Today was quite an eventful driving day as we finally left the Caucasus region and made our way back into Turkey via a different route to the one we came. Before any of that though I got up bright and early to have a run around Akhaltsikhe. As usual, this was a great way to see a city, and it was interesting to see how newly developed the place is, with lovely paved paths to run down. I did encounter quite a few stray dogs on the way though, and had to turn back at one point when there was no one else around and I saw a pack coming down the road barking. Safely back at the hotel, we checked out and were on our way. Our first very quick stop was to the Akhaltsikhe Fortress which was restored in 2012 and dominates a hillside in the Old Town part of the city. I went in to take a few photos in the courtyard, but unfortunately we didn't have time to do the full ticketed tour - it looks lovely though so we feel we missed out a bit.
Just 20km after hitting the road we made it to the Georgia/Turkey border. After the horrible 5 hour experience at the main Sarpi border a couple of weeks ago, we thought we would try the Türkgözü border instead since it is located in the mountains on some winding roads and that would presumably make it much quieter. Luckily this was a good guess, and when we arrived there was 'only' 1.5km of lorries to drive past (there had been 20km+ at Sarpi) before we reached the Georgian border post with only one car and a motorbike ahead of us. There were two women at the window, one who was very cheerful and spoke great English, and the other who was doing the actual passport control and looked very stern and only spoke Georgian. It was a bit of a good cop/bad cop scenario but the only confusion was over the number 1 in our licence plate as usual. The English-speaking woman took great interest in what we were doing in Georgia and asked all about the trip so far, to which I happily informed her of where we had been!
Next we were over to the Turkish border post and this was a lot more chaotic, not least because they are in the middle of constructing a brand new terminal building. Other than the lorries, there were less than 10 cars at the border, but the disorganisation still made it take about 30 minutes to get through. Before anything we had to wait at the side of the road while a lorry squeezed through a gap in the traffic to cross over to the Georgian side. Then we were allowed further but asked to pull over by a portacabin on the right hand side. Turns out this is where passport control and car customs are located temporarily during the construction period. First we did passport control, where the official took about 10 minutes because Lucy's passport is blue while Melisa's passport is an older burgundy British passport. He didn't speak a word of English so trying to explain Brexit was falling on deaf ears. After a bit of huffing and puffing and a phone call or two, he eventually stamped Melisa in. We then went to the car customs counter where I had to present my v5c, insurance papers from the previous crossing into Turkey, and my drivers licence. The man here also didn't speak a word of English and he was trying to ask me questions to which I could only shrug my shoulders. He gave up but went outside to inspect the car, then came back and gave me an extra stamp in my passport with a picture of a car and some writing on it. I didn't get a stamp like this at the Greece/Turkey border last time we entered Turkey, so I'm not sure what is different this time.
With passports stamped, we left the portacabin to drive off, when another customs officer came over waving his arms to stop. He told me to get back out, go back into the portacabin, and write my car licence plate and sign and date a small piece of paper all in Turkish. I obliged, he countersigned the paper, gave it to me and then let us go. We then drove about 50m to another barrier where we had to hand over our passports and this piece of paper to someone to do a final check. It was all a bit tedious, but with that we were back into Turkey and on our way.
The first part of the drive in Turkey took us through mountains in a national park. The road was instantly better than on the Georgian side, being wide enough for easy overtaking, straight enough for decent speeds (80-100km/h) and with lovely new tarmac as we went up and over the mountains. This part of the world is what our walking tour guide in Armenia referred to perhaps somewhat controversially as 'historical occupied Armenian territories', but it did indeed look quite a bit like a continuation of what we had seen near the closed Turkey/Armenia border last week. We then hit a brand new dual carriageway which was almost deserted, and felt completely unnecessary for the level of traffic we were seeing. The locals seemed to agree, with farmers using the brand new road to move their flocks of sheep, and we also saw some horses towing ploughs. It felt a bit like the infrastructure is being built too soon! However we didn't mind since it was easy driving, and we were soon at our car charging stop at Ardahan. The town itself wasn't very pretty, but it did have an okay-ish area along a stream, with fields to one side with roaming cows, horses and geese, and the main city centre in the distance with a large mosque. We stopped here for lunch at a nice restaurant where we welcomed the return of Turkish food flavours and super low prices after the rather plain food in the Caucasus. After the food we also wandered over to the small fortress for a picture, before heading back to the car ready to move on.
The next part from Ardahan to Erzurum took us down one of the best roads of the whole trip so far. The landscape changed and we went down into a beautiful canyon where the mountains around us kept getting taller and taller as we progressed. This reminded me quite a bit of Zion National Park in the USA, and the whole Canyonlands area in general. When we left the canyon we came out into a stunning almost desert-like landscape with rocky mountains made of different colours of rock. There were beiges, oranges and reds, and it looked a lot like Purmamarca in the north of Argentina. There was however one bit with a large concentration of dark red rocks which was like nothing we have ever seen before, and quite spectacular to see and photograph. I've tried to read a bit more about this road (the D060) and region online this evening but I can't find any good information, there is no Google Streetview, and there are hardly any photos in general. This makes it feel like we stumbled across a real hidden gem, and something completely off the radar for any tourist. I should also mention that the majority of the drive through this area was on a brand new dual carriageway which was a real feat of road building, and the kind of high-speed road through mountainous landscape I've only seen previously in the USA. Similar to what we saw near Ardahan, I'm not sure why there is such investment in roads in this remote part of Turkey, but we were happy to drive on them nonetheless.
Our stop for the night is in the quite large city of Erzurum, which sprawls along the bottom edge of some mountains in a rather messy way. We could only find one dog friendly apartment in the whole city and let's just say it is rather 'traditional' and making us look very much forward to a proper hotel tomorrow night. The apartment owner is a rather amusing 'businessman' who I have been speaking to on Whatsapp the last few days with the help of Google translate. The city centre has a lot going on, with the typical groups of men drinking tea in the streets until late at night we have seen as we travelled across Turkey the last time. It is rather chaotic though, and there are almost no women around which is a bit uncomfortable for Melisa, which means we aren't venturing far from the apartment other than for me to charge the car and buy some groceries.
Nothing to report today from the border crossing back into Turkey. The Turkish customs officers had a quick look at Summer and then told me to move on. In theory we have her three month Titer test certificate at this point so there is absolutely nothing to worry about even if her papers had been checked.
Erzurum isn't a very dog friendly city with no grassy areas in the city centre for Summer to do her business. The apartment owner was quite scared of her and asked us to put her in another room when he came to help us with something.
With the plug in the car park at the hotel last night not working properly (it didn't seem to be grounded), we started the day on 85% battery, which wasn't great since we had nearly 350km to cover. This meant we stopped for about three hours to charge at the only charger between Akhaltsikhe and Erzurum which was in the town of Ardahan. We didn't want to take any chances or get unnecessarily stressed during the drive so we over charged slightly, and ended up getting to Erzurum with about 20% left.
- ZES charger at Bpet-akyılmaz petrol station on the outskirts of Ardahan. Charger malfunctioned just as we were planning to leave and stopped charging.
- ZES charger at Palerium Shopping Mall. Chargers are just at the entrance of the underground car park just before the barrier, so presumably parking will be for free overnight. Due to the malfunction of the previous charger in Ardahan I couldn't end the previous session in the ZES app and start charging here. This was a slightly tense moment given how low the battery was, but ZES Support responded surprisingly quickly on their Whatsapp account. They ended the previously session remotely and I was able to start the new one with a sigh of relief!