Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Turkey ...?

We've been having some trouble accessing the blog from Turkey - yep, that's where we are right now! - and so we're using this as an excuse to go out and have fun, and blog about it later.

The reason behind it is a current legal battle about football games (apparently illegally?) broadcast through someone's blog, resulting in a nationwide shutdown of the blogger service. Rather than the blog or the update page, we would just see a Turkish legal message. Now, for the first time since our first day in Istanbul, I can at least upload something, if not view it. 

Anyway, updates will come online later ... and in the meantime, we'll be out enjoying ourselves.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Summer is here!

And here's the proof ...

Fresh strawberries!

And a swim in the sea ... we dived in after this shot was taken.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Driving in Turkey (Part II)

Well … perhaps we spoke too soon about driving in Turkey.

It seems the road between Mersin and Alanya is being upgraded from single carriageway to duel, and in the meantime, much of it is unpaved. And you're sharing it with the massive trucks needed to undertake such an engineering effort … did we mention that it's a spectacularly hilly and forested landscape, with the steep hills meeting the clear Mediterranean Sea? Every now and again there would be an agricultural centre, with fresh fruit for sale, or we'd drop down out of the hills to an empty strip of beach. There were castles and abandoned Roman cities to explore, too.

The trucks and lack of paving may have slowed us down, but admiring the view slowed us down even more.

And then we noticed the local constabulary waving their flag … it would not have surprised us to hear that we had been done for speeding, as we're still not entirely sure what the speed limits actually are in Turkey. We showed the officer first our drivers licence, then our registration papers – but this is not what he wanted. He indicated we should get out of the van, so we did – and then he lead us around to the front of Fred.

Where a yellow and black Dutch numberplate once was, there was only a cracked, black frame. Whoops. The bumpy roads in the dark had claimed a victim. “No problem!” said the officer, being his only words in English thus far, and so with a bit of cardboard, a black pen and some tape, we mocked something up and were on our way.

Not round. Whoops.
Drama Number Two occurred a little later. Apparently it was a bigger ditch than expected, or Fred could handle. Whoops again. But rims are easy to fix, or replace if necessary, right? And why would you call it a bumper if it wasn't meant to be, well, bumped occasionally?

Sunday, 20 March 2011


Like many tourists in Turkey, we spent a few days in Cappadocia.

We started at the Open Air Museum, checking out the best collection of the churches and monasteries in one spot, most with amazing frescoes. We stocked up on local dried fruit on the way, and as usual in Turkey, were given bucket loads of tea at the same time.

Then, we just set off, hiking through the valleys. We scrambled up and through the sandy (and sometimes damp) caves and pillars, into narrow gorges. Sometimes we'd find another church, with a carved ceiling or more frescoes, or an old house with stone door that could be rolled into place in time of attack, or just row upon row of dovecotes. 

We'll let the photos do the talking ...

Spot the Mark.

Spot the Jen.

At night we parked up at a place called “Sunset Point”. Every evening a little rain and cloud prevented the sunset over the valleys from being worth watching; the morning light and hot air balloons it brought was better!

Thursday, 17 March 2011



We really enjoyed Istanbul. Really, really enjoyed it – from the crowded Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, as well as all the small market streets between them, to the soaring domes of Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, the history and beauty of Topkapi Palace and its harem, to having an alfresco dinner in Beyoglu.

We ate our way around most of the city – not just kebap and baklava (although they featured frequently) but also fresh BBQ fish on the waterfront, a variety of Turkish puddings with Turkish coffee and, of course, lots and lots of cay (tea!). All that walking around and admiring the city necessitates frequent stops for refreshment.

Of course we hit up the major tourist sights, gawping with the best of them and taking far too many photos – none of which, now we come to view them on the computer screen, show the grandeur and adequately reflect our memories. It's best to visit them for yourselves!

Sure, at the end of a long stint in the Grand Bazaar we were tempted to make t-shirts with the slogan “We're from Australia. But no thanks, we don't want to buy a carpet.” Considering the zeal of the salesmen, we feel a little proud of the fact that we managed to avoid buying a carpet – or a lampshade, or a stack of Iznik tiles, or a leather footstool, or any other bulky homewares – and only purchased a few smaller, more practical souvenirs. Does anyone get away unscathed?

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Driving in Turkey

The Lonely Planet describe driving in Turkey like this:

“Driving around Turkey gives you unparalleled freedom to enjoy the marvellous countryside and coastline ... Road surfaces and signage are generally good on the main roads at least ...”

Doesn't sound too bad, eh? But then:

“The bad news is that Turkey has one of the world's highest motor-vehicle accident rates. Turkish drivers are not particularly discourteous, but they are impatient and incautious. They like to drive at high speed and have an irrepressible urge to overtake. To survive on Turkey's highways, drive cautiously and very defensively, and never let emotions affect what you do. Avoid driving at night, when you won't be able to see potholes, animals or even vehicles driving with their lights off.”

So, we entered Turkey super excited but prepared for the worst. A visa was purchased, we got a few more stamps in our passports, even Fred had to be registered – and finally we were on our way.

We chose to avoid the toll road, aiming for a smaller city to the west of Istanbul to spend the night. And despite this road being mostly single carriageway, and having the odd soft edge or pothole, we successfully navigated through Edirne and onwards – and found that none of the evils of driving in Turkey seemed to apply. Drivers were not that fast or incautious, seemed to know how to use an indicator and even pulled over if they were going slow up a hill for us to overtake. Perhaps the writers should go to Italy sometime - or was it too early to feel confident?

We arrived in the harbour city of Tekirdag, in time for their speciality, spicy kofte, for dinner (yum!) before finding a roadside stop to get some sleep. We needed all our faculties to deal with the morning's challenge – driving into Istanbul.

The Lonely Planet says: “Driving in Istanbul is a nightmare.” We can verify that this statement is 100% completely true. Particularly at peak hour in the morning (when we arrived) and in the afternoon (a few days later when we left). We had planned to park Fred at the long term parking at the airport in order to avoid all this, but their parking is only for vehicles up to 2m high – Fred is 2.05metres. So we got sucked closer and closer to the centre, desperately trying to find somewhere to park before Fred was hit (or hit something) – or Jen, behind the wheel, had a meltdown.

This should also be about the time to let you know that we didn't have a road map. Or a TomTom. We just had the small black-and-white tourist diagram from the Lonely Planet; we could read all about the horrors of driving, and the difficulty in finding parking, but other than that, we relied mainly on roadsigns. Oh, and we didn't speak a word of Turkish – we now at least know “otopark” (car park)!

Writing this far away from Istanbul, we can confirm that our initial impressions of Turkish roads and drivers were correct – not our impressions from driving in Istanbul. We haven't seen any reckless driving and have enjoyed roads of good quality, as well as endless cups of free cay when we fill up with diesel. Can't wait to see more of this country!

Monday, 14 March 2011


We arrived hungry, and only started enjoying the city once we'd found a carpark - and some pastry!

We saw Plovdiv's famous Roman amphitheatre (still used, of course) ...

... and renovated old buildings ...

... and more Roman ruins, right under the town.

Oh, and it was hot enough for ice-cream ... perfect.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Bulgarian Rock

We drove in on Saturday night to see a roaring campfire by the side of the road, underneath soaring cliffs. We parked up and wandered over, and met a friendly group of local climbers who advised us on routes to climb, invited us to sit by the fire and insisted we try their local "schnaps" ... Welcome to Bulgaria!

More specifically, welcome to the Vrattzata Passage.

In bright sunshine the next morning, we warmed up on a couple of single pitch slabs - our feet complaining about the tight shoes, and our hands complaining about rough rock and tiny crimpers. Despite feeling pretty fit from climbing and skiing / boarding through winter, we've forgotten how to rock climb and our bodies didn't hesitate to grumpily remind us.

Bezengi - up the corner crack in the middle to the top!

Nevertheless, the five pitch Bezengi looked too good to miss out on ... particularly the fourth pitch, with a smooth slab on the right and a hand-sized crack in the left corner. Stemming, laybacking, a little jamming and some smearing - great moves and fun climbing!

Note the t-shirt. Ah, sunshine!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Germany to Bulgaria: The Statistics

1 – large box of Rhona's homemade biscuits;

1.539 – Euros per litre of premium diesel in Austria;

2 – horses frolicking on the road in Bulgaria;

3 – apples;

4 - new passport stamps;

5.99 – Euros spent on Macdonalds;

6 – countries: Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria!;

14 – approximate driving time in hours;

71 – Euros spent on tolls and vignettes;

300 – the year AD, approximately, that Felix Romuliana was built: interesting ruins, covered in the last of this season's snow;
60km in, a long way to go.

605 – longest distance quoted by TomTom without a single travel direction: ie “there's only one road in Serbia, and it's the highway outta there”;

1336 – total kilometres driven;

7470 – RSD spent on diesel: far cheaper than Austria!; and

100835 – the badge number of the Serbian border officer who “requested a donation” as our valid car insurance was the “wrong colour”.

Conglomerate pillars in Belogradchik, Bulgaria: we're there at last!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Winter is over - and it's time for summer!

Winter is over.

We've certainly had some awesome days skiing, boarding and ice climbing - and some fabulous nights out too - visiting some famous and some less famous areas all over the Alps and into Bavaria as well. We've caught up with friends, we've met other climbers and even at rare times had some solitude on a climb. We've both now much more confident on ice than before, knowing the ice, our ability and our gear better (and perhaps being more than a little interested in upgrading!). Jen's even started to enjoy black runs on her skis - quite a change in attitude! - and Mark's had loads of fun off-piste (and has the black patch scars on his board to prove it).

But ... to be honest, it's not been much of a winter. It's been quite depressing at times in the Alps, with all those sunny skies and warm days, chasing away the fresh snow and melting the ice. We've had to stick to north-facing routes, as most south-facing ice routes never formed properly, and we were extremely surprised (and overjoyed, too - don't get me wrong!) to have had three such great snow days in Val Thorens with the Ambers after almost six weeks without fresh snow.

This means that we're just going to have to spend another winter in the Alps before we can contemplate leaving Europe. It's a hard life, but we'll manage!

And in the meantime? Summer awaits! So, in preparation for the change in season, we're back at Rhona and Brett's place in Munich. We've emptied Fred out, and are busy cleaning and sorting gear - in between hanging out, long games of Carcassone, cooking, eating and drinking, of course. All the winter stuff is being left behind, as is the UltraBox, and no doubt this will make life in the van a lot more comfortable. No more skis, snowboard or multiple axes to shift every time we need to eat or sleep or drive! No more drying ropes, harnesses and sharps each day! Hurray!

Fred is also having some minor repairs tomorrow (apparently that funny noise and occasional smoke isn't normal or good, but is at least easily fixed) - and then he will get new tyres on Thursday too... and by the end of the week, we'll be ready for summer. 

Bulgaria? Turkey? Greece? Here we come.