“Holy smokes!” I breathlessly announced as I slid to a stop on one of the slopes at Bansko.
I looked at Chris completely perplexed, and was very reassured to see that, indeed, he was as exhausted as I was. We both stood there and huffed and puffed for a couple minutes, looking down the slope and taking in our surroundings.
We had only skied about 20 turns on our first run, but our quads were already screaming, and we were totally breathless.
“Are we THAT out of skiing shape, or is this snow just REALLY heavy?” I asked, laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation.
Afterall, we hadn’t really skied in a couple of seasons. The conditions at our West Coast hill on Vancouver Island, Canada, had been sporadic to say the least. The hill had had no snow, and the conditions unstable, so we never skied, and now we were paying for it.
We weren’t altogether surprised by this turn of events, as our morning had already started out quite interesting to say the least.
We awoke early to get to our ski rental shop, donned our gear quite quickly, and then crossed the street to take the gondola up to the base of the mountain. The hill opened at 8:00, and we were grabbing our tickets by 8:30. Already, there was a large line up that had formed, and we dropped into it eager to get going and make the most of our day.
Now, we have learned, the line up situation in Europe, is quite different than the line up situation in Canada. At least, that of which is in Bulgaria, Greece, or Italy. Since it seemed the same in these three countries, I’m willing to generalize that it’s likely similar across the continent.
As we stood innocently in line, feeling just as eager to get going as everyone else, we started to notice some interesting trends. We noticed that MANY people outside the line, in fact knew MANY people inside the line, and it was common practice to throw your skis to whoever you knew, and either climb the fence to get into that spot, or go to the back of the line and push your way forward, all the while explaining that you know someone up front.
Obviously people would let others through, and it started to become quite obvious that the line was hardly moving, because of all the extra bodies coming into it.
The other thing we noticed is that there is literally NO personal space in line ups, and you just nudge and push and jostle your way through, until you finally get somewhere. We were part of a giant amoebic blob, like a school of fish, where each vacated space was immediately filled with some sense of urgency.
We remembered the days of Gabrovo, and our fun nightclub experience, where our host dragged us through the line announcing “We must be impudent if we are to get anywhere in life!”
The channel between fences, that the line up had filled was about 6 feet across, and we were located on the left side of it, against the railing. At some point I looked to the right and noticed a faster “current” of people floating past us. The people that had just been in front of us, we’re now 10 feet ahead in this new current. I elbowed Chris and said, “we need to get over there.”
In that moment, our lesson from Ahmed, our friend in Gabrovo, came forth, and we both became quite impudent ourselves. We pushed and jostled and wiggled our way over to the quick moving current, and sure enough, we were swept away, much quicker than the stale left hand section of the line.
The pushing and wiggling went on for about 45 minutes. We climbed 2 sets of metal stairs, in the same way as if we were walking on the ground. Everyone was so jammed together, you hardly had room to bend your knee, and your waist, in order to get up to the next step. Never mind the fact that everyone is carrying heavy skis, snowboards, and ski poles that were wildly flying to and fro. Also add this to the fact that walking in ski boots is difficult to start with, climbing stairs is an entirely different phenomenon.
At one point the lady in front of me teetered backwards, and I feared she would fall on us all below. At another point, a small boy behind me was exhausted by it all, and decided to pretty much lean his whole body onto me, trying to get some rest.
It was a challenge for the senses, and we were happy when we came to the top of the stairs and we could see the gondolas. However, this too was a test of our resolve.
There were about 4 turnstiles that people filtered off into to approach the gondola, and to scan their tickets into an automatic reader. Once scanned, the light would go green, and the turnstile would release, allowing you to walk through. I noticed the girl in front of me had walked through quickly behind the woman in front of her, and had actually gained access on the same green light, as the lady in front. I wondered how often that scam was played out to gain free access to the mountain.
We got through the turnstiles, and awaited the gondolas to swing by us. However, the pushing and chaos to get on them was again a new sensation for us, and it took us a minute to get the gumption to be able to force our way onto the lift, as the rest of them were doing. People were clambering every which way, and it made for a lot of banging, noise and chaos.
We collapsed onto the gondola, and Chris announced for the first time “I think it’s okay if we only ski one day.” Ha! We hadn’t even gotten NEAR the slopes, and we were already exhausted with it all.
We proceeded up the mountain, in typical fashion. I had grown up near Sunshine Village, in the Canadian Rockies, where it was also necessary to take a gondola to the base of the slope. So this was very familiar territory to me. It turned out to be a nice transition from the crazy bustling below, and we arrived in much better spirits at the top.
We exited the gondola station and were presented with what looked like a typical ski hill. We were immediately impressed with the mountain itself, and the runs looked to be very decent, even from that vantage point.
As eager as we were to get going, we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, and we were both looking forward to some protein to fill us up and provide some much needed energy for what we were about to do. We eyed up the closest ski lodge, and immediately found the cafeteria. I headed straight to the start of the line up, grabbed a tray, grabbed some napkins and cutlery, and proceeded down the line.
Not once did I notice that no one else was in there. I just sauntered up to the windows, that should have been full of food, and stood and starred, mouth agape at the obvious lack of said food. Not one tray had any steaming goodness coming out of it. Chris came along and grabbed his tray behind me and I turned to him and said “Don’t bother.”
He too looked around completely aghast and horrified that there were no hot steaming eggs, sausages, bacon, or pancakes. You name it, WE WANTED IT!
We stood there staring in utter disbelief for a few moments, put our trays and cutlery back, and then proceeded to the cashier to see what the heck was going on.
“There is no breakfast here?” I asked still stupefied.
“No, cafeteria opens at 11:00.” She told us, seemingly confused by our inquiry.
“Is there anywhere that we can get breakfast around here?” I asked in a quite desperate manner.
She shook her head, still not sure, it seemed, why we would be asking such absurd questions.
We looked around us at the shelves close to the cashier, and noted the choices available; Chocolate bars, coffee, beer and potato chips. So, that is what we had!
We headed over to a table and just sat in shock, picking away at our chips. We couldn’t believe this! Images of bustling ski lodges came to our mind, throngs of skiers eagerly filling up on carbs and protein, making themselves ready for a big day on the slopes. Didn’t they know how much money they could make? Didn’t they realize that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It was totally shocking to us both, and I still have half a mind to send them a letter to let them know what they are missing out on. Ha!
After finishing our, AHEM, “Breakfast”, we headed out to don our skis, and get at it! There was a very busy lift to our left, but the one in front of us had very few people at it, so we decided to approach it. We realized quite quickly why it wasn’t very busy. There were warnings that it was for more advanced skiers, but showed both red and black runs (the equivalent to blue and black in Canada), so we knew we would be fine. I was actually quite surprised, all day, that the majority of the skiers there seemed to be in the more beginner category. I had had previous visions of super fast, great European skiers zipping down the slopes. However, we only did see a few of those, but enjoyed the ease of lineups at the lifts for the more advanced skiers anyways.
As we got to the front of the small line, and reached the gate to get on the lift, a worker from the hill approached me quite solemnly and asked me to step out of the line. Ummmmm okaaaaayyyyyy. We both side stepped over to the side, and had no idea what was going on. He asked for my ski pass, which is actually a plastic card that you receive, with a barcode on the back, that lets you scan into each lift you get on. Of course, I gave it to him, and he took it into the small cubicle that sat next to the line up. Chris was not impressed with this turn of events, and we both just felt helpless as we were desperate to get on the hill by now. I managed to glance through one of the windows to see what they were looking at and THAT was when I realized what was happening. There on their computer screen was images of the turn style that we passed through below, heading onto the gondola. Peoples faces were on multiple camera screens, and I realized that they were looking for the girl that scooted through in front of me, and had gotten through on the ladies pass in front of her. Because I was one of the people that was nearby, I guess they had noted my description, and were looking for the culprit that was scamming the hill. I realized at that moment, that it is quite obvious that not many people were actually getting away with that scam, and that they had a much better control on things than I had initially realized. The worker apologized profusely, gave me my card back, and let us get back to the business of skiing.
Wow! What a trip! We weren’t even skiing yet, and we had already been through so much! Again, as our chair lifted us off into the sky, Chris repeated very seriously “We only have to ski one day.”
Our initial plan, for the skiing segment of our holiday, was to ski for 4 days. However, we approached this cautiously, especially when we realized that the conditions were likely not the best. We also knew that only 8 out of 17 runs were open, so after a few days, I can imagine that it would get quite repetitive. Instead of buying a multiple day lift ticket, and committing to rentals for many days, we instead opted to just try it for one day. Thank goodness for that.
We made it to the top of the lift, and realized quite quickly that the conditions were indeed not the best. Our out of shape legs let us know pretty quickly that this heavy, wet snow, was going to make our day difficult. Things did smooth out eventually, and the lactic acid in our legs eased off, but we were definitely tired, and had to stop quite frequently to catch our breath (maybe we can blame it on the elevation??)
One bonus of the hill, though, was the fact that there were ski lodges (ie. places to get food and drinks), all over the place! After we figured out what was where, we would plan our routes accordingly. The discussions went like this: “If we take that lift up to that point, and then ski down to the right, we can get to that lodge and get something to eat.” As soon as we had eaten, it became: “If we ski down that hill, and then go left at that turn, we can get a drink at that lodge.”
And so, this became our mantra for the rest of the day, and needless to say, we would only do about 2 runs in a row (or sometimes 1.5) and then would deem it time for a drink.
I should let readers know at this point that the food and beverage on the hill was outrageously expensive! The prices were comparable, if not more, than our hills in Canada. However, we had planned for 4 days of skiing, and now were only doing one, so we decided that we may as well live it up! The skiing wasn’t the best, and we even got RAINED on, but WE would have fun and make the most of it anyways! Damn it!!
By 3:00 we were finished! Finished in body and in mind, and were likely starting to get a bit tipsy by then. We decided to beat the crowds and get down off the mountain before the gondola line up became the nightmare that it had been in the morning.
After limping in extreme pain (our ski boots were killing both of us!) back to the rental shop, we bid our farewells and headed off to Happy End. Yes, the name was Happy End. We have no idea if they actually GET the connotation of that name, but we were definitely very happy that it was over, and it was time for a celebratory drink (of course!). We listened to some live music, laughed about our crazy day of skiing, had some dinner, and headed back to our hotel.
That was that! We had skied in Bulgaria, and quite frankly, we were very happy to not have to do it again. We both surmised that if the conditions had of been awesome, we would likely do it all over again. But, we were happy with what we got, appreciated the experience, and were ready to move on.
We were meant to spend 4 more nights in Bansko, skiing of course, but we cut our stay short. We stayed for 2 more nights, took in more of the sights around town, and then happily headed back to Sofia to while away the rest of our trip in a familiar surrounding. We were headed back to the Art Hostel. The place where we started this incredible journey. We had 4 days of rest and relaxation ahead of us, and we looked forward to just sitting and enjoying them, and not having the need to run around and see new places. In retrospect, we were finished. It had been almost 6 weeks on the road, and we were ready to go home.
Next up, 4 more days in Sofia and then our journey home! Wow, what a trip it had been!