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July 2012

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Bulgaria in Eastern Europe was a country we were really just planning on passing through last year during our three months in Europe. Just a quick stop, maybe some skiing and then onto Turkey or Romania. Instead we ended up staying there for 6 weeks. With gorgeous ancient buildings, beautiful villages, ruined fortresses, stunning mountains, beautiful beaches and vast forests the countryside is breath-taking and the history fascinating.

If you’re not convinced, do yourself a favour and follow Bulgaria Travel on Facebook. The pictures they post to their wall will have you quickly drooling. Take Belogradchik Fortress for example near the town of Belogradchick, a small town on in the north-west of the country near the border with Serbia and Romania. If the fortress somehow fails to impress you, the nearby historic towns, bizarre gigantic rock formations and the Danube river will take your breathe away.

The Castle of Belogradchik

Mountain breaks

Roughly 30% of Bulgaria is mountainous. In summer the mountains are a lovely place to hike through stunning forests and unique natural rock formations and to swim in waterfalls and clear rivers. In winter they offer some of the best value skiing you’ll find in Europe for the facilities offered.

There are plenty of locations to choose from but one of the most beautiful and easily accessible areas are the Rila Mountains, just 2 hours from Sofia. The resort town of Bansko is a great place for families to base themselves in either winter or summer. From there you can explore the region and the towns are large enough to have all the facilities that your family might like to have close by – a wide range of restaurants, supermarkets, sport rental stores, medical facilities, parks, transport, hotels and apartment rentals.

In winter Bansko is a well maintained ski resort with lifts and runs almost on par with what you would find in the more expensive French and Italian resorts. The mountain isn’t huge but there are a number of runs suitable for children and ski lessons are very affordable (as is the on-mountain daycare and ski schools if Mum and Dad want to get some skiing time in for themselves).

In summer Bansko transforms into an adventure sports and eco tourism mecca. You can hike to pristine lakes, take up mountain biking or ride ATVs up mountains. For families with younger kids, the alpine forests just near the resort are filled with flowers and widely spaced trees – perfect for exploring and games of hide’n’seek.

??????? ????? (The "Kidney" Lake)

At around 35 euros a night for a studio apartment with kitchen facilites that sleeps 4 to a 3 bedroom apartment for 50-70 euros per night, staying in the Rila mountains is quite affordable. If you want to stay even longer, monthly apartment rentals start from 150-300 euros for a 2-3 bedroom apartment close to the gondola.

Bovorets and Pamporovo are other mountain resort towns that are well set up for families. The ski facilities are a little older, but that also means they are cheaper.

Skiing home

Costs:

Lift passes range from 11-30 euros per day for adults depending on the resort. Children half price.

Equipment/bike hire: 5-20 euros per day depending on the quality of gear.

Accommodation: starting from 35 euros per night for a self-contained studio apartment.

Dining out: 30 euros per night for a family of four with a couple of beers.

 

City, culture and history

Bulgaria has a long and fascinating history. The perfect way to learn more about this history and experience some of Bulgaria’s lovely cities is to spend time exploring Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv. The smaller towns, particularly in the north-west are just as amazing, but if this is your first visit to Bulgaria these three are a great place to start.

Sofia

Sofia is the capital of modern Bulgaria and has a long history, with human settlement in the area dating back to well before the 7th Century BC.

After being heavily bombed during World War II and rebuilt with rather uninspiring flats, it’s not the most beautiful city in Europe but it does have some of the loveliest churches and mosques you’ll see in the world. If you are in Sofia, don’t miss visiting the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, as well as the architecture museum in the city and the National Archaeological Museum in Boyana .

The city has extensive parks and open spaces, as well as the nearby Vitosha National Park. If you have the time, take a day-trip to the foothills of Vitosha and explore the town of Boyana.

Alexander Nevski Cathedral

Plovdiv

The pretty city of Plovdiv is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Visiting the old town is like taking a walk back in time. Maze-like quiet cobbled streets, 19th Century stone houses with wooden overhang upper levels in various states of restoration and amazing Roman ruins, including an amphitheatre that is still in use today.

How amazing an experience would that be to share with your children – seeing a concert in a partially restored 2nd Century Roman amphitheatre!

Veliko Tarnovo

The old capital of Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo is steeped in history and beauty. Situated on three hills with a winding river, the overhanging houses line the cliff faces and wind their way down towards the river against the backdrop of an impressive fortress. Looking at the fortress and the walled confines of the old city you wonder how any army could have actually attacked this place rather than take one look and run away. It redefines impressive.

Today Veliko Tarnovo has plenty to offer families. Cheap dining with great views, parks, museums and the fortress. In the summer there are plenty of places to go swimming in the nearby rivers. In winter it transforms into a snowy wonderland. Bring a sled and your children will be amused for hours on the quiet steep backstreets.

Tsarevets and Veliko Tarnovo

Beach Escapes

Bulgaria’s eastern edge borders the Black Sea. During summer the area is a popular beach holiday destination, offering everything from camping to resorts, tiny sleepy fishing villages to large cities, sandy beaches to rocky cliff faces.

Varna, the largest sea-side resort is an excellent place to start your exploration of the Bulgarian Black Sea. During summer the long ocean front boardwalk and park-lands take on a festival atmosphere with families, food, activities and fun. The beaches can get very busy in summer, but then what European beaches aren’t busy come summer? From Varna it’s easy to travel north towards Romania through small villages or make your way south to Burgas or even Turkey.

Golden Sands - Riviera

Things to know before you go

Bulgaria is a lot friendlier on your wallet than most countries in Europe. From the UK you can pick up budget packages for holidays in Bulgaria from Holiday Hypermarket and other travel agents. A number of budget airlines also fly directly to Sofia and the Black Sea coast, and just about every train or bus route in the region passes through Sofia.

Dinners out generally cost 20-30 euros for a familiy of four and we averaged 25-35 euros per night on accommodation, often including dinner and breakfast. Hostel Mostel (hostelmostel.com) was great value and very family friendly. If you can self cater, 6 euros will easily purchase all the ingredients to cook a fantastic family meal including dessert.

A ten minute taxi ride will only cost a couple of euros and entrance fees to almost every attraction were very reasonable. The cost of bus and train tickets varied greatly depending on the route but both were very comfortable. Buses are a great way to get around Bulgaria as they are fast, frequent and the roads are good. There are no toilets onboard buses and on routes of less than 3 hours express buses don’t stop unless you ask!

At this point Bulgaria isn’t part of the Schengen treaty. That’s perfect if you are a travelling family looking to spend more time in Europe than the 90 day Schengen visa allows.

Reading Cyrillic can be a handy talent, or at least knowing some of the alphabet will make your life easier navigating your way around towns, maps and restaurants. It’s a good idea to at least know how to read the name of the city or street you are heading to in Cyrillic as often buses only have signage in Cyrillic.

Since becoming a democratic country in 1990 English has been widely taught in school so you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting around without knowing any Bulgarian. Almost every Bulgarian we met under 30 was able to converse with us in English. Knowing some German or Russian is also rather handy as most of the older generation speak at least one of these languages. 

Winter’s are cold and many areas get a lot of snow. That’s perfect if you like skiing and it’s definitely the quieter and cheaper than the summer months, but it is cold. We struck -26 degree Celsius days in the mountains and -20 days in Sofia. They really weren’t pleasant, although we did really enjoy the snow in Sofia before it got too cold. Spring and Autumn are lovely times to visit if you prefer to avoid the crowds and high season prices.

Our kids did struggle to find a wide variety of local food that they liked. Kebabs, sausages, pasta, breads and potato were all enjoyed by them but they didn’t like the rest. But supermarkets, local stores and markets were filled with foods that they loved. Fruit, yogurt cheese, sweet bread, nuts, dried fruit and a huge variety of kid friendly snacks were readily available and ridiculously cheap. We just brought bananas, dried apricots and yogurt to dinner with us each night.

 

 

The Island of Crete is the largest of all the Greek islands. Like all of the isles, Crete is renowned for its amazing beaches. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend your entire vacation doing nothing sitting and playing in the sand.

Crete has many activities that your entire family will enjoy. Save the beaches for your down-time and plan to get out and have a little adventure on your trip. Here are some of the best ways to keep everyone happy and ensure that your holiday in Crete is one of the most memorable ones.

 

Visit Knossos

Knossos

Thousands of years before toilets and plumbing appeared in Britain, the people of Knossos had flushing toilets and three separate water management systems. And that’s just one of the wonders of Knossos.

Knossos is where in legend King Minos lived sitting in his palace protected by the labyrinth and the Minotaur. It’s where Daedalus and Icarus where imprisioned until Icarus built wings to escape but flew too close to the sun. A guided tour will give you all an opportunity to learn more about the ancient settlement that was established around 7,000 BC. Amazing restoration work has taken place restoring several sections of columns and frescoes to their former glory.

Just a few kilometers outside of Heraklion it’s an easy day trip with public buses running there regularly as well as organised tours. In winter the site is closed on Sundays. It’s also shut for most of the Christmas-New Year period.

 

Explore Heraklion

Venetian Harbour Iraklion

The capital city of Crete, Heraklion, offers a lot to explore. It is a mixture of the ancient city inside the Venetian walls and the modernized section outside of them. There are several interesting museums, covering the area’s archaeological, historical and natural past. If you plan on visiting Knossos be sure to go to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum as well.

The Natural History Museum offers many fascinating exhibits, including a fantastic section that caters to children with hands on activities and incredibly helpful staff. Children can dig for dinosaur bones, explore a cave, pretend to sail a boat, learn about local wildlife, touch different animal skulls and take part in craft activities. The museum itself is small and the kids will probably loose interest quickly but the children’s section is well worth visiting. On the lower levels is also an earthquake simulator, which is great fun and educational.

The Venetian harbor is the location of the Koules fortress. Your family can enjoy the sea breeze while strolling along the jetty. In the middle, you will find a canteen that sells snacks, so you can stop for an ice cream treat. There are plenty of bench seats along the way, boats to look at and seabirds to watch. The water is crystal clear and gorgeous.

Along the waterfront near the museum you’ll also see ancient ruins, coffee shops, a playground and a small beach. It’s a great place to go for a stroll and soak up the sun while learning more about this lovely city

Digging for bones Crete

Hire a Car and explore further afield

There is so much to see and explore on the island of Crete, so hire a car for a day to make the most of your visit. There are so many beautiful areas on the 250 km-long island that driving a car around will make sure you get to observe them all. Find little-known areas that most visitors overlook and escape for a little while.

The roads in Crete are excellent and the scenery is stunning. Whether you are driving inland or along the coast no matter which direction you turn the wheel, there will be plenty to see and do. The coastal road from Heraklion heading west is quite literally breathtaking. There are plenty of small beaches to stop at along the way for a play or lunch, with gorgeous sand, clear water and so many amazing rocks that your kids will want to collect. I swear we carried half of Crete away with us thanks to the kids rock collection.

West of Heraklion

Daytrip to Agios Nikolaos

The pretty town of Agios Nikolaos is surrounded by crystal clear water on three sides. Take your pick of the many cafes and restaurants that surround the large lake. It’s a great place to hang out as a family, with plenty of space to run and play including a small playground. In summer an outdoor cinema is set up on the shores of the lake, often playing family friendly movies. With the stunning blue clear waters, the various islands dotting the bays and the stunning cliffs and mountains of Crete in the distance, Agios Nikolaos is a lovely place to spend the day.

There are several beaches to enjoy as well. You can sign up for a diving excursion or go out on the water for a sailing trip. Nearby the sunken city of Olous near Elounda is a great family outing. While you can make out some of the ruins from the shoreline near the old ruined windmills, it’s best to take a boat tour and have someone explain the ruins to you – otherwise the kids will quickly loose interest!

The area is home to many fine resorts and hotels where you can stay overnight and enjoy this pretty town even longer.

Lakeside Agios Nikolaos

Have Fun at a Water Park

A trip to Crete doesn’t have to be all scenery and historical excursions. Take some time out and enjoy a day at one of the great water parks on Crete. The largest, WaterCity, is in Heraklion and spans 80,000 square meters. You can also visit Limnoupolis Water Park, Acqua Plus and Star Beach.

Your entire family will enjoy an island adventure on Crete. There are so many places to visit and explore.

Despite being Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow has some wonderful outdoor spaces to enjoy in the elusive sunny weather.

While Glasgow is well known for its museums, including the vast Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, when the sun is shining you need to make the most of it and seek out Glasgow’s green spaces where flora and fauna flourish.

When browsing Glasgow hotels, you can choose to stay either centrally, in the heart of the action, or a little further out in a quieter location. Both have their distinct advantages, it’s just a matter of choosing what’s right for you.

Staying centrally means that all of Glasgow’s attractions should be within walking distance, and you’ll be right in the thick of the action come nightfall. If, however, you prefer to relax in peace and quiet after a day of sightseeing, you may prefer to choose a hotel in a quieter location with good transport links into the heart of city.

So, should you be lucky enough to have the chance to enjoy Glasgow in the sunshine, where should you head?

Pollock Country Park

Pollock Country Park makes a wonderful day out, with over 360 acres of green space, including many scenic running and walking trails. Perfect for those who want to stay active during their trip but don’t want to venture too far from the city centre.

For something completely different, the Necropolis offers an unusually mesmerising experience. A stunning cemetery known as Glasgow’s Victorian City of the Dead, this is, in fact, one of the most significant cemeteries in Europe, with many important memorials and tombs – the final resting places of some of Glasgow’s most renowned citizens.

RIP

If visiting a cemetery doesn’t sound like quite your cup of tea, head to the Botanic Gardens instead. Home to the huge greenhouse that is Kibble Palace, where most of the park’s botanical collection is housed, the Botanic Gardens are the green lung of Glasgow’s West End.

Glasgow Botanic Gardens

 

 

 

Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp has been voted the ideal holiday partner by the female participants of a MoneySupermarket travel insurance survey. However, his victory was a narrow one; coming in just ahead of Stephen Fry who was surprisingly popular with people of both sexes.

This was the first in a series of “Battle of the Sexes” video infographics being released by MoneySupermarket; looking at the different attitudes of people from both genders.

One thing which became apparent was the different attitudes when it comes to preparing for vacations; with women being far more proactive when it comes to planning and packing to go away. However, it was actually men who were revealed to be generally more active while they are actually on holiday; being more likely to take part in sports such as scuba diving. The majority of women meanwhile much prefer spending time sunbathing by the pool:

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Nathan over at wandrlymagazine.com to help provide some information on how we make a living while on the road. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo back to him in time for us to be featured in his article, but I thought I would share the article with you all because I honestly think it is one of the most comprehensive articles I have seen written on “How to Make a Living on the Road”.  There are plenty of articles out there and probably a bunch of ebooks written about it but I doubt many of them actually put in the amount of research that Nathan has into this article.

In fact, the whole website is wonderful. He has done a fantastic job with combining the visual appearance of a print magazine within his website.

How to Make a Living on the Road

There is a lot of chatter at the moment about how to make a living on the road. If you are interested in this topic I would suggest that you head over to the Wandrly website and take a look at the article. I also suggest that you take a cut lunch with you as it is a pretty hefty article with an incredible amount of detail.

Wand’rly Magazine – How to Make a Living on the Road

I asked Nathan if he could tell us a little about his website.

 

Wand’rly is a family owned and operated online magazine that aims to help individuals and other families looking to ditch the office, hit the road and live simply and happily while traveling. Every issue we cover a certain location to provide a little inspiration, but also try and create a few solid how to articles to help travelers and those looking to become travelers get around.
We’ve been doing the traveling thing full-time since 2008, and did our fair share of wandering even back when we had a regular house. Nathan is a web designer and writer, his wife Renee is a photographer, and their children were born and raised on the road. 
In our next few issues we’ll be covering roadschooling (a form of homeschooling), traveling bands, minimalism and the details of getting online from just about anywhere. We offer a very affordable membership to anyone who’d like to trade $5 a year in exchange for a few discounts to the places we visit, early access to content, free mp3s from bands in the areas we cover, and a chance to vote on where we should go next (which we actually listen to!).
We’re always looking for feedback and you can feel free to voice your opinions over on our Facebook page (facebook.com/Wandrly) or via Twitter (twitter.com/wandrlymagazine). Happy trails!

Wand’rly is a family owned and operated online magazine that aims to help individuals and other families looking to ditch the office, hit the road and live simply and happily while traveling. Every issue we cover a certain location to provide a little inspiration, but also try and create a few solid how to articles to help travelers and those looking to become travelers get around.

We’ve been doing the traveling thing full-time since 2008, and did our fair share of wandering even back when we had a regular house. Nathan is a web designer and writer, his wife Renee is a photographer, and their children were born and raised on the road. 

In our next few issues we’ll be covering roadschooling (a form of homeschooling), traveling bands, minimalism and the details of getting online from just about anywhere. We offer a very affordable membership to anyone who’d like to trade $5 a year in exchange for a few discounts to the places we visit, early access to content, free mp3s from bands in the areas we cover, and a chance to vote on where we should go next (which we actually listen to!).

We’re always looking for feedback and you can feel free to voice your opinions over on our Facebook page or via Twitter. Happy trails!

The Ganges

India is a country that many family travellers are apprehensive about visiting. Let’s be honest – travelling in India is not always easy. It’s crowded, noisy, chaotic and dirty. Poverty, death, birth, starvation, hunger and disease will be in your face, and in your children’s faces.

But India is also exotic, sensory rich, vibrant, beautiful, historical and completely rewarding.

We haven’t been to India yet. Every time I get out a map and guidebook to start planning a trip to India I end up completely overwhelmed.

“Am I ready to tackle India yet? What if I get there and I’m not ready? Will the kids be able to handle the chaos and the scary scary toilets? Will I for that matter?”

But mostly: “Where on earth do we start our trip? And how do I narrow it down from ‘all-of-India to a realistic 2-3 month trip with kids where I see everything I want to without spending weeks on trains and buses burning out the whole family?”

Honestly, with a country as large and amazing as India, how do you work out where to start and narrow down where to visit?

We’ve thought about heading to India a number of times on our travels and almost had cheap flights booked at least twice. When we first started travelling with the kids we didn’t feel ready for India. We wanted to get our travel legs in ‘easier’ countries like Thailand and Malaysia. Then we were tired and not really in the ‘right frame of mind’. At least that was our excuse. Now I’d be on the plane next week if I could just work out where to start!

Inspiration time! If you would love to take the family to India but a little unsure for one of hundreds of reasons, or like me have no clue where to start, here are 6 blogs 8 blogs (it was 6 but thanks to suggestions from readers I’ve included more blogs!) from travelling families who have spent time in India over the past few years to inspire you. Every time I start planning a trip to India I find myself re-reading these blogs, so I hope they will help you too.

 

With Two Kids in Tow, It’s Backpacking We Go

Jess and Jim took their two young daughters to southern India last year. And we’re not talking package tours and nice hotels. They spent 3 months backpacking on a budget of less than $50 per day. They visited some amazing locations and I really recommend reading their wrap up post from their three months there.

If you are trying to convince yourself that visiting India will be completely worth it despite (or perhaps because of) the challenges, plus get an idea of how slow or fast to travel with kids, this article is a great place to start.

 

Vagabond Kids

Kristy and Jeff from Vagabond Kids took their two children to Kerala in southern India last year. Their trip included spending time on beautiful beaches, getting stuck in a hotel thanks to strikes and backwater boat cruises. They have some great tips on their site for trip planning and family travel in India.

Kristy has also done a few solo trips over the past few years to other locations in India. A few weeks ago she got to see the Taj Mahal by herself. I’m more than a little jealous! To show my children the Taj Mahal would be wonderful but to have time there by myself to enjoy it and take photos at my own leisure … until then I’ll just have to enjoy Kristy’s post!

 

Snaps and Blabs

If beautiful photos inspire you more than words, be sure to look at Snaps and Blabs posts from India (although often her words and stories are just as beautiful as her photos). The writing and photos will transport you directly to India.

My favourite is her post of from Kullu in the far north of India. Not a town I’ve ever heard of or considered visiting, but oh these photos make me want to go there.

 

Rymans At Large

The Rymans finished their big trip a few years ago now but they were one of our inspirations when we first considered starting to travel. We’ve met so many other families that were inspired by them as well. The number of times we’ve been talking about Cambodia and someone has said ‘oh did you read about that family’s motorbike border crossing from Cambodia into Vietnam’ … that was the Rymans (and if you haven’t read it you really should – here’s the link)

Anyway, enough about funny border crossings, the Rymans also spent time in India. Their blog updates from India are funny, honest and wonderfully descriptive.

 

Almost Fearless

Christine and Drew spent two months living in Goa with their one year old son before travelling around India. Drew actually did more travel than the rest of his family with a mammoth 16 day train journey around India. Was he insane to do it? Quite possibly. 16 days on Indian trains sounds like my own personal hell but as I was reading Drew’s account of the trip he almost had me convinced to follow the same journey myself … almost. I think I’ll stick with an overnight train for starters and then I’ll decide whether to commit to a more ambitious trip!

Their adventures around India are documented on Almost Fearless with equal amounts of humour, beautiful photos and honesty about their experiences and travel mistakes … a little too much honestly at times. I’m not sure I will ever recover from the visual images that they both painted of their bouts with Delhi belly. If you’re not quite ready to deal with those visuals, try this story instead of one of their most memorable travel days in India. Like the rest of their tales from India, I like that they haven’t sugar-coated their experiences so that I can get a good sense of what challenges I might expect if we were to go there, as well as the amazing experiences too!

 

Discover. Share. Inspire.

The Dennings spent time in India in 2010. On their blog they’ve uploaded several videos from their time there. From 10000 ducks to kids playing in ancient temples the videos offer a different insight into a family trip to India from your usual written blog post.

 

20110423_Taj_Mahal_049

Letters from the Larmours

This family has been to India three times with their children. According to to Kirsty, India can be challenging for parents because things don’t always go to plan but they love going there as a family. Their children love India because it’s vibrant and exciting, and as parents Kirsty and her husband see a completely different side of India thanks to the experiences and insights of their children than when they visited there pre-kids. Kirsty is a photographer so her photos of her kids from India are gorgeous.

 

Noi6 Around the World

This inspiring family of 5 are almost one year into a 15 month round the world trip. As part of their travels they spent 5 weeks in India. Theirs posts are amusing and insightful, and have lots of fantastic photos. A great resource for anyone wanting to spend time in India with older children. I really enjoy reading their post India, my love where Illeana opens up about the things that initially confronted her about India but how she decided to accept not judge, and how this allowed her to see the beauty and people.

 

Spent time in India? Share your blog

If you’ve spent time in India with your family and would like us to include your blog in this list please let us know and we’ll add your details.

 

(Photos thanks to Jeeheon and Friar’s Balsam on Flickr Creative Commons)