Best of 2019: Travel Year in Review

Best time of 2019: Bar Ambar crew

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2019 went by so fast.

I didn’t travel that much abroad this year, because I wanted to spend more time at home and explore more of my home country. What most stood out and was different from my past years of traveling was that in 2019 I didn’t travel alone, not even once. The best of my 2019 travel year was the people I spent those travels with and more specifically two very special human beings – Denis & Marina, thank you for always saying YES to my ideas & for being willing to fly to the other side of the world with me.

Highlights of 2019:

Visiting Egypt

Egypt has always been a country that I knew that I am going to visit sooner or later. When Denis and I decided to plan on going there, I was enthusiastic about returning to North Africa. I didn’t have any expectations as usual, but I am sad to say that, unfortunately, I left the country a bit disappointed. 

Don’t get me wrong, Egypt is an amazing travel destination! There is so much to see and do in Egypt, it’s just that you get mentally exhausted from all the shit people are trying to scam you with. It’s not anything that I haven’t seen or experienced before, but in Egypt was just too much. Rather than that, Egypt is wonderful. 

I meet many nice and friendly locals in Egypt. I dived for the first time, I fly with a hot air balloon for the first time and saw the only one from the Ancient World Wonders that remains until today – The Giza Pyramids. 

READ NEXT: Egypt One Week Itinerary, Things to do & Travel tips 

Diving for the first time

I’m always up for trying something new, something exciting, especially if it gets you to experience something that you haven’t experienced before and to discover an entirely new world.

The thing is that I’ve wanted to try diving for some time, but somehow I never did before my trip to Egypt. When I decided on doing this trip, I told myself that I’ll finally go diving this time. Plus, I have done snorkeling in the Red Sea in Jordan before, so I imagined how amazing the diving there would be.

On the day of diving, I was extremely excited to try something that I haven’t tried before. However, everything was great only until the diving began. Once I started to dive, panic obsessed me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was terrified.

I got calmer on the second dive and managed to enjoy the whole experience, although I was still breathing very heavily just to make sure that I breathe at all.

In brief, my first diving experience was not the best and I still can feel how fast & heavily my heart was beating like it’s going to burst any second, but for what’s waiting for you under the water it’s worth it. I know that the fear that obsessed me, it’s a fear that I can overcome and that one day I can start dive without any worries. And I will.

READ NEXT: Scuba diving for beginners: Equipment 

Best of 2019: diving for the first time

Exploring Portugal

How did you like Portugal? – a friend asked me.

I got home and the next evening, I already booked another flight back. Does that answer your question? – I responded.

Portugal quickly and easily became one of my favorite destinations.

Maybe because of the too much wine or the fun that I had, or it might have been just the laid back atmosphere, delicious food, and the friendly locals. And, of course, my first surfed wave.

The first time when I visited Portugal, I spent 2 weeks traveling around the country. One of the best parts of this trip was exploring the Algarve region on a bicycle. What else I enjoyed a lot was the wine tastings we went on and the ones we improvised ourselves. Portugal seriously has some great wines! And food, too.

Cabo da Roca is one of my favorite spots in the country. The westernmost extent of mainland Europe is astonishing and if you’re visiting Portugal anytime soon, make sure to check this spot out!

And then there’s Lisbon – multicultural, vibrant and beautiful. There are many things to see and do in Lisbon, but my best recommendation would be to enjoy as much miradouros as possible & party with the locals.

To cut a long story short, Portugal is awesome. Visit Portugal.

Oh, and did I mentioned that Portugal is the all-you-can-eat-sushi paradise?!

READ NEXT: Traveling to Portugal? Don't miss these experiences 

READ NEXT: Day trip from Porto to the Douro Valley 

READ NEXT: Eating my way around Porto, Portugal 

Falling in love with Ericeira

And here I am, once again, sitting in front of my desktop having no idea how to express my feelings about this charming little Portuguese town. How do you describe the feeling of being in love with a place?

It was the evening of 30th April 2019 when I arrived in Ericeira for the first time. Ever since I set foot in this place for the first time and caught my first wave, I was in love. There is something special about Ericeira.

It’s about the surf. It’s about the people. It’s about the atmosphere. It’s about how I feel when I’m there…

happy, fulfilled, free, comfortable. I feel like I’m home.

From all those places that I have been to around the world, no other place ever made me feel like that.

I seriously don’t know how to continue this, so I’ll just move on to the surfing – one of my favorite things to do in Ericeira! If you want to learn more about Ericeira, you can read the post below:

READ NEXT: Things to do in Ericeira + Day trips & Travel tips 

Dreams do come true

It’s a random fact about me that only a few people knew before, but I wanted to learn how to surf ever since I was a little girl. My first attempt to do that was back in 2017 in Taghazout when I spent 3 weeks in Morocco. I didn’t go to a surf lesson back then so I had no idea what was I doing, but that’s a different story.

Fast forward to May 1st, 2019 when I attended my very first surf lesson in Ericeira. It was a surprise to me, but I managed to catch the first wave. Oh, that feeling!

I went to a few other lessons during that trip and I already knew that this dream of mine can turn into reality.

On my last day in Ericeira, just before leaving Portugal, I even got my first tattoo – it’s the GPS coordinates for the Matadouro beach in Ericeira, the beach where I caught my first wave.

I got back home and I couldn’t think about anything else than Ericeira. On the next evening, I booked a flight back to Portugal.

When I returned to Portugal for the second time, I spent 2 weeks staying only in Ericeira – having tons of fun & improving my surf skills.

I was living my dream. Damn, it was so good!

Learning how to surf was one of the highlits of 2019

Marina and I on a surf lesson

A quick, short trip to the Matka Canyon

Straight after Marina and I landed back in Sofia from Lisbon, we meet some other friends of mine and we set off to the Matka Canyon in Macedonia to do some kayaking.

After about 40 hours or so without any sleep, I was riding a kayak in the nature paradise of Matka. Kayaking, however, is not the only thing that you can do in this beautiful place. There are boat trips available every half an hour or so that includes a visit to the Vrelo Cave. You can also do hiking, cave diving, and visit the nearby monasteries.

We went because of the kayaking and it was awesome. I would go back anytime & would also love to explore the surrounding area hiking.

READ NEXT: Things to do near Skopje: Visiting the Matka Canyon 

Exploring new regions of Bulgaria

There are two places in Bulgaria that I visited this year for the first time and I completely fell in love with – the Northern Black Sea Coast and Madzharovo.

Bulgaria’s Northern Black Sea Coast, in my own opinion, is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. The places that I visited in this region of the country include Cape Kaliakra, Tyulenovo, Yailata, Bolata bay, Balchik, Varna & the Stone forest.

Tyulenovo is a cool spot to do rock jumping and the area, in general, is more off the beaten path and less visited compared to the central and south coast.

Madzharovo is in the South of Bulgaria. I spent a camping weekend there celebrating a friend’s birthday. We also explored Mezek winery, the fortress, and the Thracian tomb in Mezek.

Camping in Madzharovo was one of the highlights of 2019

Arda’s meanders

Photo by kashkaval tourist 

I highly recommend you to visit both of these places, I definitely will again.

READ NEXT: Visiting Bulgaria's Black Sea Coast 

READ NEXT: Long weekend in Varna: What to see & do 

The Blueberry festival

The Blueberry Festival is one of my favorite times of the year ever since 2016 when I attended it for the first time & I have been a volunteer to it since then, too. The festival is held at Ambaritsa hut – my home away from home. 

Ambaritsa is situated in the Troyan Balkan at 1 520 meters above sea level. From there, you can enjoy some stunning views of one of the most beautiful peaks of Stara Planina. 

My love for this place is infinite – I have met so many wonderful people there & I have plenty of life-lasting memories related to Ambaritsa. 

Similar to the case of Ericeira, I find it difficult to express my feeling about Ambaritsa, so I love bringing friends there to experience the magic of this place by themselves. 

The Blueberry festival lasts for 3 days and it includes a lot of music, games, and of course, blueberries (and mekitsi). If you happen to be in Bulgaria at the end of July, make sure to come for a blueberry mist. What is this you might ask? Come and you’ll find out. 

If you’re visiting Bulgaria at any other time, you’re still welcome. You can even contact me and we can go together. 

The Blueberry festival, the best of 2019

Home away from home

Hiking, hiking, and more hiking

I guess I didn’t do as much hiking as I would have wished to, but at least this year I managed to explore more of Pirin, and finally got to Vihren (the highest peak in Pirin Mountain). Of course, I hiked numerous times to Ambaritsa and in the surrounding area, as well in Vitosha, which is just right next to Sofia

I also returned to two very favorite places – Raiskoto Praskalo waterfall (translated as ”a heavenly spray”) in Central Balkan & The Scary Lake in Rila Mountain. I did not miss to hike to Malyovitsa again in winter and for the first time without the mountain being covered in snow at the end of September. 

best hikes of 2019

Rila Mountain

best hikes of 2019

Raisko Praskalo

best hikes of 2019

Panoramic view from Bezbog peak

 

My favorite hikes of 2019:

Golyam Kupen in Central Balkan National Park – It was the beginning of August when I brought some of my favorite hiking buddies to my favorite Ambaritsa for the first time. Without getting into many details, we had a fantastic day hiking to Golyam Kupen, my favorite peak in Stara Planina, and ended it watching the falling stars.

P.S. Ambaritsa is also one of my favorite places for stargazing. 

Best hikes of 2019

Sinanitsa Loop in Pirin National Park – The end of October was when I went to Sinanitsa for the second time. Sinanitsa is a peak, a hut, and a lake in Pirin National Park and one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. This time, however, we took a different route, which I liked much more. On the second day when we climbed to the peak, we stayed on the ridge on which we continued and so we climbed through 5 peaks altogether. 

Best hikes of 2019

Vihren, the highest peak of Pirin Mountain – In Мid-November, I finally made it to the Vihren peak. Being there for the first time in the snow-covered mountain was incredible. I was the happiest girl on Earth to be up there at this time. 

Polezhan in Pirin National Park – Polezhan is my new favorite peak. From the top, you can pretty much see the entire Pirin. The views are stunning! I made this hike in Mid-December, so the mountain was again covered all in snow and that made the whole experience even better.

I would love to this hike again until the end of the winter and then again in summer. 

best hikes of 2019

best hikes of 2019

To all of you who are reading this and with whom I have shared some of these experiences – thank you! Thank you for having been part of some of the best moments for me this year & let’s have some more fun together in 2020. 🙂

Thanks for reading, 

Bilyana

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