SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Kalimanku Denkou

Posted: Friday, 7 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , ,

This morning we bade farewell to Bansko and hit the road for Borovets, free from the responsibility of having to drive, I set about catching up on my writing. It is the first time I have had the chance to do some in car blogging and was very productive and not in the least bit queasy.

In car blogging

I would glance out of the window every so often, Bulgaria looks exactly like you would expect a former Eastern Bloc country to. The villages are drab places filled with sad faced peasants who wear grim expressions of dejection as if it were a badge of honour. Alex and Manos used to the gay colours of Macedonia; all whitewashed walls, blue sea and clear skies are surprised that anyone could tolerated the muted earth tones that prevail. Even the sunlight here is pale and wan giving no heat, as if it is still set to the Communist era setting.

The road leading from Samokov to Borovets, is no different to France's rural roads with many patches and potholes. It is hard to believe that this is the byway to a major International resort and not an access road for the local quarry. Only two types of vehicles are to be seen, communist era Ladas and army trucks, juxtaposed against the glitziest of vehicles the decadent West can provide, if you can afford the price!

This is more like an "old skool" family vacation

The road didn't appear to climb significantly but suddenly we were entering dense forest and there was snow by the wayside and a sign announced that we had arrived! I normally plan my trips with obsessive attention to detail, wanting to have everything arranged in advance.
For Manos and Alex this is more like an "old skool" family vacation; three people in a rattly car, three skibikes, no GPS, no pre-booking, just a map print out and enough fuel in the tank to get us there. I guess it is one of those "need to know" deals.

Having found the gondola station an exchange took place between Alex and a man who turned out to be from the local restaurant. He steered us toward The Green King taverna, which had rooms free in the loft above. The steep flight of stairs, with a pitch normally only seen on maritime vessels, took us to some cramped rooms that appeared cold, soulless and barren. We certainly pushed the boat out and negotiated an extra room for myself for the exorbitant price of £10.

The Green King taverna - prices from £10 a room

Unpacked and with the heating creaking into life, it wasn't as grim as I had first though, more importantly the wifi worked and though the bed had the thinnest mattress I have ever seen, it was quite comfortable if a bit squeaky. Waves of tiredness overcome me and I drifted into a brief slumber, only to be pulled back into wakefulness by the sounds of other guests returning to their rooms after a day on the slopes.

Team Avalanche reassembled in the area that serves as a sitting room for guests and the discussion turned to night skibiking, which happens every night from 6pm to 10pm here in Borovets.
Alex and Manos's eyes suddenly gleamed like little children on Christmas morning, if we were going to do this, tonight is the night; I love the spontaneity of the situation, these guys are crazier than I am.
Borovets night skiing area is served by two drag lifts and one chairlift, which in my opinion, must hold the record as the World's fastest. In more civilised countries the operator will often slow the chairlift slightly, but we are not given such courtesy here. Instead we are scooped up with gusto and spat out at the top station, blimey that was tight.

Nightmare ride - we are scooped up with gusto and spat out at the top

There are a few skibiker survival techniques to note for such situations....
Watch which way the chairlift swings at the top and make sure you are on the outside of its arc. That way you are not caught by the chair and knocked over when it makes its 180 degree turn. Have your skibike facing forward with the ski tips pointing up, get it on the snow fast and run like you're being chased by a Grizzly Bear. There is a more elegant approach which involves riding off stood on the pegs, but you need to be a good rider and know that there is enough clearance under the chair. Get it wrong and the chair can trap the rear swing arm with dire consequences.
I suspect that with the speed this one was running at, bones could be broken and hey this is Bulgaria after all. We decided that rather than risk such an outcome and possibly get ourselves banned, or worse get all skibikers banned from this place, we would call it a night.

Nice skibike hockey stop Manos

Finally, here is the arts and culture section and the reason this post is appropriately called "Kalimanku Denkou", which I believe means "The Evening Gathering".

In the early 90s those who followed the evolution of New Wave bands such as Bauhaus or Siouxsie and the Banshees were transported into ever darker and moodier territory as their musical styles matured. Many of these seminal groups were signed to 4ad records, who introduced the UK music scene to the beautiful and haunting folk music of Bulgaria.
The album that changed everything was titled "Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares" - The mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. In many ways the arrangements are the ultimate "East meets West" hybrid musical form. The melodies, with their lilting trills, exotic scales and jazz harmonies feel like they will tear your ears off and yet they leave you yearning for more.

For this reason Bulgaria has fascinated me for many years, although I never dreamed that one day I would be sitting in a room above a tavern in the high woods of Borovets and sharing my love with the World.
So turn off the lights, close the curtains and turn up the volume and don't be surprised if you feel ready to shed a tear by the end of the song.