Friday, 3 March 2017

Blissful Slopes of Bansko - Day 7

Pirin Mountains

Bansko                                                                           Bulgaria

Friday 15th January 2016

Another early morning rise brought slight aches and pains but it didn’t bother me. I immediately got changed for the last full day of skiing intending on making the most of it. This meant I went down stairs quite early for breakfast in order to not miss the shuttle bus this time. I grabbed the usual stuff as I ate by myself watching on at the TV screen in the room. I could see it was snowing heavily up the top which I was relieved due to the fact I got to the top yesterday for the views; I wouldn’t have seen a thing today. Sean never showed up for breakfast so I quickly finished my food and made my way to my room, grabbing my essentials and heading back down to the entrance. As soon as I got outside, I could see that it was lightly snowing making the whole place look a lot different but beautiful. Luckily everyone was still waiting for the shuttle bus so I didn’t miss it. The other people waiting told me about the driver yesterday knowing that Sean and I were still expected yet he drove off. 

Pirin Hotel

Anyway today was a different day and speaking of Sean, he wasn’t waiting amongst us making me wonder where he was. The shuttle bus finally arrived with us all clambering in and so we eventually left making our way through the snowy town mesmerised by the change in looks as though it was an isolated village. We soon arrived at the gondola area making our way out straight for the ski centre. I grabbed my skis and put on my boots memorising where I put my shoes soon making my way to the busy gondola station. Slowly but surely, I made my way through the barrier and into the car with 3 other strangers for another awkward ride up. To be honest I spent the ride up soaking in the views of the snow covered woodland surrounding me. It was a smooth ride up to the top without stopping and then we were making our way out ready to start a good days skiing.

Gondola Ride

The snow was a lot heavier at this point which was amazing despite the lack of views in the distance. I still had a lot of time to kill before the morning lesson so I clipped on my skis making my way to the very quiet button lift. I got on straight away making my way up to the top enjoying the quiet ride up. Eventually I reached the top making my way down straight away but instead of turning I decided to go straight gaining a hell of a lot of speed and in no time at all I was at the barrier making my way back up again. I continued riding up the button lift for the next 30 minutes doing turns and going straight down until it was 9:30am meaning it was time to meet with the ski group.

I made my way over to everyone who was listening to Katy who was explaining what her plans were today. She was so impressed with how far we came she thought it would be good for us all to go down the moderate route together. We were all definitely up for it so after Katy explained to everyone about the process in getting on the chairlift, we made our way over. It was reasonably quiet which gave us a greater chance on getting on together. I was at the back end of the group with Maz watching on at everyone getting onto the red and white conveyor belt and then the chair for the first time. I could see everyone stumbled as soon as they went onto the belt and then it was mine and Maz’s turn. There were a couple of strangers amongst us too so as soon as we all got passed the conveyor belt, we all looked behind ourselves and sat on the approaching seat. Maz went on with no problem which was good as we started making our way up to the top end. We were all enjoying the ride up but I couldn’t make conversation with Maz as he was at the opposite end.

Chair Lift

The snow was hitting quite hard against my goggles the higher we got and then it was almost time to step out of the chair. We all moved our skis off the safety bar except for Maz who forgot to take it off. The stranger was tapping him on the shoulder and pointed to his skis. Maz realised what he was doing and quickly moved his skis just in time for us to lift the bar up. We came to a slow momentum as the chair turned and then we all jumped off together. Thankfully Maz and I didn’t fall so we quickly made our way towards the rest of the group. The snow was quite thick which was a bonus for us as it would help us control our speed and turns. We headed down the slight slope stopping just at the top of the moderate route. We were looking forward to getting down it but I could see how focused everyone was as the slope must have been playing on their minds. It was still quite intimidating for me too even though I had been down it 3 times already. With Katy reassuring everyone to maintain calmness and focus we began to make our descent down. 

Moderate Route

I was second from the back looking on everyone following the route Katy was making and we were doing just fine. We came to a stop when Katy’s partner came to us and asked if we wanted a team photo together. Of course we did as we lined up looking proud and happy. We eventually got moving again as we constantly slalomed down the slope with complete control coming to a stop now and again making sure everyone was still together. Katy was constantly giving us appraisal at what we were doing as we continued on down the steep slope. We were making great progress finally making our way to the bottom end of the moderate route buzzing with joy as we safely made it to the flatter area with Katy so happy with what we all just did.
Beginners Team Photo

We arrived at the hustle and bustle of people at a different station area as Katy asked us if we wanted to go higher onto the beginner’s route just below the very top. Yet again we said yes eager to get up there so we followed Katy to the chair lift that would take us up there. There was no one queuing for the lift so we managed to get chairlifts together. Me, Baz, Tania, Leanne & Katy were on one when behind us was Maz, Tracey, Kane and Michael as we made our way up. We were admiring the views of the skiers and snowboarders below us and the winter wonderland of the trees and slopes veering off in different directions. Baz and Tania were asking Katy what kind of wildlife was in the area and she said there were bears, wolves and eagles but to be honest they wouldn’t be around the skiing area as they tend to keep away from people. We were also admiring the snow falling around us feeling at peace as we were making our way to the top end. I turned around on the chair looking at the rest of the group behind us as I waved at them. Maz waved back and then when I turned back around, we were approaching the end.

Next Station

We all lifted the safety bar up and the jumped off together raring to get down the beginners slope which none of us went down yet. While we were waiting for the group behind us I could see far up the mountain the route I took yesterday and I pointed out to everyone where I was yesterday. The rest of the group arrived as we began descending down the slope with ease and control. To be honest I was enjoying this route more mainly because I was sharing the experience with everyone else and watching how good everyone was turning out to be. I could see why Katy was impressed with us all as we still had control with our turns. Everyone was happy at the fact they were going down a different slope instead of the same learner slope everyday. The views were a hell of a lot better too despite the cloud cover in the distance. We were doing so well until a snowboarder decided to cut Maz off ahead causing him to lose control in his turns and started speeding off to one side. Luckily he gained control even with a few stumbles and rejoined the group.

We all came to a stop anyway to make sure he was ok and he said he was fine but I knew deep down he was a bit angry with what the snowboarder did. We continued on sticking close to the right hand side of the slope near the huge pine trees enjoying the long runs down. I then noticed the familiar crossroad where I nearly went the wrong way yesterday knowing we were nearing the station again. We approached the sharp right steep turn where I nearly hit the netting yesterday and we all passed it with ease returning to the main route towards the station. As we skied passed the station area heading for the ‘Bunderishka polyana’ beginners route, we all looked to our left and we could see the professional red and blue slalom sticks with people weaving in and out of them. We were amazed with there manoeuvrability but deep down we all knew that our human slalom was way better. The beginner’s route back down to Bunderishka polyana seemed like nothing compared to what we just did and then we were slowly approaching the crowds below. We took our time making our way to the bottom finishing off the run slowly weaving through everyone. 

Bunderishka Polyana

We did it and we were praising ourselves once more as was Katy who was completely amazed at what we just did. We were extremely happy with a sense of adrenaline too as we ended the morning session. It was dinner time so we all took off our skis and went off for our dinner. Half of the group stayed together so me, Kane, Baz, Leanne, Michael and his family headed into the restaurant part which I didn’t even know existed as I thought it was just the canteen. Anyway we all entered and sat at the far back end all ordering a drink of beer and me being me ordered dinner of Spaghetti bolognese and cheesy chips where as everyone else didn’t order anything. We did a lot of talking about our previous travels and funny stories because of our travels. The hour was soon up as we made our way back to Katy and the rest of the group outside. Once we were all together, she explained that she wanted to go up the learner slope again for a few human slalom turns and then go down the ski road again. We were up for that but yet again the button lift was filled full of people.

We joined the queue anyway as we couldn’t be bothered to walk up. So it was a long gruelling wait until eventually we were riding up the lift. A long while later we all made it up to the top ready to start the slalom. As predicted we did extremely well taking turns weaving between each other on a continuous route back down to the bottom. We were also learning the alternate turning method known as a parallel turn which seemed a lot easier on the legs than the turns we were used to. Speaking about legs my knees were starting to have slight pain with all the pressure brought onto them. To be honest when we reached the bottom we didn’t want to go up again because after what we did in the morning it was too boring to be on the learner slope again. So we all agreed to skip more slaloms and head straight for the ski road.

Learner Slope

As we made our way through the crowds and down the ski road, it seemed a hell of a lot easier compared to the beginner route at the very top. This meant we all had a lot more control also meaning we could go a lot faster. The run was quite exhilarating and then we took the alternate route which was amazing as we all tried to go as fast as we could on the first half up to the small bridge. Along the route we noticed the snow was a lot bumpier due to the fact the snow machines were working all day and night causing jump like mounts along the way. We all had to steady ourselves going through the narrow route with all the bumps in the route but eventually made it through to the open area where we were coming to a stop near the steep hill.

All of a sudden, Katy fell over in front us when she was trying to stop on the bizarre surface making it look like she fell down in slow motion. We were slightly concerned but then we all laughed at the fact the instructor decided to fall over. Nobody more so than Baz who was the last to see her on the ground. He acted as though he was rushing to her aid throwing his sticks to the side and taking his gloves off quickly to save the day. I think Katy must have thought he was going to be her hero but he was only rushing over to quickly take a picture. It was really funny as it was often Baz who fell over so I suppose it was his subtle way of karma. I tried to help her unclip her skis with no luck as she managed to get back up with us all still laughing. With Katy gathering herself we headed down the steep hill with ease making our way back onto the main route.
Baz's Karma

A very long time passed as we all made it to the bottom safely still talking about Katy falling. We got a choice to go back up with Katy to go down the ski road again and the majority of us said yes despite my knees slightly hurting. Just before everyone left we all agreed to meet up in the evening for a so called ‘last supper’ with the group. We soon made our way back up the gondola lift with 8 people in one car. We were trying to avoid the awkward silence by talking to each other about everything and anything even with the car stopping a few times. We were still talking about Katy’s fall and our escape attempts from the car as well as what we all did for a living. We eventually made it to the top ready to make the descent down again when I asked Baz, Leanne and Maz if they wanted me to take footage of them going down the ski road. They were happy for me to do that to prove that they stayed on their feet especially Baz as Leanne was mostly taking footage of him falling down.

So I set up my camera and then we made our way down. As soon as we started I was going behind and alongside Baz to get good footage of him performing his turns and ploughs on the steeper sections. I did this for about 6 minutes still focusing on what I was doing and then it was Leanne’s turn. I started the recording again and fixed my view on her as she was slaloming down the slope behind Baz and Katie. She was doing really well as I got good footage of her. We came to a stop as I stopped the recording and then it was Maz’s turn. I started recording as we were making our way towards the alternate route getting a good few angles of him turning down the slope. We then came upon the alternate route getting ready to pick up speed and try staying close behind Maz. However, he shot off ahead with me trying to keep up startled at how fast he was going as he was weaving through everyone towards the small bridge which was quite good for the footage showing how fast he was going.

Ski Road

We came to a stop again at the bridge and I stopped the recording. As everyone was done I could enjoy the skiing more instead of focusing on what everyone else was doing. We were soon arriving onto the steep hill and everyone wanted to go straight down it without turns. Katy was reluctant for us to do this and stated that we could do it at our own risk so one after another we bombed it down the slope feeling the wind rush passed us feeling a great buzz of adrenaline. We soon returned back on the main route and the flatter slope coming towards the end. I nearly fell over when I hit a big ball of ice on the slope but I maintained my balance and continued on. Right at the end we were racing seeing who was going to get there first until we came to a stop at the bottom again. The session was done as everyone decided to call it a day. However I wanted to go up again to make the most of the day so after reminding ourselves about tonight’s dinner, we parted ways as I headed up to the gondola station once more.

There was no one waiting to get on board the cars so I managed to get on a car by myself. At this point the snow clouds were beginning to break up so as I gained height and level with the clouds it looked absolutely spectacular as though I was flying in the clouds. It was really beautiful to see the clouds flowing away from the mountain towards the valley. This meant the snow died down a lot when I reached the top of the gondola station. I thought it would be good to start my run from the top of the learner slope for one more time so I headed to the button lift which was pretty quiet too.

Beautiful Clouds

As I made my way over I noticed there were people setting up a stage at the bottom of the learner slope which I later realised was going to be a music festival over the weekend. So I had to focus on not hitting that on the way down. As soon as I reached the top and lined myself up, I looked to the far distance to the north for a good long while soaking in the views one last time, taking one deep breath and started my descent. I did a few turns controlling my speed making my way past the gondola station straight onto the ski road where I tried to take my time going down but keep the adrenaline rush up. I loved going alongside the river admiring the sound of the water rushing whilst I was skiing down in quick succession.

Ski Road

I was quickly making my way to the alternate route speeding down the slope and trying to keep the momentum up when I reached the small bridge. I didn’t stop after that especially coming up to the steep hill and it was truly glorious heading straight down it making my way back onto the main route. As it was becoming flatter I was trying to go as fast as I could. The trouble was because it was coming up to the late afternoon, everyone that used the ski road made it extremely hard and icy causing my skis to slide around uncontrollably. This meant I had to slow right down to control my balance on the skis. It was also putting a hell of a lot of pressure on my knees as I could see the end in sight. After going though the icy slope I was happy to be at the end in one piece. I was contemplating on going up again but my knees were telling me different. I couldn’t do anymore so instead of causing injury, I unclipped my skis for the last time and headed into the ski centre.

Ski Road

This was the end of my skiing which was quite upsetting but knew I couldn’t do anymore. I handed my skis back and then changed into my shoes which were definitely my shoes and nobody else’s. It was weird to hand my ski boots back too but it did feel great at the fact I didn’t have to carry them around with me. Whilst I was making my way out I bumped into Flora and her friends who were asking how my day went. They then asked if I was going to the ‘Happy End’ bar this evening and I said no as I was going out with the ski group. We parted ways with me heading straight for the shuttle bus then climbing aboard. It felt great to be sitting down again after a very long strenuous day of skiing.

It was just me in the van so we headed straight to my hotel very quickly. I left the van for the last time returning to my hotel feeling relieved to be back. As soon as I entered the hotel all the receptionists and workers were staring at me as I walked through heading for the lift which was quite bizarre. I soon returned to my room taking my ski clothing off and putting on something more comfortable. I was relaxing for a moment looking back at the footage I took today until I thought it would be a good idea to start packing my big rucksack saving me from having to do it tonight or early morning. I spent the next 30 minutes doing this making sure I didn’t leave anything out but with a very tight fit, everything went in. I was happy it was over with as I relaxed some more.

I then realised I wasn’t done with my gift buying and knew all I had to get were some more sweets so I quickly headed back out into town and went into the same sweet shop. I grabbed the biggest bag I could find, paid and then headed back to a liquor store grabbing a small bottle of the local Bulgarian drink called Rakia. I was done after I went into a kids clothing shop to grab a baby outfit rapidly making my way back to my room preparing to head back out again for the ‘last supper’. We were told to meet up at hotel ‘Strazhite’ at 7:30pm so knowing where the hotel was I swiftly made my way to the place. It was on the main street I had been using for the whole week and I soon arrived at its doorstep.

Bansko Sweet Shop

I entered like a lost puppy trying to find anyone from my group but I couldn’t help but admire the lounge area in the place. It had a lovely warm feeling to it with the fireplace at the opposite far wall and a warm yellow lighting around the large lounge area. I couldn’t see any of my ski group but then when I headed nearer the fireplace I could see Kane and his friend. I made my way to them and said hello to them not realising Maz, Tracey and there family was right behind me. I didn’t recognise anyone with casual clothing on and it looked quite weird. I sat with Kane and his friend having a good chat and then I went over to Maz to show him the footage of his ski run. He was enjoying it and laughed when he seen himself shooting off down the alternate route with me trying to keep up.
Hotel Strazhite

I sat back down with Kane and then everyone else arrived still finding it weird with everyone wearing normal clothing. Baz and Leanne sat next to me as I showed them their footage of the ski run and they loved it. Then I showed Tania a bit of her footage when I passed her a few days ago down the ski road. She couldn’t get over how slow she was going. We all spent the next 15 minutes talking away to each other until we took our leave heading to the nearby restaurant. This was the first time I actually went out to a restaurant not organised by the holiday company so I didn’t really know what to expect when we approached the restaurant.

As we got closer I could see the red neon lights stating that the restaurant had the best food and the best DJ in Bansko which to be honest every restaurant was like that. The first thing I had seen was an outdoor grill area which was set a light as we passed it and entered into the small restaurant. The whole room looked old and had traditional artefacts and drapes set out very similar to the room I was in for the Bulgarian folklore feast. We were escorted into an empty dining room and sat at the set up tables set in a long row against the wall. As there were a lot of us in a small sitting area, we all sat compactly together for everyone to get in. It was definitely a tight squeeze but we managed to sit down and look upon the menu with dignity.

The majority of the menu was in Bulgarian and whatever English there was in it was quite vague explaining in detail what some of the food was. Some of us consulted with Katy as she spoke the language telling us what was the best food to have. I must have flicked through the pages a dozen times before I made my decision. However, whilst I was concentrating on what I wanted, everyone had taken there orders with the waiter who forgot about me. So I had to wait a long time until the waiter came back with everyone’s starters. I eventually ordered my yellow beer cheese starter and waited for a very long time. We were all talking about how well we did today and the fact that Katy fell over today still on our minds.
Bulgarian Restaurant

Everyone finished their starters and eventually mine had arrived. Typical Bulgarian culture approached when my main and side dish came at the same time. Everyone was laughing how my space on the table was empty and then completely full with food ending up getting my main before anyone else and I felt like a king with a huge amount of food in front of me. So I dug in whilst everyone’s main arrived and the food was delicious. I was enjoying every bite as well as enjoying the conversations we had. Then I caught my eye on the so called ‘best DJ in Bansko’ which to be honest was a middle aged man with a sweater on playing the keyboard. It was alright for background music but honestly I wouldn’t queue up overnight to buy his concert tickets.

Maz was sitting next to me and we were talking about getting back home and how miserable we would be when we got back to reality and then I mentioned the best reaction when going home was from my dog. As soon as I mentioned dog, Maz was excited to talk about dogs and we spent the next half an hour talking about our dogs and how much we missed them. Michael’s son was beginning to fall asleep due to the late time too and all day skiing until suddenly he was flat out in the corner as we continued talking away.

A while passed with all our food finished and then Katy spoke to us all about how well we did over the week and then she presented us our certificates for completing the beginner’s course. We then all thanked her for her patience and her teaching skills praising her as she did with us. We all praised each other too making us all very happy. Then we all decided to chip in for Katy’s meal as a way of thanking her which she appreciated very much. Michael’s son was still asleep but his parents had the awkward job of trying to lift him over the table into their arms. We watched on hoping the son wasn’t going to knock the table over in the process but eventually made it over stirring. I was actually hoping he didn’t wake up to be honest because his dad and I were eating his pork ribs which were starting to get cold. It was funny because a short moment later whilst he was sleeping, his feet were near me and he was kicking away at my elbow so he must have known I was eating the ribs.

Anyway, the brilliant evening came to an end so after paying for our dinners, we all took our leave heading outside of the restaurant. Once we all got outside we were talking some more but to be honest part of us all didn’t want to go our separate ways but unfortunately we had to as I shook hands with a lot of them thinking I wouldn’t see them again. Everyone was walking the same way south where as I was walking North back down the hill to my hotel. Along the way I was walking slowly trying to soak in the tranquil and smoky old town one more time.

Eventually I made it back to my hotel immediately getting stared at again as I walked through making my way to my room. I was glad to be back in my warm room as I began packing my small rucksack with my essentials for tomorrows return home. It was surreal thinking I would be leaving tomorrow heading back to reality as I drifted off for one last night in Bansko.
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