Diary Entry 2
We can’t stay in the city for long, because there isn’t so much to see and we are drawn to nature. I’ve heard a lot about the impressive Rila and Pirin Mountains, so we decided to hike in the Pirin Mountains for a few days. In Outdooractive we found a fantastic route along some mountain huts past the three-thousand-meter peaks Pirin and Wichren:
We pack our things and find a bus that takes us over five hours to Bansko, the starting point of our multi-day mountain expedition with the aim of crossing the mountains and returning to civilization on the other side in the village of Melnik. That’s the theory. To be on the safe side, we leave some of our belongings in the accommodation in Sofia to save weight.
The bus trip was harmless and we noticed that there was no sign of the feared temperament of the Balkans in Bulgaria. The people are extremely relaxed and the traffic is more civilized than in Germany.
A few words we learn on the way:
To find the city center from the central bus station (ironic alarm: it’s a half-ruined barracks), we get a first foretaste of our hike. The bus station is not that central, so we have to walk a few more kilometers.
We have no idea of the place and we don’t even bother to squint at our cell phones. We march on and orientate ourselves by looking in which direction the house facades are becoming more beautiful. Eventually we really come to a place that we decide looks like the center of a small town. Cobblestones, restaurants that look traditionally beyond measure, a church tower with an inhabited stork’s nest on it – if that’s not the city center.
Bansko is an idyllic little town with a pretty old town on the one hand, but on the other hand it is also a booming ski resort, in which winter has to be as turbulent as an amusement park. That makes sense, because in terms of prices, winter sports in Bulgaria are a competitive alternative to the expensive countries in Central Europe.
We don’t let any time pass by and immediately test one of the restaurants on site. The food is good, it has good Schopska salad (my personal favorite in this country) and the beer is cold. The restaurant also has rooms, it couldn’t be better.
We stock up on the most essential groceries, some bread and sausage, as well as fruit and hope to be able to buy more provisions at mountain huts on the way.
To paint alleys. Everywhere there are restaurants with delicious food and good wine that tempt you to linger. Cats stroke our legs. Even in Sofia we noticed that there are a noticeably large number of street cats in this country, who fool around discreetly in small gardens or purr around the legs of the guests in places where they eat, seemingly harmless.
A friendly-looking gentleman invites us to his empty but beautifully located restaurant, and since we have nothing better to do and the man is so sympathetic to us, we accept the offer. While he pours us a red wine, which for me should be the tastiest of the trip, he tells us in strikingly good German that this little square with the fountain used to be the real city center. The place had fallen into disrepair over time, but ski tourism was the salvation for the city. He owes his knowledge of German to a long period of work in Germany – like many people from the Balkans.
While we were walking through the streets, we saw notices of death on numerous doors. There is something morbid about walking through the streets and reading so many obituaries around you that you get the impression of entering a ghost town in times of war or a pandemic. But even if the world is in the current Covid-19 crisis, this time Corona has nothing to do with this phenomenon.
After doing a little research, I find that the dead are buried so quickly that there is hardly any time to notify friends and relatives, especially when the infrastructure is poorly developed. Therefore, these obituaries are not only pinned to the houses of the deceased, but also to workplaces, public places or favorite pubs. It is almost dead quiet at night. We’re also the only foreigners in town as far as we can see. I cannot say whether this is due to Corona or the fact that Bulgaria’s mountainous region has not yet been discovered by tourism. We let the evening fade away and prepare ourselves internally for the hardships of the next few days.