There are hundreds of fitness apps available on the market. They cover a wide range of categories – from running, hiking, general fitness to meditation and practicing mindfulness. This makes…
The Balkans are not the first place that comes to mind when you think of wine. It’s not even among the top regions where wine is produced. But did you…
The Balkans are not the first place that comes to mind when you think of wine. It’s not even among the top regions where wine is produced. But did you know that three Balkan countries are among top 20 wine-producing countries? That’s right. They are Romania, Greece and Serbia.
Wine was never the most popular alcoholic drink in the Balkans. Rakija and beer have always been a favourite choice of the locals and what makes the situation even worse is that low purchasing power of the market dictates higher consumption of cheaper products.
Yet, three Balkan countries – Romania, Greece and Serbia – are among the top 20 wine-producing countries. Through international fairs, mapping of wine routes and festivals, this region is slowly piquing an interest of wine lovers around the world.
Here are some of the most popular wine festivals in the Balkans;
The Balkans International Wine Competition – Sofia, Bulgaria
This festival which is already in its sixth year was the first of its kind. It showcases regional wines while drawing attention to this interesting region. It hosts world famous wine connoisseurs, who judge wines of different Balkan producers and welcomes wine merchants, journalists and bloggers from some of the strongest markets – USA, UK, Japan, Russia, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
The Grand Trophy for 2017 was taken by Bulgaria’s Rumelia Wine Cellar and their Mavrud Reserva 2013 red wine. Its indigenous region is Thrace in Bulgaria and its multilevel aroma with nuances of dry leaves, seasoning and resin won the hearts of the jury. The White Wine Trophy also went to Bulgarian winery Edoardo Miroglio and their Elenovo Chardonnay 2015.
The festival mostly showcases Bulgarian wines with appearances of few wineries from other countries, but it is still among top wine festivals in the Balkans.
Also, don’t forget to check out my Sofia travel guide with all the tips and suggestions. If you need accommodation check out Booking.
Tikveski Grozdober, Macedonia
Kavadarci, a small town 100 km away from Skopje, has been a heart of the Macedonian wines for a long time. This region is better known as Tikves and the largest winery in the Southeastern Europe is located here.
The wine tradition that goes all the way back to the ancient times continued with an annual festival that lasts for several days. Beside the wine events, the festival hosts art exhibitions, sport events, music programs and more. The winery has its restaurant, souvenir shops and offers guided tours to visitors.
The wines of Tikves Winery have won numerous awards at international festivals including the Concours Mondial in Brussels, Decanter World Wine Awards, International Wine Challenge, Chardonnay du Monde and others. Some of them are: Vranec Special Selection 2015, Cabernet Franc Special Selection 2016, Alexandria Red 2015, Chardonnay Special Selection 2015.
The less known wineries from the city are Popov and Chokorovi.
Smederevo Autumn, Serbia
Smederevo Autumn has been one of the most important tourism events in the city of Smederevo and one of the oldest in Serbia. It originates from the 1888 and the tradition has been preserved till modern days. Smederevka is one of the leading autochthonous types of grapes from Smederevo’s vineyard. It’s famous for its soft aromas of lime and lemon with mild herbal characteristics.
As one of the biggest wine regions in the country, it is home to five wineries. Smederevka from Janko Cellar Winery is a good representative.
According to legend, Dionysus – the Thracian god of wine – was born in what is now Romania, and Plato declared its vineyards to be the best in the world. Romanians have been making and drinking wine for over 6000 years.
The Wine Festival of Romania, brings together crème de la crème of Romanian wines accompanied by international varieties. In the span of two days, more than 2.500 wine connoisseurs gather along with wine specialists, wine cellar owners, to enjoy the rich selection of wines specially made for them.
You’ll get the opportunity to taste the best of Murfatlar, Jidvei, Cotnari, Vincon, Tohani and best of small production wineries.
If you think you’ll be bored with the surplus amount of Romanian wines – you’d be wrong. The RO-Wine presents over 300 wines from France, Italy, Republic of Moldova, Argentina, Spain or Chile. This easily makes it one of the best wine festivals in the Balkans.
The Balkans are a fantastic place to go hiking or for an outdoors holiday. With plenty of mountains, lakes, and forests, the Balkans offer a true opportunity for adventure and…
The Balkans are a fantastic place to go hiking or for an outdoors holiday. With plenty of mountains, lakes, and forests, the Balkans offer a true opportunity for adventure and some of the most spectacular views. You can always choose between short and long distance hiking trails, depending on your level of fitness and available time.
And if the only thing you’re missing is inspiration here are the five great hikes in the Balkans;
The highest mountain in Greece and the home of Greek gods according to Greek mythology, Mount Olympus has always attracted the attention of people. The mountain is located 80 km southwest of Thessaloniki and is relatively easy to get to. It offers numerous hiking paths, among which the Litochoro – Prionia – Spilios Agapitos is the most popular.
The route consists of walking along the beautiful Enipea Canyon, Agios Dionysios monastery, spectacular Enipea waterfalls and more. Due to many ascents and descents, it is more suitable for experienced hikers.
If you decide to stay on the mountain you can sleep in one of the refuges. The one in Agapitos is the most popular.
The length of the route is 17 km and it takes around 8 hours to complete it.
Rtanj won’t top the lists of the biggest mountains in Serbia but it is definitely one of its most mysterious. With its pyramidal shape, there were many theories of the existence of this mountain. Some believe it is alien’s creation while others sought shelter prior the famous Mayan doomsday which obviously didn’t happen.
Theories aside, Rtanj mountain is a beautiful hiking spot with lovely villages in its vicinity. It is also famous for local tea called Rtanj which has many health benefits.
Rtanj’s highest peak Siljak offers beautiful views of the area and the mountain is home to many rare healing herbs. The mountain is best accessible from the town of Boljevac.
Vitosha mountain dominates Sofia’s cityscape and is the city’s most notable symbol. It is one of Bulgaria’s best mountains for hiking, skiing, and alpinism and is also the oldest natural park in the Balkans.
The best hiking paths on Vitosha are Aleko Hut – Cherni Vrah peak; Boyana Church – Boyana Waterfall and Vladaya – Golden Bridges.
Boyana is Sofia’s elite suburb and Boyana Church is listed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
The easiest way to get to the mountain is with a bus or a taxi. Buses can have sometimes irregular schedules and taxis are inexpensive so I’d recommend saving time by going with the latter option. If you don’t have time to organize this daily trip by yourself you can choose to book a tour to the mountain. Also, don’t forget to check out my detailed guide to Sofia.
The Accursed Mountains
The Accursed Mountains have always topped the lists of great hikes in the Balkans, and Europe in general. There are three national parks situated in the mountains – one is in Montenegro and the other two in Albania.
One of Europe’s most remote areas, the Accursed Mountains offer beautiful scenery, picturesque villages and a real mental challenge! This walk is best for the more experienced hikers.
You can start your tour from the town of Shkoder and pay a visit to the nearby Rozefa fortress. Albania used to be isolated for years, however, that’s slowly changing and the country is drawing more attention thanks to its beautiful beaches and the Accursed Mountains. You can read more about my journey to Albania here.
Durmitor is a national park in northern Montenegro. This area is famous for the Tara Canyon which is the deepest in Europe. The town of Zabljak from where most hikes are starting is the highest populated town in the Balkans.
Durmitor is mostly known for its glacier lakes. There’s 18 of them and Crno Jezero (Black Lake) is the most famous. It is very close from the main town of Zabljak. Crno Jezero is a good starting point for half-day and daily hikes.
Walking through beautiful forests, admiring the lakes and tasting authentic local cuisine, are one of the top and must have experiences in Northern Montenegro. These features regularly place the mountain among the greatest hikes in the Balkans.
Saving money for travel is one of the most shared travel advice on the Internet. But what about having fun while traveling without blowing your budget? Most people avoid travel…
Saving money for travel is one of the most shared travel advice on the Internet. But what about having fun while traveling without blowing your budget?
Most people avoid travel for this sole reason- they worry that they’ll be bored to death if they travel alone and that having fun equals blowing their budget.
I’ve traveled to more than 20 countries and undertook many solo trips and I’ve never been bored or left with no things to do. Here’s how you can travel for cheap and have a lot of fun at the same time!
Most people relate Couchsurfing to staying at someone’s home for free, but it’s much more than that. Sure, you can find people who would be willing to host you but if you’re in a new place and want to hang out with the locals Couchsurfing is a perfect fit.
You can leave a public message and leave it to people to contact you, or you can check out the website to see all events that are happening in your area. These events are almost always free. You can join weekly meetups, free walking tours, live music, picnics etc.
Couchsurfing also has diverse groups so you can find people with similar interests.
No wonder why the sharing economy websites became so popular!
Go on a Free Tour
You’ll find free tours in almost every major city of the world. Instead of paying for pricey private tours that cost from 100 to 200$, you can go on a free tour and have fun! The offer is rich- there are free walking tours, free cycling tours, free cultural tours, pub crawls and more.
If you’re going to Berlin for example just google ‘Berlin free tours’. You’ll be swamped with the possibilities. Free tours are not totally free as you are expected to tip your guide at the end of the tour. However, it’s still a good value for money and you’ll most likely meet other people.
Visit Museums on a Specific Time
Did you know that you can visit some of the world’s most famous museums for free if you’re there at the specific time?
You can visit Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel for free every last Sunday of the month. If you’re in Paris, you can go to Louvre for free every first Sunday of the month. Check the website of museum you want to visit for more detailed information.
Also, never buy tickets from unauthorized sellers or from people just outside the building. You’ll most likely be a subject of scam and pay 4-5 times higher of the original cost. If you book your ticket online in many cases you’ll also be able to skip the line and you’ll avoid possible scams.
Free Cultural Events
There’s always a wide array of entertainment choices or a cool art exhibit going on with no entrance fee! Finding cool local spots and events is hard when you’re a tourist. Do some online research, check out the tourism board website of your destination, and locals’ blogs for insider tips.
Check out Meetup
Meetup is another good social networking site. The site can help you find and join groups that share your similar interests whether that’s politics, books, health, IT, outdoors, LGBT culture etc.
Walk and Explore
Your two feet can take you far! Instead of going on those sightseeing buses or expensive private tours why not grab a map and explore the city by walking? Not only you’ll be more physically active but you’ll be able to have a better glimpse of the way of life by local people and save more money for other fun activities.
Check out Facebook events
One of my favorite FB features is their events tool. When you’re in a new place you can check out the events page and see all the cool happenings in your area. Most of the time these events are totally free or require a small entrance fee. Parties, free film screenings, language exchanges, group hiking, exhibitions- you’ll find it all on FB events. This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to find new things to do.
Attend Free Festivals
Admit it, some festivals can be a serious blow to your budget. Luckily, there are many free and affordable festivals without big price tag, where you can still have a lot of fun. Check out the official tourism board website of the destination you’re visiting for the list of festivals and events happening in the area.
Stay in Hostels
Sometimes just being surrounded by people makes everything better. Hostels are social environments with people from all over the world. They’re a great way to save money on accommodation and in many instances hostels organize free tours for their guests, prepare BBQs and other types of social mixers. No wonder why many travelers opt for hostels when they embark on a solo trip to Europe. Here’s a good resource on how to find cheap accommodation in Europe.
If you have camera, create art
You don’t need expensive or professional camera to take great photos. Your cellphone is enough too. Your time abroad is bound to be filled with new experiences and interesting people. It is something we like to memorialize and treasure – because life is made of experiences. Taking photos can be great stress therapy too! You can find out more about mobile photography in one of my previous posts here.
Spend time in the nature
Mother Earth gave us fantastic nature so why not enjoy it? You can have a light picnic in the park or go hiking. I love visiting botanical gardens as they’re so beautiful and peaceful. Some of them are free but most require a fee. Nevertheless, it will be more than worthwhile!
Go to Free Film Screenings
If you’re traveling during the Summer you’re in luck! Almost every city has outdoor film screenings! Imagine lounging in a park and watching Dazed and Confused or some other great summer flick. It’s also a great place to meet people. The atmosphere is always resembling to watching a movie with your best friends rather than being in a cinema. There is chatter all around as people yell out funny commentary much to everyone’s pleasure, and did I mention the street vendors bring out their best snacks?
Use your student card
If you’re a student you’ll most likely own a student card which entitles you to many discounts and free perks even. These cards offer discounts on accommodation, transportation, museums and other attractions. ISIC is the most famous card of this kind.
Get city tourist cards
Almost every major city and their tourism office offer tourist cards. They range from 1-day, 3-day to 7-day passes and offer free transportation, a guidebook and more than hundreds of discounts. Besides the ordinary tourist passes there are also museum passes which can be a great deal and money-saver if you’re interested in art.
Another fun thing to do is to go to a language exchange meetings. The entrance is free, you can meet a lot of locals and learn a bit of the local language or perhaps, you can help someone with your own! Also expect a lot of laughter 🙂
Drink in the park or utilize Happy Hour
Drinking in some cities can be really expensive so you may as well utilize those happy hour offers. If its summer, even better, you can buy drinks and enjoy them in parks and outside areas. That’s what people do in Berlin. Just make sure to read local laws, not everywhere is allowed to drink outside.
Check out local newspapers and websites
You can also hunt for fun things to do in local newspapers or websites. For example many cities have free magazines that you can find in tourism offices, your hotel etc. They have news on latest happenings and most of them have a listing with events happening in the area.
Also there are many blogs dedicated to a specific destination. You can research those too before traveling.
FourSquare app has been a life saver in so many instances. It is probably the best app if you’re looking for recommendations on restaurants, bars, activities, shopping etc. You can filter the results by distance, ratings and find the best match.
Check out coupon websites
Coupon websites sometimes have great deals on activities, shopping and day trips. You can subscribe to these sites and get all the great deals delivered directly to your inbox.
Food markets and street food stalls are budget-friendly eatery places with a great atmosphere. You can try many different foods and enjoy the unique setting.
This is a guest post by a Berlin-based freelance journalist Rachel Stern. You can check out her official website or follow her on Twitter. Whether you’re seeking new career opportunities…
This is a guest post by a Berlin-based freelance journalist Rachel Stern. You can check out her official website or follow her on Twitter.
Whether you’re seeking new career opportunities or political refuge from the U.S., Germany is a vibrant country for Americans to live and work in. It is expected to add up to 760,000 new jobs by the year’s end, many in marketing or research where native English speakers or people with an international background are in high demand.
Nationals of certain countries are allowed to apply for German freelance visa after they have arrived in Germany, however for most countries they require that you apply for one at their local embassy or consulate before coming to Germany.
But if you first come to the country as a freelancer, acquiring a visa can be more burdensome — though manageable if you cover all of your bases. Here are my tips of successfully acquiring a German freelance visa, taken from first-hand experience in Berlin at the Ausländerbehörde (or in less intimidating language: foreigner’s office).
Where to Start
First, you will need to head to the Foreigner’s Office Website to book an appointment. You can select “Residence Permit for the Purpose of Freelance or Self-Employment — initial Issuance”. This simply means it’s your first time applying for German freelance visa. The freelance status applies to independent contractors, whether a journalist like myself or engineer.
As an American, you can come to Germany on a three-month tourist visa, and book an appointment during this time. However, if an appointment does not free up until after this period, you have until the date of your appointment to remain in the country.
What You’ll Need
1. Two or three letters from potential freelance employees
These need to be in German, and demonstrate specifically how much you will earn per project/assignment or hour you work. But these letters have to demonstrate that you are contributing to the local economy and possess a skill that Germans don’t.
Nowadays usually just being a native English speaker won’t cut it, but showing a more specific requirement — such as specifically American English or doing market research for a North American audience — will. In the end, they will want to see that you will have at least 800 euros coming in a month, but this will vary based on the city you’re living.
Still, these letters don’t have to turn into paid work. They just have to say that the companies or contractors would be willing to work with you.
2. Documents showing your professional background
You’ll need to bring along a CV/resume. Since this is Germany, it can be very long (up to four pages) and also should include a photo, date of birth and place of birth. If possible, bring along your actual degrees, such as a bachelor’s, but if you don’t have these, a copy (as I used) is usually fine, especially if translated to German. They will also want documents they can easily scan: I brought along a few copies of articles I had written, but graphic artists can also scan their designs for example.
3. Health Insurance
It’s illegal to live in Germany without it so you’ll need to bring proof of it along. However, this presents a Catch-22 if you’re applying for a visa for the first time. Most health insurance requires a work permit to receive it, yet you need a work permit for health insurance. How do you get around this? You can first acquire short term health insurance through Care Coverage or Mar Vista. Women also need to have insurance that includes pregnancy coverage, whether or not that is part of their future plans.
4. Revenue Forecast
You will find Financing Plan and Capital Budget Plan forms on the website you apply for your appointment. Usually you can leave big chunks of the form blank, such as staff expenses. But you can include day-to-day expenses, include health insurance if you have private coverage.
This registration document just shows that you have registered your address. You can make an appointment here or simply show up at the office of the district you are living along with your housing contract. Another Catch-22 is that you will usually need an Anmeldung before becoming a Hauptmieter, or the main person on a housing contract. But you can often sublet a place or join a shared flat (WG) without one.
6. Get a Bank Account
Usually you have to register for an account in person with your Anmeldung on hand. But you can also sign up for one from afar at Deutsche Kredit Bank. It helps to show you have a sizeable amount of savings in here (I’ve heard the ‘magic number’ is 4,000 euros but this varies) and/or that you have steady income. I personally printed out bank statements from the past year in order to demonstrate this.
7. Two Biometric Passport Photos
Note, though, that your facial expression in these has to be neutral. My first application was turned away because of my smile. I did not look so happy in the next ones I submitted.
Photo: German flag (CC BY 2.0) by fdecomite
The travel industry caters to everyone’s needs. Some of us seek out cultural monuments. Some wish to try out different cuisines while others need a change of scenery. If you’re same…
The travel industry caters to everyone’s needs. Some of us seek out cultural monuments. Some wish to try out different cuisines while others need a change of scenery. If you’re same as me, then sometimes you need the opposite from the bustling city life. Almost nothing restores my well being as nature and quietness. These are some of the natural attractions in Europe you must see.
Pulpit Rock is one of the most famous cliffs in the world. It’s located near the city of Stavanger- a rather popular day trip for locals and tourists. If you love hiking with rewarding views, it will be hard to top Preikestolen. It was formed 10,000 years ago by the expansion of ice. The main hiking season is from April to October. You can either admire the cliff from a boat cruise or maybe even combine it with a hike. If you want something more off the beaten path, then also try hiking at the neighboring Kjerag mountain.
Accommodation – Stavanger
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most magical places in Europe. The complex consists of much as 16 cascade lakes that are all interconnected. Surrounding forests have hiking paths which offer fantastic views of these turquoise-colored lakes. In the winter, the lakes are no less amazing as they get frozen, hence creating a dream like scenery.
Accommodation – Plitvice Lakes
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
The cliffs of Moher are one of the most recognizable natural attractions in the world. Consequently, one of the best scenes in the legendary ‘The Princess Bride’ movie (admit it, we’ve all watched it!) took place here. Also look beyond the Cliffs of Moher. There is a 20 km coastal walking trail. Take in the quietness and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Irish landscape. In addition, you can also hit the beach and try kayaking or diving. If you’re not that adventurous take a relaxing boat cruise and admire the surrounding beauty.
Accommodation – Clare county
Matterhorn, Switzerland & Italy
Alps always awaken the imagination of adventurers and climbers. Most noteworthy mountain is the Matterhorn. The first ascent was a deadly one and even today this peak is considered as one of the deadliest in the world. Yet its rather unusual shape, of a steep pyramid, flocks people from all over the world. As a result, it’s the most photographed mountain ever. Zermatt, the famous winter sports center is located at the base of Matterhorn.
Accommodation – Zermatt
Dunes of Pilat, France
You don’t have to leave Europe to get a taste of Africa! Just head to France and visit the tallest sand dune in Europe. From here you’ll get a fantastic view of dense forests. If that won’t be enough, you can also opt for a scenic helicopter tour. A small seaside resort Pyla-ser-Mer seems as a good home base for exploring the area.
Accommodation > Pyla-ser-Mer
Blue Grotto, Italy
Blue Grotto is a natural sea cave located near the island of Capri in Italy. The light comes from another two sources to this sea cave. The water colored by the light, is incredibly blue. Tourists can enter the cave on a tiny rowboat as the cave’s mouth is roughly two meters wide and one meter high.
Accommodation > Capri
Devil’s Town, Serbia
Devil’s Town is located on the Radan mountain, Serbia. Home to 202 unusual rock formations also known as earth pyramids. This complex was a nominee for the New Seven Wonders of Nature campaign. The nearby springs, Wheat Spring and Devil’s water, are known for its healing properties. When here, visit the surrounding famous spas. Prolom, Lukovska and Kursumlijska spas are known for its water’s therapeutic properties.
Accommodation > Kursumlija
Glacier Ice Caves, Iceland
What better place to visit mesmerizing ice caves than Iceland? The country offers numerous tours where you get to experience an almost whole different world. When deep inside the famous glaciers you feel as you entered another realm. Another thing you can do is hiking on top of glaciers. But if you desire an adrenaline rush- snowmobiling tours are the right choice.
Skocjan Caves, Slovenia