You know, when you promise to yourself that next year is going to be different? That you’ll put a stop to your stagnant life, that you’ll break your routine, and get a new whole life? For several years I also made those promises, but it was when I stopped thinking about it that my life actually changed drastically. 2016 turned out to be the best year I can think of, my year of traveling and the year I became an expat. Let’s start with the best travel moments of 2016:
January and February:
The year couldn’t start any better. I was just about to experience my all-time favorite trip, this time to the United States, to visit my sister who lives in California. It was the first time Wild Wild Basch travelled outside the comfort zone of Europe, two weeks of pure happiness and a lot of discoveries to make. Across three different states, California, Arizona and Nevada, I woke up early every day to enjoy the best of my very well deserved vacation after a really rough 2015 with no more than a week off. A huge thanks to my sister and her family for having me over and for planning what became the best trip of my life, that got me to some of the most amazing places I will never forget, such as Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon National Park, Palm Springs and St Jacinto Mountains, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Hollywood Studios, Malibu, Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Calico Ghost Town among so many other places.
April always used to be one of my favorite months of the year. It’s usually the first month of the year that we start going out after several months of almost non-stopping rain. Getting in my car and just driving somewhere to distract ourselves from the busy working schedule. Just like always, my first day at the beach was during the spring, 40 kilometers away from home, in “Praia do Castelo” which literally means “Castle’s Beach” in the Portuguese language. This project “Wild Wild Basch” was precisely created in the beginning of this month and It was also in April that took place my first and my last solo bicycle trip, with destination Costa da Caparica, over 91 kilometers cycled in a day, which gave birth to this website. You can read more about it in my dedicated blog post HERE. Also in April I visited the 18th Century Fair of Buraca and attended to the TCR International Series 2016 in Estoril.
Camping for the first time in 2016, that was the highlight of May. The location? Santa Cruz, a small fishing village in the Portuguese coastline, 70 km north from Lisbon. This was our first and only Weekend Getaway in Portugal this year. It was also in May that I decided to start working as a tour guide in order to give the best travel experience to the couchsurfers visiting Lisbon, which led to the writing of the following post: “Let’s Explore Cascais and Cabo da Roca“. Other than this, May was pretty much about checking museums and fishing.
My whole life was just about to experience the craziest change ever and I had no suspicions. Weeks went by as I tried to get a new professional career. I had decided I really wanted to get a new job, starting to do something I really liked, who knows, it could be travel-related. I had applied for this part-time job at an hostel in Lisbon, which I really liked, but that unfortunately I had to refuse, as I wouldn’t be able to cover my car and house expenses. I also applied for several jobs abroad, but I got no response from most of them. The first half of June turned out to be quite ordinary. On the 13th I applied for a position in Sofia, Bulgaria, and that’s how my life suddenly changed in less than a week. After two interviews and a few tests, I had been accepted to work abroad, in Bulgaria, but… little I knew about this country! All the pressure of having to quit my job, booking a flight, telling my family and friends, packing and taking care of a bunch of paperwork in just a week? Crazy, but doable. As soon as I had accepted reality, I tried to find out more about Emigrating to Bulgaria from Portugal but no information was ever shared online… are there even Portuguese people living in Bulgaria? Right now I had no time to lose and I really had to Pack my Luggage as I would be flying on the 25th. My Arrival in Sofia happened at night, I got in a taxi from the airport to the hotel where I ended up living for the next three weeks. Right now I just needed to get my stuff together, go to work on the next Monday and find an apartment in the next three weeks before the arrival of my girlfriend and my cat.
I finally got an apartment, located downtown, in the heart of Sofia. I had managed to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. I was starting to get to know my work tasks and my colleagues and enjoying the city. You know, when you move abroad it feels like you’re on vacation for several months. Discovering the city, the taste of the food, and better than anything else, enjoying the very familiar warm weather. Going on some crazy adventures, Hiking the Seven Rila Lakes and discovering the Magic of Vitosha Mountain on the outskirts of Sofia.
For the first time since our arrival, we were having three days off, which we couldn’t just ignore. In order to enjoy the best of the Summer we bought train tickets from Sofia to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. The weather was amazing, warm days and nights, with temperatures reaching almost 40 degrees Celsius. The perfect place for someone to spend a few days, not very touristic, but rich in culture and gastronomy. Definitely a place to go back in 2017.
We were supposed to travel to Macedonia on the 23rd of October, but our trip had just been cancelled hours prior to our departure. Our bags were packed and staying in Sofia was not an option. We got ourselves to the Central Bus Station and we picked Plovdiv, as our new destination. This weekend, the world’s sixth oldest city was hosting the Night of Museums and Galleries. We will never regret our choice, as it turned out to be one of my new favorite destinations. For the first time since I had arrived to Bulgaria, I saw how touristic this country could really be. A mix of so many languages was being spoken outside, the city was very alive at night, and we even got to make a few new friends.
October was the month of getting together with our old friends and family. In the beginning of the month I had my best friend over, who traveled all the way from Belgium. We hiked Vitosha Mountain once again, and now, unlike in July, some of the trees were starting to freeze. Later, on the 20th, we traveled to Portugal, for a one week visit, but first, we enjoyed a 12 Hour Layover in Munich, Germany. As soon as we arrived to Lisbon, listening to people speaking Portuguese was just so confusing. As soon as we arrived to our previous home, nostalgia and melancholy just hit me. Getting to sleep in the same bed, having a look at your stuff that hasn’t been touched for several months, the same good old furniture… it looked like everything had frozen in time, with just one big difference, our cat was now in Bulgaria. This vacation was all about taking care of papers, visiting the family and enjoying the best of Portuguese cuisine, which we really miss!
We still had some vacation days left for 2016, and the flights were quite cheap to many destinations in Europe. As we had never been in Italy before, we picked up Rome as our next destination. As you know, or as you may have heard before, “When in Rome… do as the Romans do”. Being one of the largest European cities, it has just so much to do and to visit. I challenge you to walk for five minutes without running into some monument, some ruins or some statue of some kind… it’s just not possible! During our five days in Rome we managed to visit all the major monuments, the Bioparco di Roma, the Vatican City, including the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel, and getting to know in person an old friend. We experienced some of the worst and the best things during this trip. Our last day was the worst part of our journey. Due to bad weather conditions our flight among many others, had just been cancelled and we were stuck in Ciampino Airport. We had to get in a different flight to Athens, and then to Sofia. Fortunately we managed to get back to Sofia on the next day, but we still missed one day of work.
Our last vacation of the year had just been scheduled. We were now heading to Bucharest, Romania! Even though I am not very familiar with the Romanian history and culture, back in the beginning of 2016 I considered about moving here to work, a job position which later I ended up refusing. I had been looking forward to meet an old time friend for a really long time, and now I had the chance to do it. We stayed at his place and we felt very welcome. What I really like about Eastern Europe is that it is not as touristic as the Western countries. It is a lot easier to travel, cheaper, and you know there will be no one approaching you, trying to sell selfie sticks or fake Ray-Ban sunglasses. Romania is a lot more beautiful than people might picture it. Bucharest has just a lot to see, specially if you love art, this city is called “The Little Paris” for some reason. We traveled to Azuga, where we ended up spending a very cold night, and the next day we traveled to Sinaia, where we paid a visit to the famous Peleş Castle. Still during that day, we traveled all the way to Bran, a commune in Transylvania, where lies the Bran Castle, commonly associated with the Dracula. Our last night was spent in this medieval town, and then we had to travel all the way to Braşov, then to Bucharest, and finally, back to Sofia.
Looking back, I see that my travel life has improved quite a lot, specially compared to 2015. Hundreds of monuments seen, hundreds of new people met and dozens of cities visited in two different world continents. My goal for 2017 is the same one that I had for this year, traveling with no boundaries, and making the best of my life here in Bulgaria.