Monthly Archives: March 2016

The ‘scenic’ route

28th March- Ljubisica (Croatia) – Letenye (Hungary)- 100km

The day started off so well, early rise and nice flat roads. I must say that at least with the proper hills you get a hell of a view at the top, the large expanses of flat farm land can get a bit tedious so I had my podcasts (serial) to keep me entertained. In no way am I complaining though, I’m 100% done with mountains.

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I approached the border to Hungary and sat for my daily hot chocolate- I think I’m addicted to them! Thankfully the lovely Herman, from Herman restaurant exchanged my Croatian Kuna for Hungarian Forint, yet another currency to figure out. £10 is equivalent to around 4,000 forint- this should be fun with all these notes!

A couple of police officers stopped to check out my bike, paying particular attention to my Brooks saddle. For those non cyclist geeks- Brooks make (apparently) the best saddles in to world. They’re leather and don’t look comfortable, but look pretty vintage stylish- they actually mould to the shape of your bum in time, making it bespoke and the best seat to suit your own bum.

Another 20km down the road and I wasn’t on a road anymore but a lot of bloody off road, mountain bike suitable tracks. At one stage i was swerving to avoid trees, the next I was in grass so long I had to get off my bike.

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Once I got into civilisation, after about 10km of this madness I needed a beer- my first Hungarian 50p beer. It was a very small town I stopped in and I was stared at like I had two heads. They’re big starers here so I always smile or wave, but most of the time the stare just continues.
I met a delightful one eared morbidly obese man sat on the bench outside trying to speak to me in Hungarian with his mouth full of sandwich, bits flying everywhere. Nice.
Time to get the GPS out and see where he hell its been taking me. It somehow changed its own setting overnight and had set to ‘go onto unpaved roads and take the scenic route’. I cursed silently when I realised that it’d be another 60km to my destination (10km going back over the same road) and I’d already done about 80km. I really didn’t have it in me, physically and mentally so the next sign I saw for a guest house I stopped at and breathed a sigh of relief.

It made my day when the place had a little French bulldog puppy who lived there and the goulash with about 6 slices of bread went down a treat.

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Buddy

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Every cloud has a silver lining

27th March- Zagreb- Ljubisica- 70km

Despite giving my bike a thorough check over yesterday I went to get on it this morning and the front wheel was flat. Dammit. No problem, I have a spare- slight delay but I’ll be on the road in no time…or so I thought. Getting the new inner tube in was a lot more fiddly than it should have been. It didn’t help that my tyre levers snapped off too- Dam you pound land! I had a metal tyre lever as a spare, which I was told I shouldn’t use- but it was my backup. When I went to pump up the type with the new tube in I realised why I should have paid a little more for my tyre levers- I’d punctured so many holes in the new inner tube in my impatient frustration that I didn’t have enough patches for. Shit. It’s Easter Sunday and nothing’s open. Double shit. After a moan to Nik on the phone I put a few messages out to the warm showers community (there’s a map function where you can see members who live close by) and luckily enough a very kind guy close by gave me a spare inner tube and even fitted it for me- what a guy!

I was about to set off around 11.30 when another person I messaged came along to help too- wow, how kind some people can be.

It was obvious I wasn’t going to over 110km before dark, so it looks like the lake will have to be done in 3 days, not 2.

The road rewarded me with more or less flat roads the whole way, improving my mood from this morning. I passed another cycle tourer on the way, from Korea. He’d been travelling 7 months, started in London and travelled south through Spain and then East. The amount of stuff he had with him was incredible, he said it weighed over 40kgs. Mine weights 17kg, so it made me look like I’d packed light!

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Due to the lovely flats roads I arrived way earlier than expected at 16.30. My host, Marko-another warm showers member, let me use his washing machine (2 weeks of sink washing wasn’t really doing the trick) and gave me a place to stay on his sofa. Ljubisica is a small farming village so he uses the site to meet people from all over the world.

He suggested we go into Varazdin and take a look around, as I wouldn’t have time tomorrow to pass through. What a lovely city- again nothing spectacular but everywhere you turn there’s an unusual building steeped in history. The creepiest thing was the ‘place where angels sleep’ – so weird.

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Varazdin

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Creepy angels ally 

We headed back and marco prepared bread, meat and cheese with some nice wine. He doesn’t cook, like at all, he pays a little old lady in the village to cook for him or goes to his sisters and gets food there!

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Alone again

26th March- Split- Zagreb (off bike) 

Lauren left early this morning and i was a bit low setting off alone. As great as this trip has been so far, parts of it have felt pretty lonely. I know you may be thinking ‘you’ve only done a few days on your own’ but 8 hours on the road with only your own thoughts and own questions to answer have been tougher than expected.

Anyway- time to toughen up and get on the bus to Zagreb and make up some kilometres. For some strange reason there were two buses going to Zagreb at 8am- one was double the price and took 6 hours instead of 5. Yes, that’s the one I got on- dammit!

My hostel wasn’t far from the bus station, so I dropped off my things and gave my bike its first check over- wheels, bolts, chain- all good.
Afterwards I went for a walk around the city, checked out the cathedral, city market and the most random museum I’ve ever been to- the museum of broken relationships. People basically donate an item that relates (to them) to a break down in relationship (sexual or family) and give a little story. It was both hilarious and really sad at the same time- some of them gave me a lump in my throat. There was anything from a wedding dress to a pair of road signs and even a suicide note!

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I wondered how well my early night was going to go in a 10 bed dorm room- feel like the oldie in the hostel, in bed before 10pm, but it’s got to be done if I’m going to get over 100km done tomorrow. It’s 220km to Lake balaton in Hungary, so I’ve decided to up the anti and do it in 2 days, rather than three 75km days- eeek!

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Law breakers

25th March- Plitvice Lakes- Zadar- Split (off bike)

To make the most of having the car we decided to stop off in Zadar on the way back to split to drop he car off. I’d heard its a pretty cool city so we went for a look around.

The coolest thing about the city is called the sea organ, which is basically tubes under marble steps that make music from the waves. Lauren and I practiced mindfulness for 5 minutes, then got distracted by the swarm of coach tourists so we moved on to yet another old town. I know I sound a little unapreciative, but if I see or hear of another bloody stari grad (old town) I might scream- anyway nothing will beat Dubrovnik’s. To be fair to Zadar the old town was decent, with some Roman ruins dotted around and they even had a pillar of shame which we both appreciated.  If I’m honest we just liked the name, but I just googled and it’s where ‘naughty people were chained and pillared’ – I didn’t know pillared was a thing!

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Pillar of shame 

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Entrance to old town

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Beer in zadar

Leaving Zadar we headed back to split. Lauren was feeling a little too comfortable on the wrong side of the road and ran into law enforcement. The police on the side of he road held out a big stop sign, which Lauren took a while to slow down and stop for- not a good sign. The big scary Croatian police man got her out he car and told her she was going 90kmph in a 50kmph zone…..TUT TUT TUT. This wouldn’t have happened if I was driving, let me tell you. I felt really bad for Lauren, I know she must have been shitting it- so I took a photo so she could remember this moment and remind her never to speed again. The jammy sod managed to sweet talk the man out of the 1,000kuna (£100) fine by telling him she was in the army- crisis averted!!

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Don’t go chasing waterfalls

24th March- Plitvice Lakes (off bike)

Up bright and early wearing our most sensible shoes (pretty lilac converse in Lauren’s case) and warmest jackets we headed to entrance 1 of the lakes. Considering it was cold and there was snow everywhere the Asian coach tourists were out in force with their cameras and tripods. I can only imagine what it’s like in summer trying to fight for a selfie spot with the waterfalls in the background.

Anyway, wow- totally worth the hassle getting here. I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves…

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Some kind lady lent us her wide lens thing

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#nofilter

The picture don’t even do it justice, the place was stunning. By far the most amazing waterfalls I’ve seen. There was a little ferry we got across to cover more of one of the lakes and then we got this train/monster truck/bus back round. Some strange tourists around- we were giggling at these girls fighting for the best photo spot on the boat, it was like a game of who could stand the closest to the front of the boat.

We broke some rules whilst in the park, as that’s the kind of bad asses we are- there were signs not to enter, we entered, the lady told us not to go right on the track, we turned right. A wise woman once told me that you should do one thing a day that scares you. Lauren, climbing down that cave scared me, so thanks for your wise words I will live my life like this.

All that rule breaking tired us out, so we decided to ‘cook’ in the room rather than go a restaurant. This is how spaghetti, pasta sauce and poached eggs looks on a trangia camp stove in a guest house with candlelight. #classy

 

 

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Slightly off plan

23rd March- Hvar- Plitvice Lakes (off bike) 

We had our plan in place, 6.30 ferry to Split, then catch the 8am bus (with my bike in tow) to Plitvice to arrive around midday and then on 25th head to Zagreb (me cycling, Lauren on the bus). This plan was ruined when both morning ferries were cancelled due to adverse weather conditions on the SUNNIEST PLACE IN CROATIA. The next ferry was the car ferry on the other side of the island at 11.30, then the bus wasn’t until 8pm, meaning we arrived after 1am and had 7 hours waiting in Split.

We decided to get a hire car instead, but the one way fee to drop off in Zagreb was €100 so split-plitvice-split it had to be!

It was after lunch we set off, all excited to get to Plitvice for late afternoon, then explore the next day. Once Lauren figured out how to use the wipers and remember which side of the road she was on we were plain sailing. That is until yet another road closure, except this time a whole bloody motorway (or part of it) was closed and there seemed to be no diversion, so our 3 hour journey took more like 5 hours driving round sharp coastal roads with wind like I’ve never seen it (thought we were going to get tipped over at one point) and then, ohh there’s snow. SNOW? WTF, it’s spring in Croatia and Lauren and I had a bikini day planned in the lakes tomorrow.

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Wed booked into a guest house near the lakes for two nights, so we were expecting to be treated like guests, you know a smile, some offer of tea perhaps. No, just a rude non English speaking funny looking woman who offered us no food. We weren’t happy bunnies and had to eat some cereal out of a cooking pot of mine. 5* living this! I was thinking “these bloody lakes better be worth it-“- spoiler alert, they are!!

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Croatia’s sunniest place

22nd March- Split-Hvar (off bike)

Lauren called last night to tell me she was at the bus station. “So am I”, I said. The bus station is small and I couldn’t see her anywhere…oh no! I’d given her the wrong instructions and she was about 30 minutes away in trogir. She had to wait half hour for a bus to split, and then it dropped her in the middle of nowhere- so we power walked to meet each other and embraced like we’d not seen each other in years.

The next day went a bit smoother as we managed to catch the ferry to Hvar without any glitches. Hvar has the most sunny days in all of Croatia, so it was typical that it was really cloudy and rained on/off all day- Lauren definitely brought the English weather with her.
As most activities don’t kick off until April/May we were limited, especially as sunbathing was out, so instead we booked a 4wd tour around the island. Our guide greeted us at the ferry port and took us to all the best spots, beaches, fishing towns, vineyards and right to the top of the highest peak. He mentioned a LOT of ‘very famous’ things here, it seemed everything he pointed out was ‘famous’- I doubt any of them are as famous as The world famous Bury Market?

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We visited an abandoned village too, which was really eerie- the guide explained that the village had fled during the war and never returned. He told us loads of facts about the island and how it came to be and look the way it did, being ruled by Venetians for he most part as well as French and Greeks. I must admit I was a little overloaded on the history lesson, but I could see Lauren had switched off so I had to listen for the both of us in case he tested us!image

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Our guide climbin Jesus’ cross!

For lunch we stopped at a local restaurant and had veal and potatoes cooked ‘under an iron bell’- very traditional way of cooking things here. The food was amazing, and the wine that went with it was spot on. At the end of the tour he gave us a little present of lavender and other essential oils that grow on the island, such a nice way to end the tour.
I can see Hvar being a party place in the summer, but out of season it’s really chilled and quiet. This meant a night drinking shots and dancing on the table was out, so instead we took jumping photo shots and treated ourselves to a fancy seafood restaurant and nice wine!

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FRIENDS….cycle friends!

21st March- Korcula- Split- 45km

Sad to leave my little home this morning, I could have stayed there for a while.

I had to get to the other side of the island to catch the ferry, so I made sure I gave myself plenty of time to catch the ferry at 3pm to avoid what happened on the way here. The ride was mostly awesome, beautiful coastal road that seemed to go downhill forever! Passed some sort of animal skin on the way too!

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Arrived at the port at 13.30 and stopped for coffee, as the locals seem to be doing constantly, then two cycle tourers passed me. Two middle aged French guys (Francois and Gilles, from Nice) who have cycled from Athens and were heading to Italy- yay friends! One of them spoke no English and the other one was fluent, so on the 3 hour journey we conversed in franglais- they were great company, shame we’re going in different directions after Split.

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Casual stretch on the ferry

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Just waiting for Lauren to arrive now, can’t wait to see her!

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Beach day

20th March- Korcula-rest day

It’s Palm Sunday today so I headed St Marks cathedral in the square to check out what was going on. They’re quite a religious bunch the Croatians, with over 80% Catholic and it seemed like half of the island were at the ceremony. In Korcula there are three Brotherhoods, one of which dates back to 1301, so there were boys and men dressed in three kinds of robes with their candles. The priest then said a few Lines, blessed some people- it was all very interesting, but I felt like an imposter being the only one without a palm leaf cross in my hand, so I left them to it.

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As it was a gorgeous sunny day I headed to a beach 7km away to relax and read my book. I don’t like walking much so I broke my no cycling on rest day rule and cycled there instead. It was a really nice ride, passing loads of vineyards on the way and I saw what I think was a ferret/weasel too! When I got there I was the only one on the beach…on a Sunday…I mean it wasn’t mad hot, but 17 degrees is a beach day to me. I know my friends in Australia will disagree with this!

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Road closures

19th March- Medugorje- korcula island- 60kms

Didn’t have time yesterday to check out the random little village that is medugorje. In 1981 a group of teenagers claimed to have been spoken to by the Virgin Mary. Since then tonnes of religious nuts have travelled here. The place is tiny and there’s groups of people praying- i counted over 15 coaches parked up!

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Over 15 of these beasts!

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Prayers by the rock

I left myself plenty of time to get to the port for 11am, only 30km away (apparently). About 10km in, close to the border a guy shouts something in Bosnian that I understood to be “road closed”. No worries, my GPS will redirect me…another 10km down the road after battling with some horrendous hills the road just stops. Shit. This second detour really ballsed up my chilled cycle with plenty of time to play with. I had to pedal like crazy and managed to get to the port for 10.59. I begged the ferry man to wait for me to a get a ticket and thank god he was nice about it, said I had 2 minutes. If there’s one thing I hate more than hills it’s waiting, and with the next ferry not for another 3 hours I was so relieved to get on. I didn’t even care what time it was, I needed a beer!

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On the ferry at last

Feeling relaxed on the 50 minute ferry I knew I only had roughly 20km to get to the other side of the island for the connecting ferry to korcula. You’d think it would make sense on a hilly island to have a nice coastal road AROUND the island, NOT a windy hilly stupid road through it! It was the most agonising 10km getting half way across the island, however the down hill on the other side did feel good. Another 20 minute ferry and I was in Korcula, a peaceful island south of Hvar famous for its wine and olives.

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View on the down hill 

I knew it wasn’t going to be high season here in Croatia, but I didn’t expect to be the only tourist around (or so it seems). Apparently things start kicking off in May and until then most things are closed and it’s like a ghost town! I don’t mind too much here as I’m ready for a nice relaxing day tomorrow on my day off the bike.

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Once I’d found a place to stay, a steal at £15 a night (right on the sea front, my own huge terrace, tea making facilities and BBC news) I headed to one of the only open restaurants and got chatting to 4 guys from Sarajevo who had cycled 90km around Korcula today. They were really interesting guys with some cool stories; one was a ‘famous actor’ in Bosnia, one radio dj, head of security and the other guy had a market research company.

Now back to my room to update these blog posts 🙂

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