How we found colour in the grey city of Bogota

We arrived in Bogota on a rainy afternoon to spend the last three days of our Colombia trip.  Looking at the clouds and the grumpy grey sky, I started feeling nostalgia for the Caribbean heat and sun we left behind in Santa Marta that same morning. The taxi from the airport slowly made its way through the 9 million people capital struggling with crazy traffic. Sorry, Bogota – it was not love of first sight. The city didn’t strike with any beauty or typical architecture. It seemed huge, grey and dull. In my opinion, it definitely lacked character comparing to all Colombian cities we had visited so far.

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La Candelaria

It took us one hour to get from the airport to our hostel in La Candelaria. That’s where the picture became a little more optimistic. La Candelaria is the city’s old town. Over the years, it has succeeded in keeping the authentic vibe of Bogota alive. Full of old colorful houses, vintage shops, signature cafes, and French pastries (why French? Because of the large number of French expats). Churches, museums and cozy restaurants follow. What is more, many of Bogota’s universities are located within the old neighborhood giving it a pinch of youth spirit.

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one of the most vibrant streets in La Candelaria

Actually, what made a significant difference in the atmosphere was the widespread street art scene and culture in La Candelaria. We were surprised by the amazing graffiti art gazing at us from every corner. I had read a little bit on the topic beforehand and it turned out Bogota was big on graffiti – one of the world’s hotspots. I sure wanted to learn more.

We found out the best way to get to know the local street art is to join Bogota Graffiti tour. It’s the original and authentic tour that takes place in the streets of La Candelaria. It started back in 2011 when an Aussie street artist and a Canadian graffiti writer decided to share Bogota’s unique urban art scene and help promote local artists to a wider international audience. The tour is run by street artists for free, but like any other free tour – it is based on tips. They’ll show you around the old town where most of the graffiti works are located. You’d be awed by the theme, dimensions and bright colors. At the end if you’re satisfied with the story behind the mesmerizing images, it’s up to you to decide what the tour is worth.

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The tour starts and raps up in the Journalist Park (Parque de los Periodistas). Our guide was a German girl who had been living in Bogota for the past 10 years. Along with the interesting graffiti facts, she was happy to share a lot of information on culture, political scene and history of the city. It was nice of her to recommend good restaurants, bars and cafes that we passed by along the way. She also pointed out street art galleries where we could find more graffiti art or look for pieces of a specific artist. Anne gave me an advice on where to get a haircut in a vintage hair saloon in the old town, but that’s a topic for another blogpost.

I don’t want to give up any spoiler alerts but I would love to share the facts that stroke me the most! There has been a lot of controversy in the last decade whether or not graffiti should be legal in Bogota and Justin Bieber is personally involved in one of the stories. How odd is that?

Back in 2013, the Canadian had a show in the Colombian capital. Right after the concert, he was escorted to 26th street downtown Bogota where policemen guarded him while he was painting the Canadian flag with a marihuana leaf instead of a maple leaf. Quite creative, don’t you agree?

There was a lot of press and photographers to document his act. Can you imagine the street art society’s reaction? “If he can do it legally, so can we” – they thought. The following day hundreds of artist went out in the streets. The police couldn’t do anything to stop them. IMG_9740IMG_9779IMG_8074

First, the crowd set out to paint over Bieber’s art. Of course, they didn’t stop there. In less than 48 hours, the entire 26th street turned into an art gallery. Even before that day, the streets and buildings of Bogota have conveyed the political and social messages of artists from all around the world. IMG_8010IMG_9755IMG_9737

The street art and murals really add a lot of color and character to the otherwise boring urban scenery. Most of the graffiti is made on public buildings or abandon walls, but there is a significant number painted on private houses and apartments.

All the artists need to do is knock on the door and ask for permission. The owners are mostly concerned about the main image and the theme of the artwork. When they find it’s going to be a bird or another animal (80% of the graffiti), they immediately agree.

Don’t get me wrong, the graffiti in Bogota is still a strong form of social protest and cultural expression. However, with the improving way of life and the growing middle class, modern artists have left behind some preach from their paint. They are more focused on creating art that reveals their skills rather than on a cause.

Over the years the designs have become more and more complex. Graffiti artists nowadays use stencil, spray paint, stickers and wheat-pasted posters. And since graffiti is technically more acceptable in Colombia, artists have the freedom to express themselves as they please.

By the end of the tour, we were thrilled and thankful we got to hear the inside stories, see and experience this hidden part of Bogota.

What are you running from vol.2

2014 started off with backpacking around Portugal. I had a total of 6 flights in less than a month before I had to go back home. Obviously, I didn’t get sick on planes anymore. I even came to enjoy flying and living the airport life. By the time I got home, I had slept in the airports of Porto, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Prague, Munich, and Frankfurt.

I was back in Sofia, at last. But something had changed.

Home didn’t feel like home anymore. I had called another place home. I missed Portugal. Trying to go on with everyday life felt weird. I had to do something about it… I bought myself a birthday present with the last of my savings – a trip back to Portugal! I had the craziest 22nd birthday there with all my friends and roomies I’ll never forget.

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My roommates and I in Coimbra, Portugal

I left Portugal for good in May. Came home happier and motivated to pass my final exams and find a job. And so I did!

I didn’t leave the city all summer long; I didn’t even go to the beach. I was fully concentrated in my job at the time and nothing could distract me.

Until my mom moved to Budapest in September. A city I had never been to. Secretly started thinking I should go visit. Six months had passed since my last trip abroad. A trip to Budapest with a quick stop in Croatia to see my roomies didn’t sound bad at all.

I took 2 weeks off work in the end of October. Spent one of them in Hungary with my mom, enjoying the beautiful architecture of Budapest, the history and positive vibe of the people, the delicious poppy seed sweets and thick hot chocolate. Walking down the river and admiring the bridges with all of the lights, I thought Budapest was one of the most romantic cities in Europe.

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Sunrise from my window, Budapest

A train took me to Zagreb where I spent Halloween with Ines – one of my roomies from Portugal. Then I crossed Croatia to see Nina, another roomie. On my way home I had to change trains in Belgrade. I met a guy from Sweden at the train station. He was going to Sofia as well. David was on his way around the world and I was fascinated by his stories. We took the night train, chatting all the way, eating Swedish chocolate and drinking Croatian cherry liquor. We arrived in Sofia on an early November morning, had coffee at my place. I showed him a quick tour around the city and then had to go to work.

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with David in Sofia

Meeting people like David along the way and traveling by myself gave me a new feeling of freedom. I got to know and understand myself better. I started craving travel.

Anyway, it was December again. I spent the holidays working. No travels.

2015 and January came without any plans for traveling either.

And then it all started –

I drove out to Croatia in February for a snowy weekend with Nina.

Ines moved to Barcelona and I went to visit her in March. We were drinking coffee and walking around in t-shirts. On the way back to save on flights, I stopped for a couple of days in Budapest (Hi mom!).

In the beginning of April I almost went to Istanbul, but the trip was called off at the last minute. I even had my hostel booked…

By the end of May it didn’t matter anymore, because I was half way across the world. In Alaska. Working on a moving train –

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On the way to Seward, AK

I was traveling for a living. Best job ever! Four months went by so fast – hiking, biking, and camping. Alaska is a playground!

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Alaska vs Hawaii

The day it started snowing, I caught a plane and flew away to Hawaii. It was the start of a 3 week trip around the States –

  • snorkeling and surfing in Oahu,
  • volcano trekking in Maui,
  • driving the Highway 1 all the way from San Diego to San Francisco and eating all the Mexican food along the way,
  • biking the Golden Gate bridge, walking around Alcatraz, getting lost in Chinatown,
  • eating only NYC style pizza for a day and doing a Once Upon in America poster retake in Brooklyn…
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Hanauma Bay, Oahu, HI
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Sunrise at 10,000 ft, Maui, HI
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Biking around SF
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Once Upon A Time in America

Flew home in the end of October, more lost and exhausted than ever. Slept for 18 hours and started figuring out what to do with my life.

A weekend escape to Romania’s castles in November was enough to get me back on track.

A bunch of friends organized the ultimate end-of-the-year trip. I couldn’t resist. The plan was to start off from Belgrade in the end of December, drive through Serbia, Slovakia, and Poland and finish the year in Krakow.

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my entourage

The highlight of the trip was the visit we paid to Auschwitz. I was walking quietly around the camp in awe. I am proud to say that my country is the only one who saved all of its Jews from the camps.

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Auschwitz

The rest of the trip was mostly New Year parties, Polish vodka, good beer, pierogi and wandering around the streets of Krakow.

In January and February I didn’t travel anywhere! It wasn’t a surprise at all. I was getting ready for a trip east of Eden…to the Land of the Rising Sun.japan_

I’ve already told the story behind the reason why Japan. Long story short – I spent 2 weeks indulging in culture, food, scenery, people, religion and traditions. Japan turned out to be the most extraordinary trip I’ve done so far.

April is my month and this last one was quite busy. The best birthday gift – I got called in to work in Alaska earlier than expected. So in three hectic days I had to plan my trip, pack and get on the plane to the Far North. I landed in Alaska less than a month after I’d come back from Japan.

Anchorage already felt so familiar, it felt like home. Most of my friends were back there. The summer of 2016 I worked more, way more. I traveled more and partied more than in 2015. I had a blast.

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Thankful for another summer on board the Alaska Railroad

Hiking, biking, kayaking, helicopter ride with a stunning view, hot springs in the middle of the night, the northern lights!!…Four months of adventure, happiness and hard work.

 

Of course, I had a big trip planned for the end of the summer – a week in paradise in Maui followed by road tripping around the national parks of Cali, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Sounds awesome, right?

Well, once we got to San Fran there was a slight change of plans after a series of unfortunate events occurred. My friends and I got robbed and our car broken in. When I look back now, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but it was one crazy afternoon…dealing with SFPD and a vandalized rent-a-car. We were put off of Cali and wanted to get out of there asap.

We drove all night long through the desert with what was left of our belongings. The next day we arrived in Salt Lake City where we stayed with friends for a few days. The time in Utah made me forget about all the material things I’d lost. It reminded me what actually matters in life – to have someone to call when you’re in trouble, to have good friends who’ll share their food and bed with you, to have a good time in spite of everything…

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Utah in September

The cherry on top – we got a speeding ticket on the way back from Utah… We laughed so hard!

End of September – it was time to get back to reality… My Bulgarian reality didn’t seem real at all. All of my friends working from 9 to 5… in serious relationships or engaged and having babies…And there I was wondering where to go next! You’d say I travel so much to run away. I’d say it’s a way of life. I just can’t stay in one place. Not yet. Each year I try to find something that won’t let me leave – a full-time job I love or a soulmate… Maybe this year I should get a dog or a car.

No, I decided I’d stay true to myself. A month in, I planned a week long island escape to Malta. The pearl of the Mediterranean is a mixture of more than 25 ancient cultures. Literally, every empire has left its legacy there.

Every morning I had coffee and sweets at a little Sicilian cafe. Late October, I was walking around in flip flops and shorts eating all the seafood. Spent Halloween on the beach dressed as a mermaid. Just kidding, I was wearing a summer dress.

I needed a little time for myself in November. It was a crazy month and even though I was taking it slow, I couldn’t clear my head or set my priorities. Trying to keep a relationship going didn’t work either. I guess solo travel really makes you undateable.

So, after getting rejected and stupidly drunk, I finally got my sh*t together.

Here I am in December, at my new 9 to 5 job that I don’t like. Writing this post, counting the hours til Christmas (48ish). My December in numbers:

  • not a single night to myself – events, concerts, dinners;
  • 4 out of 4 weekends away from the city,
  • 2 out of those 4 weekends out of the country,
  • 3 trips up in the mountains,
  • 2 fitness boot camps,
  • 1 hot spring trip;

I wanted to keep myself busy and productive after all. And it worked. I just got back from chritmasy Budapest.

Now’s the time to say this – on my first day in Budapest I was walking around the biggest Christmas market, situated in the heart of the city in front of the Basilica of St. Stephen. All of a sudden, an alarm went off and there were a number of announcements in Hungarian. By the time I found out that there is a bomb alarm, the police was already clearing off the square. The Christmas market was closed and the tourists were advised to keep away. I understand the seriousness of the situation. However, it won’t put me off traveling. I still want to visit Istanbul, I want to spend more time in Paris and Brussels…

I’m going away for the holidays again tomorrow. I feel perfectly fine with the constant movement now that my unsettling soul has found order among the chaos. My comfort zone is somewhere down the road. Going out of it would mean settling, staying…

No, I’m not running. I just find purpose in traveling. You’ve probably heard D’Souza’s famous quote “happiness is a journey, not a destination”. My goal is not to arrive, but to keep going. “Happiness is the way” Souza says. My way is travel. For now.

With the magical time of the year upon us again, I wish for all of you to keep going no matter what is pulling you forward. Each and every day strive for the best! I hope 2017 will bring unknown adventures and destinations in life and around the world! Cheers

What are you running from?

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3-year old me with my dog, Bobby

I love traveling. I could talk on and on about the way travel makes me feel and the huge part that plays in my life right now. However,  I guess a lot of you could relate to the perception of travel as widening horizons, knocking down walls and borders and bringing you closer to people from other cultures and backgrounds. This is what traveling is all about, right?

How did I get hooked on so badly? Sometimes I think I was born on the road and that’s where I got the travel bug from. Not far from true. I was 20 days old when my parents took me on my first road trip across the country. No diapers, no bottled milk.

Ever since that first trip, I remember being stuck in a car, listening to the same cassettes and CDs on repeat. The soundtrack of my childhood road trips includes Creedence Clearwater, The Beatles, Bon Jovi, Queen, Bryan Adams, Sting. I still know their songs by heart. Those road trips were quite an experience for a 3-4 year old. I remember a trip I did with my whole family in a hippie van in the summer or another one when I got car sick with my mom, my brother, my aunt, my uncle and 2 dogs in the car!

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I was 8 years old when I flew across the Atlantic and stepped on another continent for the first time. I was so excited during the long flight. I couldn’t sit still. I was running up and down the aisle of the plane. I ate everything the flight attendants gave me. In the end I got terribly sick. Again! I don’t remember anything from those first days in the United States. In the next couple of years I often traveled back and forth between Europe and the USA. Still couldn’t get over the sickness.

Then, I had to settle a bit because of school. It didn’t last long though. I was 14 years old when I went on my first Europe trip – Venice, Verona, Milan, Monaco, Paris, Barcelona, Switzerland, and Slovenia. In Italy I would go on pizza and ice cream. I had coffee for the first time and real French croissants in Paris. Also bought 1 euro wine. I went to the beach in Barcelona by myself… I realized that there are so many places and countries in Europe that I haven’t visited…ice-cream

The following year my parents and I went on an Easter trip around Greece. I had never been there before even though it’s only a couple hour drive from my hometown. I had my 16th birthday there. I remember it was a beautiful sunny day in Thessaloniki.

In my senior year of high school I won a European project and got invited to visit the European Parliament in Brussels. It was raining all the time but I didn’t mind walking around the narrow streets, eating chocolate and waffles and listening to the people speaking French.

Next step in my life was going to university. Most of my childhood friends went to study abroad – Germany, England, and the Netherlands. However, my first year in uni I met some of the most influential people in my life. A bunch of friends went on a 4-5 months exchange program in Finland. One friend moved to London afterwards. I felt a little left behind with so many friends going abroad, so I couldn’t keep myself from visiting. Sofia already had some cheap flight connections at the time, so it wasn’t difficult to find myself drinking tea in the heart of London.

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Hyde Park

Spent a week there in January. I would walk around the parks and play with the squirrels, get lost in the museums, eat street food and take pictures. It didn’t rain at all!

When summer came along some friends and I just decided to drive to Greece one day. I woke up on the beach. That same summer I applied for my exchange program from university. I received my acceptance letter in late July and in August I was already sunbathing on a beach in Portugal.

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Girls just wanna have some fun

I spent there the best 6 months of my life. I made true friends for live and had the most amazing time. Portugal was one big party. Lots of sun, sea, beach, dancing, good food, coffee, beer, travels!!!

During my stay in Portugal, I visited Madrid twice, I swam in the ocean in January, I slept in a real tipi in a hippie village that you can’t find on the map, and I ran up and down the hallways of one of the oldest universities in Europe. On New Year’s Eve I found myself surrounded by people from all over the world and each hour it was somebody’s New Year. To celebrate all the New Years in the world in one single night – priceless! I wished that in 2014 my journey will continue.portugal2

And it did!

Stay tuned…