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!