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Adjusting in the Netherlands

It’s been a while since we updated this blog. We’re in Holland now after an early termination of our trip. Although this obviously was a dissapointment for us, we’re so glad we made the decision. There was no other decision possible, really. And since we completed the trip from Shanghai to Amsterdam, we have no regrets whatsoever. So now we need to get accustomed to life in Holland again, which is not easy to do. We still feel like we’ll catch a flight back to Shanghai soon, like so many times before in the last couple of years. But this time that will not happen. We’ll stay in Holland, which is kind of weird. We decided to renovate my apartment in Amsterdam because we want to stay in Holland’s capital for at least a year and a half. We bought a new kitchen, bathroom and floor and expect everything to…

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And so it ends…

Tonight we’re enjoying our last night in Istanbul. It’s a very special night, because it marks the last ‘real’ enjoyable night of our big road trip. That’s right. Tomorrow morning we’ll start driving to Holland in a straight line. In other words; we’ll be cancelling the rest of our planned trip, which would have included more of Turkey and a slow return back to Holland through Eastern Europe. We’ve decided to end our trip because my dad is not doing great and we want to be with him. It’s a sad reason to end our great trip prematurely and we have to adjust to it, but it’s the only right decision we could have made. Besides that, we’ve had the trip of a lifetime and had so many nice and spectacular experiences which most people would never experience in a lifetime. We know that. We’ll expect to arrive in Holland…

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Back in Europe again

When we left Iran last Friday, it felt like we closed another big chapter of our journey. By entering Turkey, we left Central Asia behind and homed in on our final destination: Holland. We originally planned to travel to Georgia after leaving Iran, but although its capital Tblisi prominently features on our road map on the hood of our car, we decided to skip this part of our journey, to be able to arrive in Holland a little bit earlier than originally planned, because of family reasons. Although we regret not visiting Georgia, we very much were looking forward to the Istanbul part of our trip. As frequent readers of this blog already may have noticed, we love cities and city life and Istanbul has always been pretty much on top of our wish list. We heard so many good stories from friends who visited this city on the Bosphorus,…

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Charming Tehran, Farewell Iran!

We didn’t know quite what to expect from Tehran. People told us the city is polluted, chaotic and the Lonely Planet even has a separate section on the mad traffic in Iran and Tehran in particular. Iranian drivers are supposed to be in a league of their own. Maybe it’s because we lived for years in China’s biggest city, but we found Tehran not polluted at all. Maybe we were just lucky… And the traffic wasn’t that bad at all, especially when compared to China, where really ANYTHING goes… No, we actually liked Tehran a lot. A lot of green spots, a very lively grand bazaar and quite some nice buildings. We were staying at a friend’s apartment in the northern part of the city, which is the more affluent part of town. Mirian’s parents lived for years at this exact spot, before they had to flee the country during…

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From Turkmen Hell to Turkmen Heaven

‘Only the insane or deeply unfortunate find themselves in Ashgabat in July and August’. I don’t know who once said this, but we have to disagree. Maybe that’s because I’m writing this in the shade beside a large swimming pool in the city centre of Turkmenistan’s capital, zipping from a $5 bottle of Tuborg beer, while ‘enjoying’ nearby speakers blast pumping dance tracks into the air and watching Ashgabat’s jet set making fun in the pool, by repeatedly making ‘bommetjes’. The 42 degrees Celsius or plus temperatures in the past might have been a challenge for travellers that found themselves stuck in Ashgabat, but times have clearly changed.   We’re staying in what I guess has to be Ashgabat’s top end hotel, The Grand Turkmen Hotel. It’s expensive, but we happily put down the dollars for it, after days of camping and guesthouses, to enjoy some well deserved luxury. Maybe…

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In search for diesel

Until now we’ve had no problem filling up our car with diesel, but here in Uzbekistan it’s a whole new game. This country runs on gas. Almost every vehicle is gas powered, even the buses have gas filled tanks on the roof and the smell of gas is noticeable in the cities. And there are lots of petrol stations along the road, but most of them are empty shells and if they ARE open, they don’t sell any diesel. Everything runs on gas. We’re lucky we’re here in Uzbekistan in August, because one month later the cotton picking season starts and that means every agricultural vehicle gets priority to receive diesel. But still, getting diesel in August isn’t easy either. This morning we wanted to fill up our tank in Samarkand, because the more west we go the more difficult it gets to find diesel. So we asked our hotel…

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Mixed (Uzbeki) Feelings

After one extra day in Dushanbe, so a completely broken stabilisation rod (the third one during our trip!) could be welded, we set off on Sunday for Uzbekistan. It’s the seventh country on our journey and after driving more than 12.000 kilometres already a new part of our trip has started. Not only has the time difference with Holland shrunk to three hours instead of six in Shanghai, with Uzbekistan the cultural part of our trip takes center stage. Until now we have enjoyed beautiful natural beauty and spectacular scenic roads in Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the coming weeks with countries like Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkey on the roll, we will indulge ourselves in Middle Eastern culture and hospitality. Well, that last one got off to a bad start with the border crossing from Tajikistan into Uzbekistan. We already learned form fellow travellers the Uzbeki border police can be…

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The Tajik handshake

Every country has its own particularities and especially in Central Asia, a patchwork of old Soviet states, that’s very obvious. We didn’t like the people of Kazakhstan for example, but a mere 50 kilometres further down the road the Kyrgyz-people were totally different: kind and hospitable. Now we’re in Tajikistan and this country loves to shake hands. The men I mean. Every time we’re pulled over by the police, the first thing I need to do is shake firmly the hand of the police officer. I kind of like the practice, since it immediately creates a kind of bond.  A corrupt one in many cases I suspect, but nevertheless a bond. Yesterday, we had a small collision with our taxi and the first thing our driver did was get out of the car and shake the hand of the driver of the other car who clearly was the one who…

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High on the Pamir Highway

Already since a long time we’ve been very much looking forward to conquer the Pamir Highway once. For us the road, together with The Karakoram Highway, has almost mythical proportions, after watching photos of it and reading stories about it. The Pamir Highway is the second highest international highway in the world and traverses through the Pamir Mountain range in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The highest drivable pass is at more than 4650 meters. Not only is it the only road though the Pamir Mountains, some of which are more than 7000 meters high, it was also part of the ancient silk road and its trade characteristics are still visible today, since we encountered lots of Chinese trucks struggling their way through the difficult terrain delivering products for the tons of bazaars in Central Asia. Some websites categorize the Pamir Highway as one of the most dangerous roads in the world,…

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Hanneman from Kerkrade

At first we thought we were not the only Dutch enjoying the Kyrgyzstan roads, since we encountered quite some ‘Dutch’ vans and trucks here. But it turned out they were not actually Dutch license plate cars, but probably stolen or written off cars from Holland or Germany. The Kyrgyz now use them mainly for bus services in and between cities and for transporting goods. The Sprinter especially seems to be a popular model for it. I only managed to take photos of some of the cars we drove past, but the number is staggering. That makes me wonder whether they are indeed stolen in Holland or Germany for that matter by gangs and then exported to Kyrgyzstan or simply legally bought as written off cars. Most of these cars are painted over into plain white, but we also saw a lot of vans and trucks not bothering with that at…

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Hiking to the top

The last couple of days we were pretty much off the grid. That’s a good thing, since we were enjoying the natural beauty of Kyrgyzstan to the max. Heavily sunburned and with aching backs and legs we’re now back in the beautiful Jameliya’s B&B in Karakol to relax one more day before setting off again. After realizing that our iPhone weather forecast predicting freezing weather and rain for Karakol was probably meant for a village with the similar name somewhere else on this planet, we decided to neglect it and head straight for the mountains near Karakol. This area is according to the guidebooks one of the best regions for trekking and mountaineering in Kyrgyzstan and we can only attest to that. On Friday we first drove to an area called Jeti Oguz. The area is famous for a red rock formation which resembles seven bulls (Mirian is convinced there…

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Dutch chickens in Almaty

Last Wednesday we were in a pub in Almaty watching Oranje lose from Argentina. Although sad of course we had a very nice evening with some Dutch people living in Almaty. One of them, Henk de Jager, is the operations director of the biggest chicken farm in Kazakhstan, called Alsad. It’s is a venture with investment from Abu Dhabi and the Kazakh government as well as its management and started in 2012. Henk invited us to visit the farm and this morning we did. At 9.30 AM we left Almaty and followed Henk, who also happens to be one of the best Finnclass-sailors in the world in his age-group, to the farm just outside the city. Both Mirian and I never visited a chicken farm before, so we didn’t quite know what to expect when we arrived at this huge farm. The poultry farm consists of four poultry houses for…

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Almighty Almaty

Today we arrived in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. they lost that title in 1997 to Astana, but they never lost their joie de vivre it seems. Some people call it the Paris of Central Asia and it’s easy to understand why. Tree lined streets filled with coffee shops, terraces and cafés bathing in abundant sun shine. Coming from the north the first thing you’ll notice first 100 kilometre away is the long stretch of snow topped mountains towering above the city. We were lucky to arrive with clear blue skies and temperatures of 30 degrees plus.             We read horrible stories about Kazakh roads especially from the Russian border to Almaty, so we were prepared for the worst, but found the roads actually pretty drivable. Sure, they were bad, but nothing like Mongolian ‘roads’ . Some stretches were filled with pot holes and there was…

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Particular

So we have travelled from China to Kazakhstan in the past couple of weeks. Four countries our Blue Beast has concurred… four countries with all some very particular characteristics and different people with different habits. The particularities from each country so far: China We never knew that every ‘service area’ (the areas along the highway (every app. 50 km) with a gas station, toilet, restaurants, shop, etc) has an auto garage. We used several during our drive to the border with Mongolia. Also we received numerous remarks from all the car mechanics in China that our car is old (one even called it ‘an elderly’ which he didn’t dare operate) and that it is highly unusual to have a car like that driving on Diesel….. While a couple of weeks after we bought the car in Holland, mechanics there told us the car is way too new to make this…

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Endless car repairs

We’ve been on the road now for about three weeks and have seen so may garages already that we lost count. It’s the one and only main frustrating bit of our fantastic journey so far. Ever since the Blue Beast came out of the container on May 30th we’ve had to deal with big and small problems.      So, just to give an idea about what went wrong until now, here’s a short summary of all the things we had to fix: – flat rear tire on arrival in Shanghai. Fixed by replacing the broken valve – flat tire during driving. Fixed in a little garage next to the road by a repair man – dead batteries: we had to buy and install two new batteries as a replacement for the two regular batteries in front of the car, which were dead on arrival in Shanghai and one as a…

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Crossing a river…. or not

A couple more days and we’ll leave Mongolia. This country always will have a special place in our heart. True, the ‘roads’ in this country are the worst in the world and the shocks and thick layers of dust really put our car to the test, but the views after each hill, the emptiness, the beautiful blue skies and the endless plains of steppes make up more than enough for all of that. This country makes you breath again and feel alive. It also challenges your navigation skills. Without a GPS-system, compass or good old fashioned map it’s nearly impossible to drive certain parts here. We’re happy we brought along a satellite communicator, called Inreach SE which, paired with our iPhone, saved us more than once from complete disorientation. The point is that there are so few anchors to which you can cling on to. Driving on a plain of…

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The Wild West

After only a little over two weeks since our departure from Shanghai we crossed the 5000 kilometre milestone yesterday. It happened on a steppe in the far west of Mongolia in the province Bayan-Olgii. Before this trip I anticipated the whole road trip back to Amsterdam to be around 15.000 kilometre long. But I guess our trip will be a bit longer now….. We’re very okay with that, since until now we have been treated with some of the most spectacular landscapes and experiences we’ve ever had. Especially during our drive towards west Mongolia. After we stayed overnight in Uliastai and went to the garage again, were they couldn’t help us with our rattling car because they didn’t have the spare parts, we drove further west. We read about a beautiful lake, called Khyargas Nuur were in the middle of nowhere a ger camp should be. This camp was really…

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Mongolian roads

We’re on our way to the far west of Mongolia and we are testing our car and ourselves to the max. Three days ago we saw the last stretch of paved road and since then it has been all gravel, dirt, sand, rock, steppe, pot holes, mud and more pot holes that we have to conquer. It’s very hard for us to estimate driving times each day, since it completely depends on the road conditions. Just outside Ulaanbaatar the road conditions allowed us to drive 90 or even 100 kilometers an hour, but that was three days ago. Now we’re forced on off road tracks through sand or grass if we’re lucky and on rocky roads if we’re not. Our average speed has decreased to maybe 30 km/h. Grass and sand tracks are the best, since they are mostly fairly smooth, but the worst roads imaginable are the washboard kind…

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Final piece on China

For everyone interested in my take on almost seven years living in China, please read my piece on China here and let me know what you think in the comment-section below. The article is in Dutch only.

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Leaving China for Mongolia

After weeks of car troubles, our Blue Beast now finally seems to live up to its name. The 700 kilometer drive from Beijing to Erenhot at the border with Mongolia went without a glitch, but more importantly the 700 kilometer drive yesterday from the border to Ulaanbaatar also went well. No more cooling issues or other problems. That’s comforting to us, since the road conditions in Mongolia are quite challenging, compared to the smooth freeways in China. Our car has to work really hard, since it’s loaded up pretty heavily. But more on that later. After our guide went to the border crossing at Erenhot on Friday morning to get a final document chopped, she came back to the hotel in Erenhot at 8.35 AM to tell us that we now could go to the border. That was much earlier than we expected, so we had to pack up in…

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The Blue Beast on Tiananmen Square

Ever since we came up with the idea to drive in our own car from Shanghai to Amsterdam there was one moment in particular we very much were looking forward to. Today we made it happen. At around 8.30 AM we drove the Blue Beast to Tiananmen Square for a photo shoot. We so badly wanted a photo of our car with Dutch license plate in front of Mao’s portrait on the entrance gate of the Forbidden City on Tiananmen Square. It’s such an iconic place. It sounds easy, but in fact getting the picture takes quite a bit of waiting, planning and sheer luck. First we drove our car to a side street just off Tiananmen Square. There I got out of the car and walked towards the square while Mirian was waiting for my call that I was in position. I forgot to take any ID with me,…

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Tribute to China

Since our car is at the garage again for the zillionth time, I have a little time to reflect on my China-years. So here it is: is my 9 minute tribute to China and Shanghai. I loved every single second of the last six and a half years living in the most fascinating city on the planet. Well.. almost every second. Please wait for the annoying Chinese commercial to end. The video was shot in HD, but I can’t get in HD on Youku somehow. Anyway: Enjoy! NOTE: The music I used is Wolves by Fossil Collective taken from their great album Tell where I lie and the second part is Art of Almost by Wilco, one of my favorite songs of all time.

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Another day in the garage

Our adventure is going to be a very long journey if bad things to our car keep happening. We arrived in Beijing tonight after another long day of driving but above all waiting in the garage. Our day started pretty okay with a breakfast in the biggest building we ever had breakfast in. The Hai Dai Garden hotel in Cangzhou is a typical Chinese government hotel. Huge, new, but empty on the outskirts of a third tier wanna be Chinese city. Apart from Mirian and me there were maybe one or two other rooms occupied. We were probably the first guests in our room, since everything smelled rather new. Why then is water from the shower going in every direction but down? It’s so typical for these kind of so called Chinese 4 and 5 star hotels. They really don’t give a shit about details or… well… about anything…. Anyway,…

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On our way…. finally

Finally we’re on our way. After some extremely frustrating, stressful but in the end very good weeks – which we will describe in a later post – we left Shanghai early this morning for our first leg. We slept the last night in Shanghai at a friend’s place on the outskirts of Shanghai where there was plenty of room for us to organize and pack the car the day before we left. After a good night sleep we met our mandatory guide for the first time at about 8.15 AM. Yoyo is a friendly 25-year old Chinese who indeed fits perfect in the back of our car. Although we still have no idea why we have to have a guide in our car, we could have been worse off, we feel. Yoyo seems to understand our position and doesn’t try to sell us anything or talk unnecessary. In fact she’s…

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Extended stay at Shanghai Yangshan Port

We never thought or said it was going to be easy. And so, here we are. Still without a car, just six weeks before we want to leave Shanghai to start our Great Return back to Holland. What happened? Our car arrived in the port of Shanghai after 30 days sailing on April 7th right on schedule. But after a couple of days we got a worrying call from our agent that there was a huge problem at the customs. We were told we needed at least two, but possibly three licenses and some other documents to get the car cleared, documents we were never told about before we shipped the car. Of course we checked numerous times if all our documents were in order before we shipped the car and every time our agent reassured us they were. We were misinformed but maybe should have triple checked ourselves if…

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Road trip logo unveiled

In less than two weeks our car will arrive at the deep water port Yangshan in Shanghai. The NYK Hermes on which the Blue Beast is sleeping in a container is currently sailing in the Arabian Sea near India and will dock in Singapore in 4 days. Then another week before reaching China. If everything goes as planned, we will have the car registered in China somewhere around April 15th. We then can work on the last details, like putting a roof rack on it and arranging some more small modifications. Our Blue Beast is, well… Blue. It will stay that way, but for a trip like the one we’re about to make, we thought it is appropriate to put some kind of special trip logo on it. We ourselves are not that creative, so we’re very pleased that Kim and Marc from Link Design offered to design one for…

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Overcoming my dislike of camping

I have a confession to make. I don’t like camping. I fail to understand why people would give up all their luxuries they enjoy in daily life to return to the bare basics during that one time in the year they should enjoy luxury and relaxation. In my opinion it should therefore be completely the other way around. To be clear, I had my fair share of camping. As a kid I sailed with my parents and brother in Friesland for weeks, living with four people on a small yacht. Showering in dirty wash rooms on shore, dealing with wet clothes all the time, cooking on small camping stoves, annoying eachother, no camping is not my thing. For all our Dutch readers: this performance by Bert Visscher sums it up quite nicely for me: But sometimes there is no other alternative. In 2012 Mirian and I went hiking in Mongolia,…

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New route

This is the new route we now intend to take back to Europe. It’s still a lot of work in progress and we probably will change our plans again many times more, either forced or voluntary. But for now this is our plan. Instead of driving through Russia, we now like to try to traverse Turkmenistan, Iran, parts of the Caucasus, Turkey and the Balkan.

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The Blue Beast

Preparing for a trip like the one we’re are planning to make, is great fun. Figuring out which route to take, reading about the incredible sites we’re going to visit, making shopping lists, thinking about visas, it all adds to the pre-action excitement. But one essential part of the trip was missing in all this for a long time: the car. Until now. Two weeks ago we bought a 2001 Toyota Land Cruiser 90, 3.0 TD automatic in the small village of Smilde in the northern part of The Netherlands. We think we got a a great deal on this car, which ‘only’ has 326.000 kilometers on the clock. We preferred to have a manual operated car, but in the end decided to overthrow that requirement after talking to some experts. Although the car doesn’t look like a real Blue Beast yet it will be in a couple of weeks…

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Unique and exclusive… and therefore bothersome

The world is full of redundancies, waste and duplicates. Just imagine an imaginary problem. Google it and a million pages pop up with solutions to your ‘problem’. You may think you are struck by an original thought or idea, but chances are, someone somewhere else on this planet already had exactly the same thought or idea. There is not a word or sentence that hasn’t been said before. Not an idea that has been thought about by someone else. The same holds true for actions or events, whether it be weddings, holidays or whatever else. Unless you have planned a trip to some place out of this world, your plans are probably have been drawn up and done before. To me it’s quite a shocking thought. Even on remote islands in the Pacific ocean, exclusivity is not exclusive anymore. So that’s exactly what I was expecting again when I started…

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Preliminary route

Last week I discovered a new web service, called Tripline, which basically allows you to make animated maps of your trips. It’s exactly what I was looking for, so I gave it a try and entered our preliminary trip. The result is pretty amazing I think. Just take a look below this post. Click on full screen and then on the play button for the best effect and get a first hand peek into the territories we’re planning to conquer next year. It’s going to be an amazing trip if everything we want to do, is indeed possible. We’re especially looking forward to traverse the endless wilderness of Mongolia, the western part of China and Kyrgyzstan before entering the Pamir Highway into Tajikistan, driving on the roof of the world above 4000 meters just next to the border with Afghanistan before diverting north to Dushanbe and then into Uzbekistan. And…

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We’re allowed to drive in China now

It took some time, but Mirian and I now both have our Chinese driver’s license. That means one of many obstacles to our final goal of driving back to Holland from Shanghai has been taken. We already have used our newly gained right quite a lot in Shanghai and around. We have Avis as a very convenient neighbour here in Shanghai, so renting a car is as easy as it gets. And it’s fairly inexpensive as well. For about 140-200 yuan we can drive away with a nice car for a day. The first couple of minutes driving in Shanghai and on the express ways where a bit nerve racking, but soon we got used to the traffic behaviour of the Chines and pure joy sat in as we felt the ultimate freedom to be released of annoying taxi drivers or an overloaded public transport system. Of course we still…

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Chinese driver’s license

In order to be able to drive in China in the first place, we need of course a driver’s license. We both do have a Dutch one, but that’s not good enough for the Chinese. Neither is an international one. Getting a Chinese driver’s license though isn’t that difficult. It just requires a lot of chops, paperwork, a medical examination and a written test. On a late afternoon in February 2013 we went to the Shanghai Vehicle Management Bureau and quickly went through all the necessary steps, requiring us to visit a couple of different buildings. All the paperwork and chops are done now. And we passed the medical exam. That consisted of I think six different tests, ranging from a hearing test, where we had to identify one beep in our left ear, had to undergo an eyepopping eye test, colorblindness test, blood pressure test and heart examination among…

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