Epic European Cycle

2015-09-17 : Day trip around Labin
Oh my... I was finished before we started today. Yesterday really kicked the crap out of me. We rode out for 6km (climbing pretty much the whole way) and then I cried and begged to turn back. Not really (the crying and begging), but we did turn back. We then did the brutal climb up to Labin's Stari Grad, which is really great, had lunch, and walked around there. It was a good day overall and hopefully I will be more than we quivering puddle tomorrow.

2015-09-18 : To Marčana
When we left Labin today, we dropped 200m or more into a long valley. 5.5km of not pedaling at all. Then we followed the valley bottom for a while before climbing back out over 5km.

3km into the 5km climb:
Me: I think our climb is leveling out a little
Brent: I think you're just getting used to it. 8% is the new flat
Marčana is an interesting little town. It is definitely off of the tourist beaten track, and, as Brent described it, it is "monochrome".
Last night Brent and I had our first talk about what we should do with the remainder of our time to make sure we do everything that we really want to. We have variously talked about:
- West coast of Istria
- Island hopping down the coast
- Visiting Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik
- Visiting Sarajevo
- Cycling north along the coast all the way into Slovenia and then Italy to Venice and then coming back to Croatia (we do still have 11 days we can spend in Schengen before Oct 28).

We won't have time to do all that, and with Istria serviced only by trains from Slovenia, we may have colored ourselves into a bit of a corner. It's time for us to start figuring out what is most important to us and how we're going to fit it in!
From Brent:

After Budapest we were running out of time in Schengen so we've come to Croatia. I have to say that I've never given Croatia any thought as a vacation destination but I would recommend it.

We've been making our way slowly from Cokovic to the west coast of the Istrian Peninsula. We've gotten hung-up a couple of times. Rhonda got a bit sick in Cokovic and we spent a couple of more days there than we had planned. Later I got an intestinal bug and we got hung-up in Ogulin for a week, until I could eat properly again. Ogulin isn't a bad town, it's in a lovely valley in the mountains, but I wouldn't normally spend a week there. In our other time we've been to Varazdin for a big street festival, we've been to Krapina where Neandertal fossils have been found, we've been to Belavici where they have a campsite beside a freaky-beautiful warm river, we've been to Rejika with it's clean harbour and hilltop castle (561 stairs to get to the top), we've camped along Kvarner Bay on the Adriatic and climbed a few killer hills in Istria. It's been good.

Croatia is a pretty country and the Croatians are working hard to make it the best they can. The war is only about 20 years in the past and the government still seems to be on a major public-works binge. There are still new sewers and road paving going on all over the country. The country is clean. We've met a few people who have commented on that fact; when we were in Ogulin we went to the city-centre park, there was a trash can beside every bench and people use them. City Works empties the cans regularly. Of course somebody has to pay for all of this and the taxes here are crazy high (percentage wise but not in real terms). There are several levels of tax, the most common being 25% for most things, including most food. Five percent for bread, 13% for some other things. That all sounds awful but the tax is included in the marked prices (they break it down on the receipt) and when you can go to the store and get a half litre of beer for a buck (80c for beer + 20c for tax) it's hard for a tourist to complain about taxes.

Here's an odd thing: Random camping is illegal in Croatia and campsites aren't that common, some counties don't have any campsite at all. There are lots in Istria but they are stupid expensive, up to $40 to pitch a tent. But Croatia also has lots of "Apartmen"s. Which are pretty much what they sound like, anything from a bachelor to a 2 bedroom apartment, furnished with all the mod-cons, rented by the night for $40 to $75. The Apartmen's we stayed at last night and tonight came with complimentary wine.

So the total of what I'm trying to say is that, so far, Croatia is pretty, modern, clean, safe, warm and cheap. Oh, and everybody speaks English. It's kind of hard to practice Croatian because everybody hears we have accents. Seriously, in a month in Croatia I've only had to interact with about 10 people who didn't speak English, 2 of them spoke German so I could make myself understood, 1 spoke Italian so I could get the jist but not respond.

We're probably going to spend 2 or 3 more weeks in Istria and/or the Adriatic Islands then visit Dubrovnik and Sarajevo, Bosnia before heading back to Schengen. In Schengen we plan to visit Venice, Bruges and return to Paris. We might have a couple of days for Switzerland on the way past but haven't settled that yet.

2015-09-19 : To Premantura
We rode down to Premantura today, which is a very touristy resort town south of Pula. We didn't come directly via the highway - we rode secondary roads through Kavran. The 8km after Kavran, although it was marked as a major route, was gravel... and it was through a valley. 4km downhill on gravel, followed by 4km uphill on gravel. So, for the first half, I was gritting my teeth, and for the second half, I had grit in my teeth (from the gravel trucks kicking up dust). That downhill gravel was a real woo-hoo killer. Dang. And I was so looking forward to one last good woo-hoo before we get to the much less lumpy side of the Istria peninsula.
There are so many campsites along the Istria coast that we have our pick in a lot of places. So, I created a spreadsheet of the campsites with a few key pieces of information (capacity, washer, WiFi, stars, and TripAdvisor rating). There are tons of campgrounds in the area we're in tonight, and three of them looked good, but one near Premantura - Camping Runke - looked particularly good, so we aimed for that. We came through Pomer, and the Pomer campground looked nice, but we pressed on, crossing the Pomer Bridge to get to the peninsula, and then climbed a big nasty hill to Premantura. I say it was nasty because it was at least 8%, with no shoulders, and unforgiving traffic. The Italian drivers seem to be the most unforgiving. I pushed up a lot of the way. When we got to town, we headed to Runke only to find out that it's only open for one more night (we were looking to camp for two nights so that we go through Pula on Monday instead of Sunday). So, in spite of my research, we ended up staying at Camping Stupice instead, which is nearby, and had particularly bad reviews from tenters who said the ground was very slopey and rocky. It is, but because it's the end of season the campground is quite empty and we got a primo spot on an isolated row off the side of the campground away from the industrial part with the rocky slopey ground.

2015-09-20 : Kamenjak Park
Today we walked around Kamenjak park, south of Premantura. It was windy windy windy, but also beautiful. On the very south tip of the peninsula, there's a crazy little place called Safari Bar that is like something straight from Disneyland with bamboo cabanas and tree canopies and marble tables and Flintstone-esque ashtrays.

2015-09-21 : Pula
We had thought to pass through Pula today and continue north along the coast, but we have decided that we'll cycle in Istria for a couple more weeks, circling back to Pula, and ending our cycle tour here. We'll then hit a few remaining highlights before returning home. So, we decided to spend the night in Pula to give ourselves the opportunity to do a little research into the logistics of ending the cycle tour here. We'll continue up the coast tomorrow.
I think I've found someone to give Dewey to when he's done with the tour. We had lunch at a place called "face food" (which is a total ripoff of Facebook). Our server was a nice young fella, so I asked him if he wanted the bike, or if he knew someone who did. He didn't understand me. So, he got his friend who knows more English. She didn't understand either. So, then I tried Google Translate, and finally got a hit. He said he'd like to take the bike, so when we come back here in a couple weeks, hopefully I'll be able to find him again and give it to him.
Pula has an AMAZING Roman Coliseum. Brent and I always thought that "the coliseum" was in Rome and that was that, but the Romans built lots of coliseums, and the one in Pula is in great shape - so great that they still use it! Today they're setting it up for a concert, but we won't be around to attend. Very cool and impressive structure.

2015-09-22 : To Rovinj
Last night, Brent and I sketched out a detailed plan for the remainder of our trip, which involved spending a couple more weeks cycling the Istrian coast - north, and then returning south to Pula, where we would de-gear (I'll give Dewey away, we'll ship camping gear home, and The Tank's fate is still TBA). We would then fly from Pula to Dubrovnik, visit Sarajevo, Plitvice Lakes, fly to Venice and take a train across Europe before returning home.

Today, we made some discoveries that has changed things a bit.

We discovered that our Istria map is quite inaccurate. The side-roads which are marked as major/paved roads, aren't. They may not be paved, and in some cases, they may not even exist. Our map shows a great side road following the coast north of Pula, through Fazana, Peroj, up to Barbariga and up to Mongrego. We happily followed it through Fazana and Peroj and to Barbariga, where the road suddenly just ended. We went through a section that looked like it might have been a border crossing back in some old days, the road turned to gravel, went to the shore and then stopped. We had a conversation with a local who confirmed that we were on the road we thought we were on, but it did not go through anymore to Mongrego, if it ever did. We turned back and climbed to Betiga expecting to find proper roads there that were drawn on our map only to find ourselves on another sketchy gravel road until we finally reached the end of the middle of nowhere. Through studying our multiple maps and using his awesome Brent senses, Brent found our way back out of the end of the middle of nowhere and to the highway that we knew for sure would take us to Rovinj.

Then we discovered that the secondary highway is really no fun to cycle. There is heavy, fast traffic going zoomzoomzoomzoom past continuously on the narrow road with no shoulders.

We're talking, now, about heading east across Istria, then re-tracing our steps along the south Istrian coast back to Rijeka... maybe doing some island hopping that we thought we'd miss out on, and then pick up the plan with Dubrovnik. We'll see!
I LOVE the apartmani in Croatia. They're, I guess, like German pensions. They're like a complete apartment... sometimes including a washing machine... often including a balcony or terrace... they're completely awesome, and often no more expensive than staying in one of the campgrounds here (which are hideously expensive, for campgrounds).

2015-09-23 : Day in Rovinj
I love exploring Stari Grads. Labin has been my favorite Stari Grad "up close" and Rovinj is my favorite Stari Grad "from a distance". So picturesque.
Instead of cycling up the coast, and back down the coast, we are probably going to cycle east across the peninsula and back to Rijeka. Since we expected to return to Pula in a couple of weeks, we didn't take a good look around while we were there (other than the coliseum), so we're feeling kind of ripped off about that. Also, I was really looking forward to taking a look at Novigrad. So, considering that we're supposed to have rain here for the next couple of days, and it won't be good for riding, we decided to book into our place for a couple of extra days, and take bus excursions to Pula and Novigrad on our rain days.

2015-09-24 : Day Trip to Novigrad
Since we aren't going to cycle along the Istria coast anymore, we took the bus to Novigrad today. I wanted to go have a look at it. It's a world heritage site, and a walled city, so it sounded pretty cool. It was ok, but the Stari Grad wasn't as nice as most we've seen. The roads are wider and a lot of the old buildings are gone - replaced by newer, touristy things. The area along the south where the wall still stands is pretty great, though. We had a 2.75 hour time window there (buses run infrequently and that was pretty much the right amount of time for Novigrad.
Riding the bus by the Lim Bay today was quite beautiful. It was very lumpy, though, and I was pretty happy to not have to climb back out on my bicycle. Coming back to Rovinj through the same area, we encountered a bus coming the other direction. Our driver had to stop and wiggle us as close to the rock cliff as possible for the other bus to get past. We had about 4" to spare in between the buses. I was glad I wasn't on my bicycle then too!

2015-09-25 : Day Trip to Pula
When we were in Pula a few days ago, we thought we'd be going back there in a couple weeks to finish off our cycle tour. Then, the plan changed due to the problems with roads, so we're NOT cycling back to Pula. D'oh! We had left a few things we wanted to see, planning to see them on our second time in town. So, we had to take the bus back to see them. We spent some time at the Arena again, but this time we went inside, rather than just looking from the outside. Also, we walked up to see the Starfort, Pula Fortress.

2015-09-26 : Monkodonja and to Kanfanar
When we were riding into Rovinj a few days ago, Brent spotted a wall ruin up on a hill outside of town. I did a bit of research and found out that it is an archeological site called Monkodonja which was a Bronze-Age settlement. Brent really wanted to go there. Said he'd "be happy even if it was just five rocks on a hill". Monkodonja was a few km back the wrong way, down a country road, and up the hill. I'm not sure I'd be happy with just five rocks on a hill, but we had a short riding day today, so we certainly had time to go check it out. We rode to it fairly straight-forwardly, even though it's not particularly easy to find, and lo... it is spectacular! It's way more than five rocks on a hill - there are walls and doors and the town wall, and the acropolis area, plus a cult cave! There were several interpretive signs around the site explaining what everything was. I'm so happy we went up!
Brent and I have cycle toured in Canada. I hated it. I hate riding on highways with fast traffic zooming past. Even with Alberta's wide shoulders, the stupid drivers still find plenty of opportunity to run cyclists off the road, and seem to consider it a sport to scare the beejeebers out of me.

So, then we cycle toured in Australia. I hated it. I hate riding on narrow highways with no shoulders and logging trucks zooming past. On a regular basis I was making little sucky whimpery noises as said logging trucks passed.

I swore off of cycle touring. Then, Brent said "Europe has good cycling infrastructure", so we came on a six month epic cycle tour.

For our first few months of cycling, we were in France, Germany and Austria which have amazing cycle infrastructure. Their official cycle routes keep you on dedicated bike paths some of the time, on slow side roads some of the time, and, rarely, on secondary highways for very short times. I loved it. Seriously, for the first time I felt like I was experiencing the joy of cycle touring. I couldn't get enough of it and wished it could just go on forever.

Then, we were forced out of Schengen by silly time limits. We chose to come to Croatia because it sounded nice, and, compared to other non-Schengen countries, seemed to be the most promising for cycling. For the first month that we were here, we were inland in rural, non-touristy areas, and it was great. We were pretty much always on roads, but there were pretty much always side roads we could take and even when we were on highways, the traffic was so cautious and courteous it was astonishing. I loved it. Now that we've made it out to the west coast of Istria, though, things have changed. There are no viable side road options. It is secondary-highway only, and the secondary highways are narrow, with no shoulders, and traffic zooming past constantly. Three times today I made my whimpery scream sound as an enormous bus or gravel truck passed too close - the traffic was too heavy for them to move over a safe distance.

We are heading inland, cross-country, to go back to Rijeka. No more coastal highway riding for me. We had to ride on the awful busy secondary highway most of the way to Kanfanar. As soon as we got past the autobahn (which we crossed just coming into town), traffic seemed to lighten up quite a bit. I'm hoping that it will stay relatively light for the next three days as we make our way to Rijeka. For our trip to Krsan tomorrow, there are several side-road diversions we can take to stay off the highway as well. Yay!

So, lesson learned. I love love love cycle touring in countries with good cycle infrastructure. I will happily go back to France, Germany and Austria anytime and am already dreaming and scheming with Laura. As far as Croatia is concerned, I would come back if I could plan a route that was on side roads. That may mean largely inland and in non-touristy areas rather than the coast, which, obviously, is a shame, since the coast is so beautiful.

But, I yam what I yam... I'm consistent. I do NOT want to cycle with fast/close traffic whizzing by. I just don't.

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