Rozhen Monastery

This weekend, my new producer and I went out to visit some really cool places throughout Southwestern Bulgaria. It was a trip back in time to the 1700s when our first stop brought us to the Rozhen orthodox monastery in Blagoevgrad Province. This place was packed into the history books with the Spanish Inquisition.

The Rozhen monastery is the biggest in the Southwest of Bulgaria, and is known formally as the Monastery of the Nativity if the Mother of God. This orthodox encampment is one of the few in the region, and is well preserved. You can reach it by car, as my gracious hosts have offered to me, or by footpath from the town through the sand pyramids – a highly recommended jaunt that should only take an hour or so. This is the trail that the original monastics used, so it’s something of a pilgrimage that can be made in the same footsteps as used in the time of its inception.

Everything from the art on the walls to the listless grape vines splayed along the second story buttresses, drinking up the sun. From before even stepping foot into the grounds of the compound, the centuries-old, riveted, iron-plate door swallowed all sense of recency and equipped the eyes to take in something from long ago.


The paintings alone, finished in 1732 by local monks, are enough to lock you into a gaze of intentional curiosity. Like the paintings of the period, it’s not the masterful work that absorbs you. It’s the context of the themes themselves. They show depictions of the most important moments in the orthodoxy’s history. And they’re displayed right atop benches and walkways that people inconveniently rub away without any regard to preservation of the artwork. Perhaps this is more the fault of the keepers than the visitors for not protecting with more attention.

Nevertheless, it was a very cool experience to have been a part of. And what’s more, I was also given the rare privilege of shooting inside the monastery itself, with other opportunities to film around the grounds.

Here are a few of the images I took while I was there.


After walking the grounds, we also visited the grave of Yane Sandanski, the revolutionary after whom the neighboring town of Sandanski was named. Yane (or Jane) Ivanov Sandanski was an interesting chap. He is widely recognized as the revolutionary leader who lead an anti-Ottoman uprising and assisted in estoppel of the Turkish campaign of forced Islamic conversion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

His grave site lies behind this stoic edifice, and is certainly presaged by locals to be the tomb of a hero.

After leaving the Rozhen temple, I headed into Melnic, the least populated city in Bulgaria. More about that next time…

Insights from the Pavement: No More Waiting

Most of the world flips through travel magazines or reads through online destination websites dreaming of the day when it will be possible to get away for just a week or two to enjoy this wonderful world. And sadly, this is all too often the farthest some of us get.

When we look at this dynamic for what it might mean in our personal lives, we will begin to see that procrastination lends itself to many lost opportunities – not just our travel plans.

The worst vacation we should ever have is the one we never took. And that alone should be motivation enough for each of us to carve away some time, put away some money and go through the motions of arranging our plans.

This, of course, is much easier said than done. But this is the most important step in the process of making ourselves less vulnerable to procrastination. And once we’ve climbed over the hurdle of arranging our plans, the easiest part is to execute them. This, though, is still not what will teach us the lesson of overcoming procrastination.

It’s actually once we return from our sojourn that we will collapse onto the couch, stare up at the ceiling, and retrace the epic events that we gifted to ourselves. It is this moment, not the time on the road, that will teach us the most about what we need to do to achieve our goals in this life. Because this is the moment when the digestion starts. It’s the time when we can look back over the whole of our efforts – start to finish – and see that it was all worth the effort.

And this is the part that will follow us into our future decisions, motivating us to get up and do, rather than to sit around and talk.

If we want a yard full of trees, the best time to plant them is twenty years ago. And after we’ve proven to ourselves that we’re worth not waiting for, we’ll realize that the second best time is now.

Travel Geek: Documentary Malaysia (Full HD)

Having spent 2013 filming in all parts of Malaysia, this documentary showcases six of the nine selected filming locations. Starting off in Malaysia’s cultural hub, I move northward from Malacca to celebrate Thaipusam outside of Kuala Lumpur. From there, I discover street foots, mile-high temples and Malaysia’s smallest and most diversified national park, roaming sand, sea and jungle in Penang. Then I take to the rafting waterways and climb active waterfalls in Gopeng. Following that is a trip through the tea-rich mountains of the Cameron Highlands where I find the world’s largest flower. And I end my journey on a tropical island getaway, snorkeling on Tioman Island.

Check out additional footage from Travel Geek: Documentary Malaysia

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For the rest of the footage, as well as outtakes, extended cuts and extras that weren’t included in this film, check out the “Short Documentary Films” playlist, or select from the links below:

TGS: Documentary Malacca

TGS: A History of Georgetown

TGS: Hiking Tabur West

TGS: Documentary Gopeng

TGS: DOcumentary Thaipusam (Extended Cut)

TGS: Documentary Thaipusam

TGS: Cameron Highlands

TGS: Taman Negara

TGS: Hiking Tioman Island

TGS: Snorkeling Tioman Island

Serdang: Giant Hamster Ball Adventure

Gourmet Chicken Tandoori Cuisine in Malacca

Insights from the Pavement: Stop Running Away

One can travel every corner of the world and never get any farther away from his problems. He might gain new problems which, for a time, allow him to forget about his old problems. But a universal constant is that issues are never too far from the surface.

Smiles offered to us as we travel through Thailand come from monks who have problems just as gang members in Guatemala City might give us scornful looks. Each of us has problems, and each of us feel equally compelled to fear them.

Nevertheless, the more we run from our issues, the more destructive it becomes to us and likely also to those around us.

Think about it: Has our running away made us any happier? As travelers, it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed with pleasure and awe when we encounter the new and amazing things on the trail. But when the evening creeps around and we find ourselves staring at the hostel bunk above us or the stars overhead, we may still find our wonderful memories stained by the return of that old issue we never dealt with.

It is there for a reason. And it’s not going away. Not until we turn and face it. And it will only grow in time like a cancer.

But there’s some good news involved with this frightening thought. Firstly, even the most minuscule problems that others deal with mean just as much to them as the bigger issues do to us. We may see their problems as less profound than ours, but there’s no proof that this is the case. So it might help knowing that each of us are made aware of our problems in our own way and with an individual, yet collective sense of urgency.

Essentially, we’re all fighting a private battle with our past. And each of us feels the same apprehension over sharing, fear of failing to overcome, even the embarrassment of the original issue. So that leaves us — the entire human population — all fighting the same battle but on an individual level. Imagine how easy it would be to simply deal with it as the collective group of the equally frustrated mind-warriors that we are!

Also, problems seem more profound to us at different times in our lives. But the imperative to act is always constant. If we close our eyes and think back to the last long term pressing issue we had, we will note that the initiative to handle that issue may have come and gone, but never lessened in intensity. Even when we have sought to skew it with projects, detour it with distractions or even drink it away.

Looking up a hill before we climb it always seems to look much less intimidating from the top. But if this hill stands between where we’re at and where we want to be, it simply must be scaled.

Tools that make this process much easier include communicating with others and stating reachable goals with their assistance; forgiving others who might have wronged us along the way; forgiving ourselves for the same; offering genuine trust in order to realize that pitfalls as well as safety nets are available and inevitable; being a person others can trust; and of course, love for the people who’ve taught you.

No more running away from our challenges. Change the pattern. Surprise the world. Chase them down instead.

Featured cover image Source.

Travel Geek Short: Hiking Tioman Island

In the final installation of shorts from Travel Geek: Documentary Malaysia, I hike overland from the east coast to the west coast of Tioman Island. Along the trail, I meet up with a nomadic nature photographer, discover giant glider squirrels, snakes, gigantic, old trees and wildlife that hides in plain sight.

Check out additional footage from Travel Geek: Documentary Malaysia

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Singapore 101, Podcast #18

Singapore 101 is the ultimate survivor’s guide to travel in the island nation. From tasty eats to nightlife, to currency matters and more, this Travelcast covers everything you’ll need to know for the best time in Singapore.

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