Even though we’re traveling and moving somewhere every month, on average, we are still keen on a good road trip. We call these “vacations”. Our next trip we decided would be Bansko because we were having trouble justifying, or planning, a bus trip to Turkey; too long in a bus does not happy children make.

A map of Bansko, Bulgaria:

Bansko topped the list because it was in the mountains, would be warm, and had an indoor pool, spa, and sauna. Well, it was cold and the sauna was being repaired, so our options were then swim and eat in the hotel restaurant, which actually wasn’t so bad. We even got a workout in, Alice and me, at the gym next to the pool and it felt wonderful to have that back again! I’ve stopped running since Glasgow because the feeling in my knees was not something I wanted to get worse.

The drive to Bansko was pretty good. The buses in Bulgaria are big and nice for the longer, more popular journeys, and small and cramped for the less popular journeys. We got small and cramped (no toiet) but got two toilet breaks so that was alright. Imagine a family holiday, in a van, with a bunch of people you don’t know and that about describes it. But we’re used to this.

Walk to the Plovdiv Bus station

We tried to buy tickets the day before but because the kids weren’t with us when we tried to buy them they wanted to see passports. We only guessed correctly later that we would have been fine if the kids had been in plain sight. We bought them same-day, no problem.
Our ride pulled up to the proper spot and was a white van with trailer. I won the bet; no big bus for us. 🙂

The Plovdiv bus station
The Plovdiv bus station
The Plovdiv bus station, buses waiting to park
The Plovdiv bus station, buses waiting to park

We love road trips as most of our days consist of working our jobs and teaching the kids so to be honest we don’t get out much! But Alice has us on a pretty tight schedule now so most afternoons you can find us traipsing around whatever city we are in. But these road trips are fun because we can travel light. The way I’d prefer to travel, ie. with nothing but three days of clothes and a Leatherman™. 🙂

My sweet wifey excited for our road trip
My sweet wifey excited for our road trip

The Balkan Jewel Hotel

One thing you learn when travelling, is that something will go wrong. It might be a small thing, it might be a big thing, but it always happens. Maybe a better way of saying it is that every situation will be “missing” something. Take our apartments – no one apartment has had everything we like to have on hand. Some have a coffee machine, others, a can opener. Some have a tv, and others, 53 mirrors and as many paintings on the walls.
We’ve learned to take it all in stride. We ask, “I wonder what will be missing in this next place?”. And it’s a fun experiment!

The Balkan Jewel to be fair was in between seasons but we were disappointed to find out that: The spa was unavailable due to renovations. We had to walk through the dining room as a result of those renovations. Luckily no one was in the hotel or in the dining room. The pool, however, was awesome and warm!

The Balkan Jewel hotel pool sign
The Balkan Jewel hotel pool sign
The kids' favourite place at the Balkan Jewel: The Pool!
The kids’ favourite place at the Balkan Jewel: The Pool!
The indoor pool at the Balkan Jewel
The indoor pool at the Balkan Jewel

Outside winter was turning to spring but it was mostly winter. We had a few amazing sunsets which we could see well from our 5th floor suite:

Bansko was cold but had clean air and amazing views
Bansko was cold but had clean air and amazing views

The kids’ first snowfall

The kids until Bansko had never seen snow fall (they have seen snow on the ground, though) and we got treated to a couple of total blizzards! The snow didn’t stick, it was the end of the winter season, but it was really cold, and kids loved catching snowflakes on their tongues. More in the video:

Heading home from Bansko back to Plovdiv

Thank goodness we asked the day before when the bus leaves from Bansko station – 8:30am the front desk person says and we breathe a sigh; dodged another bullet! We were thinking one bus every hour or so but no, just the one at 8:30 and if you miss that it’s straight to Sofia for you then back to Plovdiv on another bus or a train. No thanks!

The Balkan Jewel came through for us and hired us an amazing driver (a world traveller himself) who couldn’t have been more gracious, fun, and considerate. He dropped us at the bus stop plenty early. An hour early as it turned out. But better that than late and breathless!

Here’s the bus station in all its glory. We wished the cafe upstairs had been open, but oh well. Remember what I said about the “what’s missing” game earlier.

The Bansko bus station interior. That's a cafe up above the help desk
The Bansko bus station interior. That’s a cafe up above the help desk

It was here at the Bansko bus station we were treated to another Turkish toilet! Just like the one on the way from Bucharest to Plovdiv:

The dunny at the Bansko bus station loo. Yep, it's a Turkish!
The dunny at the Bansko bus station loo. Yep, it’s a Turkish!

The driver came to pick us up and I successfully ordered our “chetiri bileta” (four tickets) and we were on our way. The only two hiccups on the trip being the barfing mom and son (why she clung to the plastic bag rather than disposing of it when she had the chance I’ll never know!), and the misunderstanding I had with the driver when we stopped in Valingrad – I kept trying to make sure he was going to carry on to Plovdiv when we stopped for a break at Valingrad (as we had done on the way up to Bansko), and he thought I wanted him to tell me where we were.

Round and round it went until he got two women who spoke english to translate for me. The funny thing was that if I had just gone with the flow it would have become clear what the story was. What’s missing here was my patience, and my ability to communicate nuance.
The running family joke now is, “Yes, I KNOW we’re in Valingrad.” Bansko was a great time!

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Nathaniel Flick