My boarding passes have arrived for the flight that takes me and my ski-injured daughter (tl:dr she picked an argument with a snow blower and lost, breaking her left leg in the process) back to the U.K.
Instead of getting two tickets I got four, to cover me, my daughter and both her legs.
I’m a little concerned that my paperwork might not be in order, as I don’t have the passports for my daughter’s legs on me. UK border officers might impound her legs until I can come up with the documentation.
Okay, so here’s the deal: mostly.social is kicking back and relaxing (if masochism is your idea of leisure) in the Bulgarian village of Borovets, some 50-odd miles (75km) south of the capital Sofia.
You have my full understanding if the name draws a blank in your lexicon of famous winter resorts. Even though it’s the St Moritz (or Chamonix, or Garmisch) of Bulgarian snow sport, Bulgaria isn’t that big a country, so there not much competition for the top spot. Put another way, Borovets is to St Moritz what Brighton is to Monaco.
I likened it in an earlier post to the Wild West. It’s a hamlet, a bend in the road, which geography has blessed with a rich touristic seam of gold.
Borovets sits on the northern approaches to Bulgaria’s highest mountain, Musala. At a rounding error short of 3000m it casts a long shadow over its northern flank, gifting it a microclimate that leaves it frigid and snowbound in winter. Drive a mile out of town and there’s no more snow, no more gold rush.
The first time I made the journey here in the winter I thought climate change had cancelled the holiday. A chill wind whipped across the bleak forecourt outside Sofia airport, but that was it. This didn’t faze me: Sofia is a pretty big city, and such cities are often smothered in a grimy insulating fug. Aboard the shuttle bus the urban bleakness gave way to rural bleakness but the weather remained the same.
Even after unofficial road signs popped up, pointing the way to this or that hotel or restaurant, it could have been one of those days in London when sporadic 2cm patches of snow bring the transport infrastructure to its knees. We kept on trucking down the forest road at Bulgarian speeds as though it were midsummer.
A glorified shed in alpine style appeared: a restaurant. Then another, then an unbroken line of them. Some horses stood on the right, bored, chewing and ejecting their feed.
We had arrived.
As I said earlier, Borovets is on a bend in the road. In between the haphazard collection of lean-tos, mega sheds and mini villas are several low-rise hotels, punctuated opposite the main cabin lift by a hotel of astonishing architectural brutality.
This is the Hotel Samokov, giving a socialist middle finger to the puny capitalist sheds thrown up around it post-’89. I imagine it hosted commissars and ministers in its glory days, but now looks almost embarrassed still to be standing. I can bet the local government would dearly love to knock it down and start again, but a makeover will be all they can manage: there’s so much reinforced concrete in this building it will surely be a landmark in the desert once climate change puts a stop to the alpine fun.
I’ll end with a nod to the title. A 2013 census put the population of Borovets at 94. Estimates from around the same time put the hotel capacity at 10,000. Since this place is currently heaving I suspect the natives are outnumbered 100 to 1.
It’s that most wonderful time of the year, when price-gouging airlines force legions of guilty parents to skip school early.
Household preparation for this recent addition to the family calendar begins shortly after Christmas. Our children start a new game, ‘suitcases’, which involves endless dry runs of baggage checks, and leaving small wheeled sit-on cases in doorways and hallways for their parents to trip on.
What awaits us, we hope, is enough snow to ski on (no longer a certainty) and a reduction in falls on last year, when I mistook myself for a teenager and took snowboarding lessons. What folly.
He stared at the fruit bag, transfixed. ‘One of my five-a-day? Here?’ He sensed something was wrong.
By way of evidence that I really do live life in ‘real time’ just like the yoof of today, I attach proof of our visit to our kindly Uncle McDonald, who was generous with his confections. Please note the fruit bag in a position of prominence.