Tuesday 1 April 2014

Around Karmøy Island

The sky over Karmøy
My last walk around the beauty of Norway ... Karmøy Island is one of the most western points of Norway. It is located just south of Haugesund and about 70 km north of Stavanger. The island has two cities - Kopervik and Skudeneshavn, and also 4-5 villages. Amazing landscapes that left me speechless and even make it unreal to imagine how they'd look when all around is blue-green.

After a quick breakfast on the next morning (after we arrived from Bergen) we wended to the West side of the island, it was Friday and the road was not busy at all and only few cars passed along our way. Our first stop was Akrasanden Beach, about 8 km south of Kopervik. I really enjoyed the sandy bay with the winter sun that was peeking through the clouds. In summer time it gets up to 25 degrees (rarely) which is unacceptable for me for sunbathing but people here love that time of the year and enjoy it with pleasure. I'm sure I'd be happy to relax under the summer sun, even without entering the water.  

Little after Akrasanden we stopped at Ferkingstad - a real fishing village. The typical red and white houses as well as many boats were almost deserted because of the season. Summertime it gets more lividly when the fishermen move with their whole families as fishing is the main occupation in the village. Ferkingstad is also famous with the archaeology findings from the early Viking period. Even it has the name of King Ferking. 
And of course there were many birds completing the scenery.

We were driving south and my friend showed me the most beautiful beach around the island and one of his favorite places for relax and thinking Sandcesanden Beach. It was rocky, cold and windy but I have no words to explain the emotion I felt there on the cliffs - I guess it was freedom! Neither the wind, nor the coldness could make me feel any bad. If I had the chance I could go there frequently, same as him just to calm watching the beautiful sea and the rocks. 

The rocks of Sandcesanden

In a while we were at the south-est point of the island - Skudenshaven (so complicated names!). The city is the main port at Karmøy. An interesting fact is that few years ago it has won the award "Summer resort of Norway" and of course people were very proud.
As I already mention, the day was Friday but the city seemed to be sleeping. I guess that most of the people work in the biggest city in the area. 
We were looking for a place to have a coffee but we couldn't find. We saw only one restaurant that was working few hours a day...so strange. Probably in summer gets more vivid.
The weather was nice so we walked around the streets and the bridges crossing the channels. We visited a local supermarket to buy some food and we went on. By the way, I saw a poster for zumba fitness so I guess Skudenshaven is not so empty and there are people dancing zumba (which a love, btw).

Around the streets
...and the channels
The east side of the island
Our car walk finished with a stop at the east side of the island. It looked completely different from the rocky west side. It was greener, warmer and sunnier. On the other side of the water I could see the main land. There, between the island and the main land, people were out on their boats for sailing in the nice weather.
The day was almost gone and we went back home, it was my last day on the West Norwegian Coast. 

On the next day my friend drove me to Stavanger where I had to take the plane back to Oslo and on the following day fly back to Bulgaria. The road was passing through spectacular views. We even used a ferry and so drivers can also enjoy the landscape. 
I thank to all the people that made my trip happen and helped me to discover even a part of The Beautiful Norway, and especially to my friend who took me around the west coast.
Honestly, I'm in love with the nature of that country! 
Enjoy some more pictures here.

The way to Stavanger

Monday 24 March 2014

Maiden Cliff

An early spring sunny Sunday morning and a phone call from friends with an offer for a mountain walk in our favorite Rhodope Mountain. This time the suggestion is for a place, called Maiden Cliff. The legend tells of a girl who jumped from this rock (and this is where comes the name of the rock) to avoid becoming a victim of the Turks. There are several places in Bulgaria that have the same name and the common between them is exactly this legend. So if you ever happen to be in a place, called Maiden Cliff, you’d know where it comes from.

After a quick research in internet how to get there and some rapidly prepared sandwiched we were already on the road. Our first destination and departure point was the village of Hrabrino, 15 km southwest of Plovdiv. We were supposed to walk about an hour and we read that we have to follow the white-yellow marking and the signs to hut Zdravets. In the middle of the village, where we parked the car we asked the locals and they explained us better how to reach the path that will lead us to the rocks. At first sight, everything was clear.
A view to the village somewhere on the way
We were walking south, along the river, actually upstream of the river until we reached the first point that we had to decide left or right. The problem was that there was no marking and half of us have remembered right, the others - left. Following the logic we took the left path as this was the direction we had to keep – a little bit to the east and up. But after that we lost the marking. Anyway, we were sure this is the correct path and we followed it for a long time. In about 40 minutes walking, and after a long time we have already lost the path, we saw the chapel we were told it’s on our way. When we finally reached it through some bushes and branches on our way, we realized that we have taken the wrong path. Luckily, following the direction, we managed to find the place. 
In front of the chapel "St. Virgin Mary"

Close to the chapel there is a fountain with cold mountain water and here our both guides exclaimed in one voice: “We’ve been here!” They were so surprised to realize it!  They explained that a friend of theirs took them to the same place a month ago and the departure point was not Hrabrino village but Izvor village, they just didn’t remember the rock name... And there, at the chapel both ways connect in one. At the beginning they felt a little bit screwed up but the place really worth it to be seen, so soon they were happy again.

Taking the path right of the fountain, keeping south west direction and following a cart road, in about 5-10 minutes we reached the rocks. 
And here it came the view, the freedom feeling, the peace, the greatness…In silence we just stood watching and deep breathing. The sun and the wind contributed to the majestic feeling. The river passes down forming wonderful canyon. In late spring probably would be greener and even more beautiful, well, we can always come back. So spectacular views that it was hard to decide which pictures to share (more pictures at the end of the itinerary).

In about an hour resting and collecting moments we went on our way back, this time we took the right path, which by the way seemed to be steeper than our invented path. But the way is going down along the river, all the time and from time to time appeared beautiful landscapes.

Here are some tips for the tourists:

Starting from Hrabrino - go upstream of the river, the direction is south west. There is a marking white-yellow and signs to hut Zdravets. In the beginning you go along a cart road. In about 5 minutes you reach a point where the way goes left and right, take the right way by the river and in 3-4 meters you’ll see the marking again. If you take the left one, you’ll lose the marking immediately. After some 200-300 meters you’ll see a yellow-orange fence and just before it, the path goes left. Then you can’t miss it if you follow the marking. The way to the chapel is steep but it’s not impossible even for kids or old people. After the chapel you take the cart road on the right and soon the rocks appear. The whole way takes about 45-60 minutes.

Starting from Izvor (Izvor is located about 4-5 km east of Hrabrino) – you park in the center, where there is only a square and the famous building from the past communist time that used to be a shop, restaurant and hotel together, the so-called “HoReMag”. Go up the street that passes by the building and maybe you can ask the locals, but the tip here is that your way passes by the cemetery which is above the village. Our friends told us that it’s about 20 minutes walking and the way is very easy. You’ll see the chapel on your right and you should continue straight to reach the cliffs.

If you happen to make this journey, don't hesitate to ask me for more details.
And the rest of the photos:

Thursday 29 August 2013

The North Greek Beaches - Kryoneri Camping

Kageles Beach
As a Bulgarian, I have the privilege to live very close to Greece. Few times of my life I had chances to visit the biggest cities - Athens and Thessaloniki (and some areas around Olympus Mountain) and finally this summer was time to explore some little hidden gems in North Greece.

We left Plovdiv early in the morning and after 2 hours we crossed the border near Zlatograd. The road from Greek side was really narrow and it was hard to drive with more than 40-50 km/ hour but the view in Rodopi Mountain was amazing. We passed through several villages and actually I didn't find much difference between Bulgarian and Greek Rodopi people and houses architecture. Even they say that many people there know Bulgarian language but we didn't stop to check it. Soon we were in Xanthi and after crossing the city we took the way to Lagos, just right at the Aegean Sea. Another option is to take the highway to Komotini and then turn straight down to Xilagani (as we did on our way back).
Whatever you decide, take a map or GPS or at least remember the name of the nearest village of your final destination!

The water road
I don't know what happened to our mobiles but we had no connection and we realized we had a printed map from Google maps, not good zoomed, so we didn't have the names of the villages, only their locations. Anyway, with my perfect orientation we didn't get lost but we had to stop at many places, get out of the car and make some strange movements and looks around to decide which direction to take.
It was really pleasant journey as almost all the time we were driving by the seaside and through some little villages with small white houses and many flowers in front of them. At once we stopped as the road was crossing a river. There was no bridge...Literally, the river goes over the road and there is a sign: "Be careful, slippery ground!" Overcoming this obstacle, soon we found our camping - Kryoneri Camping.

The camping is situated in Kryoneri village, 30 km south from Komitini, only 600-700 m far from the nearest beach. The area is so quiet...no more than 5 cars a day were going on the road in front of the camping. At the end of June is still not very high season so it was not crowded at all - there were 6 tents and 1 camper. Toilets and baths are very clean, the area for the tents is green and has a good shade over it. There is a kitchen with 4 sinks and 4 ovens; there is a fridge; there are washing machines; there is a barbecue; there is a playground for children and all those things could be used for free.
In the camping
The camping owners are 2 sisters and their father. All of them are very kind and smiling. One of the evenings the father prepared for us delicious octopus (half was grilled, the other half was boiled). We invited them with us for the dinner and had a wonderful conversation. One of the sisters, Ioanna, told us about the festival they organize at the end of June. She also gave us some ideas of what to do around and where to go. Really charming people.
They also have a restaurant that offers different meals at normal prices and a little shop for the most necessary things. If you still are missing something, there are shops in the nearby villages, only 5 km far from the camping - Proskinites and Maroneia.
I should not forget to mention that is very cheap - per night we were paying 11 EUR which includes 2 people, 1 tent and 1 car. But you'll check the prices in their website.

For the 3 days that we stayed at the camping, we managed to spend our time at two of the beaches - the one in Kryoneri and the other one - Kageles (about 10 km east of the camping). As many of the Greek beaches, these ones were also stony but it doesn't make them look any  worse than a normal sandy beach. The view above Kageles beach was wonderful - red rocks on the side and Samohtraki island in the distance. The beach is small and a nice cafe is offering refreshing drinks. Also you can take some mattresses and other inflatable equipment to use in the water for free. It goes without saying that the water is crystal blue and cool.

You can continue exploring the area by car (and at some moments on foot) as there are archaeological Byzantine excavations. Unfortunately we didn't find much information but it seems people are working on them. Of course, we found the best time to explore the area (2-3 pm) and it was so hot that we didn't want to walk much but I bet that this would be a pleasant walk along the olive trees, the charming villas and the beautiful flowers on the road.
People told us that the area is very suitable for fishing too and lots of boats goes into the sea every morning for different kind of fish.

See more photos in facebook.

I stay with so many positive emotions that for sure I will go back, We really wanted to be in September but we couldn't. Finally, the loooong terming project of the road Komotini (Greece) - Kardzhali (Bulgaria) is over and I hope that next year we could visit that part of Greece for only few hours!
If you live close, or if you plan to visit Greece anyway, just drop in that region, it's off the beaten path but you'll love it!

Tuesday 9 July 2013

The Ice Queen Oslo

It's been so long since I haven't posted anything in my blog. Luckily, or unfortunately, the reason was not that there is nothing to post but I'm too busy (and kind of lazy) to do it. Finally I sat on my own with some pictures and decided to share my experience and impressions of the best trip I had in the past year in the most beautiful country I've been - Norway!

Center of Oslo
 I've always wanted to visit this amazing place and I guess I was waiting for the perfect moment to appear. It was in a December evening when I opened my email and a friend of mine has sent me only this sentence: "What about few days in Norway in January?" Without any hesitation I accepted. As we both have friends there it was not difficult to take this decision. So, the preparation started and we soon were at the airport impatient to start the journey.
We arrived late in the evening at the Oslo Airport  Gardemoen and her friends were waiting for us. Soon we were at there house in Mysen, 60 km far from Oslo. The next 2 days were dedicated to the Norwegian Capital.

What we saw in Oslo:

Vigeland's Park -  It's an unique sculpture park with more than 200 sculptures made by bronze and granite . The great sculptor Gustav Vigeland  has made human figures from their childhood to their old age in different poses and scenes of their lives.
It's not only that I visited in January, but it was dark and I'm so sorry I cannot offer you what should be seen in the park. In Oslo, in the winter it gets dark early at 4:00 pm, so please, have it on mind if you visit the country at this time. And one tip - if there is snow, climb the central stairs, where the snow is cleaned, not the side ones. I was so surprised to see how my friends were walking so fast and the other 2 of us were like creeping from the left side. It's really simple and close to the mind but I'm not very logical every time.

The Royal Palace - The Palace is a symbol of the Norwegian history. It was made as a residence for King Carl Johan in 1849 but it was not finished util his death. The Royal Palace is owned by the state and there live the royal family which actually has no real political power in the country, only a representative. The current monarch is Harald V. It is open for 2 months for visitors in the summer and the price for a guided tour is 95 NOK (13 EUR) so we could enjoy it only from outside (still very good).

The Oslo Opera House - It is one of the newest opera houses in the World, built in 2007. Its construction costed  40 million EUR!!! It has more than 1000 rooms and the main hall has almost 1400 seats. To be honest I liked the building but  it didn't impressed me much. When I heard about the money it took I understood why the locals are so proud of this building - they just have to!

Karl Johans gate - This is the main street in Oslo, connecting the Central Oslo Station (famous as Oslo S) and The Royal Palace. Except the shops and the nice architechture buildings, the street includes many of Oslo's tourist attractions - The Royal Palace, Stortinget (The Norwegian Parliament), The National Theater, The Old University Buildings, Park Spikersuppa  which serves as a skating rink in winter.

The Parliament
Oslo Cathedral - The main Cathedral, called Our Savior's Church was built in the late 15th century. It was originally located 1.5 km from the present building. After the big fire was built on its present site in 1697.

Holmenkollen (an island of the hill) is a famous hill above Oslo, where there are trails for ski jumping and many other winter-sport activities. Each year at the ski festival this trail is teeming with people. It has also nice view to the city unless it's foggy. There is a restaurant on the top of the hill and even if you don't feel like entering you may just have a stop and enjoy Oslo from above.

The biggest trail
The foggy view
Of course, there is more to see in Oslo like Viking Ship Museum, Folk Museum, Fortress Akershus, and many others but I left something for next time.

When it was already dark and cold outside we visited one of the shopping malls in Oslo (Oslo City Mall) and took a walk around. It was like in every Mall - luxury shops and cafes, nothing special but warm. It was a real fun as we entered in a man's clothing store buying some clothes for our host ...the retails tried to offer their best but always one of us disagreed for something.
It's close to the railway station and it has a warm connection (a tunnel over the street) between them. It's also very close to the Opera House and you may see its lights in the evening, it's beautiful.

One of the evenings we celebrated our host birthday at a restaurant by the harbour. The pedestrian zone is called Akker Brygge and is famous with its restaurants and cafes. I bet it's really pleasant to have a walk during the sunny summer but at -13 degrees with strong wind along the fjord we were in a hurry to get into the restaurant. It was a Steak House - Jensens Biffhuss, offering delicious food but nothing typical Norwegian. I was really amazed by the prices, actually not exactly in this restaurant but in general in the country. A meal for 5 with a bottle of wine, few beers and 3 starters costed about 450-500 EUR!
I was also surprised by the fact that the waitress didn't know Norwegian but only English (she was from Czech Republic) so I found out for real that in Norway they accept English almost as an official 2-d language and to work there it's not necessary to know the local language as everybody speaks English.
Anyway, we ended the night in one bar with beers where we had lots of fun! Maybe here's the right moment to thank again to Steve for the lovely time we spent in Oslo.

Delicious steak
And after this long night I had to wake up at 5 am and take the train to the amazing Flam valley that would be my next story ( I'll try to make it really soon). But this is the hard life of the traveler - experience a lot in a short time.

Monday 8 July 2013

The snow white journey to Flam and Bergen

Some of the spectacular landscape
As I had to wake up too early in the morning, Peter was so kind to drive me to the station in Mysen so that I can take the train to Oslo (See the first part of my Norway trip). It was a working day and there were so many people in that early hour that were going to work. In 50 minutes I was already at the Oslo S and easily took my ticket to Myrdal, the place where I was supposed to take the tourist Flam train. So, with a coffee and a sandwich I got on the comfortable train. There was a group of maybe 20-30 people, dressed in ski clothes, going for some winter holiday. They were at different ages and all seemed happy and enthusiastic for what they were about to experience.
I spent most of the time looking through the window and enjoying the view. I've been told that the line Oslo-Bergen offers one of the most scenic rail journeys and I guess it's true, at least from what I have seen before. The thermometer in the train was showing the temperature outside -17/-18 degrees but it was sunny and I felt warm inside. Those few hours passed pretty fast and soon I was at Myrdal Station impatient for the next  hour trip - the one I have come for, the wonderful Flam Valley!

The sky above Myrdal
In the train I met two Brazilians on their Europe tour (they have already passed through Bulgaria and I was surprised we were talking about my home place) and we were helping each other with the pictures in the next one hour. The train was moving too slow so that we can revel the landscape and feel it. There were few stops, even they let us go out of the train at Kjosefossen waterfall which was frozen in the all shades of the white - so beautiful! We passed through numerous tunnels, winding along the way and spectacular valleys. I can only imagine how amazing it would be in the summer to see it all green and blue...We arrived at Flam, where my friend was waiting for me and we proceed to Bergen. All the way in the mountain was so beautiful again, we passed through Naeroyfjiord which is an arm of Sognefjord - the biggest one in Norway. On our way was also Vossevangen town, famous with its water but we didn't stop as we were hurrying to catch Bergen at least 2 hours before it gets dark. By the way, in Norway I drank the most delicious water ever. People there don't buy water, they drink it directly from the tap and it is more than tasty.

The touristic train
Kjosefossen waterfall
The tunnels on the way
At the market
In Bergen, we parked in the center of the city and our first stop was the Fish Market. It used to be an open market but an year ago they have made it indoor. They say it is the biggest market in the region as Bergen used to be the most important fish producing and trading center in Norway (and still is one of the significant industries).
There was a huge variety of fish and seafood and all looked so fresh, like just caught from the sea. And of course, it didn't seem cheap at all - the prawns were 15 EUR/ half kg...but this is Norway.

Just about 200 m away from the    market is the soul of Bergen, the old  warehouses Bryggen (translated from Norwegian - dock) overlooking the harbor. Their characteristic front is emblematic for the city. Once they were the center of the Hanseatic League and now they are turned into ethnographic shops and galleries and are part of the World Heritage of UNESCO.
Behind the facade they are formed like a little village with small streets, wooden buildings and interesting architecture.

Behind the beautiful facade 
Slightly behind the iconic houses begins the Old Town of Bergen. Fabulous small steep streets with white houses are crossing around it. I noticed that most of them are paved just as in my home city - Plovdiv. Interesting paintings on some house walls's diversify the visitors. Even the small table with flowers in front of one house was really charming in the sunny winter afternoon. It was so quite and it was hard to realize that I'm in the middle of the second biggest city of Norway.

It was time to take a look at the city from above. Railroad Floibanen drove us to the top of the nearby hill. We were thinking of climbing on foot but we were afraid not to miss the sun and the day so we took the funicular. It goes through the Old town and has few stops. I have no idea how people live there, it seems so sheer.
Already on the top, a spectacular view of the city oped in front of us - the harbor, fjords and the sea in the distance. For sure it was one of the best city views I've seen, just breathtaking! I didn't feel the cold weather, just feeling the sun and the freedom. Thanks again to my friend for bringing me there!
There is also a souvenir shop on the top and a cafe so that you can stay little longer and warm yourself with a cup of coffee or tea.

From the Floibanen
The day started to get down and we still had to drive few more hours to Karmoy island. On our way out of the city we stopped for the last time to see Fantoft Stave Church. The Stave Churches are characteristic wooden churches of the Vikings. In Norway there are about 25 of them reserved and in northern Europe 5-6. This one dates from 12th century but after a huge fire it was completely devastated and rebuilt in 1992. I hoped to see it from inside too but in the winter season it is closed for visitors...as I always say - next time.

Late in the evening we arrived at my friend's place tired but full of emotions during the day. A wonderful island trip was planned for the next day....

Here you can see more pictures from Bergen and Oslo and Flam Valley.