Zoppe to Cres – Italy – Slovenia – Croatia
We had an awesome decent from Zoppe down the mountain. It was all over too quickly though. We turned right at the bottom of the mountain and started up the next mountain Pass, after a km or so we both stopped and questioned our next move and thought:
“What are we doing going up another massive massive mountain. Lets go to Slovenia!”
So we did. After a few days riding we were at the train station and on our way. We crossed the border and got on a dingy hot hot train and we were on our way to Bled (northern Slovenia). We were happy with our decision. We could have spent weeks in the Dolomites but felt it was time to move on. I was my typical self with the trains, freaking off my head about trying to throw our bikes on the train in time, get our 8 bags in and ourselves all before the train leaves. Once aboard, then I start stressing about the other end and getting us and everything off in time before the train leaves. It really is pretty stressful, but I certainly take it to the next step. My technique is to try and carry all 8 bags at once while Andy does the first bike, then I try and help with the second bike. I get in trouble for this cos “I’ll hurt my back”.
Bled was a cool place. An awesome lake, nice camping place and good weather. We stayed 2 nights in the camping ground and spent the day swimming and exploring the place. As we hadn’t planned anything from there onwards, we went to a few info centres and said we wanted to ride south through the country and to Croatia maybe. They said it wasn’t possible. We couldn’t ride south and through the capital Ljubljana as it was too busy on all the roads. Andy only told me this once we had arrived in the capital as I was outside minding the bikes for that conversation. Anyway, turns out it was possible and we got there.
We left Bled and followed a map through the national park to another awesome lake. We decided to go through the NP instead of around it. We knew it would be more challenging but apparently there was a bike path the whole way. Turns out there was no bike path (in the whole country) someone has drawn lines on a map and most of them take you up as many mountains as possible and none of them link up. It was amazing though and well worth the 900 vertical metre climb. But we decided we wouldn’t always listen to the info centre bike maps, but instead make our own route to where we wanted to go.
In Bled one night we were woken in the night by the most terrifying noise ever. There were two of these creatures calling back and forth to one another. One of them was close. Sounded as though it was 100 metres away from our tent. Andy opened the tent door to have a look with his super bright torch which we thought would scare it away. It continued throughout the night on and off. It was terrifying. The next day I googled wildlife in Slovenia and found this list of things that would kill us. AHHHH! No more wild sneaky camping in Slovenia for us. Slovenia has Wolves, wild boars, foxes with rabies, wild dogs and Bears! WHHHAAAAATTT??????? Andy and I with our extensive Slovenian wildlife knowledge, have decided we were listening to wolves. I was a complete wuss that night lying awake listening to these beasts. We are lucky we have nothing to kill us in the night in Australia. Although, people we talk to here think Australia is full of deadly creatures. I guess it’s what you get used to and grow up with, you become comfortable.
We stopped for a rest at the top of the 900m climb and we accidently let some cattle in to a picnic ground and helped a local, herd them out again. I got charged by a young bull. They were all so used to being hand fed and were so tame that they weren’t scared enough of people to be herded. I do feel a bit sorry for cattle in Europe. They spend their whole lives in stables that stink. You always know when you’re at a cow stable from the cow shit smells. I guess there isn’t enough grazing land though. A few times we have seen people in villages come out of there cow shit stables and wheel 100 litres or so of milk vat to the big milk truck waiting on the corner. Very small scale stuff but is obviously worth their while. Cattle in Australia have it pretty good I think with most of them being able to live in herds, in paddocks and grazing for most of their life.
The roads in parts of Italy and definitely Slovenia were a bit average for our poor old bikes. Andy nearly came a cropper big time. They had invisible speed bumps on the dirt path that were for drainage purposes I think. Anyway, I went over it first and yelled out behind me that there was a bump but it was too late, Andy went over, both front bags came off, 1 went in the front wheel and broke and all the spacers that hold it to the rack, and he got a buckled wheel. I heard a crash and skid. I nearly lost it trying to stop and turn around to see the damage. Luckily Andy is pretty good on a bike and he managed to stay on, and stop in time. There was a bit of swearing at the stupid speed bump but amazingly we found the spacers, Andy fixed the bag with tent tape and sewing kit and fixed the buckled wheel and were on our way again. Phew!
I have been riding and drinking from my water bottle for a few months now and I have always worried that I will miss the holder and not get the water bottle in properly and I will run over it and fall off. Well, it happened the other day. I was riding along, had a drink, put my water bottle back but obviously not properly. It fell out, I ran over it and it went into the middle of the busy road. I nearly did a ‘little kid running after his ball across a busy road’ thing. I waved my hands around like crazy and luckily all the cars dodged it and drove around it. Phew! We have already lost a water bottle somehow a few weeks ago so I didn’t want to loose another. I don’t drink and ride anymore on busy roads.
It’s all about the vibe! Some days we go places and really don’t feel the vibe of the place so we move on again. Other days we meet really interesting people and have great conversations with them. Most of them are really interested about our bikes, journey or just why we are doing this. A lot of people will give friendly toots, waves, cars stopping, giving encouragement. The other day we were slogging up a hill and a man on a motor bike gave us a toot toot and the thumbs up. When we have been riding for 80kms, with a head wind uphill, the little things like that really help.
Matt sent us a really cool movie the other day which sums our trip up so well. Puts it into words better than I could. Thanks Matt, we loved watching this movie on a day that was challenging! https://vimeo.com/120206922 here is the link. Worth a look. But we have been loving the continual unknown of where we will end up having our bodies and bikes to rely on. But we do feel a real sense of freedom on the bikes like we haven’t felt before when travelling.
Apart from being woken in the night by crazy beasts that want to eat you, we are surprised at how well we sleep in our little tent compared to guest houses. It feels very much like home in our tent and we both sleep well. Although, I am constantly trying to steal Andy’s bed as he has an extra long, extra wide, extra comfortable exped compared to mine. I haven’t succeeded yet!
Another thing we have done that has made our lives so much easier is labelling our bags with a bit of electrical tape so we can distinguish what is in each bag and what lives where. This is something we should have done 2 months ago. It felt like every time I opened a bag to get something in the past, I would always open the wrong one first, have to close it again, move my bike, get to the other bag etc etc. No more!
Andy is getting really good at making our beer can stoves. Every country we go to, there is a new fuel to find and get used to. They all burn slightly differently. In Italy they have this crappy crappy pink stuff that makes you want to throw up when you open the bottle that doesn’t burn well at all. So we needed a new stove that had more air holes in it so it would burn hotter. Now we are using 96% ethanol which burns really well. So a new stove was needed with less air holes so we didn’t burn the forest and ourselves.
I think so far, we are the only cycle tourists without a GPS attached to our handlebars. The other day when trying to get to Slovenia we stopped and asked some other cycle tourists and they whipped out their GPS and had the answer in 20 seconds. Something that would have taken us way longer going by our crappy info centre maps and asking the locals. So far we have probably used about 90 info centre maps that we get when we go through a town. The problem is, there are no contour lines or a scale or anywhere near detailed enough and we never know when the hills are coming up. It makes for some tricky navigation. The other problem is that 1 map will run out before there is another map that they have made. We have become very good at following our noses.
It seems strange, but everyone in Europe seems to be afraid of the rain telling us it is bad weather for riding etc. We ran into some bike tourers in Bled and they told us that the weather for the next 5 days was meant to be very wet and cold. We looked it up and they were right. They were going to get the train from Bled to Ljubljana and wait it out. We thought. Wow shit, is it going to be that bad? Maybe we should do the same. We decided against it, rode off and it poured like never before. The roads were under water and we had to pull over cos the cars wouldn’t be able to see us. Luckily there was a hay shack in a paddock next to the road. We made lunch, the rain stopped and we continued on. When it was pissing down and we were in some farmers hay shed, we did see the train go by and knew the other bike tourers were on it, dry and did question our decision. After that down pour it was fine. It did pour with rain in the evenings, but we avoided riding in the rain which was a surprise. When we arrived in Ljubljana and stayed in a hostel, we saw the same bike tourers bikes and assumed it was the same people, waiting for the rain to stop that never really came. Glad we made the right choice. This trip is full of constant decision making, we are getting better at making decisions on the fly.
We had a 98km day the other day uphill mostly, but some amazing country side. We ran into some Aussie bike tourists who also warned us of the rain. It was nice and weird speaking to Aussies in the same lingo. They were the second lot of aussies we have run into this trip and that’s it. At the end of the day, after nearly 100kms of mostly uphill, we took a wrong turn and we had no idea what we were going to do. We were planning on camping but now that was out of the question we had to find somewhere with a roof. We were a few kms out of a town called Lipica. We decided to try it and see if there was a Hotel. Yes there was, when we turned off the main road up to Lipica, there were all these horses. Turns out we stumbled upon the place where Lipizzaner’s first originated. Awesome! Had a tour of the 15th century stables in the morning, patted some Lipizaner foals. I was happy. Love a wrong turn that works out so well. Then had an awesome ‘follow our nose’ trip down the hill to the coast the following day. Yay! With every uphill there is always a downhill.
The following day we made it to the coast and we had just clocked 2000kms. Woo HOO! WE checked into a camp ground, looking forward to a beer or 2 and relaxing. It was the worst, dindgiest camp ground ever. We didn’t even want to drink the water there. We were really let down for the 2000km celebrations. Bugger. Oh well, we moved on early the next day.
Andy has become more and more wilder with his beard and is somewhat attached to this awful facial growth. He reckons its part of the journey. Weird! He is also getting OCD and organised with the handlebar bag with all our valuable important stuff in it. If I put something back in the wrong spot, I get a lecture. If Andy had a handbag at home, it would be the most organised, neatest handbag you ever saw. So, as a result, he is in charge of the handbag, which suits me just fine. Who knows we might see Andy rocking a Man bag when we are back home???
The other day we were almost homeless for a night when riding across Istra peninsula in Croatia. We thought we could do it in a day but it took us 3. One of the days we arrived at a campsite, it was about 5:30pm and we were ready to knock off for the day, have a beer and cook some food. Turns out it was someone’s back yard that had put down some gravel and put in a toilet block. It was creepy and we had a chat for a while and decided to keep riding. By about 7:30pm we came across a cool old ruined castle and stopped for a drink. We spoke to the lady and told her we had nowhere to stay for the night and no map. After some English, German and Maybe Croatian mumbles she came up with the goods. Gave us a map and somewhere to stay. She even called the place for us and said we were coming and got a price for us. Thank you. It wasn’t until about 8 or 8:30 that we arrived there after a wrong turn or 2. This is the closest we have come to being homeless for a night. I was starting to get panicky and worried that we would have to pitch our tent on the side of the road. PHEW! It was super dindgy but it was a bed and roof and cheap! That day we did 90kms. TIRED!
We were well in need of a rest day but wanted to wait until we were somewhere good to rest. We made it to the ferry that afternoon after about 70kms of riding uphill and into head winds and I looked on the map and realised once we got to the island of Cres there was a 500m vertical climb plus 35 kms to get to a town or camp ground. SHIT! We bought the tickets anyway as we had just descended 600 vertical metres to the ferry with no where to stay. I have been wanting to hitch hike for weeks and often talk to Andy about it and scope people out. The other day, on a day of climbing climbing, climbing, we stopped at a little café with a car and trailer in the car park. I said to Andy “I reckon that guy in the overalls owns that trailer, should we ask for a ride?” We didn’t and it turned out he didn’t own the trailer, but instead got into a small hatchback. Bummer.
When we were waiting for the ferry I was looking at all the cars and seeing if there was an option for hitch hiking. Andy even did a walk by all the vehicles scoping out which might be able to fit us in. There was a camper van with 1 man and an empty bike rack!!! What???? When we got on the ferry we wandered over. I said “what do you think? Should we ask”? Andy said “nah probably not”. I asked anyway.
“Excuse me, do you think you could take us and our bikes with you?”
“No, I’m sorry. I have no room, only a small bedroom and no room for your bikes”
I thought awesome, he speaks some English, but bummer he said no. I kind of pretended not to hear the ‘no’ bit and asked
“Oh where do you go on Cres Island”
“Let me show you on a map”
“Oh great could we come with you there using your bike rack on the back”
“No I have never used it before, sorry no”.
Then Andy pipped in and said “Oh ok, no worries”
I then followed him and said “Could we try the bike rack maybe”?
“Yes sure, you can try”
They worked a treat, no worries. A few bits of rope, all our bungy straps and they were on. We were more than half way to the island by the time we were loaded up the most dodgy campervan on the ferry.
We went up top and had a chat to the man. He was from Germany. Lived by himself in a caravan park and was travelling around Croatia. We told him our story and things became more relaxed. On the other side we got into the campervan. I was in the front and Andy was sitting on his bed in the back. The road was SHIT! Thank god we didn’t ride it. It was 400 vertical metres up, narrow, potholes every where and it took us about 40 mins in the camper to do 35 kms. When we got to Cres village, he let us out, we unloaded but we realised the 2 wooden chocks that stopped the bike rack from ratteling where missing. He was devastated and swore a lot in german (I think, I understood shizen and that was about it). We felt really bad so Andy started looking in our stuff to try and fix it. We ended up giving him one of our bungy straps which seemed to do the job. We shock hands, thanked him again and again and waved him off into the distance. We got to Cres village and bought a beer. A few minutes later than German man came around the corner, so we at least were able to buy him a beer. Who would have thought that hitch hiking with 2 bikes, 2 people and 8 bags was possible. I loved it. It saved us!!!!
Slovenia and Croatia feels a bit like ‘Off the Rails’ (a book by Tim Cope except way less hard-core and we’re not in Russia). It has been some very difficult navigation, lots of weird looks from people, lots of smiles and help, and a real sense of adventure.
We have stayed here in the caravan park in what we call a ‘mini house’ (it’s like a cabin) for 2 nights and have 1 night left before leaving. What we didn’t realise until last night, how hard it would be to get off the island. We assumed with our limited research, and no plan technique, that it would be easy on Croatian islands with a bike. Turns out it isn’t really that simple.
We went to an info centre this morning and said we want to get back to Italy somehow with our bikes and what was the best way. They all laughed at us. The first info centre sent us to another one 20 metres down the road and they sent us on to another one a few doors down. After the obligatory laugh at our plan, they told us the ferry was not an option as they don’t take bikes (only passengers). They then said we could get a bus. (Great we thought as we were getting worried and desperate) but we had to go back to the info centre we were just at to do that. Ok back we went. They told us no we had to go to another new info centre around the corner. WTF!!!! Who would have thought a town so small could have 4 info centres all within 60 metres of each other. There are probably 8 of them but we didn’t get the pleasure of visiting them all. Anyway we are getting a bus from Cres to Rijeka then Rijeka to Triste, then we think we will ride to Millan past Lago Di Garda. But who knows what we will actually do.