The flight from Munich to Sofia took just under 90 minutes. So there I was, fully loaded down with gear and waiting for my companions for the next six days. Dan Patitucci, an American with Italian roots, is a well-known mountain sports photographer. He planned the trip in advance. And always at his side is his wife, Janine. The fourth in the bunch was Kim Strom from the United States. She is a gifted trail runner and travels quite a bit with the Patituccis. Once everybody has arrived, our guide Georgy Georgiev, who is the owner of FreeMountains, joined us too. And off we go!
We take about two hours to get to Bansko. Bansko? I vaguely recall that the Alpine ski racing circuit stops here each year. I discover I am right. On the way, the highway is lined with a number of billboards from this year’s World Cup race. Bansko itself is suited as the starting point for ski tours in the Pirin Mountains, but not for much more than that. The rather artificial, ugly ski resort like some in the United States, houses hordes of Brits who are looking to have a party-down ski holiday. From a distance you can already hear the beat of the horrid Eurotechno music from the ‘90s -- even at 4 in the afternoon!
Our first foray into old town Bansko put us confidently in the mood for the coming days. We were welcomed heartily at every one of the small food stands in the narrow alleys. But one thing was already clear: Vegetables are strangers to the Bulgarian cuisine, just as salt is too. Pork, chicken and lamb in the form of sausages, chopped, or steaks -- that’s what awaited us in the mountain huts, promised Georgy. No problem for me, but for Kim, a strict vegan, indeed an issue. She was already checking her inventory of couscous and oatmeal.