Gorno Draglishte in the early morning is magical. The light dawns on it just so that it gives everything a golden glow. One more day here to explore and take in the charm of the village would be perfect, but we are moving on yet again, so we say goodbye to another wonderful host and hop back in the van.
We are heading to Bansko, but along the way we stop in Belitsa to visit the Dancing Bear Sanctuary. The sanctuary houses 24 former dancing bears which were captured by volunteers from a life of captivity and cruelty. Opened in the year 2000 with support from Four Paws and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, it covers 120,000m² of natural territory where the bears can roam in as close to a natural environment as they will ever be able to get. These bears will never be able to be realised into the wild as they have never learnt to look out for themselves.
Most of the bears were owned by the Roma people (or gypsies) who taught the bears to ‘dance’ by making them walk on hot coals whilst their owners played musical instruments. We’ve all seen the photos (they were probably the image you even associated with Bulgaria when it was mentioned) and probably many a tourist snapped a photo of these clever dancing bears without giving it a second thought. But life for these bears was anything but fun. Having been separated from their mothers at a very early age, the bears were mistreated – pierced noses, declawing and leg chains have left everlasting scars on these bears.
The practice of keeping dancing bears was prohibited in 1998, but as with anything there are always people who continue to test the limits. Volunteers worked hard and as of 2008 it is believed that there are no longer any dancing bears in Bulgaria.
More driving and we finally arrive in Bansko. Bansko is set at the bottom of the majestic Pirin Mountains and is home to more than 150 cultural monuments. Many of its stone houses have been transformed into gorgeous little ‘mehanes’ or taverns. We are staying at another guesthouse – something I have come to look forward to – no longer anxiously wondering how I would cope, I now embrace these places as a chance to live more like a local.
I have scored the ‘penthouse’ (the room that is under the eaves with the long wooden railing in the photo above) and my massive room has a big balcony, which despite looking out over a tyre yard, affords me a spectacular view of the mountains.
Every inch of road in Bansko seems to be in the process of being dug up and if I don’t trip at some point I’ll be surprised. The footpaths in Sofia were the same, so badly in disrepair that at times if you weren’t looking where you were going, you would end up down a drain in no time.
We head into town for some lunch and a bit of a walk around. Bansko is a ski-town in the winter but people still flock in other seasons cause it’s cute. It’s also a great opportunity for hikers and mountain bikers.
Tonight the opera is in town. They are playing The Czardas Queen which I’ve never heard of, but here’s a run down of Act 1 – Night at the music-hall, Ferribachi addresses the guests and tells them that Silva’s variety actress success s so big she received an invitation to Paris. Silva wants to go but Edwin is in love with her and craves to marry her. His mother Silica is against her son’s involvement with the variety acrtress. She herself was a variety actress, but keeps it a deep secret. To stop her son’s plans she arrives at the music hall with a general, who has to take Edwin to the barrack. But this is not all – she organizes the engagement between Edwin and her neice – countess Stasi, as she even gives out invitations behind his back. Edwin doesn’t want to let SIlva go to Paris and says that he is ready to marry her right away. They contract the marriage. Silva is happy, but no for log. Soon she reliases that Edwin is engaging count Stasi and there are people invited. Silva tears the marriage contract apart and decides to go to Paris with Boni.
Six of us decide to take our chances on the show but I’m sad to say that none of us lasted past the first act.