5. Troopy & the City

The Turkish boarder felt as the first ‘real’ boarder crossing. Driving away from the EU, entering a new, unknown country. The crossing turned out to be pretty ok; we were in line for around 2 hours (happy to be able to make our own coffee), our car was hardly inspected and when Max walked back from the custom-office-desk, the guy from the desk waved and winked to Merle. Welcome to Turkey!

Right after the boarder crossing, we decide to stay in Istanbul for a few nights. From a local we understand that Besiktas is a nice neighborhood to stay, so we drive and find a hotel there. And he is right; Besiktas is a cool, vibrant part of the city. Terraces are packed with hipsters, future designers smoke cigarettes at the door of the Istanbul Fashion Academy, luxuries cars stop at bars, well dressed people step out and are welcomed with cocktails. We did not know what to expect, but we are surprised by the modern city life here. Though we enjoy the atmosphere, we’re also a little bit overwhelmed by city life after a few weeks of mountains and camp spots.

We decide to take a ferry to the Asian part of Istanbul. The ferry is a pleasant pause of Besiktas’ bustle. Slowly we leave Europe behind us and the immens scope of Istanbul gets visible. Stepping on Asian ground, it feels slightly more calm and relax. We wander through the streets, absolutely having no clue where to go. We see a narrow alley, dive in and suddenly stand in an area full of traditional Turkish bars. At one of those bars, people play Rummikub. Correction; we think they play Rummikub. We get invited to join a table; let the game begin.

Ok, this is no Rummikub. We play with 4 (3 Turkish guys and us Dutchies), our new friends don’t speak any English and we try to understand the rules of the game. The pace is high! One stone at the side, 5 rows on the table, one stone back in your set, all stones on the table, quickly shuffle stones, make sets of 7, put 1 at the bottom, 6 on the top. Play again. Haha we don’t have a clue (for the Dutchies; it feels like the Turkish version of Jiskefet’s Stiften). At one point we even change tables. But that turned out to be a joke to confuse us even more 🙂 It’s a hilarious night, and our new friends give us all the time we need get to know the game. We play 11 rounds and after 7 rounds we seem to have got it. The name? Okey 101. Member of the Rummikub family, but far far away from our version. 

The next two days we’re tourists in Instanbul. When in a huge line for the famous Hagia Sophia, a man in a suit asks us if we want to use the fast track lane for 20TL extra. He looks quite professional, so we agree. The man says to follow him: we run along the line, squeeze in at the entrance and go directly to the ticket desk. The man buys tickets for us for normal prices, which we pay him + 20. Ok, this was probably not a formal fast track. But we’re in. 

We visit the MoMa, wander through the streets and say to each other that this city is definitely worth visiting again for a few days, there is still too much to explore. We end our stay with smoking a water pipe, but when Max’ face turns a little green and Merle almost falls asleep, we decide to head back to the chillness of our hotel in Besiktas 🙂

It’s been a super nice first encounter with Istanbul, but at the same time we miss Troopy – our tiny home- a little and want to be on the road again. We enjoy a final hot, nice shower and then we’re off! Next days: UNESCO heritage sight seeings. 

4. Where is Wally

If you could choose between a busy, vibrant atmosphere though somewhat over crowded, or a calm, peaceful atmosphere though slightly abandoned, what would you prefer? 

It’s the end of October- low season. Camp sites are almost empty- when there are 2 or 3 fellow guests it’s a lot. Restaurants and bars are empty or closed. In return, the surroundings are calm, we are often alone with nature, are able to wild camp at spots which are probably inaccessible in high season, prices are low, there are no traffic jams and we do not have to make reservations upfront. Though because most places are designed for welcoming many tourists (huge terraces, many beach chairs, enormous restaurants) it gives us kind of an abandoned feeling.

But we definitely do not want to complain. Because of the low season, we enjoy some amazing moments being just with Troopy and ourselves, like during wild camping at the beautiful West coast of Lefkada. We enjoy a quiet night – sleeping with the sound of the waves- and an entire day at a beautiful white sand beach, with just the two of us (or ok, it appears that our beach spot is a ‘meeting point’ for men; single men keep on visiting the beach, meeting each other, disappear, come back after a while and then leave the beach) (yes we did observe).

A spot where we are definitely not alone and meander between the selfie sticks is Meteora. But we couldn’t care less; the beauty of this UNESCO heritage is beyond imagination. 14th century old monasteries, build on giant cliffs. The monastery we visit still has this serene, spiritual vibe with monks passing by and lighting candles. Beautiful rooms with high ceilings, full of golden chandeliers and colorful paintings. If you’re planning a trip to Greece, this is absolute something you want to add to your itinerary. (Nb: Do not jump on a cliff to make a photo, while jumping back from that same cliff is impossible because of the steep rocks. Just a friendly piece of advice..) 

Today is our last (full) day in Greece. To have a proper goodbye, we celebrated our last day with a lunch at the Halkidiki Peninsula Sithiona. Eating at Ta Kymata– a family run sea food restaurant. Again a warm sunny day; we understand from locals that we are lucky with the weather in October (we haven’t had rain nor cloudy days since Germany), it’s a proper Indian Summer.  We enjoy three hours with fresh fish, local wines, salads and are surrounded by Greek families (celebrating a National Holiday). It feels like stepping into a Greek novel. We decide to definitely come back to Greece to visit some more archaeological sites and to sail a long the beautiful coastlines.

At the moment of writing we are at our last Greek camp site, near the Turkish boarder. Again, we’re the only camp guests. But, because of the National Holiday there is a Greek party at the camp bar. Traditional Greek music and Ouzo; a buzzy Greek final after all!

ps: more photos can be found on our photo page

3. Second chance

A middle finger from a 12-year old boy, being scammed at the first gas station, angry (or so they appeared to be) drivers on the road and a desolated, dirty beach. Our first impression of Albania was – to say at least-  not too positive. To be honest, we did not read much upfront about Albania, the only thing we knew is that is had to be one of the best countries in Europe for off-roading. But with this entrance, we even considered driving to Greece in one straight line. 

In Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro we loved driving in the mountains. So after the not too friendly meet up with the Albanian coast we drive eastwards, straight into the mountains. We find a small campsite near Krujë. The man overlooking the camp reminds us to Esteban Viejo in Kill Bill II; an old man, wearing a suite, reading a book in his garden, enjoying his cigarette. 

“Hey, is this a 75 or 78 series?” we hear a little later. Krujë’s Don Corleone appears; it’s the entrepreneur of Kruje town we understand later. He wants to know what type of Landcruiser we have. It turns out that – next to being the owner of the camping, a brand new hip restaurant and more- he organizes 4×4 tours in Albania. We sit down, he draws some routes on a map and bam, there is our offroad tour through Albania North to South for the next days.

Don Corleone invites us at his newly build restaurant and house- it feels like stepping into an Albanian fairy tale. Mountain- and beach views, land full of olive trees and a garden full of fruit & vegetables. His mother (a most charmingly beautiful 90- year old) insists on giving a bag full of their garden treasures, we have a drink and then it’s time to start our trip. 

After a few kilometers we already get super excited. The road changes from asphalt to bumpy, potholes and stones and the views are stunning. The mountains are overwhelming; we feel super tiny in between all these giants. We realize what a gift it is that we can drive through this landscape with our Troopy. 

The total route takes us around 4 days. We sleep at lovely small campsites – thanks to Park4night and iOverlander– have drinks with the owners (we get introduced with the much better alternative to cheers: “Gezuar”, which means happy to be together), eat and fall asleep very easily. On the road we see tiny villages where we are thrown back in time. When it get’s dark we see a few men walking home from a drink – one old man seems to have had too many glasses and is carried home by his donkey- who needs Uber anyway.

We sometimes get lost but always get help from the friendly people in the villages. They don’t speak English but with hands & feet (slapping your right arm means turn right) we understand each other. For them, the roads are easy. Where we – mainly driving in high or low 4 gear – work hard while off-roading, we sometimes encounter old Mercedes or old vans with 9 people; though proceeding slowly, they’re not impressed by these routes. 

Albania has stolen our heart. The people, the landscape, the food. After our first not too positive encounter with this country it was definitely worth giving it a second chance. We feel grateful that we were able to visit, drive, meet people and to be honest, it felt a little sad driving through the boarder. But hey, we’re not complaining; let’s explore our 10th country; Greece!

Ps: if you’re interested, we recorded a part our our off-road path via WikiLocs, search for the account of Max Pijnappel. However, the real interesting parts are not on WikiLocs as a courtesy for our friend who introduced us to these tracks; if you want contact info for a tour please send us a message)

2. Music to our ears

“The road up there is very bad”, the lady of the Una National Parc in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH) tells us. Music to our ears! Our Troopy is at his best when working through tough terrain, so let’s hit this road.

We arrived in BH the night before and camped in the garden of a friendly family. The toilet of their campsite is still in the building-phase (two man smoking cigarets and discussing where the next stone should be) so we can use the toilet in their house. This is the first glimpse of the friendliness of the BH people. Along the road we greet people and receive thumbs up & genuine smiles in return. It goes beyond the regular “welcome tourists” greetings. It gives a genuine welcome-to-our-country- feeling.

Besides the people, we’re also positively surprised by the BH landscapes. It’s the middle of autumn; the mountains are full or deep red, yellow and orange trees. The main roads often change from asphalt to bumpy and back to asphalt without prior notice, nor obvious reason (to us).

The remains of the war are still visible as well. We see overviews next to the road with (old) mine area information, and wonder whether the many empty and demolished houses along the road are remains from that black, recent, page as well.

Finding a wild camp spot in BH is not too hard; you can park nearly anywhere. Though it’s convenient to find a spot before the night kicks in. At one point we drive to mountain Sator, with limited diesel and the dark about to set in. We drive and drive, a small offroad track, in the middle of a huge dark forest. While it gets darker and we’re not sure how long this road will take before we hit a normal road again, we decide to stop at the first open spot in the forest. Which does not come. The sun is set, the road still bad and the forest gets darker. We check the map again and see a possible open area; we turn left and enter an open plateau between the mountains. We create a camp spot in the middle of an open field and enjoy a bbq and wine. And then a beautiful present from nature: the moon rise. Slowly the moon appears over the open field, creating a beautiful bright light. Impossible to capture on photo. We stare & say nothing for a while. After a freezing night, we experience a view we have never seen before: a completely frozen field, lightened by the sunrise. Another present from nature.

We enjoy the rough landscapes of BH for 2 more days, and then drive to the Montengro border. From a cold and wild BH scenery, to the sunny and warm coastal area of Montenegro. Beautiful bays with stunning old houses, clear water and beautiful views. We also see bars, clubs, party flyers; it feels as the Ibiza vibe is about to kick in here. When we visit Kotor- a beautiful old city- we get overwhelmed by the many tourists (Venice- style) so we decide to drive into the mountains. We find a camp spot – again in the garden of a super friendly family and have dinner with a French couple traveling with their 2 small sons and enjoy a quiet night in our Troopy. Ready to go to Albania! We heard good offroad- stories so let’s hope for ‘music to our ears’ again!

1. We’ll see.

“Is there anything you want to see in South Germany?”  Yes I remember this fairytale- castle, let’s drive there. “And do you remember that restaurant that was fully booked last year?” Yes, let’s have dinner there tonight. “And Austria?” Well, let’s take a nice mountain pass and enjoy a scenic mountain route to Slovenia. “Hey, wait, we can take a little detour via Italy; let’s grab a pizza there and then drive to Slovenia?” Sure, why not!

The feeling of being totally free has hit us directly since we drove away. We have sold the house, moved our stuff into a storage and now live together in our 5m2 tiny house, our Troopy. We only have a rough high level ‘per month’ plan, and decide on the route day by day. No need to think of ‘the way back’. Without wanting to sound too cheesy; it feels great. 

The last months before our departure were quite hectic. We both have finished our jobs, Max graduated from his 2nd study, we sold the house, finished the rebuilding of our Troopy and prepared our trip. And of course all the (lovely!) goodbye drinks and dinners. So the feeling of ‘need to do’ is still very active in our minds. It’s very liberating to experience (multiple times a day)  that we can let go of that feeling; there is no agenda, no planning, no need to do. We’ll see.

We now have entered a new geographical area for us both: the Balkan. We woke up in Slovenia at lake Bled with beautiful autumn colours. The mornings so far: hot tea & coffee (temperatures in the early morning are not too high), some yoga and some finishing touches in the Landcruiser. We’re very happy with some of the camp- improvements we made, like the new table at the left side (our new outdoor ‘kitchen’), new curtains for some privacy (thanks Dorien) and storage dividers (in the end the car is like a small boat, it’s super useful to have a fixed spot for everything). While camping we’re still working on some small stuff, like new (usb) charge points. 

For now, our next stop will be Croatia. Taking our Troopy to the coastal area, and see what the Croatia- Saturday nights look like .. Underneath some pictures; other pictures & updates (stories) can be found on our instagram page. Our real time route can be found on our Polarsteps page.

Lake Bled, Slovenia
Neu Schwanstein, Germany
Our first (small) fix 💪
Waking up at Trittenheim, Germany
Our outdoor kitchen