Borovets was beautiful; a sparkling picture postcard of snow-clad pines and white peaks dotted with rustic chalets. Horse-drawn sleighs adorned with tinkling bells slid by, tempting at the end of each punishing day for a ride back to the hotel, rather than a painful clomp in the excruciating discomfort of the ski boots.
Having just about got the ‘hang’ of the button lift and having mastered the snow-plough stop, after a fashion, by our second day we were to ascend a little higher on the nursery slopes and would need to use the chair lift. It seemed an enormous relief after the nasty button contraption that filled me with dread and I was happy at the prospect of less humiliation. Surely the revolving chair-lift with its comfortable, air-born seats wouldn’t pose any problems? You only had to hop on, skis dangling, ride to the top and hop off. What could go wrong? I was soon to find out.
I waited my turn and sat into the chair as it came round. Then, as the safety bar locked me in the chair began its silent glide up the mountainside between the pines. Mesmerised, I fell into a reverie, woken only by the panicky shrieks of the group. The non-stop chair was about to turn and the lock bar had loosened. In the ensuing moments the ground began to fall away. ‘Jump!’ they shouted. I straightened my skis and hopped from the chair-just as it turned the corner-and I landed on the small hillock of snow before skiing sedately down and receiving yet another round of applause from the gang.
We began to learn how to ski down a slope and use snowplough turns to zig-zag our descent. These were still shallow gradients, nothing approaching a ski-run. At lunchtime, rather than returning to the base of the peak we went to an alpine, wooden shack where the interior was heated by a log brazier and we sat on benches at a long table.
One enduring memory of our Borovets hotel is the meals. They were terrible. Each evening the offerings were much the same; cobbled together stew-like concoctions made with tinned or frozen ingredients. They were barely palatable and the only escape was to order the ‘vegetarian’ option, an inevitable omelette. Wine was offered with every dinner and was always ‘Tesco Bulgarian Red’, which amused us. A more recent visit to Bulgaria revealed that the cuisine has not made monumental progress…
One evening, with some energy left over, we went outside to the floodlit snow and tried the toboggans, which were fantastic fun. Another night out was down to the village and to a dingy bar, where we had beers accompanied by plates of chunky, greasy chips. These tasted wonderful after the bland hotel fare.
The week was passing quickly. We were soon using the glorious ‘gondola’ to ascend to the higher parts of the mountain where the skiing was more challenging. To stand at the top staring down was nerve-shredding, but Georgi coaxed us down each time and we were proud of our progress.
On our last day he left us to our own devices. We were, he assured us, ready to tackle a ‘blue run’, the easiest level of ski run, the toughest being a ‘black run’. We were all up for it but we’d stay together and help each other. By now, some of the snow on the pistes was becoming degraded and icy and we found parts of the run tricky. In order to avoid these glassy, treacherous patches we tried to keep to the sides and it was here that I crashed into a tree, losing a ski and tumbling to the ground, feeling that my arm was, at best, broken. From then it was a painful limp back to the hotel. The arm wasn’t broken but I was to return home with a colourful bruise from shoulder to wrist, although I was not downhearted. I felt like I’d learned to ski.
We had a last evening together, entertained in the hotel bar by a lacklustre group of dancers. Next day I was to take an earlier flight home than most and spend an afternoon touring Sofia before going to the airport. I no longer feared lone travel. At the small airport a backlog of flights was building up as the weather closed in, leaving the tiny departure lounge clogged with waiting passengers, many of whom sat around on the floor. A small kiosk struggled to cope with supplying drinks and snacks. Heathrow this was not.
After several hours of waiting my flight was called and I boarded the plane, its porthole windows obliterated by driving sleet. The plane taxied to the runway and as it began to gather speed it lurched drunkenly across the tarmac then back again like a ghastly parody of a slalem run. We, the passengers, gave a collective gasp and at last the aircraft lifted off and away from Bulgaria.
I grinned to myself. Now I could plan my next lone adventure. Where to? Somewhere hot, colourful and thrilling…