Epic European Cycle

2015-09-27 : To Kršan
As I've said before, you have to like hills to cycle tour Croatia. Even though we're on the "flat" part of Istria, there's nothing flat about it. We spent the first part of the day climbing gradually from Kanfanar to Sv. Katarina, which was on the top of some kind of ridge. From Sv. Katarina, we had a 3km 10% downhill. It was crazy! I was so glad we weren't riding it in the OTHER direction. As soon as we started down, we could see Pićan, a crazy little town perched on the tippy-top of a steep steep hill. After completing our downhill woo-hoo to the Raška Draga valley, we had to climb steeply up through Podpićan for a bit. Then the climb evened out some as we approached Kršan.
Most of our riding today was on secondary highway, but it was much quieter than the secondary highways closer to the west coast of Istria. It was quite nice riding the whole way. We had side road options if we needed them, but we didn't feel any need to get off the highways. Yay!

It is interesting to be back in Kršan. We were through here going the other direction several days ago and after this, we will be retracing our route all the way back to Rijeka.
Mount Učka looms. It looms over everything. Since we reached Rijeka a couple weeks ago, we have been essentially nowhere that we couldn't see it, looming. We are back and will be cycling to it (not to the summit, silly) tomorrow. It looms! It looms!

2015-09-28 : To Lovran
On approach into Lovran, of course we had to stop in and check on "our" kittens. There are people at the house, now, and cat dishes on the landing. Also, plump happy kittens! YAY! We're so glad the kittens are doing well and someone is taking care of them!
Oh, the wind! The wind! The forecast today said that there would be wind, and there was wind. We rode down from Krsan in the wind, which blew us around quite a bit. I was quite worried about riding around the point and being on the actual south coast of Istria. We climbed up to the point, and stopped for coffee at Plomin, which is a neat little town with amazing views. The climb up wasn't as evil of a hill as it could have been because, at that point, the wind was a tail wind (mostly). Rounding the point, we got some serious gusts, and as we rode, mostly downhill, all the way to Lovran, we had to fight the wind the whole way. On the downhill we had to pedal most of the time as we fought that headwind, and on some worrisome sections, we had little or no railing on the side with cliff right beside us. I was happy for light traffic because I rode a foot or two into the lane during some of those lest a gust blow me right off the unprotected side.
From Brent:

After nearly 5 months of travel we can see the end of our trip in sight. Our plans have taken another turn and we will soon be leaving the bicycles behind, opting for more conventional tourist travel methods - trains, planes & busses.

The west coast of the Istrian Peninsula is very pretty but, unfortunately, not a pleasant place to cycle. The roads are few and narrow and, even in this, the shoulder season, traffic is heavy. If I were to try to cycle here again I would carry less gear, perhaps use a full-suspension mountain bike, use a GPS and ride some of the many pathways that are marked on our maps. And I would also stick to shoulder season.

In high season Istria must crawl like a disturbed ant hill. At this time of year many of the campgrounds are shut down completely or have closed off the majority of their sites. We camped a couple of nights on the Kamenjak Peninsula. There are 4 campgrounds within walking distance. Ours had a listed capacity of over 3000 people and it wasn't the biggest in the area. Add that to the hotels and "Apartman's" in the area and I wouldn't want to be around to see the crowds. Sure Istria is beautiful and everybody comes here for vacation but the problem is EVERYBODY COMES HERE FOR VACATION.

So we're editing about 5 days out of our stay in Croatia and taking a quick side trip to Turkey. Turkey had been on the original route 4 or 5 years ago when we started talking about this trip but had slowly been pushed out. Now Turkey is back on the table and, ironically, we'll be in Turkey for Thanksgiving. About all we will see of Istanbul is the airport as we are will be connecting through to Cappadocia.

But before Turkey we still have a couple of weeks to see some of the Dalmatian coast of Croatia plus Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzagovina.

On October 18th we can re-enter Schengen for 11 days so we've planned a if-this-is-Wednesday-this-must-be-Zurich type train trip from Venice, Italy to Bruges, Belgium. I think it will be pretty good. After that we have to do a quick out-&-in to renew our visas for the last 3 days in Europe.

Rhonda and I both spent time and sweat trying to figure how to get from Bruges to Dover to Paris quickly and cheaply. Seems there is no way to meet both the requirements. It's like no one else has ever had this visa problem before. Finally Rhonda says, "Why don't we just go to Dublin?"

Dublin?!...What do yuh know? It's perfect. An hour by train, Bruges to Brussels airport direct. About an hour flight to Dublin. Pension in Temple Bar for the night. About an hour flight to Paris. Cheaper and faster than taking the ferry to Dover. And a real Guiness at Temple Bar on the way. Who Knew?

So the adventure has been an adventure. Eight countries, five currencies and six languages so far (but I already knew English) and there should be 5 more countries, 3 more currencies and 4 more languages before the end of October. It's going to get interesting and stressful.

2015-09-29 : To Rijeka
Last day of riding for this tour. Crazy! It was pretty uneventful. There was some heavy traffic around Opatija, and coming into Rijeka, but we expected that. We made Rijeka on time to do lots of research into shipping stuff home. For "all" of our stuff (one box of gear and two bicycle boxes), DHL quoted us about $1200. OUCH! We stopped at the tourist info office to ask about a few things, including shipping. We thought we might ship to Paris and then pick stuff up there and bring it home as our luggage. In a delightfully random fashion, there was a Parisian tourist, Hamid, there at the same time and he was being "Couch Surfing" hosted by a guy who works for a shipping company. He took us along over to the shipping company where we met Zoran, who was very friendly and helpful. He didn't think his company could help us, but he recommended TNT, so we fired an e-mail off to them to inquire. We also stopped in at the Croatian post office and asked there, and they sound really promising. One box, 1.5m x 2m (big enough for a bicycle), max 30kg, for about $150. We're planning on pursuing that tomorrow.
We had lunch in Rijeka at Pizza Bracera. We had a very pleasant server named Luka. After we finished our meal, I asked Luka if he knew anyone who would like to "adopt" my bicycle. He went away for a few minutes, then came back, and said that one of their cooks, Dado, would like to have the bike. Dado is a beginner rider and was really excited about getting the bike. Yay! I feel kind of bad about offering the bike to the fella in Pula and then not going back to Pula, but since he hadn't stuck around long enough to exchange contact information, I don't feel that bad. I'm just happy that Dado is stoked about getting Dewey. I wanted to keep my clip pedals, so Brent put his old pedals onto Dewey, pulled off a bunch of gear (panier racks, air pump holder, headlight holder), and we delivered him off to Dado. I am sad to leave Dewey behind, but I made the decision weeks ago so I think/hope I'm at peace with it. I have my eye on a newer Dew Deluxe back in Calgary anyway. It can be Dewey Two!
Not overly impressed with our hostel. They are fairly new, and I think they've shut down mostly for the season without updating their listing on Booking.com. They have no WiFi at all, even though their listing says they have it, free, and available in all areas. The kitchen has no running water - we have to wash our dishes in the bathroom next door. The lack of WiFi is really vexing. I was also irritated by their handling of our bicycle situation. I put in my reservation that we would need space for two bikes, which has never been a problem any other place. They had since yesterday afternoon to contact me and tell me there was an issue with that, but they didn't, even though they knew very well that we were coming (they were ready for us). When the lady "realized" that we had bicycles, she insisted that there was no place in the building for them, and we should just take them out and lock them up on the street someplace. Brent wanted to put them in the lobby and lock them up, but I told him I'd been scolded a couple of times already for asking about that. We put the bikes into the lobby temporarily to walk around the building to find a place to put them, and by the time we got back (10 minutes, tops), the "bicycle police" were waiting in the lobby for us to give us shit for having them there. We explained that we just put them there until we could figure out where to put them. They stood and watched over us as we unloaded all the gear. They stood and waited while we took the bikes out and locked them up behind the building. They stood and waited while we hauled alllllll the gear up all five flights of stairs to make good and sure we weren't leaving anything sitting around in the lobby before they left, and we are now the only people in the hostel.
Before we left on the trip, it took me a while to decide which shoes I'd bring for riding. I had my older clip shoes and my newer clip shoes. I've hung onto the older ones just as a backup. They're really not good - the left clip sticks on the pedal sometimes. In the end I decided to bring the older shoes, hope they didn't give me trouble, and just toss them out at the end rather than bringing them home. I'm quite happy with that decision. The left clip hasn't given me any trouble at all... until yesterday. Yes, the shoe waited until our second-last day of riding before giving me trouble. So, today, I gleefully toss out the old clip shoes after having a great long tour with them.

2015-09-30 : Rijeka chores
Besides being the first day of not riding today, there is also going to be another big change today. I can no longer eat and drink with wild abandon. Unless, of course, I give Brent the nickname "Wild Abandon", and then I could continue to eat and drink with "Wild Abandon". I have taken off most of my "Edmonton Weight" on this trip, and I don't want to just pack it all back on by continuing to eat as if I'm burning thousands of calories every day. Brent packed on a bunch of weight after his cross-Canada trip by doing that. I packed on a bunch of weight after Australia by doing that. I'm determined to keep that "Edmonton Weight" off now that I've finally taken it off. I have a weight/diet management "plan" that I'm going to follow for the next month, and I have an even stricter plan that I'll follow when we get back to Canada.
Today was largely spent researching how to ship Brent's bike home, and shipping a big obnoxious box of gear home. Since Hrvatska Posta was so easy and reasonable for shipping, we shipped one big box of stuff today using a cardboard box that Brent scored in the alley. The box weight upwards of 25kg and took both of us to carry it from our accommodation to the post office. At the post office, you take a tickie which tells you your number in the queue. The young lady we talked to yesterday was there again today and I hoped we'd get her since she spoke good English, but it was not to be. When our number came up, we were at the wicket next to her, with a lady who spoke no English. She relied heavily on her colleague for help, and in the end, the experience was mostly not painful for all of us... except maybe for the Posta lady when she had to lift that damned box.
I decided a few weeks ago that I would probably leave Dewey behind at the end of this trip. He's getting old and he needs a lot of maintenance to get back to good shape. That, plus the cost of shipping him home made me think that it made more sense to leave him here and buy a new bike when we get home. I think I'm mostly ok with it turning out that way.

Brent, on the other hand, was pretty determined to take The Tank home if he could. Hrvatska Posta would charge about $100-$120 to ship the bike, so that wasn't prohibitive. The main issue was finding a box to pack it in.

We set off first thing this morning to the bicycle store in downtown Rijeka, but the lady there advised that they had no empty boxes - it's the end of the season and they're not bringing new bikes in right now. She suggested that we try calling back tomorrow or the next day.

We knew that there was a large sporting store in the Tower Centre on the southeast end of Rijeka, about 2.5km from where we're staying. Brent didn't want to just give up on The Tank, so off we went to Intersport in the howling wind.

I decided that following the signs pointing to Tower Centre was a good want to get there, so off we went, even though Brent thought we were following driving signs and we'd end up going through "the tunnel". I didn't know what the tunnel was, and he didn't elaborate. The tunnel was the long, evil scary Rijeka highway tunnel that goes for at least a couple of kilometers on the outskirts of town. We gritted our teeth and walked, with a purpose. The tunnel does have a sidewalk through its length. There was an exit for Tower Centre about 1.5km down the tunnel, so we managed to get out, unscathed (although I probably have a new grey hair from it).

When we got to Tower Centre, Brent suggested that we eat lunch before going to the store so that if they had a box, we could take it straight away without having to worry about hauling it around through lunch. So, we had a nice lunch at the food court on the 5th floor with a fabulous view of the harbour and the nearby islands.

After lunch we went to Intersport and Brent beelined for the bicycle section. Approaching the counter, he could see that they had boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes. That was when he had a decision to make. With the final obstacle removed, it was down to him to decide - take The Tank home, or leave him behind. After some weeping and moaning and gnashing of teeth, he decided to leave him behind.

We had stopped by Hostel Rijeka this morning to see if they had a "free stuff" area where we could leave our sleeping bags. Brent had mentioned that he "might" have a bicycle to leave as well. The guy invited us to leave our stuff and was particularly excited about the bicycle, so tomorrow morning, we'll take the sleeping bags, The Tank, and some miscellaneous supplies and gear off to the hostel in hopes that someone will be able to get some good use out of them.
From Brent: Rhonda and I backtracked from the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia to the main port city of Rijeka where we spent a couple of days, packed up most of our gear and mailed it home then gave away our bicycles. It was sad to see them go but there was too much hassle and expense involved in sending them home.

All we have with us now fits into our 2 day-packs. It's an exercise in basic living.

From Rijeka we bussed down the Dalmatian coast of Croatia and, wow, it is rugged and pretty in a desolate kind of way. Rocks and scrub and steep cliffs plunging to the sea and evidence that people had once farmed the steep slopes (and a few still do). The rocks here are very soft and you can see how they seem to be melting from the rain, rather like giant sugar cubes that have had water poured on them.

2015-10-01 : To Zadar
We left Rijeka and headed for Zadar today on the bus. We went via the evil tunnel that we walked yesterday and it didn't seem to bad at all from a bus! There were some amazing, high off-ramps and other bits of horror leaving Rijeka that made me really happy that we were not trying to cycle through it. Once we were out of Rijeka and heading south along the coast, my feeling about cycling it didn't improve. The highway is narrow with no shoulders, and lots of cliffs and other scary deadly bits that I wouldn't want to be sharing a narrow road with cars on. The countryside south of Rijeka is very mountainous and rugged. It is endless rocks and scrub and scrub and rocks and rocks and scrub and scrub and rocks. The elevation gain and loss is crazy. The islands off the coast look mostly like barren deserts with some scrub and rocks. The coast is much more rugged than I expected. Just before we reached Zadar, the countryside changed a lot. It's not mountainous and it's starting to show the potential for soil and green things.
I liked the Zadar sea organ more than I expected to. I expected to think it was a neat novelty, but the sound it produces is really tranquil and calming and I love it. I think I could just sit near it for hours. Maybe I will.
Before leaving town today, we mailed off a second box of gear (much smaller than yesterday's) and dropped off The Tank, our sleeping bags, and a bag of miscellaneous gear and supplies at Hostel Rijeka. Hopefully they can make good use of our stuff. It's been hard for me to leave Dewey behind, and I know it was tough for Brent to leave The Tank behind.
From Brent: I had never heard of this place. The main attraction on the internet seemed to be The Sea Organ and I wasn't sure about stopping to see a bit of kitchy art but we had the time and we were in the neighbourhood.

It turns out that Zadar is an ancient city with lots of cool history. We got a room in the Old Town and walked passed some massively thick walls. The town isn't walled any more, but was at one time...or maybe 3 times because there seem to be remnants of several walls of different construction about the old town. Zadar was a Roman city at one time and maybe the spot belonged to someone before them.

Some time after the Romans left the Venicians took over and remodelled the city to their tastes (A lot of buildings have dates in the 1500's around the doors). The cool part to me was that the Venicians used the old Roman ruins as raw building materials.

There is a big, 8-sided chappel that everybody says you should see. We went to see it and I found myself more interested in the foundation than the building. It was made of broken pieces of Roman columns and statuary and inscribed stones that had all been thrown down in a jumble and cemented together. There's chunks of broken Roman construction all over town. We spent quite a lot of time at the archaeological museum learning about the area and we wandered past a couple of active dig sites. All very cool.

Also in the Old Town the streets are paved with marble. And when I say streets I mean it in a medieval way. The roads, side walks and cafe dining rooms are all the same thing. Years of shoes, vehicle tires, dog crap and street sweepers have made the streets shine like a smooth lake. When the sun reflects off the roads it's hard to see in that direction, a tiny amount of rain makes the roads slippery as snot. Some of the roads have been deliberately hacked and gouged to make them safer to walk on, a different philosophy from back home.

And the Sea Organ is kinda cool too.

2015-10-02 : Zadar
Spent the day exploring Zadar, mostly spending time in the Archeology Museum. The city is REALLY old - their history goes back well before Roman times. Quite fascinating.
The place we're staying in is an old building in the old part of Zadar, which is really cool. One thing that is particularly fascinating, and not necessarily in a good way, is the electric toilet. There is no plumbing under the toilet. Instead, there is a tube that comes out the back of the toilet. When you flush, some water flows into the bowl, and then WOOSH, GRINNNNNND, everything is sucked into a mechanism behind the bowl and then sucked out through the tube. Tres strange.

2015-10-03 : To Plitvice
Driving from Zadar towards Plitvice was so similar to driving to the Rockies from Calgary. Flat, then rolling, then a wall of mountains. It was quite beautiful, with some ground fog, and then, alas, some rain. The rain persisted until we were about halfway through our hike (upper lakes) at Plitvice and then it finally cleared up.

Plitvice Lakes is quite an amazing place. It is very touristy... sort of like Banff, I guess - it's made for tourism. But it is spectacular. It is just water and water and water everywhere. Falling water, running water, clear beautiful standing water. I'm REALLY glad we came this late in the season. We'd heard that it got stupid busy during the summer, and I can absolutely see that happening, and I can see it being not enjoyable then. There were a lot of people on the trails today, but it didn't feel crowded at all. It was perfect (although I could have done with less rain).
From Brent: For almost a month people had been telling us that we must go to Plitvice (pronounced Pleet-veet-suh). The park is very large but the area that tourists visit is pretty small. Other tourists had told us that it wasn't worth visiting in high season because of the crowds, one said that on busy days the "people move through the park like a conga-line." Fortunately (?) for us, when we got there it was raining pretty hard. What tourists there were generally tried to hussle through at a good speed. My thought on seeing Plitvice Lakes after 3 weeks in the relative desert conditions of Istria and North Dalmatia was, "People from there would think this was Eden." The place is all lush plants and clear lakes and waterfalls everywhere. And the lakes and waterfalls are of an unusual form. What we are used to at home is a system where a lake overflows and the river leaving the lake erodes a channel and, if conditions are right, a waterfall. But here the water is saturated with minerals from the dissolving rocks and rather than eroding the water deposits minerals where it runs. A stream blocks itself and then must find a new path. The result of this is lakes that are shaped like cups or bowls with dozens or scores of waterfalls pouring over the edge, flowing down to the next lake. Over time the lips build up and the lakes get deeper. I saw pieces of trees in some of the lakes and they were accumulating a coating of white limestone. I think that they will be fossils one day.

The 'lakes' part of the park can be covered in 1 day if you hussle a bit. We took 2 and got a good look at everything that the average tourist sees. We were told that there were bears, wolves and wildcats in the park but didn't see any evidence of them. I guess you'd have to get away from the beaten path. If you ever plan to go, my advice is the same as visiting Istria, go in the low season. And take a flash light if you plan to explore the caves.

2015-10-04 : Plitvice
Last night, Brent and I walked along the highway from Ulaz 2 to where we're staying in Jezerce village. He went out to find the grocery store later, and although it was closed, he did discover that there's a great walking path from Mukinje (right next to where we're staying) to the park that keeps you right off the highway. YAY! We used it to walk to and from the park today, and we'll use it to walk to the bus tomorrow.
We had nicer weather today than yesterday, and the nicer weather brought out the swarms of tourists. It's all a trade-off. It wasn't too bad, really, but we could see how it could be intolerable during high season!

2015-10-05 : To Split
Another good day to not be on the bikes. It started raining about halfway back to Zadar. When we reached Zadar water was pouring off the bus, running in the street, and standing up to 6" deep in some low areas of the roads. It rained all the way to Split. When we got off the bus it was just spitting a little, and then it cleared right up for us to find our place (you know... the PALACE), and explore Varoš (the medieval neighborhood to the west of the palace), and Diocletian's Palace cellars.
From Brent: Before we got there everything I knew about Split I'd learned from a limerick. It turns out that Split has a pretty good Old Town (Stari Grad) too. It's Diaclesian's Palace. The Roman Emperor, Diaclesian, had it built for his retirement; a walled fortress about 600 X 700 feet. Half was for him and half was for his staff, servants and guards. It's a pretty impressive place and, once again, Rhonda got us a great room inside the walls. A lot of the old Roman stuff is ruined but there is also a lot of it still standing. There's a stone sphinx, the size of a couch, that Diaclesian had brought from Egypt to decorate one of his temples. It's estimated to be 3500 years old and still sitting where he left it.

After the Romans left the new tenants (fleeing an invasion from the north) moved in and used the city as a fort until the invaders went away and then outgrew the place. The city spilled out the north side to an area called Varos and a more typical Stari Grad was built there, partly by pulling building materials out of the Palace's north wall and partly by building into it. Too bad. And a bit north of Varos (I'm only talking a couple of hundred yards) is a very large park the occupies a high ridge and has the sea on 3 sides. There are ancient maps that show this area in about 400 AD, marked 'No hunting or cutting of trees.' So this place has been a park for about 1600 years. Of course the place isn't totally undeveloped. Marshal Tito had his summer house built here when he was in charge of Yugoslavia.

Split is more touristy and more expensive than Zadar.

2015-10-06 : Split
Full day in Split today... explored Diocletian's Palace, walked up and around part of Marjan, explored Veli Varoš neighborhood (west of Varoš neighborhood), and took a sight-seeing boat tour.
The WORST thing about this trip... choosing a small representative sample of photos for each day. Often we take 100+ pics more per day EACH and I pare it down to 3-6 to post for most days (up to 9 for particularly scenic days). Poor me... it's sooooo hard!
One thing I loved about living in Atlanta, and that I continue to miss, is the sound of cicadas. When I lived in Atlanta, sometimes I would even take my lawn chair out on my balcony at night and fall asleep to the din of my neighborhood bugs. Today on our walk, the forest was alive with buzzing cicadas! I was so happy!

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