Bicycle Wanderlust

Closing in on the last few weeks of this tour I find myself making plans for the next day’s ride, then waking up the next morning and heading in a completely different direction. The first time this happened I had fully intended to head back north to catch the Danube, but instead heard about the Neuschwanstein Castle (New Swanstone) from another cyclist and just had to see the inspiration for the castle at Disney World. This led me in a south westerly direction for an entire day of climbing. Back to the Alps! It was a stunning ride that ended at a lakeside campsite within sight of the castle and a backdrop of craggy snow peaked mountains.

The weather the next morning was pretty dismal so I donned my rain gear and rode to the base of this unreal site. I can’t claim credit for the first pic below (mine all turned out pretty grey), but I needed to make sure I shared the grandeur of this place. I was content to ride around the base, dodging a thousand tourists that were so enthralled that they weren’t watching where they were going! It is really difficult to describe the beauty of these places. It is similar to the way my imagination seized upon MiddleEarth the first time I read Tolkien, except this time, I was actually there! I know, big nerd..

Yes, this place exists!
From the castle I made for Lake Constance. Google Maps showed a bike trail lining the perimeter of this natural barrier between Germany and Switzerland. I couldn’t resist. Weather cleared and within a day I was riding north again along this pristine lake. I intended to just keep heading north, but then spotted a ferry that crossed the lake to the city of Konstanz. I’d heard of this place, the only major German city to escape bombing due to the fact that half of the city lies within Switzerland.
Konstanz is split right down the middle by a short portion of the Rhine that connects two giant lakes. I crossed a bridge with students jumping off what looked like a pretty big leap to me and suddenly found myself in Switzerland. Wasn’t really part of my plan, but why not! This kind of freedom won’t likely come often when I get back to Indiana.
Camping among the vineyards!
I re-entered Germany where the lakes narrowed into the Rhine and made my way to Rhinefalls, largest waterfall in Europe. Truely stunning!
The Black Forest is one of those places you hear about in childhood and never fully believe inhabits the same planet that you do. It is the source of many fairy tales, dense stands of ancient spruce, wood crafts and of course, Black Forest ham and chocolate cake. I managed to get lost several times and found myself pushing bike and gear up a steep logging trail to get back of track.
A night camping on Lake Titisee.
So many long distance bike routes!
Quick pass through of Strausburg while racing up the Rhine. Hopped back and forth between Germany and France, cycle paths on both sides of the river. Light tailwind helped me cover a ton of ground in just a couple days of riding.
Sure, I’d been riding eight hours without a real break and no, I had not an idea where I’d be sleeping that night at about 4:00 pm, but what the hell. And so one more bout of wanderlust carried me northeast from the city of Karlrue for the university town of Heidelberg.
I did a couple hour tour of town, riding up and down the bike paths, enjoying watching the thousands of college students and families taking in the sun and scene at the riverside parks. I walked my bike through the old part of town mostly to avoid bouncing myself to death on the cobblestones, but also so I could fully appreciate the picturesque beauty of this place.
I have to admit that for the most part when I was planning my ride, Germany became part of the route because it was in between other destinations. What I’ve discovered are about a hundred places that I want to return to and at least as many more that I missed and hope to see one day.  I gave myself just the smallest taste of Heidelberg, but it is definitely at the top of the list!

 

 

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Bavarian Bounty

One of the big lessons that bike touring has forced me to face over and over is in learning how to receive. I have to say that my tour partner, Ed, is pretty awesome at this. I am definitely still learning. But even in my novice state, I have reaped some mega-benefits of the generosity bestowed upon the wandering cyclist.

The best example of this was on the the day we left the Danube and rode up the Inn River toward Salzburg. Within a few kilometers of the campsite after a long, hot day of riding, Ed spotted a window filled with all kinds of amazing cured meats. We couldn't resist. While I was slow in finding a spot to set my bike aside, Ed rushed in. By the time I got in there, there were heaps of samples on the counter. As we chowed down, we told our touring stories and suddenly free packages of meat from the butcher and his wife begin piling up before us!

Next thing I know, we're being given a full-scale tour of the backrooms and freezers, nodding like we understand the butcher's German and gathering what we can from his little bit of English. The whole operation takes place in their home; business and kitchen (including grandma in the recliner) downstairs, residence upstairs. Turns out that his son is a cyclist and completed a tour to Istanbul last year. Sebastian, the son, provided the occasional sparse translation and offered to lead us to a much better campground just a few kilometers further with a couple climbs. Famous last words…
However, before we left we were treated to the butcher's true passion and original training, religious music. He played piano and sang Schubert in his unbelievable operatic voice. Ed and I just looked at each other dumfounded and couldn't believe our incredible luck. Moments like these can't possibly be planned and they are exactly why I love this type of travel.
After a couple grueling climbs we arrived at a beautiful hilltop campsite. From here we had just about a 360 degree view of the rolling hills of Austria filled with vineyards, fruit trees and every quaint countryside image you can probably imagine. And the campsite included three ponds for swimming, we skipped the nudie one this time. Thank you Sebastian for leading us there! Totally worth the climbs.
Included a five meter jump! Much higher then you'd think. The magic of this evening continued with Ed's guitar playing attracting a group of Austrians. We had a campfire singalong (minus fire) where I got to take a few turns with the guitar late into the evening.
First siting of the Alps!
Possibly the most incredible sunset I've ever witnessed from our campsite on Lake Attersee. These clouds were a thunderstorm rolling over the mountains right at sundown. So not only did we get the colors of the sunset reflected by the lake, but there were constant flashes of lightning. The crowd went wild!

A day's ride east brought us to Salzburg, home of Mozart, the Sound of Music and what many consider to be the best beer garden in the world. Augustiner Braustubl Tavern has been around since 1621 and is the only beer garden in Austria still serving up beers brewed by monks. One enters through the 1500 seat courtyard, teaming with regulars guarding their hard won tables and excited tourists. You climb upstairs to the “stands corridor,” a delicatessen arcade, where you pick and choose from family owned stalls, serving up sausages, kraut, fried fish, sides, desserts and pastries. Then you make your way to a wall of ceramic steins, grab the size you want and give it to the guy manning the giant wooden casks of beer, who fills it, then whips to the end of the bar where you'd better be ready to catch it. To say the mood was festive is an understatement. People were downright giddy!

Salzburg runs along the Salzsach river and sits on the edge of the Apls. It's full of gorgeous churches, palaces and is watched over by the Salzburg Fortress seen in this pic.

Challenging riding through beautiful country side as I crossed from Austria into Germany.
I rode a couple more days west and arrived at a campsite on the south side of Munich. I immediately spotted a group of locals playing bike polo and knew I needed to make their acquaintances. I quickly threw up my tent and raced back over to catch their last match of the evening. If you've never watched before, do yourself a favor and find your town's local club. It is a fast-paced, novel, exciting sport to watch. And as in Indy, the sports devotees are extremely friendly to newcomers.
Burgers post sport, followed by picking up some beers and drinking on one of the many gorgeous plazas. Engineers, designers and lawyers during the work week and a rowdy, bike polo club on the weekends; I felt like I was an honorary inductee for the couple days I stayed in Munich. I also had a chance to try out the sport and ended up with a free place to crash. Many thanks to Andi and the Munich Bike Polo club!!
Some of the great sites in Munich! including canal surfing, the Nyphenburg Palace, a selfie at the site of Octoberfest, more great modern sculpture and the city center.
 
 
 
 

 

 

Tour de Danube Part Two

From Brataslava it was a short, very pleasant day's ride to Vienna. The mostly paved cycling path took us through endless, dense forests and brought us right to the edge of town. We stopped to refill water bottles by the river and quickly realized that we had entered a country with a more open, progressive feel. We received a guten tag from an older gentleman in all of his naked glory. A few steps brought me to the edge of the path. From atop the levy I looked down to see a few dozen Austrian sunbathers getting tans where the sun doesn't usually shine, a great introduction to the city!

We spent a few hours wandering before meeting up with our Warmshowers host, Arnaud, at a groovy little cafe/restaurant where you pay whatever you feel is the correct price for the food. 5 € seemed about right for my hummus plate, quite tasty. Arnaud then led us on a mad, night time dash through the city to the Bike Kitchen. Which was by far, the most interesting place I had spent the night this trip.
A community run bicycle action/advocacy group that includes a public bike shop and occasionally hosts the lucky cycle tourer. Every city needs a Bike Kitchen.
Ed led us on a beer tour through the city until it broke the day's budget and then we settled for some site seeing.
Just couldn't get a good pic of the buildings in Vienna, but here are a few anyway. Pretty spectacular Barouque architecture.
Of course we had to have some sausages while in Vienna.
Our second Warmshowers hosts, Felix and Anna, demonstrating their unicycling skills
So much incredible street art in Vienna. Had to hit a few local favorites before getting back on the road.
Incredibly flat, smoothly paved trails follow a winding route along the Danube. This was our glorious scenery for the next few days.
For the next week or so I swam more than I have since I was child in the river and surrounding lakes. It is such a wonderful thing that the water is so clean here. Makes me long for this in Indy.
A night camping beneath the behemoth Abby at Melk. We landed here on a holiday and scrambled to find food as everything was closed.
Reached a campground in a part of the river referred to as Schlogen. The river bends at 180 turns, forming an S, and narrows, increasing the speed that it flows. This campground had a dock where you dive off one end, do your best to fight the current for a bit, then float down to the other end, climb out and do it all over again. SO MUCH FUN! That night is definitely one of the most memorable: Ed, playing guitar and singing, while I got a haircut from another cycle tourer, also a hair-stylist, who I paid with beer, AND a group of Hungarians, who were canoeing down the river, kept feeding us all Palinka. Truly incredible!
The next day brought us to the end of our Danube time at the city of Passau. The Danube, the Inn and the Ilz rivers converg here, beginning with distinctly different colors and merging into the lime blue of the Danube.
We had lunch sitting in the medieval, old-town center of Passau and bounced over cobbled roads before turning south along the Inn. Heading for the Alps!
 

 

 

Tour de Danube – Part One

There is just so much that happened in the two weeks or so that I spent riding the Euro Velo 6 route along the Danube that I can’t fit it in one post. This route included the cities of Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slavakia; Vienna, Austria; and Passau, Germany. Each unique wonders, but the river itself and the beauty of the landscape in between is the real treasure.

By the way, the Euro Velo routes are an EU project that when complete will criss-cross the continent with bike trails and bike friendly streets. http://www.eurovelo.org if you’re interested. Once I wiped the drool from my face after discovering the Euro Velo maps, I began planning my route loosely around the Danube. My understanding is that this route, the 6, is the closest to completion. And it shows! There were entire days where my touring buddy, Ed, and I rode all day on gorgeous, paved cycling trails.

If this post seems a bit Budapest heavy it is because I fell in love with this city. Something about Hungary and Budapest in particular got under my skin. Of course it’s no surprise! It is where I spent the most time, volunteered and developed some real friendships. This city is a wonderful combination of old and new. You would never know that is was leveled when Germany withdrew during WWII. It has since been rebuilt with careful attention given to historical accuracy.

Full of Art Nouveau buildings, all under eight stories or so, it feels like a more rustic version of Paris. Many buildings are in a state of disrepair and some totally abandoned, but this only adds to the city’s charm. They are all still gorgeous and the wear makes it feel more accesible and lived in.

A city about the size of my hometown of Indianapolis, getting around it is about 1000 times easier. It has every conceivable type of public transport. Ok, reaasonably conceivable.

Life and culture congregate on the Danube and the beautiful bridges are the focal points of both.
One of my first stops was a very sobering introduction to the city’s history. The House of Terror Museum inhabits the building where both the Nazis and Communist regimes’ secret police were headquartered. The tour begins on the top floor, laying out the history, and as you descend each room gets a bit more experiential until you reach the painfully slow elevator ride to the basement, where political prisoners were tortured and executed. It was a powerful experience that I will not be likely to forget.
The city market at full tilt.
Hero’s Square, where every statue sports a magnificent mustache!
And while in Budapest I witnessed history in the making. Budapest has now claimed the record for the highest lego tower in the world!
After a raucous evening of sampling local micro-brew, Ed, fellow cycle tourer, and I skipped town by train. We landed back on the Danube and high tailed it for Bratislava. Passed about a thousand roller-bladers along a stretch of paved trail atop a levy that went on and on. As we neared the city we passed soviet-era apartment block after apartment block arriving in a gorgeous old town center just in time for the skies to open up. Camping now out of the question, we found an excellent little hostel with restaurant and bar on thee ground floor a few steps down from street level.
Treated to an incredible jazz set at the bar of Downtown Backpacker’s Hostel.
There was just enough time to get a feel for the city before heading back out and we only saw what we could from atop our bikes. I can’t begin to do it justice, but did get a feel for a city with a thriving art and music scence, a lot of interesting history and a very active population. Would have enjoyed spending more time, but the trail was calling.

 

 

A Global Village indeed!

What a week I had volunteering with the Global Villiages Program of Habitat International! I am still in awe of how much time, energy, money and spirit went into making one Hungarian family’s home warm in the winter and cooler in the summer. I began asking my friends and family to offer financial support half a year ago and to think that each of the nine volunteers did the same is amazing. Hailing from the U.S., Canada and Australia, from many backgounds and experiences, supported by Habitat International and locally, Habitat Hungary, we arrived to help an incredibly kind and sweet family.

In Hungary, a shortage of housing is not the issue, instead it is a lack of effcient homes. As is the case for many Hungarian families, the global economic crisis had a devastating impact on families like the Joo family. The situation for the Joo family was made more dire when their furnace wet out. Combined with expensive medical costs related to the yougest daughter’s complicated medical issues the family turned to Habitat Hungary for help.

Our work began with coating all walls of the house with a 4 cm layer of styrofoam insulation, securing it with nails, and sanding.
Our local expert/foreman, Tomas teaches us how to apply plaster, post insulation.
Our team leader Chris and I enjoying Tomas’s praise for our completed wall.
Tomas also introduced us to the Hungarian liquor, Palinka, in reward for our hard work. I think the pear was my favorite variety.
My dog, Cooper, has some serious competition for best dog ever from the family dog, Lizzy!
We enjoyed several excursions during the week led by Habitat Humanity staff, Nora. Above, to the castle Visegrad. Below, to the closest town of Vac.
Enjoing a final meal with the family and Habitat Hungary staff. We ate an incredible traditional gulash and enjoyed an extremely generous dessert wine, a gift from the family. The evening began with some shared tears of gratitude and ended with songs around a campfire. Couldn’t hav imagined a better way to end our work.

Travel broadens my worldview and creates a deep appreciation for the variety of life and thought on our planet, but combining it with volunteering provides opportunities to share in quiet victories over our common struggles. As is true each time I do this, my heart has grown and the distance between us was made smaller. Thank you Habitat, all of the supporters that helped make this happen and the most amazing group of volunteers!

 

 

Back home again in Indiana?

Tornados and all! Or what felt like one anyway. Entering Hungary from the west, the hills of Slovenia quickly give way to open fields. And every Spring high winds tear across these plains making life very interesting for unspuspecting, northbound cyclists. I later learned from my Warmshowers host, Peter from Zalaegerszag, that this weather pattern goes for a few days just before the warm temperatures arrive and that these were a bit stronger than usual, 100 kmph in some places!

The landscape, the foliage, the meat and potatos kind of diet, the hospitality, all reminders of Indiana. Current Hungarian borders even make them the same size. Maybe I was a bit homesick as well, but I was so glad for the familiarity.

I've never been so grateful for a Warmshowers host as I was when I arrived at Peter's. He and his mother live on the fifth floor of a Soviet-era apartment building. It is very much what you'd expect from the outside, but the apartment itself could not have been more warm and welcoming. I ended up staying two days; stuffing my face with soups, prósza (a latke like potato pancake), homemade cake, and other good stuff. Thanks again Peter for the hospitality, the cycling information and the guitar lesson!

Peter opens a secret room in the elevator to fit our bikes.
Prósza! I got the recipe!
From Peter's, I braved the rain and winds for a short day's ride to another host near Lake Balaton. A note to cyclists, water proof gloves and shoe covers are always worth the extra weight. Apparently, I needed to learn this lesson one more time before it really sank in.
Alfreda, “Frida,” lives on a little piece of heaven among the Witnesses, a group of dormant volcanos in the Balaton uplands. Full of vineyards, great local food, and general laid back lake life; this is where Hungarians from the city escape for rest and relaxation. Again, I was treated to great food and a cozy, welcoming place to stay. Thank you Frida!
Stayed two nights in order to give my buddy Gerry time to catch up. We met riding the U.S. west coast last Fall and when he heard what I was up to, decided to join me for a portion. Unfortunately, he arrived in Italy and developed a case of pneumonia. He got some rest, some drugs and a train ride and we were at it again. Gerry brought glorious weather and we enjoyed what is probably the best cycling I'd experienced so far this trip.
If you are a cycle tourer and you want an incredible short-term trip in an exotic location, consider making a circuit of Budapest, the Danube bend to the north and then dropping down to do a loop of Lake Balaton. More bike lanes than bike trails, but drivers are respectful and you'll see an incredible amount of sites, pay a bit less for great food and alcohol than most of Europe and meet some incredibly kind and welcoming people.
First site of the Danube.
Best fried trout I've ever right on the river and Gerry made a friend 😉
Ferry crossing from Szentendre Island.
Charming little town of Szentendre. Post WWII, many Hungarian artists fled Budapest in search of commuunity a bit closer to traditional Hungarian living and nature. Today it is full of art galleries, interesting little shops, narrow cobblestone alleys and great food. I was lucky enough to visit twice and would go back again.
First siting of Budapest
Final good-bye to Gerry.
My Portuguese camping neighbors. They had been riding since Portugal and several of them planned to go as far as Nepal by bike! When they learned my last name I was embraced as a long lost cousin. Next travel abroad will definitely include Portugal. This was a pretty ideal way to end this portion of the trip. From here I go to meet my Habitat volunteer group.

 

 

 

Road Signs in Slovenia

During these cycling travels I have seen road signs for logging trucks, forest fires, Tsunamis, falling rocks, people falling off of bikes, people falling off of cliffs, people meeting all kinds of disastrous ends, all matter of beasts: deer, cows, mountain lions, wild boar, sheep and most recently a lone frog. Pretty scary stuff, mostly. But nothing strikes fear in the heart of a cyclist like this one:

I knew to expect climbs when I reached Slovenia, but not right off the bat. I had about 30 minutes of climbing before I saw this one:
Cruel, cruel Slovenians… I climbed and as is always true, I was rewarded with wonderful vistas and stronger legs.
If you enjoy the inclines, especially if you have tires a bit wider than my 32 mm, then Slovenia is the place for you. It is full of well-developed, slightly confusing bikes paths, mostly geared to offroad riding. I stuck to paved roads and headed east skirting just south of the Julian Alps.
A couple days after my initial climb I encountered this grade, ugh.
And I actually saw an 18% sign, but was on a downhill and hanging on for my life. I was not about to stop to take a pic.
Slovenia was one of the destinations that I was most excited about on this trip and it lived up to my expectations. This small geographically and culturally fascinating country is only about 20,000 sq. miles and claims just over 2 million people. Something like 60% of the country is covered in dense forest, containing incredible bio-diversity, and the abundance of springs and underground aquifers make it one of the most water rich countries in Europe.
I experienced firsthand just how water rich. On my second day into Slovenia the rain that would keep up for about a week began. I never thought that I'd be wild camping on the top of a mountain in Slovenia, barely protected from hail and gailforce winds by my little tent, but there I was. I slept surprsingly well. The tent is the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 by the way. It has been a great choice!
After a couple days of stealth camping, several without a shower and little contact with fellow humans I was turning into a bit of a wild thing. So I was shocked when I entered a larger town and a local cycled up beside me and asked what I was up to. A coffee and conversation with Jana (pronounced Yanna) was a much needed reintroduction to civilization. Thank you Jana! Please know that I have been much more assertive in saying hellos. Good luck with med. school and your move home!
My wandering also took me through the main metropolitan areas of the country. The capital, Ljubljana, a gorgeous, compact town originates from Roman times, but most of the well-preserved buildings you'll see are from Napolean's era. It is along a river criss-crossed by foorbridges and lined with walking/cycling paths. There was a brief break from the rain and the riverbank came alive with markets, restaurants and coffee houses. Cafe culture is alive and well in this city.
The rain drove me to finally try out Warmshowers.org in Europe. Why I waited, I have no idea! For those of you not familiar, it is like Couch Surfing except for cycle tourists. I needed the break from camping and Borut and his girlfriend in Maribor were kind enough to take me in. They treated me to great conversation, a fantastic hardy dinner and my first micro-brew pale ale of the trip at a bar just downstairs from their flat. I believe it was called Hungry Fish. And it was oh, soooo good!
My final days in Slovenia took me through countryside where mountains gave way to foothills and eventually to flat open fields. Here, I spent a final evening in the quiet town of Ptuj, apparantly voted Slovenia's prettiest town. It is gorgeous, but my vote is for Ljuljana. I shared an entire hostel with one other guy who only seemed to speak Slovenian. And though we shared no language he insisted on giving me a candybar.
Though small in size, Slovenia proved to be big in spirit and hospitality. Hope to return one day with a mountain bike!

 

 

A Vacation from the Saddle

Italy may be the most travel blogged destination in the world so I’ll keep this one short and mainly photos.The sheer number of masterpieces, incredible restaurants, stunning destinations and historical sites could keep one occupied for a lifetime. We did our best to scratch the surface without driving ourselves to exhaustion.

The cities themselves are some of humanity’s greatest masterpieces.

Venice
Florence
Rome
Pisa
Naples
And the unexpected gem, that is Verona.
And of course, the food!
Fricking half-kilo of mozerela!
Gelato everywhere
Trattoria 4 Lioni in Florence, unbelievalble pesto, avocado salad.
So much pizza!
Clams and wine for cheap! in Venice.
And tiramisu, how it should be! I can’t look at this picture without drooling.
Some other favorite moments and unexpexted finds:
One of the most fascinating bookstores, Acqua Alta in Venice.
Beers over a Visuvius sunset
The wonder of Pompei.
A subterranean city under Naples.
The walls of Naples are painted with graffiti and some of it is truly art.
The map room at the Vatican.
Worth the wait!
Best use of an unridable old bike that I’ve seen.
Unlike any church in the world, The Duomo in Florence. Plus, we jumped the turnstile to climb to the top.
And the best sign for a toilet, ever.
Full of mystery, full of marvels; Italy is unlike anywhere else in the world. If you’ve not made it here, do yourself a favor and put it on your list…. in the off season (the crowds can be insane). 

 

 

Three Countries in Three Days

The further north I travel the weaker I become to resist bakeries. The Nathan you knew is slowly fading away and being replaced by a baguette and pastry eating version of the Cookie Monster. Now that I'm in Italy things are only getting worse! Panninis, pastas, pizzas, seafood, tirsamisu and the gilatto!; all washed down with wine.

Istria, still a part of Crotia, felt like I had already entered Italy. This peninsula has switched allegiances so many times over the centuries that many of the locals are in fact, Italians. I landed by bus in Pula at about 6:30 am and visited the best preserved Roman amphitheater outside of Rome. I was glad for the inspiration as I was about to set out for a long day of riding on about two hours sleep.

I had three days of hard riding to make it to Venice. I mainly stuck to the coast, but strayed inland occasionally to catch a site. Outside of Dalmatia, this coast gets the most tourism. But unlike Dalmatia which is full of tourists from all over the world, Istria is full of vacationing Europeans, mainly Germans and Austrians. And these tourists cycle! I was regularly being passed by groups of road bikes that waved and shouted, “Guten tag!” and, “Buon giorno!” with the occassional, “Bon chance.”

These giant snails keep me entertained on dreary, rainy days. They cover the roadside, which means I'm constantly swirving to avoid them. The occasional pop! sound reminds me to stay focused on the road. If I knew how to prepare escargot, I'd be feasting every night!
I stopped in the small picturesque town of Bale and discovered that Casanova called this apartment home during one of his many exiles from Venice.
I occasionally get a break from the busy two-lane roads by parallel country roads. A lot slower and a hell of a lot bumpier, the fresh air and scenery make them totally worth it.
Camping on the Istrian coast. Last night in Croatia.
I can confirm that the accounts that I've been reading about Slovenian bike routes are true. They are both amazingly beautiful and utterly confusing.
This was by far the best border crossing that I've ever experienced. This rail trail begins in Slovenia and ends in Trieste, Italy. It was so nondescript that I almost missed it.
Sometimes not speaking the language is a blessing in disguise. Coming out of Trieste there is a busy two-lane highway that provides the most direct route to where I was heading. The road was blocked and all traffic was being redirected. Not understanding the officer he motioned me through with a gesture of, “you can try to get through if you want to.” Looked ominous, but I rode on for a couple kilometers where I encountered a road crew and heavy machinary clearing a mud-slide. My desparate appearance and the fact that enough of the far side of the road had been cleared convinced them to let me pass. For the next 10 km or so I had this beautiful stretch of coastal highway to myself!
I concluded the first part of my trip riding through the Friuli countryside east of Venice. This pristine, lagoon filled caostline is full of touristy all-inclusives. This meant higher prices and increasingly larger crowds, but also some of the longest and best kept bike trails I've seen. It has been an incredible first chapter of this trip. And now for a couple week break from the bike to meet up with my sweety to tour Italy!

 

Croatia, I hardly knew you!

To say that I’ve only scratched the surface of what Croatia has to offer would be a vast understatement. From the moment I stepped off of that ferry I knew that a week was no where near long enough to take in what this country has to offer. Dubrovnik alone could easily fill a week. I packed it into what felt like one of the longest days of my life.

Immediately upon entering old town we stumbled upon a farmer’s market just setting up for the day. I bought fresh figs, a round of nicely funky cheese and local olive oil in a plastic water bottle.
A typical lunch with some of the items I found above.
After a stop at this picturesque port we climbed the walls for 100 kuna (about $15) and completed the circuit in a couple hours. The walls are said to be the finest in the world and they certainly thr most impressive I’ve ever seen.
Several scenes from the show, Game of Thrones, were filmed right here. I geeked out just a bit.
Just playing it cool. It’s alright, I guess……
The same unbelievable alley from below and above.
With a recommendation from some Canadians we spent several hours at Buza, a cliff side bar with a gated tunnel entrance through the city wall. The rest of our day was spent seeking out some amazing food, like black risotto, a seafood risotto dish turned black from squid ink. We followed this with an evening of socializing in our bomb shelter hostel with fellow wanderer a from New Zealand, Germany, Saudi Arabia and I’m sure others that I’m not recalling. It was a long night.
From a cycling perspective, trying to get from point A to point B was challenging in Dalmatia. Heading north /south, the geography forces a cyclist to use some very harrowing roads: tight switchbacks, no shoulders, buses and trucks barreling down steep descents. This would have been easily avoided if the ferries had been operating. I quickly learned that the ferry network is vastly reduced in the off-season, October through April. Of the ferries running from island to island, they are primarily catamarans. I learned the hard way that the catamarans are for foot passengers only and they mean it, no bikes.
Despite the challenges, including some relentless rain and closed campsites, I spent several more days wandering around Dalmatia.
Nice little lunch spot here in Brsecine.
These last few are in Korcula, a nicely preserved medieval town. Apparently, they have the best claim to Marco Polo’s birth place. I spent an unexpected night here and discovered sobes, generally a spare room in someone’s house that they let to tourists. I’m about 95% certain that the balcony from mine had a view Marco Polo’s home.
And the last couple are from Split, my departing point for Istria. There was much more there that I wanted to check out, but my mantra for this trip seems to be becoming, “Can’t see it all so enjoy what you can.”