Croatia

Too brief, so friendly

 

I’ve given up trying to keep maps. The GPS logger wasn’t behaving and Croatia has infected me with a very comfortable lack of organisation and orderliness.

 

Some friends on Facebook have recently accused us of being fantastically organized . If that were true we would have known that Croatia does not use the Euro before we crossed the border. We might have have known that to visit the museum in the salt pans on the border that you need to have your passport because we might have known that there is border control between Slovenia and Croatia, and that the road to the museum takes off between the two passport points. We might not have learned that the traffic on their main roads is deadly, but that the people are the friendliest and most generous you could find anywhere once they step out of their cars.

 

However travelling our way, finding out where we will be staying a couple of hours before we arrive at the most, quite often sorting the details of the route as we arrive at the next village, is the most rewarding and entertaining way to get around this country. As one recently returned refugee told us, “ I lived for years in Holland and I couldn’t stand the level of organisation. I came back because I love the improvisation of life in Croatia.”

 

Organised travellers would not have stumbled upon the stone shelters known here as kazun, utterly similar to the borries we chanced upon in Provence, they would be unlikely to find the Roman pottery and villa ruins that were open to walk through on the almost unmarked trail around part of the coast, or the small Roman theatre in Pula because they would have paid to go into the coliseum (we didn’t) and not made the effort to go  the top of the hill, or if they had, would have paid to go into the castle there rather than find their way around the back of it. Improvisation rules.

 

We did have an itinerary. Down the coast to Pula, ferry hop down the islands to Korcula, hang out there until it was time to get a ferry to Italy’s east coast, then make our way up to Venice where we could pack up the bikes, send the batteries back to Cologne where they could be included in the next shipment to NZ, and catch our flight.

 

Guess what? A lot of the ferries don’t take bikes and they had stopped running in early October anyway. The weather became less bike friendly and the traffic had terrified us, so all our planning came to nothing luckily, because we decided to hole up somewhere attractive instead of Pula, found ourselves at Bale up in the hills on the back roads, an untouched old stone village with the world’s most generous hostess (free second night, free dinner, snacks and even stored our bikes in her tiny living space to keep them safe and dry), and were treated to a spontaneous concert on the street by Klapa Valdibora, an a capella group of blokes who had recently won a competition in Paris.

 

We biked up through the smallest, quietest roads we could find for a day or two to pick up the Parenzana bike trail which follows an old rail track to Trieste, soaked up some more Croatian style friendship and generosity, and finally hopped back into Slovenia to wait out the next bout of rotten weather before making our way back into storm beleaguered Italy. Venice has just has the worst floods since 1966.

 

Plans are good, itineraries are useful I’m sure but they wouldn’t have helped us discover a real Croatia that exists not very far under the cloak of seaside tourism.

 

Slovenia

This will be my last post on this trip, I suspect. It’s too hard on a phone to get everything right, copying and pasting and correcting and editing take forever, and really, I’d rather just keep on riding. No worries, I’ll be home in a couple of weeks and I’ll update the Croatia page then.

Piran

We escaped Trieste and it’s  Bacalore festival crowd as quickly as possible, and had a scenically hilly ride over to the Slovenian border of only a few k’s away

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and into what is often described as a stunning coastline. If you like resort towns. Luckily we had chosen Piran – the most untouched tourist town I’ve seen. Narrow cobblestone streets, some almost too narrow for our handlebars, and the locals still live there, unlike all the other historic centers which empty out at night leaving tourists looking for local flavour. We stayed in a hostel in a typical Piran house with steep stairs and a rooftop terrace, walked around in the evening and biked Up into the hills during the day. These guys know how to do “up”!

The “up” part – to Ljubjana in 2 days.

Big hills. 550m from sea level, then down to 350 back to 700 before a final 20k on narrow main road with NZ style drivers. Not very pleasant. I was buggered when we got to Postonja because I had to seriously ration the battery use, 98% used today. We’ll come back this way because of the castle and the Skocjan caves which I hear are much better, less Disneyed than the Postonja ones.

Total distance: 73.44 km
Max elevation: 673 m
Min elevation: 53 m
Total climbing: 1291 m
Total descent: -740 m
Total Time: 08:04:31

 

More “up” parts

Up and then down to Ljubjana. We thought we were outsmarting Mapy when it took a route us over a mountain and we spotted the road that skirted around it, but the 900m part of the ride was the town on the other side anyway. Still, lovely to ride through villages only 100m apart sometimes, and the drop down to the plains was worth all the effort.

V cheap Airbnb in Ljubjana, and the owner drove us into the center of town where there were 100s of bars and restaurants full of locals enjoying the unseasonably balmy evening. We walked for ages looking for some local flavour with less than €20 mains, and finally found it at the end of the Street, Druga Violina – Google it and come here just to go there. Roast chestnuts on the street for an entree, and Jill had the darkest chocolate ice cream ever as we walked home.

Total distance: 69.04 km
Max elevation: 931 m
Min elevation: 198 m
Total climbing: 1541 m
Total descent: -1738 m
Total Time: 06:36:12

 

 

Bled day 1

We took the train to Bled, the truly lovely lake featuring in every tourist publication, because we didn’t want a 2 hour ride across the smoggy plains followed by a heavy climb through more of what we had already seen. Found an excellent apartment 3km outside town and scored the late afternoon sun for an introductory ride around the lake taking dozens of cliche shots.

 

Bled day 2 Bohinjsko lake

30k out of Bled is another stunner of a lake, but half the ride is on a two lane, no shoulder road which scared the hell out of us. Real bike tourers might think it’s ok, but we’re only juniors. B. Lake is well worth the ride, one of the prettiest things ever, but even better was the half of the ride off the road through untouched villages where locals we’re just living their daily lives, living in what looked to be hundreds of years old houses sometimes, although many had neat stacks of timber seasoning beside the also near piles of firewood, indicating their love of rustic charm might be wearing thin.

Bled day 3

The Julian Alps part. Actually yesterday’s lake is part of them but today’s ride up one valley and down the next is truly Alpine although without the heavy climbing. We went to the far end of the road on the southern part of the loop, deer on the road, sun rising over mount trigav to light the 1000m cliffs full of autumn colours on the north, and returned along the northern valley which we shared with mototrways, rail and ndless industry, although mostly on a separate trail. We found our way to the far end of the famous vintgar gorge so that we would only have to walk one way, and ignored the no bikes signs which was a big mistake and a week later my back is still complaining. Lots of steps, lots of passages of narrow suspended bridges and lots of tourists who were very nice to us but we were still a bloody nuisance, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as it deserved.

Last 2 days

Train back to Postojna because it was getting seriously cold. Checked out the Predjama castle (ok, but if you’ve seen a photo it’s enough and we didn’t go inside) and sprinted to the Skocjam caves which were definitely worth the effort. It’s a Very Big Hole.

The next day we visited the other major Slovenian attraction, Lipica where the original Lippanzer horses gave been bred for about 400 years, and as a non-horsey person I loved it, then a final downhill to Kopec for a last night in this country.

It feels like a place that’s on the brink of being killed by tourism. It’s well on the way already in the major spots but it doesn’t take much effort to find the real country, the people we met were all lovely, the drivers, while nowhere near as considerate as their northern neighbors were at least mostly quite considerate and I reckon if you’re reading this and have a bike that you should give it a go sooner rather than later. I’d love to have a look at the Eastern parts sometime soon.

 

Big downhills, lakes and some trains

Bodonsee downhill

Our gasthaus owner in Lindau told us about the gondola up their big local peak, Pfander, so we added a day, biked back to Bregenz (Austria again), and let them carry our bikes to the top.

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Then a 16km downhill run to the lake, punctuated by a few wee climbs, ever changing vistas of the lake, farms and forests. We slowed it down when we could, and I prolonged it further by leaving our lunch at the side of the road, giving us an opportunity to do some of it again. Easily the best ride of our lives.20181006_143553

Four countries before lunch

The weather was staying warmer than expected so we decided to go over the Brenner pass to Italy, taking a train to Innsbruck to get us started, and incidentally giving us the best train journey ever, anywhere. That gave us the choice of adding Lichtenstein to the list of countries as the only train left from Buchs in Switzerland, about 50k up the Rhine from the Bodonsee.

(From my Facebook post)

Four countries before lunch!

This morning we left Landau (Germany), rode across Austria (only about 20km at this point), hopped over to Switzerland to ride up the Rhine, zigged back into Austria to cross the border into Lichtenstein, then crossed back into Switzerland at Buchs to catch a train to Innsbruck (Austria). Mind boggling scenery all day.

Tomorrow we conquer Italy

South Tyrols

We took the train up from Innsbruck to save an 800m climb to Brenner Pass, and then had a 30 km downhill run to Naz, way up one side of the enormous valley. AirB&B’s exist again so we stayed in Naz, speaking English slowly to Maria, our host, as we cooked our own dinner at last.

Next morning’s downhill run felt like a 10000 m drop into the Dolomites, with more of that mind-boggling scenery that would have to be photograph by Ansel Adams to do it justice. A 1000m cliff with a monastery halfway up has to be seen or described by a poet. We stayed at Tramin the home of gerwurtztraminer and had dinner at Kastelaz Keller – google it – where Jill had a glass of the apparently lovely stuff.

More of the same the next day but we moved out of the German Italian speaking part into pure Italian and and stayed in the surprisingly interesting Rogereto in a 17th century apartment for only $NZ62. Cooked our own meal and ate in the terrace surrounded by old stuff and mountains.

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Lake Garda

The biggest lake in Italy but you wouldn’t know it to look at it, limited as you would be by the 10km smog barrier. Avoin Riva del Garda unless you like resort towns, hop on a ferry to Limine, cashing in on its name by adopting a lemon theme, to ride their 2km suspended cycleway full of slow old (our age) pedestrians, then catch another across the lake to ride down to Garda along the shore path mostly. By then you won’t be bothered by the sight of the far shore, and you might, like me, leave your glasses at the beach side cafe so it won’t matter anyway.

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Bodonsee/Lake Konstanz

A periperambulation

10/3/2018 lindau uberlingen 65k 50%
10/4/2018 uberlingen konstanz 5k 50% new rear tyre Steve’s bike
10/5/2018 konstanz lindau 83k 80% 3 countries!
10/6/2018 lindau lindau 45k 50%

 

After a few days in Munich with Rex and Moni, and a couple more visiting Eva and her family at Clarsbach, 20k out of Nuremberg we were feeling thoroughly unexercised, and stuffed with too many dumplings, so had another day on a train to visit the highly recommended Bodonsee. 

 

Lindau Island turned to be quite charming in spite of the Disneyfication, and even that was more making the most of the waterfront with its 1000yr old lighthouse,than destroying the place with shopping mall retail icons, although Esprit, UCB and Timberlands are always there where tourists gather. Even at this time if of year there were about a million tourists, but then we found out that the next day was German unification day, so naturally they were all going to flock to their favourite playground. 

 

We went anticlockwise, which is a fairly meaningless thing in this digital age, it was overcast so we couldn’t see the surrounding mountains, the bike trail followed the road through the continuous housing, and when we escaped to the quieter tracks on the shore line they were for pedestrians only, millions of them. In the old towns it was worse, but we made it to Uberlingen with smiles on our faces because it was lovely  anyway, and we saw zeppelins flying. 

 

The cafe below K hotel sold Flat Whites and roasted their own beans, and made coffee nearly as good as anyone in Wellington so we had a great start to the next day around to Konstanz.

 

Much more scenic and unpopulated, with a pleasant lunch break at Radolfzell where I had a new tyre fitted while we ate  lunch by the lake and chatted with a man who balances stones who knew the Korean chap in San Fransisco who we saw doing the same. Konstanz lacks charm and we managed to find the worst hostel in Europe.

 

 

 

 

The next day was through the Swiss section so we stocked up on cheap German supplies, tidied ourselves up to fit in and meandered along happily in full sun and great views once the fog lifted. Crossed through Austria over the Rhine Delta and back to Lindau.

 

Our gasthaus host told us that the gondola at bergenz takes bikes, so the last day at the lake was sorted with a ride up the 1000m Pfander peak and a 16k downhill through stunningly lovely stuff. It took far longer than it could have done because we wanted it to last forever.

 

Maps might come later, but it’s only around the lake.

I’ll have to reload some of these photos when I get home because the dodgy interweb connections couldn’t cope.

Salzburg to Passau

Salzburg

We took the train to Salzburg to avoid the rain, and sure enough it stopped and we arrived to clear skies and slightly fewer tourists than we expected. A lot of locals wearing dirndl and lederhosen for St Rupert’s day but luckily we missed their mini Octoberfest by not visiting the old Town on the Sunday.

 

There’s Sound of Music tours all over the place, it’s a much bigger thing than Mozart et al, but the nearest we got to one was a bike tour that arrived in full voice while we were looking at the trapp family house from across the lake20180923_163359

while using the location map to guide us around. Bloody ear worms all day.

 

Thought we should take in some Culture so walked into the Mirabelle palaceto a Mozart concert in the marble room, 20180923_193323magnificent place where the big M played, but the music was all hibrow stuff by other composers so be we had an expensive and pleasant doze and walked home in the rain, finding out that my replacement rain coat is not up to Groundeffect’s standard by a good margin.

 

More SoM sights the next day and a walk up the hill to the castle, big views over the city and a Very Good museum and now we’ve seen castles. They’re a bit of a cliche around these parts.

Biking back to Passau

97k to Branau, 90% battery use, possibly because it’s quite a bit colder, max 9°C. It’s a 600m drop with a few uphills alongside the Salzach and Inn river
 

Total distance: 97.14 km
Max elevation: 551 m
Min elevation: 394 m
Total climbing: 591 m
Total descent: -682 m
Total Time: 09:06:32

Branau to Passau

 

70k 70% battery. Lots of gravel and we both used higher power on the last 20k because why not.

The best part of the Taueradweb – scenic, varied, a chapel 75 steps down a cliff with a sacred spring that hasn’t cured me yet, and a few hills for exercise.

Total distance: 70.23 km
Max elevation: 413 m
Min elevation: 349 m
Total climbing: 296 m
Total descent: -353 m
Total Time: 06:07:21