At the beginning of December we spend a few days in Mavrovo national park. We found a few good places to camp but it was very cold and wet with either rain or snow. You can clearly see that the area is beautiful, but in the bad weather circumstances it was hard to appreciate fully. Everything in the van was continuously wet and washing clothes and ourselves became a problem.
We tried to get closer to Korab mountain but it became foggy for several days. So we decided to drive on to Skopje. After a stay in Skopje we visited the Matka canyon, you can read about Skopje and the canyon here.
From Skopje we drove to Kokino observatory but again the weather stopped us form actually visiting. So we drove on to monastery of St. Joachim Osogovski. A beautiful complex with 2 churches decorated with murals. It is an orthodox monastery, originally build in the 12th century.
While there, we finally had some nice weather, dry and sunny. Nevertheless, we decided to go to Turkey a bit quicker. We drove into Bulgaria near Rila. We were amazed by the beauty of Bulgaria! Even in winter. Rila national park and the Balkan national park must be spectacular in summer. Very mountainous, a lot of forests, rivers and streams. Green everywhere. We will definitely come back in summer.
For now we spend a night in snowy Rila near the Rila monastery. We are not religious, even though this was our second monastery in a short time. In Macedonia and Bulgaria there are simply a lot of orthodox monasteries. Where Albania is a mix of different beliefs, mostly Christian and Muslim (living peacefully together), these two countries are mostly orthodox Christian, with an obvious Greek influence. Rila is the most famous and largest orthodox monastery in Bulgaria and build in the 10th century. Monks are still living there, just like in Osogovski. All the monasteries have in common that there are a lot of beautiful, colourful frescoes. Too much to take all in, really. Since we were there out of season, it was very peaceful and quite. With the high, snow covered mountains on the background.
After Rila we visited the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. It was the quickest city visit ever, as much was closed due to corona. You can read about this visit here. From Sofia we drove on to the Balkan national park. The mountainous forest where covered in snow. Here we took our Christmas picture. We spend the night camping in some fields that where surrounded by bushes and trees. The next morning it turned out that this area is also used by the Bulgarian army, for tank driving. Not that there was a notice or a fence or anything. But the tanks ignored us, and we had the opportunity to take a nice but unusual photo. Binkie however took refuge in the van, which is understandable of course. They made a lot of noise. Our last stop in Bulgaria was Nessebar near the Black Sea. An almost deserted town with a high number of churches and cats 🙂
We drove into Turkey on the 15th of December. At the border near Derekoy they checked our temperature. The first time at any border that they actually had a corona measurement in place. We were really hoping for warmer and dryer weather, by now fungus was growing in the van. We headed to Kirklareli. Here we did some shopping and spend two nights camping in the area, the weather was a bit better. Wild camping is legal in Turkey, so that is very convenient. We wanted to avoid the traffic chaos near Istanbul. We were in Turkey in 2012 with a rental car and so far the worst city to drive to and through is Istanbul. So we drove down the peninsula to take the ferry to Cannakale. Before we did that we spend the weekend in some fields near the small village of Gozsuz. Just because it was en route.
Turkey has a temporary weekend curfew and although foreign tourists don’t have to follow this we intended to. We thought we had a quiet camping place, apart from the occasional shepherd. but soon everybody in Gozsus knew we were there. And they came visiting us, several times, because they were worried about us and couldn’t understand why we were there. Even though we didn’t need anything, they brought us water, soup and borek! Bringing this to us in the dark and over the wet and off road trail! Several people gave us their telephone number in case we had any trouble. When we left the village on Monday morning a lot of people were waving at us! Wow what an incredible friendly people! Staying here for 3 nights also made us realise that we can only follow the weekend curfew if there is enough sun. Now the battery was so low that on Sunday we couldn’t use the heating any more and it was pretty cold.
From the ferry we drove on to Izmir and just happened to come across signs for the city of Troy. Curious if it was the Troy we followed the directions. And yes it was. So we visited the open air museum. We of course knew the story about the Trojan horse. But we didn’t know that it is also a big archaeological site. So we had a pleasant morning in the sun visiting the museum.
We drove in the direction of Edremit and camped near Yenifoca where we actually had some sun. The second weekend in Turkey we did do some driving on saturday to charge the battery and to get the van dry and warm again. We arrived at Izmir at the 28th of December. We battled through traffic looking for laundries. But they were either out of business or it was impossible to park anywhere in the area. We wanted to visited the old Agora but got badly stuck in traffic. We ended up spending several hours in Izmir, without once leaving the car….
On the 30th of December we visited Pamukkale, you can read about that here. After that we rented an apartment with a washing machine for 4 nights in Denizli. By now the van was also very dirty inside and out, so we really needed to sort some things out and do loads and loads of washing. Normally new years eve is one big celebration in Turkey, but because of a special new year curfew and a ban on fireworks, it was pretty quiet.
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!