Tuesday, July 17, 2007

We could be smugglers.

We knew we were in the mountains when we came around a corner and saw this (notice Greg in action):

We left Ljubljana nearly a week ago and rode north toward the Julian Alps. The approach to Bled (the local resort town) reminded me a lot of driving into Ketchum, Idaho - you don't really go over a pass, per se, but after following a river up a gentle incline, you soon find yourself surrounded by mountains. We had a great ride out of the city and into the woods along the river, dodging rain showers that seemed to form like so many in the mountains during a Colorado summer.

Bled Lake. The church is actually on an island, and the castle overlooks the lake.

Arriving in Bled we soon recognized the futility of trying to find someone's garden in which to sleep. Because they deal with tourists all the time, no one was interested. Most people simply referred us to the sobe rooms, which are apartments that locals rent to visitors. As it got dark, and knowing we were in for a big ride the next day, we decided to just camp at a "campsite" near Bled Lake. We arrived to more than 200 designated "sites" with electricity and campers - not exactly roughing it. But we found a place near an electrical box between a couple of trees and set up our tarp. This was good, because not 15 minutes later it rained, and rained, and rained.

Bled Lake.

Škocjan Caves

The next morning we started early because we planned on riding over a mountain pass in the Julian Alps. the first section of the ride wasn't very difficult; it followed a river gently up valley. But after making the turn away from the water, it got steep and slow. Lunch at the top was amazing as we sat below ski lifts in the cool mountain breeze. It was a welcome relief from the cornfields of eastern Austria.

Nova Gorica (Slovenia) in the foreground, Gorizia (Italy) in the background.

That night we were riding along looking for somewhere to camp and an older couple invited us to sleep in their garden after sharing some of their homemade brandy. I should say we didn't exactly have a choice after consuming the drinks - they were strong, we were already weak, and therefore basically incapable of riding any further. Besides, we had another long day ahead of us as we traveled toward the Škocjan Caves.

Greg on the party train.

The caves were amazing, and our hour-and-a-half tour took us deep inside numerous caverns, crossing a bridge 50m above the river below, and finally exiting nearly a mile away from the entrance. We weren't allowed to take photos 'till the end, but it was nice to just enjoy the tour. That night we camped along a motorway, which turned out to be a good call. The constant drum of traffic lulled us to sleep, and no one bothered us that evening.

Vjeko's house

We woke early the next morning thinking it prudent to arrive at the local train station early, it being a Sunday and likely a reduced frequency day for the trains. We showed up at 9:03, 4 minutes after the first train of the day departed for Croatia. Because the next didn't leave for about 7 hours, we were a bit upset. If only we'd left a few minutes earlier... But we caught a break - the train was late. We got on, bikes and all, and bribed the conductor with beer money in place of our tickets. It was pretty ridiculous and we laughed through most of the experience, he not speaking any english and us no slovenian. But eventually we figured out what he wanted, and for 5 Euro, we were on our way. The "party train," as we came to call it, came with beer, vodka (too early at 10am), marijuana smoking conductors and awesome music. We no longer wondered why the train was late.

View from the church tower in old town Rovinj

Eventually we arrived in Croatia, and actually had to take our passports out of our bags. this was the first time since leaving Czech we actually had to show them. We could have been smuggling produce, drugs, exotic animals, or probably people through most of the borders so far. it's been laughable. but I digress... we rode about 25km downhill into Rovinj, the beachside resort town where Greg's family friend, Vjeko, lives during his holidays. his parents own an apartment-for-rent facility for tourists and have graciously taken us in as family, feeding us local Croatian cuisine and showing us around town. We spend our afternoons at the beach, swimming in the crystal-clear Adriatic Sea and taking naps in the shade during the heat of the day. this has been a welcome relief from the cooler-than-normal European summer we've experienced to this point.

Greg and I are working on our tans. Vjeko humiliates us, but then again, he is Croatian.

From here we head south along the Adriatic coast, hopping islands and stopping in historically and naturally important sites along the way. The Croatian coastline, including islands, is more than 6500km long, so we'll likely skip a lot of it in order to leave the country before Christmas.

Old town

Typical Croatian fish dinner

route update

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