SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Thessaloniki

Posted: Tuesday, 4 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , ,

My hotel room was not the best insulated for sound, but yesterday's exertions rendered me fit for sleep amidst the sounds of Greece's second largest city's urban hustle and bustle. Yesterday the weather had been worthy of a bank holiday weekend in Manchester (that means, wet, wet and more wetness American readers); this morning I was dragged into wakefulness by bright sunlight and the burgeoning urban sound scape.

It was 06:30 in London, but 08:30 here in Thessaloniki, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis I dragged myself into the shower and then down to breakfast. For a modest place, the Tourist Hotel does a mean selection of breakfast pastries worthy of at least two more stars than their rating, perhaps sometimes less really is more. This morning Team Avalanche Downhill Skibikes were engaged in another business venture and I had the morning to catch up on the comings and goings of the Internet and ready myself for the journey to Bulgaria. This gave me an hour to check out Thessaloniki's old town, a quaint place reminiscent of so many port areas. not unlike the Portuguese quarter of Cape Town or the meat market district in Montevideo, Uruguay. Some Victorian architects back in the day, must have been busier than a skibiker on a mogulled black run.

Team Avalanche on the road

By 11:30 the sun was really starting to burn into my bald pate and I grabbed some chilled water from one of the many street kiosks that also serve a variety of snacks, newspapers, magazines and tobacco. Just after lunch I made a rendezvous with Manos and we began a gentle circuit of Thessaloniki assembling Team Avalanche Downhill Skibikes. In the afternoon we made a leisurely drive towards Bulgaria and our destination of Bansko. Compared to my usual Alpine haunts it is an easy drive, without so many of the gradients and hairpin bends that anyone who has made the trip to say Flaine would be accustomed to. The high mountain crossing into Bulgaria was more reminiscent of Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie than part of the modern European Superstates. I suspect they don't see many U.K. passports and trying to catch me out as a potential miscreant, quizzed me casually as to whether I supported Manchester United or Chelsea.

Crossing into Bulgaria - I suspect they don't see many U.K. passports

Bansko itself was just an hour from the border, Bulgaria, this far, doesn't seem to be much different from any other European back water. Excluding our convoy, it appears there are only two types of vehicle on the road after sunset, ancient pre-capitalist saloon cars crawling along trunk roads at 30 mph and fast moving Mercedes SUVs. I am reliably informed, that these are the Bulgarian Mafia going about their dubious business. If scenes from the Borat film springs to mind at this point, you would be spot on.

A fistful of Levs

Bansko after dark is a curious place and quite unlike any ski resort I have experienced to date. Part Disney World, Western movie set, Las Vegas, Amsterdam red light district and I suspect part 70s porno movie, for the designers of this eclectic mix. It is the only ski resort that has neon lights advertising GoGo dancers within metres of the main lift station. Yes, it's all a bit fake and tacky.

Having located our hotel, the brilliantly named "Riskyoff Hotel", we headed for the late night supermarket to stock up on some provisions then straight back to Riskyoff Base Camp.

A leisurely drive towards Bulgaria

My stable mates from Avalanche Downhill Skibikes have even less faith in getting a decent evening meal in Bulgaria than I do, the presence of "Food Pimps" outside the establishments vying for our custom, does little to enhance the establishments credibility. Back at our hotel, we chatted skibikes over the pleasant and progressive demolition of a bottle of Teachers Whisky before calling it a night. Hey we're in Banskoand tomorrow we ride.