Thursday 14th January 2016
Yet again the aches and pains in my legs arrived as soon as I woke up in the early hours despite the fact I had a shower last night and stretched out. It was momentarily painful though because as soon as I got changed and moved around for a moment the pain disappeared. I headed straight downstairs to get my fill of food for breakfast. Sean was in the room having his food already so I sat with him with my food and we began talking about our day yesterday. We were also talking about the good weather that was expected today and possibly my chance to get to the top too to eventually catch a glimpse of the views. It was coming up to 8:15am so we left the dining room and to our rooms to grab our skiing gear.
By 8:25am I was at the front entrance and I felt like something wasn’t right when I was the only one standing there when there were usually a handful of people waiting. Sean then came down bewildered with the same fact wondering what was going on. 8:30am came when the shuttle bus was supposed to arrive but it didn’t show up. With Sean and I frustrated, I headed back to reception to see what was happening. Apparently the driver left early which we weren’t happy about as it meant we lost time with skiing. The receptionist rang the van driver to get back quickly to pick us up. So we waited for another 10 minutes until he eventually arrived. We rushed into the van thinking he was going to go straight away. Oh no, he decided to slowly make his way into the hotel for a few minutes then slowly making his way back out finally driving us to the gondola station or so we thought.
We had to make more pick ups along the way but then eventually we arrived and made our way straight to the ski centre to grab our skis. I decided to take my new shoes this time hoping they weren’t going to get stolen. Just as I was putting my boots on I overheard a couple complaining to the rep about their shoes being stolen too. Once I had my boots on I made my way over to them and explain to them my situation as well. They couldn’t believe it and stated that there should have been cameras watching on at the shelves. They were angrier than me to be honest because they said their shoes cost about £200. Mine was more for sentimental reasons despite only costing about £40 but the principal was still the same.
Anyway we all made our way to the gondola station and quite quickly I made my way into the cable car with a few others for the awkward ride up to the top. A very long time passed until we made it to the top where the weather was glorious without a cloud in sight. I was very hopeful and eager to get to the top but first my lesson would start in 30 minutes. As I made my way over to the button lift, I bumped into Maz, Tracey, Michael and his family. We wanted to go up together to the halfway point of the snow cannon route but there was a problem; the button lift wasn’t working. So we unclipped our skis and took the long tiring walk to the halfway point. Along the way we were talking about what we did in the evening passing the time until eventually we got to the halfway point. We were practicing our turns for the lesson which was about to start in 10 minutes so we all went down together to meet up with Katy and the rest of the group. Katy was asking me how my snowboard taster went yesterday and she understood how hard it was to control turns and come to a stop.
|Bansko Gondola Station|
The button lift was still not working so we took the walk up the slope talking along the way. It took a while too but we made it to the top raring to get back down. Funnily enough as soon as we got to the top, the button lift began to work which was typical. Anyway we moved on to better things with the lessons as we were going to do a human slalom. We would all line up about 3 metres apart and the person at the top would slalom between everyone else. I jokingly asked if everyone took out health insurance and everyone said yes. So one by one everyone including myself slalomed between everyone without hitting anyone which Katy was happy about. She was constantly praising us with how far we came and yet again it motivated us all to keep it up. Baz was a hell of a lot better than what he started out like which was really impressive. Maz was picking it up too and I could see why Katy was proud of them.
We all slalomed constantly from then on to the bottom and Katie told us all to head to the top again. Because the button lift was working again, the queue was horrendous. We all joined the back of it and then half of us changed our minds and took the walk up again. I decided to walk up again and as I was climbing using skis as a hiking stick, I was admiring the marvellous sun still shining on the mountain peaks thinking that I shall be at the top of the mountain soon. I eventually got to the top of the snow cannon route along with a few others as we waited for Katy and a few others. To pass the time I was talking away to the group that walked up whilst admiring the views surrounding us. A very long time passed until the rest of the group joined us as we all lined up ready to head off down the slope. Then we were surprised when we had seen an instructor joining the line making Katy laugh.
He spoke Bulgarian to her and she told us that he was joining us jokingly. He then left for his group as we continued on doing our human slalom again. The second time was controlled and perfect which would benefit us all when we go onto the ski road in the afternoon. We made it to the bottom again as it was time for our dinner break. However, instead of going to the restaurant like everybody else, I headed straight for the chair lift that would take me up to the very top. After looking at the huge map next to the chair lift I was going to use, I could see it would take 2 lifts to get to the very top. So without haste, I passed the barrier and headed straight for the chairs. It was quite quiet so I timed it well to get my own chair. It was less complicated than the chair lift to the moderate route which meant I sat back on the chair at ease bringing the safety bar down ready to be amazed with the views I was about to see.
Immediately, the sound disappeared from the hustle and bustle at the restaurant area as I got further away. I absolutely adored the ride up as I was going right above the black slope watching the experienced skiers and boarders rapidly making their way down. It was beautiful to see and then I got to see the snow cannons work for the first time. The direction of the snow from the cannon was hitting the chairs in front of me which meant it was my turn to get blasted. A quick hit of snow went all over my face and chair and then gone as I continued gaining a lot of height. There were times I would look back down and all the people at the main area below looked like colourful ants and then as I looked forward again, I could see the top station approaching so as I got closer, I had to lift the bar up and push myself off.
|Majestic Bulgarian Landscape|
I had to make the right turn to the next chair lift station because if I took the wrong route, I would immediately be on the black slope. Good job I knew how to turn and come to a stop at the wooden fence overlooking the valley below and half of the panoramic views. I could see a huge section of the northern mountains at the far distance and I was lost for words at this majestic view. I knew there were better views to come so I made my way through the next barrier and thankfully, I got onto the chair at ease by myself enjoying the ride up. I could already feel the temperature drop at this point so it got me wondering how cold it was at the very top. I had my goggles on and balaclava covering my whole face except my nose and mouth so as it was exposed, I could definitely feel the cold as I got higher.
The greater views were slowly coming into range and I was overwhelmed with the sights around me. I was still watching the skiers and boarders below me and I could see some at the far left of me. The top station was coming up too so yet again I prepared myself to get off. As soon as I got off with ease it wasn’t right next to a route so I could go to one side and admire the glorious views of the snowy mountains which were shining bright against the sun. I then turned around and skied to the east slightly coming up to another fenced area and looked on the countless mountain peaks disappearing behind one another completely covered in white. There was a higher vantage point right next to me at the south where I could see a wooden cross standing out. I was watching on at the several people who were clambering up the very deep snow in order to get to it and I thought I might as well join them. So I unclipped my skis and planted them into the very deep snow like everybody else and took my sticks with me to help me up. As soon as I started climbing I was stumbling or falling over with the deep snow which was going below my knees. Slowly but surely I was making my way up not giving up without a fight getting ever closer to the cross as most people were making their way back down.
Eventually I was next to the cross but it wasn’t enough for me as I wanted to go higher. I could see it was possible to go higher safely so I continued climbing up the fresh snow making a sort of track behind me to use to get back down. I must have gone another 30 metres before finally stopping taking in the breathtaking panoramic views of the snowy mountains. The overwhelming feeling of peace and freedom came rushing through my heart as I felt like I was on top of the world. I almost had a tear in my eye feeling like a true explorer thinking about where I was and what I was doing as I embraced the bittersweet cold. As I looked down at the valley to the North, I could see the very tiny town of Bansko which seemed to be less than 10 mile away at this height and distance. It was hard to come to terms how far away it was realising how long it would take to get there from where I was standing.
Speaking of time, I could see I didn’t have long left for myself to get to the meeting point with the ski group. So I took my time making my way back down which was easier than climbing up but along the way I decided to write ‘BANSKO’ in the deep snow just because it felt like the right thing to do. I didn’t have time to do a snow angel either so I just focused on retrieving my skis. A short moment later, I had my skis clipped on ready to take the risky journey down the beginner slope I hadn’t been on yet. I decided to turn my GoPro camera on to record the journey down hoping I wasn’t going to fall over and cause injury on camera. I only had 30 minutes left to get to the meeting point so after a deep breath and one last look at the spectacular views around me, I made my way down.
I immediately focused on what I was doing and not anyone else which was helping me a lot as I was going down controllably. The snow I was skiing down was incredibly bumpy as the fresh snow was gradually becoming hard and flat due to all the skiers causing little humps on the route. This was extremely tricky to control but I was doing it as my heart was beating with the adrenaline of going down the slope. I didn’t care that some people were overtaking me as I didn’t want to do anything stupid to cause injury. I was doing really well and in control with a few small stumbles and then I nearly came off when a snowboarder cut me up losing my control causing me to speed up slightly. I eventually gained control again and was smoothly making my way down the slope. Just ahead of me I noticed the slope becoming flatter which meant I could gain a lot of speed. The wind going by my face was immense beating my heart even faster as I came towards the start of the woodland area.
|Majestic Bulgarian Landscape|
After a while, I came across a crossroad a bit confused on which way to go for the meeting point. I was veering to the right heading towards a moderate and beginner route but it was the wrong one. Luckily I came to a stop in time for me to get back on the right route which was leading me to the right moderate/beginner route. There was one tricky steep slope on a turn which put a bit of pressure on my knees. I had to make a sharp turn near the bottom as I was heading straight for the red and yellow netting.
Finally I was back on familiar ground heading for the beginners route back to the meeting point. From here on the run was very easy compared to what I just did and I could suddenly see the busy restaurant area at the top of the gondola station. I quickly made my way down the last steep turn making my way through the crowd and then came to a stop. I was absolutely ecstatic and happy with what I just did. The next thing I could feel was the temperature difference from the top of the mountain to where I was standing now. It felt as though it was summer with the sun beaming hot on my face. I had to take my gloves, goggles and balaclava off as well as roll my sleeves up. I checked the time and I could see I was 5 minutes late for the afternoon lesson and I was thinking they had gone on the ski road without me. However, as I made my way over to our usual meeting point I could see them all waiting for me.
I eventually got to them and I told them where I had just been. They were excited to hear what I had to say about the run and views I had seen and done. Katy was wondering if I still wanted to join them down the ski road and I said of course. So as soon as we were ready, we weaved through the crowd straight onto the ski road. Instead of my usual speed up down the road, we all took our time learning how to turn properly whilst keeping in line with each other. Despite the whole adrenaline rush of going fast and furious, I preferred to take my time as it meant I could enjoy the road and views more especially sharing that experience with the ski group. Just before we came up to the tricky areas, we all stopped making sure everyone was still together and focusing on what we were about to do.
So we set off with complete control of slalom down the slope and I was very impressed with Baz and Maz’s progress. We were all doing so well keeping in line with each other and then half way down we came to a stop again. Katy informed us that she was about to take an alternate route which would be narrower and a bit steeper in sections than the main route. Challenge accepted we thought as we began to move forward again full of optimism. Katy took a right turn as we followed her leading to a long straight route which sped us up quite rapidly to be honest passing over a small bridge. It was quite an adrenaline rush for everyone and we wanted more. So we continued on through the narrow route surrounded by huge pine trees as we made our way to an upcoming steep hill. We came to a stop just before it and Katy gave us a few more tips to control our descent down the steep hill. One after another we slowly made our way down with no falls from anyone. Katy was yet again impressed and then we continued on to a very narrow sharp left turn. We stopped again as Katy was explaining the fact that we had to watch for cars coming as we were going to cross a small road.
|Alternate Ski Route|
We began moving again making the sharp turn between the red and yellow netting and then we could see the tyre tracks crossing our path. We slowed down but still moving looking for cars and then we crossed the road with a slight bump. Everyone was still together as we joined back onto the main route of the ski road. At this point the route was flatter which meant we could comfortably pick up speed together enjoying the views even more as we made our way towards the end. We were so close to making it to the end without falling until Leanne ahead of me suddenly lost control and fell over. Michael and I helped her back up as the group ahead didn’t realise we had stopped for her. Once she had all her things we got under way again. We caught up to the other group and it seemed to be a race at the end as everyone left the line we were making and seeing who would get to the gondola station first. We were nearing the very end when Leanne just ahead of me stumbles and drops her left stick causing me to clip it with my right ski nearly falling over myself. I came to a stop and skied back to grab Leanne’s stick for her and then we continued on together making sure she was ok.
We all met up at the very end with Katy wondering what took us so long. Anyway, she asked us all if we wanted to go back up the gondola to do the ski road again. The majority of us said we would so we unclipped our skis and made our way to the cable cars. It was reasonably quiet which meant we had a greater chance of being in the car together. Our car slowly opened its doors as we rushed over with our skis and clambered in. There were Kane, Michael, Leanne and I along with 2 strangers as we made our way up to the top. Immediately we could feel the wind throwing the car around and cable causing it to stop. We were passing the time by talking to each other about what we did for a living and the huge lottery jackpot back home and the extreme 1 billion dollar jackpot in America that was happening on this day. We were talking about what we would do with our money and what to spend it on.
Along the way the cable car would stop for ages and then move slightly. There was a point where we stopped very close to one of the many pillars holding the cable up and I was joking around about escaping the car and seeing if I could make the jump to the ladders on the pillar. We eventually got moving again and then not long after, it stopped again. We were teetering over a deadly drop but we didn’t care as we were still trying to come up with escape attempts. The gondola was slowly moving back down which was confusing as we didn’t know what was happening whether we would get to the top as well. Michael was getting frustrated because we weren’t going anywhere. I was trying to reassure him saying ‘just think what you would be doing back home at work compared to this’ then saying’ I’d rather be stuck in a cable car’.
He agreed and then the gondola was moving again. Eventually there were no stops for the rest of the journey but to be honest it was a relief getting out of the car. The rest of the group was right behind us so we didn’t have to wait a long time for them. Just before we were about to set off, we had to move to one side as a snowmobile came rushing towards the gondola station with a very badly injured man on a stretcher behind it. He had a huge cut on the forehand which was a hard reminder of what happens when a person loses focus or going to fast on this slopes. It wasn’t nice to stare at so we began to leave when a second snowmobile arrived with a man sitting on the back end with a sling on his arm. I then said to Katy I was going to give this run a miss with the group as I hadn’t had any dinner due to the fact I spent my break going to the very top. So as everyone left with Katy, I made my way to the canteen in the bar.
I grabbed the usual snacks and sat outside admiring the glorious sun still beaming down on the mountain slopes also watching the world go by as though I was stood still in time with no one noticing I was there. I quickly ate my food and grabbed my skis, clipping them on and making my way down the slope. I went a hell of a lot faster than the last run just for the fact that I wanted to get down to the bottom quickly. I was also hoping to bump into the group along the way but I had a feeling they would have already finished by the time I got down. I was making good pace gaining confidence in my turns and stops at the right time quickly making my way to the alternate route. Without stopping I took to the alternate route where it was dead quiet which was great for me as I bolted down the slope over the small bridge.
It was amazing gliding through the narrow route quickly approaching the steep hill. I slowed down at this point as I still didn’t have the confidence to go down full pelt. I did go straight down though without turning and the sudden rush of wind was exhilarating as I gained control on the flatter surface towards the sharp left turn. I slowly crossed the road and back onto the main route going really fast on the flatter surface. I kept the momentum up by pushing along with my sticks and then bending forwards feeling the wind again. I was weaving past a lot of people enjoying the moment but it was short lived when I was coming to the end.
As much as I wanted to go up again I changed my mind and headed back into the ski centre. I returned my skis and then bumped into the couple who had their shoes stolen. They eventually found their shoes but the woman was still not 100% sure that they were her shoes. They left feeling relieved and I thought about taking a proper look at the shoes I thought looked very similar to mine. As I looked closely at these shoes it only turned out to be my shoes all along. I couldn’t believe how stupid I was and hadn’t a clue how I thought they were someone else’s. I was laughing with disbelief at the fact I did that and then after grabbing my new shoes too I bumped into Sean as I explained to him about my shoes which he found absolutely funny as we laughed at the whole situation.
We left the ski centre together and then I decided to head to the shuttle bus where as Sean headed to the ‘Happy Ends’ bar for a drink. Luckily I timed it well as the shuttle bus was ready and waiting. As I approached it, the couple who had found their shoes were on the same van so we were talking for a brief moment until everyone was aboard and the driver drove away from the parking area. We were on our way to our hotels and a short moment later brought us to the first drop off. Everyone besides me got off as the driver drove off again taking me back to my hotel. We shortly arrived with me getting out of the van thanking the driver. I was relieved to be back and with my old shoes too making my way to my room.
I didn’t have long to relax as in the evening I was going to have a ski-doo taster where I got to steer my own snowmobile. I was really looking forward to this so as I grabbed my essential items including the voucher needed, I made my way out of the hotel for the long walk back up to the gondola station. For once along the way I didn’t get pestered which was great as I quickly arrived at the other side. I was looking for Sean as he was riding a snowmobile along with me in the evening so I decided to head into the ‘Happy Ends’ bar in the hopes I would be able to spot him. As soon as I entered, I could see how busy it was so it didn’t give me much hope in finding him. I walked through to the other side of the bar passing the rock band as they were playing away and making my way back outside. I then decided to head into the gondola station to see if he was there. I spent a few minutes looking around the area inside with no hope.
I was about to head outside when I had one last look behind me and there he was heading to the toilet. I waited for him outside the entrance and he was startled when he seen me. I was happy I found him as he knew which room we had to be in so we both headed for the ski school centre and I handed over my voucher to the receptionist. He gave me small form I had to fill and sign out. I signed it not at all sure what I was signing; I could have been signing my life away for all I knew but I assumed it was to cover the instructor incase of any accidents. We were then told to sit and wait for a couple more people and the instructor. A moment had passed until a familiar face entered the room. It was Kane from my ski learner group. He recognised me as I said hello to him. He had his friend along for the ride and straight after them two, the instructor arrived leading us out to the end of the ski road. I could see the excitement in Sean’s face as he was about to ride a snowmobile because of the fact he was a motorbike fanatic. Then excitement came into my face when I looked on at the 4 snowmobile lined up ready to go. I tried to look calm, cool and collective on the outside but on the inside I was like a small child on Christmas morning.
We all gathered around one snowmobile as we were told the basics of accelerating and braking as well as how to alert the instructor of any problems. We all understood what we had to do and then the instructor told us to get on our snowmobiles. I went onto the one that was used as a demonstration with Kane and his friend on the right of me and Sean on my left. The instructor informed me that I was going to be third in line with Kane ahead of me and Sean behind me. We all got our photo taken on the snowmobiles and then we all turned our engines on. My heart was beating fast when the engine was running raring to get going. The instructor eventually left with us all following him in a single line. It was hard at first to keep the throttle in but then I got the hang of it and made my way up the ski road. It felt amazing driving along the snow gaining a lot of speed leaving the flatter slope behind. It was dusk at this point so the majority of the ski road was lit up helping us with a good field of vision. I didn’t care though as I was concentrating more on where I was going. I was having so much fun pressing down on the throttle now going through the woodland areas. It was starting to get a bit bumpy so I was getting thrown around at times but nothing too severe.
I couldn’t get over how easy it was to steer too underestimating the manoeuvrability of this marvellous machine. I was following Kane’s tracks in front of me who was quite far ahead with the instructor so I thought it would be a great idea to let them go off ahead for a while and then press the throttle up higher. The speed of the snowmobile was spectacular rapidly returning back with the front two. I felt like James Bond on a high speed chase with Sean (the bad guy) behind me trying to kill me. I must admit, the James Bond theme tune was playing in my head as I may have sung it out loud. No doubt everyone else was doing the same and then we quickly arrived at the start of the ski road. We turned around on ourselves as we all lined up next to each other. I thought the instructor was coming over to give me wrong but he was just wondering if everything was ok with the snowmobile. I could see the joy in Sean’s face too as he couldn’t believe he was doing this.
The instructor and Kane went off ahead when I was revving my engine to Sean jokingly and then sped off heading fast towards the front two. Yet again after catching up I would slow right down again in order to have a lot more space ahead of me to gain a lot of speed. I didn’t know whether Sean was getting impatient with me slowing down but he knew I was doing it for a good reason. A while later, I could hardly see Kane’s rear light so at that moment I pushed the throttle in and sped off at such speed. It was definitely extreme going at a fast pace down the slope and at points I was coming up to the hill areas feeling as though I almost got some air. I even did a cowboy ‘Yeehaa’ with the speed I was doing and then a wicked sounding laugh as I was enjoying the moment. I came right up to Kane’s snowmobile with Sean right behind me as I slowed down one more time. At this point the sky was black with the stars out once more which were a beauty in itself but I had to concentrate more on the ride than the sky. The front two were far away again so I had one last push on the throttle with the cold blistering wind hitting my face going really fast towards the final stretch.
|Racing Along Ski Road|
We all finally slowed down approaching the end and then we turned on ourselves again parking the snowmobiles where we started. I was hoping to go back up again but the ride was over with. It was an absolute adrenaline rushed adventure I would never forget and it was great to share it with Sean and Kane. We all turned our engines off and made our way back into the ski school centre. We thanked the instructor as well as the receptionist and made our way out. I decided to buy a few of the pictures I was in which cost 20 Lev but was worth it. Sean and I left the area parting ways again as he made his way back to the hotel whereas I made my way into the ‘Happy End’ bar.
When I entered the bar, I was hoping to notice someone I knew but I couldn’t see anyone which meant I sat at the bar by myself ordering a local beer. After getting my drink I just relaxed enjoying the live band again. All of a sudden the barmaid came to me and grabbed my pictures I just got to have a look at them. She was impressed with what I did and then I asked her if she had ever been on a snowmobile before; She said she hadn’t and wouldn’t. She went off and did her job and then moments later, another bartender came over and grabbed my pictures. He was impressed as well and handed me them back continuing on with his business.
Then the barmaid grabbed my pictures again and then showed another colleague yet again impressed. I jokingly said to her that she might as well have shown everyone. We were talking for a small while after that but then she had to go away again doing her job. I eventually finished my drink which seemed to take forever to drink and I was making my way out when I bumped into Flora and Adam at the same time. They asked how long I had been in the bar and I said about 10 minutes. I then showed them my pictures and how the run went as they were impressed. They were leaving as well so we all walked back towards our hotels having a laugh along the way. We all continued back down towards their hotel where we parted ways with me making my way back to my hotel again.
I made it back to my hotel in good time for me to finally try out the indoor swimming pool and sauna. It didn’t seem as though there would be many people in the pool as the hotel was pretty quiet to begin with. So as I returned to my room with all my ski gear off, I left with nothing but swimming shorts and a towel gown heading straight downstairs through the reception area and past the stairway for the dining area. I came across a door which was electronically locked and I had to use my room key card to gain access. I eventually opened the door passing the masseur thinking I was there for a massage as I headed along the long corridor towards the swimming pool. I passed a couple of solarium rooms and changing rooms before I finally got to the swimming pool.
I opened the door to find no one in the pool but 4 strangers on the loungers. I closed the door behind me and made my way to the other side of them. I said hello to them and then placed my gown on the lounger. I didn’t hesitate in getting into the water feeling like I was in heaven as soon as I got in enjoying the tranquillity of the water rippling around me. I swam around the pool a few times and then the 4 strangers took their leave leaving me by myself in the large room. It was quite bizarre at first but I loved the fact I had the whole place to myself. I spent another 10 minutes or so in the pool before I finally got out heading for the sauna room right next to the pool.
There were 2 rooms; the left one was a wooden sauna and the one on the right was a glass room. The wooden room was fully functional and as I stuck my head in I couldn’t breathe with the amount of steam in there. So I headed to the glass one which wasn’t even working. I decided to head into the wooden one and brave it. As soon as I went in I was overwhelmed with the steam once I sat down controlling my breathing. Over time it wasn’t that bad and I even added more water to the hot stones nearby. About 5 minutes later I decided to head out feeling great as soon as I left heading straight for my lounger. I spent a long time relaxing on the lounger basically drying off so I wouldn’t trail water along the reception floor. 15 minutes later I took my leave heading straight for my room to get changed only to head back down for dinner.
It was just after 8pm by the time I entered the dining room heading straight for the canteen. I grabbed anything that looked good and sat at a table digging in at my food enjoying the peace and quiet. Sean wasn’t in the room which I assumed he had already been in while I was swimming so I quickly ate my food and headed back upstairs for a moment to relax my legs. I thought it would be a good time to head out and buy a few souvenirs for back home so once more I put on my ski jacket heading out into town.
I headed straight for the main area which was covered in small novelty shops. This was the first time I actually took great notice in the shops on what they were selling. The majority of items were made out of wood or glass as well as countless fridge magnets. There were a few sweet shops too which I took advantage of. I walked into one such shop and I was lost for words with the amount of individually wrapped sweets there were in square containers not having a clue what most of them were. There were a lot of Bulgarian delights on the opposite side of the shop which had peculiar looks and possibly taste. I was overwhelmed on what to get but I managed to get some sweets and I loved how cheap it was to buy. I left feeling happy with what I got as I headed further up looking in at more novelty shops.