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In 2014, You’re Coming to the Balkans With Me, Right?

Akhaltsikhe georgia - deep in snow

A year is a not only a journey through time, but through space. Floating from one side of the Sun to the other and back, we’re all hurtling along bound together by nothing but our own choices. The start date of this annually monumental journey we all take, is irrelevant. The first of January is arbitrary. It’s just another day. Some people will work. Others play, watch TV, or make love. But even non-traditionalists can’t help using this time of the year for reflection, and for contemplating the future. On any given year, the first of January is a reminder that life is short, years are fleeting, days can be long, and some moments never really end.

Unexpectedly, I would now look back and call 2013 the Year of the Road Trip. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that a 350 Euro, twenty year old French hatchback would take me 14,000 kilometres through more than twenty countries and two continents. From Western Europe, to Asia, and back. I’m writing this from Belgrade, Serbia – my favourite city in Europe. But just a few weeks ago, I didn’t expect to be here. The climatic conditions of Georgia and Eastern Turkey changed my travel plans, big time. It was ice cold. Deep snow. Skin-cracking wind. Frosty, slippery, dangerous roads. And, well, I quit.

For the first time on this road trip, I was forced to back-track and change directions. Take a look at the photo at the top of this article – that’s the “highway” from Georgia to Turkey. I had stopped at that point to check out a luxury Mercedes four-wheel-drive  - damaged and being rescued from the snow, and being loaded onto the back of a truck. In broken English/Russian/Georgian, I asked the men if the road ahead was “OK”. They indicated that I should press on. So I did. It didn’t take long to realise this wasn’t a great idea.

About five minutes later, a snowy 14% gradient where the road was indistinguishable from the countryside, forced me to reverse back down the mountain. Even with my brand new “snow tyres”, it was high time to give up on the lofty route from Akhaltsikhe – even though I was just a few kilometers from the Turkish border. I checked in to the closest hotel, to reassess and replan my route. Looking ahead, no matter which way I was planning on driving through Eastern Turkey it would be between -30 degrees at night, and about -10 degrees during the day. For as far into the future as the weather forecast predicted. Ouch.

Combined with driving over an almost 3000 metre high pass, despite the freedom of having my own car I started to feel trapped. I wanted to drive from Georgia, head South through Eastern Turkey, and into Iraqi Kurdistan. Christmas in Iraq had a nice ring to it. I got some advice from a Norwegian friend about what precautions I should take in this freezing weather – both for myself and the car. His considered advice? “You’ll be fine Nate.” I could tell he was grinning. Damn Norwegians. Ironically, it was his casualness that let me know this was not the time to explore this icy part of the world. Iraq wasn’t to be. Not this time.

black sea snow turkey

Coast of the Black Sea, Turkey. Snow was right down to the water. Wolves on the truck were a classy touch.

georgia soup cafe

The first restaurant we went to in Georgia, after being forced to change directions. It was a “business” meeting, to create a new plan. Hearty beef soup, a bottle of Vodka, and time with the locals. Even inside, it was freezing. But the “Kharcho” was delicious. Beef, rice, cherry plum purée, chopped English walnut, fresh corriander and a Georgian spice blend – Kharcho was my favourite dish in Georgia.

Akhaltsikhe, Georgia - snow tyres

Seemed as nice a place as any to get snow tyres fitted. I could feel my feet freezing, the ground was solid ice. Akhaltsikhe, Georgia.

flea market Tbilisi georgia

Kind of regretting not picking up this genuine bear-skin rug, for sale on the side of the road in Tbilisi, Georgia.

galata bridge istanbul

Galata Bridge, Istanbul. Gateway city that straddles both Europe and Asia, and one of the most unique cities anywhere on Earth.

street photography istanbul

Always plenty of opportunities for street photography in Istanbul. Lightly crumbed fried fish by the roadside, in a local neighbourhood with well-behaved cats.

crowds in istanbul

As always, Istanbul was crowded. I named this passageway “the gauntlet” – as in “running the gauntlet”.

welcome to Europe road sign

I don’t know of any other place that has a sign welcoming you to an entire continent. This bridge in Istanbul marks the boundary between Europe and Asia.

Kosmaj spomenik

Back in Serbia – the end of this road trip… for now. I couldn’t hope for better conditions to take a photo of the “Kosmaj Spomenik” – a beautiful modernist concrete memorial, one of a series commissioned by General Tito dotted all over the former Yugoslavia. I’ve been collecting photos of many “Spomenik”, and will write an article on these incredible structures at some point in the future.

 

Yes, I’ve Organised a Trip Through The Balkans in June. Are You Joining Me?

Iraq was put on hold. Instead, I headed across the surreal snow-covered coast of the Black Sea, through Istanbul, Plovdiv (which has now become my favourite city in Bulgaria), and all the way back to Belgrade, Serbia. Why? Apart from Belgrade being an amazing city, it’s the starting point of an incredible trip through the Balkans that I will be running in May this year. Phillipa, Larissa AKA The Blonde Gypsy, and myself, will be joined by a small group of like-minded souls on a journey through the Balkans.

You may already know about this trip, but you may not know that it sold out in just a few hours.

I didn’t even get a chance to announce the first YoGypsy trip here on the blog.

So, there was only one fair thing to do.

We have organised a second trip – taking place in June 2014 – and I genuinely want you to join me.

Here’s a brief summary – Belgrade, Serbia, Sarajevo, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovinia, Kotor, Montenegro – capped off with a cross country journey on the perfectly preserved mid-century masterpiece that is General Tito’s Train. Cities, countryside, old, new – it’s a pretty special trip that will give you an overview of the Balkans I don’t believe you could get any other way.

Think of it as the “anti-group-tour” – just good folks experiencing ten nights of Balkans immersion.

I would LOVE to personally show you the best of the Balkans in June 2014.

We have all worked hard on making this a journey you won’t soon forget. So, bring your camera, pack your bag, and click here to send me a message to let me know you’re interested to get more details. I’ll get back to you with a PDF outlining the whole trip, the cost, what you will see, and what you will get. And, a secret link here on Yomadic where you can purchase your “golden ticket”. There aren’t too many seats left, a few spots have already been taken, and we are definitely keeping the group small. We’re opposed to mass-group-tourism.

Our knowledge of the Balkans has created what I believe is the best ten-night trip you could possibly experience in this region, at a price cheaper than a typical “group tour”, offering far more value. It’s always been my goal to inspire people to travel, and this is the best way possible I can help you to see the finest destinations of the Balkans. I’m really happy that people have already realised the value of this YoGypsy trip, and what an incredible opportunity this will be to see a part of the world that’s not always the easiest to explore.

So, go ahead, ask me for more details here.

Yes, it’s 2014, and this year anything is possible. For all of us, life continues to be an unknown journey with no destination but plenty of destiny. Somehow, I knew my life would pass through this lengthy and itinerant apprenticeship of discovery. For 529 days so far, I’ve been travelling. And, I’m still afloat. But my life will never be the same as it was 530 days ago. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support during 2013. Your advice, encouragement, concern, and friendly banter mean so much, and I have enjoyed the communication more than you would believe.

To all of you, my friends, I wish and your loved ones all the best for this year’s unknown journey to the other side of the sun and back.

Hopefully we can join each other this year, and trip around the Balkans together.

Nate.

PS, the reason the trip sold out? The email list. Don’t miss out on the next exclusive – the email folks get bigger photos with each article as well. Just pop your address in below. No spam, ever. I will never share your email address, and you can unsubscribe with one-click at any time. I would love to have you onboard.

 PPS, please, if you have any interest in exploring the Balkans, send me a message on this page, or just send an email to the address listed at the bottom of the flyer below and I’ll give you the low-down…  looking forward to hearing from you.

 

YoGypsy Trips - June 2014

Send me an email, I would love to have you join myself, Phillipa, and Larissa on a journey you will never forget. Bring your camera.

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11 Responses to In 2014, You’re Coming to the Balkans With Me, Right?

  1. Andrea Jan 9, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    If a publisher hasn’t contacted you already about creating a large coffee table book of your photography, they are all fools!

    Looks like you’ve had some great adventures and wishing you many more for the year ahead. I wish we weren’t stuck in the States for personal reasons – I’d love to be out having an adventure like this!

    • Nate Robert Jan 9, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

      Hey Andrea! Happy 2014 to you. Well, I guess there’s a lot of fools out there ;) I have thought about self-publishing, but I’m in no hurry – when I develop a concept and a body of work strong enough for a book, I’ll do it. One day! Hope you’re having a good time in the states, one day we’ll meet I’m sure.

  2. Aleksa Jan 12, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    If you are going to Bulgaria you should check Vlasina lake it is Serbia some 30 km from Bulgarian border. There is lots to see in Serbia it’s not just Belgrade, which is fluid city with its own thing , the connection of new and traditional. Balkans is amazing knob of culture , it is a join of east and west. There is so much to see here and Serbia is cherry on the top ( prime reason for this are people). On Balkan everyone can find what they are looking for. Have a safe trip.

    • Nate Robert Jan 14, 2014 at 8:23 am #

      Thanks for the tips Aleksa.. I plan on seeing a bit more of Serbia!

  3. Contented Traveller Jan 13, 2014 at 7:55 am #

    This is a remarkable post and the photos are also simply stunning. The idea of anti group tour makes it worth thinking about

  4. Ricardo @Discover Albania Jan 19, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    Pff, missing out on Albania :P
    Good choice to travel on the Blue Train!

    • Nate Robert Jan 20, 2014 at 7:11 am #

      Hey Ricardo… doing my (our) best to get an Albanian trip together as well in 2014…

  5. Ana Jan 24, 2014 at 2:52 am #

    Dear Nate, wishing you all the luck! If you are passing through Banja Luka let me know and we will drink some coffee!

  6. Banker in the Sun Feb 19, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    Turkey keeps calling my name – that bridge in Istanbul is incredible (great photo!). Oh, and the bear skin windshield ornament is reason enough to visit Georgia!

  7. Vesna Apr 7, 2014 at 5:28 am #

    Awesome! We are currently residing in the Balkans – We’re in Kragujevac until the end of April, then moving to Beograd for the summer. We’re a nomadic family of 5, and my family is from the area, so we use it as a base for when we are on the continent. Feel free to reach out when you’re in town this summer! We’ll be touring Croatia, Montenegro, etc. with friends from Cali as well. It’s nice to see others enjoying the area :)

    Ves

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