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Travel Around the World

    Travel Around the World

    Endless Summer

    Chapter Eight – Beat the Heat

    From the very beginning we have tried to follow the sun and warmth. And with the exception of some very chilly and very rainy days in New Zealand, we have succeeded.

    We love warm weather, but we also packed for warm weather, only carrying a limited number of clothing for the cooler climes.

    Its easier and lighter of course to visit warm climates. Not to mention the fact that we love being outdoors, always more fun if it’s sunny and dry.  I think growing up in the Pacific Northwest made me want to have the glorious PNW summer – all year

    Our month in Bulgaria is winding down. We have seen short bouts of rain, but overall the weather has been really nice and very comfortable.

    We have now entered full-on summer in Europe. Yesterday was the warmest we have seen since the Seychelles at 91 degrees Fahrenheit, but even here in the Black Sea the humidity is low and the breeze is refreshing.

    I’m not sure I can get any tanner.  I’m not bragging.  I just have this skin that absorbs the sun. I always have.  No one else in my family gets as dark as I do.  It just is what it is.  My grandma used to call me a little papoose. I do have some Native American blood, but my gene pool is more Anglo and Scandinavian than Indian. So go figure.

    As expected Sozopol is now bustling with tourists. By July 1st it should be booming. But by July 1st we will be in Dubrovnik.

    I expect Dubrovnik to be a madhouse.  July and August is peak season, very hot and swarming with cruise ship visitors. I’m mentally prepared to deal with that, and we are lucky to have enough time in that city (two weeks) so we can avoid being in Old Town During the peak hours a day when the cruise ships are in port. It’s the best part about the Grand Adventure, taking our time.

    Croatia will be HOT. Both in Dubrovnik and then in Spilt. Slovenia will also be hot and then August in Portugal will be even hotter. Last week Portugal was experiencing devastating forest fires, due to unusual extreme heat.

    But we asked for it. I’ve made the comment many times that I wanted to live somewhere dry where I could be outdoors every day. I’m there.

    And so the Endless Summer continues as the thermometer soars. Luckily we are always near the water.

    Five days left on the beautiful Black Sea…

    Eat and Drink  --  Travel Around the World

    The Dish on Dining

    Chapter Eight

    As the time goes on all aspects of The Grand Adventure get easier. We are comfortable.  Even eating (both dining out and cooking in) have fallen into a workable pattern. I can make a delicious dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen like nobody’s business!

    In the beginning I freaked out a little as I encountered and inspected each new kitchen.  Hoping for a colander, a non-stick skillet and a can opener were my constant worry. French Press? Forget about it.

    Fresh cherries in Bulgaria

    Now we just make it work.  We eat the same thing for breakfast everyday – yogurt and fruit and coffee (usually instant coffee in most countries).  We eat lunch out more often than dinner but lunch might also be a sandwich or a picnic of meat and cheese and fruit.  Sometimes lunch is leftovers – just like at home.

    Salad and Bulgarian wine

    When we arrive at each new place we determine whether there is a large grocery store (Asia and New Zealand had great ones) or a tiny convenience store with limited selection (like in the Seychelles) near by. We also scope out fresh produce farmer’s markets.  Here in Sozopol there is a well stocked small market, but it is more expensive than the larger “Lidl” store in Burgas.  We were in Burgas today so we stopped and picked up a few things.

    Homemade tacos in the Seychelles

    Because we are on a pretty strict budget we eat out only a few times each week.  In the Seychelles we averaged $56 a day for two, but only ate out three times in the entire month.  In Vietnam we averaged $31 per day for three people and we ate out most meals. Here in Bulgaria we are averaging $38 and we are eating out about a third of the time.

    Swedish meatballs in the Kiwi Karavan

    If we weren’t making the effort to cook regularly our food costs would be two or three times what it is.

    We try not to eat too many carbs but we fall back on pasta and risotto when necessary, like in the Seychelles when choice was so limited. We also make things like chicken and pork and local dishes when we can, like in Thailand and Vietnam where I was able to take cooking classes. Here in early summer in Bulgaria the produce is excellent and it’s easier to go light on the carbs and bulk up in the veg and protein. Last night we had a simple pork chop

    Fresh ingredients available in Bulgaria

    Our small but well stocked kitchen in Tărnovo

    with sliced tomato and cucumber salad.  Bulgaria has offered us for the first time in our travels kitchens with ovens!  I made stuffed cabbage one night and tonight it’s noodle-less lasagna with zucchini and eggplant.  I can smell it in the oven now and it smells wonderful.

    We have a small supply of spices we carry with us along with two knives and a flexible plastic cutting board.  Awhile back I saw a collapsible rubber colander and I sure wish I had bought it.  It’s rare to have a kitchen that includes one.  I’ve always used a colander a lot – not just for pasta but for washing

    This kitchen in Hanoi was poorly stocked

    In Koh Samui we all took turns cooking

    fruits and veg.

    Another item that is often MIA in many kitchens is a can opener.  We have one coming when Arne’s mom visits us next month. How can you have a kitchen without a can opener?  So I put it on my wish list for special delivery with several other items she is bringing.

    We have had kitchens without towels or hot pads and usually no vegetable peeler. We have had

    I leaned to cook Thai from this new friend

    kitchens with excellent crockery and professional pots and pans. We have had kitchens with no hot water and others with no salad bowl. It’s a crap shoot.

    When we arrive in each new place I buy staples like olive oil, vinegar, eggs, yogurt and fruit.  We explore our shopping options and our kitchen landscape

    I learned to cook Vietnamese in Hoi An

    and decide how we are going to eat.  In Asia it was cheaper to eat out than cook at home.  In Seychelles it was expensive no matter what.

    I’m blessed with a husband who will eat anything, but in our Fab Fifties we are more conscious of how we eat.  Arne has lost more weight than I have, but I have dropped at least 15 lb since leaving the US. Lack of junk food plays a big part.

    Lots of noodles.

    I really enjoy being creative in the kitchen.  So it works out nicely and we eat pretty darn well, even when we have less than adequate kitchens or access to fresh produce.

    Food glorious food.  A fun part of The Grand Adventure!

     

    Travel Around the World

    Sozopol on the Edge

    Seasonal Resort and History Too

    We are now in our final Bulgarian destination of Sozopol on the Black Sea.  It is a fascinating mix of old and new.  The historic old town surprisingly has a wooden architecture style, with stone foundations. This is unlike anything we have seen anywhere else in Bulgaria where everything seems to be built from stone (see “Rock On“).

    Sozopol has a fascinating history dating back to 7th century and earlier.  Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and Bulgars have all played a role.  Read more here.

    The beautifully preserved old town is extra special because, although there are some shops and

    Old town architecture

    restaurants and inns, for the most part it is still a living neighborhood of homes.  Some of the homes have been lovingly restored and where there is new construction it is all done in the traditional style.  I love it.

    The old town sits out on a peninsula (see photo I nabbed from the Sozopol tourism site at the top of this blog) high on the “edge” of a cliff above the water.  The new town and the “new -new” town (yes that is how they differentiate) are built on the surrounding hills and beaches and peninsulas.  And to our surprise the “new-new” town is all for tourism and all built

    New new town beach

    within the last decade or two.  My first impression is that it is overbuilt, but time will tell.  We are here in Sozopol just as the “season” gets underway.  The resort family-friendly vacation town seems to be like many other’s around the world – dependent on a three-month summer season for survival.  Today as we walked around and went to the beach it was clear that the businesses are all on the “edge” preparing for an onslaught of visitors.

    Meanwhile however we feel like we have the place to ourselves.  Today at the beach there were a handful of people, but not many. Yesterday as we walked around old town and dined at a cliff side Greek

    Greek dinner with a view

    restaurant and we felt nearly alone.  We have the top floor of a “hotel” as our airbnb.  It’s a suite with a fantastic deck.  But on the two floors below us are 6 other rooms, currently all empty.

    Time will tell.

    We are here until June 29th and look forward to exploring the region, spending time at the beach and pool and enjoying this fascinating country, it’s food and friendly people some more.  And, finding out if we are standing on the “edge” of the season, waiting for the crowds descend.

    Health, Fitness & Fashion  --  Travel Around the World

    One Year. One Suitcase. One Backpack. One Green T-Shirt

    Chapter Eight

    Even though we just passed the six month out of the USA mark, today actually marks one year that we have been homeless and living out of a suitcase.  It was one year ago today that we began Chapter One of the Grand Adventure when we flew to Hawaii for one month. (Refresher – Chapter One Hawaii, Chapter Two Idaho/Wa Bike Tour, Chapter Three Ireland/Scotland/England/Norway, Chapter Four

    Hawaii

    Betty Road Trip, Chapter Five SE Asia, Chapter Six New Zealand, Chapter Seven Seychelles, Chapter Eight Bulgaria)

    I’ve learned a lot living with only the things I can get in one suitcase and one backpack and it is frankly by far the most valuable lesson of all the lessons so far.

    Route 66

    Simple is best.  Simple is easiest.  Simple is fabulous.

    I stressed so much about what to pack when we were preparing for the journey.  And as the time has gone on its come down to the tried and true items

    Tuscany

    that I wear over and over and over.  If you are a follower of my personal Facebook page you see me in the same clothes again and again.  Because those are the things that work.  If it doesn’t work it is either stuffed in the bottom of my suitcase or I have

    Sacramento

    already rid myself of it.  I expect my clothes to work for me.

    The Green T-shirt is my best example. I have a green t-shirt that I have owned for at least twenty years.  Obviously they don’t make t-shirts like this anymore because it is a superb quality t-shirt.  The funny

    Ireland left and New Zealand right

    thing is I got it from my Mom, she didn’t like it and had only worn it a few times.  This was in 1997.  I remember because we were going to Japan and that is the first travel destination I took the green t-shirt.  And I am still wearing that darn

    Ethiopia

    thing today in Bulgaria twenty years and god knows how many millions of miles later.  I’ve shared several photos I could find of me over the years in that doggone t-shirt.

    Finding a simple, quality and comfortable piece of

    Seychelles

    clothing is just what I need in my Fab Fifties and on the Grand Adventure.  I have a few other items with me that are pretty old (blue checked dress at least 20 years, navy blue blouse with white embroidery 11 years, and teal linen sundress 8 years) and have stood the test of time and when the day comes and they literally fall apart I will feel the loss.

    One suitcase.  One backpack.  One year.  It’s hard

    Pullman

    for me to imagine now why I ever needed all those clothes and shoes and handbags and stockings and lingerie and necklaces and earrings and scarves  and STUFF.  It feels good every time I put on my trusty green t-shirt and I know the pure joy of a simple,

    Burkina Faso

    uncomplicated and fabulous adventure life.  Year Two – suitcase in tow, green t-shirt ready to go.

     

    Travel Around the World

    Rock On

    Chapter Eight

    This week I was unexpectedly delighted when I realized (thanks to Facebook) it was my four-year anniversary since retiring. Unlike the past three years I hadn’t even thought about marking the date with an introspective blog as I had done in previous years.  My career days are well in the rear view mirror and I hardly ever think about that part of my life anymore. Life is full and entertaining on the Grand Adventure and I am present. Retirement rocks.

    My work history may be well in the rear view mirror but ancient history is very much a part of our daily travels. I really enjoy learning the incredible geological and cultural history of every place we have traveled over the past six months.  Here in Bulgaria

    The fortress wall in Tornovo

    this ancient country has endured a great deal during its 6000 year history and learning about the many cultures that have left an imprint on this region is fascinating.  History rocks.

    Tarnovo Stone Houses

    The best part about the Grand Adventure is how we can spend so much time getting to really know each place we visit.  We’ve noticed here in Bulgaria several Chinese and German tour groups.  On the bus, off the bus.  Follow the leader.  On the bus, off the bus.  Sleep.  Eat.  Start again.  I am so grateful that our travels allow us to sit and sip a beer overlooking the amazing houses of Veliko Tarnova seemingly hanging from the cliff.  I am so glad our travels allow us to spend eight hours hiking in the surrounding mountains while never encountering another human being.  I am so glad our travels allow us to take a day to do nothing when it rains and just lay on the couch and read.  The Grand Adventure rocks.

    Stone roof in Tryavna

    I’ve always had a fascination for the seemingly impossible structures produced thousands of years ago before modern tools and technology.  I’ve been lucky in my life to see first hand some of the earth’s most amazing stone architecture including my two favorites – the mind-

    Cobbled Streets

    boggling Lalabella Rock Hewn Church in Ethiopia and the Lost City of Machu Picchu.  Both remain in my mind some of the most amazing things I have seen in my lifetime for sheer determination of construction and skill.  Here in Bulgaria the trend continues as we have seen many beautiful medieval and renaissance ruins, all built from stone.  The most incredible was the lovely Rock Hewn Monastery of Ivanovo.  The caves here provided shelter to Stone Age tribes and Medieval hermits before the Monks arrived in the thirteenth century to create the rock monastery.  Visitors today can witness a fairly well-preserved “church” cave with a variety of murals depicting Christ’s betrayal by

    Inside the Cave Church

    Judas.  It’s fascinating to me how, prior to modern building materials stone and rock served all purposes and thankfully for us, the stone endures and we can enjoy these rock marvels even today.  Stone rocks.

    It’s not just the caves where we see the stone marvels but everywhere in the city of Veliko Tarnovo the stone is there; the cobblestone streets, the stone cathedrals, the stone walls, the stone houses, the stone bridges, the fortress wall, the stone castle and the craggy cliffs in the

    Cave dwellings

    distance.  Stone is abundant and preserved and Tarnovo is a testament to the cold hard truth that lays within the substance.  Rock rocks.

    And so our journey continues.  We have really fallen for Bulgaria and all that is hidden in this quiet and unassuming country.  The food is incredible.  The prices are low.  The people are friendly.  Very few tourists (and zero Americans).  The scenery is breathtaking.  Bulgaria rocks.

    Four more days in Tarnovo before we head to the Black Sea and the medieval town of Sozopol where we will be for 16 days.

    Rock on.

     

    Eat and Drink  --  Travel Around the World

    Suddenly Sofia

    Three Surprising Days in Sofia Bulgaria – Chapter Eight

    It’s not always possible, but it usually is the best – if you can arrive at a destination with no expectations.  For me, I find when I am faced with a blank slate of a destination, it becomes a favorite, as everything is new and fresh and surprising.

    And suddenly, Sofia is that surprise.

    Street flower vendors are everywhere.

    I’ve never talked to anyone who has visited Sofia, and I approached the city and the country of Bulgaria with very little information or preconceived conceptions.  If I expected anything I thought of it both geologically and culturally perhaps like Germany.

    But it’s not.  It feels very Russian while being surprisingly Greek.  It’s both old-fashioned and cosmopolitan.  It’s bright and sunny, with grey and dark edges.  It’s delicious!  Oh, the food makes me happy!

    Cherries for sale at the Ladies Market

    Open air museum

    Surprisingly Bulgaria’s largest city of Sofia is not on a river.  Unlike most European capitals, this city sits in a valley protected by mountains – where it has sat since it was founded 6000 years ago by the original people known as the Thracians.  Sofia was then known as Serdica.

    Dried beans and nuts are a staple of the cuisine

    Today’s Sofia has been through the ringer – three times Bulgaria’s independent state was taken away; the Byzantine Empire took over until the second Bulgarian state.  Then the Ottoman’s took over until the Russo-Turkish War in 1877 when Bulgaria gained its independence.  Following the second World War Bulgaria became a communist state with USSR assistance, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  In less than three decades Bulgaria and Sofia have risen again. Today the country is a member of NATO and the European Europe. Current population is 7million in an area roughly the same size as Virginia. (This is my VERY abbreviated history of the region. Learn more details here.)

    Beautifully presented appetizer

    Sofia reminds me a bit of Budapest, but less refined.  It has a brand new subway, a decent airport (although the info center desk staff was rude and a taxi driver tried to swindle us), lots of shops and plenty of fresh produce.  Food is cheap and so is alcohol. Lots of young, sharp-looking people enjoying the sidewalk cafe’s with wine or coffee – just like any other European city.

    The streets are clean but many of the sidewalks are in terrible condition.  Yet there are some beautiful pedestrian areas and green and lovely parks.

    Jewish Synagogue.

    It appears that many different religions live amicably in this city – within a hundred yards of each other you will find a beautiful mosque, a large synagogue, a Catholic Church and several Orthodox Churches – all operating side by side for the people of Sofia.

    On the very popular Free Sofia Tour

    Sofia has what I consider the best outlook on history.  When digging for the new subway in 2012 an entire former city was unearthed dating back to the third and fourth century.  Sofia has made this an open air museum and it now weaves in and out of the subway area and can also be found inside some businesses and even a local bar.  Our tour guide from Free Sophia Tours

    3rd century coliseum inside hotel bar

    explained that the people of Sofia love history but believe it should not be locked up in a museum or surrounded by fences.  It is their history and they want it to be a part of their lives.  I love that.  More cities should think like that.

    We did a Cultural Tour where we learned so much

    Arne chosen to lead the folk dance

    amazing history about the people, the language, the food, the traditional dress, music and even dance.  It was well worth the 10 Euro cost.  Our tour guide, born and raised in Sofia, was articulate, interesting and
    so enthusiastic about her country.  The future is in good hands it seems!

    Slow braised pork knuckle

    And then the food.  Yes of course I am going to talk about the food.  I look forward to discovering more regional dishes as we head north and east, but so far the food has been amazing.  Beautiful produce of the season is ripe and fresh and cheap.  Right now it’s cherries and strawberries and tomatoes and basil and melons.  Gorgeous.

    Local cheese sirene

    Bulgarians love nuts and dried fruits and these items can be purchased at kiosks all over the city. Bulgarian yogurt is amazing and the local cheese called sirene is similar to feta but firmer and less salty and made from cows milk.  It appears in nearly every dish from pork knuckles to anchovies, to salads, to veal, to lamb.  The cuisine has a very

    Yogurt soup

    mediterranean feel with lots of herbs and olive oil and fresh vegetables.

    Given that Bulgaria’s southern border is almost all with Greece and a small section with Turkey the cuisine similarities should not have been a surprise.  The Ottomans ruled here for 500 years and they left a big impression on the cuisine.

    Bulgaria also borders Romania to the North, Serbia and Macedonia to the West and it’s Eastern border is the Black Sea.

    But of course it’s not perfect.  I mentioned the sidewalks – tripping hazards everywhere and so we haven’t tried to run here. But unlike many countries we have been in, drivers are courteous to pedestrians.  Most people are friendly, but we have had a few encounters with rude people.  My friend Helen who is an expert on the Balkan region tells me this is just a throw back to the communist era and not to take it personally.  Everybody smokes.  I mean everybody.  But we just try to steer away if we can.  Since

    Pedestrian shopping area

    the weather has been fine we have been outside most of the time so it really hasn’t been too much of a problem.  We don’t know the language at all – still trying to figure out hello and thank you.  We smile and point and most people know a little English and we are grateful to them for that. Bulgarian uses the Cyrillic alphabet so even that is a major adjustment.  It helps that I know my Greek alphabet.

    Suddenly Sofia is my surprise.  A very nice way to begin our month in Bulgaria.  I’m so glad we started here.  Tomorrow we head to the mountains for ten days – to the former capital of the second Bulgarian Empire, Veliko Tărnovo, known as the City of the Tsars. I hear it has amazing antiquities and architecture surrounded by mountains and on a river.  Sounds perfect!

    More soon.

    Travel Around the World

    Why Bulgaria?

    Choosing Carefully our European Destinations

    Chapter Seven ends – Chapter Eight begins

    And so it’s farewell to Seychelles.  It has really grown on me.  When we first arrived and I realized how remote, how humid, and how little fresh produce there was I wasn’t pleased.  Further realizing we maybe needed a car after all didn’t help.  But after 33 days the place has really grown on me and I love it.  It has been a wonderful opportunity to once again see how much of the world lives – simply.  Life does not end if you can’t find a ripe tomato or that perfect cheese or that good bottle of wine.  This is life for much of the world and being reminded of that once again, is part of the Grand Adventure.  Thank you to the gorgeous Seychelles and the unassuming and kind Locals and expat community of this island for reminding me.

    Eastern Europe

    So as we begin Chapter Eight we finally head to Europe, but skirt the Schengen (see explanation below) for the next two months.  We spend all of June in Bulgaria and July in Croatia.  So why Bulgaria you ask?  Here is my explanation –

    First off, I am very interested in seeing more of, for lack of a better term, the former Eastern block countries.  Those countries that were not so long ago under one of the communist rules. At first we were going to visit Bulgaria and Romania in June, but after studying  decided we needed at least a month in each country.  So Bulgaria is first and we will hit Romania next year.

    But let me take a minute to explain what the

    Schengen countries are purple and blue

    Schengen is for those of you who don’t know (I’ve written about this before, so apologizes for repeating).  It’s a bit complicated but has been a very important factor in our travel planning over the past several years.  And because of the Schengen Agreement, we will have spent the first eight months of our travel in non-Schengen countries (Asia, Africa, New Zealand, Bulgaria and Croatia).

    The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 and went into effect in 1995, opening borders between certain European countries.  A handful of countries in the beginning, the Schengen has expanded greatly over the past 22 years and now includes 26 countries with common borders.  The first time I visited Europe in 1988 our passports were checked as we drove between countries with manned border patrols.  That no longer happens.  Free traffic flows between countries such as France, Germany, Belgium, Poland etc. – those countries that are part of the Schengen Agreement.

    The catch however, for travelers like us, is that you can only remain in the Schengen area for 90 days within any 180 days.  So if you want to spend six months in say, France, you must apply for a complicated and expensive visa.  Otherwise, your time in France or any of the combined Schengen area countries can only be three months in any 6 month period.  You can’t go out and come back in and have your 90 days start again.  Only after another three months can you re-enter the Schengen area.

    We were well into our travel planning before we learned what the Schengen was.  I had never heard of it.  It certainly was a surprise and put a bit of damper on our plans.  Particularly because we are planning to walk the Camino de Santiago in September and we wanted to allow six weeks to do the 500 mile walk.  Six weeks out of our 90 days is a big chunk.  And so this is how it came to pass that we will have been on the Grand Adventure for 8 months before we finally enter a Schengen country on July 25th when we will cross the border from Croatia into Slovenia.

    At that point the Schengen clock starts ticking.  Our ninety days will start in Slovenia, continue in Portugal, then onto Spain and end when we fly from Barcelona to Tunisia on October 19th – just shy of 90 days.

    Neither Bulgaria or Croatia are currently in the Schengen, although Croatia is next on the list for admittance.  Stability, both financial and political is a big factor as far as how the decision is made for entrance into the area.  So if you ever plan to travel for an extended period of time, be sure to study up on your Schengen countries.  Read more here.

    I’m not sure Bulgaria would have made the list if I hadn’t been forced to research more about Eastern Bloc countries.  We spent time in Hungary a few years ago and loved it.  We have also been to Northern Croatia and the Czech Republic and found both absolutely charming.  And the food is wonderful.  So I expect Bulgaria to be similar and I am excited to explore yet another country few Americans consider visiting.  It has become a tourism destination for Russians and Europeans, similar to so many of the places we have already been, I expect to be the minority American.

    We will fly from the Seychelles on the 29th, which marks our six months on the road.  We fly to Doha, Qatar and spend one night there.  Then it’s onto Sofia the capital of Bulgaria for three nights.  We then will travel by car to the mountain region and town of Veliko Tarnovo for ten days where we will do a lot of hiking.  Then it’s onto Sozopol on the Black Sea for 16 nights.  Sozopol is an ancient trade city from the Ottoman era.  The Black Sea region has become a huge tourist destination.  It should be very interesting.

    So why Bulgaria?  This is why and how Bulgaria became part of the Grand Adventure. I look forward to learning more history, meeting the people, and eating their food, which includes a lot of fresh vegetables, grilled meats and stews.  Yum.  I suspect I will find plenty of blog material along the way.

    Look out Bulgaria – the Lund’s are coming!