On the first of June we drove to Bitola where we met up William and Mary from the Netherlands who drive an L300 camper van as well. It was very nice to meet them, to speak Dutch again and of course to exchange experiences. We had been in contact with them as they drove through Albania which they had loved as well. The next day they drove on to Greece while we visited Pelister National park.
Before driving in to Albania we visited Ohrid. A very nice city at lake Ohrid. Very lively, colourful, with a nice shopping area and a promenade along the lake. Definitely worth a visit.
And then we finally crossed the border with our beloved Albania. Which is starting to feel a bit like a 2nd home. We have already seen a lot of this beautiful country but there where still 3 areas on our wish list. First was mount Korab, you can read bout that here. We then drove the SH75 from Korce to Leskovik. This road leads through pine covered mountains. We had wanted to go for a hike here but unfortunately the weather wasn’t very good that week; lots of rain. So we drove on to the 3rd area: Sarandë / Ksamil. Sarandë is one of Albania’s most important beach cities, but we don’t really know why. Crowded, ugly buildings and traffic jams. So we decided not to stop but drive straight to Ksamil. Now this was more like it. We found a great camping spot, between olive trees, right at the see, with a lot of shade. We spent two days here, relaxing and also went out to dinner in Ksamil.
Ksamil has absolutely lovely beaches with small islands in front of the coast. In the evening there are small stalls selling things like bracelets and magnets, restaurants open up, music is playing and the place has a fun and relaxing atmosphere. We had a delicious dinner at a beautiful seaside terrace.
On the 14th of June, 15 days after our vaccination, we drove in to Greece. At the border they gave everyone a rapid covid test (free of charge) which caused an extra wait of 30 minutes. Finally we were allowed to continue our journey. We would only be in Greece for a week, and then drive in to Turkey. We did visit Dodona archaeological park to see some of Greece ancient remains. Most of the archaeological sites are far more south, but I didn’t want to leave Greece without seeing at least one. There were several temple remains and of course an amphitheatre.
We then drove on to see the Vikos canyon after Willian and Mary had let us now how beautiful this was. It was quite nice but with a long and steep uphill climb. We’ve seen quite a few canyons by now but still feel that Nivicë canyon is the most beautiful.
We drove past the mountain Olympos but didn’t stop for a visit. We also went to see the Greece side of the Rodopian mountains, but this part is definitely not as beautiful as the Bulgarian side. Our last stop in Greece was near Alexandropolis where we had some dinner at the boulevard.
On the 22nd of June we drove in to Turkey. Between Greece and Turkey there is a heavily guarded bridge but all the guards smiled and waved us through. At the Turkish side there was a huge new border area. They had apparently “remembered “ us from the last time we visited, or at least the registration plates on the car. At the first checkpoint a man from the small office yelled “Kilian?” Kilian then surprised and hesitantly answered “yesss? This was apparently enough, because the man waved us through and closed his window. Normally the car papers are thoroughly checked, but we guess the information was still in the system. At the 2nd checkpoint they wanted to see our vaccination certificates and that took a bit longer because they didn’t know you need only one shot if it is the Jansen vaccine. After some discussion between two people they waved us through as well. At the 3rd and 4th checkpoint they checked our passports and then we were back in Turkey. Now we hadn’t been in this part of Turkey before, other than a quick stop by the black sea in 2012 on our way to Istanbul. But we had loved Turkey when we travelled here last December – March. Very friendly people, beautiful landscape and it was generally easy to find a camp spot. So we were happy to be back in Turkey again. We didn’t know yet that things would be quite different this time… We spend the first afternoon getting internet and buying a sticker for the toll roads as we would now be crossing the Yavuz Sultan Selim Koprusu bridge near Istanbul. We wanted to avoid driving through Istanbul at all cost because this is just a 5 hour long very chaotic traffic jam. We then drove on looking for a place to camp. We started looking at about 5pm. It was a bit of nightmare. Every piece of land was in use. The photo’s from Google maps turned out to be useless as they were horribly out of date. Empty land now had hotels or other buildings on it. Finally at 22.30 we found a small piece of wasteland next to a road. It wasn’t much: muddy and with a lot of green waste dumped on it, but we were very tired. We had just finished dinner when an angry man came shouting at us. Apparently this was his property. There was no way we could have known that. So we moved the van a few metres on to the dirt track next to the road so we certainly wouldn’t be on anybody’s property, and got ready for bed. Before we could get in it, the police arrived. Great. They were friendly and kept saying “no problem” the only English they knew. But it still took them half an hour to check our passports, apparently the computer was very slow. Using Google translate we told them we only wanted to sleep there for one night, they understood, no problem. Finally the computer was finished, they wished us a good night and a good journey. Needless to say we didn’t sleep very well that night.
The next few days we continued our journey along the black sea coast on our way to Georgia. We spend two nights at a beach where we were invited to join a small party of a group of friends, who gave us our 2nd bbq dinner that evening (try saying no), drinks and showed us the Ankara dance 😉
We also spend a night at a campsite near the beach of Amasra where coincidentally another couple travelling in a 4×4 arrived shortly after us. They were from France but spoke good English and we had a lot of fun that evening.
It remained difficult to find a camp spot, it often took us at least two hours to find a spot. The whole black sea coast area is very green but a bit boring. Nothing but hills covered in deciduous trees. Every bit of flat area is build on or used as as a farmland. At the town called Of we drove inland to drive the D915, you can read about that here. From Bayburt we drove to Ispir and on to Artvin. The whole area from Ispir to Artvin is horrendous! Nothing but road works, dam building and tunnels for 150kms! The whole area is also very steep with nothing but rocky mountains. And endless tunnels, at least 30. So again absolutely not a single place to camp. It was a nightmare. At 10 pm we found a place at the side of the road just above Artvin. We were glad to be able to leave this area and on the 2nd of July we drove in to Georgia.