grinding noise of metal on metal gave us goosebumps, so we crunched back to the workshop at walking pace. Although already closed, the mechanic came back quickly and was after a short investigation quite sure that the differential must be damaged. The shock was great, but the incredulity, too and yet we followed his advice and continued at a snail’s pace back to Antalya to a well-known workshop for differential gear. After only 2 km this journey ended with a blocked rear wheel at the roadside of the freeway.


Before the start of our big drive we were sent by our chief mechanic on a 1000 km test drive. On this we stayed with broken radiator hose. A circumstance that came to our attention right now, because the then called yellow angel persuaded us to a PLUS membership at the ADAC to be able to get help outside of Germany. And honestly … that worked perfectly. A tow truck with special equipment for blocked wheels, which can transport a 3.40-meter-high camper  was send to us in such a short time, a masterpiece. And despite the downpour, which drenched us all to the bone while Ernst was being loaded, the mood remained cheerful and serene. A fast ride, bypassing many tunnels and underpasses later we prepared ourselves for a slightly different night, at the depot of the old known workshop. Will we ever go further east than Antalya? At least we have not lost the will to do so yet.

 

Turkish Greece

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Yes, we were naughty. Despite clear Internet information which border crossing we had to use with pets, we decided on a shortcut. Who wants to drive 200 km extra? And it went smooth again. Laika was sweet and cute (we’re thinking about training her to do it on command) and so the border guards only ended up with “Only one dog?” And the way was clear for a new country. Following the recommendation of our new friends to avoid Istanbul as a self-driver, we headed south for the ferry at Canakkale to get across the Bosphorus. Our first night on Turkish soil was unfortunately interrupted early (10 pm), because we had chosen a place to sleep near a historic site of the First World War, in which camping was probably not allowed. Fortunately, the two police officers were very friendly and recommended alternatives along the road. So we just retooled Ernst ready to drive again and off to another place (in pajamas).


There we were noticed the next morning negative again, because it probably concealed a military facility behind the nearby grove, and in the vicinity of such photographs, especially by drone, were prohibited. Unfortunately, there are no maps where the military installations are listed, so it is always a small gamble to bring the flying eye in the air. But these policemen were pleasantly friendly and understanding. To be honest, that did not fit our expectations of Turkey at all. We reckoned with rough people who would show a fundamentally defensive attitude, but everywhere we were greeted by friendliness. Was that not the real Turkey? Was that only because we were traveling in tourist areas? We will see. On the ferry we met Uwe and his wife. The German CTO of a wind energy company gave us a lot of recommendations regarding sights and offered us help on the phone, in case we needed a translation … How much we would need in the future, we could not even imagine. For our little woof, there was nothing better on the crossing than to watch the seagulls sail around and thinking about plucking each feather one by one … but she left it at the thought of it.

The further way to Antalya was lined with ancient places, which we did not really expect here. Partly it was more like what we expected from Greece. With places like Troy and Ephesos, there were even absolute highlights on our route. So beautifully restored and explained in detail, it was easy to imagine wandering the marble floors of the splendid colonnades at that time. You see, this is not just about pure pleasure, but also culture is very important.

Small towns such as Selcuk with its market, which extended over the entire town center, were not safe from us either. Slowly we lost our timidity and started to go shopping on the local markets. It may sound ridiculous, but to farewell the usual, domestic and above all anonymous supermarkets is harder than expected. The last attraction on the road before Antalya was Pamukkale. The ancient city of Hierapolis is built on a small mountain, which produces a calcarous thermal spring and has thus produced all over white sinter terraces on its south side. A natural spectacle, which has also been recognized by UNESCO. It is only barefootly allowed to climb the mountain, which was due to the early hour (we wanted to avoid the Chinese tourist hordes), first, a very cold and second, sometimes very sharp-edged painful pleasure. After all, Laika was allowed with us. We did not expect that much tolerance, but the street dogs did not stop in front of these places, so why lock out a dog on a leash?

With plenty of impressions in the luggage, we rolled on. And again and again this clacking noise from the rear axle … but that won’t be bad … will it?

From antiquity to the mud hole

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A few weeks ago you could already read about our field repair of the roof rack. That came exactly at this point, as we worked our way from Thessaloniki further on the coast. We drove the coastal road, which meant that there were rather small resorts and villages, as a place for us to find. But after some bumpy ways we found a little paradise. A mini-bay with a stony beach, uninhabited and behind so many hedges, that it was barely visible. So we stopped there to make some repairs. This short but well deserved compulsory break was not only used to screw on Ernst, but Martin was also able to prove his carving skills by replacing the broken frying pan handle with the new pocket knife from Mama from a piece of driftwood. This cherished pan was Conny year-long companion and has already made one or the other move to Germany’s shores (much more important is actually that her name is engraved and that’s something you can not just give away!). It feels now much better in the hand and is certainly even more unique.

But after a few days we moved further east. It seems Vanlifer all somehow head in the same direction to drive, because at our designated next place to sleep we finally met the first like-minded people on this trip. Linda and Jonathan had made themselves comfortable right on the small bay, which we had chosen from satellite pictures to be our nightly sleeping place. But you like to share, and so it was rather the convivial round of wine and cookies in the mustard-coloured Mercedes bus of the two, rather than a diligent work evening on the compute. Incidentally their bus is absolute unique, or who can show me another German car, which has a wood stove inside?


For Laika, this meeting was certainly the biggest friend of ours, because Linda and Jonathan had fallen in love with a puppy in a small Kosovar village and adopted him without hesitation and named it Reco. The first dog contact on this trip stnad Laika so before. So our – almost adult – bitch could show how to breed from dog to dog … or at least have a lot of fun on four paws.

The next morning our ways parted with the rather safe feeling to see each other again somewhere on this trip. But make an appointment, that does not really work in this world, because too often something breaks or a small nice dirt road attracts one to fantastically beautiful places and invites you to linger. Our route now follows the ancient marble road, past beautiful olive groves and breathtaking archaeological sites and through cozy herds of cows. Again and again through narrow paths, overgrown with ancient trees. Already during the trip, it seemed to us that this road is not necessarily suitable for campers, and a look in the guide revealed only at the end of the route that vehicles without four-wheel drive and over 3 feet in height should better look for another way , Still went anyway, albeit slowly.

And then there was this one fateful, rainy day just before the Turkish border. Fully stocked with greek goodies we were looking for a quiet place for the night. The small dirt road that led away from the highway also looked very tempting. A few fields left and right, small groves in the distance … it seemed perfect. Only somehow the sodden soil and Ernst’s stately 2.8 tons were not compatible with each other, and so we relatively unexpectedly stuck to the axis in the mud. You may remember our first Monday photo on Facebook. The great differential lock did not help any further. And of course, just in the moment from the light rain was a pretty considerable shower. So in the following hours (yes, hours) the streams that flowed down the slope to Ernst had to be diverted and many stones were dragged from the roadside into our lane. The winch also had its first correct use and was allowed to pull Ernst back several times to the firmer part of the path. But in the end, only the sand trays really helped us to pull ourselves on the mess like Münchhausen on its own Schopfe. And everywhere was mud. At the car, under the car, at the sand plates, the winch, the folding spade, the washing tub, the boots, trousers, in the car, the dog. Really everywhere. The 100 meters backwards had us done. Sometimes you learn to appreciate every centimeter that comes in the desired direction. So it was called to the place of freedom and the closing time (in the meantime, it was already dark and forget the rain).

Hopefully something like that will not happen to us again … or what will Turkey have in store for us? You can read it next time.

Sun, palm trees, sunshine – what could be better?

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It’s not true at all, because we’ve never been to Greece before, but it felt like coming home. After all, we have become real childs of the EU, because suddenly the borders were no real borders, the money was known and a mood of the community was in the air. Maybe it was the prospect of sun, beach and the sea. It’s hard to say it exactly, but the prospect of rushing waves and warm temperatures let Ernst drive a few more miles / h faster.

The first morning after the short compulsory toll road started with a small flickering candle in a mini tartlet and a serenade from Laika and Martin on Conny’s birthday. Anyone who sang it slated, is no longer clearly understand who exactly, but it was most certainly the dog;). Nevertheless, someone was very happy about it.

The great, romantic dinner in the port city of Thessaloniki unfortunately encountered a massive communication problem with the waitress. You just cannot rely on the waitress bringing you something to eat, just because she kindly thanks you for the order. After 1 ½ hours of patient waiting (you can always hear that the southern countries are not in such a hurry) we swung around for a quick snack and drove along the bay to see the city in all its glory over the sea.

There we were finally, by the sea! Only the sun and the high temperatures were missing, but at least: the SEA! From now on, it should finally really go eastwards. Into the unknown, the rough, the new. To be honest … it felt less like the big adventure than in the previous countries. What has to happen, so that we finally realize that it is not a long package holiday? A foretaste was waiting for us at the eastern end of the country, but more on that next time.

Downhill back to the real EU

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The day on the snowy mountain in Bulgaria had started well when we were celebrated as little heroes of everyday life (what happened there again? Read here) by the local park attendant and a few guys from the local freeride ski scene. Unfortunately, that was once again only for the two-legged tour participants, so Laika had earned a decent hike through the snow. The wide snow trails were almost deserted, due to the strong wind, the lift was out of order and only a few happy boarders were allowed to venture into the slippery pleasure by a rarely seen snowcat. Admittedly, three of us have brought the slope already pretty much out of breath, yes, even the dog. At the tree line, it did not even take a kite to take off, so we took that as a grateful reason to turn back. But not just walking down the hill … no … taking the rain cover from the backpack and putting it over our bums we slid down the hill on our backsides. At regular intervals, our Husky-Mis jumped over the heap, who could barely hold his own for the joy of his people at eye level, even in the snow.

After laughter attacks and a subsequent, unfortunately very rainy, night on the mountain, the journey continued south the following day. Freshly set with plenty of air-dried sausage, which from now on happily rocked with every pothole in Ernst, we headed for our last highlight in this country. A small museum village just ahead of the Greek border advertised with historic buildings and a very tasty home-made wine, which would certainly fit well with the dry sausage. Unfortunately, whenever something is advertised or is in a travel guide,  it will be somehow overcrowded, or then just in the off season usual, almost extinct. However, we were lucky with the weather, so that nevertheless some shops had opened and we could enjoy a wonderful view over the monastery ruins and the adjacent sandstone mountains. Now with plenty of grape juice on board we did not wait for Greece any longer. What was waiting for us behind the border? In the next report you will read it down to the smallest detail.

The awaited paradise on earth…or Bulgaria.

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It’s almost unfair to Romania, but we were so much looking forward to seeing something different from the mountains of rubbish that a minefield in the middle of a zombie army would have been a welcome change.

Luckily no one expects an objective travel blog from us, so we can report with a clear conscience that we put on our blinkers, paid the bridge toll to Bulgaria with a happy heart and drove into the most beautiful country on earth … at least for the moment. We managed to successfully ignore the crumbled houses ,which stood here as well as before the border and instead enjoyed the sunshine of the very early spring. So Bulgaria, a lot of land, also rubbish (but less), crumbling houses, but somehow kept with more love with vine branches and climbing roses holding the houses together than the neighbors in the north. We have not planned much time for this country, still true to the motto: What is so close at, you can also visit later and need not take a year off.

So we rummed with an average mileage of 160km / day to the south. That may not sound like much at first, but only those who have never seen the streets with their own eyes can’t tell. Without a vigilant copilot, who always warns the driver of deep craters in the asphalt, surely more serious damages would have occured, yet it shakes some of the screws from the coverings of the living room, not to mention flying fruit and other torn away travel items.

After the first night in a beautiful national park with great hiking trails, which led around an old castle carved into the rock, we filled our fresh water supplies at a nearby source and roared towards the capital. Sofia clearly recognizes the balancing act between the old Soviet era and the innovations of the EU. The Western world, with its heavily advertised consumer goods, seems somehow out of place in the spirit between the architecture of the USSR. Nevertheless, one felt a real serenity in the eyes of passengers. We always like to use these short stays in cities to train with our Laika, how to behave properly in the presence of other dogs and strangers. In most cases, however, it is not up to our beloved four-legged friends, but rather the well-meaning bipeds are the problem. And even in the case when the extremely friendly waiters of a local restaurant asked us to leave, as dogs are not welcome, Laikas reaction was to pee in the foyer (with joy!) Also that was somehow appropriate … we find at least.

We went to Sofia’s local mountain, where there seemed to be plenty of snow. And spent a stormy night there. The next day he approached. The first WINCH USE. We call it a gentle beginning, because it was not Ernst himself who had become the victim of his unwavering drivers, but a car that had got stuck in the loose snow ditch in the parking lot of a small ski area. So: be friendly, offer help, pull the car back to the streets, meet new nice people. Whether we ourselves have come down safely from the snowy hill? We’ll tell you more about that next time.

Romania – The End.

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As you may have guessed so far, Romania has not convinced us. If not, I’ll bring that back to your mind for a second: garbage.
So it was day 3 in Romania and we started out of this snowy winter landscape towards Bran. Bran. Exactly, who does not know it. We wanted to go to Bran Castle, as it was called the “Dracula Castle” due to the great similarity in the novel of the same name. So we drove deeper into the Carpathians and Ernst bravely fought his way up the serpentines. Second gear, my best friend. We came through remote hamlets and deep forests, it had something mystical, which suited Dracula. We had forgotten garlic, preparation is everything … Then we drove to Bran and tata! A tourist village of first class. Gone with rural tranquility. Restaurant, souvenirs and parking guards at every turn. But ok, we wanted to take a look at the legend of the castle. Said and done. But then at the entrance: “Big dog no possible”. Laika is now a big dog, ok. She felt flattered and we left again, we had sworn to go in only where our fluffy is alllowed. At the entrance of the castle Conny was hit by a roof avalanche. We had not imagined that, but it suited our picture of Romania. Since we had already bought a parking ticket for two hours we strolled on the tourist market and bought smoked cheese and – now it comes – hand-woven and -knit partner sheep wool sweater. So slowly we become one person.
We drove further into the Carpathians and found above a small village a great place where we wanted to stay (again in the snow). The sunset in the mountains was glorious, the peaks sparkling and shining in all shades of red and orange. We were just about to go to sleep, when a car drove around us several times, honked and pulled off again. Who should that be? Half an hour later, a man knocked with a huge herding dog (he was 75 cm tall). We anxiously opened the sliding door expecting a booth timepiece for wrong parking, and the man asked against all expectations: “Problem?” We waved off. What a nice gesture! The man lived about 200 meters further and thought we had a problem with the car and just wanted to offer his help. We responded with “camping” and he understood us and replied “Ah, camping, camping!” and left again. In this wonderfully clear mountain night with great stars in the sky, we fell deeply asleep.
The next two days we made the track and drove out of the Carpathians on Ramnicu, Pitesti and Slatina. There we stayed overnight, before we went on to get to Widin in Bulgaria as soon as possible. On the way we found again and again old parked aircraft wrecks. At one point, someone had put three of them together and lived in them. Our resume to Romania: not again.

Romania Part II

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Ok, admittedly the forest was so lonely that probably no wolves, bears or any other creatures got here, but still, we wanted to get away quickly. Even if it was the only place in Romania so far, where no bottles, plastic bags, tires or other debris was laying around. So we started early and we drove and drove and drove. On this day we made right an amount of kilometers, because the road conditions were good, partly we drove on the highway, which was no comparison to a Polish highway. Almost certainly financed with EU funds, Ernst was able to develop his full force and we drove with incredibly fast 75 km / h to the southeast. Our next destination was the Carpathians. After many hours we finally saw mountains again; the flat, treeless, greasy, drab country had come to an end. There was landscape again. We were looking for a place in the mountains behind Herrmannstadt. Ernst rummaged through the snow (yes, there was snow again!) Until we found a place that was cozy, quiet and even beautiful. Everywhere was 30 cm high snow and the sun was glorious! Parking and there we go for a small winter walk. Laika was in her element. She loves snow and could romp for hours in it. So her people fought with her a snowball fight first class. End of the song: Laika won. All snowballs were properly caught and destroyed, people were broken and basically wet and dirty from top to bottom. Here we experienced a completely different Romania. The passing farmers greeted us friendly when they saw us, although we were somehow near their homesteads, the landscape was just not only available but also really pretty and garbage was also not visible. Maybe because he was lying under the snow. But here we liked it.

Romania Part I

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Dracula, great landscapes and wonderful hiking trails. That’s what we heard from this country and our expectations were accordingly high. We left Hungary via Szeged (some of you know Szeged because of the big music festival, others because of the Szeged goulash or the salami). We really liked the country and later we want to make a longer trip here. But it should go on, we wanted to quickly head into the warmth. We drove from Hungary to Romania across the border, Laika laid back her ears again and was very cute to the border guards, who of course melted away. At the vignette station 100 meters away we met an Uelzener who was on a family visit. Probably hunter, because he had a Subaru in green. And then came:

Nothing. For a long time nothing.

The road in Romania was lined with garbage. Unnecessarily a lot of garbage. No forest, hardly a shrub. From time to time disintegrated megaland farms and towns. The smoke of the wood-fired ovens hung heavily in the air, taking sight and breath. Should that be the impression with which we leave this country later? But there were bright spots.

We drove to Timisoara, where we arrived late. After all, we also wanted to get to know regional cuisine. In front of the restaurant “Old House” Ernst got some admiring glances and we were recommended the restaurant with highest notes. So with our doggie we went in, the waiter even spoke English! We ordered lemonade and a meat plate that had it all. We ate almost everything, and the waiter acknowledged this accomplishment with approval. “This platter is normally for four people.” With pride and bellies filled to burst we went on sleeping place search, which turned out to be very difficult without trees. We wanted to stand alone and unnoticed, as we always had this subliminal theft victim feeling. We found a very lonely place late in the only forest far and wide, where Conny was afraid of wolves, bears, the silence and above all the darkness. But at least we could stop here.

About the second, the third and a hill….

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We drive. Well, at least we call that driving. The truck drivers behind us woul love to take us on their bumper and by that remove the traffic obstruction.
The bumpy country roads of Hungary combined with curves in all directions pose serious challenges for both Ernst and crew. Martin tels the direction and intensity of the curves, Laika rolls her eyes because she can not lie comfortably, Conny cranks the steering wheel every now and then and talks to each gear well. Another increase. Sixteen percent. “Come on, third, you can do it! I’ll trust on you, give everything!” Shake, shake. “Ok, second, your chance, be better than the third, with you we are on the safe side!”.
This is how many hours pass, because we want to accomplish many kilometers today. If you follow our live map, you will see that sometimes it just does not go ahead. Speaking of progress. We get to know our Ernst / vehicle / apartment better from day to day. Like when we were in the parking lot and the engine just did not start. We were motivated, the battery was full, electricity was running. But nothing. So Martin climbed out of Ernst, pushed him a few centimeters back. That turned the engine and the starter had enough power to start the engine.
Or all the other days, when we have to take every right curve with 30 km/H, because when we’re too fast, the diff lock will snap…
But not only start assistance, pushing and listening to noises is on the program, no, even smaller track adjustment or even just renewing the cables of the gas preheating. It’s just an old car (sorry, Ernst!) And there is always something to do. We are looking forward to the next challenges that accompany us on the way.

The best thing about having friends all over the world, …

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… is to have friends all over the world! But a visit during a world trip is more like a reunion with family members. This absolute cordiality, co-joy, interest and tackle with repairs and everyday softens our heart!

The last night we spent with Martina, a Boßel friend of Martin, who now lives northeast of Vienna. She looked after us so well that we almost did not want to leave. We were able to wash clothes, got raclette for dinner and warmed our cheeks and spirits with beer. Laika was once again the star, because her cuteness factor only ever increases. Again at this point: Wheeee!

During the day we had visited Vienna, ate Kaiserschmarrn and apricot dumplings and Laika went courageously, after she has flirted with the coachman, gave several timid dog-pecks to the Fiaka-horse.

World-Journey-Feelings

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… nope! So far the journey feels like a weekend trip. Well, actually we could turn around and be home by Sunday evening. But no, let’s move on, we’re just at the start.
So, let’s start from the beginning: Friday we went off, from Berlin with some stops over Poland to Saxony. There we stopped in Königshain, near a granite quarry (thank you for earlier visit, Vladi!). The first night was cuddly, with our pimped mattress, the double duvet and two pillows each, it was not only warm but also a bit crowded at the top. Despite temperatures around zero, nobody actually was freezing.
After the morning start and an incredibly nice meet-up on an iced hill (Regards to you, Berlin-guy, if you’re reading this), we went for a small walk around the granite mining area and further in the direction of the Czech Republic. And since we forget things, we still had one or the other stop a supermarket, hardware store & Co. Our goal for the day were the Prachau Mountains, where there should be really nice photo opportunities. At dawn we parked with another car (was it the caretaker?) at the foot of the national park.
On Sunday morning we sit in the mountains, the dog on the long leash, Martin with the camera, Conny with the backpack. Snow-covered rocks, firs as thin as matches and no one around. Gorgeous! We walked a good two hours, zoomed (sometimes hurled) by the dog and couldn’t get enough. But we wanted to go on. In the afternoon we drove to Prague and did a short walk through the old town, ate Trdelnik and made our way further again. This time in the direction of Cesky Sternberk, where we stop at the foot of a giant castle in the middle of the forest.