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Tonielle's European Adventure "It's always better on holiday, so much better on holiday. That's why we only work when... we need the money." - Franz Ferdinand

Ide Ciao Bansko!

BULGARIA | Wednesday, 14 April 2010 | Views [1177]

Doing a jump off a kicker my friends built off-piste

Doing a jump off a kicker my friends built off-piste

On the train today… all day from Sofia to Bucharest, then onto Brasov. As much as this is a bum-sore, it does give me plenty of time to reflect on my time in Bulgaria and “get that bloody blog done”.

For the last five months, I’ve been in this frustrating, intriguing, rough and beautiful country that is Bulgaria. I started by traveled through it, getting my first taste in Plovdiv, the capital Sofia and then the original capital Veliko Ternovo.

It’s the kind of place that the fairy tales are told from, the castle on the hill, with impressive stone fortresses, the river winding through the city, broken up by impressive arching bridges and the rolling fields out in the distance. While I was in the city, I enjoyed wandering through the ruins of the old castle on the hill and the quirky town below. Leaving there after a couple of days, we (a guy I’d met at the hostel) headed to Varna, a beachside town on the Black Sea coast. The first night involved finding a cocktail bar we’d been recommended and drinking ourselves silly with cheap, amazing cocktails. Until we decided that we had to go to bed… but couldn’t find the hostel. Our navigation skills were so impaired by cocktail goodness, that we were lost for over two hours in the wee morning until we found the hostel… and we had a map!!!

I enjoyed Varna, even though it was November, and was way too cold to swim in the water, it was still lovely to breathe in the sea air again and put my toes in the sand. The town had a great skate-graffiti culture, and I found this amazing pier, covered in fantastic graffiti. Other drawcards included ruins of ancient Roman baths, an amazing cathedral, and the local markets. No “dolphin park” though.

From Varna, onto Ruse, the bordering town to Romania. Seperated by the River Danube it was cool to stand on the edge on the Bulgaria side, and see Romania on the other side. I spent two nights there, but there wasn’t really enough to see to justify this decision in the end. The weather was miserable while I was there, and apart from the nice town square, there wasn’t much else to see.

The day before my birthday, I got the train from Ruse, over to Romania, and Bucharest. I arrived quite late at night, and with only the address of the hostel, I had to ask around before I finally found it. And who was waiting there? Tom and Jerome! Two fantastic guys I’d met traveling a couple of times previously, and had found out were in town for my birthday as well! That night we had a catch-up session at the hostel, and then midnight birthday cocktails at a nice little bar.

The next few days included lots of laughing and general craziness, with a lovely picnic lunch in the park for my birthday, visiting the Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world, and using up all the rest of our Lay to buy the best train picnic ever, for our 12 hour train ride back to Sofia.

Sofia with the boys was another couple of fun days, introducing them to my crazy Sofia friends, Sasha and Asya. And then before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to the boys* and head down to Bansko to hopefully find a season job.

Bansko. Where do I begin?

I had the help of a saint in the unusual form of Boris the Bulgarian – the guy that owned the hotel I stayed in. After he laughed in my face when he found out I was trying to find work in Bansko, “you left Australia to come and work in Bulgaria?” He only charged me 6euro a night instead of 26, and then started introducing me to some English expats in town. Which is how I landed the job in Harry’s Bar. I got a sweet deal with rent, snowboard hire, a meal every night, a wage and tips – sorted!

Snowboarding was great fun, and surprisingly enough, I did a pretty good job of it, considering I’d had no real lessons all season! The people I met were pretty sweet overall. Being a very small town, there were a few clicky groups around, but I got on with everyone generally and I definitely made some lifelong friends.

Work was a bit painful at times, especially because I was the only foreigner and female working there, and Bulgarian men that I worked with could be chauvinistic asses sometimes who got completely stressed out when it gets a bit busy. However, it was a great way to socialise with everyone in town, and meet some cool tourists as well, and get paid for it.

Probably the best snowboarding story I have happened not long into the New Year. I had been boarding with some friends since first thing because there was fresh powder and around lunch-time for my last run, Chris took me off-piste, through this easy shrubbery (I was just learning how to ride powder and off-piste at the time). I was following him because he’d done it heaps of times before, I’d fallen over a few times and struggled to get back up because the powder was almost a meter deep and if you put your arm down to get up, it just went through, straight down to your shoulder. Chris said we had to start going left again, back on piste, because you can get stuck down here… and after we kept trying to get over the hill and work out where we were, Chris said “I have no idea where we are”. F***ing great! So we keep trying to go left, as it started getting steeper into a valley and the trees are getting bigger and thicker. I’m struggling, because it’s the first time I’ve ridden through trees and in this much powder, even Chris was struggling and he was a much better boarder than me.

Luckily Chris still has battery and signal on his phone and called our other mates to tell them where we were (well where we’d gotten lost from), and we kept making our way, with things getting sketcher by the minute. We didn’t want to go down into the valley, so we stayed in the trees, where it got quite steep and icy in places. At one point my board slid out on the ice, and I lost control, flying downhill on my ass, about 20m before my thigh slammed into a tree trunk and I managed to stop myself. Very scary. Chris thought I’d broken my leg, because he couldn’t see me and I kept yelling about my leg… I just got a bloody huge bruise instead.

By then, we’d found four Bulgarians about our age, lost as well, and then went down into the valley. We figured it’d be better to stick together, so we followed. And then it turned into a rock cliff! About 5m high, they’d un-straped their boards and pushed them down, and then slid down after them. Another scary moment, when Chris is ahead of me, un-straps his board and then disappears yelling. I picked a different spot to go down, but it was bloody scary trying to get grip on the rocks in your boots so you don’t just fall the whole way down.

So after that, we found a cross-country cat-track (a thin track through the snow), so and started following that, and then when we saw we were going parallel to the river (that goes through Bankso) we finally knew we were going in the right direction. We followed that for a good few kilometers, and left the Bulgarians behind who were resting, and the track ended in a road, with cars parked there! There were a few guys standing there in ranger uniforms, so we tried to ask him if we were going in the right direction, and how far to Bansko. He informed us that it was illegal to snowboard in the national park and that he could confiscate our boards. We said that we were lost and that we didn’t want to be here! Before anything could get out of hand, we left and eventually we found the ski-road, that leads back to town, and hitched a ride back.

This Bulgarian guy and his son picked us up, and when we tried to pay him, he wouldn’t let us. Instead, when we got out, he got us to pose in photos with his son and our boards, like “look at the cool snowboarders we met today”. It was a hilarious end to our crazy afternoon. It took us three hours to get back to town, and I was late for work! I gave myself another hour to get myself together and eat before I went into work exhausted!

Other Highlights of the Bansko season.
We had a great Australia Day, seven of the seasoners being Australian, so we organized a bbq on the mountain, lots of beer, and a house party that night. There was a great group of “gappies” in town, who were doing their course to become snowboard instructors, which I got to hang out with quite a bit which were great fun, loved their tequila and ‘shot face challenge’ and (almost) all of them passed. A great swap-race (where all the skiers had to snowboard and the boarders had to ski) most of us dressed up in onesies and pushed our ski’s hard down the mountain and into Harry’s Bar for a pint – I’m happy to say I came 6th from last! Had a fun day quad-biking with a few of the guys through the neighbouring towns. And to finish it all off, an even better end of season party, which also included dressing up, beer on the mountain, and another house party.

All in all, a great season. I’m hooked now, and definitely doing another season next (European) winter.

141 days in Bulgaria > Overstayed 51 days. Oops.

Tags: bansko, bulgaria, ruse, snowboarding, varna, veliko ternovo, winter season

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