It was like pulling teeth, but I finally did it. “I want to go swimming….let’s go swimming.” All my friends wanted to go swimming but I put my foot down. “No! Let’s go swimming during the week when it’s cheaper.”
I had heard that there was a bus going from the Hladilnika Bus Terminal (See post Tram/Bus 9TM) to Aleko
on top of Vitosha, but until one of my readers gave me the schedule via link (click here), I had no idea when to go. FYI, buses leave Hladilnika at 7:50, 8:55, 10:00, 11:05, 12:15, 13:30, 14:50, and 17:00. On the return trip, buses leave the Moreni Hotel at 8:45, 9:55, 11:05, 12:20, 13:35, 14:50, 16:05, and 18:00. Although this bus is managed by the Sofia Bus Company, it is considered a special seasonal line (running possibly April – October?) and costs 4.00 BGN one way and 6.00 BGN round trip.
We arrived at Hladilnika (Mr. P, Ms. R., and I) and proceeded to buy our tickets. “They’re a little expensive,” Ms. R. said. “Yeah, but the bus uses a lot of gasoline to get up to 7,000 feet.” Passengers need to buy their tickets at a ticket shack next to the bus loop. The lady asked us to wait “in the middle waiting area,” but we walked directly over to the bus. They driver was exceptionally jolly and told us that he didn’t mind if we just “come on in.” He then proceeded to make some jokes with some older ladies who looked like they were going for a hike.
Bus No. 1507, an old manual-transmission yellow Mercedes-Benz, left Hladilnika at 12:15, packed full of
mountain bikes. Several of the guys going biking were sharing a two-liter of beer on the way, which seems to be completely socially acceptable. My friends and I shared a bottle of wine. From Hladilnika, the bus goes down Cherni Vruh Boulevard, past Okolovrusten Put, and on up through Dragalevtsi. The bus did stop at Dragalevtsi Square, but no one got on. From here the bus climbed the 10 or so kilometers into Vitosha Nature Park, and up to the top.
Vitosha Nature Park is the oldest protected area in Bulgaria, being founded in 1934. The whole area has recently been the reason of protests by environmentalists who are against the government opening up the countries parks and reserves to construction of new ski pistes and hotels. I agree with them, and the bill luckily didn’t pass. The government claims that the bill would be good for tourism and that Bulgaria could be similar to Switzerland and Austria in the ski world, however people soon forget that Austria and Switzerland are managed by the eco-friendly Austrians and Swiss, and not Bulgarian businessmen who have a reputation for being corrupt. Anyone who have been to Bansko can see how rampart construction can destroy a town. Also, this bill is in contrast to what was originally intended. Rila, Central Balkan, Vitosha, and Pirin are all reserves. Their entire reason for being is to preserve nature in its truest form. New ski lifts and pistes are about someone making money, not protecting the environment.
The bus arrived at 13:04, a travel time of 49 minutes to the top. Hotel Moreni is a soviet-era hotel with a
nice cafe overlooking Sofia. Right at the bus stop, there is a steadily graded trail that leads to Cherni Vruh, about a 2 hour paced hike. In the other direction, further up the road is Hizha Aleko, one of the first Mountain Lodges built in the country and named after writer Aleko Konstantinov, who graces the 100 leva bill. In 1895 he led an excursion of tourists up Mt. Vitosha by foot, which seems to have sparked the mountain tourism that Bulgarians so dearly love. The Hizha is well-worn, and well-loved, achieving status as one of the 100 national tourist sites. A room is 9 BGN per night, and there is a snack bar and restaurant. From here there are other trails leading to Bistritsa Village and Zlatni Mostove. If planning a long hike, a map is a necessity, as is sunblock. Also, be sure to check the weather report. Hiking on a mountain in heavy fog is a bad idea. Ms. R, Mr. P, and I walked some of the trail leading to Bistritsa, where we met an elderly lady who was bathing in her swimsuit in a mountain stream. She was very friendly and
told us there was a beautiful field a ways up.
“How many kilometers?” I asked.
“Kilometers? There are no kilometers on the mountain! Maybe 10 minutes!”
Later Ms. R. said “I wish I had a grandmother like that…”
After drinking some coffee at the hizha, we got back on the bus at 16:00. It was much more
crowded this time, but not with bikes. A man who must have been in his 80’s tried to get on the bus and pay with a regular ticket, but the driver told him that he needed to buy a special ticket. The man didn’t move. The driver then sold some more tickets and went back to him and told him again that this wasn’t a city bus line, and his card won’t work. The man showed him his card. The driver then proceeded to yell at this guy until he got off the bus and told him:
“If I get caught with ticketless passengers on my bus, I get a 500 leva fine! I have a house, kids…”
The man got off.
“They should let older people ride for free,” Ms. R. said.
“What I don’t understand is that this bus is run by the city bus company, has a route number, and has ticket validators. If they want it to be less confusing, they need to put a ‘Special Trip’ sign in the window like other buses do.”
The trip down the mountain took exactly 60 minutes. At Dragalevtsi, a woman tried to get on, thinking it was a city bus. The driver stopped the bus and yelled:
“This is a special trip! This is not a city bus! This bus isn’t leaving until you get off, ma’am. I’m not going to risk a 600 leva fine! I have a house, kids…”