Eastern Europe Turkey

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Eastern Europe Turkey
Frank Wolf

to travel

Eastern Europe / Turkey

Eastern Europe / Turkey
The summit round

The last semester break ?? And a very special travel wish should come true: once around the Black Sea by motorcycle to climb the Elbrus in the Russian Caucasus and the Ararat in Turkey.

Frank Wolf


Thick fog has swallowed the little barracks in which I have been waiting for better weather for four days with a small group of mountaineers from Belarus.

On a clear day you could see the entire Caucasus from this 4200 meter high position on the southern flank of the Elbrus, but at the moment you can’t even see your hand outside the door. A few hours of sun would be enough to get to the 5642 meter high summit, but nobody in the room really believes in the company’s success anymore. Dissatisfaction spreads. I had wished for nothing more than to drive up to this mountain on the move and conquer the last few meters on foot. Wish peak number two: the 5137 meter high Ararat in eastern Turkey. I had planned three months for this motorcycle trekking trip through Ukraine, Russia and Turkey – my last semester break.

Meanwhile, the wind is picking up outside and I have no choice but to wait and see. I think about individual stops on the long journey. The lively L’viv – the former Lemberg – in the west of Ukraine with its phenomenal old town, which has long since developed into a hip meeting place for scene and culture fans from all over the world and is already being traded as the second Prague. Or the almost untouched, hilly forest landscape of the Carpathians with their friendly inhabitants. More than once, shepherds or farmers have provided me with fresh milk, bread and cheese while camping in the wild. Moments and encounters that are guaranteed to never be forgotten.

Hundreds of extremely boring kilometers through the flat Ukraine to the port city of Odessa proved to be memorable in a negative sense. Several controls and a lot of traffic. Fortunately, it is only a stone’s throw from there to the Crimean peninsula, over which a beautiful coastal road lined with cypresses, palm trees and vines winds. On the one hand the turquoise shimmering Black Sea, on the other up to 1000 meter high cliffs. Brilliant! In the many seaside resorts there is a holiday mood like the Mediterranean, only the world-famous Yalta does not really fit into the picture. Too much hustle and bustle, too many unsightly hotel buildings and skyscrapers, too much rip-off. Only further west did the Crimea cast its spell on me again. The fully loaded Honda flew full of energy towards the Russian border. An endless orgy of curves always along the sea through a landscape that is reminiscent of both Spain and Italy’s south. I finally got by ferry from Feodosija in Ukraine to Kerc in Russia and into the hands of extremely unfriendly border officials and the military. It was a long time before entry was permitted. But the annoyance was soon forgotten when the mountain giants of the Caucasus appeared after two days of driving. Via Karacajevsk, Pyatigorsk and Baksan quickly to Terskol, which is right at the foot of the Elbrus. The highest mountain in Europe – I had reached it!

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The summit round

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Eastern Europe Turkey

Frank Wolf

One of many slopes in the Pontic Mountains.

We’re still in the hut. The fifth day. It is still dark, but suddenly there is an unusual hectic pace – a clear starry sky promises good weather. Get dressed, pack your rucksack and get out into the snow as quickly as possible. At four o’clock in the light of my headlamp I tramp up a huge glacier field, I am part of an unreal one
Scenery: Dozens of mountaineers hike up the mountain at regular intervals – like pearls on a chain. At least as many have to give up because of altitude sickness or exhaustion and come back to meet me shortly afterwards. After two hours, the cold is tough, every step takes enormous effort, and it becomes more and more difficult to find a secure footing in the snow. Completely out of breath, I reach the yoke between the east and higher west peaks. Final spurt. Now is the time!

About an hour later. All efforts are blown away. I’m standing on the 5642-meter-high summit of Elbrus, that’s all that counts. Not the height, but the magnificent view takes your breath away. Countless snow-capped mountain peaks, huge glaciers. As if from an airplane perspective, the Caucasus spreads out under my feet. I am filled with great inner satisfaction – a dream has become a reality.

Eastern Europe / Turkey (3)

Eastern Europe Turkey

Frank Wolf

The author on the 5137 meter high summit of Ararat.

At dawn I set off for the summit in perfect weather. After climbing Elbrus, my body is still quite well used to the low-oxygen mountain air. I make rapid progress and by nine o’clock I am all alone on the summit of Mount Ararat. The houses of Dogubayazit, 4000 meters further down, can be seen through the thick haze. I feel so light, as if I could float into the valley, am filled with an almost irrational euphoria.

After two rest days in Dogubayazit, it is slowly time to start the 6,000-kilometer journey home. When the huge Van Lake comes into view, it almost knocks me out of the saddle. A shimmering turquoise water that is framed by up to 4000 meters high, mostly snow-capped mountains. Due to the unusually high soda content, the water feels silky soft and soapy – if you want to wash your clothes here, you don’t need detergent. On the north side of the lake there is a perfect, undisturbed place for camping in an idyllic gravel bay. And as if to top it off, the full moon makes the water glisten as bright as day at night.

After the desolate Tatvan, the road leads very gradually from the highlands down into the south-east Anatolian lowlands. It’s getting noticeably warmer, and south of Diyarbakir, the secret capital of the Kurds, the route over Kiziltepe and Siverek winds largely through sun-burned steppe. The Turkish government has big plans for this region: the construction of 22 dams and 19 hydropower plants on the Euphrates and Tigris is to create jobs and fertile farmland by 2010 as part of the multi-billion dollar “Southeast Anatolia Project” and to secure part of the country’s energy supply . One can only speculate about the ecological consequences of such a massive intervention in nature.

Eastern Europe Turkey

Frank Wolf

A great feeling of freedom arises.

By ferry I get over the gigantic Ataturk reservoir, then take the steep driveway to Nemrut Dagi under my wheels, which leads up to a height of 2000 meters. The artificially constructed “gravel” summit, 150 meters higher, is considered the largest burial mound in the world, created more than 2000 years ago by the Macedonian king Antiochus I. The megalomaniac ruler also left mighty rock reliefs and statues up to nine meters high around his tomb building that show him and four gods of Roman history. On the two windy terraces, however, only the oversized heads can be seen, staring into the distance with a strange look. Difficult to understand that this archaeological gem was only discovered in 1881. I look deep into the eyes of the stone Apollo and climb back down the narrow path, just in time to avoid the hustle and bustle that three incoming tour groups are creating.

The rest of the three-month trip goes by in a flash. I quickly cross Anatolia to the Aegean coast – unfortunately I can hardly afford breaks due to time constraints. A look at the sintered terraces of Pamukkale, a short swim in the sea near Çesme, a flying visit to the metropolis of Istanbul, and in two days through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Croatia and Slovenia to Innsbruck – during the last 2000 kilometers I practically only have held for refueling and sleeping. Shortly before my doorstep, I finally treat myself to a hot dog at a sausage stand. “Where did it come from on such a beautiful day?” Asks the saleswoman. “I rode a motorcycle,” I reply mischievously, “a lap around the Black Sea.”

Eastern Europe / Turkey (info)

Eastern Europe Turkey

Frank Wolf

Three weeks are already enough for a round of the Black Sea without any major detours.

No visa is currently required to enter Ukraine, a passport is sufficient. For the vehicle, a green insurance card must be carried along with the vehicle registration certificate. Further information at: www.botschaft-ukraine.de. Russia still requires a visa, a so-called “tourist reference” (confirmation from an official tour operator) and special health insurance (from twelve euros per year). Information and forms can be found on the website of the Russian Embassy: www.russischebotschaft.de. Or you can contact an agency that specializes in obtaining visas. At the “Visum Centrale” this service costs 19 euros, telephone 030/230959110; Internet: www.visumcentrale.de.

Private rooms and simple accommodations are available in the Ukraine, Russia and Turkey in practically every place between ten and 15 euros. Hotels in larger cities are more expensive (from around 50 euros per double room). The Ukrainian and Russian Black Sea coasts are a grown holiday region that offers a place to sleep for every budget, from simple campsites to luxury hotels. Wild camping is not a problem in remote regions.

Ferry connection
The ferry connection between the Russian Soci and the Turkish Trabzon runs twice a week in each direction: from Soci on Sundays and Thursdays, from Trabzon on Tuesdays and Saturdays. (As of summer 2005). Price per person and motorcycle: around 150 euros.

Car train
A motorail train runs between Edirne in Turkey and Villach or Vienna in Austria from spring to autumn. In the cheapest travel time, the cost is from 216 euros per person, the motorcycle costs 127 euros. Information and booking: Optima-Tours, phone 089/5488111; Internet: www.optimatours.de.

Eastern Europe Turkey

Cards: Renate Maucher

Elbrus (5642 meters) and Ararat (5137 meters) can be climbed by experienced mountain hikers with a guide. A good level of fitness is required, glacier experience is an advantage. For ascent and descent you have to expect between four and six days on both mountains. Anyone aiming at the summit of Elbrus, skiing on the mountain or going on a trekking tour can contact Elisabeth Pahl. Born in Bavaria, she lives in Terskol at the foot of the Elbrus and offers an extensive program of activities. Info: www.go-elbrus.com. Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey can only be climbed with the appropriate permit and a guide. The paperwork must be requested in advance from the Turkish embassy (Rungestrabe 9, 10179 Berlin, phone 030/275850; Internet: www.tuerkischebotschaft.de). Depending on the size of the group, an amount of between 200 and 450 euros can be expected. Or you can contact the tour operator Hauser Exkursionen, who organizes Ararat ascents, at 030/88678103; Internet: www.hauser-exkursionen.de. Many agencies in Dogubayazit offer overnight summit trips. In most cases, however, these take place without official approval. Better ignore.

First choice for Ukraine: the Lonely Planet guide of the same name, only in English. Price: 22.90 euros. “Russia & Belarus ”for 30.20 euros. Those traveling to Turkey should refer to the detailed Turkey work from Michael Muller Verlag. Price: 24.90 euros. Recommended maps: the Shell EuroKarte “Ukraine South, Moldau and Crimea” (sheet 4) on a scale of 1: 750,000 for 8.90 euros as well as “Caucasus” from Freytag & Berndt on a scale of 1: 1,000,000 for 9.80 euros. The best way to travel to Turkey is with the Euro country map “Turkey” from RV Verlag on a scale of 1: 750,000 for 9.95 euros.

Eastern Europe / Turkey (2)

Eastern Europe Turkey

Frank Wolf

Language skills help with orientation.

A few days later we go back to the coast of the Black Sea. There is said to be a ferry from the fashionable resort of Soci to the eastern Turkish port city of Trabzon. The ship actually exists – an old former Baltic steamer on which, to my great surprise, I meet a Dutch couple who, after a trip through Russia, now also have Eastern Turkey as their destination on their two enduros. After six more or less lonely weeks, company is very good. When we arrive in Trabzon, we set off together to explore the Pontic Mountains, which are up to 4000 meters high and rise right behind the port city.

Already after 40, 50 kilometers there is no longer any trace of the hustle and bustle down on the coast. At most, a remote farming village emerges, with only the mounted satellite dishes on the roofs reminding of the 21st century. Around noon, our trio stands perplexed in front of a junction and stares at the map. But the dusty runway is no longer recorded on the sheet. Intuition decides. One look is enough and we agree. Left along. The path will end somewhere, the rough direction is definitely right.

I accelerate and race from turn to turn with a long plume of dust in tow. The route – made for the Africa Twin. Further up in the mountains the path deteriorates and a little later resembles a stony creek bed. Keeping the heavily laden load on course suddenly turns out to be hard work. There are also countless deep trenches lurking, and in the many steep bends I have trouble keeping the front wheel on the ground. Shortly afterwards it is finally over. The path runs through a high alpine rocky desert. At best one would get on here on a donkey. In terms of navigation, we still have to work a little on our intuition. We slowly roll back towards the coast in first gear.

Eastern Europe Turkey

Frank Wolf

Wild camping in remote locations is not a problem in either Eastern Europe or Turkey.

A small coffee house in a mountain nest promises variety. Inside only men who drink their time with tea and play tavla – the Turkish version of backgammon – while away the time. For a moment there is complete silence in the room, because nobody expects three dusty motorcyclists here. Immediately afterwards, chairs are moved and the strange guests are invited to take a seat and tell us where they come from. Countless cups of tea make the rounds, none of which we have to pay for. The friendliness and exuberant hospitality of the Turks is impressive.

Shortly before dusk, we discover a wonderful campsite on an alpine meadow. Before the tents are even there, the setting sun bathes the rhododendron-covered hills in a glowing red sea of ​​colors. A little later the pasta water boils, we sit on the soft grass and enjoy the peace and quiet around us. A happy moment. For four more days we drive the enduros through this lonely mountain world. We only roll over asphalt shortly before Rize, almost on the coast.

We rush to the port city of Hopa and penetrate further into the east of the huge country. Via Kars, the path first leads along the Georgian border, then the Armenian border, which runs along the road just before Igdir. Then, covered in snow, push themselves into the picture: Ararat and his younger brother Kuçuk Agri Dagi. Two lonely giants, towering majestically from the Eastern Anatolian plateau and the focus of countless myths and legends. After the Old Testament Flood, Noah’s Ark is said to have stranded on the summit of Mount Ararat. In addition, its ascent was only permitted in exceptional cases until the year 2000, and even today you can only climb this mountain with official permission and a guide. An adventure that I don’t want to miss despite all the bureaucratic hurdles and costs.

The day after next, I start with two Belgians and the guide Juma from Dogubayazit in the direction of Ararat. First by off-road vehicle, later on foot uphill to the first camp run by nomads. Since the mountaineering ambitions of my two companions are rather low, I leave the group the next day with the permission of the guide and tackle the rest of the ascent alone. In the base camp at 4500 meters above sea level, I finally pitch my tent. Dirty-brown tongues of snow reach almost as far as the camp, where an illustrious group of international mountaineers have squeezed their tents onto every open space between stones and boulders.

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