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Advice Archives - foXnoMad

Category: Advice

Asen’s Fortress Is A Hidden Day Trip In Bulgaria

asen's fortress

More than a few visitors coming to Sofia or Plovdiv tend to miss Asen’s Fortress, an easy day trip from either city tucked away in Bulgaria’s mountains. Likely built by the Thracians roughly 2500 years ago, its unassuming remains obscure the fort’s interesting past. Only two hours away from Sofia and less than 30 from Plovdiv, there are several tour operators running shuttle buses here but if you’re up for it, renting a car gives you more options with fewer crowds.

asen's fort bulgaria

During the fall, winter, and colder days of spring you’re likely to be the only visitors around, having the entire fort to yourself. Walking around the grounds though might not be for everyone, there are a lot of stairs and steep climbs to be aware of. Even so, just stepping out to the front entrance can give you nice views of below.

asens fortress church

Well preserved and restored if you do make the climb up you’ll see the Church of the Holy Mother of God. Built in the 12th or 13th century, it was the only remaining part of Asen’s Fortress which was mostly destroyed in the 14th century.

asen's fortress

Asen’s Fortress was strategically located close enough to the Ottoman capital Istanbul to be a viable staging ground for competing brothers warring to become sultan. Fratricide was common through this era of Ottoman history meaning brothers would murder one another to become sultan.

Church of the Holy Mother of God

Seeing the obvious issues a place like Asen’s Fortress might cause, it is thought Sultan Suleiman destroyed it to prevent a figurative thorn in his western side.

bulgarian flag

You can often catch wonderful views, even on a cloudy day as the winds tend to carry breaks in between the mists of the mountainside below.

asens fort

Asen’s Fortress is open Wednesdays through Sundays from early in the morning through later in the day (8am-5pm). There’s a nominal fee to enter this beautiful place to explore. During the colder months remember to wear good shoes, watch your step, and make your plans around any potential snow.

Further north you can find Belogradchik, a fort built into the natural rock formations, climb Vitosha if you’re staying in Sofia, while all the time keeping in mind they nod backwards here. So when ordering one of these local dishes at a restaurant, they will be bringing you a coffee – unless they’re nodding up and down.

How To Travel

new york city

There are a lot of ways to travel smarter but if you want the most straightforward advice on how to get started, this is your guide.

First of all, traveling is not that hard. At least not the basics in general, assuming you’ve got some disposable income, a bit of time, and of course the inclination to go somewhere.

Where To Go

Traveling can mean a lot of things but often the first thing to come to mind is some far off exotic place. Those can be great choices but you’ve probably never gone to the tourist sites in your own town. What about the next town over? Maybe you want to start a travel blog or YouTube channel, you don’t need to go very far to do either.

Since you can’t see the entire world in a lifetime, these places are good choices to start from. If you love street food, definitely go to these cities. Adventure sports? Las Vegas. Want to see how much it costs to fly from where you are to anywhere? Kayak Explore will show you.

Honestly though, most of us have a place we’ve always really wanted to see. Don’t let people talk you out of it. Get suggestions on things to do nearby (more ideas can’t hurt) but if there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, that’s where you should probably be headed. You might love or hate a place and that can change over time so aside from actual dangerous places, all you’re hearing are people’s opinions about a given point in time.

travel memes

And if someone’s never been to a place don’t listen to their advice about a place. It’s probably negative and definitely uninformed.

How To Go

Some places you have to fly. For others, taking a train is more environmentally friendly but also easier on your body than taking an airplane. Remember to add 4 hours at least to any total flight time – that covers getting to an airport on time, checking in, plus going through security. A 30 minute flight is really more like 4 or more hours of travel time.

Obsessing over flight prices isn’t likely to save you much nor is booking on a Wednesday. Check out multi-city flights. Travel savings are much more obtainable through choosing the right accommodation, where you eat, and by simple packing habits like buying a reusable water bottle.

What To Take

Recently I saw this tweet which is mostly true unless you’re a French horn musician. What you use at home is what you’ll use on the road. You shouldn’t pack more than you can use in two weeks and most specialized travel gear isn’t versatile enough to justify the costs (remember what I said about saving above?)

arthurs seat edinburgh

Learn these important phrases of the local language using this powerful tool. Gum or mints are essential. One other thing, it’s usually worth paying a bit more to get durable gear. Cheap fabrics don’t withstand traveling well so it’s better to get one good thing than 3 cheap things over the same period of time. Plus good products usually come with good warranties because the brands can stand behind their products.

Stay Connected

Currency is a helpful app that works offline. WiFox gives you passwords to all the airports in the world, important since getting to your accommodation from the airport is when you’re most vulnerable. Find some good travel blogs, they give good firsthand insights that can help with planning, navigating scams, and learning the local customs.

scottish highlands

Download Google Maps offline to help you get around. Put the phone down and look up when you don’t need it.

faucetsafe app

Go with the flow, try a food you’ve never had, and always eat where the locals do. Long lines of tourists don’t always indicate the best places to eat and TripAdvisor can only get you so far. Ask a local. Try it, you’ll get good advice like this.

Remember The Important Things

There’s certainly more, but this should help get you started. Traveling can be tiring, confusing, or a bit lonely sometimes. Keep in mind that if you can travel for recreation, you’re one of the lucky ones on Earth. Not everyone can travel and for most of human history it was impossible to move like we do now.

Understanding other cultures doesn’t require much footwork far or near – meeting new people can give you an important insight. Getting out of cities and into nature can give you perspective. The one thing to bring on any journey is an open mind, without that, you can visit every country in the world and still have not seen much of anything at all.

Save Yourself Time With This Trick For A Kuwait Visa On Arrival

kuwait e visa

Kuwait has a fairly liberal visa on arrival available for tourists from the United States as well as most European and east Asian and Pacific countries as well. Typically when you read “visa on arrival” many travelers assume it’s paying a simple fee at passport control.

This is certainly the case in Kuwait – mostly – since if you’re a citizen of any of these countries you can get a visa upon arrival at the airport. Except that it’s a cumbersome, but avoidable, process that takes unnecessary time you can save by getting a visa online.

Simple, I Know

Despite this seemingly obvious advice, based on the long lines I encountered at the visa office at the airport, Kuwait’s relatively new but unadvertised e-visa process isn’t widely used. Travelers who show up at Kuwait International Airport without getting an e-visa first must go to the airport’s visa office – which costs both money and time.

A mandatory process you won’t be aware of until you’ve already been in line at passport control for over 15 minutes. Immigration officers will tell you yes, you can get a visa on arrival but first you have to get one from the office upstairs.

Office Experience You Want To Avoid

Once at the visa office (you’ve now gone at least 15 minutes wasted waiting in the passport control line) you let the clerk know you need a visa. In case you’re at this point – before heading to the visa office, get to an ATM as the office only accepts cash for tourist visas. Just having a credit card will mean longer delays and possibly losing your place in line.

kuwait immigration

They’ll photocopy your passport, then you take a number for your turn. In the office they’re processing all sorts of visas inevitably resulting in long wait times even if you just need the visa on arrival. Not to mention your luggage will be sitting by its lonely self as you scramble to get the right documents – always a risky situation.

Save 30 Minutes

To get around all of this waiting, there is another (hardly advertised) option: get an eVisa.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior provides this website where you can enter your travel details. Plus the electronic visa process doesn’t come with the fees obtaining one in person does and only takes up to 3 business days.

Remember to print out your visa once it’s emailed to you and bring it with your passport to show at immigration. You’ve now just saved half an hour at arrival, plus the fees they charge you in person. Generally you’ve got 90 days in the country but double check to be certain not to overstay. For onward travels to Europe, these are the answers to your most common visa questions. For trickier Central Asian nations, this post will help.

A Basic Guide To Negombo, Sri Lanka

negombo sunset

You may not have heard about Negombo, Sri Lanka, but if you’re planning a trip to the capital Colombo, you need to read the next few sentences. Colombo is a bustling city, without a lot of obvious tourist attractions. The activity there is functional, in the way some capitals tend to be; meaning for travelers Colombo isn’t the ideal place to base yourself.

Nearby Negombo on the other hand is by the beach, infused with the culture waves and sand typically carry with them, close enough to Colombo, plus plenty to do on its own. Here’s a short guide to Negombo and why you probably should stay there instead of Colombo.

Where To Stay

The family run 8+ Plus Motels name is not confidence-inspiring but don’t let that discourage you. 8+ Plus Motels is a clean, modern, efficiently run motel (the rooms all face outward into a fenced courtyard area). A fairly hearty breakfast is included and the wifi connection is solid. In case food or Internet connectivity aren’t on the top of your list of priorities, they offer airport pickup, which is nice since the airport is in Negombo. International flights tend to leave in the middle of the night so having a ride arranged makes things easier for travelers who don’t like planning much.

8+ plus motels negombo

Add to that 8+ Plus Motels is less than a 10 minute walk to the beach as well as many of the restaurants and bars along the sleepy main road through town, it’s accommodation I can thoroughly recommend. I’ll add a few more nice features – air conditioning in the rooms, never a shortage of hot water, and complimentary coffee served throughout the day.

Speaking Of Coffee

When you search for good coffee in Negombo, you’ll inevitably come across one of the simplest places to enjoy it – aptly named Zen Cafe. This is the smile that greets you, the coffee is good, and there are plenty of vegan options too if you happen to be lactose intolerant or otherwise.

zen cafe negombo

I’ve heard since I visited Zen Cafe may be under new management but hopefully not a lot will change to the staff, several seats, and table right outside. What makes Zen Cafe so adorable is how relaxed it is, just away from a lot of the action but close enough to people-watch, read, or simply dose yourself with caffeine.

zen cafe negombo

Keep It Simple

This isn’t a full guide (clearly) to Negomobo but why you should probably stay here, rather than Colombo on your next trip. Getting into Colombo is easy enough with public transportation (around 40 minutes) though getting out is the nice part too. The beach at sunset is particularly beautiful. Families come to watch the sun slip under the horizon, get snacks from the stalls, both of which you should do too. One of the better viewing spots is close to Lords Complex Restaurant, a good place to eat around 90-120 minutes before sundown or after, as the evening air cools slightly.

negombo sunset

Colombo is a busy place without much of the balance that Negombo provides to turn the activity level down. Under the radar almost to a fault, many find out about Negombo after they’ve checked into Colombo for a few days. Hopefully you now have in mind to flip that around a bit, spend the days away in Negombo with Colombo being your day trip destination.

8 Reasons An Area 51 Raid Would Fail

You may have heard about that Facebook group with over a million people, claiming they’re going to raid the Area 51 military installation in Nevada to uncover the existence of aliens. Area 51 of course, being that rather not-so-secret facility where some alien bodies and their technology may have been stored after UFOs crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. That’s the rumor anyway.

I’m pretty sure nobody is actually going to show up to Area 51 but as someone who’s been right outside the gates, here’s 8 reasons a raid attempt would go very, very wrong.

1. Area 51 Is Remote

The primary way to get close to the only unmarked gate into Area 51 is off the Extraterrestrial Highway, near Rachel, Nevada nearby. Population: 100. The closest gas station is 100 miles (160 kilometers) and 800,00 cars would probably be stopped before getting remotely close to Area 51.

rachel nevda alien

2. Rough Terrain

Area 51 covers 1,500 square kilometers (~932 square miles) around Groom Lake so you’ll be running a long way over rough desert. There are cactus, large rocks, extreme sun, plus plenty of rattlesnakes along the way. Sprinting across those conditions for long isn’t likely.

area 51

3. You Don’t Know Where You’re Going

The entire area is massive and from the entrance gate in the middle of nowhere, you can’t see any visible structures. Someone raiding Area 51 wouldn’t even know which direction to go.

area 51

4. They Probably Don’t Have A Doorbell

Assuming you did find a structure above ground (who knows how much is underground) how would you get in? Pretty sure they lock the doors. Wouldn’t you if you were hiding aliens? (Not to mention if you did get inside what are you going to do, just run around the hallways hoping to run into Brent Spiner?)

area 51 rachel

5. Cameras

There are a few your can see around the gate, probably a few more not so obvious.

little ale inn nevada

6. Motion Sensors

Being out in the open, a horde of raiders would be hard to miss but even for a single individual, being inconspicuous is nearly impossible. Oh, and motion sensors. Probably.

extraterrestrial highway

7. Mysterious White Vans

As they’ll tell you at the Little Ale Inn in Rachel, you’re free to take pictures of the gate but don’t point your camera at any white vans on either side of the Area 51 border.

black mailbox nevada

8. You Might Be Shot

As they’ll tell you at the Little Ale Inn, every year a few idiots try to get a selfie from just behind the gate. Hey, nobody’s around right? Well, there are clearly eyes on you and this is probably the best case scenario. A gun to the head and being put on the United States terror watch list is setting one step inside – a full on sprint well, things might get dicey.

little ale inn

Look Up Instead

With all those eyes on you, potentially dying, and no evidence of aliens actually being in Area 51, not many of the stars align for a raid. But camping out near the Black Mailbox at night and looking up, who knows what you may see. During my road trip across Nevada, I was buzzed by some fighter jets that didn’t look more than 40 meters above. Not extraterrestrial but an impressive sight nonetheless like these nearly out of this world places.

How To Visit Socotra Island

Socotra is a remote archipelago in the Indian Ocean, inaccessible for the past several years not due to its location, but connection to mainland Yemen. It’s considered a step back in time, untouched by tourism at large and slowly became a wonderland destination for adventurous travelers. Tourism there peaked at 4,000 visitors in 2011, then, less than 4 years later, civil war broke out in Yemen.

Although there’s no fighting anywhere near Socotra Island (370 kilometers from the mainland) getting there since has been virtually impossible. The few companies that did pop up offering tours frequently disappeared – with everyone’s deposits in hand. Now however, there is a reliable way to visit Socotra. Here’s how to get there.

Visas Have Resumed

The primary reason for Socotra’s inaccessibility was the lack of a functioning Yemeni government. Visas weren’t being issued, which prevented airlines from servicing it, equaling no tourism. Recently, enough of a bureaucracy has developed to provide Socotra visas at least, so the main hurdle to visit Socotra has been cleared for now.

dragon blood tree

You’ll need a visa to enter Socotra, which costs $100. There are only two ways to get a visa to Socotra: either know someone on the island (here’s some contact information) or book a tour. A visa to Socotra and flight go hand in hand since you can only get both, in person, from either Cairo, Egypt, or Seiyun, Yemen. As blogger Norbert describes the flights:

It is every Wednesday, departing from Cairo at 3:30 am, arriving at Seiyun at 8:00 am. You spend over an hour on the plane waiting to pick up new passengers and depart at 9:15 am, arriving Socotra at 10:15 am.

For most people, that means getting the flights and visas booked though a tour company as they’ll make the arrangements for you. It’s also worth noting that Yemen will not issue visas to anyone with evidence of a visit to Israel (e.g. entry stamp) in their passport.

Costs To Get There

Norbert recommends the company he used in his post about Socotra, which cost roughly $1400. You’ll also need to add in round trip flights from Cairo (unless you happen to be hanging out in Seiyun), about $1200, plus $100 for the visa. Because flights only operate once per week, any trip to Socotra will be that long.

socotra beach

Keep in mind though, ever since flights have been going to Socotra, they’ve not been entirely reliable. In other words, I wouldn’t book an ongoing flight from Cairo the Thursday after Socotra’s Wednesday flight. Give yourself a buffer week (yes, week) just in case.

What’s Shorter Than Bucket List?

Even despite the somewhat reliable process in place currently to visit Socotra, it’s not the easiest place to get to. But it is worth the effort if you’re interested in seeing a mostly undeveloped UNESCO site with over 500 endemic plant and animal species, before most of the world catches on.

Either by increased tourism or additional flux in Yemen, Socotra’s current natural state is one you might not find for too much longer. More tourists will demand for infrastructure to be built or additional turmoil in the mainland could make Socotra visas hard to come by once more. Whichever happens, one will happen, and if you can visit Socotra before it does, you’ll have the trip of a lifetime.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More


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