I travel so tremendously much, yet I am partly blind! Not only I cycle for 3 years now, I have traveled from A (Afghanistan) to Z (South Sudan; which start with a Z in Dutch language). I thought Croatia a kind of average destination for mass tourism. Not as awful as the Spanish Costa Brava but something for retired oldies on an organized trip. Turns out that is happening. But see what’s more, not any other post had so many photo’s!
Croatia turns out to be a highlight of our European tour. Partly because it is far off the high season, any evidence of big time tourism is closed or gone and it’s just startlingly beautiful. Croatia is my European favorite!
Let’s get on with it!
Hrvatska as it is called, which puzzles me the first few days. I have to ask Tom in which country we are again? I lost track. It’s our 15th country in Europe together.
Our first night we sleep with Montenegro in view. When we choose a track not gradual up the hill, alongside the main road, I try not to curse my partner his enthusiasm for bush-whacking. Branches hit my face, some get stuck in my annoying helmet and the bicycle is heavy to push up. But we end the day in a beautiful elevated flat spot, completely hidden.
Days are getting shorter. It gets dark at 6. We eat in darkness and I sleep around 8.30. Where we erect our tent doesn’t matter at all; the sun is now welcome to heat us up. A campfire will take care of that after and before sun decide otherwise.
We often find terrific camp spots, now between slender cypress trees. In the morning the sound of a shotgun is traveling with a slow speed through the canyon. Smoke from our campfire whirls equally quickly upwards from a dense foliage, I hope I am not mistaken for a wild swine. In this country too, men love to hunt.
The road becomes a coastal one, narrow and soon more busy. I again curse, ‘asshole’, now for the people leisurely driving on a Sunday, and on all other days. Croatians can’t drive either. Cars and especially coaches pass me by narrowly. I think Croatian bus drivers value their passengers more than us. Coastal roads hewn out right above the ocean leave no space for shoulders nor swirling too much. We are cycling next to the steep, with iron nets covered mountain-walls and can’t get further away from where cars speed past. It’s not a nice way of peddling.
We are cycling towards Dubrovnik. When I see the walled city from high above the road, I am in awe. I need to stop, rub my eyes, make 60 photo’s, where the first turns out the best, as usual. I bolt when I see a busload Japanese coming. I assume Dubrovnik is touristy?
World traveler I am, never heard of Dubrovnik, always more focused on further parts of the World. Entering one of the grand arch into the old town leaves me perplexed. The European rulers knew damn well how to build!! Holy shit!!
‘Why don’t you stay somewhere else?’ says the manager of Alberto Appartmani. We have booked through booking.com and searched for an hour to locate the place, up and over many stairs. Last part we have lifted our loaded bicycles over 178 stairs to get here, bathing in sweat and irritated for being in a medieval town built on a hill.
We will hear this more, and we wonder where it arises from, could it be a left over from communism? ‘This cheese is very expensive,’ says the woman in the mini supermarket. ‘I have no tea which is good, only Croatian,’ says a woman in a tea & coffee shop. Another woman cannot host us in her apartment because of our bicycles, she rather has no business than trying to find a solution for her own, other than passing us on to a neighbor.
I find out soon enough that a place like Dubrovnik is packed with architecture, elaborate buildings, a magical pattern of alleys where high buildings make you feel as in a labyrinth, the highest European grandeur with a high appeal to the imagination. But the town has become unreal. While old Croatian ladies with perhaps a plastic hip mount the old city countless stairs with discomfort, American tourists flock around with natural ease. Japanese tourists gather to the sushi serving restaurants while the Dutch dug in their, by themselves prepared, lunchbox.
The food on offer in restaurants is pricey, normal European fare. A restaurant is often an unbalanced situation in itself, especially when the necessity to eat disappears. We are not travelers in a deserted place on Earth, we are not excessively working into a sweat, we are not producing. We order, they serve. Here it is preferable a bit more than serving and paying. Especially in Dubrovnik is it about ‘rating us on Tripadvisor’, ‘tell us what you think’, and possibly likes on Facebook too.
Another hotel asked us to switch on the lights in the room and on the balcony, so that photos could be made, the lady on the phone explained. Could it be to show other people that they are fully booked?
Croatia feels European, where prices are again a bit higher than the former country, where it is more normal to be, more modern too. Its yet another step towards refinement as we know it, and I am not too eager to embrace it. Yet, there are those details which make me smile; the drumming of church towers, men picking olives, nature in abundance, the Mediterranean coastal road, tiny old stone buildings, hundreds of islands and…
Gustav. A 24 years old German tennis teacher who smokes delicious smelling herbs. He has given up everything back home, bought a bicycle and panniers, waved goodbye to his mom who was utterly worried and is having a daily budget of 5 euro. Gustav wears a synthetic necktie around his head, which must be flapping in front of his eyes. Several times he’s nearly been hit by busses and cars. His enthusiasm is undiluted, he is young and already tired of living a life as an adult. We don’t blame him a bit.
On our way to Makarska I am blown off my bicycle. The bura wind, coming from the northeast has me walking on the pavement, else I would smash into cars. This wind mainly occurs during the winter between Trieste and Dubrovnik. Meanwhile Tom and I have lost each other, while I am waiting at the end of town, he does so at the beginning. After instructions on how to find each other, we need to buy groceries. While doing so the sky turns to an abundance of deep orange, and I really want to make photographs, but it’s also turning darker already. We need to cycle out of town before we aren’t able to find a camp spot.
With gusts able to reach 180 kilometer an hour -we experience only 40 kilometer an hour- way faster than my average speed. We soon decide not to cycle out of town but erect the tent at a future building side. It’s on an elevated plot, trees are bending over us and a dog is carried away by the wind; we decide this will do. Soon the tent lays on me like a heavy heap, its tent poles are pressing into my body. We decide to take out the poles, that is; Tom does that, which makes us spend the night under a family size bivvy bag. Breathing becomes tough and airless but I sleep well, waking up only a few times.
The wind continues on…
We are now under the sheer rocks of the Biokovo range. I can’t stop watching the beauty we have parading on our right, for days she’s prancing and ogling to me. To enjoy the beauty we are in, we cycle only 10 kilometer along the shore, to camp right under the 1762 meter highest point of the second highest mountain in Croatia. A great fact of cycling-touring is that each moment is impressive. It doesn’t matter whether I have cyclo-struggled over an Himalayan pass of 4050 meter, lived with high spirits in the Hindu Kush, stood between the highest mountains on Earth, were face to face on Kala Patthar opposite the most mighty of all, Everest.
As goes for the Adriatic ocean, on the the Dalmatian coast. It contains such a high level of beauty that my eyes just sit and watch. Only the pine needles betray I am not at a tropical island. Even the camp spot we choose is free from artificial sounds, void of screaming kids or parading retirees. We are near touristy towns, yet we are surrounded by butterflies, birds, the Biokovo and each other. It has been unknown to me the Adriatic could be this charming. Off season helps too; sale stands with vanishing-thong-postcards, blown up breasts in too small bikini tops-postcards and donkey in costume-postcards are all closed.
Where are the people growing vegetables, other than their own garden? We see very little agriculture, and I have the notion Croatia is in a state of eternal holiday. The area around Ploče and the Split Delta has things going on. Here are plenty of stalls with mandarins, citrons, pomegranate, dried figs, olive oil, peacefully fighting over customers.
Meanwhile my notebook is still broken, my only source of creativity, besides my camera. We have been to a guy in Montenegro trying to fix it, but he did not dare to. I tried finding a computer repair shop in Dubrovnik. In Makarska too. I had two possible connections in Split, where I have found one actual existing guy, who send us to another shop. Over there in that shop they told me it was broken beyond repair. The salesman send me to a little shop under a huge communistic building, fenced off from street view yet incredible busy. It seems everyone in there needed a gadget of some sort. While I buy the required stuff, the salesman in Split takes my notebook back home, removes the hard disc, transfers the memory, all in his own free time.
The easiness of dealing with actual real people over internet connections is so much more straight forward. Buying a new one with not the exact exchange rate, in a hurry, in doubt and kind of excitement made me buy a way too expensive one. A tablet who is able to perform yoga (whatever?).
If we stay in an actual building, we often stay in an apartmant. Did I tell you about the lodging in this country yet? Almost every household has at least one room set apart to rent as an apartmant. Most start with 3 stars. 4 stars and you know it is over the top. I prefer no stars but that is not available. Cycling past houses is seeing plenty of blue plaque’s with stars and a simplified bed. Tom finds them on booking.com, books them ahead of time while I call the owner once we arrive at the building. Often these are old houses, communistic buildings or structures with grandeur. All with spotless luxury once inside, I always wonder how well off these people are, having apartments besides their own house they live in.
So we stayed in an overly luxurious apartmant, neglected the whole of Split, but not the ‘Chinese Wall’, as locals call it, to buy a new computer in the most ugly communistic building of Split.
Once we are inside an apartmani we are part of the city we then suddenly seem to live in. The whole serving aspect is gone with staying in someone’s apartment. There is no sliding door to go through, no people in costume to walk past. The owners checking us in the apartment are very welcoming, accommodating and just always impressed we are on a bicycle. Our steel horses are as welcomed as we are, that is, inside the warm building.
To be continued. We cycled in Croatia around October and November 2015 for a full month.