Bulgaria – Wow. Entirely unexpected and everything I want in the Grand Adventure; sun, sand, sea, mountains, rivers, lakes, history, food, wine and friendly peeps.
All of this wrapped up in an easy to navigate and incredibly inexpensive little country.
Bulgaria is da BOMB. I would come back in a heartbeat.
But where are all the Americans? Helllllooooo? We spent 30 days here and we met two Americans (on our second day). Seriously YOU GOTTA COME
People still imagine it as a communist country assuming gloomy grey sad people waiting in line for bread. Not even. Bulgarians are lively, smiling (and well fed) with a proud entrepreneurial spirit. Infrastructure is pretty good, a new subway is open in the capital, most people speak a bit of English and Bulgarians have put their communism days behind them (although crumbling abandoned buildings and former factories are a constant reminder of those days) and are heading fast and furious into their future.
Tourism is going to grow. It can’t be helped. I’m so glad we decided to come here. Feeling Blessed in Bulgaria. A very special place.
Chapter Eight now comes to an end. Today marks seven months on our Grand Adventure and time to move on. Thanks for a lovely visit, Bulgaria and for introducing us to another Balkan state! We are so glad we came. We have been very Blessed in Bulgaria.
Next up Chapter Nine – Croatia/Montenegro/Slovenia.
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.
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.
We love Paris like everyone else. But really that’s the problem. EVERYONE loves Paris (and London and Rome) and so you find lots of crowds and high cost. In our travels around the world we have really tried to find new places that few tourists go. Often these destinations end up being our most favorite. And the more we travel the more we want to encourage everyone to consider stepping out of their travel comfort zone, and exploring the unknown – the favorite destinations no one goes. Finding your way to the lesser traveled destinations creates less impact on the planet while bringing greater cultural awareness to the traveler. We ask you to consider these options:
Instead of Croatia consider visiting Bulgaria, one of our favorite countries we have ever been to. Bulgaria has so much to offer, and yet we did not meet a single American during the entire month we were there. We did meet lots of Russians, Germans and some Brits. Bulgaria has a remarkable coastline along the gorgeous Black Sea as well as great mountains for hiking. The food is amazing, the wine is cheap and the 5000 year history is astounding. And the people are so amazing, welcoming and proud. They have endured a great deal in their history, and they have a “come what may” attitude that is infectious. Go visit Bulgaria.
Instead of Italy go to fascinating Slovenia. From Trieste, Italy it’s just a hop across the border to Slovenia, the tiny country once part of Yugoslavia. We have been to Slovenia twice and I suspect we will be there again. Slovenia has a tiny coastline on the Adriatic, and our favorite town of Piran is a perfect place to visit and get some local flavor. But don’t stop there, Slovenia has some of the most beautiful mountain towns and lakes. Much of Slovenia is still agrarian and the people are welcoming and patriotic and friendly. Oh and the seafood. So darn delicious. Go visit Slovenia.
Instead of Mexico go to El Salvador. We just spent two weeks on the Pacific Coast of tiny El Salvador and we absolutely loved it. There are some Americans coming here, but mostly 20-year-old surfers. The media has made us believe El Salvador is a dangerous place, and yet it is no more dangerous than Mexico and Americans flock to Mexico. Come to El Salvador where the water is warm, the people are welcoming, the food is delicious and the history though brutal and bloody – is fascinating. El Salvador will soon come out the shadow of its violent past, so visit before the secret gets out. Go visit El Salvador.
Instead of Germany go to Poland. Poland is just beginning to step out of the shadow and become a tourist destination. And it should. We fell hard for Poland spending three weeks there last fall. Poland has some of the most astonishing history anywhere in Europe. The food is fantastic. The people are warm and happy to meet you. The historic villages are well-preserved and beautiful. And it is cheap and easy to get to. We loved Krakow as well as all the other places we visited and using the train in Poland was a great way to travel. You really should visit Poland now.
Instead of India go to Bangladesh. I loved our time in India too, but if you want to push yourself and visit somewhere no tourists go, visit the remarkable, tiny country of Bangladesh. Our short visit to Bangladesh provided us some of the most rewarding moments we have ever had in our travels. It’s difficult to visit Bangladesh without a guide, and we were lucky to find Deshguri, one of the few tour operators in the country. Through Deshguri we able to meet so many Bangladeshi people, who greeted us with more kindness than anywhere we have ever been in the world. We certainly stood out in both crowded Dakar as well as the beautiful villages and countryside, since almost no Western tourists come here. We learned so much during our time in Bangladesh, and left our heart with its beautiful people. A remarkable experience that everyone should have. Visit Bangladesh soon.
Instead of Thailand go to Sri Lanka. Thailand is overrun with tourists anymore. So if you are looking for beautiful beaches, mountains and more, visit Sri Lanka instead. The young backpacking set has found Sri Lanka, but few American visitors of the Fab Fifties era are traveling here. Why not? It is amazing. We spent three of our most favorite weeks in Sri Lanka, one of the friendliest countries we have ever visited. The Civil War is over and Sri Lanka is safe and inexpensive. The food is the da bomb. Hiking and history is around every corner and the beaches are incredible. We saw elephants and leopards, monkeys and snakes. Oh my. It’s Sri Lanka for me.
Instead of South Africa go to Namibia. Our ten-day tour in Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris will go down in our travels as one of the most remarkable places. This country that nobody has heard of is one of the most beautiful in the world. We had an amazing private guide during our time there, but you can also see the country easily with your own 4×4 vehicle (careful though, there is a high traffic fatality rate in Namibia). Namibia has a gorgeous Atlantic coastline, dry mountainous region that is like a moonscape, and multiple fascinating cultures such as the Himba, Damara and Herero people. And to top it off Etosha National Park – single-handedly the best wildlife viewing we have ever encountered. I absolutely fell in love with Namibia. If you have ever considered a safari in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa take a moment and research Namibia. You will be so glad you did. Go see Namibia now.
Instead of the Maldives go to the Seychelles. First a word about the Maldives. We loved our time there, and luckily we found a very inexpensive place to stay. But in general the Maldives are expensive and there is no alcohol! So consider the Seychelles instead. A beautiful set of small islands out in the middle of nowhere off of east Africa. We spent a month on the tiny island of Praslin and loved every minute of it. Groceries were expensive and the variety was less than desirable, but the rest of the experience was very positive. The islanders speak French/Creole mix, and the shy people are friendly and religious. If you are looking for a place to kick back and relax with the warmest turquoise waters in the world, visit Seychelles now.
Instead of Spain go to Portugal. I hesitated about adding Portugal to this list because Portugal does have a thriving tourism industry. But we met very few Americans while we were there. Perhaps more Americans go to Spain because Spanish is a language more Americans can handle. But during our time in Portugal we had very little difficulty with the Portuguese language. We loved Portugal so much we would consider living there. The food is incredible, the cities are beautiful and the beaches are fantastic. It’s a remarkable place with such a variety of geography. Historically Portugal was once a powerful country of explorers and merchants, colonizers and tyrants but today, this quiet and beautiful country is laid back and relaxed and fun. Visit Portugal.
What is next for us?
We are now into a full-fledged planning phase of our next chapter of the Grand Adventure. We will spend May-September in the USA then depart again. Without really trying, we have noticed
a trend in the countries we are planning to visit next, a trend towards less touristy. A trend towards staying longer in one place. A trend towards trying to make less of an impact and remove ourselves from the fray.
I think this is what we always intended to happen on this journey, but it just took us a while to get there. But when we look back on our favorite places we have been so far, it’s always the places with the road less traveled. It’s always the places with few western tourists. It’s always the places the cruise ships don’t go. The authentic and relatively untouched destinations.
A week or so before we arrived in Langkawi we met a young women who was concerned when we told her we would be on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia for 26 days. She felt we didn’t understand how little there is to do here.
We laughed about it later. Our favorite places in the world are the places with little to do. We particularly enjoy island-time and take it whenever we can get it. And our time here languishing on Langkawi has served us well both physically and mentally.
Although we spent many days doing pretty close to nothing, we also have enjoyed several busy and active days around the island. And after getting to know this small (25 miles long and 12 miles wide) island just off the coast of Malaysia and Thailand, I would argue that there is indeed plenty to do here.
Most people come here for three or four days. Maybe a week. When we told the young man on the beach who peddles the beach chairs we would be here for more than three weeks he was amazed. He said it was unusual. We have also noticed our age bracket here is unusual. Langkawi seems to be an itinerary of the young-backpacker and honeymooners …with a handful of people in their forties and fifties. We haven’t met any other Americans but it seems popular with the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Malaysians, Germans and Australians.
Our languishing on Langkawi days have often been spent at Pantai Cenang, Langkawi’s most popular beach. It’s a two-minute walk to Cenang (pronounced ‘Chenang’) from our Airbnb and we can rent two chairs for the entire day for $5. The water is ridiculously warm and Cenang is the best place to watch the sunset. Although we did none of these things, it’s very popular (and seems relatively cheap) to go parasailing, rent jet-skis, ride on a banana boat, go island hopping or take a mangrove tour.
Cenang has lots of hotels, restaurants and shopping. We enjoyed fantastic meals at Happy Happy Chinese Seafood and The Cliff Restaurant but probably my favorite meal was at Yasmine Syrian Restaurant. We also enjoyed several small sidewalk food stalls especially the Lebanese Shawarma Kebab sidewalk cafe and the Warung Cafe for breakfast.
We rented a car on three separate days over our 26 day stay, when we felt ready to get out and see more of the island. The rental car cost us $20 a day while gas runs about $2 a gallon. There really isn’t much public transportation but we found Grab (Uber) to be very efficient and super cheap.
The first day in the rental car we went to the Langkawi Cable Car and rode to the top for spectacular views. It’s relatively expensive by Malaysia standards ($20 pp) but worth it. From the top you can pay an extra $4 pp to walk out on the Sky Bridge. It was foggy when we were there but still a spectacular thing to do. Next we hiked the Seven Wells Waterfall. Free but ouch. It was 600 steps up and boy did I feel that in the morning. But it was worth it. Really beautiful. The waterfall has beautiful pools you can enjoy as part of your languishing in Langkawi efforts. We did not do the Umgawa Zipline, but it seems popular at around $100 pp.
Our second day in the car we drove to Temuran Waterfall in the northwest corner of the island. This is Langkawi’s highest waterfall and it was really spectacular. It’s much easier to access (200 steps) and also has a lovely pool at the base of the falls to cool off once you arrive.
Next we stopped to take a peek at the small but beautiful Pantai Tengorak Beach, but because there was a school field trip there we decided to move on. We enjoyed a spectacular fish-and-chips lunch with view at Scarborough Fish and Chips before heading next door to a much bigger and very beautiful beach called Pantai Tanjung Rhu. We spent several hours here. The water like a bathtub.
Back in Cenang we enjoyed one evening at the Aseania Resort where twice a week they offer a “Cultural Show and BBQ”. Think Luau. Similar to many such shows we have done around the world (New Zealand, Australia, Easter Island, Spain, Portugal, Hawaii), even though it is touristy it’s always fun, informative and delicious. Even though the sound system could use an upgrade, I was really glad we went. At $15 pp and all you can eat, you can’t beat it.
We spent three separate days enjoying day-passes at two beautiful beach resorts. We walked three miles to Resorts World Langkawi at the tip of the peninsula. For $10 we had access all day to their infinity pool, enjoyed pizza and a drink. Two days we walked one mile to Dash Resort. An all-day pass here was $9 and included a drink. It’s a nice way to take a break from the beach and feel a bit pampered. We liked the pool at Dash the best.
We went to the Thursday-only Langkawi Night Market which is tiny but we grazed our way through and had a full-meal for two for about $7. There is also a nightly food truck area right off the main drag- we weren’t overly impressed with the offerings so we never ate there.
Nearly every morning we did a beach and boardwalk run, taking advantage of the flat and beautiful terrain around Cenang to get back into running shape. I really appreciated having the time to do that.
Speaking of running, while we were on Langkawi the island hosted the Malaysia Ironman. What a spectacle that was! It was very difficult to get around during the event as so many roads were closed so we were only able to enjoy the finish line which was very near to our Airbnb. Super fun and exciting to witness an event like this. This is considered the second most difficult Ironman in the world. We saw the top three, all who beat the the course record despite the unusually warm day. It gave me goosebumps to watch them get their medals. What an accomplishment.
The following week we rented a car again for one more day of exploring. We drove around the southern road of the island to the town of Kuah. It’s a big town with lots of shopping and resorts. Not really something we are interested in but we wanted to see it. We then headed north with the intention of going to the Lucky Temple, a Buddhist Temple that accepts visitors. But we couldn’t find it. So next we headed to the Langkawi Cultural Craft Center. I was wishing I had more room in my suitcase for some of the beautiful baskets. I did purchase a beautiful hand painted Kaftan. We spent some time at the beach before heading back to Kuah to the Wednesday Night Market there.
Sunset in Cenang is pretty amazing. Our favorite places to watch sunset was from the rooftop of the El Toro Mexican Restaurant with a margarita in hand, or from the rooftop Flo Lounge on top of the Nadia Hotel. Our favorite beachside bar was Thirstday or we would bring our own scotch down to the beach for a nightcap.
Speaking of Scotch, the entire island of Langkawi is a Duty Free Zone. I don’t know why but lucky for us. We could buy a case of beer for $15, a liter of gin for $9 and a really nice bottle of Aberlour Scotch for $50. Aberlour 12 year in the USA would sell for about $90.
Strangely though, few restaurants serve alcohol since the majority of the businesses are Muslim owned. But you can find a drink in hotel and beach bars.
Sometimes we would take a long walk instead of going to the beach. Although the humidity can be tough, there are few cars on the roads and it felt good to get out and just walk around.
For nightly free entertainment there is never a dull moment down at the beach after sunset. The tiny town really comes alive, and pop up hookah lounges, fire dancers and foot massage studios take over the beach after dark. You can kick back all night in beach bean bag chairs if that’s your thing – definitely fits the languishing on Langkawi theme don’t you think?
We were on the tail end of Malaysia’s rainy season and during our visit to Langkawi and other parts of Malaysia we witnessed some crazy big tropical storms. But always the sun would return eventually. Other than during the Ironman and the week of the Indian holiday of Diwali, most hotels and restaurants and tourist attractions were lightly populated. High season will begin in November.
At the end of our visit, we had hoped to do a guided sunrise hike to the top of Gunung Raya, the highest point on Langkawi. But the weather did not cooperate so we had to cancel. So instead I booked a spa day at Alun Alun Spa in Cenang. It was really nice. I had a manicure, pedicure and a facial. There are many, many places in Cenang hawking foot massage, manicure, full-body massage etc. BUT since I am very particular about hygiene I decided to go to the more expensive and upsacale Alun Alun. I was really glad I did.
After nearly a month languishing on Langkawi -this tiny island ranks pretty high for me as a great place to both kick back and relax AND find plenty of things to keep busy. We were never bored. It fit our definition of island life pretty well, whether languishing on Langkawi or being on the go.
After forty days in Malaysia it’s time to go. Malaysia now falls fourth in the list of countries we have stayed in the longest (Spain, Thailand, New Zealand are the top three). But Malaysia ties for first place as the least expensive country for our travels – tied with Bulgaria. Coming in third is the Maldives.
Thanks Langkawi. Terima Kasih Malaysia. We have loved our time here.
Next stop Myanmar!
Please note WiFi in Myanmar is very poor. We will do our best to continue to post a Travel Blog each Friday and a Book Review each Wednesday. If you like what we are doing here, we would greatly appreciate you showing your love with a share or a pin!Please invite your friends to follow our blog. Thank you!
I am writing this blog laying on the couch in my SEVENTY-SIXTH Airbnb, my 603rd night sleeping in an Airbnb. Whoa. That’s a lot of Airbnb’s!
With that many houses, huts, apartments, condos, lofts, shacks and cabins under my belt, I feel it’s time to give you a list of our favorites around the world. Because even though we carefully research each and every Airbnb before booking, there are of course, some duds. So we like to give a shout out of the best of the best!
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If you are still hesitating about staying in an Airbnb I really encourage you to try it. We have had outstanding luck using this hospitality model in our travels. Airbnb has changed and grown ALOT since we stayed in our very first one in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood in 2013. The changes are mostly good. For us it has been safe, simple and efficient. We use the following as our guide for choosing an Airbnb;
1. Read the Reviews and look for Super Host and Five Star properties.
2. Check the amenities that are important to you. We always want a kitchen, wifi and good walkable location.
3. Check where it is on the map…BECAUSE if you search Seattle it might show you a house in Seabeck (this happened to us). If you don’t know the area you would be pretty surprised when you try to find your Seattle house.
4. Contact the host if you have ANY questions. We have on a number of occasions negotiated a better price based on our long stay. We have asked many questions such as neighborhood safety, parking, grocery stores etc. We’ve negotiated airport pick up, late arrival, chef service and other necessities.
5. Look closely at the pictures. If you arrive and the unit is NOT what the pictures show contact Airbnb right away. But honestly if you have done steps 1-4 above that probably won’t happen.
We do have one complaint about Airbnb…a complaint I have expressed to the company with ZERO response; As a loyal and frequent customer I would like to see the company AWARD me for my business. Just like an airline frequent flyer program. At the moment Airbnb has more of a focus on rewarding its hosts than its guests – even guests like me who use it almost every day of my life. I hope they will acknowledge users more generously soon.
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Many of our Airbnb’s don’t stand out for anything in particular, but have served us in an efficient, clean, comfortable and functional way within our budget. That’s all good. That’s the case for the nice apartment we are in right now in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It’s got all the comforts of home; kitchen, washer, two baths, a pool. And it’s in a nice, safe and convenient neighborhood. Our hosts are helpful and even have a car available for us to rent.
So since this apartment is our last Airbnb until next September, we thought this would be a good time to expound on our Favorite Airbnb’s Around the World and what makes those stand out above the rest. We’ve provided link and photos when possible, in hopes that you can consider some of these little gems we have found along our journey. Here is our list;
We just left Guatemala and the Cave House we stayed in on top of a mountain in San Marcos was amazing. It had some quirks, but nonetheless it was amazing. You got your built in work out throughout the day going up and down all those stairs. We give it a big thumbs up.
This Airbnb was three times what we usually try to spend, even while being one of the smallest Airbnbs we have ever stayed in. Oh but that view. Heaven on earth. There is nothing like the crater view of Santorini and it was right outside our door. Amazing.
We have had some really awesome hosts in our 76 Airbnb’s. And we have had some crappy hosts, usually those who leave you to fend for yourself. While we don’t want or need a host to manage our stay, we love it when we have a kind, engaged, thoughtful and hospitable host who is there for our occasional need. We have found that in many locations but the four mentioned take the prize. In Rio our host was incredibly kind with gifts and food and wine. In Exmouth we loved the darling family who provided us fresh ahi, yoga mats and much kindness. Two Airbnb’s in Bulgaria introduced us to the most thoughtful Bulgarians who made sure we had everything we needed including a special oven pan when requested, fresh cherries and Bulgarian roses in our room.
Bulgaria overall is a bargain, and it remains one of our most favorite countries for many reasons including the prices. These two favorite Airbnb’s were very large, multi bedroom units with full kitchen, exceptional hosts and awesome locations. The one in Sozopol included a giant deck with view and a swimming pool. We paid $30 in Veliko Tarnovo and $60 in Sozopol.
We spent two wonderful, relaxing weeks with our friends Randy and Sue in this unique and comfortable house right on the beach in Mal Pais Costa Rica. For fourteen nights in a row we documented the most exquisite sunsets…a wonderful end to each wonderful day.
Having a private pool is a real luxury for us, not something that is usually in the budget. Our two favorites listed here happened because we were sharing a house in these locations, so spending a little bit more for the luxury. The Ocotal pool had an amazing view, while the Koh Samui pool was very secluded and lovely.
The largest pool we ever had was the full Olympic size pool in Hua Hin Thailand. Despite the fact the pool was closed for maintenance for an entire week of our three week visit, we still enjoyed it for swimming laps and relaxing pool side.
It’s rare to have breakfast included in an Airbnb, and so we took full advantage at these two favorite spots. Each morning in both places breakfast was delivered to us. In Hoi An it was eggs and fruit with the BEST coffee and in Hikkaduwa it was the local Sri Lankan breakfast of either Roti or Hoppers, both which we really fell in love with.
Since I try to do yoga most everyday, I love it when we have an Airbnb with a nice open and comfortable place to do our own yoga. But even better is when there are yoga classes available onsite, and Balance Yoga in El Tunco El Salvador was the best. I have only taken yoga classes in Punta Cana DR, La Fortuna Costa Rica, and on a cruise ship, mostly because it has not been convenient anywhere else. But in El Tunco it was right out my backdoor, there were multiple daily classes, it was inexpensive and it was exceptional.
We loved everything about our house on the beach in Mal Pais, but the unexpected and impressive daily nature show was a big bonus. Laying in the hammock each evening watching the howler monkeys was truly fascinating…an activity many tourists pay big bucks to see on a tour. Not us. These monkeys came to us almost everyday and it was an incredible sight.
In Siem Reap we stayed in a historic Khmer home, with the absolutely nicest family living down below. Breakfast was included and the house was beautiful, historic and authentic. In Lombok Indonesia we stayed in an authentic Javenese Historic wood house, that had been disassembled, transferred from Java and reassembled on the site of this very remote and small resort we visited. Very memorable.
We adored our full-time housekeeper and cook who came with our Airbnb in Asilah Morocco. Not only was it the first and only time we have had a cook and housekeeper on site, but she was so incredible. I gained ten pounds I think during our ten days there. We would absolutely go back to Asilah again and I hope we will. Latifah was very special.
We have stayed in some pretty rustic places, but Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka takes the prize for the most bugs, snakes, and rodents living with us in our hut. We felt like we were on Gilligans Island. And yet, we absolutely loved our three weeks here for the wonderful hosts, the incredible beach front property, the great weather and the delicious breakfasts all at a bargain basement price.
We spent three weeks on the itty bitty Maldivian Island of Huraa. We had a small room with bath, access to the beach, a great secluded place to do yoga and three meals a day all inclusive for $90…not $90 per person, $90 total. Our time here was spent just kicking back, running everyday, going snorkeling, hanging in the hammock and all for a remarkable price, especially in the very expensive Maldives.
There are several Airbnb’s we could have given this award to, but these two experiences were so unique they win the prize. We only stayed two nights in each place. Both had outhouses and outdoor showers. Though tiny, both were comfortable and the hosts for both were helpful and hospitable and happy to have us visiting their unique little piece of paradise.
We have had access to a lot of beautiful beaches in our travels. Our favorites listed here though all are because we could walk right outside of our door and enjoy a beach. These three though were all very different; Mal Pais was a beautiful but unique beach just steps from or house made up of rocky pools that provided natures hot tub all day long. Seabeck Washington was a stunning beach on the Hood Canal with spectacular Olympic Mountain view and although a bit chilly, great summer swimming. And finally Hikkaduwa was a long beautiful stretch of golden sand beach with a bar right next door and our hut only steps away. Perfect.
Both Antigua and Malaga are gorgeous, historic and fairly compact cities and our Airbnb’s provided us a great location in the center of these towns to enjoy all the splendor they had to offer, along with the comforts we enjoy like kitchen and wifi. In Antigua we also had a magnificent patio where we could see two amazing volcanoes and do yoga or just sit and enjoy our morning coffee.
Flat and safe are my requirements for running around the world, and we have run in nearly every country but not in every location. Often there are dogs, cobblestones, snakes, mountains, crazy drivers or questionable characters that make running unsafe. But while in El Tunco, Placencia, Seychelles, Split and Punta Cana we ran every single day – safely and with wonderful scenery to enjoy!
Number One Out of Seventy-Six, Our Favorite Overall – Antiparos Greece (Cover photo at top of this page is Antiparos)
There are a few other’s we considered for this BEST OF moniker, but our three weeks in tiny Antiparos in this beautiful home with stunning view on the side of a mountain with a kind and lovely host is definitely our favorite experience, so far, of all our Airbnb’s. It is the one place that we think we will definitely visit again some day. As we go forward with our Grand Adventure next fall we have Airbnb’s booked all over; Asia, Africa, Europe. Time will tell if this favorite in Antiparos can hold its position as Number One.
If you have questions about our Airbnb adventures feel free to contact me. Other blogs that might be of interest to you on this topic are listed here;
I was so excited and honored to learn while I was on the cruise that A Trip With a View had nominated me for the Liebster Award! If you are not already familiar with A Trip With a View I encourage you to head over and check out her amazing travel blog. Nicole is a travel blogger with a vision to inspire affordable travel for all. She offers honest reviews of real-life places and wonderful tips and insights into how to travel affordably and happily! Isn’t that what we all want to do?
It’s always nice to get recognition, and I work hard on my blog so it’s a nice warm fuzzy for me in the New Year. So without further ado let me fill you in on the details of this award.
About the Liebster Award
The Liebster Award is an award for bloggers by bloggers. It recognizes new blogs with great content. It brings attention to blogs that have presented a fresh perspective on travel blogging. It’s bloggers supporting other bloggers.
Thank the blogger who nominated your blog and include a link back to their blog in a post.
Answer 10 questions asked by the nominator.
Nominate other blogs with a fresh outlook and great content, then ask them 10 questions.
Display the award logo in your post and list the rules associated with the award.
10 Questions from Undercover Travel Agent:
1.) What is one piece of advice you would pass down to other new bloggers?
Content is King. Don’t write for the sake of writing. Write quality over quantity. Find a niche and stick to it, with really good writing, even if it means taking an online writing course. I’ve seen too many poorly written blogs, I’m sure you don’t aspire to that group!
2.) What was the first foreign country you visited and why did you choose it?
Well I am ALOT older than many bloggers out there so my first foreign country was Canada when I was a little girl in the 1960’s. I went there several times with my family for vacations from our home state of Washington. I still love Canada, even after traveling now to 91 countries, Canada is still one of the prettiest, kindest and most interesting places.
3.) What is your favorite destination that you have traveled to?
This is a hard one, as I said above I have been to 91 countries. But I would narrow it down to two surprising countries; Bulgaria (cheap, delicious, beautiful and friendly) and Namibia (fascinating!)
4.) Do you ever run out of ideas for blog posts and if so how do you break through that writer’s block?
As a full-time traveler I have a lot of material to choose from, but sometimes I want to write something a little different. I always have several ideas floating around in my head, often based on other things I’ve read. My blog is personal, and I make a point of keeping it that way, so I might drop a personal piece about family or health into the travel blog from time to time. Just to mix things up. I also do a weekly book review, since travel provides lots of opportunity to read.
5.) What inspired you to start a blog?
Before I became a full-time traveler (2.5 years ago) I was using the blog to inspire middle-aged woman to feel confident and the best they can. When I retired from my career in marketing I wanted to reach out to other women my age and encourage them to look at retirement and being in our fifties as the greatest time in our life, unburdened by the things that caused us stress in our younger years. So that is how My Fab Fifties Life began.
6.) Share your favorite travel photo that you have taken and explain why it is your favorite.
I took this photo in Namibia just as the sun was setting and we were hurrying back to camp in Etosha National Park because you aren’t allowed outside of camp after sunset. This beautiful beast almost looks unreal – like a statue. Covered with grey mud to keep cool, he is just one of my favs.
I love this photo of a bull elephant I took in Etosha National Park, Namibia
7.) Are there any places that you visited that you would never want to go back?
Hmmmmm. Well, this is also a hard question. There are pro’s and con’s to every destination. But if I have to choose I would say Santorini. I’ve been there twice, eleven years apart. On my second visit (this past October) I was so very disappointed at how much it had changed – and not at all for the better. It’s still pretty, but overcrowded, overbuilt and ridiculously expensive. There are so many other Greek Islands that are beautiful and much less expensive.
8.) Have you ever visited a destination that really surprised you? For instance, a place that either far outweighed your expectations or a place that really disappointed you?
I could list several but I will say Bangladesh far outweighed my expectations. Bangladesh is NOT a tourist destination and I was actually a bit afraid to go there. But we went to visit someone we know who is a teacher, and then we took a three-day tour. The tour was amazing. Nothing fancy or first class but it was so incredibly authentic. The people were so kind and interested in us. Even the poorest people we met invited us to have tea. It was just a remarkable time. I loved it and I am so glad I went.
9.) What is a destination that you have never been to but want to go and why?
Israel, Madagascar, Malta, Zimbabwe, Bhutan, Myanmar are all on our list for 2019-2020. Israel for the history, Madagascar for the nature, Malta for the beaches, Zimbabwe for the falls, Bhutan for its unique approach to tourism, Myanmar for EVERYTHING.
10.) What is one thing that you must have in your carry on?
You might be surprised to learn that a full-time traveler suffers from extreme motion sickness. So I always carry Meclazine. This little pill has become a life-saver for me. I don’t know if it’s available in all countries (I’m from the USA), but it’s similar to Dramamine but it does not put you to sleep. Me and my Meclazine are very good friends.
We’ve been in Spain now for more than a month. Last year we spent more than two months in Spain. I have learned to enjoy what is really a simple cuisine here in this country – locally sourced, simply prepared and not overly seasoned. Although the many regions of Spain have their individual specialties, the focus of the overall cuisine of Spain is fresh and seasonal.
My only complaint about Spain is how late they eat their meals. Breakfast is barely a meal – just coffee and a croissant, maybe a tortilla (here in Spain ‘tortilla’ is an egg and potato dish, aka Spanish omelet) around 10am. Lunch isn’t until 2:00pm and dinner rarely gets started before 9pm. For this American, that is well past my bedtime.
One of the reasons Spain eats so late is because they are in a crazy backwards timezone. Ever since Franco wanted Spain in the same timezone as Germany, Spaniards have lived with a VERY late sunrise and a VERY late sunset. So, they have adjusted their eating habits to accommodate. Unfortunately my internal clock is not so easily adjusted.
So the answer for me, when in Spain, is to live on tapas – the luscious
little dishes served all day long. I have become a fan of tapas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Tapa Life
We have enjoyed my favorite tapas of Spain in Madrid, Santiago,Leon and Barcelona. But Sevilla loves its tapas bars (there are no tapas restaurants only bars – tapas are always served with alcohol) and the abundance of options is both fun and a bit overwhelming. In fact many will argue Sevilla is the birthplace of the tapa. We studied up a bit on where to go, what to eat and some history, then we set out on our own little “tapear”, the Spanish word for tapas hopping. Time to find my favorite tapas of Spain.
As we set out on our excursion we were happy to know there really wasn’t anywhere better we could be eating tapas than in Sevilla, and specifically in the historic Triana neighborhood. Myths and legends abound about tapas. One of the most
Cold tomato soup
popular is King Alfonso the 10th, The Wise King of Spain, had once been stricken with a serious illness which only allowed him to take in small portions of food with small amounts of wine. After recovering from his illness, the king issued a decree that no wine should be served at inns unless it was served with food. (credit A Brief History of Tapas, Pita Jungle).
My Favorite Spanish Tapas
We did not have the opportunity to try every kind of tapa Sevilla is famous for, but we indulged in many and here is a list of some of our favorites both from our tour of Triana and our time throughout Spain (see photos and captions of
Pork in whiskey with potata
several throughout this blog); croqueta (very popular bite size fried cheesy nuggets often with jamon but we enjoyed it with duck as well as mint), montadito (tiny bite size jamon and pork sandwich), solomillo al whiskey (pork in whisky sauce), los pajaritos (tiny fried quail), patata (fresh potato chip), tortilla bites (egg and potato omelette), tortillita de camarones (fried shrimp pancake), espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and garbanzo beans), salmorejo (cold tomato soup), stuffed olives, thin sliced jamon iberico de bellota (acorn fed Iberian ham), pancetta frita (fried pork belly), grilled shrimp, boiled shrimp, sardinas ala parilla (grilled sardines), mussels, pulpo (octopus), razor clams, fried calamari, boquerones (anchovies) on toast, sausages and rabo de toros (bull’s tail). And those are just the ones I can remember.
Simple, Cheap & Delicious
It’s a wonderful way to eat. But the great thing is, even if you are only stopping for a glass of wine with a friend, the bar will always set something to nibble in front of you (because the King said so). It will
Grilled sardines and grilled shrimp
probably be a plate of olives, perhaps nuts or sometimes bread with ham and cheese or tortilla. It’s said that the original tapas were probably bread with jamon, which was used to cover your drink (the word tapa means ‘cover’).
Despite the origin of the word, it now describes a cuisine unto its own. Though southern Spain and particularly Andalusia claim it, the popularity of tapas has spread, particularly to South and Central America, Mexico and the United States.
The day of our tapear we ate and drank (both beer and wine) for several hours at six locations. And our total spending for the afternoon? Less
Tiny fried quail
We leave Sevilla and head next to Malaga – about 205 km south, on the Mediterranean. We expect to continue our tapas exploration and enjoy
a bounty of fresh goodness from the sea. Fabuloso and delicioso!
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