Roses, a UFO, Spartacus and Communists. What do all these things have in common?

A rather sizeable country in South Eastern Europe.

I never planned to go to Bulgaria, but I met a Canadian and a French guy in Lithuania and they just kept going on & on & on & on about it.

I guess it sparked a flame of interest.

I did a teeny bit of research, but pretty much just stole the Canadian’s itinerary.

I was pleasantly surprised it was my kinda place. And that’s not just because it’s old Thrace – the homeland of mega babe Spartacus.

The subdued romantic in me loves roses, and Bulgaria is the land of the rose. It’s one of the world’s biggest producers of rose oil, and they sell an abundance of rose trinkets, perfumes, jam, soap, liquor, water and skin products. Just seeing it all made my inner romantic bloom.

I’d never call myself a die hard sci-fi fan, but even I can appreciate an abandoned UFO. If I didn’t know it was a communist relic from the 80s, I would’ve been convinced the eerily derelict Buzludza was left by aliens. Trespassing through a tiny hole in the wall and climbing 31 narrow rungs of stairs in the pitch black was straight out of a movie.

And I hate to go on about food, again. But, it was pretty fantastic. Bulgaria shows neighbourly love from the Greek and Turkish – with Mediterranean veggies, cheese, cheese, fresh juices, grilled meats, cheese, yogurt and tasty stews. Cheese comes with most things.

They also have this great salty yoghurt drink which tastes about as good as it sounds. It’s like Kefir and said to be good for the heat, digestion and hangovers. I got to put it to the test of several occasions. It’s a really hot place after all. Scientists discovered Bulgarian yoghurt has its own unique bacteria that elongates life. I drunk it in bulk.

Along with wine. And since they’ve been making it since Thracian times it’s pretty great. Except the one homemade batch we had that tasted like detergent, unfortunately we’d ordered it by the litre.

And then there were the only in Bulgaria moments.

Getting to see the restoration of a 12th century monastery in process.

Exploring the same monastery, and stumbling upon a creepy room full of skulls, and bones in boxes.

The homeless looking local collecting signatures in his book, trying for the Guinness book of records.

The bus that was full but the driver let me on anyway because he felt sorry for me.

The many fun moments trying to understand the Cyrillic alphabet. Which for the record it turns out the Russians took from the Bulgarians.

All in all it ticked the main boxes for me. Cheap. Friendly locals. Not too many tourists. Sweet travellers on the journey. I unfortunately didn’t run into any Spartacus dopplegangas, but hey, you can’t have everything.






Nudity & Nature in Montenegro

“Super ste”
“You’re great” we were told by the 83 year old Montenegrin Grandpa. Day 1 in Montenegro. I had a feeling it was going to be a super stay.

A leathery brown blonde bomb shell in her fifties was stark naked perched on a cliff. Her downward dog beamed to the swimmers below. She slowly took a drag from her cigarette, her head resting on a pillow she’d brought from home. A 12 year old girl walked past nonchalantly, unfazed in the slightest by the extreme butthole tanning.

We were at Montenegro’s infamous “Ladies Beach” that proclaimed to be Europe’s first women only nudist beach. Good to see a country so aligned with women’s rights.

Its sulphur mineral springs were deemed to be an elixir of women’s health enhancing fertility. Women travelled far and wide to swim in the mythical waters, or more specifically to swim around a rock three times and leave a bikini piece on the rock’s swimsuit shrine.

The novelty of being completely naked and painted head to toe in the magical mud for €3 may have been another draw card.

But what struck me most about this women’s haven was the intricate tanning positions. Women’s of all ages would bend in all sorts of angles to get their crotch exposed to the sun. Did they put on sunblock down there? I dare not ask. I did however question a local on the bizarre tanning techniques.

“It feels good” she explained.
“There aren’t many chances to feel the sun there”

All was well in paradise until an elderly man accidentally snorkelled into the cove. I heard shrieks and looked over to see an older women hitting him on the head with his snorkel. He quickly swam off, a mistake he might be willing to make again.

Perhaps surprisingly this all took place in Ulcinj – a heavily Muslim influenced town close to the Albanian coast. Churches had turned into Mosques, and Montenegrin into Albanian.

Rewind a day, zigzag across the mountains and we were in a totally different world. Sitting on a lake side beach in the tiny village Godijne, listening to a symphony of crickets in harmony with a local playing his accordion.

No tourists seemed to make it to this quaint place set amongst Kiwi fruit and Grape vines. As we meandered about locals cheerfully called out:
“Dobre dan”
“Good day”

We were staying with Drazen and Sanja through Air BnB. His Grandmother cooked us the local speciality, a fish dish that was cooked for a casual 20 hours. Obviously I asked for the recipe. The Carp was dried overnight, then cooked for 8 hours. I felt no further instruction would be required.

Our feast was followed by shots of “Brandy of Kiwi” so strong it was hard to believe it was his 83 year old Grandfather’s recipe.

Fast forward through countless beaches, each more stunning then the previous, and it was our last day. We road tripped through Montenegro’s fiords, northern national parks, mountains and lakes.

My Belgian friend Valerie, a die hard New Zealand fan was even impressed by the scenery.
“Shit, this is f a n t a s t i c”
“As good as NZ?”
“Almost as good”
I sigh and laugh.

All the days in between were your usual travel tales.

Sharing a 12 bed dorm with 10 Australian guys, the drunken snoring symphony was fantastic!

Scaling hill fortress ruins in 36 degree heat with a 73 year old man we picked up along the way.

Perusing beautiful old towns and taking copious amounts of photos.

Complaining the food was too heavy every time we put on a bikini (everyday)

Montenegro is definitely a contender for my ongoing contest of favourite country ever (Valerie, always philosophising, tells me our generation make a habit of always using superlatives)

It was the best weather. The most beautiful beaches. The kindest locals. One of the cheapest countries. And because of its small size, in one week we saw a large and varied selection of the country.

Next stop, Croatia. We arrived slightly less glamorously then imagined. The air conditioning was broken on our bus, so the three hour journey was spent in near 40 degree heat sweating in ways I never thought was possible. I look forward to the looming heat wave, it’ll be the hottest ever perhaps.