Pirin Mountains - Bansko

Trip Start Aug 11, 2009
Trip End Sep 30, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Bulgaria  , Blagoevgrad,
Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bansko is a winter ski resort town - ancient streets in that narrow winding configuration designed to confuse Ottoman invading hordes, sport beautifully restored wooden buildings, mostly hotels. The outskirts are victim to a building craze of multistory apartment hotels in a strange Swiss mountain and modern hybrid style.
Despite the heat of July (hang on, its August now) most houses are already obscured by a layer or two of neatly stacked firewood, a reminder that this place is all about winter and the snow. Elderly couples sit out on the street supervising their neighbors unloading and stacking their firewood (often brought by donkey cart) or having a good stare at us neighborhood watch style  - I suppose that most tourists come in winter, when its a little cold and dark to be sitting out on the street in the evening.
Its nice to be in a place where summer is not crowded peak season for a change!

As the cable cars don't run in summer, we drove up the mountain, trying to even out our hitching karma a little by picking up a Czech couple for the ride. The road ends at Vihrin (a small hut with accommodation) which was surprisingly packed - parking being a very Bulgarian affair with some creativity and parallel thinking required. From there, we hiked upwards for a couple of hours through pine forests and rushing streams up above the tree level to views of stone covered summits (it looks like snow covered mountains if you squint) and little isolated lakes. One lake even had a resident horse population. There were plenty of other trekkers out and about of various nationalities - we tried saying hello in English, German and Bulgarian and found that people just responded in whatever language you addressed them in.

After two nights in Bansko, we drove North to Sofia, stopping at the Rila Monastery on the way. Rila Monastery is the largest and most famous monastery in Bulgaria, which is saying something as the country is packed with them. To me, a monastery conjures images of tranquility and solitude - with its amazing mountain setting, this must once have been the case for Rila - it is not any more. We arrived to find the side of the road packed with parked cars for 3km either side of the huge (full) monastery car park. The monastery itself is a lovely wooden building with three enormously high stories of balconied monks quarters creating a huge central courtyard where the fresco covered church is located. The gilded interior seems an interesting choice considering that the monastery was built in honor of a monk who lived like a hermit in these mountains, writing religious tomes advocating a simple lifestyle.

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