Monday, 20 February 2017

Blissful Slopes of Bansko - Day 3



Bansko Ski Road


Bansko                                                                           Bulgaria

Monday 11th January 2016

I was woke up by the sound of my deafening alarm at 7:15am which was really beneficial anyway as I needed to be up early in order to be ready for the trip to the gondola station. So I shot up and partly got changed and then actually made it for breakfast this time which I was happy about. The canteen was filled with the typical continental spread but I didn't care, it was food so I grabbed a tea party plate and filled it up with different things such as ham, egg and a bit of marble cake; what a weird combination I thought as I dug in. I soon finished my food and headed back to my room quickly putting on the rest of my ski clothing excited to get going.

Hotel Pirin

I was soon down stairs and outside the entrance waiting for the shuttle bus to pick me up along with a few other eager skiers. It was quite a brisk morning too but in the distance I could clearly see the clouds disappearing with the sun shining bright which was a great warm feeling for me. It wasn't long before the bus finally arrived as we all immediately clambered in with our heavy boots and helmets. It was a nice thought that we weren't picking more people up as I just wanted to get straight up there as did everyone else. It was a short trip to the gondola station and we soon parked up heading straight for the ski centre with no hesitation. I entered the room to pick up my skis and as soon as I walked in, there was a not so very nice smell of feet lingering right up my nose which would haunt me forever. It was nearly as bad as my sister’s feet so I braved it and embraced it as I joined in with the bad smell changing into my boots too. I left in haste for the cable cars and it was starting to become very busy. I joined in one of the world’s slowest congas and then I finally passed or barged to put it nicely through the barrier as did everyone else climbing aboard the gondola along with a group of men.

Bansko Gondola Station

It was quite a tight fitting for 6 of us but we all got in with our dignity still intact. Once the doors shut we rapidly moved forward and on our way up. The journey up was kind of awkward as they were speaking a different language where as I was basically looking out of the window watching the hundreds of pine trees passing by. One guy did speak to me but that was only to ask if the approaching station was for us which it wasn't but then they started speaking their own language again. The other problem was that as there were a lot of people the car would get steamed up so I couldn't exactly see the glorious scenery behind me. Finally we were all getting ready to leave the car. Bizarrely enough it actually felt like we were getting ready for battle as we all simultaneously placed our helmets on and checking equipment before rushing out and grabbing our skis.

Leaving Bansko

The nice cool air was brushing against my face as I took a deep slow breath taking in the glorious view. As I arrived early I wanted to get some practice in before the morning lesson. It was great too as it was pretty quiet due to the fact people were still making there way up from the bottom. So I plonked on my skis and headed to a very slight slope to practice my plough manoeuvre. I was getting the hang of it straight away despite the icy conditions of the slope then I noticed Tania from my ski group was doing the same thing nearby which was good to watch as she was improving slightly too.

Right next to us was the drag lift where a big black or red bar would turn with the cable and I had to try and grab it in order to get back to the top of the small slope. I watched on at a few others as they were falling off not giving me any hopes and then it was my turn as I watched the bar come towards me. I thought to myself 'brace yourself ' so I did and grabbed the bar tightly. All of a sudden it completely forced me forward quite hard as I stumbled slightly but stayed on and couldn't believe it. I could feel it in my arms at the time too which felt as though I was going to pull a muscle. I slowly but surely made it to the top and began again down the slope perfecting my plough as I knew it would be important for my progress later on in the day. I continued this right until my lesson began at 10am. I could see everyone was gathering together so I joined them saying hello to everyone. Once everyone was assembled we all skied up to the quarter mark together stumbling up most of the time but never gave up as we finally made it.
Early Plough Training

We all lined up and Katy would go through the plough with us again seeing how we were doing whether we had improved or not. It was my turn and once I did my plough she thought it was good but I needed to still learn how to extend correctly. I took on her wise words and the second time I went down I slightly got better at extending but practice made perfect I suppose. She was happy on how the group improved so she took us up the button drag lift for the first time. It looked quite intimidating at first as there were a few people falling off but it helped when Katy showed us how to time the lift correctly. So then we joined the dozens of people lining up for the lift. It was quite hard to queue up and move forward in a tight nipped queue but slowly and surely we were getting closer to the barrier.

I eventually got through the barrier and watched on at the people in front of me grab the button puller and place it between there legs. It was my turn and the guy overseeing the lift grabbed my lift and handed it to me as I immediately placed the button lift between my legs. I braced again for the sudden pull so I wouldn't fall over and I was forced forward on my way up to the first snow cannon higher up. It felt great getting pulled along and it gave me more time to appreciate the picturesque snowy mountain tops in front of me as the sun was brightening the snow. It was truly beautiful and I loved every moment of it. I finally reached up to the snow cannon so I removed the lift button from myself and made my way to the cannon as did the others. At this point the slope was slightly steeper than before so when it came to stopping it was slightly harder to control the skis. It was harder for Baz too as well as Maz as they couldn’t come to a stop and would often go further down the slope sometimes falling over. Yet again they wouldn’t give up and made their way back to the group. It was all funny but I could only admire their admiration.

With each turn I would learn and improve as did everyone else gaining a bit more confidence. The morning lesson came to an end at 12pm and we had an hours break. After leaving my skis and sticks at the racks provided I headed straight into the restaurant for something to eat but instead of getting hot food I just grabbed something quick to eat. I grabbed a big bag of crisps, a croissant and a bottle of coke and wolfed the whole lot down as I watched on at the countless people arriving from the gondola lift. I realised I still had 30 minutes left from my break so I grabbed my skis again and made my way up the button lift again and stopped at the first snow cannon again to practice my snow plough for the afternoon lesson. I was getting the hang of it each and every time but I still felt as though something was holding me back. The 30 minutes were sharply over and I could see everyone gathering near the restaurant so I slowly made my way to them stopping with the snow plough I had been practicing only to go back up to where I started at the first snow cannon. 

Ready to Train

The queue for the button lift was a lot busier than before so it was pretty much every person for themselves as I had to try and squeeze and shuffle my way through to get to the front. Moments later I was finally on my way up to the first snow cannon as was everyone else in my group behind me. We all made it to the snow cannon and began the lesson with the snow plough again. Each time people were improving as well as Baz and Maz with them stopping at a shorter length than before. My problem was still the extension required to come to a perfect stop so that was what I focused on improving each time. Katy seemed to think everyone got the hang of snow ploughs so we had moved on to learning the turns as well as finishing off with a snow plough. Katy would provide us with a demonstration on how to turn and to be honest it looked quite hard to do so as soon as everyone was ready, we took our turns to do… well…. turns and each person had something unique to improve on their turns. Mine of course was the extension again and a new dilemma of my bending in my left knee. It was still something I had to learn and improve overtime but for now we were all taking it easy.

I began to notice the weather changing over the mountain tops when a huge snow cloud pushed its way through the peaks fading out the glorious sun making the place a lot colder than before. It was a good job we were all wrapped up too otherwise it would have been a different story. The lesson was soon over at 3pm as we all made our way back to the restaurant area we all had a quick talk to each other and congratulating each other on our progress today. We eventually parted ways and as everyone was making there way to the gondola station, I thought I would take the risk and go down the ski road. I did a few more trips up the button lift to improve my turns and plough. I felt like I had enough confidence to get down the ski road. So I squeezed through the hundreds of people dodging skis lying on the ground and people crossing my path out of nowhere and followed the sign pointing to the ski road. I was joining the several people going down the start of the road which started out as a long straight stretch with no steep slopes. 

Ski Road

At this point I was thinking ‘this is it, no turning back now’. I began to pick up a bit more speed and my heart was racing with the adrenaline of going down this route. I was now heading through the woodland area and as I was going through, I could hear nothing but my skis sliding across the soft snow and the sound of the cold and lonely wind breezing through me and I felt peace and freedom flying by the trees. I then had to concentrate because coming up were a few slight turns but the worst but beautiful part was the deep drop next to the route with a rapid river flowing and huge boulders set into the river. It was in the back of my mind but I had to concentrate on what I was doing. I put everything I learned so far into action and I made the turns at ease despite the fact I had skiers and snowboarders cutting me off or speeding by me. I was thinking of myself though and the next part was pretty tricky as the slope increased in angle. At this point I was constantly in my snow plough controlling my speed and with confidence I made it past that section as I continued on still on my feet. I was enjoying the route and the pace I was picking up on but I didn’t want to become overconfident so I maintained focus and continued on through the woodland track. 

Ski Road

There were parts where I thought I was going to stumble and fall but I maintained my balance and pushed on feeling happy. There were patches of ice along the way which were a nightmare of there own because as soon as the skis were on them the ski would have a mind of its own. Despite this I continued on trying to get across them as controlled as I could. It felt great at some areas when I had to weave through several skiers that were in my way as well as passing snowboarders who were on the ground trying to get back up. The trees were just whizzing by me with the wind still blowing in my face. I then noticed the route was becoming flatter than before which was great as I felt like I had control so I went a lot faster still weaving past skiers. There was a moment when a snowboarder went past me going at such speed and right behind him was his dog chasing him and keeping up with him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing but it was quite funny as the dog looked like it was having so much fun. I was trying to keep up with the dog but it was way too fast for me to keep up so I went at my own pace.

 As the route became flatter I could admire the views around me more and my god they were amazing. The mountains to the north were glorious with the peaks covered in snow and I could see the beautiful town of Bansko slowly closing in. just ahead of me I could see the gondola cable cars vastly approaching which meant I was coming towards the end of the road. The rest of the route was really flat at this point so I had to push myself along with my poles to keep up the momentum. The bottom gondola station was approaching and the feeling I had when I came to a stop at the end was brilliant knowing I made it to the bottom without falling over. I was happy with what I did so I finally removed my skis as I made my way back to the ski centre.

End of Ski Road

It was quite a relief when I handed my skis back and took off my heavy ski boots. It felt great to be walking normally for once as I began making my way out of the ski centre. I looked at the time and I knew I had missed the shuttle bus back to my hotel so I took the long walk back through the old town. I was heading for one of the main streets when I passed a stall selling large pizza slices. I was really hungry of course so I made my way to the stall and paid for a very large slice of cheese pizza. It only cost 3 Lev which was just over £1 and I fell in love with it as I dug in. I sat at the seats provided watching the world go by as well as a man trying to lure people into the nightclub nearby hoping he wasn’t going to pester me. Luckily he didn’t and I made haste for my hotel at the opposite end of the town. It took a bit longer to make my way back due to the fact I was admiring the surrounding scenery of the smoky old town and the fact I was carrying my heavy ski boots.

Bansko

A long time passed until I eventually made it back to my room. I fell on my bed as I dropped my heavy boots on the floor relaxing from a long days skiing. I relaxed for the next couple of hours until I had to get up and changed as tonight I was taking part in a pub crawl organised by Balkan Holidays. I was a bit reluctant on taking part on this crawl but I thought to myself ‘Why not’. I got changed into my best clothes I had on me and then looked in the mirror and with a depressing look, I said ‘well, that’s it’. I was a bit confused with the time of the pub crawl but luckily enough I had to go downstairs anyway to pick up my vouchers from the holiday rep for the weeks events. I had my pub crawl voucher and the rep said we were all meeting at a club called ‘Amigos’ at 8pm. It was coming up 7pm at the time so after dropping off my vouchers in my room, I headed back down to get my evening dinner.

I soon entered the room and there was a waitress at the bar who asked for my name and room number. I gave her it thinking she was going to say I wasn’t on the list but she didn’t and let me find my seat. She informed me that I could get a free welcome drink so without thinking twice I got a large local beer. I went off to the canteen area to grab my food which was pretty similar to what I had last night. Moments later, Sean came through startled by the fact he gave his name and room number as we didn’t have to do it last night. He grabbed his food and sat with me as we discussed what we did today in our lessons. He was more advanced than me so he was at the top of the mountain area learning parallel turns which was good to hear. He was happy too at how much I had progressed with my plough and turns as well as the fact I went down the ski road. He hadn’t been down it yet so he was asking me what it was like. I told him about the peace and freedom I felt going down the long route. I asked him if he was going to the pub crawl tonight and he was so it was good that I had someone to hang around with during the crawl.

We finished our dinners quickly as we had to make our way to ‘Amigos’. I hadn’t a clue where it was but luckily Sean had an idea where it was so we left the hotel making our way to the club. It was near the gondola area and I was about to take my usual route I used to get up that area but Sean was taking me on a different pathway. We were heading along a straight route west where we arrived at a large open area which seemed to look like a square. I was amazed to see there were a few Christmas trees lit up with countless Christmas lights which I wasn’t expecting. We turned left heading south and uphill where we passed a pretty water feature  lighting up with variable colours. It was really cold at this time so it was a good job I decided to take my thick ski jacket. Along the way we were talking about everything and anything until we were constantly getting pestered by people who were trying to lure us into their restaurant. We were trying to be polite enough to say no straight away and continue walking but in the end we got tired of it and just continued on without paying attention.

Bansko

We were finally at the other end of the town and luckily we came across the ‘Amigos’ bar. What a relief we felt when we both entered and the reps were waiting at the entrance with a shot of some peculiar drink for us all and a wristband to show that we were on the pub crawl. As soon as we entered the room the vibe of the place was through the roof. There was a rock band playing on stage and the place was full of people. Sean and I squeezed through everyone to get to the bar and once we arrived I ordered mine and Sean’s drink as we sat at the bar. We started drinking and talking away until the larger than life rep jumped onto the stage when the band finished their song and greeted us all. He was informing us on which clubs we were going to and times we were leaving each club. He told us how many people were on the pub crawl and it was an astounding 120 people. He was also telling us of the drinking rules we would have to abide by in each club. The rules were:

1. If a woman was caught touching her hair, she had to kiss the nearest boy to her.
2. If a man was caught drinking from his right hand, had to down his drink in one.
3. If a man was caught touching his genitals, he had to kiss the nearest man to him.

We were all laughing at the drinking rules and then the rep introduced the entertainment provided for us all. I was surprised to find out it was the entire bar staff performing.

The music was loud and thumping whilst some of the bar staff were juggling bottles and the others with miniature flame throwers. It was incredible to watch as we were all enjoying it willing the staff to keep going. They eventually finished their performance as everyone applauded them. We continued drinking our beers whilst listening to music making sure I was drinking with my left hand at all times. The rep went back on stage telling us that we were all moving on to the next club. So everyone quickly finished their drinks as we took our leave. As we all left, I noticed we were all sheep to the reps guiding us around the town. We took quite a short walk to the next club called ‘Morris’ and someone thought it was the supermarket ‘Morrisons’ and I jokingly said ‘I hope you have brought your match and more savers card’ which they found funny. 

Bar Staff Performance

Anyway, we entered the bar with a welcome shot and this club was more like a pub with a pinball machine and a pool table and quite a rustic look to the place. Sean and I grabbed our drinks and we stood next to the pinball machine talking away enjoying the vibe. A while later I wanted to have a go on the pool table so I went to the bar and paid 3 Lev for a token to put in the table when the original players were finished. As we were waiting Sean got caught drinking from his right hand and the rep rushed over and told him to down it as nearly everyone was cheering him on. He smiled as he drank away with a huge cheer when he finished it. To pass the time too we were watching something amazing on the TV in the corner of the room. It was women’s American football but the women were basically wearing nothing but the shoulder guards and really short shorts. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen as most of the time they were either grappling or fighting with all the men cheering them on. I almost forgot the fact that the pool table was free for me to get on it. I asked Sean if he fancied a game with me and he agreed so we racked up the American style pool balls and I broke them up.

The game was pretty good with both of us getting closer to the black ball at the end but as usual I felt pressure towards the end and completely lose it which meant Sean finished the game off by potting the black. We shook hands and went back to the pinball machine to enjoy the rest of the time in the pub. A moment later the rep informed us to get outside and move onto the next club. We grabbed our coats and left but this time everyone was quite merry. I heard people were asking what the next club was going to be called and I said it might be ‘Sainsburys’ and hope everyone brought their nectar savers card. Yet again they were laughing which was good as I thought I would have been the quiet one in the corner instead of mingling with new people. I was talking to a couple who recognised the town I came from stating I was the only person ever to leave it which was really funny.

Anyway, we were approaching the third club which was called ‘Jacks’ and yet again we were greeted with another peculiar shot. I was totally not expecting the room I walked into to exist. The bar was at the centre of the room with the stage at the far end with dancers already dancing away at the upbeat music. The barmaids were dressed in something they’d wear at the red light district in Amsterdam. I ordered my drink and made my way nearer the stage with Sean. I was watching the dancers and it felt great at the fact I was merry and having a good time. The rep soon went onto the stage to greet us all and then introduce the entertainment. Yet again the barmaids began dancing with the mini flamethrowers and passing through each other. We were all enjoying it and then it was over. My focus went back over to the dancers on the stage and I seemed to zone out with the movement of them enjoying every moment. I was so glad I decided to come out and experience the pub crawl. 

Dancers at Jacks

The rep went up again and it was time for the drinking game which was men vs women. 5 of each gender volunteered to get up on stage and race each other to see who could finish first. The women won each and every one but it didn’t matter as it was all meant to be for a laugh. The dancers took over the stage again which was good for me and by this point people were becoming tipsy and began to dance along. The whole place was jumping and then out of the blue a lot of people decided to climb up onto the bar and dance away. It was really funny and good to watch but it would be short lived as the rep came onto the stage and told us all to drink up again and make our way out to the 4th club. I didn’t want to leave the club because of the dancers but we had to. We made our way out with some people trying to stay on their feet but still aware on what they were doing and where they were going.

It was quite a short walk to the next club which was called ‘Oxygen’ and as soon as we arrived at the front door, it was an underground club full of fluorescent lights. We got our welcome shot again and then I could see the place was quite full with the DJ beginning to play some good music. The place was already jumping with everyone dancing in the tight nipped club as I ordered a bottle of beer admiring the vibe of the place and joining in on the dancing myself. I didn’t care how bad I was as I was just enjoying myself as were everyone else and I suppose that was the idea anyway to just have fun. Yet another drinking game arrived and 5 more volunteers from each gender took the stage to see who was the fastest. Yet again it was no competition as the women won again. The music came back on as we all began to dance but then I got tired out in the tightly compact club so I went to one side and found Sean so we spent the rest of the time talking.

In no time at all we were making our way to the last bar which was of course the ‘Happy Ends’ bar which was quite a fitting end to the pub crawl. It was another short walk and we all arrived to a welcome shot I didn’t order another drink as I got straight to the dance floor mainly because they had two very beautiful dancers on the stage right next to us all. At the centre of the dance area was a lot of fake snow coming from the ceiling which celebrated the fact we made it to the last bar. I was too focused on the dancers and one of them seen me dancing away. Then she laughed when I tried to copy her moves especially when I was rapidly shaking my shoulders. I loved the feeling I experienced of pure joy with the dancing, the dancers and everyone around me having a really good time. I was dancing for quite a long time and I was getting a bit tired so I went to one side to relax for a moment as the dancers left the stage for their break.

Happy Ends Bar Dancers

I was about to grab my coat to leave and then the dancers came back on. I dropped my coat again and instead of dancing I would stand at the bench right next to the dancers to admire them and their dancing. A long time passed and then they left again with no signs of them coming back so I grabbed my coat once more and took my leave. By the time I left it was past midnight so I made haste for my hotel. The journey back was absolutely quiet and peaceful with no one to be seen.

It was amazing to hear nothing and then I arrived at my hotel. I walked right up to the automatic doors and they wouldn’t open. I thought there was a problem with it so I tried again to no avail. I was thinking ‘great, how am I going to get in’. There was no one at the reception area so I was knocking hard on the glass hoping someone would hear it. Fortunately, the security guard came out of his small office next to the entrance and had seen me. He opened the door and let me in. What a relief as I made my way to my room especially when I finally rested in my bed hearing nothing but a high pitched tone in my ears from the loud music. Despite this I had a fantastic night which I would never forget.
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