Friday, 17 February 2017

Blissful Slopes of Bansko - Day 2


Bansko


Bansko                                                                           Bulgaria

Sunday 10th January 2016

What a frantic morning this was as I woke up at 8:15am realising I had to be at the ‘Happy Ends’ bar at the opposite side of the town for 8:30am. So in a blind panic I quickly changed and packed my ski helmet and ski jacket not at all sure the plan of action at the bar. This also meant I didn't have time for breakfast which was a good start to the morning. Once I felt like I had everything I needed`, I left my room heading downstairs to the reception area. I was immediately greeted by one of the receptionists downstairs and he said that a shuttle bus would be arriving in 5 minutes time. I thanked him as I headed straight outside amongst a small group of skiers awaiting pick up too. I was happy at least at the fact I wouldn't miss the bus up to the gondola lift.

A moment later the van approached the hotel and pulled up as everyone headed for it. We were soon on our way to the gondola lifts and I was excited to see this area for the first time but also I’d admire the views of the narrow streets along the way. It didn't take long for us to arrive at the hustle and bustle of the hundreds of people heading for the lifts with all their skiing equipment and vibrant coloured clothing. We eventually pulled up and I headed straight towards the central area and I was happy to see the ‘Happy End’ bar right in front of me with a holiday rep outside greeting everyone in. 

Happy Ends Bar

I entered into a jam-packed bar full of eager skiers which was a brilliant sight of its own. The bar was like a very large hut with stonework everywhere with wooden beams and panels. The bar stools had animal fur covers and there were a few head mounts of large animals on the walls which gave an absolute heart warming feeling inside. It was at this point that I realised that this was a ski briefing and so I would head for the bar area as all the seats were taking by families and friends. Right next to me I spoke to a man from my hotel that seemed to have more of an idea on what was going on. All of a sudden, one of the reps spoke to us all on a microphone greeting us all and the Balkan holidays team giving us a perspective of what was happening during the day and what activities and excursions were happening in the coming week. He was a typical larger than life rep who had a smile on his face constantly which seemed to put everyone at ease. Once he finished his speech, we were told to wait for a rep to come to us individually to receive our lift passes and ski equipment rental cards. So I ordered a drink as I had a feeling it was going to take forever to get seen too.

Over time, the crowd of skiers began to get smaller and eventually I got seen too. The rep came over with my envelope which contained my lift pass and ski hire card which I had to fill out straight away. I had to write my name, height and weight in order for me to receive the correct skis for my weight and height. Once I filled in the information, I also had to fill in a sheet about which activities and excursions I would like to participate in. There were quite a lot but the ones I picked and quite clearly stood out for me was the bar crawl, a ride on a snowmobile which I could drive myself, a Bulgarian folklore fiesta, a snowboard taster and a trip to the city of Sofia before flying home. I was pleased with what I picked and so with everything filled in, I handed the sheet back to the rep and then I took my leave.

Bansko

From this point I was completely confused on where to go and what to do. Then I realised I had to return back to the hotel in order to get my right ski clothing on. So after pacing up and down the gondola area I made my way towards the parked shuttle busses trying to find the right one back to the hotel. However, when I seen a Balkan holidays van I asked the driver if he was going to hotel Pirin. He had no idea what I was talking about and then drove off which was quite shocking. I then decided to stop wasting time and just walk back to the hotel. So I grabbed my small map of the town and figured out which way to head back. It was quite easy to start with as the route was one straight road all the way down to the centre of the town area. Then it got a bit tricky as at this point I had to fork to the right and head towards an old church area. To be honest I was happy that I didn't get the bus back as I would have missed the beauty and the vibe of the place passing unique shops selling sweets and novelty items. There were quite a lot of skiing shops too but each shop was set in well with the surrounding scenes of a unique quiet town.

Bansko Town

I definitely felt as though I was in a different world with different cultures as soon as I left the skiing area. There was also a very strong smell of wood smoke too but quite tolerable to deal with. By this point I was weaving through narrow streets and alleys with no one to be seen still confident I was going the right way. I was overwhelmed when I turned the final corner and there was my hotel as I thought that I shouldn't underestimate my sense of direction. I entered my hotel which was really quiet as everyone was out skiing and as I headed along the corridor towards my room, the cleaners were doing there job but they hadn't got to my room yet thankfully so I rushed in and got changed straight away and once I had everything I needed, I left in haste for the long walk back up to the ski zone. I was soon back where I started and my next concern was figuring out how to acquire my skis and boots. I couldn't remember what the rep had told us in the bar plus the fact there were no reps to be seen anywhere to talk too. So I went off my instinct and headed into the nearest ski rental centre right next to the gondola.

I entered into the large building packed full of enthusiastic people acquiring there ski equipment. To my left was a large section with hundreds of skis neatly piled and looked as though it was like a library. Further down to the right was all the ski boots which were all placed on sliding shelves. I was advised to head for the boot area first so that is what I did. I sat at the benches provided and handed my customer card to the man overseeing the boots. I told him my shoe size and then moments later he returned with the huge heavy boots. They weighed a tonne and the fittings on them were just a bit like rollerblades. So it was pretty straight forward to place them on then I soon headed over to the skis section. I handed my card to the overseer there and he was about to get my skis until he told me to head to the reception area. I was confused as to why at first and then the receptionist stated I was at the wrong room for my skis and boots. She said she would escort me to the right one which was funnily enough the next room along. So I had to take the heavy boots off and then go through the same process again. Once I had my boots on I was handed my skis for the week. I was really happy I managed to get sorted out and on my way also the fact that I was about to go skiing pretty soon as my adrenaline slightly boosted up.

Bansko

So I took the walk up to the gondola station which was right next to where I was anyway pretty much dragging my feet along thanks to the heavy boots. It made things worse when I came to the stairs leading to the cable cars as I had to climb the stairs in a peculiar way as though I was full of swag. I eventually made the top joining with the other skiers and snowboarders slowly approaching the cars. As I passed through the barriers I was quickly placing my skis on the holders outside the car and quickly rushing inside with a few strangers. As soon as we were settled and the doors closed we were rushed forward by the cable and we were on our way to the top end of the mountain area. Right alongside us were hundreds of skiers making their way along the end of the ski road route which got me more excited. We then headed along the woodland area of the mountain where the gondola began to raise higher and steeper immediately building pressure in my ears. 

Gondola ride

Obviously the higher we got the more breathtaking the views were at the far distance. Right below us far away at this point was the beautiful town of Bansko which sat in well with the absolute marvel of the snowy mountains to the far distance and to finish the look were the clouds below us giving off a mystical view. The view was soon gone as the cable car went over the hill mount and back down for a short moment only to go up again.

Bansko

We came up to a gondola station and I was about to get ready to leave but then I noticed that it wasn't the end of the gondola lift. So then I relaxed again admiring the views and the ride once we got moving again. We were still surrounded by woodland sections as well as a beautiful looking stream rapidly flowing down the mountain. 

My Skis and Winter Woodland

A while passed until we caught sight of the end of the gondola and by the look of the area it was jam-packed. We eventually jolted into the station and we all rushed out grabbing our equipment and making our way to the crowds of people. This section of the mountain slope was called 'Bunderishka Polyana' and it was home to a huge wooden old style bar and restaurant as well as a few ski lifts and training areas. This was my next concern as I pre paid to have ski lessons throughout my time here but it wouldn't be so hard to sort out as the whole area was covered with official ski instructors. I talked to a few of them before finally finding the right person to talk to. He said that I missed the morning lesson but can still make the afternoon lesson which was a relief.

Bunderishka Polyana

I had to return in an hour’s time so to pass the time I headed into the restaurant so full of people and headed towards the kitchen area which was set out like a canteen. I grabbed my tray and glanced at the overhead menus ordering chicken skewers, German sausage and chips and then paid straight away without wasting time. The next problem was finding a free table in a very busy dining area. I scouted the area thinking the worst and then I seen a free bench I could stand next to. I made my way to it and then I got an invite to sit along with a few instructors so I didn't think twice and sat down. Not one word was spoken to each other so I put my head down like everyone else and ate. I was soon finished and on my way back outside grabbing my skis and heading to the meeting point.

Bunderishka Polyana

I stood there for a good while waiting for the instructor to arrive. In no time at all an instructor arrived and then escorted me to another instructor which happened to be his girlfriend. A short walk and talk later, I was with my instructor Katy and a small group of learners ready to start the lesson. The lesson was mainly about learning how to stop on the slopes. The term was called a snow plough which was basically bringing the front of the skis close together to slowly come to a stop. So once everyone got acquainted with each other, we made our way up the slightly steep slope a quarter of the way. It was at this point that I clapped my eyes on the snowy mountain tops right in front of me and lovely alpine woodlands below them. It was then that it hit home at the fact I was on a skiing holiday in Bulgaria and I loved it.

Bulgarian Skiing Landscape

Anyway we all reluctantly made it to the quarter area of the slope and Katy began showing us how to perform the plough. She made it look easy of course and we all lined up and had our go at the manoeuvre. Some people were finding it easy and some were finding it quite difficult and I was happy I was picking it up straight away. Even though we were doing short lengths on the slope I still felt great at the fact I was skiing and learning something new and improving my abilities on each go. There was one guy who couldn't get the hang of slowing to a stop and quite often would fall over having to remove his skis to stand back up. His name was Baz and it made him laugh as it did with us but to be honest I thought it was pretty good of him being able to laugh at himself but having the will and determination to keep on trying. We were all eventually getting the hang of it towards the end which Katy was happy about. We also spent quite a lot of time getting the feel of the snow whilst skiing and understanding the differences in the snow and how it affects how to ski. We spent a good two hours learning the ropes until the session finally finished.

It was coming on 3pm and I knew I had to be at the ‘Happy End’ bar again at 3:30pm in order to get a free drink from the reps which I hadn't seen all day. So I wasted no time getting back to the gondola sharing the journey back with a couple from the ski lesson. They were called Maz and Tracey and we got talking straight away from where we had been to what we did for a living. It passed the time well as we also enjoyed the marvellous views of the Bulgarian landscape. A long time passed until we made our way back to the bottom and heading straight for the ski centre where I returned my skis and sticks. I was about to give them my boots and they said that I had to keep them with me until the end of the week. I thought great just another thing to carry around with me as I left heading straight for the bar.

Journey Back Down

I entered the bar greeted by one of the reps with a free drinks voucher and so I wasted no time sitting at the bar claiming the drink. It was a small cocktail known as the icebreaker which was a fitting name for my first day on this adventure. The bar started to fill up with fellow skiers looking quite weary after a long days skiing. I then decided to order the local beer later realising that it was on 2 for 1 which I was really happy about. It felt like the hype was up once the bar was full so then the reps decided to introduce a local band for the entertainment. There were quite a few cheers and then they began to sing old rock songs which were amazing to hear too. I spent quite a while in the bar enjoying the atmosphere until it was time for me to take my leave and head back to the hotel.

Happy End Bar Band

I took the peaceful walk back down the beautiful smoky town remembering the route back which helped me arrive quicker than before. I was also happy when I entered my room just to relax as I was still quite tired from the flight and drive over. All of a sudden I got a phone call from the hotel telephone which was bizarre I thought. I reluctantly answered it and it was one of the holiday reps informing me that he was down stairs waiting for me to talk about my excursions and activities. I said to him that I would be down within 5 minutes as I was going to head down for the evening dinner anyway. So with that I quickly got changed and headed to the lobby area of the hotel. I soon arrived and I couldn't see the rep anywhere so I consulted with the receptionist who had no clue what I was talking about which was kind of awkward but funny nonetheless as I was trying to explain the situation. We both laughed when I realised the rep was right in front of me all along at the bar area.

Hotel Pirin

I sat down with the rep and we talked about how the excursions and activities would work out as well as the prices of each other too. I also told him about the dilemma I had for the majority of the day too which he found quite shocking and then apologised. I wasn't bothered though as I was able to manage it. Once that was settled I paid for my tickets and we parted ways with me heading to the small bar area. As I got closer I could see the guy I spoke to in the morning sitting at a nearby table with his beer and he greeted me over. His name was Sean and we got talking about how our day went and I told him about all the bother I had which he also found shocking. We both headed for the restaurant up the stairs and walked into a vast empty room.

I thought that they weren't serving yet but surprisingly they were and couldn't get over the emptiness of the room. The far corner was set out like a canteen and once I got closer I couldn't believe how small the plates were. It was like something out of a tea party set for kids. Nevertheless, it was all you could eat so I filled my plate with some familiar food such as chips, a type of burger and some unusual food like vine leaves wrapped around some rice. I sat down with Sean and we passed the time talking about our previous trips and why we were in Bulgaria. The food and conversation were great and had passed the time very well. It was getting a bit late plus the fact I was really tired anyway so I decided to head upstairs to catch some sleep. Despite the slight dilemma in the morning today was a brilliant start of my trip meeting great people already knowing there was more to come.
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