2017: A Travel Year in Review

Posted by  Daniël Cronk   in  , ,      6 months ago     697 Views     Comments Off on 2017: A Travel Year in Review  

While traveling around Australia in November of last year, I came across some airfare that I knew wouldn't last long. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines had just recently announced that they would begin flying 3x weekly between Amsterdam and Minneapolis, in addition to the 3x daily flights operated by Delta. As part of their introduction of service they had a fare sale for much of Europe. Having visited a fair number of European countries over the years I thought long and hard about a place that I wanted to visit, that I could get to easily. In the end, I choose Bulgaria. So for $425 roundtrip, I made the purchase.

The first trip of the year was to Syracuase, New York, where i spent a few days visiting family and friends in upstate New York.

Again a fare sale popped up that I knew was not going to last and immediately thought about when/where I would go. The fare sale was with British Airways and her partner, American Airlines. After much debate I decided upon the Netherlands for my birthday. The fare: $383 roundtrip. I looked long and hard for flights that would be interesting and settled upon a flight via ORD and LHR, which would put me onboard the 747-400 with British Airways. Yes, I knew that flying in November through Chicago could be a bad move, but the thought of once again flying the Boeing 747 was too good to pass up.

About 3 weeks before I was set to leave for Bulgaria, one of my colleagues mentioned that she was to be married in her hometown in Germany while I was across the ocean and said that I should come. I thought about it quite a bit and decided that I would definitely love to go. The only thing that was lying in my mind was that it was quite literally in the middle of the trip. I knew that could be challenging. But soon I was booking flights into Zurich for one long weekend.

Bulgaria is quite a unique country, and not one many people in the United States are familiar with. In fact, I only knew a couple of people who had even ever heard of this rather large Balkan country. I was constantly met with questions about: safety? what was there to visit? why? just plain, why?
Bulgaria has a long history. It began many hundreds of thousands of years ago with the Thracians (think: Spartacus and Odeseus). From the Thracians, came the Bulgars and then the Romans, followed by the Ottomans and then after being freed from Ottoman rule, a switch to Communism and finaly to the current demoncratic state that we know today.

Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is a great place to begin the journey. There is a lot of history and many things to see. My favorite being the various monuments to Communism and the archaeological museum. From Sofia I picked up a rental car and drove to the city or Ruse, which sits in the far north-central region on the border with Romania. It is often referred to as the Vienna of the East, because much of the architecture is what you would exect to find in Vienna. It's a beautiful city. From here I made my way a little further east visiting the Thracian tomb of Sveshtari.

From here it was a nice drive to Shumen and a visit to the Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgarian History or the Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument. In Bulgarian mythology, it is believed that well before the appearance of humans on earth, the earth as inhabited by a race of giants, named the Ispolini. As you walk amongst the monument, it is difficult not to invoke these mysterious figureheads as they seem to jump to life. The monument itself was built in the Cubist style in 1981. The sculptors, Krum Damyanov and Ivan Slavov, gave the kings and heroes of Bulgaria the appearance of towering giants in stone, echoes of the past forever frozen in concrete. These menacing figures lurk in high corners of a geometric buliding with slick, towring walls. From here, I ended my long day's journey in the ancient city of Veliko Tarnovo.

Often referred to as the "City of the tzars", Veliko Tarnovo was once a capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The draw to the city is the Tsarevets fortress.
The Fortress was home to the royal family (tsars) from approximately 1185 to 1393, when it fell to the hands of the Ottomans. According to Wikipedia, the earliest evidence of humans here date from the 2nd millenium BC. It was settled in the 4th century and a Byzantine city, tentatively identified with Zikideva, was constructed near the end of the 5th century, on the grounds of which the construction of the Bulgarian stronghold was begun in the 12th century. After the Vlach-Bulgarian Rebellion and the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire, with its capital in Veliko Tarnovo, the fortress became the most important one in Bulgaria, often compared with Rome and Constantinople in magnificance. In 1393, the stronghold was besieged by Ottoman forces for three months before finally being conquered and burned down on the 17th of July, which marked the fall of the Bulgarian Empire.

From Veliko Tarnovo, I traveled to the UFO of Bulgaria, the Buzludzha monument. Seated deep in the Balkan Mountains, the Buzludzha Monument or more formally, The House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party, was bulit on the peak by the Bulgarian communist regime. It was to commemorate the events of 1891, when a group of socialists led by Dimitar Blagoev, assembeled secretly in the area to form an organized socialist movement that led to the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democractic Party, a forerunner of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Like many of the monuments in Bulgaria, the Buzludzha monument is in a terrible state of disrepair. It is technically not allowed to enter the site, with the front entrance gated up tight. However, for the savvy, if you walk along the side of the monument you are soon presented with a deep hole in the ground. If you drop down into this hole, you are met with a true challenge. An even bigger hole. The first day that I arrived here there was a rickety ladder someone had placed into the second hole. Using your body and hands well, you could carefully navigate down the ladder. Fortunately, there were 3 others going into the monument at that time and they helped me to get in. Once you are in the bottom of this deeper hole (about 20 feet down) you must navigate through the dark recesses under the monument and then up the crumbling concrete stairs into the monument itself. The other three people only wished to stay but a moment, being afraid that the monument would collapse at a moment. This gave me only a few moments to snap a few photos and then I too, left with them. Fearing I would not make it out of the larger hole without help. About a week later I returned to this site on my return from Plovdiv to Sofia, however, the ladder was gone and it was a much more treacherous entry. I knew I would be able to get down into the hole, but I didn't believe I would be able to get back out, owing to my lack of upper body strength. So I did not reenter the site.

A few days in and around the city of Plovidv were amazing. It was stifling hot so really I spent as much time as I could in the shade and the air conditioning. The local people were saying that it is hotter than it's been this time of the year. The temperatures during the day reached as high as 97. One day was spent on the Free City tour, which was amazing. They take you around the city and talk about the history and a visit to some of the most important sites. Another day was spent at the archaeological museum (which was nice, but it was so hot in the building with no air conditioning and I had no water with me, that after 15 minutes I just had to go at a very fast pace and get the hell out of there. Also I included a visit to the Plovdiv Theatre. The best preserved from the Ancient Roman world. I spent another day on a road trip to see the Dyavolski most (Devil's Bridge). The Dyavolski most is an arched bridge, situated in a narrow gorge, over the Arda River, deep in the Rhodope Mountains. Built by the Romans in 1515, the Dyavolski most was built as a link between the Thracian lands of Bulgaria and the Aegean Sea. Enroute back to Plovidiv I stopped off for a visit of Asen's Fortress, which is perched high on a peak above the city of Asenovgrad. Asen's Fortress is best known for the its most notable and best preserved feature, the Church of the Holy Mother of God, from the 12th-13th century.

I also took some time to visit a number of wineries. There are some really great wines and some varietals which I had never heard of. The most common varietal is the Mavrud. Definitely one of the highlights. I did 3 wine tasting tours throughout the country. The first, near the city of Veliko Tarnovo, the second, near the city of Plovdiv and the third deep in the Rila Mountains.

I can say with great confidence. Driving in Bulgaria was really quite horrifying. They have very little concepts of road rules. If it *looks* like it's OK to pass, then pass. If it doesn't, try anyways and hope that the person coming the other way slows down just enough for you to squeeze through.

After about 2.5 weeks in Bulgaria it was time to fly off to Switzerland. I boarded my flight to Zurich via Frankfurt (with Lufthansa) and grabbed my rental car. and drove an hour north to the quaint Germany town of Rielasingen.

The hotel was very typically German. The next morning I was awake and on the road early to get to the wedding. I arrive just on time. It was about 35-40 minutes from Rielasingen, in the city of Singen. The reception, was a bit further away, on the Bodem See. Beautiful. I had to leave, unfortunately, for Switzerland this night and drive to a little town near the border with Liechtnestein, as that was my next destination. Sadly, I stayed at the wedding reception for too long and I missed my check in. They're very precise in Switzerland, which I find annoying. What I find even more annoying is that the phone number provided would not work for 3 people, so I could not even call to say I would be late.

Liechtenstein is a tiny little principality nestled between Austria and Switzerland. The capital, Vaduz, is very quiant. The draw here are 1) the postal musem and 2) Vaduz Castle, where the royal family live -- perched high on a hill above the city.

Returning the Bulgaria I had about a week left. The plan was to head to Rila and visit the monastery and do some hiking before returning to Sofia for a final couple of days. Somewhere along the lines, during my time in Germany/Switzerland/Liechtenstein, someone turned the light switch out on the weather and it was cold and rainy in the Rila mountains. It rained the entire 4 days I was in that region. My hike into the mountains, along the Seven Rila Lakes, were met with about 3 feet visibility. But it was still a nice hike, even though I only did about 1 hour in and then 1 hour back.

All in all I would most definitely return to Bulgaria if I had the chance. I also highly recommend to people to visit Bulgaria if they want something off the beaten path and to explore something different. It is, however, a country where you should rent a car if you wish to travel to places other than Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, Rila & Varna. Outside of that, you can get to many places but it will take quite a bit of time, effort and money.

View 2017 Flights here
Miles Flown: 26,672
Flight Segments: 22

Airlines Flown:
american airlines
bulgaria air*
british airways*
delta air lines
iberia express*
iberia*
klm royal dutch airlines
 
Lufthansa
Lufthansa CityLine
* New airlines flown

 

Aircraft Flown:
Airbus A319-100
Airbus A320-200
Airbus A321-200
Airbus A330-200
Airbus A330-300
Airbus A330-300
Airbus A340-600*
Boeing 737-900
Boeing 747-400
Bombardier Canadair CRJ-900
 
McDonnell Douglas MD-80
McDonnell Douglas MD-90-30
* New aircraft flown

Countries Visited / Entered / Exited:

Bulgaria*
england flag
England
Germany Flag
Germany
Liechtenstein Flag
Liechtenstein*
Netherlands Flag
Netherlands

Spain*

Switerland*
united states flag
United States
 

Airports:
AMS   Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Netherlands
BCN   Barcelona–El Prat Airport, Barcelona, Spain
DTW   Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Detroit, Michigan, USA
FRA   Frankfurt International Airport, Frankfurt, Germany
LHR   Heathrow International Airport, London, England
MAD*   Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, Madrid, Spain
MSP   Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Minnesota, USA
MUC   Franz Josef Airport, Munich, Germany
ORD   O'Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois, USA
SOF*   Letishte Sofia-Vrazhdebna Airport (Летище София-Враждебна), Sofia, Bulgaria
SYR   Hancock International Airport, Syracuse, New York, USA
ZRH   Zurich/Kloten Airport, Zurcih, Switzerland
* new airports for 2017

U of MN Campus shortly after take off enroute from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. Aboard KLM 656

Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria

Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral in reflection, Sofia, Bulgaria

Thracian gold mask, Archaeological Museum, Sofia, Bulgaria
Delicious wine grapes, Bulgaria

In the Bulgarian mythology, well before the appearance of human beings, the earth was inhabited by a race of giant named the Ispolini. It's not hard to invoke these visions while walking around the '1300 Years Monument' in Shumen, Bulgaria
Bulgaria's UFO: Buzludzha monument, high in the Balkan Mountains

The traveler at the Buzludzha monument, high in the Balkan Mountains

Inside the Buzludzha monument. Technically it's not possible to get in as the entrance is sealed shut, however, for the savvy person you can find a way in by dropping down a deep hole and then making your way into the bowels of the monument. This is the only photo I managed to take inside, as it was actually both exhilirating and terrifying to be inside the crumbling innards of the monument.
At first I had to do a double take as I knew there were no hummingbirds outside of the Americas. After a bit of googling, I came to learn that this is, in fact, a hummingbird moth.

The medieval fortress of Tsaravets in Veliko Ternovo, Bulgaria

As a very very long daytrip from Plovdiv, I decided to tkae a long drive and visit the Dyavolski most (Devil's bridge). Built as a means for the Thracians to cross the river to get further south into the terrirtory of the Greeks.

Asen's Fortress, Asvenograd, Bulgaria - a nice daytrip from Plovdiv.

Ancient theatre of Philipoppol, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The ancient theatre is one of the best preserved from the ancient world. It is also one of a few ancient theatres still in use today.

Ancient theatre of Philipoppol, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The ancient theatre is one of the best preserved from the ancient world. It is also one of a few ancient theatres still in use today.

Rila Monastery, Rila, Bulgaria

One of the many murals that adorn the Rila Monastery, Rila, Bulgaria

Sandra & Brian's wedding, Germany

At Sandra's wedding with Chris (complete with leiderhosen) & Gabe

At Sandra's wedding, Germany

At Sandra's wedding

Triesenberg, Liechtenstein

Vaduz Castle, Vaduz, Liechtenstein

A day of spotting, Zürich Airport, Switzerland

A day of spotting, Zürich Airport, Switzerland

A day of spotting, Zürich Airport, Switzerland

A day of spotting, Zürich Airport, Switzerland

A day of spotting, Zürich Airport, Switzerland

The traveler in London

the traveler with the great artist himself, Rembrandt van Rijn, in his birthplace: Leidin, Netherlands

my newest Christmas hat!
the view of the Sagrada Familia upon landing in Barcelona

About  

I am very passionate about traveling. My goal is to visit as many places and experience as many things as I can during my short journey on this earth.