Monday, 5 August 2013

Bankya, soaked in mineral water

Hygeia, the Greek goddess of cleanliness and sanitation, at the main park of Bankya.
The historic building of Mineral Baths (1910) can be seen in the distance.

It takes 1 lev and half an hour to get by train to Bankya, and so I did on a hot August Saturday. With five-to-six trains a day, Bankya is an easy side trip from Sofia.

The train schedule, August 2013.

The first two words that came to my mind at the initial encounter with Bankya were 'greenery' and 'water'. The greenery is intense and of numerous shades. It truly starts just a few train stops before the town, and is in sharp contrast with barren, littered eastern suburbs of Sofia.

Greenery taking over the rails at Bankya train station. If you are not convinced about functionality of this station have a look at the top right corner of the photo.

Bankya has plenty of parks, and, as one would expect from a (former) spa town, sounds of water are always nearby. Fountains, drinking fountains with mineral water, benches in the shades of trees are the things Bankya is not short of; all enlivened with a couple of statues of naked females.


I say former spa town because currently Bankya's historic Mineral Baths are closed*. In the same area I have witnessed also a few deserted open air swimming pools - empty and desolate-looking but nonetheless fenced & watched over by a sleepy security guard.

Fenced water-less pools behind the trees, Bankya.

An alternative could be found at the town's only balneological complex suggestively named 'Zdrave' ('health' in Bulgarian). This joint institution - hospital, hotel and a spa centre - offers a day pass to two warm mineral water swimming pools, one indoors one outdoors, jacuzzi and sauna (15 leva); plus sanatorium style treatments for the more desperate. The latter treatments have to be prescribed by a doctor, cost extra, and normally come as part of a package that includes overnight stays. 

'Zdrave' itself is a hybrid of an old school communist building (the hospital-hotel part), and a new glass construction (the spa centre). The communist building, if somewhat old fashioned, inside is acceptably clean and has got at least one receptionist who speaks English. It also has a cafe and a canteen, the latter filled with social elderly ladies at the time of visit. 

Overall, Bankya gives an impression of a busy little town, and you can see some better-off Sofians sitting in cafes in the proximity of 'Zdrave'. There are quite a few places to eat (Balkan style food mainly), and it's easy to kill time at one of the plentiful parks. Good for a chilled, lazy day when one is, for example, hangover.

The park surrounding the Mineral Baths has got a free wi-fi zone - at least so the public signs say; although I did not manage to achieve any connection.

* I believe, refurbishing and re-opening the old Mineral Baths would be the best what a loving soul could do for the benefit of Bankya town. The large, beautiful, more than a century old building, although with a freshly painted facade, at a closer checkup looks fragile and about to crumble. However, with an appropriate renovation, it could once again become a nice public space for locals, Sofians, and tourists alike.    

The painted facade.

When it all started. Women enjoying waters of Bankya, turn of the 20th century (photo from an outdoor exhibition next to Mineral Baths).

How bathers used to commute between Sofia and Bankya back in the day.
A lock on the door (Mineral Baths).
Text and photos (c) Agne Drumelyte, 2013.

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