We were stamped into Croatia late in the afternoon and continued on a rather undulating road towards Marko’s place. Marko is a warmshowers legend. He lives in a simple abode on a small coast road that has stunning views out to sea. Cyclists, hitchers and almost anyone really can put up their tent in the space behind his house. He is a fascinating guy with miles of life experience and a myriad of interesting opinions. It was a tough last couple of hours to reach his place but well worth the effort. I was enchanted by his stories and could have listened for hours. It was only when my eyelids began to close of their own accord that I took myself off to bed.
Following breakfast with Marko and the other cyclists (a German couple on the long road east) it was time to head towards Dubrovnik. The ride was a mix of quiet roads through beautiful scenery and crazy busy coastal highway with the mad Croatian drivers. I was certainly glad when we reached the campsite just outside the old town of Dubrovnik. What I was not glad about was the 45 euro they charged us for a piece of dirt on which to pitch our tent. Lame.
The next day we were up super early and caught the bus into the old city. Anyone planning to visit Dubrovnik – go early!! It’s a tourist nightmare after 10am. We got to the city when it was still quiet and I could get some sense of the magic of the place. By now we had seen a fair few old towns, but Dubrovnik still gave me the wow factor. Before it got too busy and hot we walked around the old city walls, marvelling at the architecture and views out to sea.
By the early afternoon we had returned to camp and packed up. It was time to go to the long anticipated Croatian Islands! Aside from wanting a bribe for our bikes (is this Europe or Asia!?) everything ran smoothly and we were soon deposited on Mijet, a small island off the coast of Dubrovnik.
Here we enjoyed quiet roads and natural scenery of forest and the occasional village and field. We camped on the beach the first night and spent the following day exploring the 2 lakes in the national park. We wild camped right near one of the lakes, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of island living. Reading, sipping beer and watching the dusk fall.
Retracing our cycling but this time taking the off road route we caught the evening ferry back to the mainland, although further up, on a peninsula. Owing to the impending darkness we took the easy option of a campground. The next day we cycled along the ++++ peninsula. Our progress was slowed by the fact that this peninsula has many wineries! We had our first wine tasting at 9.30am and did not reach the port till late afternoon.
From here it was a quick ferry ride to Korcula. Again, due to the impending darkness we found a campground to stay at. Our lazy island living continued the next day. We explored the old town of Korcula, wound along small coastal roads, stopped for beers in picturesque bars and camped on the beach. We built fires and shared wine, read books and wrote in our journals.
This all sounds very idealistic, and it was, but I can’t say that I totally adored the islands as much as I thought I would. It’s all quite touristic and it seems a lot of the Croatians are jaded from tourism and just out to make a lot of money. Also, got to see that the clean face of these islands isn’t so clean at all. Because we were free camping we stumbled upon a river choked with trash. Obviously a lot comes from the sea but it was interesting to see this hidden place where probably no tourists ever come was not deemed worthy enough to keep clean.
From Korcula we took another ferry to Split on the mainland. Sadly time was running out. Brooke had decided to take the train to Amsterdam for a final relaxing time before flying home and we wanted to get to Slovenia to meet our friend Spela before she went to Portugal on holidays.
So our final night together was had in Split and then it was just the two of us once more. Astrid and I had set ourselves a challenge. Four Hundred and eighty kilometres in 4 and a half days on not flat terrain. We felt pretty confident that we could make this with a bit of effort and set off in high spirits around noon.
That first day we made good kilometres, it was a lovely sunny day and we actually felt happy to be in the countryside and away from the coast. The next day was a different story. Torrential rain slowed us right now because we couldn’t see where we were going. By evening we reached the coast again and it was super windy. We pitched our tent in a small forest and hoped the weather would improve.
It didn’t. We woke to rain and wind so loud we thought a tree might crush us. Our start was delayed for several hours. Finally we pushed out onto the highway and found we were alternatively pushed up hill by the wind and almost blown off the road and having to push our bikes. Progress was painfully slow, exhausting and a little scary. Ljubjana was feeling like very far away. At lunch time we almost succumbed but somehow decided to push on. Because we were so high and exposed, we got the full force of the wind and `I was often getting blown across the road. Lucky there was very little traffic!
By 5pm it was getting so scary and difficult we decided to call it quits. We found a semi sheltered area and pitched our tent with difficulty in amongst some scrub. Once inside we felt it necessary to finish off our bottle of whiskey. Later I somehow managed to cook us some dinner without getting blown away. It had taken us all day to do a measly fifty kilometres.
We woke to a much calmer morning. Maybe we could still make it. We pedalled all day along the undulating coastline, taking short breaks and pushing hard. By evening we had reached Rijeka. This seemed like an interesting city, maybe the most interesting one we have come across in Croatia. It feels edgy, a little industrial and there seem to be many students. Sadly we didn’t have time to get to know it. After spending the last of our Kuna in Lidl we turned northwards towards the mountains. The landscape and feel of the place changed quickly. The houses were different and there was forest all around now. It felt more like Slovenia already. We cycled on till after 8pm, finding a beautiful forest in which to pitch our tent. With 140km under our belts Ljubjana was within striking distance. We shared our last Croatian beer as the forest grew dark around us. Tomorrow Slovenia awaits.