Entering Croatia I encoutered my first border on this trip where I had to stop and reach for my passport. It came so much as a surprise that I just bluntly biked passed the barrier and the officers had to call me back, oopsie :p they didn’t care, they didn’t even come out of their squares. I guess I didn’t expect a border control in any country part of the EU.
After two days I also realised Croatia is not part of the Eurozone and I had to change Euro’s into Kuna, before being able to get myself another of those heavenly Bureks 😀 I like it!
A language I can understand nothing off, a different currency, it is starting to feel a little bit more exotic now (even though a huge part of the country thrives on tourism and almost everybody speaks english.. little joys..)
The green nature-rich route along the river Sava brought me all the way into Zagreb, where i found some off these beautiful birds. Fly baby’s, fly!!
Entering the city I found myself on heavy traffic roads again though, with fumes and hurried, stressed, fast driving people. It started raining a little bit, just the right atmosphere to bike through these grey concrete outskirts of town. I was told Zagreb would be like a big Ljubljana, but the atmosphere was totally different: where Ljubljana was a nice relaxed sunny beautiful town with great roads for biking, at first sight Zagreb seemed big, ugly, busy and impersonal. Luckily this impression only lasted on the road to get me in the city (there seems to be no ‘nice’ way to do that on a bike), where the centre was much more enjoyable.
I biked directly to the place where I would be staying with my great host Nikola! This is him:
Nikola is the kind of person that makes you feel comfortable from the first moment you see him. A relaxed personality, nice friendly smile always, funny and positive, very enjoyable to be around. I didn’t have to think twice when he offered me to stay another day 🙂 Nikola took me out for some drinks and we biked around town (through a sudden thunderstorm, everybody fleeing the streets! I love mother nature). By the time the beers were finished and the storm was over, we had decided we were in a big need of midnight pancakes; the only problem was we were out of milk.. No stress! We biked across town to his friend to get some milk and the pancakes were fantastic, somehow they always taste better at night 😉
We hung out with this friend and Nikola’s roommate the next day and we all had a good time. Usually I don’t feel so relaxed in a big city. Thanks guys!
In Zagreb I visited some tourist attractions, enjoyed myself at the local food market (always the best part of town!!),
and Nikola borrowed a friends student card to take me to lunch in the local student mensa (I felt nostalgic, and also a bit like a monkey behind these bars oh-ah-ah-ah (=monkey-sound))
When Nikola and his friend went to shop for shoes (two guys! That was fun :p), I went into town and spent rainy hours in the European Space Expo! Heaven 🙂
I learned about the Galileo project, which sends satellites into space since 2011 (orbiting the earth at 23.000 km up in space) to develop an european network for accurate positioning and time. It is supposed to become more precise than GPS and GLONASS and -more importantly- independent, since GPS and GLONASS are military controlled systems (respectively US and Russian) and could in theory be switched of in case of conflict. I learned about the Copernicus project which focusses on climate change. Did you know that the difference between the highest place on earth (Mount Everest) and the lowest (Mariana trench) is only 19,7 km? And did you know there are over 17.000 artificial space objects orbiting our earth?! There are projects for cleaning up the space and there are satellites able to detect which cows in the fields are ready to be fertilized, just by analyzing their movements; Venus is the only planet in our solar system that turns clockwise and days on this planet are longer than years, can you imagine? I try to get my head around this every time I see Venus, which is usually the brightest light in the sky at night (one of the few I can recognise :p). I’m working on recognising more, praise to the ‘star chart’ app! When I look at the sky I wonder whether things might not have beginnings or endings, they might just be fluctuations in intensity. I read this sentence somewhere recently and it got stuck in my mind, wondering what it means. To me. To the world.
These are some of the topics I was waiting to talk about to my dad. But first I had to make it to Istria from Zagreb to meet him. I left Zagreb to bike to Karlovac and i was so lucky Nikola decided in the morning to come biking along with me for some hours! While actually he ended up biking with me all the way to Karlovac and even paddled my heavy packed biked for most of the way (and hills!) ‘trying it out’, isn’t that great?! We had a fantastic day together, enjoying the biking, the weather, the beautiful lunch stop, the beer stop..
By the time we arrived in Karlovac he obviously was sick of me and got on the bus back to Zagreb.
I went to see my new couchsurfing host, who took me for a walk around town. Karlovac is famous for its many parks and indeed the city is very nice with so much green, beach, water, parks, where many youngsters where celebrating their last school day, partying, jumping in the water, good atmosphere 😀
Next day i biked up in the mountains feeling incredibly happy to leave the cities and being back in unspoiled nature again. No tourism, few restaurants, and lots of nothing all around 😀 This is where I feel best.
With my two words of Croatian I could ask locals to fill my water bottles (voda, molim, hvala ,hvala! :D). After a beautiful day of pretty tough climbing I felt very satisfied but tired and decided to start looking for a place to pitch my tent. It didn’t take long before I spotted a house with a huge lawn, which I thought would be perfect. I biked up to the house and asked whether it would be ok to pitch the tent. They spoke good english and before I knew it, I was shown a room in the house, joining the family for late warm lunch, after which they took me to go see the beautiful town of Ogulin (where fairytales come to life ;)),
finishing the day at his brother’s house where we drank coffee and stayed for dinner, which included their best homesmoked meats and homegrown vegetables. Wow, so much hospitality!
Milan (the father) is a history and geography teacher and a tour guide who could tell me lots of interesting things about the country. Together with the little things I have read and heared from others I realise that many people think back at the time before the war with a sense of nostalgia. Many things were better those days. The modern capitalism brought a world that revolves around money, money and more money. Sure there was dictatorship and corruption; Tito was known as a very charming man spending the peoples money on cars, women, movies, food and the good life generally, but capitalism isn’t all that pretty as well. There was more money for the lower classes and all people were taken care off. Milan told me that the professor as well as the librarian and the farmer could afford a house, a car, a little holiday, some travelling. Many people struggle nowadays and consider themselves better off before. Tito still is a celebrated man under some parts of the population. 36 Years after his death the mourning still goes on and his statues and portrets are not taken down. But, I just heared a few stories so far and I need to talk to some more people to get my head around this. So I continued.
The family let me sleep in, I joined them for breakfast and they even made me sandwiches for the road! After this queenlike treatment I felt so strong I could make it to Rijeka in one day, even though it was a 90 km ride including lots of climbing (and one 1000m mountain).
The last part was a looooooong downhill bringing me to the adriatic coast. From the mountains down, Rijeka came closer and the high industrial buildings became bigger and bigger.
I was told Rijeka was a big industrial city but I didn’t expect it to have such a good vibe, it is beautiful! Choatic, with lots of destroyed and abandoned buildings, lots of people, lots of metal structures and a huge thriving harbor. It is one of the more alternative cities of Croatia with lots of young people and artists. I very much like this kind of unstructured liveliness. Also, it was the last city on the Istrian peninsulan coast that didn’t have his main focus on tourism (brr, horrible).
I met with my couchsurfing hosts Natasa and her boyfriend (both maritime students, him a seaman) and we walked the long long pier by night. Oh, those lights of the city are amazing! I would highly recommend a midnight walk in Rijekas harbor ❤
During the next day both of them were out and I discovered the city by myself. I walked the 500 steps towards the castle with another great view over this magnificent city
(which brought me myalgia in the legs.. my legs are very strong by now but apparently this is a different movement.. haha but i like myalgia!).
I enjoyed the fruit, vegetable, meat and fish markets.
The theatre is beautiful and I did a detour to this fantastic destroyed old paper factory.
I was playing the harmonica in the streets, gotta practice to improve!
And then, finally, the day arrived where I was going to meet with my father! After almost three months not seeing him.. I follow a beautiful road along the coastline
And very coincidentaly it’s this same day I meet a father and his daughter from Switzerland, who tell me they go biking together each summer, how wonderful!
I am very very close to my dad, I have always lived close-by and even in his house the nine months before departure, I had never been away from him longer than five weeks and talking on the phone had been a disaster with background noise and echoes. Finally I could touch and cuddle him again, smile at him, take care of him, and talk to him about everything that has been going on in my life and in my mind. Oh how we can talk.. never-ending! So that’s what we did for the next week 😀
We explored the Istrian peninsula, island Cres, walked in the forests of Kamenjak, along the coastline, almost everday went swimming in the Adriatic, enjoyed the local fresh fruits, vegetables and wine, drank fantastic tasting and very cheap coffees in the little coast towns and talked. Talked, talked, talked.
Istria is a peninsula on the northwest Croatian coast. We found out it was part of Italy between the wars but handed over to Yugoslavia by the Allies in return for keeping nearby Triest a free port. After the break-up of Yugoslavia the Croatians took most of the peninsula back, allowing Slovenia a minuscule share of coastline (about 50 km), which -I remember- they are very proud of! (‘our country has Alpes, valleys, forests, countryside and sea coast, everything you might wish for’). My dad and I drove along beautiful mountainess green and rocky coastlines with turqoise clear waters and through rural landscapes with many vegetables growing from deep-red earth and small towns build on the top of hills. Driving through vineyards and many olive trees we understand why Istria is famous for (apart from the expensive white truffles) its olive oil and wine and we stop at local farmers to do our shopping.
Those tastes are fantastic! Healthy ecological products everywhere, and they taste fantastic, we’re in heaven 😀 My dad and I talk about food a lot, how it is so very important and so much neglected in Holland. We agree we feel so much better on a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, some nuts and dark chocolate. We dont need anything else. Food should be alive, raw where possible, as direct from the ground or trees as possible (so local and in season), ripened in the sun and on the plant (not picked unripened and ripening in the truck while driving it across the earth). If you cook food you kill so many good qualities. But in the supermarket even the milk and cheese is usually pasteurised, many products have so many additives and we eat so many things our bodies don’t need (like white bread, pasta, cakes, manufactured food etc.). Of course, we don’t want to be neurotic about it and we enjoy the local Burek’s but immediately we realize we need an after-lunch nap to process this. With our former eating habits we never had this, we always felt strong, energized and happy! Yes, food is very important for your mental health as well. Just an example, people claiming to be moody by nature, might just as well be lacking Kalium. On the bike I try to eat a lot of bananas and lentils and beans. We discovered it is probably because these products contain a lot of Kalium and Natrium I need, especially in these warm countries where I sweat a lot.
So this is what I do: I try to eat only local fruit and vegetables during the day, but when people invite me for dinner, of course I join them and enjoy all the fantastic food they prepare. Fortunately for me, it is more and more prepared with vegetables from their own gardens 😀 In the balkans people eat a loooooooot of meat though And I’m still not sure whether I should tell them I’m a vegetarian or not. Because I’m not really, I’d like to taste their meat, but just to taste, not to eat. I don’t want to be rude and I want to accept everything they offer, don’t be an pain in the ass, but also I want to feel healthy and strong and I really don’t enjoy big piles of meat. Not sure how to balance this yet, but I’m sure I’ll find a way 😉
One thing I really really enjoy is that the more south and east you go, the more people grow their own food (you see full gardens everywhere), spend time cooking and –also very important- spend lots of time enjoying the meal together. We sit outside, with the whole family, there is no TV, no rush or stress. Fantastic! I could easily fill my days with gardening and cooking J I wonder how my perfect live would look like and for sure it includes lots of sunshine, outside life, growing and cooking my own ecological food, maybe distributing it on my bike to all the poor people around. I would want to live in the countryside, but not too far from the city. I’d spend time playing music and reading books. Enjoying life at a very slow pace where nothing ‘has to’ be done. I’m getting allergic to these ‘have-to’s’ and realize more and more we have choices, so many choices. And the less you own and the less have scheduled in normal day life, the more you feel free to make those choices. I don’t have to go back to the fast, individualistic, money-driven western world. Of course you can find your peace in a world like that as well, but maybe I will feel better in an environment less westernalised and more back to nature. It is funny to remember how fast I was living, trying to get everything out of life, filling every free second, and how much I enjoy the quiet, peace and nothingness now… My dad and I talk about this a lot and after two long days of sightseeing we just stopped and slowed down our pace a lot, and I mean a lot, enjoying so much more 😀 No stress at all, just enjoying. Staring at the water we wonder whether fish drink water (sweetwater fishes don’t, they are hydrated through their skin and gills (is that an english word?), but saltwater fishes do and are able to secrete the excess salt); we listen to the flight of the bumblebees (fantastic music), because there was a bumblebee on the coffee cup; we visit some towns along the coast and are disappointed by the all-consumings tourist industry that spoils the beautiful coast, we are negatively impressed by the enormous yachts and decadence and we are delighted when we find a spot in one of the many harbors filled with small fishermen boats like in Cres and Rovinj, where we sit on a bench watching the life pass by and enjoying our home cooked lunch.
The last day we explored the small small streets of Piran on the Slovenian coast and we drove a bit through the Slovenian countryside, which was amazing. Defenitely my favourite country on this trip so far. You’ll find only small villages, lots of beautiful landscapes, and almost noone there, fors ure no tourists. The only tourists Solevnia seems to have are motorcyclists; almost all hotels and bars have a sign stating ‘welcome bikers’, I like it :). We spend the last night with my host from Trieste, Nino, who makes a fantastic octopus!
Lots of fun, sightseeing, laughs and hapinness later, it is time to say goodbye to my beloved dad, it was a fantastic week, but he has to get back his life, full of ideas and inspiration how to improve it, and I have to do the same thing. I cry when he drives away, not knowing when I will see him again. I feel ‘triste’ in Trieste 😉 I want to hold on so tight, but I have to let him go. I know I am strong and biking the world on my own, but when my dad is around, I’m just his little girl and I always will be. Love you, daddy!
Nino was able to improve my mood by taking me on a motorcycle ride through my favourite country 😉 and he let me drive, yihaaaaa!! 😀
We even watched the MotoGP which was in Holland that day. It is the first year in 12 years I am not there to watch the race live! It was an exciting race and Valentino Rossi won! Fuck.
Nino made a fantastic couscous and we went out for more motordriving, high up on the hills, great views and went for a nice last dinner together.
The next day I made it back to Opatija
where I met my friend from Zagreb: Nikola. He was able to take a couple of days off from work to join me on a bicycle trip along the islands, kickass!
We went to Krk, Rab and Pag, visited his friend in Zadar (who plays great harmonica!), climbed Velebit (again) and made it to Plitvice! We had a great great time 😀 We were wildcamping every night, found fantastic spots in the woods, in the park, in an abandoned house. The islands are amazingly beautiful. The road on Krk was a bit busy but on the other islands we found way smaller roads taking us through the most amazing scenery. First it was like we landed on the moon, then we cycled through olivetree fields (unfortunately olives you cannot eat right from the tree, they have to be soaked first), green wooded areas, along the wide ‘most-amazing-color-blue’ Adriatic sea (swimming in it every day!), and on dirt roads with almost no traffic. Often times the quiet peaceful Adriatic was on our right side and the enormous Velebit mountainrange on the left, wow. Again, I couldn’t believe this was all real, so much stunning nature. Life is so so so good!
Look at these fantastic stairs!! (unfortunately they were missing steps, so we couldnt jump them :/)
Crossing Krk bridge
A very nice lady filled our waterbottles, inviting us to stay over and when I asked in my best Croatian for two figs at a vegetable stand along the road the guy gave them to us for free, people are so nice 🙂 We made fantastic chickpea and lentil salads with superb tasting tomatoes and Nikola got me addicted to canned sardines 😉 Zadar is a beautiful city with a walled old city,
coastline all around and a fantastic sea organ which makes beautiful sounds when the waves hit the organ. Very meditative. I could have stayed there for days, that sound… wow.
It was a lot of fun biking together, since we are both positive persons and enjoyed every part of the trip, no whining or complaining, just fun! Thanks for joining me Nikola, it was great 😀 Unfortunately Nikola has this ‘normal’ life which involves having to get back to work, so I waved him goodbye at the busstop. But I didn’t have much time to get back to my senses, since some friends from Holland are on their way to Plitvice and will arrive there tomorrow! The next adventure is on!
The last night we found the perfect t campingspot, after a long unexpected offroading experience where all kinds of stuff broke from the bike, oopsie. But so worth it 🙂 we had the whole meadow to ourselves and cooked fantastic bean dish on the campfire! (with lots and lots of garlic, yummie!)
Like the waves and the stars i can just look at the flames forever and get lost. Dreaming. About the world, the good life, the next steps. But mostly no thoughts, just a smile.
So a little bit about the plan: after Plitvice, I will bike through Bosnia and hope to make it to Guca, Serbia begin august, to be able to enjoy the Guca festival (lots of trumpets and brass bands :D). I will visit the other Balkan countries (Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro) and make it through Bulgary into Turkey.