My sojourn to Bansko, Bulgaria started 4 days after landing in Europe in the fiscally challenged country of Greece. I took the bus from Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, to Bulgaria.
At the border between Greece and Bulgaria, we were stopped for over half an hour while an important looking officer inspected my passport with a little too much interest. After that, we proceeded into the dominion of Bulgaria, and a few hours later I was dropped off at a random small town with a bunch of Cyrillic writing everywhere (imagine what Russian looks like). The bus was supposed to take me straight to Bansko. I guess I was wrong.
Not being able to read anything or speak any Bulgarian I was at the mercy of the only taxi driver waiting at the bus stop. He looked aged beyond his years and right away I could tell his English would be restricted at best after he gave me a grin exposing a few missing teeth. I said the words ‘Bansko’ and he held up his hands indicating what I eventually was able to discern to be a fee of 25 Euro for the trip. I hopped in the cab and we were off.
We started driving down a mountainous road right as night time started when the snow started to hit. This was a heavy snowfall by my Canadian standards and the now white path that used to be a road was completely covered. Naturally, the taxi driver slowed down to a crawl and by now his visibility was limited to about 5 meters in front of him, not to mention an angry window fog had formed, which he vigorously kept wiping with his 1970s jacket sleeve.
Over one hour later we made it to the mountain town of Bansko. Snow covered everything from the half-finished hotels to the newly built Casino, clearly aimed at wealthy Russians. The roads were a mixture of sludge and snow as taxis and cars furiously tried to make it through the foot deep snow. Of course, my taxi driver had no idea where my guesthouse was and we drove around for 20 minutes until he finally flagged down a local taxi who seemed to know where I was going to sleep. It took two taxi rides and two hours, but I had finally made it to my guesthouse where I was to spend my week in Bansko. Strangely enough, I was the only person staying in the entire place.
The next morning I awoke to an insane amount of snow. It was deep and everywhere and I was in a strange town. I found breakfast somewhere and then trudged around in search of the ski hill. The roads were covered in snow and in some cases, cars were totally buried.
As I walked through the town I came upon a few interesting shops that promised to improve the quality of my nights out. They weren’t very subtle, but I knew where to go if I needed some lingerie and an emergency dose of Cialis. I’ve always wondered what Kamagra is…
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After a few more party stores I continued along the white streets. I slowly trudged through the snow to find the skill hill and to rent a snowboard, snow pants, gloves, boots and a helmet. At least I had a Gore-Tex jacket with me already, but that was subsequently stolen less than a month later at a bar in Romania. There’s a high probability I won’t be bringing a nice jacket whilst traveling long term in the future.
I found a Greek ski shop to rent equipment from, Tsakiris Ski & Snowboard Rental, owned by ex-Olympian Athanassios Tsakiris, who competed in the cross country and biathlon events. His daughter Panagiota, who also competed in the biathlon in the 2008 Olympics, fitted me out with my gear. She told me she practiced for the Olympics in Canmore near my hometown of Edmonton in Alberta. Small world. With all my gear ready I lined up to take the Bansko gondola up for my first run while eagerly imagining heaps of powder up top. Unfortunately, it had snowed so much that the upper chairlifts were closed. I was going to have to wait another day to get to the fluffy stuff.
The mountain caught me off guard with its size. I had pictured something smaller compared to the Canadian Rockies, when in fact Bansko felt almost the size of Marmot Basin ski hill in Jasper, Alberta.
There were a few other interesting things about the Bansko ski hill. One was that you could buy hot red wine with honey and lemon. It was steaming hot like coffee, but it was wine and tasted surprisingly good. It really is a brilliant idea, as most people want to have a bit of liquor on the ski hill (well at least my friends) and you also want to warm up a bit, so combining a warm drink with alcohol is an ideal solution.
The next day the upper lifts opened up and there was good visibility. I rode for 5 hours straight before taking a break and I was exhausted.
Overall the Bansko ski hill surprised me, and I spent a solid 5 days riding the mountain in great conditions. It snowed for 5 of the 6 days I was there, and when it stopped somebody told me it snowed about 2.5 meters that week, the most in that short a time period for nearly 9 years. Not too bad for my first experience in Bulgaria.
I should also mention that there was the Horizon Music Festival going on while I was in Bansko. There were stages on the ski hill and house music parties going on all night, but these apres-ski activities must be mentioned some other time.