Day 1 – Getting to Bulgaria
It’s the end of tax year here in the UK and work is busier than ever. I’ve found myself working late – something I’ve never done before.
One of my colleagues here used to say that ‘you never stay late, what is wrong with you? I don’t know… maybe I started to care about work and what I do. Sadly it’s to the detriment of my happiness and job satisfaction. The latter has significantly deteriorated since February.
Keeping all the above in mind, it’s no surprise that I needed to get away, somewhere far-far away from London – the further, the better.
Luckily I had already booked some annual leave. This was for ZoukFest – a zouk festival here in London near the Heathrow Airport. However, I got a message on Facebook from Benn (my old Australian housemate) who said he was snowboarding in Bulgaria and invited me over.
I had a quick think, looked at flights, went for a run to clear my mind and decided to go for it. ZoukFest happens every year but how often do you get to see old friends from the other side of the planet? Besides it’ll cost me roughly the same. Following my cost-benefit analysis I booked my flights to Sofia, Bulgaria. I figured it would feel more like a vacation if I was overseas as well. I’m a smart little man, aren’t I?
Fast forward to Wednesday. My flight was from Luton at 9 PM and I had to catch my EasyBus shuttle from Commercial Street (near Liverpool St station) after work. However, work being super busy meant that I had to rush to the pick-up point. My colleagues thought it would be a 20 minute walk from the office. I decided not to trust them and ran the whole distance. It took me 20 minutes to get there. Google Maps says that it was a 36 minute walk. Trust is a fragile thing you know…I will never trust my colleagues again.
Everything went smoothly once I got on the bus. The flight was on time and I landed on time.
I had some trouble booking a transfer from Sofia to Bansko (the ski-resort town). Everything was booked out. One guy from a taxi/shuttle company said they’re all booked out but he’ll look into it. He referred me to Svetlio, who in turn said that he could give me a ‘private’ transfer for £48. I said forget it because I’m poor.
Then he came back quoting £20 instead. I said that’s reasonable and agreed. I think this is how Bulgaria works. They try to skin you alive and then if they find out they can’t get away with it, they’ll reconsider their offering.
So. My flight landed at 2:15 AM local time and Svetlio promised to pick me up from the airport. I was quite impressed that he was actually at the airport with a sign with my name on it and everything. For a moment I felt important.
That didn’t last long.
Svetlio (a man in his late 30s with long dark hair who didn’t speak much English) walked me to his car. It was an old Volkswagen Passat from 1989 I think. This all reminded me of the beginning scene of a horror movie. It was late at night, I got into a dodgy car (which had no logos or anything identifying it as a proper transfer vehicle) with a stranger who barely spoke English. Oh well, I thought… I have no kids nor dependants and nobody will miss me anyway… Let’s be less racist for a moment and give this suspicious man a chance.
We didn’t talk much. I was tired and tried to get some sleep however the thought of being murdered kept me awake.
We stopped at 3 petrol stations and I managed to get Wifi to message Benn to let him know that I was on my way (they don’t sell SIM cards at gas stations for some reason and my crappy T-mobile contract doesn’t function overseas).
I got to Bansko in one piece and have to admit that all my fears were a fiction of my imagination.
It was good to see my kids again. Benn hasn’t changed at all – he still looks like Jesus with his massive hobo beard. Em hadn’t changed either.
We had some tea and a bit of a catch-up before going to sleep.
Day 2 – A day of pain and suffering
I have never snowboarded. Nor have I ever skied downhill with those heavy wide skis. I’ve done a bit of cross country skiing about 10 years or so ago. We put together a plan and decided that skiing was lame. Therefore, I was going to be snowboarding with Benn and Em on my first day.
I had a lot of trouble standing up on the board even on a small incline. Falling down was painful because everything was covered in icy snow. I’m no quitter and we thought that I need a real hill to learn.
Naturally, we went to the tippy-top of the mountain. It was cold. Not renting proper clothes was a mistake. I was shaking from the cold as we went up on the chairlift. The top is about 2.5km high. The views from above were breath-taking.
Benn helped me to get the feel for the board as we tried to get downhill together. We were holding on to each other as I needed someone to hold on to for balance. Again, falling was painful.
At one time we decided I should go solo. It was OK for a few seconds until I face-planted and hurt my left arm. It’s been 10 days and the arm still hurts. It probably needs to be amputated.
Side note, completely unrelated to the above. Today I helped out a colleague with a case and she gave me a quick overview: this is a very old client who fell and had to wait almost an entire day until his son found him. I know tragic… but I couldn’t stop laughing once I heard this. And she laughed along. Oh well, I’m going to hell. 😀
Ok, back to the top of the mountain. Benn figured that the only way for me to learn snowboarding was to actually go do some snowboarding. Before he managed to kick me downhill ‘this is Sparta!’-style my whole life flashed before my eyes. A lot of things were already hurting and I decided I’d rather take the chairlift down because this was a very long and icy slope, I was miserable and my ass was wet and I just wanted to go home.
By the way the chairlift was scary as hell. I was trembling most of the way down – 10% because of the cold, 89% fear and 1% sheer horror. The wobbly chairlift didn’t help things either. I was proper shitting myself. Man, I’m such a pussy.
Our trio met at the mid base and decided to try a different slope. Now things improved. A lot. Here the snow was mushy and softer. After a few falls I started to lose my fear of acquainting my face with the ground. My way towards backflips and 360’s was no longer paved with tears and pain but it was more of a sure thing – I could see myself winning the next X-games and slalom Olympics.
I improved a lot and managed to stay on the board like a pro – a very slow one though but still. The highlight was when I crashed into the hottest girl on the hill – this was totally planned of course.
Instead of the gondola, we took the ski-road down the hill. This was a very nice beginner friendly road. However, it was a tad bit too long. I remember my quads and thighs were feeling the burn as I was coming down the mountain. I’m probably doing it wrong because Benn said his thighs don’t ache after snowboarding.
My low-point was when I face-planted with a bit of speed behind me. It hurt and I needed a few moments to bring myself back up to face the rest of the way. Whilst I was on my back begging for a miracle and dreaming of a nice warm place anywhere but here I heard babies crying in the distance. The cries got closer and closer until I saw that some mothers had their kids on their backs as they skied past me. I’m way to cool to call this child abuse but hey… I’m not a parent and therefore can’t judge.
Anywho, I was in lots of pain but eventually got up and boarded the rest of the way back to the very end of the road. I congratulated myself on a job well done for surviving this ordeal.
Day 3 – Luxury day
All of my muscles were sore. There was no way I was going anywhere near the mountain. I needed to lick my wounds and some luxury.
Luckily our crib was just three houses down road from a hotel which had a pool and a sauna. That’s where we headed for some easy swimming and chillaxing. It wasn’t anything special. However it was Benn’s (and I think Emily’s as well) first time in a sauna. These kids only lasted about five minutes and it was only 80 degrees in there. Australia has made them soft.
Day 4 – Pro day
I remember feeling sore and watching my videos from Poland in bed. I figured that I could be at ZoukFest and dancing and having a good time. But no, here I am, all broken and nostalgic.
Bansko is not a nice city. It’s got a lot of empty unfinished buildings. We think that the real estate boom crashed spectacularly here and that’s why it looks the way it does. It was quite creepy. I call the street we stayed on Murder Lane because every time we walked past anybody we were scared of getting stabbed by the locals. They did not seem friendly.
The customer service here has lots of room for improvement. I was trying to buy a lift pass for the gondola. The woman sold the ticket to the person in front of me and then just closed her little window and started to count the money in the till and what not. Then she proceeded to have her lunch. I think it would’ve been nice if they kept one of the windows open whilst the rest were on their lunch break. However, out of solidarity all windows were closed at the same time and they didn’t seem to mind that there were people queuing up at every window.
I finally got my ticket and was on my way to the mountain. Since I had already mastered the snowboard I decided to apply my marathon running legs to skis. I also invested in proper pants, gloves and the fastest jacket they had. I was well prepared for backflips and 360s.
The good news is that I was much better on the skis and managed to enjoy the whole thing much more than the snowboard. I ate considerably less snow that day. It was wonderful!
Benn and Em both managed to injure themselves. Benn fell and stabbed himself in his back with one of his skis and Em hurt her leg when she face-planted on our way back home. Their injuries weren’t serious, they walked it off. However, I was injury free the entire day and didn’t want to leave… but they closed the mountain (i.e. stopped the chairlifts) and we had to go.
On day five I had to head back to Sofia airport and then back to London.
I think this was one of the best short holidays I’ve ever had. Seeing Benn and Em was good, mastering the snowboard/skis was a plus and getting away from London was well worth the trip. I’m definitely going on a ski holiday again.
Ivar the future X-games champion