We rolled into the Ottoman city of Safranbolu famed for its Turkish Delights and Saffron tea; it was a real treat to stay in a 265-year-old Ottoman house, now hotel.
The legendary Cappadocia was our next port of call; the riding today was certainly some of the most challenging to date but still nothing compared to Mongolia and the Road of Bones that lies ahead! We wound our way up into the high Anatolian Plains crawling our way through tiny villages with cobblestone streets and elderly people chatting on the sidewalks. It was the real Turkey away from the freeways and hustle and bustle.
The fairytale chimney landscapes of Cappadocia never fail to amaze and everyone was blown away at this stunning landscape. We stayed at the Shoestring Cave Hotel, a series of caves that have been converted into great rooms. Turkish Pide and Efes were thoroughly enjoyed on the terrace overlooking Goreme, tough life but someone has to do it!
Something we have all struggled with is the 4 a.m. “call to prayer” and we swear all our hotels are located next to a minaret. However the “call to prayer” served as an alarm clock for our hot air balloon ride over the area, though after two hours waiting it was cancelled due to winds, to much or not enough we could never figure out. It hurts getting up at that ungodly hour for nada!!! Some brave riders took the chance and tried again the next day and were amply rewarded with some epic flying across the remarkable landscapes of Cappadocia. The rest of us stayed in bed, once going back to sleep after the “call to prayer”.
We rode north across the Anatolian Plains again that included some absolutely epic riding through winding, twisting narrow passes with gradients of 10% and more. Canyon after canyon appeared as we crossed numerous passes as we rode toward another Ottoman town, Amaysa.
Amaysa lies between two sheer walls of rock and is home to some incredible Ottoman buildings that hang over the river as well as some ancient burial chambers that date back to 400 BC, a real unknown gem of Turkey.
More stunningly beautiful scenery was enjoyed as we crossed the mountains to the Black Sea Coast. Turkey is in the grip of a road building frenzy and the ride along the Black Sea Coast was, although scenic, totally different to what it was four short years ago. Now, a four lane highway travels every inch of the way to Trabzon, the city where we used to catch the ferry to Russia.
We have chosen a new route that deletes the misery of the Black Sea Ferry crossing and adds Georgia, since the border between Georgia and Russia has at last opened and I think we have nailed the ride from Trabzon to Kars, it was absolutely brilliant. The road slowly wound its way through numerous narrow valleys with villages and tea plantations clinging to the valley walls. We slowly ascended to a 2600 meter pass that offered epic views of snow capped peaks all around. It was second only to the scenery we experienced during the ride on the Grossglockner! More canyon lands dissected by a turquoise river reminiscent of Monument Valley in the US, but only green, was absolutely loved by all riders. The scenery just didn’t stop all day as we rode into Kars at 6 p.m., tired but elated.
Our last day in Turkey was greeted by our first puncture just before the Georgian border, of course!! We again crossed a 2600 meter pass with snow-capped peaks again in view, the riding was at times trying as the road went from badly potholed to no road at all as we descended steeply on washed out dirt all the while being hailed on.
Crossing into Georgia was like stepping back in time, the roads are terrible the drivers even worse and the buildings are in an incredible state of disrepair but the place is somehow still absolutely beautiful. The road, and I use that term loosely, followed the course of a raging river with the landscape dotted with old castles and fortresses; as we ascended through pine forests we reached the ski resort of Bakuriani, our destination for a night.
Arriving in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, we were confronted with some news that would change the entire expedition; the border between Georgia & Russia had been closed due to a massive landslide that killed a number or people. This threw us into chaos as we struggled to find an alternate route. Retracing to Turkey is pointless, as all Black Sea ferries into Sochi, Russia, have been cancelled due to the port of Sochi being closed since the winter Olympics. We looked at getting an Azerbaijani visa but this would take at least a week and we would be forced to take the Baku ferry across the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan and this ferry is notoriously unreliable with no schedule. At the final hour we came up with a solution; we will cross into the disputed territory of Abkhazia that borders Russia near Sochi but first we need a transit visa and this can still take a few days. If all else fails we will be returning to Europe and enter Russia via Poland, only time will tell, its going to be an interesting week.
* Update 16th June
– The possibility of crossing into either Azerbaijan or Abkhazia did not work out so the expedition was forced to create a detour all the way back around through Turkey, Romania, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to enter Russia at that point travelling through countries where visas wouldn’t be such an issue. With hotel reservations lost and new hotels and route planned the team set off back into Turkey and after travelling for a few day news reached us that a portion of the landslide had been cleared allowing traffic to again pass through. Currently the team is deciding whether to again double back to the Georgia/Russia border and attempt the border again via the newly cleared path or continue on the new route via Europe. Stay tuned!
Our gear; We have experienced just about every type of rainy weather condition thus far from blinding thunderstorms to hail and the Touratech Zega 2 panniers have not a let a drop of water ingress, they are really doing the job and that’s important as I have $1000s worth of camera equipment, medical kit and tools in each box. Simple as that, and no we aren’t being paid to say this, they work and that’s it!!!
My BMW Pro 3 riding suit is awesome, it actually doesn’t leak, something I never believed to be possible. It is the ideal suit for the weather we are encountering, generally hot but at the same time some VERY heavy thunderstorms. Whip in the waterproof liners when the storms hit them and open up the numerous air vents when its gets hot again, versatility is the word that springs to mind.