How any times have you said when setting off for a ride…”well we had better take our passports!” Thats what we did today when we set off from the small ski village of Kranjska Gora in Slovenia to ride along a short section of cycleway that joins to one of Europe’s most scenic long distance routes, the Alpe Adria trail.
At 477km in total, it runs from the city of Grado on the Italian Adriatic coast, to Salzburg in Austria, mostly on dedicated cycleways, with the odd bit of quite road and one section of main road near Salzburg.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and heaving with bikes, everyone from toddlers out with their parents and siblings, to grandads like me, all with big smiles. Then there were the Lycra clad road riders, with their long serious faces, clearly on a mission of some sort. We are all out there for our different reasons. For us it’s the sheer joy of zooming around these new places, breathing in today the fresh mountain air, and being awestruck with the views.
We cycled up to a couple of lakes, after crossing the border into Italy. No security here of course, both countries are in the Schengen Zone. The view was just stunning up to the Julian Alps, still with some snow way above us on the north facing slopes.
With thunder rolling round the mountains, it was time to head back to our bedsit on wheels. After our few days of luxury in a hotel room we are back to quick showers in our cosy little Truffy, and a home made red Thai chicken curry to end the day. Not a bad trade for a different view out of our window whenever we fancy a change.
Given the state of Mrs A’s toes and inability to walk, another ride was the only way to go. She put her ebike in turbo mode and managed to cycle one footed! An unintended benefit of these little beasts of bikes.
We rode up to Lake Bohinj, which was looking particularly sultry on this Wednesday morning.
We pressed on to the top of the lake and the awful Camp Bohinj…well awful to us anyway at this time of year – lots of people seem quite willing to stay there crushed together in the mud and mayhem.
We explored the upper reaches of the lake then decided it was time to start wandering back to rest up madam’s foot…35km of one legged cycling later!
A lazy afternoon ensued, with only a wash loaded and hung out to chalk up any sense of achievement. But it didn’t matter…we’re chilling.
Late afternoon madam decided she was up to another little foray in search of wild flowers. I tagged along cos I’m good like that, I don’t bother to feign any interest.
It was not long before I noted the storm clouds gathering and pronounced there would be rain before nightfall. Catherine told me the forecast says not. I packed everything up and put us into rain mode, and was then proved correct as just after a lovely reheated pork curry the heavens opened.
There is no better sound to drift off to sleep than the patter of big drops of the wet stuff on the roof of our motorhome.
We found a place to park Truffy and wandered into Slovenia’s capital city – all very easy as it’s so dinky! The vibe was just so good.
We climbed up to its centrepiece, the magnificent castle.
We did the whole Ljubljana Castle tour with audio sets and it was so worth it. From the unique artefacts showcased in the museum (including a 5,000 year old Celtic vase), to the description of its turbulent history as it suffered the onslaught of the mighty Ottoman Empire – at one stage only 100 miles from its doorstep, to the beautiful entertaining spaces that have been created inside the old castle walls and are a hub for modern day culture in Slovenia.
Really the only parts of its history not covered was that during the Second World World War it served as an Italian prison (was that a deliberate omission? I don’t really understand the unwritten rules around what’s not spoken about in a tourist context). Then right up until the 1960s the castle was used as overspill city housing for the poor.
A short ride down on the funicular railway and it was time for lunch. We seem to have slipped unconsciously into that Mediterranean pattern of no breakfast (well we substitute tea for their coffee), then lunch as our main meal and a snack at night. I think Catherine’s missing her creative time in the kitchen!
We had a lovely meal by the river at a fish cafe, then wandered around the lovely streets filled with interesting shops, cyclists and happy smiley folk! What a great vibe…a city we would call at first glance like this very liveable.
In fact it’s the most likeable capital city we have seen so far on our travel based on our criteria – easy to get around by bike, waterways and green spaces everywhere, loads of food and wine choice, easy access to the mountains.
At just over 20,000 square kilometres, the country of Slovenia is a good deal smaller than Australia’s largest cattle station (Anna Creek in South Australia at 23,600km²), so its major tourist attractions are apparently heaving …we will find out tomorrow!
Thursday: We took advantage of the cooler, mid twenties weather and leapt on our bikes to explore one of the many rides signposted around the small town of Samobor, to the west of Croatia’s capital Zagreb. The area does a good job of branding itself as a gourmet weekend destination for the weary city dwellers nearby. No evidence of them on a Thursday and it was beautifully quiet.
Firstly though it was a visit to the doctor for an annoying blocked ear. This would be the second time I had visited a doctor in Croatia and both times had been seen immediately with no appointment.
The first time I saw a private doctor in an immaculate surgery, and paid the same as I would in Australia, the gap between what the government thinks a doctor should charge and what they actually need to charge. On this second occasion there was no private doctor so I was sent to an “emergency” facility, again top notch, well presented facilities with super friendly staff. I paid the equivalent of £1 (AU$2).
I contrast this not only with my experience at home in Australia but the miserable task of getting to see a doctor in the UK. I was told to turn up the next morning and “expect to wait around 3 hours”, or have an appointment in several weeks’ time! No wonder the UK’s life expectancy rates are declining and the infant mortality rates increasing. The country is bursting at its narrow seams with people and just not coping…in my opinion.
So on with our ride with hearing restored. Bucolic scenes were everywhere, the rich soil and climate enabling small allotments being tended by stooped figures.
We took it all in and enjoyed the fresh climate and green space after the stifling heat and endless concrete developments on the coast.
Having cycled 45km (29 miles) we had worked up an appetite and headed for lunch at a family run restaurant recommended by our campsite host.
Mushroom soup, containing 15 different types of this locally picked delicacy, was followed by shared plates of a delicious mushroom risotto and fresh asparagus with scrambled eggs.
I think this was the best lunch we’ve enjoyed since we have been in Croatia. Immediately you can taste the freshness of local produce, something we have been missing in the tourist spots on the coast.
Friday: The next day we took a bus and tram into Zagreb. I’m sad to say we were completely underwhelmed by this capital city. We just didn’t find much to really get excited about.
We walked up to the Upper Town, the old Zagreb. There Catherine wandered into St Marks church.
I have decided to stay out of churches as a silent protest to institutional religion. While I waited, I was told off by a policeman with a gun for sitting on the steps of some official looking building.
We thought we would try the National Natural History Museum. Disappointingly there was no English signage at all meaning we learnt nothing… apparently it’s due a big makeover in 6 months – at least our ticket donations will go to a good cause, it is in dire need!
Then we started the long painful process of finding somewhere to eat where cigarettes weren’t going to be waved in our face and the menu featured some thing a little fresh and interesting. Finally we found a lovely little cafe in the leafy grounds of the Museum of Archaeology.
We were ready to leave mid afternoon, the first capital city we have ever run out of motivation to explore that quickly.
So it’s back to our lovely camp ground in the country and a snooze!
Sitting in New Zealand at Christmas we had read about this National Park that has 17 waterfalls cascading through its limestone country. Now we were here..and loving it. Yes it’s popular with 1 million people visiting last year, but there’s a reason it’s popular – it’s absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.
We had booked a tour from the camp site we stayed at, a 9-5 day visiting the highlights of the park by minibus. There’s no way we would have seen some of these place left to our own devices.
A two hour walk had us deep in the forest on boardwalks, with streams and small cascades flowing all around us.
Then we came to the first major waterfall, which allowed swimming. Catherine was off as I guarded our bags. It did look quite spectacular.
A Franciscan monastery sat resplendent on a tiny island in one of the lakes, Roman catacombs beneath another monastery…this park has the lot.
We had lunch in a little tucked away cafe alongside the ever present waterfalls. Simple but lovely food served with Croatian wine….yup still the same verdict…thumbs down in the vino.
The park entrance fee was about AU$50 and the trip including the monastery tour and lunch the same. What great value! With a million visitors a year it was disappointing to see little evidence of that money being reinvested in the park, but that seems to be the story across Croatia with the tourist dollar. I wonder whose pocket it goes in?
Saturday: It was time to disembark our cruise and head back our campsite just south of Split. Another load of passengers would be joining the boat in two hours, so no break for this hardworking crew. Youth unemployment in Croatia has run at an average of 33% in the last few years, although thankfully at least dropped this year to 20%. We see a determination to work hard and put in really long hours though to feel secure. We wished them well and also our friends, who would be going seperate directions from here.
We headed back to our campsite down the coast from Split that had been storing our motorhome. Thankfully all was well. Camping Stobreč have been super helpful to us, keeping an eye on it for us while we were away. Another set of mostly young staff who put in incredibly long, hard hours. I hope Croatia finds industries other than tourism to diversify its economy and provide a year round income for the locals, who have to put up with their infrastructure of roads, ports and airports groaning under the weight of visitors in the high season. I can see why there is a touch of resentment from some that they don’t get to enjoy their own beaches, restaurants or scenic town centres in the good weather.
We unpacked into Truffy our petite motorhome, filling every available nook and cranny, had a cuppa and oh no…the power has gone off from the mains supply. We soon established with from the camp’s ever helpful staff that it wasnt on their side the problem lay. Running out of ideas of what to check after the usual cut out switch check, we sought help from multiple sources; our dealer (but it was a Saturday lunchtime in the UK), the Hymer Owners Group Facebook site and then in desperation I called the local Croatia Camper rental company to see who they might use for repair. Well all three were gold.
Within minutes we were getting suggestions of what to check from the owners group (this site has been our guide and saviour!), then I got though to the camper rental owner, who sent his brother round who was at the local beach and arrived a few minutes later! As he arrived and started eliminating issues the phone rang and it was our dealer’s workshop. Between Dave from Fuller Leisure and Robert from Croatia Campers the problem was tracked to an unplugged wire that I had managed to dislodge when cramming our gear into a wardrobe containing our cut out switch! A big thanks to all. This blog helps us a little bit to be able to return a little value to all those suppliers who have made our travel so relatively easy compared with the challenges we faced in Australia. I wonder why its so different? Is the “Lucky Country” a bit too lucky, with little competition in many areas breeding a “relaxed” customer response?
So powered up once again we lost no time in throwing ourselves in the refreshing waters of the Adriatic 100 metres from our pitch. Ah, its good to be “home”…because thats what we call it, no matter where we park up.
Sunday: The next day we bussed into Split to explore the Diocletian Palace, one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world and built as a retirement home for the Roman Emperor of the same name in the 4th century AD.
It also housed his garrison, so picture more of a large fortified castle. The basement area had gradually filled in with rubble over the centuries, but in the 1950’s was gradually cleared. Now this UNESCO listed site sees throngs of tourists, like us, tramping round.
I wonder what they are thinking about when they do? For me, its a reminder that just because our century has seen many technological advancements, very very clever people have always been innovating on this earth and we can/should always learn something from what they did and why they did it. Just touching the stones we tried to imagine what our lives would have been like working in that place.
This was a simply breathtaking site, with soaring roofs and massive rooms, copying exactly the layout of the palace above, most of which has now been built over, but still functions as a thriving hub of the city.
We knew there was a 3,500 year old Spinx that had been looted from Egypt, so it was quite funny reading the description when we found it of it being “imported”!
All ruined out, but feeling satisfied we had added another enriching experience to our visit to Croatia, we wandered around the old town above, had a light lunch (we really need to lighten up the calorie intake over the last few months!) and then headed back to our camp for an early night.
Catherine is off in the morning to London for another op on her throat. I’m staying here “guarding” the truck and trying to shake my cough and cold with fresh air, exercise and salads…my only friends the multitude of cats who also call the campsite home and come looking for food pretty regularly.
We will miss each other I know, but living 24×7 in about 2 square metres of internal space, its good for both of us (but especially Mrs A poor thing!) to have some “own time”.
The more we wander around these Dalmatian islands the more we fall in love. The scenery is just outrageously stunning and the people so lovely. Cycling, as always, we think the best way to see it, and Sailing Croatia, our tour company, has done an excellent job of showcasing it for us.
Brač is largest island in the Adriatic and lies just 14 km offshore from the city of Split, so its pretty easy to access with regular car ferries. We motored off early from Viz and watched the coastline unfold as our ship cut through the glassy blue water. The island of Brač appeared on the horizon and its large harbour at Milna, with over 200 moorings catering for maritime tourism, was soon welcoming us into a berth on the main jetty a short walk from centre of town. Unfortunately during our breakfast briefing one of our friends was taken ill and carted off in an ambulance. All very distressing, but the good news is that he was back with us in the evening.
We headed off after lunch for another 23km circuit ride taking in a number of small villages scattered around the coast. We are going to miss the camaraderie of these rides, its a big group to manage on the road, but the Sail Croatia team is so professional and safety conscious, the rides have happened without incident. I think it also helps that we have a number of very experienced riders in the group who understand how to ride safely in a peloton, and are setting an example for the rest of us who don’t.
The heat was pretty intense, with mid 30s temperatures making it tough going for the riders without “pedal assist” powering them up.
The evening was the the BBQ night, and once again the Sail Croatia crew did an outstanding job of the cooking, serving and management of the ship. What a great bunch of folk, and we will miss them when we move on. I hope we have been an easy group to manage, they work 7 days a week and would I’m sure get some more difficult customers than us on the “party cruises” from what we have seen.
Tuesday: A 6am start saw our ship cruising over to the town of Stari Grad on the island of Hvar. A quick explore round this ancient town just whet our appetite.
Gordy briefs cruisers on the history of the town
Rich in history, with evidence of Neolithic people living here from 3,500 BC. The ancient Greeks record a battle fought here with one of the many Illyrian tribes populating the Balkans in the first century BC. Then the Romans came along and Hvar fell to their empire. Every street corner oozed history, what tales these walls could tell.
All too quickly it was time to jump on the bikes for our first ride with a fair bit of climbing to be done in the early afternoon heat. One of the team measured a road temperature of 44 degrees!
Our e-bikes powered us up thank goodness, as it would have not been a pleasant ride for either of us on purely manual bikes. As it was were we able top admire the stone terraces laid out by the ancient Greeks, and pause to smell the lavender. Mrs A even spotted a snake as it slithered across her pathway – later found out to be one of Croatia’s three poisonous varieties (the Poskok or horned viper). Fortunately it was quite young (only about half a metre long) and slithered away to hide in some rocks.
Every hill has a fun decent to follow, and this was no exception and were soon back at Hvar town itself, rewarding ourselves with cocktails as we awaited arrival of our boat.
Hvar town is definitely on the smart set’s cruising circuit, not somewhere we would have any urge to come back to. But as usual it took so little effort to dodge the tourists a block back from the waterfront and its strutting loud crowds.
Dinner was a very plush affair, good food, and for us our first bottle of wine we have enjoyed since arriving in Croatia….it was an Argentinian Malbec. Oh Croatia we love you so, the scenery, the people, the clear waters of the Adriatic…but your wine….well…not to our taste I’m afraid.
A rather disturbed night was inevitable given we were moored alongside five other boats! Ah well…we are here to explore 🙂
Saturday: Those of us who had been out late were pretty dusty….some more than others! It was time to go and board the boat that was going to be our next mobile home for 7 days of cruising up the coast of Croatia from Dubrovnik to Split.
We settled in to our cabins and met the other passengers who would be our fellow cruisers. We moored up in a lovely bay after and threw ourselves in the azure waters of the Adriatic.
That brightened up a few of us. We then moored up in the harbour at Pomena on the island of Mljet, the largest and most forested in the Adriatic chain. Mentioned in Greek literature since the 4th century BC, it has a lovely laid back feel to it.
We found a little cafe for dinner right on the water, and the local stray cat soon found us and was suitably rewarded with chicken….happy purrs ensued.
Sunday: A lovely breakfast and it was off on our bikes in one large guided group to have a poke around the national park which was a short ride down the road.
The park contains two saltwater lakes joined by a narrow channel, and had the clearest blue water we have seen so far.
It was an easy potter around the lake edge, then we had been briefed by our guide to wave a flag to call over a little boat that would ferry us over to a little island….all very cute…so we did. So that’s an island in a lake on an island. Officially this geographical phenomenon is called a “lake island” – how did they think of that?
A round of coffees and a quick look round the Benedictine monastery and we were off again on our ride.
We just had to have a swim in that water though before heading back to the boat.
We then motored off to our next island, Korcula, though some pretty choppy water. The crew did an admirable job of serving lunch whilst performing balancing and acrobatic manoeuvres. All very amusing.
We moored up again for another swim off Karcula Island. I’ve never been a great lover of throwing myself in. We live off a fantastic beach in Sydney and can go for a whole summer without swimming in the ocean, but on this trip I’m really enjoying it. The water is just so clear and inviting, plus there’s no nasties lurking underneath like in Australia.
Our night was spent in Lumbarda, a small settlement to the south of the island. A fifteen minute amble around the bay brought us to a fabulous little restaurant, Gavuni, serving local dishes and drinks overlooking the water, all very reasonably priced.
Location: Ancona, Italy & Split and Stobreč, Croatia
Monday: It was time to board our second ferry of the trip from Ancona, on the east coast of Italy, and head over to Split in Croatia. We had absolutely loved Italy. The people, their ready smiles, their amazing food and wine. What would Croatia be like? A first visit for both of us. What adventures awaited us?
Getting our motorhome onto the ferry was the first one. I followed the somewhat ambiguous gesticulations of a rather excitable young man as he guided me on. Not really sure what was happening, he then had me doing a 5 point turn and then reversing down the length of the pitch black hold of the ferry! Thankfully I’m finding that the more of these little challenges I have to tackle, the less stressed I get about them…Catherine likes that as well 🙂
As it was a 11 hour overnight trip we had booked a cabin. I had read the web site last night and was looking forward to “the luxurious cruise liner” experience they had promised.
Well the toilet seat wasn’t even attached and promptly fell off. The curtain rail and curtains followed. The mould and peeling paint didn’t exactly call out 5 star. Like so many situations where there is limited competition, with a duoply running on on this route, it was appalling.
Anyway, with a beautiful sunset wishing us arrivederci to Italy we went for dinner, and had our first poor meal since out last ferry across from the UK to France. Self-catering has to be the way to go on ferries we have concluded.
Tuesday: We arrived at our campsite after a short drive through the uninspiring suburbs of Split, with graffiti covering every wall, and rubbish strewn everywhere. This is a city that swells to a million tourists in the summer season. Where is that revenue going? Certainly not back into cleaning and infrastructure. A little bit jaded after our poor night and disappointing first impression of the city, we walked down through the campsite and got our first glimpse of the setting we were in. Wow!
The beach was stony but the view just spectacular with the barren mountains providing a stark backdrop to the bright blue shimmering of the water. In we dived….well to be honest it was a rather a slower process of adjusting to the “fresh” temperature of the ocean after the 30 degree pool we had been using all last week!
We dug out our inflatable kayaks from the depths of our motorhome, as this would be the first time they had seen the light of day since making the trip over with us from Australia.
We headed off and its hard to describe the exhilaration you feel to be out on the water under your own steam, free to potter about where you want. We headed south round the foreshore, with a flock of sea-birds rather annoyed at our intrusion through their watery paradise. We spent a few hours exploring the coast, and it was a fabulous introduction to Croatia.
Wednesday: The next day was a bit of a repeat button with a swim and a paddle, this time north back towards the city. It’s certainly a very busy part of the world at this time of the year, but out on the water in your own little bubble, it was serene.
We spent the afternoon packing to ready for an early departure tomorrow down on another ferry to Dubrovnik, but then rewarded ourselves with dinner at the restaurant on the campsite.
Look at this view…and the food was pretty amazing as well. I opted for the local speciality of black cuttlefish risotto, served with bread fired in a pizza oven. Catherine tucked into freshly made gnocchi with fava (broad) beans…a new favourite of hers.
Alas no wine – we are trying to clock up a few AFD’s (Alcohol Free Days) before the next onslaught starting in Dubrovnik!
Thursday: The morning dawned once again with clear blue skies, and a 28 degrees by 7am…another warm one. Our taxi arrived and we were off back to the port…and realised we had forgotten our precious mifi device with our generous data SIM in it. I left Catherine at the ferry and thanks to our super great taxi driver managed a dash back to collect it and made the ferry just as it was boarding.