Ever wondered what it would be like to drive across two continents? No plans, just the open road and three weeks to get from A to B?
In a 1994 hatchback affectionately named Nancy, purchased for the whopping price of 350 euros, that’s exactly what two of my good friends and I set out to do in the autumn of 2013: an epic road trip starting in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina with just one goal - to get to Tbilisi, Georgia.
We had no idea if we would even make it that far in a 20 year-old car that didn’t like going uphill or travelling more than six hours a day. We had no idea what could possibly be in store for us traversing two continents and seven countries…
1. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Kicking it all off in Sarajevo was nothing less than symbolic. It’s a mix of east meets west that you really must feel for yourself to understand, or believe. After years of negative publicity, it’s finally getting the credit it deserves for being one of the most historically significant capital cities in all of Europe, as well as one of the most scenic.
2. Into Serbia
Travelling from Bosnia & Herzegovina to Serbia was easily one of my favourite drives of the entire journey. The Balkans is such a beautiful and underrated region in Europe and it’s only a matter of time before more tourists start heading there in droves. Roads wind their way through dramatic canyons and mountains which in early October are the most spectacular 50 shades of autumn you can imagine.
3. Sofia, Bulgaria
Though it was quick, the stop we made in Sofia was enough to at least satisfy my desire to see the golden domes of Alexander Nevsky, one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world.
4. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
From Bulgaria's first city, we headed to its second, Plovdiv. Driving in things looked pretty drab to say the least, but thankfully it didn’t take long to discover the lovable side of what by most accounts is the oldest inhabited city in Europe: an energetic mishmash of ancient Roman and Ottoman remnants, decaying Bulgarian Revival opulence, and colourful Communist era concrete, all within a leafy and conveniently compact Old Town.
5. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is an enigma. It's one of the most beautifully chaotic cities in the world and proved to be a great resting point to reflect on the European kilometres behind us and the Asian ones that lay ahead. It’s another one of those cities that will simply leave you in awe. We only spent three nights there, but one can easily spend three months, three decades even, exploring all there is to see in the only city in the world that straddles two continents.
6. Cappadocia, Turkey
Otherworldly is an understatement when trying to describe the magical lands of Cappadocia in central Turkey, especially at sunrise. Göreme is the town most tourists tend to gravitate towards, but really it's Uçhisar that was much more enchanting - not to mention much less crowded.
7. Zara, Turkey
Traipsing through notoriously conservative eastern Turkey with platinum blonde hair was an interesting experience, as was the stop off we made in Zara, which for the record wasn’t as fashion-forward as I had hoped. It’s weird how uncomfortable yet very welcome I felt all at the same time both here and in Erzurum. It was at this point language barriers were becoming more apparent, as was the genuine and ubiquitous nature of Turkish hospitality.
8. Kars, Turkey
It was not in our original plans to go a few hundred kilometers out of the way to Kars, but it proved to be more than worth it. Just 40 minutes away from one of the major hubs in eastern Turkey lies the ruins of what was once one of the most important capitals in the world, the ancient Armenian city of Ani.
9. On the road between Turkey and Georgia
Crossing over to Georgia from Turkey was the other contender for ‘best scenery of the entire drive’. This episode mostly consisted of us and an inordinate amount of trucks with Turkish or Iranian licence plates that were more than willing to give us a honk when encouraged. Can you blame us for pulling over every half an hour just to soak it all in? It is here I have to mention road conditions in Turkey are pretty great when sticking to major highways. In Georgia, not so much…
10. Tbilisi, Georgia
Four thousand kilometers later we eventually rolled into Tbilisi, Georgia: our final destination; our goal. Having been intrigued by this place for years, I was shocked to find a historic centre so on the cusp of disappearing that I can't stress enough how soon you should visit here in order to catch a glimpse of its former self before it crumbles away completely. The good news is it will always have amazing food and wine. It also had the cheapest prices of all the countries we visited.
In the day of budget flights and short attention spans, great road trips are becoming increasingly rare. It’s hard to sum up in a short article the depth of all that I saw and experienced, but I hope it at least gives you a taste for hitting the road and seeing the world. Even more so, I hope it inspires you to dream big and just go for it.
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