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A nice ride in the Bulgarian mountains to Bansko (85/16,027k, 1070m)

(written by Dave)

We set an early alarm with hopes for sunshine and for the first time since we’ve entered Bulgaria, we were greeted by beautiful blue skies – fantastic.  We had a quick brekkie in the room and were riding by 7:30.  It was cold, my cyclo computer showing as low as 8 degrees as we started out, but we didn’t care, it was sunny and that’s all we wanted.

We had about 20k of climbing to start the day, a little over 600 meters in total.  The gradient was not too bad and traffic was light.  The road passed up through pine forests and open meadows.  We didn’t see many animals but there were lots of birds.  Today and yesterday while climbing, we heard the distinctive sound of a cuckoo bird.  The cuckoo sound, along with the scenery gave the climb a real “Sound of Music” feel.

We reached the top of the climb about 9AM and stopped for an espresso at a small cafe.  Nancy also befriended a young mountain dog that was more than happy to share our peanut butter sandwich.  We stopped at the honey/jam sales stalls at the top of the pass also but couldn’t convince ourselves that another glass jar was the thing to be adding to our bags.  The sales ladies spoke a bit of English and smiled at us, which so far is not the norm in Bulgaria.  Dogs, happy sales folks, sunshine and great scenery all combined to improve our overall disposition greatly – our first 5-star ride since entering Bulgaria.

From the top of the pass, it was 40k of flat to downhill through scenery much like we had on the climb.  We were slow going up but made up some time here.  The road surface was not great, lots of potholes slowing us, but also the cars.  Clouds were building over the mountains and I may have stopped for a few too many photos – I got the “hurry along” at least once.  We stopped for lunch at a servo around noon and noted that we 13.7k to ride to reach Razlog.  About 1k after leaving the servo, we came across a road closed sing and detour.  Not a big deal as the detour road kept descending and we were making  good time.  After about 30 minutes of riding, about the time we would have covered off the 13.7k, we came to a junction and I checked the phone for a mileage update.  Wow, we’d ridden for 30 minutes and now we were 14.4k from Razlog.  Turns out that the detour is really off route and we’d been going backwards.  Ouch.

All day we were struggling whether to ride to Razlog or Bansko.  Razlog is closer to the highway, but Bansko is a bigger town, bigger in the winter that is, as it is a ski town.  Well, our backwards detour made the decision for us.  The new route was going to take us through Bansko first and the additional ks meant that we were ready to stop at whichever town came first.  Bansko it was.

Many of the shops, hotels and restaurants are closed for the winter.  We tried three cafes, all open, but none of them were serving food, just drinks.  Eventually we ended up at the Park Hotel Gardenia scoring a room for less than half the winter rate.  And they were also serving food so we had our second lunch.  Our first lunch was pretty small so both of us were pretty hungry at this point.  Nancy managed to get the camera before eating anything.  I couldn’t help myself and started before obligatory food photos were complete.

While sitting for lunch, I happened to check the Warm Showers app on our phone and discovered a host here in Bansko.  We didn’t even think to check and had already taken the hotel room.  We should have checked a few days ago but we were not really sure that we were even coming here.  I sent an email to Lyuben, the Warm Showers host in Bansko, to let him know that we were in town and see if he would be interested in catching up for some story telling.  Lyuben was online and responded straight away and we met him for a beer in town before dinner.  We got some good ideas about the route ahead, heard about a few of his trips and got some of our “everyday” Bulgaria questions answered.  Lyuben works in mountain rescue, does some guiding, and speaks great English.  Thanks for the info Lyuben.

We have a bit longer day tomorrow with one big hill right out of town again like today.  The weather is not supposed to be as nice as today.  We’ve become real website weather connoisseurs.  We have identified the sights with hourly forecasts and even those that are more or less optimistic.  If we don’t like the forecast on one particular sight, we simply change sights and get a different forecast.  Even if this doesn’t change the weather (it doesn’t) at least we feel better re-reading the best forecast we find.   Accuweather is the winner for tomorrow showing pretty good weather in the morning when we have to climb over the pass.

We had a lazy dinner of sandwiches in the room – neither of us were that hungry after our big late lunch.  Breakfast isn’t until 8am tomorrow so we will have a bit later start than today but perhaps by that time all of the rain will have passed and the temperatures will have warmed up a bit.  Here’s hoping for another blue-ribbon day like today.

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4 responses to “A nice ride in the Bulgarian mountains to Bansko (85/16,027k, 1070m)

  1. Sounds like a fabulous day. Pictures are beautiful!

  2. Beautiful!

  3. Looks like an awesome route, beautiful pictures. THanks for sharing.

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