Category: Health and Fitness

Best Of The Balkans Few Visit: Photos Of The Belogradchik Rocks In Bulgaria

Outside of Bulgaria, few, even those in the neighboring Balkan countries, know about one of the most visually stunning natural formations in the region: the Belogradchik Rocks. They should be standard viewing for any visitor to the country (it’s a 4 hour drive from the capital Sofia) but less than 1% of the tourists visiting Bulgaria ever make it there.

belogradchik bulgaria

The site of a former sea, the Belogradchik Rocks are about 45 million years old; their formation likely began more than 200 million years prior. The Romans decided to build a fort into the rocks, later taken over by the Ottomans in 1396.

belogradchik fort

Although the 200 meter tall rock formations are reminiscent of Cappadocia in Turkey, Belogradchik’s rocks are the result of water erosion (not volcanic activity).

belogradchik photos

Getting to Belogradchik is fairly easy if you have a car and have downloaded some local offline Google Maps. The roads aren’t the best so you should be gentle on the gas pedal over the 120 kilometer (75 mile) drive.

belogradchik

Belogradchik’s stairs are steep, turn into ladders, though for those who make the climb, the views are impressive. In winters it can be icy though even in good conditions, you’ll probably be the only tourist around.

belogradchik madonna

The Belogradchik Rocks should be on every tourism poster for Bulgaria. What Hollywood has discovered (many movies are filmed across the country) – inexpensive, impressive landscape, lesser known – Belogradchik is only a tiny part of. There are many other cultural contrasts you didn’t know Bulgaria will surprise you with, as well as a big Comic Con annually, you probably didn’t know about either.

belogradchik drone

For those of you looking for off the beaten path, only 17,000 foreign tourists visited the Belogradchik Rocks in 2015. When you’re standing at the very top of the fort, overlooking the valley of rock formations, you’ll wonder how that’s possible. At the same time, feeling happy you’ve got it (mostly) all to yourself.

How To Fly With An Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

You probably read recently about United Airlines barring a woman and her emotional support peacock from boarding a flight. Those reports made me wonder what it might take to book a flight with an emotional support animal – a koala bear in this case – in the video above you can see what happened.

During the process I came to learn a lot about emotional support animals (ESAs), the process for booking a flight with one, and why the airlines have started to enforce more restrictions on passengers with ESAs. Here’s how to book a flight with an emotional support animal.

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is one that provides therapeutic benefits without being trained to perform a specific task for a human with a disability. Essentially, ESAs benefit their owners with affection, attention, and companionship – making them different than services animals (e.g. seeing-eye dog). In the United States service animals fall under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), ESAs do not.

emotional support animal

The major difference being, for example, a person with a service dog can’t be denied entry into a restaurant that doesn’t allow dogs. Seeing eye dogs aren’t considering in-cabin pets either. Laws vary around the world but often some legal distinction is made for service animals.

ESAs on the other hand have no such legal protections. You can however, still fly with an ESA, under some circumstances.

ESA Registration

In general, most airlines will let you fly with an ESA. As I learned trying to book a flight with a fictional koala, a lot of them have, or are putting, restrictions into the type of animal. Dogs, cats, and “household” birds are the norm, but people have flown with more exotic ESAs such as hedgehogs.

tabby cat sleeping

What turns a dog (on paper) into an ESA is a letter from a licensed medical therapist stating so. There are also a number of websites that let you get an evaluation letter from a therapist for $130-250 dollars, with packages allowing for turnaround as short as 48 hours. I can’t vouch for any of the popular websites that provide this service but many people use them. Evaluations are done over the phone but there are no refunds – approved ESA or not. ESA therapy letters are generally valid for one year.

Call The Airline

Given how quickly the rules are changing on ESAs (likely due to peacock lady), you may need some additional documentation. ESAs are being required to have proof of standard vaccination, as well as a letter from a vet saying the animal has had behavioral training or is otherwise well-behaved.

Since airlines typically restrict the total number of animals that can be brought in cabin on a given flight, the more advance notice you give, the better chance you’ll have with your ESA. Give the airline a call, let them know about your ESA, and once you send them your documentation, you should be good to fly.

Advantages And Abuses

Putting aside the cost of the documentation and vet visits for an ESA, most airlines don’t charge a pet fee for an ESA. Larger breeds might also be allowed on board too (above the regular pet weight limit). Since it’s relatively easy to get an ESA certificate, many people are probably abusing the system for these advantages as well as pushing the limits of what species an ESA can be.

The latest rule changes shouldn’t negatively affect people who genuinely need, and want to travel with, an ESA. Everyone else, you might want to brush up with the ultimate guide to traveling with pets and how to fly with your dog to make sure you both have a great flight.

The Best Travel Apps Of 2018

Travel apps are useful though tend to give you diminishing efficiency the more of them you load on your phone. Over the past 12 months, I’ve tested a lot of travel apps, but these are the ones I kept and ended up using the most in the last year. You can see all of the apps I would recommend to you in the video above or read on.

These are the travel apps you should load on your phone for 2018, in no particular order.

best travel apps

Google Maps [Android/iOS]

Although there are respectable alternatives like maps.me, once Google Maps added the ability to download maps offline it was game over. Google Maps, because of all the data the company collects from everywhere, is just so much more accurate than any competition can really hope to be. It’s also free – well, except that you’re trading in a lot of your privacy to use Google Maps – it’s so useful, a lot of people don’t mind the trade.

Uber [iOS/Android]

Despite a lot of the bad press the company seems to keep generating, Uber is very useful especially when traveling in foreign countries. Uber can save you from getting ripped off in a taxi and carrying unnecessary amounts of cash. Of course, Uber’s not available everywhere, like Serbia, so here’s the best way to catch a taxi in Belgrade.

Currency [Android/iOS]

I’ve written an entire post reviewing Currency, one of my favorites that’s simple, but essential for international travelers.

Google Translate [iOS/Android]

The Google Translate app a good way to use technology to replace your lack of a foreign language to easily translate these 4 word combinations you should learn everywhere. But a lot of people don’t know about it’s superpowers: audio and video text translation on the fly.

Convert Units [Android/iOS]

The developers of Convert Units seem determined to completely muck it up with ads, but it’s still passably usable as a very effective converter of temperatures, distances, weights, and 22 other units.

Good Options For VPN

Two of the best VPNs for travelers come in mobile form. IPVanish has an always on feature, forcing your phone to always connect over a VPN. TunnelBear on the other hand is a bit more user-friendly, here’s my full review of TunnelBear for mobile devices.

tunnelbear ios mobile

Some other good security based apps:

Track Your Movements

Although the science on sleep monitoring apps is questionable at best, they can give you reliable data on how much you’re sleeping, snoring, and Sleep Cycle breaks it down by location too. It’s fun to see how much you’re sleeping on various vacations and business trips, along with the other statistics Sleep Cycle keeps for you. Also available from the same company, Northcube, the Lifecycle app (iOS only) automatically tracks how much time you spend walking, in planes, on trains, working out at the gym, and countless other activities giving you an insight into your life and travels. (The data Lifecycle keeps is kept on your phone.)

Airport Wireless, Multi-City Flights, And More

A few other apps worth mentioning are Shazam to find out what song is playing on the speakers around you and Kayak, whose app offers a multi-city flight search, missing from most other travel search engine apps.

Finally, I can with bias, recommend two apps I created – WiFox [Android/iOS] and DroneMate [iOS/Android]. WiFox has airport lounge and wifi passwords for over 900 access points around the world (updated continuously) and DroneMate shows you all of the current laws for flying your drone in every country in the world.

How To Take A Day Trip To Andorra From Barcelona

andorra

Most visitors to Barcelona, Spain, aren’t aware that they can easily visit the sixth smallest country in Europe by taking a day trip to nearby Andorra. A trip to Andorra is inexpensive, easily arranged, and can be a nice addition to your stay in Barcelona. Here’s how to get to Andorra, why you might want to go, and what to see while you’re there.

Morning To Night, No Flight

There’s no airport in Andorra at all, even in its capital Andorra la Vella, the primary destination for most day trippers. You could rent a car, which isn’t recommended during the cold months as the roads up to the highest capital city in Europe through the Pyrenees mountains are best handled by a driver who knows them well.

andorra bus

A better option is to take a bus, there are many servicing Andorra from Barcelona, and I can recommend ALSA. You can book in advance through their website and check schedules – basically buses leave the Barcelona Nord station in the morning around 7am, and return either in the afternoon around 3pm or 7pm, depending on your preference. A round-trip costs about 60 euro and when departing Barcelona, sit on the left side for a beautiful view of the Punta de Rialb lake, 80 minutes into the trip. (Depending on the route you take, it varies given the driving conditions.)

To Ski Or Not To Ski

Andorra is primarily a ski destination. Snowboarders and skiers who take one look at the mountains overlooking Andorra la Vella will immediately have visualizations surfing down them. For everyone else, a day trip still has a few good options. From the small bus station (here’s how to pin it on an offline Google map) you can grab a coffee with breakfast at the nearby Granja Tuite 42 cafe.

La Noblesse du Temps andorra la vella

From there, if you point yourself toward the La Noblesse du Temps Dali sculpture, you’ll pass through the shopping district if that’s of interest to you. Otherwise, head to the La Noblesse du Temps, and directly to its left you’ll see one of two tourism centers in Andorra. Ask for a map to Rec de l’Obac, a walking path that overlooks the entire city. The Rec de l’Obac is definitely a sightseeing calorie burner so the uphill walk is not for everyone. The scenery though is amazing as well as fresh air – both much more memorable than slightly sore calf muscles.

Small Enough To See

Andorra la Vella is only 12 square kilometers (5 sq. miles) in its entirety so you can see most of what a tourist looks for in one day with time to spare. I’ll have a longer post coming up with more recommendations of what to do in Andorra but even wandering around on your own its hard to miss much. In case you do finish up quickly or get a bit chilly, most tickets can be changed without charge at the ticket office at the bus station for a 3pm departure. Otherwise, be sure to make the 7pm back, or be prepared to spend a night in town.

How Difficult Is It To Travel If You’re Vegan?

vegan lufthansa

Recently, after posting photos of the vegan meals being served in business class flights on various flights, a reader asked how difficult it would be to travel after switching to a vegan diet. It’s a big question with a lot depending on where you go, how you travel, and your personal preferences.

How Strict Are You?

There are a group of very strict vegans and those who don’t mind eating an egg or honey on occasion. (Up to a third of vegetarians eat meat when drunk, for example.) People “go vegan” for a variety of reasons – health, animal rights, lactose intolerance – so you may decide on shorter trips to just do your best. If you do, it’s better to accept the decision completely; stressing about finding suitable food options can easily ruin a vacation. On the other hand, if you’re committed to sticking to a strict vegan diet, you’ll need to prepare.

Planning Ahead Is Crucial

You hardly ever need to show up to an airport 3 hours before a flight but if you’re going to fly as a vegan, at the very least you need to arrange your meals well in advance. Ideally, you’ll need to specify at booking that you want a vegan meal. Practically, you’ll need to call the airline as well because in most cases if you don’t, expect a vegetarian meal with cheese.

shephards salad with cheese

Also, you better get to a grocery store first as well, since vegan meals on flights are rarely completely vegan, not to mention mostly salads or vegetables. (Lacking the beans, nuts, and soy many vegans use to supplement their diet with appetite-satisfying protein.) Apps like HappyCow can help you find vegan restaurants but remember that grocery store shopping is going to be a regular part of any trip you take.

More Developed Doesn’t Always Mean More Choices

Many people often assume that more developed countries have more vegan options. Scandinavians use a lot of dairy in their dishes for instance and the Japanese tend to have a diet rich in fish. Conversely, nations with meat-heavy traditional cuisines like Serbia and Kosovo are excellent for vegans. Much of Turkish cuisine too, is unintentionally vegan. India, famous for its vegetarian cuisine, can be hard for vegans due to the common use of clarified butter (ghee).

food chandni chowk

Vegan options actually vary much more between cities than nations. Germany, for example, isn’t the most vegan-friendly country but Berlin is one of the best cities for vegans. Larger cities tend to have more vegan options simply due to size, though it doesn’t always mean the restaurants will be close to your accommodation. Again, plan accordingly and get used to grocery store visits.

On the surface, it might not seem like a big jump to go from vegetarian to vegan because the world is getting close to being caught up on what a vegetarian is. Keep in mind that the concept of vegetarianism is still be confusing to many around the world, even though vegetarians make up about 20% the world population. There are far, far less vegans; therefore much less understanding of what vegan is.

To travel as a vegan you’ll not only need to get used to planning, shopping, and arranging your travels around the food you eat, but become very used to explaining as well. The summarized version of no-meat-no-dairy usually isn’t sufficient so study menus well, list ingredients, and accept that not every restaurant or waiter will be sensitive to your dietary restrictions.

Are you a traveling vegan? What would you add and what have your experiences been? Feel free to share in the comments below!

The Best Vegan Restaurant In Belgrade, Serbia

radost vegan belgrade

It’s hard to call something the “best” but Radost Fina Kuhinjica in Belgrade, Serbia serves excellent vegan and vegetarian dishes in an ambiance that would make it a great health-food restaurant anywhere. Radost is part of the very popular trend in the Balkans toward healthy, vegan, sugar-dairy-free foods in countries whose national dishes are often meats soaked in butter topped with cheeses.

Plan For An Afternoon

Radost is hidden across from the Belgrade Fortress and not the easiest place to find whether or not you’re using Google Maps. The restaurant is tucked away in an apartment, putting the first expression on people’s face a rather blank, “uuhhh, is this the place” look. Once inside though, you’ll see a cozy, renovated, vegetarian restaurant that looks nice without feeling arrogant about itself.

The aroma of the coffee though will set you immediately at ease. Radost’s caffeinated menu is varied with teas of all sorts plus coffees to give you a good afternoon kick. Although they officially open at 2pm, Radost serves drinks about an hour before. Like many vegan-vegetarian restaurants around the world, they’re not always the most punctual. Good coffee makes waiting for the daily menu – quite varied throughout the week – a bit easier.

belgrade vegetarian

There are Tex-Mex options, both in vegetarian and vegan varieties, Balkan salads, veggie burgers, plus cakes of all sorts – with or without processed sugar, depending on your preference. Lentil soups, eggplant dips, as well as many other traditional Serbian foods that are vegetarian by default are tweaked to become vegan if requested.

Breaking Bread, Or Some Equivalent

Radost, located at Pariska 3, is open from around 2pm-midnight on most days. They also hold occasional events in the evenings, though I didn’t make it to any, a good opportunity for travelers to meet similarly meat-minded locals. Prices are a bit above the average for Belgrade (not uncommon for most specialty restaurants) but Radost is hardly expensive.

radost belgrade

From the best restaurant in Pristina to A La Sante in Tirana, these vegetarian restaurants aren’t fortified vegan outposts on the other side of lines drawn in the sand as in many places. Rather, vegan cuisine is becoming an ever growing part of people’s occasional diets in the Balkans. In Belgrade, Radost is introducing an elegant, health-food dining experience to locals who are going out for a vegan meal on regular occasion – whether or not they love steak too.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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