After several weeks in tropical weather, we were ready to embrace the cold. We’d been missing our annual ski trip and couldn’t wait to get our feet dancing on the mountains again so we booked flights to Bulgaria and began yet another adventure.
Our flight from Singapore to London (where we had a layover before flying to Bulgaria) was our longest flight to date: 16 and a 1/2 hours.
We flew over some new countries that we haven’t “seen” before like Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and other eastern countries. Picture shows mountains in Iran.
Finally, we landed in London. It felt very cold to us since we had been in warm weather for so long, but we welcomed the change. Our taxi driver (who we’d previously scheduled to pick us up) was waiting for us at the airport and escorted us to our Airbnb.
His constant chatter made the time (about a 2 hour drive) fly by and we were thankful for the opportunity to see London through a local’s perspective again.
We were surprised to be greeted by American accents when we arrived at our stay for the night. An American woman ran this Airbnb, although some members of the family were English…
At any rate, it was a very European and authentic place to stay the night.
On the following day, we took a much shorter flight to Sofia, Bulgaria. We rode for close to 3 hours from Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital) to a very small ski resort town called Bansko.
We took this as we passed through Sofia at the beginning of the long drive. Sofia seemed large, although it wasn’t as nice as we had expected.
Bansko was quite luxurious in comparison to Sofia, but it is still considered 2nd world. It is a located in the southwestern part of Bulgaria, at the foot of the Pirin Mountains, which makes it perfect for skiing.
In this picture, you can see the Pirin Mountains in the distance. They’re name likely comes from the Thracian word, “Perinthos,” which means “Rocky Mountain.”
Bulgaria itself is in the southeastern part of Europe, with Romania to the north, Greece and Turkey to the south, and sits right along the Black Sea. Picture from Bansko’s city center.
One of our first impressions of Bansko (and Bulgaria in general) was that it seemed similar to Russia and not just because of all the snow…
…for starters, the Bulgarian language sounds similar to Russian. Their appearance also looks a little more Russian/Eastern than European and most Bulgarians have dark hair and eyes. It is almost as if they are the transition between Europe and the Middle East.
So long as we’re talking about Russian/Eastern culture, this statue stands in Bansko’s city park or, Градски Парк, and definitely gave us a Russian vibe…from what we know of Bulgaria, the country was once a part of the Soviet Union. But, this statue could be something entirely unrelated because we haven’t been able to translate it (I’ve tried!).
Other than appearances, Bulgaria has a long history of wars and domination, with the earliest settlers dating back to 6,500 BC. Pictured is a local home taken near the beginning of Spring.
This is Paisiy Hilendarski monument, which is in Vazrajdane square (very near the city center). It’s named after a Bulgarian philosopher who spoke about liberation from the Ottomans who invaded and persecuted Bulgarians for many, many years, beginning in the 1300’s.
Despite many of the hardships that this country faced, it has become a beautiful place in both Spring (pictured) and Winter. It has seen some major improvements since freed of communist rule in the late 1980’s.
For instance, the landscape and walkways through this street were very creatively designed in just the last few years. It’s a little hard to tell with all the snow, however, when the snow had melted…
…it looked like this, with the paths, steams, and little bridges clearly shown.
We began to notice many other little ways that the people of Bansko were careful to make their city beautiful.
There were small cafes hidden around various corners…
… and less conspicuous ones that were still carefully placed and designed to create a welcoming, warm environment.
And even in the colder months, the streets were lined with trees and other landscape, carefully placed to accentuate all seasons.
Most of the houses and buildings had this same sort of stone pattern. When visiting other countries/cities, we’ve noticed that many places have their own architectural theme that has been developed over hundreds of years – Bansko was no different.
This was definitely something we’ve not seen anywhere else – placed throughout the city were vending machines for coffee. I believe most required you to bring your own cup, but this seemed like an amazing idea for a city that has little public transportation and very cold winter months.
We loved the overall perspective that the locals had for their city. This played out in the way that they came together and worked on events like this ski race.
And apparently they’ve been coming together to do things for a while because this church that we walked past nearly every day was built by locals from Bansko in 1835. It’s called “Sveta Troitsa” (Saint Trinity) and is an Orthodox Christian church.
Speaking of churches, this one stood out to us because it was designed differently (especially with the writing over the door) than most of the other buildings we’d seen.
Of course, when we first arrived in Bansko, we didn’t know all of these things. Our focus was on getting settled in our accommodations and being able to ski.
After the taxi ride from Sofia to Bansko, we stayed in a lovely hotel/lodge for about a week while we got our apartment details squared away.
We were especially intrigued with the cold weather since we had been in such warm places just before arriving in Bulgaria – as you can tell by the fact that we videoed outside our lodge’s windows nearly every day.
Lower elevations certainly doesn’t mean less snow! Town sits at 4,000 feet (1200 m) while the top of the ski lifts are about 8,500 feet (2,600 m).
Since we no longer had our EBC trek gear with us, we braved the cold in our light jackets for a week before getting our ski gear. Nevertheless, the beautiful snow falling straight down like this made it entirely worth it. Picture from our lodge window, located right next to the ski lifts.
Speaking of the lodge that we stayed at, it was certainly Bankso’s more “resort-y” side with large dining rooms, red carpets, and cozy nooks like this.
Breakfast is served! In the mornings, Bulgarians eat food that seemed similar to what we’ve seen in other parts of Europe: lots of cheeses, meats, vegetables, and breads.
Heading out of the lodge’s “quarters” towards the tree line and the base of the ski runs.
This alluring forest was just a few yards from our hotel room.
Bansko is so small that we were able to walk everywhere during our entire stay.
On foot we explored all the buildings in our resort…
…and especially during our first week in Buglaria, we took a few starlit walks through the snowy streets.
This might be why people just give up on driving during the winter and choose to walk everywhere. That said, there were plenty of people who drove, but also quite a number who preferred to walk.
Just a week or two after we arrived, Bansko got dumped with snow and they even closed the ski area for a bit due to the risk of avalanches.
Despite the snow, we still found excuses to get out, for instance, we visited this national forest center.
We also enjoyed walking through the streets in the city’s center, but in the future we learned to avoid some of these streets because the locals were very, very insistent on getting passersby to come into their restaurant or buy from their shop.
An enchanting local restaurant. We would’ve loved to look at these longer or take more pictures, but as I said, someone would come out and essentially harass us, and even walk along side us for several steps until we just pretended that they weren’t there.
I should mention that not everyone tried to force us to buy something from them and we eventually got used to those who did. We also began to blend in when we wore our ski gear during our walks, which helped because they didn’t think we were tourists. There were many times when people would approach us speaking in Bulgarian.
Once visibility was established and the risk of avalanches were no longer relevant, the slopes opened and the fluffy snow was perfect for skiing.
Surrounded by these gorgeous mountains, we could hardly wait to get in them and experience their beauty firsthand.
But before we could zoom blissfully through the crisp mountain air on our skis, we had to move into the apartment that we’d booked. This was the entrance to our apartment complex, although this picture was taken near the end of our stay; thus, the green grass.
We were about a 15 minute walk from the ski lifts and only a 2 minute walk from the grocery.
Having moved into our apartment, we were ready to ski!
This was how we laid out our gear every night before we skied.
We skied for the entire ski season. Most of our weekends and even some of our weekdays were spent sliding through the snow.
We didn’t have a GoPro with us at this time, so all our videos were taken on our phones.
Each ski morning, we arrived early in order to join the line to get on the gondola, which would then take us up to the main base of the slopes. If we didn’t get there early, we’d have to wait in line for several hours.
Even after we got up the gondola, we waited in line for the lifts to open (especially on days when we were there early). No matter! It was beautiful at this hour in the morning…the air was so fresh…ahhh!
One of the restaurants at the base of the ski lifts. We usually brought our own food, however, mostly because we enjoyed having lunch in the middle of the forest where we’d been skiing.
Riding the ski lifts was half the fun!
Hmmm, am I riding a lift or skiing? #opticalillusion
For some reason, Bansko had 4 different colors to signify each level of the ski runs. We’re used to just hearing, green, blue, black, but in Bulgaria, it’s green, blue, red, black. The run here is probably a blue.
No matter what the level of the run, though, powder days like this made it so much more enjoyable.
Another powder day: our skis were often buried in the snow, even when we stood still.
If there’s one skiing weather condition that we’d choose over others, it would be that there’s fresh snow. On this day, the snow wasn’t as fluffy as it can be, but hey, it makes for good practice.
The next best thing besides new snowfall is that it’s sunny!
Compare the last picture with this one. Visibility is much clearer on sunny days, but sometimes it is sort of mystical and certainly memorable when it’s cloudy.
Plus, Hunter is easier to follow when it’s a bluebird day.
But even if it was a frosty day, we were clearly still having a blast.
Other than the obvious thrill of sliding down a hill, we enjoy skiing because of the things we get to see. This view, for instance, was simply breathtaking.
Up there is where Hunter was sitting and enjoying the view in the featured image, and also where the last picture was taken.
Where to have lunch…? Well everywhere was stunning, so we would find a spot, take our skis off and sit on them while we enjoyed scenery such as this.
Just take a moment to check out the mini mountain the snow has made on that sign.
As we began to near the end of the ski season, we made a point to explore all of the mountain that we could (within the skiing boundaries).
This was one of our favorite runs – hard to tell since I was presumably about to fall over here. 😉
Some of the runs were more difficult to get to, meaning that we had to take one lift to reach another lift that would take us to a different slope.
While wandering around the slopes, we found pommel lifts, which are lifts that pull you up without your feet leaving the ground by putting a pole between your legs. *Not our picture.
Even though Bansko’s ski resort isn’t as big as some others we’ve seen, it took us a while (as in many days) to find all of the different skiing routes.
We didn’t find this particular slope until one of our last weeks skiing.
Even with spring approaching, there was still plenty of snow up on the mountain – the brown area below the slopes is Bansko.
The town below the ski runs was much warmer and there was little to no snow in the streets. Most people either took a shuttle bus back to their hotel or walked after they finished skiing for the day. Needless to say, we got our exercise in. Also, the white peaked mountain in the top of this photo is where we were standing on the ski slopes in the previous picture.
The snow was pretty much completely melted in the town during our last few weeks in Bulgaria.
And then, just like that, Spring had arrived.
Even though it was not so cold anymore, Bulgarians were not easily fooled and they always kept an enormous amount of firewood around their homes.
No snow, but you can never have enough firewood if you’re a Bulgarian. 😉
Since it was finally warmer, we went on longer walks, exploring as much of this intriguing town as we could.
We found this little village of apartments on the other side of the city and wished we had seen them sooner, but unfortunately, we were getting ready to leave this beautiful country.
Bulgaria gave us so much to reminisce about…
With its fancy schools that were surrounded by cement walls (we took this by pointing the camera through the gate entrance)…
…and its very authentic looking (and tasting) restaurants…
…its parks where we took many walks…
…and its interesting style of music that came booming out of restaurants and shops as we passed…
…oh and we can’t forget to mention all of its cats that made sure we felt welcomed…
…and its simple but very specifically detailed way of decorating and displaying its culture…
Essentially, Bulgaria gave us many, many good times.
Until next time, Bulgaria! Follow the adventures!