Fair Weather Travelers
We’re almost always about the wine unless it involves any form of discomfort, at which point we head for the exits as fast as possible. And that was the case for us in Melnik. As you could tell from Carrie’s last post we loved Melnik, especially the Melnik wines, but it was really hot and getting hotter. So, it was time to throw a few bottles of the Melnik juice into our bags and head
to the cooler confines of the mountains, specifically the ski resort town of Bansko.
Having lived in the mountains for a significant number of years and visited many other mountain communities throughout the world, we had some preconceived notions as to what we should expect. But, Bansko would prove to be a surprise, even for seasoned travelers like us, because Bansko had three faces; some pretty and some not so much.
Our Guesthouse: It’s a Family Affair
But first, let’s talk about our accommodations at the Hayloft Guesthouse because it was that special ingredient that made Bansko memorable. Ivan and his wife Reni run the guesthouse as if there is a perpetual family reunion in progress. From the second you walk in, you’re at home. Ivan, a big burly guy, nimbly frolicked in the
small kitchen with a constant devilish grin while preparing delicious local fare. “What you want to eat?” He would ask and then completely ignore your response of “Oh, just a piece of toast, jam, and some coffee. ”A few minutes later he delivered a breakfast feast that would easily feed a small army. When he was not overfeeding us, he acted as chauffeur, running guests to and fro from bus stations to train stations. Reni, maybe 100 pounds (45kg) soaking wet, fluttered around the compound like a hummingbird on steroids; acting as your personal concierge, chef (she also cooks), waitress, and maintenance department, all while performing her Motherly duties to their young son. That’s a lot of jobs packed into that small package. One evening they were preparing a meal for a group of a dozen Brits staying nearby and asked all the
guests – 3 couples – if they would like to be included. Smiling, Ivan says: “We’re making lamb shanks.” A no brainer as we all grinned back nodding affirmatively. And what a great meal, and even better time, as we all got better acquainted with our Slovenian and Czech friends, mildy discussing world politics and the state of football in Cleveland. Some of us had a better time than others. You’ll understand better after you read the next paragraph.
New Friends Gained
A guesthouse of this quality garners a reputation as a fun place to stay within the travel community, therefore, it attracts a fun loving clientele. And we had the privilege of meeting and dining with a few of those fun loving type folks.
A couple from Slovenia were road tripping around Eastern Europe on their incredibly beautiful Harley Davidson. The other couple from the Czech Republic, were on a few week holiday using Bansko as their hub to explore Bulgaria. It turned out that Tomas was involved in an American style football club in Prague called the Prague Black Panthers. His favorite American team was the Pittsburgh Steelers! I’ll leave it to your imagination to create the bantering between Carrie, the diehard Browns fan, and Tomas. And believe me, there was some quality bantering. A stay at the Hayloft Guesthouse is worth the trip to Bansko alone.
The Good, The Bad, And The Beautiful
So now, let’s get down to business and get into the three faces of Bansko.
The Good: Bansko had a really cool old town/hip local section. The area was replete with green spaces, pedestrian streets, sidewalk cafes, bars, and restaurants. We got our fill of locals enjoying the great mountain summer weather; kids playing in fountains and riding toy cars, adults relaxing with friends and an adult beverage, and… well you get the picture. Idyllic.
The Bad: Bansko was known primarily as a ski resort town or more precisely a party goers ski resort town. And with that came disco clubs, ‘exotic’ dance
clubs, sex shops, and the like. These were mostly located nearer the mountain and close to the gondola station. Fortunately, summer didn’t draw that crowd to Bansko, so most of those places were shut down.
And The Beautiful: Bansko is located at the foot of the Pirin Mountains and they are gorgeous. Public transportation is easily accessible – and cheap – to get you up the mountain where you’ll find an abundance of trailheads. The trails are geared for all levels/desires of exertion from multi-day back country camping to an easy half hour walk for the hippie drum circle experience. We chose one that was
sort of in between. A moderate walk up to Okoto lake, then another moderate walk to Ezero Lake, where we sat for a few hours drinking wine, enjoying snacks, and soaking in the beautiful scenery. The walk took less than 2 hours each way, keeping in mind that we did stop for some photo taking.
Apres Hike Fun
We were a bit hungry after the hike, so we walked a bit farther downhill from the
trailhead, along the road, where a nice little restaurant was nestled in along one of the switchbacks. They served good cold beer and very good local Bulgarian food. Once we were fed and watered we simply flagged down the bus as it descended from the top and headed back to our oasis, The Hayloft Guesthouse.
The Colorful Exit Approach
It was time to say goodbye to our new friends and head off to our next destination.
There were basically two ways that we could have exited Bansko. By bus, the most logical, efficient, and most frequently used method, or by the scenic train, which meanders through the mountains at speeds that would even embarrass The little train that could. Guess which one we chose? Yep, the train which would eventually dump us off in Septemvri, where we could then connect with another train to Sofia. It all started off well. We jumped on the first car because it looked like an antique from the early period of this rail line. Hey, we thought, this
will enhance the experience. The cool part is that other than one other couple and the conductor, we had the whole car to ourselves.
It Was All Downhill – Figuratively speaking
Things started going downhill about a third of the way into the trip, when a group of preteen hooligans got on board with too few chaperons. For much of the remainder of the trip, all we heard and saw was screaming, yelling, and jumping. The kids particularly enjoyed screaming at the top of their lungs each time we entered a tunnel. Unfortunately, the tunnels were frequent and some quite lengthy. To top it all off, the ride down from Bansko
wasn’t really all that pretty.
Even Cranky Pat Was No Match For Ticket Lady
Once we arrived in Septemvri we needed to purchase tickets for the next leg to Sofia. Finding the ticket office; no problem. Buying tickets; big problem. You see, for some reason, the ticket agent, whom we had seen selling tickets to other Bulgarian customers, refused to understand that we wanted the same tickets. She kept directing us to the train platform without a ticket. We finally found a helpful Bulgarian that spoke English and told him of our predicament. He went up to the ticket window and told her to sell us two train tickets to Sofia. She wasn’t happy, but she obliged. What a rectal orifice! (I was going to use a more efficient word, but Carrie didn’t like it.)
The moral of this whole story is do go to Bansko. Do it in the summer, not winter (unless you’re into apres ski nudie bars). Stay at the Hayloft Guesthouse and avail yourself to the wonderful natural beauty that surrounds you. And finally, take the damn bus to Sofia!
Hike Drink Live Laugh (Apero Time) More photos below.
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One thought on “Bansko, Bulgaria: A Tale of Three Cities”
Thank you very much for the good words about our house.Hayloft Guest House !!Thank you, Elena and Thomas.