Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A full day

We managed to pack an awful lot in today. The hotel breakfast was unappetising as per the guidebook and we headed out to see the Selimiye Cammii a mosque in which the architect achieved his life's dream- to build one ever so slightly bigger than the Aya Sofya in Istanbul. I got us rather lost on the way but Alex sorted us out and we arrived at an impressively large building with integrated bazar. Unlike the other tourist couple in there, (taking pictures of each other) I respected the request for no photography but it was really hard- the place is wonderfully decorated- not tiles or frescos but bold block colours and painted floral boarders and stripy blocks of colour contrasting with a stark white background. There is also a stunning series of four or five circles of lights hanging at about 11 foot from the floor surrounding a wonderfully carved and painted platform above the ceremonial fountain. Hard to describe- you'll have to go there and the trip will be very worth while. The pictures are of the outside decorations and it seems I have none of Bulgaria so today's ones are all of the mosque and an example of the fantastically decorative pavements all over this town- all done in different ways.
I thought about using up the rest of the money on Turkish delight but we already had some so we used it for petrol on the way to the Serbian border. The Turkish side was fine but the Bulgarian side said we needed country specific insurance. The on site insurance booth was closed and the guards said it would be 70, no 150 Euros but we could give them a 'present' instead. Alex came back to the car and we made a show of looking in all our nooks and crannies for money while we discussed what we'd be willing to pay or whether we'd go back to Turkey and go to Greece instead. Just as we'd decided on ten British pounds they called him back over to talk again and this time the subject of Turkish insurance, that we had, came up and they decided that actually this was fine and waved us through- I think they just got cold feet. It was a disappointing re introduction to Europe- I had surprised myself with an unexpected feeling of returning to the fold as we had spied the European flags at the boarder, this experience dispelled it.
We pressed on for the ski resort of Bansko. Most of the route was on a fast road with little view. We chatted just as we were finally due to turn off it and missed the turn but sat. nav. instead took us by a series of much more interesting smaller roads as a consequence and we were please to see a bit more of real Bulgaria and it's people- older ladies in head scarves, run down looking villages, hay and corn leaves stacks, chickens, donkeys and winter wood stores. As we got closer to our destination we were disappointed by the lack of snow but we had specifically chosen this destination for being an attractive town, even if we couldn't ski.
We checked out the slopes first- they were open- folk were just coming down- it appeared to have a telecabin up to the main area which usually has runs all the way back to Bansko but with current snow conditions there were only a few of the high runs open. We then looked for a hotel- the recommended ones were closed- whether the ski season hadn't properly begun or whether they were just for the summer season we weren't sure but we took pot luck on a random one and struck lucky. It is a really nice place- Hotel Sv.Georgi Pobedonosetz, nice rooms, delicious and varied breakfasts, sauna, massage to order and they even let us park the car in their courtyard- all for £25 a night- if you're planning a holiday in Bansko, book there.
We wandered back into town to find a restaurant and naively we went into one looking all traditional with nice wood work just off the main square. It was delicious food and the prices were up front on the menu so we didn't get a nasty surprise or anything but it was medium British prices-hugely expensive for Bulgaria. By the time we had the menus we were too tired to care so didn't mind and it was great food and we did get a very good live clarinettist serenading us!

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