The Magical Mystical Puzzle that is Bansko, Bulgaria…
Towering into the sky, the myriad snow-capped peaks embraced the sun as if in worship. An alpine nirvana of indescribable beauty, unscalable cliffs, meadows, and ancient black, blue, and green coloured bottomless glacial lakes, wrapped in a warm blanket of green and brown-hued forests that are awash with life.
Here in the shadows, wolves prowled, among the forests bears growled and wild boar and even jackals roamed and foraged.
Owls paid watchful homage.
Spring was upon the land and had ignited the big thaw, the rivers cascaded fresh water down the gullies and ravines in a never-ending tsunami refreshing the abundant plains unfolding across the grasslands beneath.
Nestled and caressed in the foothills, stood a town. A very small town. One street with a freshwater stream running through it, cobbled by hand by generations so old they were lost to the legends of time. At the end of this fairy-tale scene, stood a cottage all on its own. In that cottage sat a man. Old and careworn, a shock of grey hair and a beard almost as long as his arms. His shoulders shrunk into a baggy linen shirt that once used to be snug.
This man was a toymaker; indeed, he was The Puzzle Maker, the anointed guardian and creator of magical, mystical things. He sat at a workbench that was older than he. Handmade lovingly from rosewood and blackthorn, crafted generations ago and cherished by all who had ever sat before it.
Gently, with tenderness, the Toymaker rolled the object between his hands, back and forth, from one to the other. Hands that were gnarly and strong, yet with fingertips worn smooth through a lifetime of sanding and polishing.
As he did so, he ran his fingers gently across the surface and tried to sense blemishes, rough edges, joints, and pinions but there was nothing. The object, this puzzle, was a seamless rainbow fusion of the darkest mahogany; the whitest ivory; purest gold and a dusting of crushed diamonds. It looked as if it had been fused together in the very heart of the sun.
He allowed himself a wry grin, a moment of self-congratulation upon what was ultimately the work of a lifetime, a masterpiece. It was seamless, arguably, possibly he wondered, the smoothest, most refined object a craftsman, a toymaker had ever made.
This was a puzzle, but not a mechanical puzzle that you twisted and turned, pressed, and guessed. This was a magical and mystical puzzle. Enshrined within it was decades, a lifetime of experience of knowledge and skill. This was probably the most captivating and engaging puzzle that had ever existed. It was a puzzle adorned, indeed, awash with contradictions, deceptive ambiguity and full of idiosyncrasies that for many in the years to come would defy explanation. Yet, it would undoubtedly exceed many people’s expectations.
That was how The Toymaker had planned it. As he caressed the object in his hands, he marvelled at its construction. Momentarily he smiled inwardly with satisfaction at his achievement, briefly, a smirk appeared upon his face. He recalled the ridicule when he had presented his idea to his peers, his precious fellow craftsman at the Toymakers Guild. Wait until they laid their eyes, their hands upon this fabulously tactile, beguiling piece of craftsmanship.
They would be both astonished and perplexed at one and the same time.
He breathed deeply, and with a profound sigh, he tossed the puzzle upwards. As he did so, he glanced towards the window and the spring sunshine that seeped through it. The object tumbled upwards glimmering and shimmering and then appeared to stop. Suspended it hung in the air, rolling lazily in the morning sun. Then as if by magic, the light was drawn towards it, refracted by it and began to illuminate the room.
Images, memories, and stories emanated from the puzzle as it absorbed the sunlight. Legendary people lost in the annals of time came to life before him. Heroes of epic days gone by began to re-enact their fables and villains throughout history were revealed for their wrongs.
All the contradictions were revealed, all the idiosyncrasies exposed as the images and stories melded with panoramic views of beautiful, breath-taking landscapes, snow-capped mountains and endless forests and plains, extraordinary architecture throughout the ages appeared magically in front of his tired, yet joyful eyes.
The Toymaker watched in awe, breathless and silent as he beheld his greatest achievement. Then he whispered under his breath…
“To the world, I present to you the enigma that I have named BANSKO…”
With that, he laid his tired head upon the desk and sighed once again, drifted into a deep, satisfied sleep from which he would never awake. The Toymaker, indeed, The Puzzle Maker began his well-deserved journey into eternity…
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Bulgaria is a land that is adorned with legends and heroes, tribes and clans and a diverse convoluted and complex history that if truth be told defies explanation. There are many folklore tales passed down to explain the origins of this stunning and diverse country that is so full of nuances and contradictions.
One story tells of how God on the sixth day, had a blank space, rolled up all his clay and cast it upon the land to create a paradise which today we call Bulgaria. I suspect this fable comes from a race, a people long before the gods we know today. Thracians, Celts, and Romans roamed this land long before Christ was imagined. The Goths in their resistance to Rome later left their indelible mark.
The narrative forward about ‘The Toymaker’ is a homage to this wonderful country, but to be specific a place I love called Bansko.
Over the next few months, in fact, the next 8 months, I’m going to write about this magical place, its nuances, the contradictions, the good and the not so bad.
This isn’t a travelogue, it’s a guide, a taste of everything from seasonal activities, the facilities, the bars and the restaurants, hiking and even co-working for the digital nomads amongst you.
It’s my personal impression and experience. I’ll mention key people, hopefully, I’ll even interview a few. But none of them is intended to be commercial recommendations, they’re just the people I know whose opinions I trust and value.
Hopefully, you’ll join me on this journey and follow the series of articles to come.
Perhaps, I’ll entice you to come. If I do, please drop me a message and over a Pirinsko (the local beer) we can say hello.