The Best Travel Moments of 2016

It’s been a long (and not always easy) year, but upon looking back: all the though moments were worth it. And thankfully: there have been a lot of positive experiences together with friends and family to fill the year with some great vibes. Here are the best things about my Year in Travel:

img_20160903_135323-watermarked

The Inception of Redhead Explorer

I’ve been sharing photos and travel stories in other places for quite a while but this year I realized that the pleasure I get from travelling and the milleage across Bulgaria and abroad are big enough to have their own place under the (online) sun. There is still a looot of work left, but the blog has been my chief creative outlet and source of positive emotions this year.

All over Bulgaria

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, sky, cloud, mountain, outdoor and nature

It will be hard to list all places we’ve seen, so I will just drop here my list of the Top 5 Bulgarian destinations for 2016: from the lakes of Dospat and Belmaken to the amazing Belogradchik Rocks.

First time in Italy together

Stef and I have travelled all over the place together, but we still had not visited Italy until this year, which is a shame because it is a country way too dear to my heart. We managed to visit Bologna, Florence, Rimini, Imola, Scarperia/Mugello, had one of the most memorable walks & talks ever in the Boboli gardens and had the best street food near one of my favourite museums the Uffizi. Stef visited the monument of one of his all time heroes Ayrton Senna and we saw Valentino Rossi on his trademark circuit Mugello.And we captured (a cliched) but truly beautiful full moon over Ponte Vechhio which felt like living in a painting or a postcard

Paragliding over Sopot

Image may contain: sky, cloud, mountain, outdoor and nature

My mom was so thrilled to learn I was about to jump from a cliff with a paragliding instuctor…. After I forgot to call her for an hour after landing she was even more thrilled :)) (Read more)

Visiting Valencia again + best friends

Renting bikes for a trip to the beach, eating paella, trying the best Argentinian steaks and enjoying a Spanish version of La Dolce Vita together + 3 best friends= great experience

Wedding in the remote mountains

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, child, beard, sky, outdoor and nature

No words can describe this event, so I won’t even try :))

Visiting the Rila Monastery during the Summer School in Cognitive Science

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, tree, outdoor and nature

It is so great to spend time with people who are not only fun and friendly but also incredibly smart and have all these obscure, geeky interests. I’ve seen the Monastery a zillion times but the company on this trip was a whole new story. I also discovered that somehow magically I can translate from Portuguese into English just by finding the similiraties between Portugues and Italian words!

First lesson in Horse-Riding

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

I always enjoy trying new sports and horse-riding was definitely one of the most enjoyable experiments during the year

The Annual Motorbike Trip to Greece

IMG_8322

Wonderful food, crystal clear water : Greece is always a summer delight. This year it also provided some extra thrills for us as a huge storm welcomed us on the highway on the way back and almost turned over the bike! I’ve never been through anything like this and I hope I will never experience it again. Chills and thrills all over

Meeting Isabella Shopova in person

I am a big fan of Isabella Shopova: a Bulgarian travel-blogger-turned-book-author who has spent years living in New Zealand and Australia. I have all her books and I just love her writing style: light, funny and in the same time: informing you in depth about the history and nature of the places she visits. In person she is exactly what she is like in her books: witty, intelligent, full of humor, self-irony and remarkable bravery. Lovely and inspiring woman, who presented her new book dedicated to a trip to the Bulgarian Antarctic Base!

When I grow up I would like to be like her 🙂 ❤

Did I mention her ultimate destination is Mars? Definitely my type of woman!

 

Outdoor Adventures | Paragliding over Sopot

Flying is an incredible thing. It is so completely foreign to our mind and body but at the same time: so liberating, thrilling and scary in a good, challenging way. Almost everyone I have talked to has had a dream in which they were flying, but not everyone dreams of actually trying it.

The best present I ever got was the opportunity to fly a plane (because Stef is the most wonderful person). It was a little (co-piloted by an instructor, of course) flying monster with one engine which sent my heart up in the air. You can read a short description of it in this fun challenge by Svetoslav Dimitrov, who compiled the travel experiences of 16 bloggers, who had to tell their favourite stories in only 50 words.

50-word-challenge-flying-konstantina

Flying has made me realize that not only I have no fear of heights: I most probably have no instinct for self-preservation whatsoever. But anyway: when my boyfriend got a paragliding flight as a present from his friends it did not take a lot of hesitating before I joined him with my own air ride (you can’t have more than one person + the instructor during paragliding, so if there is two or more of you, you have to wait for your turn).

p1110969

There are dozens of paragliding sites across the country, but we decide on Sopot- in the Southern Central part of Bulgaria. The road to there is fun and beautiful unless you have spent most of the previous evening drinking craft beer with your boyfriend’s new best friends from Euroko. The problem with craft beer is that it is often above the standard 4%, so 3 flavour-heavy beers are more than enough to call it a night. My hangover is killing me and the extreme turns on the road are not helping: how on Earth am I going to fly?

p1110971

In fact we weren’t sure until the last minute whether we will be paragliding. There was an uncertain weather forecast, so we literally got a call from the instructor and hopped in the car. There’s been a quite long Indian summer this year so we almost regret getting the car: there are dozens and dozens of motorbike riders on the way, enjoying the last sunny days. When we finally get to Sopot we realize there is an extra reason for the motorbike traffic: there had been a motorbike/rock fest in the city during the weekend. 

Anyway: Stef is the one with the present, so he goes first. We leave our things at the car and he sets off with the lift. I am more than happy to spend some time with a warm cup of coffee, fighting last night’s beer demons.

I am pleasantly surprised by how nice the coffee/lunch place is. It is right next to the lift entrance and it offers breakfast snacks and lunch meals. If you are into the whole bio trend you can find lots of healthy options here: otherwise there’s plenty of beer and good moussaka. Obviously: I am a bad target for the beer offerings right now so I stick to coffee and bagel.

I’ve brought my monster zoom Panasonic with me so that I can get some shots of Stef in the air. Luckily, the instructor has a Go Pro and promises to send videos and more photos later on. So photo-wise: we are all covered: from the ground and up in the air.

Having backup footage from Go Pro is great, because most paragliding wings really look like each other and it is hard to recognize the passengers without additional zooming help. After dozens of shots of a 14 year old girl, I finally detect Stef in the air and judging by the loops in the air: it seems like he is having a lot of fun.

p1110967b

GOPR1610b.jpg
GO PRO shot of Stef by the instructor

About an hour after he set off with the lift, it is finally my turn and I head up the mountain. The lift ride is absolutely fantastic.

img_8954

Continue reading “Outdoor Adventures | Paragliding over Sopot”

Travelback Thursday | The Ancient Lakes

P1030316

A desert with lakes?

Have you ever seen a desert with lakes and a waterfall? Actually not just a waterfall, but a waterfall gracefully flowing into a lake? How can this place even be true? Well, it is and it’s gorgeously beautiful for hiking.

The long story behind the Ancient Lakes in Washington State began as far back as 40-60mln years ago, when the so called Grand Coulee was formed. It is a huge ancient river bed which belongs to the Columbia Plateau and its name (“coulée“) comes from French and means to strain/to flow (in a manner similar to lava).

To cut the long story short: the region is close to the Eastern edges of the Cascade mountains where a “Rain shadow effect” has created an area with very dry and hot climate. 

 

Rain Shadow Effect.png

Simultaneously, it is also a part of the Grand Culee which I mentioned earlier: a giant bedrock which kept uplifting and subsiding over the course of millions of years and has undergone a series of major volcanic eruptions, in areas which were later covered by glacial ice which subsequently cause massive floods in the area. Dynamic, isn’t it? No wonder it is such a fascinating place. Nowadays, there are huge irrigation distribution networks across the Columbia basin and the combination of all these factors gives you the ultimate hiking dream: a scorching desert with lakes and a waterfall.

The trail is located in Eastern Washington state, near Quincy and the basin of the Columbia River. I used to live in Seattle back then, so the Ancient Lakes were about a 3 hour ride away from home across Interstate 90.

On the way to the trail

Along I-90 there is a cool landmark which is really worth visiting. The steel horses of Grandfather lets loose the ponies can almost fool you from the distance.  The string of ponies is running towards the edge of a hill overlooking the Columbia River and it makes for a great side stop for photos along the way.

P1030239 (2)

The hike

 There are paths through the steppe and fairly easy to find passages along the rocky parts of the terrain. Make sure you have sturdy shoes and watch out for your balance because some of the softer types of rocks get easily broken when you step on them.
P1030260
The Ancient Lakes area spreads over 15,000 acres and although some spots seem to be really close- the terrain can get tricky and slow you down. What looks like a 15 min walk might take you more than an hour in some areas.
P1030272.JPG

Continue reading “Travelback Thursday | The Ancient Lakes”

Things I wish I knew on my first motorbike trip

What you see in photo above might look cool but as far as actual riding goes: on scale from 0 to That-makes-no-sense, this really tops the chart (Photo via Favim)

Imagine your locks beautifully flowing in the wind while you ride at the back of a motorbike. As if you are in a L’Oreal shampoo commercial or a movie version of a Nicolas Sparks novel….

Now stop, because that makes no damn sense! Photo shoots and movies constantly show us good looking people without helmets who speed through gorgeous sunsets, easy as a summer breeze. But everyone who has ever been on a bike knows that’s an almost hilarious, highly stylized and completely inaccurate version of reality.

It is really an incredible experience to travel on two wheels, but there are quite a few practical details that you might want to know before actually hopping on the motorbike.

405338_10151995376100503_1299649254_n
They might look less romantic but helmets and protective gear can save your life (and you will really spend less on hairspray compared to the situation on the photo above)…

After several years and dozens of shorter and longer trips on the back seat you learn what makes your life easier on the road and what doesn’t. So if you are planning to join a friend or partner on the road, but you aren’t sure about the practical things you should know: here is an inconclusive list which might help you have an easier and more comfortable trip.

So let’s start with some basic preparation: What should I wear? is a very classical question for us girls, and when it comes to comfort and functionality it is actually a quite important one. Apart from the absolute MUSTs (helmet, (leather)jacket and gloves), here are some useful tips:

Continue reading “Things I wish I knew on my first motorbike trip”

Outdoor Adventures | The Longest Hike

P1110611

Summer weekends are a thrill!

There is no better way for recharging your batteries than a short outdoors trip after a busy week. It energizes you,  takes your mind off work & stress and (If done right) it also gives you a chance to get a good workout: by swimming, hiking or taking up extra physical activities.

P1110619

The last weekend has not only fitted well into the whole concept of “Relaxing while being active”  – for me it brought a whole new meaning to the word “hiking”. As a couple we enjoy outdoor trips but we are by no means professional mountaineers and for both of us this has been the most strenuous hike so far. It felt like a really exciting (and painful) challenge to put behind us more than 20km (12.5 miles) of rocky mountain terrain and “conquer” 5 peaks within a single day (10 hours, to be more precise).

We started with Musala: the highest peak on the Balkan peninsula (2925metres). It owes its name to an old Arabic expression which means “Close to God”. The peak is in the gorgeously beautiful Rila Mountains and depending on your pace it takes about 3-4 hours of hiking after you get dropped off the lift [see some additional practical details on the hike].

Continue reading “Outdoor Adventures | The Longest Hike”

Moto GP | Seeing Valentino Rossi in Mugello

p1100981_stitch

Staying in amazing Florence

Florence is among the most beautiful cities in Italy and trust me: that is one hell of a competitive list. I honestly cannot think of a single thing about Firenze which is short of great: the birthplace of Renessaince art and culture is just breathtakingly beautiful and full of amazing architecture and sculptures. As part of Tuscany it offers some of the finest samples of Italian cuisine: amazing artisenal food, gelato, wine, you name it. And when it comes to sports and masculine thrills: it is also close to one of the oldest and most popular race tracks in Italy: Mugello.

p1110111

Rural Idyll… full of Motorbike Throttle

Mugello is an incredibly beautiful racetrack surrounded by mountains and typical Tuscan landscape.

p1110091

There is no direct transportation from Florence to Mugello so we took a bus to San Pietro a Sieve and …had a 7km walk under the Tuscan sun, surrounded by beautiful nature, old villages, fields….and angry motor engines.

p1110081

Getting to Scarperia (the village, adjasent to Mugello) was both fun and unnerving as some sections of the road have no sidewalk and you are literally walking along with the cars and motorbikes headed to the race.

img_7900

img_7902img_7904

p1110226

Understanding the importance of the numer 46

Motorsports are not just a past time in Italy: they are a religion. Especially when it comes to one of the country’s favourite heroes: number 46, Il Dottore (the Doctor) or simply Valentino Rossi.

p1110192

Born in 1979, the nearly 38 years old racer is well above the average age for this sport but remains a living legend. Italians truly love him: not only for his outstanding racetrack but also for his likable personality.

Even if you don’t see him (which is quite impossible thanks to his signature bright yellow helmet) you will know he is coming by the roaring crowds around you. Italians are really about Rossi!

p1110152-copy

When you look around: it is full of people with yellow hats, t-shirts and yellow smoke: the signature color of Rossi.

p1110207-copy

Mugello is not just another race track

Rossi is born in Urbino in the nearby region of Marche and Mugello is special for because it is the circuit where he has won the most races (9!) and has 7 consecutive wins between 2002 and 2008!

p1110191-copy

p1110116_stitch-copyp1110168-copyp1110171-copy

p1110176p1110178-copyp1110212

 Italy loves Rossi

I had a blast at the race track: the Italian commentators were crazy about Valentino Rossi and were sharing all kinds of nostalgic stories “Oh, but do you remember when he first came to Mugello…a young curly kid…and now a HERO. REAL HEROOOOOOO”. The only problem was that all the fun talk was in Italian, which is fine for me but not so great for most international visitors at the circuit.

Just a great day

Nevertheless, the emotion was great and it was a lot of fun: especially after Rossi won the qualification race and the crowd simply errupted with joy!

Also a great thing: many Italians with cars would offer to give you a lift back to the train station because they know there is no other form of transport! Be careful though: some make it for profit and charge ridiculously high prices per person 😉

And what can you do while you wait for the train? Have an espresso, of course!

Tips

✓ Rent a car or go with your own motorbike & plan your time there

When I did my research on Mugello and one of the most often recurring topics were the traffick jams after races. From Trip Advisor to local blogs, all online sources were unanimous: the race track is great but getting there (and leaving) can be a nightmare.

As it was just the two of us we decided to take our time and use a combination of buses and trains instead of rent-a-car. It was a fun adventure but if you are not into hours of hiking across small forests, roads and fields and you are truly in a hurry: don’t do it. It takes a looong time to reach Mugello from Florence if you don’t have your own ride.

There are buses/trains only to nearby villages like San Pietro a Sieve and not all local buses go to the nearest village of Scarperia. The timetables for local buses and trains are also stretched several hours apart so keep that in mind if you have to catch a flight from Florence and leave plenty of time ahead.

✓Don’t forget your sunscreen

It is very hot in Italy! And during the race you will spend hours on end under the sun. We got almost ridiculously sunburnt in the middle of May so don’t take chances. Bring hats, sunscreen and sunglasses if you don’t want to have the color of pizza Margherita for the rest of the week

✓Pack your lunch

You will spend between 4 and 9 hours on the race track so don’t be shy to bring sandwiches and snacks: the lines for food are huge and the prices for mediocre sandwiches are quite high. If you want to spend money: better spend it on merchandise

From Florence to Mugello

Fun Trips | Karts & Racing in the woods

DSC_0356

Apart from motorcycle riding, my lovely boyfriend is also really keen on go karting. This often prompts us to make small detours during our travels in order to visit local karting tracks.

So far one of the nicest open air tracks we’ve discovered is located up on a hill near Kyustendil. It offers an enjoyable route with many steep turns, surrounded by a lovely pine forest. Among the standard visitors there are always at least one or two 7 olds who are preparing to become professional racers, so if you are willing to built some skills you can lend an ear to the feedback by coaches and parents.

There is a tall stand from which you can look at the entire track and the best part is that they allow motorbike riders to try their skills on the track (spending the whole day training is 15 EUR).

DSC_0359

Continue reading “Fun Trips | Karts & Racing in the woods”