Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Blissful Slopes of Bansko - Day 4


Pirin


Bansko                                                                           Bulgaria

Tuesday 12th January 2016

I woke up to my alarm once more at 7:30am and it was definitely a tiring morning due to the fact I came in really late the previous night from the pub crawl. I was still reminiscing over what an enjoyable night I had but I had to focus on today and what wonderful things I had in store. I got changed and headed down for breakfast as I was absolutely hungry. I entered the room and I could see Sean sitting down to his breakfast. We gave each other a look as though to say we survived the night. I quickly grabbed a few things such as eggs, cheese and ham as well as fruits and juice and made my way to Sean’s table. We got talking about the pub crawl and how much fun we had as well as what our intentions were today. We eventually finished our food as we both headed to our rooms to grab our skiing equipment. After double checking I had everything including my heavy ski boots, I headed straight down to the outside area awaiting pick up by the shuttle bus.

As I arrived there were a few others waiting too and I had a quick conversation with them to pass the time. Sean eventually showed up just in time for the bus to arrive. As soon as it pulled up we all rushed on eager to get going. Unfortunately, the driver rushed off inside the hotel and then quickly rushed back out and then hit a bombshell at us. News came out that the Gondola lift was not working and we all had mixed minds whether to stay at the hotel or not. The driver made the decision for us all and drove to the gondola station anyway in the hopes that it would be working later on. I thought the day was ruined to be honest as we eventually pulled up in the car park in front of the gondola. We could see the cars weren’t moving as well as countless people pacing the area wondering what was going on. We all got out and went our separate ways flustered about what to do.

Bunderishka Polyana

Reluctantly, I decided to grab my skis anyway just incase. I put on my ski boots and placed my shoes on the shelf and made my way back out to join everyone else outside. As I got out I bumped into Maz and Tracey who already had their skis and informed me that there were shuttle busses put together to take everyone up the mid section of the mountain. They were pointing near the ‘Happy Ends’ bar and as I looked over, I could see a very huge queue forming so I rushed over as best as I could with my boots on and joined the queue. It was very tedious spending a very long time nudging forward getting closer to the barrier area and as time passed, I was constantly looking back at the gondola station to see if the cars were moving to which they weren’t unfortunately.

A very long time passed until I eventually made it to the mini vans. The driver was grabbing everyone’s skis and chucking them in the back where we all crammed in ready to set away. The driver was rushing back into the van and left straight away making our way to the mid section of the mountain. I had a feeling it would be a long journey in the van knowing how long it was in the cable car. We were making quick pace up the mountain along the very tight winding road cutting down the miles. The driver had no fear and was overtaking cars on corners, speeding around them and before we knew it the familiar sight of the mid section arrived. I was happy to get out of the van and grab my skis and I couldn’t believe what I had seen. The gondola lift decided to work when I got up there and I was laughing with disbelief. I was up here now anyway and to be honest it was great because everyone was still trying to make their way up so it was pretty empty. This meant the button lift was free to use with no queues whatsoever.

Bunderishka Polyana
  
I thought I used the slight time I had to improve my turns and ploughs. I went a few times up and down the slopes finding each plough at ease but still struggling a bit on the turns. I noticed everyone from my ski group was gathered around Katy so I made my way straight to them. I came to a nice stop and said hello to everyone and immediately talking about the gondola lift. We then continued on up the button lift and were told to make our way up to the second snow cannon area which was half way up the slope we were on. We all made it with some people walking up the slope instead of the lift and because we were slightly higher up, I could see the beautiful mountains to the north poking up above the alpine trees looking glorious as ever.

Bunderishka Polyana

We all lined up taking turns again at perfecting our turns and ploughs with ease; so then Katy decided to challenge us by placing her sticks 1 metre apart with another stick lying across them. She provided a demonstration where she basically ducked underneath and through the sticks as though we were doing a forward limbo. There were a few finding it easy and some who ended up pulling apart the sticks. There was one moment I thought I knocked it over when I felt the stick hit my back but as I stopped and turned I seen it was still there. Over time everyone got the hang of it and passed under with ease so we focused more on turning. Katy yet again gave us a demonstration where we had to learn to bend our knees and keep a forward momentum whilst turning. It was quite complicated to understand at first because to turn left, I had to lean to the right and visa versa. Each time I would go down I couldn’t really get the hang of it but then towards the end I managed coming to a perfect stop boosting my confidence feeling in control.

The lesson came to an end as we all went down the slope together and then we were told we had an hours break before the afternoon lesson would begin. So we all dropped our skis at the racks and went our separate ways. I did my usual routine and grabbed a big bag of crisps and croissant with some pop and sat down outside admiring the hustle and bustle of everyone having a great time. I quickly finished my snacks and thought about risking going up a bit higher up the mountain to try another route out as I wanted to experience something new. I grabbed my skis and walked over to the huge map of the mountain slopes to figure out where the chair lift nearest to me was going too. I was in two minds whether to go up or not when I found out it was leading to a small moderate route and then onto the beginners route.

Bansko Ski Map

I braved it though and clipped my skis on my feet sliding over to the checkpoint. It was still quite quiet so I didn’t have to queue when I passed the lift barrier. I was actually dreading this part as I had visions of me falling on my backside as soon as I tried to get on and off the chair. I nudged myself forward and came up to another barrier which was knee height so I lined myself up touching the barrier ready for it to open up. As I stood there I noticed the red and white conveyor belt in front of me which I wasn’t expecting but braced myself when the barrier opened and slid on the belt. I stumbled slightly but stayed upright as it moved me forward to the end of it. I then came to a stop and watched on at the 6 seated chair as it came round the corner and I thought this is it don’t fall over as it pushed into my knees and forced me to sit down on it. It was hard to keep the skis straight as the chair turned around again but then the ground level dropped as I was rapidly shunted up the cable on my way to the moderate route.

Cable to the Moderate Route

I had to put the barrier down to keep me from falling to my doom in the soft snow below but once I sat back and relaxed, I was overwhelmed by the shear silence of the journey up. I couldn’t hear anything and it felt great and peaceful. As I gained height, the colder it got of course so it was a good job I was wrapped up. I couldn’t get over the beautiful views on the way up too but I had to focus on getting off the chair because the top station was vastly approaching. I had difficulty lifting the safety bar up because I forgot my skis were holding it down. I lifted the bar up just in time for the chair to arrive at the top. My next concern was getting off at the top at ease and I had my sticks ready in front of me to help push me off. Thankfully I timed it right to jump off the chair and I came to a controlled momentum straight onto a slight slope.

Moderate Route

The snow was a lot deeper at this section which I thought would be good to help me control my turns and pace. I made it down to the top of the moderate route but I didn’t go down it straight away. I stopped at the flatter surface at the very top of the route and the first view that caught my eye was the picturesque view of the next mountain top to the west of me with the pine trees bundled up together below it. I was also standing right next to the black slope too and was taken aback with how steep it was. There was no way I was heading down that route on this trip so I turned around and braced myself for the moderate route. It was definitely intimidating as I started making my way down. I immediately began my turns and ploughing constantly and I was doing quite well but a minute or so down the route I lost the control I had with the turns and I was gaining speed. The turns I was trying to make were not really helping and all of a sudden I fell over backwards coming to a soft landing in the snow. I came to a slow stop right in front of a baby pine tree completely covered in snow. I was happy I didn’t get injured thankfully and got myself back on my feet grabbing my sticks continuing on down the slope.

Moderate Route

I had a hell of a lot more control from then on and I was enjoying the moments I would pick up speed. I could see another restaurant area approaching which was called ‘Shiligarnik’ and it was home to a couple more chair lift stations which took people up to the very top. I was tempted to go up but I didn’t have time as the afternoon lesson was really close. This was also the area where the moderate route connected to the beginner route so I headed straight onto it. It was great to see different views than the ones I became used to and I loved the moment of skiing through the woodland areas performing reasonable turns to keep the momentum up but still focused on controlling my speed with ploughs. There were a few sharp and steep turns which I managed to pass at ease and I picked up speed again as the route became flatter.

Moderate Route

Then the ‘Bunderishka Polyana’ area emerged through the thick trees and I could see a lot of people gathered outside the restaurant/bar area. I was coming to the end section of the route which looked to be awkward as it was very steep and was on a turn. So I had to control my speed at a slow pace and thankfully I made it to the bottom of that route. I was happy about what I did as I continued on to meet the others for the afternoon lesson. Most of the people were there ready to go so I had a conversation with them about what I just did and some of them were surprised I went down there and asked if I was ok when I fell over. Katy arrived as well as the rest of the group and so we made our way up the button lift again. Yet again we were improving on our turns learning new techniques on controlling speed while turning. One manoeuvre involved balancing one stick on both hands and to create a slalom movement without dropping the stick. We had to really bend the knees and then extend which was putting quite a bit of pressure on my left knee but I still pressed on as did everyone else.

The ones that were doing badly at the start of the holiday were showing great improvement which was a beauty of itself. The other thing that was making it difficult for everyone was the horrible rain and cold that came our way in the afternoon. It also didn’t help at the fact there were times we were standing still for a while and everyone was getting soaked especially my gloves. I could tell everyone wanted the lesson to be over quick and as luck would have it Katy decided to cut the lesson short. We all skied to the restaurant area again so we could get a brief from Katy and telling us what time we had to meet up the next day. We said goodbye to each other as we parted ways.

Bad Weather

I was heading straight for the ski road to see if I had improved from yesterdays run down it. As I blissfully enjoyed the first section of peace and tranquillity, I was vastly approaching the steeper section with the slight turns. I could immediately feel the difference in my control when I was making the turns feeling confident enough to get faster. I was passing a lot more people but still not keeping up with the pros.

The fact that I was in control meant I could really enjoy the views surrounding me which was fantastic as the wind blew in my face. There were also times on straight sections where I would bend down to pick up the speed and they were the moments where the wind would rush past me gaining speed. I loved the momentum I established but it was short lived when I reached the bottom section of the route as it was flat and slow so it seemed to take forever to arrive at the bottom gondola station. I was thinking of finishing there and then but I changed my mind and made my way through to the gondola station again. As I made my way up to the steps I noticed it was really quiet with hardly anyone there. I made my way through the barrier and a car was ready for me to jump in. I thought I was going to have the car to myself but a foreign woman jumped in at the last minute and we were soon on our way up.

Bansko

At this point the clouds were clearing which meant I could pass the time by admiring the glorious views of Bansko town and mountains far behind. I could also hear the wind becoming stronger through the small windows on the car. There were times we were swaying up, down and side to side which meant the cable had to stop at times. The woman was getting slightly frustrated whereas I didn’t as I continued admiring the views around me. A very long time passed with gondola stopping until we came up to the top station once more with the familiar sights of fluorescent skiers bunched up around the area. We were happy we finally left the car as I strapped on my skis and headed straight down the ski road again. It wasn’t raining the second time going down but I still covered my face with my goggles and balaclava as it was still freezing cold.

Journey Back Up

The second run was a lot better than my first one as I was picking up speed even on the harder turns next to the flowing river alongside me. It was definitely a thrill to be going at a faster pace watching on at a few people falling over both skiers and snowboarders as I quite quickly arrived back at the bottom again. I felt happier with my control but I didn’t want to go up the gondola again just incase it kept stopping. So I unclipped my skis and made my way into the ski centre. I returned my skis like I normally do and then went to the shelf to retrieve my shoes. As I went to the shelf that I placed them on, they weren’t even there. I was shocked that they weren’t there and so I checked every shelf that was in that room with no luck. I did spot a pair that looked very similar to mine but I wasn’t sure and I thought someone might have taken mine thinking that they were theirs. I didn’t know what to do so in the end I just walked away wearing my ski boots. I unbuckled the straps to make it easier for me to walk in and made my way out still flustered on what just happened.

I was eager to get back to the hotel and luckily enough the right shuttle bus was waiting in the car park with no body inside. I walked as best as I could to it and eventually entered the van. 15 minutes later the driver made his way to my hotel as I was the only one in the van. In no time at all we pulled up outside the hotel and I let myself out to save the driver from doing it. I clambered up the few stairs to the entrance and noticed the sign stating no ski boots on. So I took them off and the steam coming out of the boots were billowing out like a steam train. I was laughing as I picked them up and walked straight for the lift.

I entered my room finally and as I opened the door there was a letter on the floor which stated the gondola lift was working again which was pointless to be honest as the day was over with. My next concern was to go and buy new walking boots. Luckily I brought my smart shoes with me so despite the fact it looked quite silly wearing outdoor gear with smart shoes, I made my way out into the town of Bansko in the hopes of finding a shoe shop. I walked along to the square where all the Christmas trees were and up the hill towards one of the main streets. There were a few shops that looked like they had shoes in but they were either women’s shoes or novelty shoes which was no good of course. Finally, I managed to find one where the whole place was crammed with shoes and boots on shelves so I wasted no time entering the shop. It didn’t take long for me to catch my eye on a pair and then the shopkeeper approached me to help out. She helped me pick a good pair of walking boots and quite happily helped me put them on my feet and even tied my laces. I was telling her what happened at the ski centre to which she laughed but shocked at what happened. I paid 60 Lev and made my way out with my smart shoes in a black bag.

Bansko

I wasted no time getting back with my comfy shoes and then I managed to get a shower because I didn’t want to stink the place out for tonight’s event. I was taking part in a Bulgarian folklore fiesta which I thought would be a good thing to do understanding the culture of a country in one evening. I grabbed my voucher I needed and made my way downstairs to the lobby area. Within minutes of me sitting at reception, a man came in to the building and must have known I was waiting for pick up. I gave him my voucher and made my way outside. At this point the rain was pouring down so we wasted no time getting into the car and driving off.

I thought the journey would be quite long but he only turned a few corners and then stopped. I thought we were picking more people up but he got out and told me to follow him. We walked at a quick pace down a narrow cobbled street with our heads bowed due to the rain as he escorted me to a low wooden door. He said to watch my head as I passed through the door then into a very small yard in the back and then through another small door. I entered into a small building with a small bar with Bulgarian artefacts and drapes overtaking the stonework. It was quite a sight to see as I made my way through. The larger than life rep was waiting between two rooms with a few other reps and then he escorted me to the next small room as the driver took his leave.

The place was pretty much packed as the rep told me where to sit which was quite close to the doorway. The starter dish was already set out on the tables so as soon as I sat down I joined everyone else and began eating. It was basically a salad with piles of cucumber, tomatoes and white cheese and I was kind of enjoying it but it was still rabbit food to me. As I was eating I realised there were 4 seats to my left empty assuming I was the last to arrive and then I realised I didn’t know anyone in the room. So then I tried my best to mingle with the middle aged people next to me. It was good to talk to the people next to me but to be honest the conversation was becoming quite boring as they were trying to guess each others jobs. Fortunately, the rep interrupted everyone to introduce him and the team. He was giving us information on Bulgarian history and the history of the actual building we were in which used to be the town’s bank in the 17th century. We were also told the Bulgarian’s yes no scenario (during the Ottoman Empire era, the ottomans would invade towns like Bansko and line families up in their own homes with a knife to their throat. They would get asked if they would join the empire and if they said no then they would die. So they would say yes but really meant no).

It was very intriguing to know and then the best part came at the end. Each of us had a small wine glass at our side full of a Bulgarian spirit called Rakia. I heard of this stuff and heard it tasted like paint thinner so then the rep requested we all lifted up the glass, look at the nearest person in the eye and give them cheers. So we all did and then drank. My face almost twisted like it would with a glass of whiskey but it didn’t feel as strong which was good enough for me. I noticed nobody else around me liked theirs and offered me their drink. I didn’t hold back so I took them and drank them as they laughed.

A moment later, 4 women walked through and took the 4 empty seats next to me. They looked as though they were fun kind of people and immediately they were talking to me. They were asking if they had missed much and I told them about the history lesson by the rep and the Rakia. They liked the fact I had to drink everyone’s drink sitting near me. We all got talking straight away about everything and anything. There were jokes and serious talks and it felt great to be a part of it. At this point the main course arrived which was like a goulash/stew dish which was plentiful of beef. I dug in straight away losing count of how many pieces of bread I used to soak up the stew. Then the women were admiring my travel tattoo on my arm wondering what it was all about. I was explaining that there was a hidden assassins’ creed symbol in the tattoo and they were definitely up for finding it. So they were looking for the next five minutes with no luck and then they gave up. I gave them a clue and they immediately seen it. We were having more good conversations about where we all came from and the woman called Sarah sitting next to me lived in Newcastle but came from London which was where all the other friend Flora came from. We were also talking about our skiing experience and which routes we had been down. It passed the time very well and then the rep interrupted us all again. 

Bulgarian Folklore Fiesta

He was introducing the traditional dancers and musicians to us and we all applauded as two dancers approached the room wearing traditional red and white garments. The musicians were hiding in the back as they began playing away whilst the dancers began to do twists and turns in the tight nipped room. It was really good to watch and hear the unique music playing in the background and it was definitely a different vibe than the previous night’s pub crawl. We were all enjoying it and wanted more so when the dancers finished, the musicians stepped forward and one man sang a solo with quite a loud deep voice which hit every one of us. Then the musicians began playing together with the clarinet player at the front. He was making everyone laugh when he kept unscrewing each part of the clarinet and playing it as the sound got higher and higher in pitch. He was down to his last section of his clarinet which played the highest pitched sound until he screwed all the pieces back on and continued on playing. We gave him a big cheer as they all bowed in appreciation. Then they played one more tune and the dancers came in once more.

They did a little dance and then grabbed random people from the tables and as they linked arms, they were jumping sideways through the whole room to the next room and back. Flora and the other friend were lifted up and joined the line as we all laughed. I was happy I was sitting at the opposite side so they couldn’t grab me. The music eventually finished with loud applause as the evening came towards end. I was telling the women about the paper rose I do and they were eager to learn so I went through the process as they did in time with me and eventually we all finished at the same time with them wowed by what they had learned. To my surprise there was a kid who was copying too and gave me a rose to put in with the rest. The women thought it was cute of him as I thought it was cool. Anyway the night came to an end and the women were asking if I wanted a lift in the pick up they had and I turned it down due to the fact I was only round the corner.

We parted ways in the hopes that we would meet up again during our time here. We all left together and thanks to the woman who bumped her head on the low doorway, I managed to duck my head in time. I waved them good bye and made my way straight for the hotel. I was thinking about what a great evening I had meeting new people and understanding the history of Bulgaria in one night. I soon returned back to my hotel feeling relieved to be back and rested for the days to come.
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