One of my favorite things about Bulgaria so far is the amount of outdoor activities. The city has many parks and this month all Remotes get a sport card that gets you free access to many gyms across the city. Also, our tracks this month (activities RY sets up for the community. Everything from short hour sessions to all day events) have a focus on health and the outdoors. I have been hiking and camping this month and it has been a great way to get the community active together. There was a couple day trips planed to the Rila Lakes National Park that I was unable to attend because of work and side trip travel so I decided to go on my own this Sunday. The national park is about an hour and a half drive outside Sofia and it is famous for its 7 lakes at the top of the mountain range. It is a ski resort in the winter but is also a great place to hike in the summer.
I woke up Sunday morning to rain and more rain in the forecast but it didn’t stop me from wanting to go (although our friend Jamie backed out so it was just three of us going). We picked up a rental car and headed south. It rained on and off the whole time which was a bit ominous but we had the car so we were going. It is amazing how rural Bulgaria gets outside of Sofia. Within about 10-15 minutes we were surrounded by rolling fields of green grass. Small towns were scattered about and it was a really pleasant drive, even in the rain. At the base of the mountain is a quaint little town and after driving through that we headed up the mountain. It was a 25 minute zig-zag drive to the top complete with breathtaking sights. The mountain is littered with a dense forest of pine trees and I had never really seen a mountain like this. Usually, you see jagged rocks as you drive up but this was a sea of green. Unfortunately, pictures do not do it justice but it was certainly a sight to behold. We got to our parking place, paid about $9 for a round-trip life ticket and hopped on.
It had stopped raining by now but was still 45-50 degrees and super foggy. We hopped onto the wet chair lift and headed up the mountain. Going up, I was reminded of how long it has been since I’ve been skiing/snowboarding and I made a point to go sometime soon. The chair lift was ominous as fog covered the view forward and all around all I saw were other empty chair lifts heading down the mountain. I think the weather scared off some people and it was great having the mountain almost to ourselves. We got off a lift, stopped in the “hotel” at the top and found a trail to began walking. The trail was simply marked with painted stripes on rocks so you had to pay attention to stay on the right track. It was very rocky, a bit wet and muddy which made the hike a bit more challenging and more fun. It took us about an hour to get to the first lake as we crossed some streams and amazing views along the way. It was still very foggy which made it interesting as we couldn’t always exactly see where to go next. We just used our judgement and a little help from google maps to figure it all out.
We were relived to finally get to the first lake. The lake was like glass and at the base of a mountain peak, barely visible through the fog. Snow and ice cascaded down the face of the mountain and a series of mini waterfalls pumped water into the lake. When we got to the first lake, you couldn’t see the other side. Five minutes later, you could see the whole lake and the mountain behind it. Five minutes after this, the lake was again covered with fog, obstructing our view. We played this game with the fog all day as it would come and go quickly making us race around to get our pictures. More than once, one of us got a good picture but by the time the other took theirs, the fog had taken the view away.
We continued trekking up and around the various peaks, stopping at each lake to take in the view (when there was one). Each lake was a different size and shape and each had a unique surrounding. Some were at the base of the mountain, others in what looked like valleys. One we had to walk up a peak to see, another we had to walk down and around to get a glimpse. It was nice having little checkpoints to stop and checkout along the way and it was fun having a hike that was a bit of a challenge as you always had to be on your toes. Once we got to the top and to the last lake we began to head back down to the chair lift. By the time we got to the top, the visibility was poor and it was very ghostly-looking out into the mist/fog. We couldn’t see more than twenty feet or so ahead of us which gave us an eerie feeling. The landscape looked a bit like the Scottish Highlands (not that I’ve been but the pictures I’ve seen). The whole way down we were surrounded by a veil of fog which was a unique experience. Once we finally got down we were happy to see the chair lift and a smidgen of blue sky in the distance. In all, the hike took around 4 hours or so but we never felt rushed or exhausted which was nice.
The chair lift ride down was great as the sky began to clear up and you had a different perspective of the mountain below. It was a beautiful sight seeing all the trees and meandering streams below from the high angle on the chair lift. We got to the bottom, hopped off and headed back down the mountain. On the way back we stopped at a local restaurant where the three of us had a salad, 3 entrees, 3 beers, and a desert for the grand total of $18. The food was delicious as well!
The trip and hike at Rila Lakes made for a great Sunday. Since it rained most of the day in Sofia, I’m glad I got out and did something fun. Although the weather wasn’t ideal, it was a unique and fun experience and I’m glad I was able to fit it in while I was here. Hikes like this are a great way to refresh yourself from all the technology we use everyday. Each of us here relies on technology while abroad so by default we are always on it. It is always nice to turn off your phone for a few hours and just enjoy being out in nature. This month has been a great recharge so far and allowed me to relax before my next two crazy weeks heading to Istanbul and then Greece. Remote Year is truly a complex game of work/life/travel balance and taking time to experience things within nature is one of the best ways to equal out that balance a bit.