Bulgaria is on the way from Melbourne to Edinburgh, you see?
Splitting our lives between Australia and Scotland sometimes means we don’t have time to holiday/travel as much as we’d like. As there isn’t an aeroplane with a big enough tank to fly (actually) direct between our two home cities, we try to pick somewhere interesting for a stopover.
I like to go somewhere new.
Barry likes to go somewhere where he’s confident that the Wi-Fi will be reliable.
Funny, the more successful the company gets, the more stressed about internet quality Barry becomes. Sometimes it takes awhile to get the balance right. On leaving Melbourne at the end of April 2017, it had been almost a full year since Barry’s remote team had seen each other in real life. And some new folk had never met, apart from the Skype or Zoom Room. So we ended up in Bulgaria for a month, obviously.
I’ve never been there (tick), and there’s a Coworking space in the mountains set up by Matthias, who ran the Coworking Camp in Turkey where Barry launched his company.
Where in Bulgaria?
Wanting to get over jetlag (and explore new places!) Barry and I first spent a few days in Sofia. It turns out Sofia is an excellent place for a European city break. I’m not sure if it’s just that I’d spent the previous six months at home in Australia and stopover in Kuala Lumpur but Sofia felt very European. It felt like I was home (again).
Sofia is also an excellent place for a budget traveller (like me, obviously).
I did a free walking tour of the city (well, I gave a tip). I learnt lots of stuff.
I did a free bicycle tour of the more of the city (I hired a bike and gave a tip).
The best part was the free food walking tour. Food being his favourite thing, Barry joined me on that one too. We met in a park and were taken to five different restaurants around the city and given samples. One was the only slow food restaurant in Bulgaria, a lavender themed fancy place, a burger joint, a bakery and a slightly touristy one. We were given a map which had four others in rotation. Of course I went back to the bakery 12 million times, approximately, and we were out for dinner and lunch to all the others. We felt like such locals. And we didn’t argue about where to eat.
Bansko, a small mountain town, was the next stop and the home of Coworking Bansko. Bansko is known as being an affordable skiing location for Europe, with the lifts and slopes just above the town. At this time of year, it’s quiet, cheap and perfect for a meet up.
Coworking Bankso is a great working space with a community feel. Also, I liked the pizza place next door. They knock on the wall when the order is ready. Irina, the Bulgarian manager, met us with a grin. I think she was pretty excited to have girls around a space usually dominated by male web developers. She made my job of ‘Social Coordinator’ super easy.
As well as all the work stuff (even I worked really hard, trust me) Barry and I tried to do some exercise. We ran most days and visited a small local gym of sweaty body builders. I can do 4 pull ups now.
Bulgaria is Cheap
We lived in an apartment with a great view.
It also had a perfectly working kitchen but we ate out a lot. The restaurants in Bansko are cheap. Even the expensive ones. There was a cafe on the corner selling croissants with fake Nutella for 50 cents and a restaurant around the corner which had a lunch menu from €2.
Bankso, being a mountain town, has some hiking. In the winter it’s inundated with skiers and stuff but in Spring, the snow is starting to melt from the peaks. The closest mountains are the in the Pirin Mountains above town. It takes a couple of hours to hike down.
Hiking means I deserved a trip to Izgreva Hot Springs, natural hot water mineral pools in a nearby town. Hours of relaxation in warm water with views of the mountains. Nice.
More Hiking – The Seven Rila Lakes
On our first weekend in Bulgaria the whole team got up eager for a day in the Rila Mountains (even Filipe, nursing a hangover from The Club). We drove our hire car 2.5 hours to another mountain range, aiming for the 7 Rila Lakes. Usually, there’s a ski chair lift which still runs in the summer, ferrying hikers higher up the mountain. On Saturday, high winds shut that old chair lift down. Enter the four-wheel drive jeep drivers. We thought it was a bit steep but the wild ride high up the mountain made us feel we got our money’s worth. Maybe not Filipe. He almost fell out the back and then landed in Ondrej’s lap.
We started our hike at about 2100 metres. We didn’t climb long before we hit the snow line.
Luckily we were all appropriately dressed…
It was a warm day so we ploughed on through the snow drifts, getting higher and higher. The three hour circuit took in five of the seven Rila Lakes.
Apparently, you can hike all the way over the mountain to the Rila Monastery but the trail pretty much disappeared and the clouds started rolling in.
We took the sensible route back to the chair lift area. We had a great time tramping across the snow, crossing rivers, practically wading through swampy land. Our feet were soaked but we were happy.
Even happier when we found that the chair lift was back up and running by the time we finished hiking. All part of the adventure.
We treated ourselves to a soak in the hot springs on the way back to Bansko.
In keeping with being active, Sunday was another day away from screens with some walking.
Close to the Rila Mountains but on the opposite side of the range to that of the 7 Rila Lakes, are the Stob Pyramids.
They are nothing like the pyramids of Egypt.
They are cool sandstone rock formations. They’re mostly pillar-like or mushroom-like. Erosion of the sandstone can form some funny shapes. Maybe if you squint and tilt your head to one side they would look like pyramids.
They reminded me a little of the rock formations in Cappadocia in Turkey.
A little further down the road is one of Bulgaria’s most famous Monasteries. The Rila Monastery is still a working Eastern Orthodox religious site.
If you’re organised (which, of course, we never are) you can book in to stay in one of the monastery’s public monk cells. Then you too can take a vow of silence for a few hours. I wish I’d been more organised and got Irina to book us in (Barry thinks I wouldn’t be able to handle it anyway). Gotta save something for next time.
The building is beautiful but one of the best bits was the bakery selling fresh makista outside the gates…