12 Feb A Bulgarian Ski Trip (Part 1: Getting to Bulgaria)
What comes to mind when you think of a European ski getaway? Wonderful views of the French alps? Maybe you picture yourself bombing down fresh powder in Austria? Perhaps you have your eyes sets on Switzerland? Whatever it is, it’s probably all-inclusive, magnificently picturesque, and filled with beer or hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course, though Europe hasn’t figured this out yet).
Now: pull your head out of the clouds because you live in London and can barely afford heat. How are the “budget” ski options looking these days? (When I hear “budget ski trip,” I picture rickety, 70s-style ski lifts and reports with snowfall and death count from the previous day.)
Well, folks, I am happy to report you can indeed enjoy a ski holiday that doesn’t break the bank! If you’re looking to save some cash, you’ll simply have to piece together a DIY trip, and be willing to have a bit of an adventure. Note: I did go by myself, so if you go with friends or family, be sure to look for group discounts, as these can significantly drive down the cost per person.
Are you ready for tips on how to plan your amazing vacation? All righty then, let the fun begin!
Fly to Sofia, Bulgaria
The discount European airlines fly to Bulgaria’s capital regularly, and tickets can be quite cheap. I found round-trip tickets in January from London Stansted to Sofia for as little as £20. If you’re wondering why the tickets were so cheap, remember: it’s Bulgaria. In January.
This was my arrival:
The Sofia airport is unfortunately a great example of why stereotypes exist. Upon getting through immigration, I found myself in Terminal 1’s arrivals section, which is literally a small room I can only describe as “super shady.” There was, at least, a small cafe and info booth, but that’s about it. Pro tip: don’t ask the police officers for help; they’re apparently more concerned with chatting amongst themselves than making a good first impression for foreign visitors. Second Pro Tip: Just say no to the first wave of “taxi” “drivers”. Unlicensed taxi drivers walked up to me and said — verbatim, I swear! — “I have taxi. Give you good price.” Thanks, but no thanks, taxi man (though props for learning some basic English?). I was advised ahead of time by my Airbnb host to not accept any rides from those guys. Instead, walk outside and literally across the small street to find the bank of licensed taxis (at least, I’m pretty sure they were legit – they looked official). I hopped in the first one I saw.
The Sofia Airport: Getting to the City
The metro station at the airport leaves from Terminal 2 for the city center. Buses can get you to the city, as well; be sure to check the directions and timetables. You could take a taxi to the city center, too, but I don’t like taxis. Therefore, I caught a taxi to Terminal 2 (which is far more modern and upscale than Terminal 1) and found the Metro. Note: the airport’s two terminals aren’t actually connected, so you need to take a taxi between the two. Most taxi drivers will expect you to drive into the city center, so be ready to specify you’re just going to Terminal 2. Once there, the Metro is on the far east side of the terminal; follow the colored lines on the airport’s tile floor, and then backtrack because half of the rotating doors to the outside are broken.
Once I found the Metro station, I realized I needed cash to buy a ticket. There were no staff anywhere, but luckily I had paid the taxi driver in Euros, and she’d given me Bulgarian Lev (лв) in return. Though Bulgaria is technically on the Euro, the Lev is still the dominant form of currency. A Metro ticket was under 2лв, or about 1€ – check the exchange rate here. The Metro’s ticket machines are surprisingly easy to use; limited options keep things simple. You don’t need to validate your ticket on a separate machine anywhere, and the turnstiles and ticket readers were quite modern. You scan your ticket when you walk through the turnstile, but you don’t scan anything on the way out.
The City – Sofia
Because I took a later flight, I landed around 10:00pm. It’s not necessarily the ideal way to arrive in a new place, but I figured I could make it work. The metro ride took maybe thirty minutes. I was greeted with a fifteen minute walk in the cold and snow to get to my Airbnb:
Overall, I navigated Sofia with relative ease, though I did stay close to the metro lines. Google maps served me well, and I didn’t have difficulties finding the right streets. The food (and beer!) was cheap and supermarkets were easy to find. The city itself deserves a separate post, but during the day I had no issues getting around (aside from un-shoveled sidewalks and dangerous, terrifyingly slick yellow cobblestone roads). I’d also like to mention the Free Sofia Walking Tour, which is put on by a non-profit group dedicated to promoting tourism in Sofia/Bulgaria.
If I’ve missed anything, the Sofia Airport website provides very good info on getting to and from the city.
Now that you’re a pro at getting from the airport to the city, read on in Part 2 to find out how to get from Sofia to Borovets, one of Bulgaria’s most popular ski destinations!