Heart-Bursting Bulgaria

Heart-Bursting Bulgaria

After the relative safety of our travels through western Europe last year, where we cut our teeth and built our confidence, it seemed the right time to venture further afield. And ‘Greece was the word… that we were hearing.’ What a great leg our Greek Odyssey was, opening our eyes to this amazing southern European jewel. With eager eyes – and leaky eyes, it has to be said, as corner after corner of luscious, sparkling and generous spirit caught hold of our souls. Surely this was the pinnacle?

Although thankfully, very quickly into our nomadic travels, we learnt not to judge one place against another, as the world is so amazing, diverse and unique, that to compare is to dishonour. So we have learnt to be in the moment and fully appreciate all we are experiencing without too much comparison.

Although leaving Greece with a huge basket of mind-blowing memories left us wary about how we would feel about Bulgaria, which was totally new to us. Would we fall in love with this too, or would there be some disappointment after such a great Greek tour?

  Bulgaria – Route 1

Beautiful Bulgaria

Well our worries were soon allayed after a really easy border crossing, just north of Serres. Within 20 minutes we had passed through Border Control, changed our Euros to Lev (at a rate of 1.84) and bought our vignette for €20. We were ready to go.

With nervous anticipation of potholed roads, that many had warned us about, we headed to Camping Kromidovo. And the roads were actually great until we approach the campsite’s village where it became tricky to say the least. So a beautiful little campsite awaited us, greeted by English couple, John and Sarah, (41.454485 23.362855). A little retreat here was just what we needed as we allowed ourselves to decloak from Greece and ground ourselves into our new country home.

                       Melnik, wine region

Wine-region Melnik

A cycle to Melnik was our very first outing and as we glided down hills and climbed up ridges, we soon got a very good flavour of Bulgaria landscape and culture. People us gave toothy smiles and friendly waves, cars hooted warmly as they passed us with care and wild pigs, donkeys and wildlife galore fringed the roadside edges.

Melnik itself was charming and its architecture was nothing like we had seen in Greece. In fact, throughout our Greek leg, it was one of our biggest disappointments. So to see such rustic buildings built with dark oak and stone, with timbers reminiscent of England’s Tudor period, quaint bridges spanning across dry river-beds and the faint echo of Bulgarian folk music filling the air, was spirit-lifting.

                      Bulgarian musicians

Rhodope Mountains

Great food, tasty, cheap wine blended with generous, warm-hearted locals and pretty landscape, soon revealed that we had nothing to fear. Except things were set to get even better as we moved eastwards into the Rhodope Mountains to escape the impending heatwave. A recommended location for hiking, natural wonders and stunning scenery seriously appealed to us as we wove our way across the windy, undulating landscape.

                 Bulgarian watering hole

Reunited with our convoy buddies we had wild camping on our minds. It didn’t take long for the mountains to build up in front of us and the pine forest to consume us with their heady scent. The Rhodopes are simply stunning and our breath was taken away as we meandered around each bend. It amazed us to see timber huts along the roadsides with canteen tables, fridges and outdoor ovens with natural springs offering refreshment to the workers quarrying for slate tiles and logging the trees. This earthy partnership gave us a real sense of community spirit and compassion.

The Buynovo Gorge was our final resting spot that we would call home. After a nerve-wracking journey through the gorge with dangerous overhangs and heart-stopping bends, and infrequent passing places for the two-way traffic, we were very happy to arrive. Staying in heart of the gorge, with the sound of the river crashing through the rocks and the sheer granite walls towering above us, made this a gorgeous spot to rest our heads. Tomorrow we would explore.

The Fab Four Go Exploring

          Our dice with death, or so it felt!

Yagodinska Cave is one of the hotspots of the area, although there are so few foreign visitors here, so you will only share it with locals. In fact, in the last ten days we’ve only seen four other motorhomes, and they were Bulgarian. The Cave tour, in Bulgarian of course, took us deep into the earth with great architecture to wow us. In truth, the Dragon’s Cave in Kastoria, Greece was more impressive, although again, trying letting go of our comparison eyes allowed us the chance to see it in all its own glory.

All along the gorge route you have the eager smiles of the Safari Jeep owners all keen to take your €5pp fee for the adrenaline ride of your life. The Eagle’s Eye view point is a popular hike, although finding a route was difficult so we resorted to the jeep ride. Well we were not expecting the bone jangling, body shaking ride that we got. Scared half to death, although perversely fun! Here’s the video we cobbled together through the rather bouncy journey.

Trigrad Gorge

Our next stop was Trigrad Gorge, just across the valley.  Whilst we felt a bit caved-out, you can never tire of the scenery presented before your eyes. We found ourselves at a spot in Trigrad village for the night and took the walk down to the Devil’s Throat Cave. This offers visitors, for a mere €4.50, a sight of Europe’s highest underground waterfall, which has been traced by explorers for decades and they cannot find where the river exits the cave – it just disappears into the ether. The climb up 300 steps from the cave floor to the surface was a challenge, especially for Myles’ vertigo, although it was a totally different cave and always worth a visit.

                     Rhodope Mountains

My first solo cycle up the Trigrad valley, really nailed the beauty of this country, as I passed orchids, saw eagles soaring up in the forest and farmers looking after their potato and spinach crops. Eventually I ran out of road and the pathway to the village with a dead-end was just left to rock and potholes. The village had probably never seen a cyclist before let alone a Brit, so I felt like I was entering a hidden world, untouched by commercialism.

Heart-bursting Bulgaria

And that is my sense of this part of Bulgaria. There’s a real innocence and genuine simplicity about how the locals live their lives. They are not bothered by the internet going down or the latest gadget being released. They just care for their cattle, tend to their crops and make hay whilst the sunshines. How poignant a proverb that is for Bulgaria, as it seems all their efforts during summer are geared towards preparing for the harsh winter months.

            A gaggle of girls, Bulgaria style

So our first 10 days in Bulgaria have been an immersion into a culture that is so different to any other country we have seen so far. Hard working men and women walk with curved spines from their toil in the fields, cow herders in their 90’s still work with an energy that I’m jealous of and everyone has a smile or a wave for you. We feel safe, welcomed and endeared to this alluring place and look forward to uncovering more of its charm.

Warning superlative overload coming to a blog near you.  Karen x

The Gallery

Simple Solutions

Simple Solutions

So here’s the thing. When you’re travelling Europe and it’s hot, we tend to head towards the coast to cool off and drink in the amazing views that inevitably the sea gifts.  As romantic and lovely as it sounds though, that strategy brings with it some challenges, namely salt and sand.  Sand I guess we can live with – get the hoover out and bosh, it’s gone.  The salt is a bit more tricky, as it’s a silent enemy that plays mischievously with your van and implements.  For a few days or so, that’s no major issue, although over a prolonged period, it could be more troublesome, as we found out this week.

After visiting some of the most amazing coastline on the Peloponnese, followed by a stay on the island of Crete, which is famous for its northerly winds, we started to experience some difficulties with our fly screen. Albeit an intermittent problem, a problem none the less. Now on a day to day basis that doesn’t sound too much of a challenge, except when someone turns up the thermostat and starts to melt you.  Open windows and vents just don’t satisfy the insatiable need for heat relief – you got to get that door open. ‘So just open the door’, I hear you scream!  Well you could be right, although then there’s that delicate balance between airflow and mosquitos!  We value our sleep far too much to risk having the door open without that little netted barrier.

So what’s a girl to do?  Well you call in the services of your very own DIY Superhero, aka Myles.  I had a fancy that our sticky screen was due to the onslaught of salt, brought in on the afternoon Greek winds.  Over five weeks that salt had accumulated and built up on the flyscreen fibres and just clogged it up.  Well that was my theory anyway.  And given that Myles loves fixing things, what better a challenge than to get him to solve our little predicament – and quickly.

After a bit of research that brought up no immediate solutions, Myles took off said door and saw no evidence for our sticky issue and so he turned to his old faithful!  WD40 – the cure-all juice.  No traveller should be without it.  So with a bit of a spray in the mechanisms and a bit of a dab on the horizontal guide strings – hey presto it works a treat.  I think we probably need a bit of warm soapy water to just finish off the job and make it a smooth operation, although so far, so good.

So if you’re ever having problems with your screen, check that there’s no sand in the bottom track and then work the material with either some warm water, or in our case WD40 and see if that makes its movement smoother.  Be mindful if you’re camping a lot by the coast that salt will have an impact on your entire vehicle and not just the fly screen.  Whilst salt may not be your particular issue, it’s worth checking it out before the costly journey to your dealer.  It’s been an interesting lesson for us.

Quick update on 10 June, whilst the WD40 certainly helped, it was still causing us some problems.  So out came the soapy, warm water and hey presto.  Problem is now well and truly resolved.  Keep it Simple!

Kx

Travellers’ Challenges – gift giving

Travellers’ Challenges – gift giving

Travelling in any form has its joy, delight and its own fair share of challenges, as we are finding out as we enter month 18 of our full-time, nomadic lifestyle.  Although to every challenge there is always a creative solution that often provides a far better outcome.  This first report in our Travellers’ Challenge series offers an alternative view of gift giving when you’re living life on the road.

As a proverbial giver and people-pleaser, one of my greatest joys is presenting gifts to people.   I love finding, choosing and giving meaningful presents that show people how they matter to me.  So you can imagine how this aspect of my personality has been seriously challenged as we continue to commit to our lives travelling around Europe in our motorhome.  Both getting gifts to my loved ones back ‘home’ and finding gestures of kindness for fellow travellers that we connect with along the way, is tricky.  After all when you are living in a small home, have a weight and space consideration or are moving around a lot with perhaps just a backpack or small camper, having any more ‘stuff’ than is absolutely necessary is just not practical, despite the gratification it creates.  Consider the added fact that with umpteen culturally diverse local shops enticing you with their handmade wears, it’s so hard to resist their goodies as you know how impractical it is to package things up and send them home.

So what’s a ‘giving sort of girl’ to do with this conundrum?

Well three things strike me as I write about this travelling challenge.  First is how to use your imagination to make lovely gestures to your loved ones.  Second is making use of the internet and the third is being inspired by the creativity of others you meet along the way and being motivated by their gifting perspectives.

Imagination and creativity

Travel has been one of my greatest teachers and no more do I look to the commerciality of gift giving – practicalities guide me to seek out my inspiration from nature and ‘out of the box’ resources. One of the skills I am fortunate enough to have is being creative and using my imagination to conjure up gifts that come from the heart and that are made with love.  A long time ago I learnt that giving is not about price or volume, it’s thinking about someone and finding a way to expresses your love. We gave up buying presents for annual celebrations years ago as it is so easy to get caught up in the marketing trap that invites us to spend money on meaningless gifts because we are conditioned into think that is the right thing to do.

Travelling has taught me otherwise.

So now I use my creativity to look at gift ideas in a different way;

  • Good Luck Charm

    As a child, one of my dad’s friends told me that whenever you are walking along a pebble beach, look out for stones that have a hole going all the way through, as this comes with good luck blessings.  So now beach combing takes on a whole new perspective for me as I search for said stone with said hole.  Then add a bit of unwanted ribbon cut from one of my tops, hey presto I have an instant SAFE TRAVEL and GOOD FORTUNE charm.

  • The beach has so many sources of inspiration for me.  When I lived in a house, I used to pick flat stones, varnish and paint them with meaningful words for my recipient.  These days without the room for varnish and paint, I use my Sharpie pens to write messages of love on small stones, which carries the same sentiment.

 

  • Pruning wild rosemary and making it into a little bouquet can be as lovely a gift as a shop bought bunch of flowers that will die within a week.  Rosemary has so many healthy properties that it comes with two-fold advantage.

 

  • Colouring book wrapping

    I use my Art Therapy Colouring book and my Sharpies to give me my sheets of wrapping paper.  I’ve even been know to decorate the paper that protects my morning bread from the bakery to cover my gifts.

  • Although I’m very careful where and how, sometimes a little bunch of wild flowers can be a lovely gesture.  We were in Greece for May Day, where the tradition is to pick wild flowers and make them into a wreath or bouquet.  And so I got up early and found such an array of brightly coloured, spring flowers for my dashboard and our convoying friends and it gave me so much joy to do it.
  • Food is a great way to show appreciation or gratitude.  Even in the smallest of kitchens, baking, juicing or cooking up a meal for someone can be a beautiful gift that is wrapped with time and love.  We met a guy who shared some wine with us a couple of weeks back and in return, the next day, he had made us some beautiful flapjacks.  Thanks Colin, wherever you are.

 

  • Pebble Art from Spain

    Back to the beach – make it a sandy one this time – why not draw messages in the sand and then take a photo?  You can either leave the messages for someone you are travelling with to read, or email or WhatsApp the photo to a friend who is back home.  Alternatively, make a heart with pebbles and stones and fire this over to them instead.  They will be so happy that you have thought about them in this way.

 

 

The internet is a great ‘gifting’ resource

These days, being remote doesn’t have to mean that gifts can be sent in time for celebrations.  In fact it is such an easy way to remind people that you are thinking of them.  Shopping and sending creations remotely can be done so effortlessly these days; with a bit of a signal, the press of a few buttons and hey presto; gift chosen, purchased and sent.  Here’s some of the ways we send gifts remotely;

  • I love taking creative photos, whether with my Samsung phone or my DSLR Camera.  I then use a Photo Editing App – Pixlr to add text or to create a collage that I then email to friends to convey our happy times together.
  • I love to upload photos into eCard websites such as Funky Pigeon or my favourite is Moonpig so I can send personalised love through the post for Anniversaries and Birthdays.  And Snapfish to create photo albums of memories for special occasions.
  • I also use the web for gift and flower deliveries just to let people know I’m thinking of them or for saying thank you.  Big stores, such as Marks and Spencer or John Lewis are great resources for our UK friends or Amazon for UK and worldwide deliveries.  Liberty Trading is also great for different gift ideas that you can send from afar.  (See the side bar for a link to their site.)

 

  • I have started to use on-line florists, Bloom&Wild who are a letterbox flower delivery company and they are fabulous.  Really lovely, organic flowers and bouquets, suiting all budgets.  And ordering can be pretty much ‘next day’ in case you’ve forgotten that all-important date because you’re too busy having fun or in the midst of travelling.

 

Other’s inspirations

Isn’t it interesting how you sometimes remember a place for its crystal blue waters and crashing waves and other times it stays in your mind because of the people you meet and their gestures of kindness.

  • Sarah’s Mats

    One such memory is of Belpech, France with the Pyrenees as our backdrop, where we met Sarah and Keith.  After a delightful evening with them, Sarah gifted us these gorgeous table mats that she had made by hand, whilst on her travels.  She used scraps of material that she collected along the way and made blankets, bedcovers and placemats.  Such an inspiration if you have that skill.

 

  • Andi’s Canvas

    Another friend Andrea, made this amazing picture from stones she had picked up from the beach and stuck to a canvas that she bought from a Chinese Shop in Spain.  This now travels with us everywhere.

 

 

  • Magazine Flower

    Penny, who we met in Dénia, Spain used old magazines that she no longer needed to make these beautiful paper flowers.  What a lovely and creative gift that leaves you with such warm memories of a time, place and people.

 

 

 

So you can travel, stay in touch with loved ones and give gifts of love – it’s just about looking at presents and sharing differently and without the commercial edge and expectation.  And the best bit?  Making something, crafting something with your own fair hand gives the giver so much joy and pleasure; so everyone’s a winner.  There are so many resources at our fingertips, so much simplicity – we just need to see giving to others in a new light and boom! From a Traveller’s Challenge to a creative solution; a gift from your heart to theirs that will have so much more meaning and value.

Happy gifting travellers. Kx

 

Alberobello

As recommendations go this one was a belter. If you’re ever darn sarf in Italy check this place out. Think Clovelly in Devon and you won’t be far off. We really enjoyed our afternoon.

Ebro Delta Delights

Ebro Delta Delights

As I sit here watching the sun go down over the Ebro Delta on Spain’s north-eastern coast, I can hear the gentle cries of the flamingoes in the background and the plentiful birdlife playing in the twilight sky.

Delta Ebro

We stumbled upon this little haven after moving on from Peniscola where the campsite there was door to door vans, with no room to breathe.  I felt completely hemmed in and claustrophobic so we hopped, skipped and jumped out of there and up the autovista to somewhere more wild, open and beautiful.  And we found it.  The Ebro Delta.

It does seem odd to put the next two words in the same sentence; car park and stunning, although this is the truth of Casa de Fusta (co-ordinates N40° 39.505′ E0° 40.523).  As a centre for tourist activities, cycling, bird watching and walking, offering a restaurant and toilets, this large parking area accommodates at least fifty motorhomes, for free.  There are services although you pay €3 for grey waste and water and €3 for black waste.

Casa de Fusta camping

One of the things we have come to appreciate in our year on the road is how wonderful car parking spots can be for camping overnight.  We’ve called a few of them ‘home’ in the last twelve months and our experiences have changed our perspective of car-park style Aires.  And this one serves to be a positive reminder of that opinion.

This region is really a slice of heaven.  A good five miles from the motorway, you weave your way through some pretty narrow roads to find yourself in the Ebro Delta – a Natural Park and conservation area, which is changing by the year as the sea reclaims the land.  Although for now, the natural beds of salt pans, natural lagoons and reed beds hide a multitude of birds, some rare species claiming this as their territory.

Delta Flamingoes

And then you catch a glimpse of brilliant salmon-pink wings as the flamingoes land with surprising grace, right in front of you.  What a privilege that is.  These creatures that simply don’t look like they’ve been designed to fly and have jumped right out of the pages of a comic strip.

We saw flamingoes at El Rocio in western Spain last year and again in the Po Delta in Italy, although neither place offered such an easy-to-access view of these stunning birds. In fact Italy had turned it into a fee-paying tourism activity, fencing the birds off so that only the largest telephoto lens would pick them up.

El Trabucador

So for me as a bird-lover to get so close to these magnificent creatures and hear their cries as my morning alarm has been a rare treat.  Miles of cycling along flat roads that run alongside the irrigation channels, where birds take flight as they hear you approach, just adds to the magic.  Only five miles away you have El Trabucador – a causeway of sand that shelters the lagoons from the often ferocious Mediterranean sea determined to win the battle over the protected waters.  You can park here during the day ( N40° 36.565′ E0° 43.522’ ) and watch the kite surfers skim the lagoon surface, dancing with the on-shore winds.  No camping is allowed here over night, although the for the day, it is a great spot to watch the mountains whilst listening to the roar of the ocean. The peace and tranquility are palpable – minus the exception of the odd arctic lorry that gingerly passes on the compacted sand towards the salt factory at the end of the spit.

Deltebre wild camp spot

Our final night in the region was sadly awash with heavy rain, so we were pretty relieved that we didn’t stay any longer on the beach as we’d have made a nice based for a sandcastle. Although we still found a lovely little wild camping spot right on the River Ebro. ( Co-ordinates N40° 42.851′ E0° 42.932′ ) On a good day, the river walk looks lovely, although in this weather, we gave it a miss.  Deltebre is a functional town rather than anything pretty, although I do accept that the rain and the need to shop could easily have affected my view.  Still there all the supermarkets are here, together with really cheap petrol – the first we’ve seen this year at .99c.

So if you haven’t gathered by my vociferous bigging up of this area – we like it here and really feel that it deserves your time and adoration as it offers so much to the active, bird-loving, nature adoring camper.  If you love having a town’s vibe, nightlife, shops and restaurants, right on your doorstep, then this probably isn’t for you.  If instead you love nature’s orchestra, then this is definitely worth putting on your To-Do list when travelling up or down this eastern coast of Spain.  We hope you like it as much as we did. Kx

Here’s our Gallery of Ebro Delta pictures;

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