• Leon de Leeuw

Again this proves to be a challenging year to travel. In the sense that it requires testing and advance planning to go anywhere. However, in Bulgaria, all was fine. In spring, I made a road trip to Western Bulgaria. Blagoevgrad - Kyustendil - Razlog and many places inbetween. Re-visited the Rila Monastery and some other popular places, like Bansko. A great road trip with lots of surprisingly beautiful places. I drove all the way up to the Vihren mountain hut and also got to the Bezbog hut by cable lift. I had not been this deep into the Bulgarian mountains, so definitely worth it. All vlogs of this trip are on Youtube. Also I visited Egypt, but this was such a complex trip that it requires another blog post.

I've finally managed to visit the Netherlands in June. I hadn't seen my family in six months, a lot longer than I'm used to. It was just four days but definitely something I needed. A wonderful time to visit my country. The time for bike rides, getting strawberries and cherries and having a beer outside with my folks. It was tremendous. The week after, my brother came to Sofia. We went to some great restaurants, took a train to Svoge to hike a bit, and enjoyed our time in the city. We got him a haircut, he went to the dentist for some check-up, and then went back home. Indeed, my brother is far more satisfied with the service of my dentist than the dentist in the Netherlands.

Then I made further plans as well. I booked three trips to Italy at once. To Treviso, which is near Venice at first. I've done a trip here before but would love to visit Trieste, near the Slovenian border. Then to Bari the week after, for a full week. Just like last year. This was one of my best vacations. In terms of places to see, food, prices, weather and people it was amazing. I haven't really seen great beaches although I did swim. Beaches were pierced between the rocks and not as wide and sandy as in Bulgaria. I was limited by use of trains only so couldn't really venture out. I'll go again to relax and explore more. The last trip will be in August, to Rome, for a weekend. All flights cost 30 EUR both ways, making these great deals. Just the Antigen test, which I can do around the corner, will add another 20 EUR per test. Unfortunately, travel became more expensive this way, but we just have to deal with this now. Living close to the airport as well, this lifestyle can be afforded easily. It requires some flexibility and selecting cheaper hotels, but anything is possible. It is just wonderful to live here as an expat, still, and have these adventures while having great friends here in Sofia so this is really starting to feel like home.



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  • Leon de Leeuw

Not an easy year to travel. Or at least, not when you don't want to dig in and do some research. There has been plenty of travel possibilities, at least from Bulgaria. First of all, within Bulgaria itself. Because it's some of Europe's most diverse. Within a small surface, you have it all. But I did manage to pack in international travel as well. If only a bit later in the year. Normally, even winter has some trips. But 2020 had my first international trip in July. This has enabled me to save significantly and pay off my student loans (nearly, almost there)!

This proved me that I spend a significant amount of time and money on travel. And I'm not about to change that. First things first, with the international travel, I respected absolutely every rule. I was not about to sneak into a country through a third one. It's against my princinples. Laws may be broken, but you better live with the consequences. I would prefer not to, especially when governments take the measures very seriously.

But in my view, we can't let the travel industry crumble apart. It would lead to closing of business, many employees without any income. These employees are typically lower educated and would not get any other prospects. Especially because it's a large industry. Getting these people jobless, with the prospect of a crisis, will lead to health problems, divorce, loss of homes, depression, alcoholism, suicides. And I can say that because I've worked in the industry and I've lived on the edge. Income is too low to keep afloat. And I worked in hospitality in a first world country, can you imagine.

Now I can support myself financially, I choose to support the travel industry. Not as an employee, but as a big spender. Italy was my trip in July. Southern Italy to be precise. Then, I finally got to visit the Netherlands. For my mum's birthday. I couldn't be happier. Eventually, I flew to Switzerland and my brother and father came by car. We spent a grand week touring the mountains and consuming schnitzels and cordon bleus with beers. Awesome. I couldn't get enough and booked another weekend in Switzerland. Toured from Basel to Locarno, Lugano, past Lago Maggiore, Lake Lugano, Lake Como and Lake Garda. Visited Brecia. Milan. Flew back from Bergamo. All that was in a weekend, all with public transport. It was not even hurried. I hope the vlogs are up soon.

To conclude, I'll visit Warsaw in October and London in November. If all goes well. And if the restrictions still allow me to go. I come from this industry and will not let its people delve into despair. And not only that, travel is a significant investment in one's self development. See it as mental exercise and you get to relax at the same time. It is a priority. Especially if you've worked hard for it. Stick to the rules, be safe, but do not lay under the bed. Mental relaxation and sunlight are much needed. I hope the industry will be saved. Although I'm afraid we won't get to see it as it used to be for some time.

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  • Leon de Leeuw

For a long time I was fascinated by Berlin. I visited in 2001 and loved how free it felt. I went back many times. Basically it's a true metropolis. A city that shows that time heals all wounds. Is it one of the world's most intriguing cities? For me, yes. I love to visit. But I wouldn't live there after seeing beyond the pretty picture. Only when I started reading more into the city and its current state I found out more. Well, Berlin is basically bankrupt, in tons of debt, has high crime rates. It is in many parts worn down and stinks. Berlin runs on a lot of low-paid jobs, social housing. In nightlife I saw a many people reliant on hard drugs and alcohol, big time. Young and beautiful people. I wasn't judging, just observing. Economically, the city is largely kept afloat by the rest of Germany. Which is still the economic powerhouse of Europe. Berlin is fun to party and live for a while, it has some large companies, tons of different people, nobody will judge you. But it’s not where the big money is made generally speaking. Salaries are lower than in let’s say Munich but cost of living went up fast. Then again Munich is boring and basically an old people’s city. There’s no perfect city.

One might say there's a lot to do in Munich as well. But there are hipster places and cool things to do from Turku to Alicante to Plovdiv to Gdańsk nowadays. A party capital where there are practically no limits to anything and any time is not Munich, but Berlin. Of course, Munich has a better quality of life, better family life, more wealth and jobs, and perfect infrastructure. If you're 35+ in general it's more attractive to live in Munich. But then why, if Berlin is far from perfect, does it just have that better nightlife? The free spirit? It's because the city attracts exactly that. It already had the reputation since its rough and divided history. And it's kept attracting like-minded spirits. And these are not typically the bankers attracted to Frankfurt or the pensioners living in the southern border areas near Switzerland.

Like attracts like. And that catalyzes similar behavior. I would move to Frankfurt for a high-paying job, to Berlin for some start-up job and a good party and cultural life. Not necessarily for a great career. I'd already know what to expect. And I moved to Sofia for a laid-back life, professional opportunities in IT, nature all around me. Does it have the perfect infrastructure, the Frankfurt salaries, Munich family life, the Berlin nightlife? No, but it does offer me something not too far off. That's what it does offer to me. If only because the taxes are a lot lower, it's developing quickly, and has the positive mindset of change that Berlin used to be known for. Is Sofia perfect? Anything but. Is Berlin perfect, or Amsterdam? No. Perhaps I like it everywhere and I just can't make up my mind. Perhaps I'll grow to dislike everywhere once I'm there long enough. But that doesn't matter. I have the critical view. I like looking at differences between countries and cities. This post might be very rambling and irrelevant, but it's just some thoughts. Like attracts like. Perhaps you like reading this, I don't know.

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