Monday, May 2, 2016

War, Peace and the Generous Goat Herdsmen (Italy, Slovenia and Croatia)


The journey that's been: (Map to come in another blog ...)
From Venice (Italy) we generally followed the coast to Trieste into Slovenia (briefly to Piran) and then Croatia crossing Istria (peninsula) inland over Vela Ucka to Rijeka. We then bussed to Plitvice Lakes (Some cool falling lakes inland half way between Zagreb & Zadar). From Korenica we biked through Gracac, Benkovac and Sibenik, and over to Trogir and on to Split.
(Island of Lido de Venezia - Punta Sabbioni - La Salute di Lavenza - Monfalcone - Trieste - Piran - Buje - Buzet - Roc - Vela Ucka - Rejika - Bus to Plitvicka Jezeera via Karlovac & Bike to Korenica. Bike through Gracac, Benkovac, Sibenik, Trogir, Split)
The journey to come: Cycle along the coast towards Dubrovnic and Kotor before heading to Greece (somehow - likely via a ferry)


Miri taking a moment out to unwind in the evening light
(after our largest KM day to date)
Grab a hot cup of tea for a moment and picture this ... It's 8:30pm at night, dusk and we've just been dumped with our bikes, wheels and pannier bags on the side of a remote road in Plitvicka National Park, inland Croatia near the Bosnian border.  We had previously thought our bus was going to be taking us past our hostel further along this road, but alas a couple of hours in we realised this was not the case.

So, here we were, as the bus abruptly turned around and headed back after emptying us and the two Japanese tourists onto the roadside. With nothing to lose, we scavenged around for our lights, fitted our wheels back on and headed off into the cold and windy night, spurred on by the promise of a warm hostel waiting further along the deserted and hilly rural roads. After an hour and half's ride, (it actually wasn't so bad, perhaps exaggerated in our minds) we arrived to the cosy hostel, relieved, excited and happy to be able to relax! We had spontaneously changed plans and jumped on this bus due to the approaching weather system, which was well worth it - As I write this now, Miriam is outside scraping snow off our bikes outside after a small dumping overnight. We are reminded that Croatia isn't all sunny warm beaches, it has a good amount of character building material too! (Andy)

Catch me if you can… (Miri)

Earlier that morning (pre late night bus drop-off) we were climbing up a very steep road to cross the Velo Ucka pass which took us from the peninsula of Istria to the rest of Croatia, which stretches a long way south into the Adriatic Sea. From Piran to Roc, the peninsula has been a mixture of rolling hills, olives and vineyards and green green valleys. After climbing for a few hours (the steepest of the trip to date!) we reached the top and donned warm gloves, hat and jackets for the descent (standard ‘going down’ clothes!) 

About one kilometer down, I stopped to check out the view, thinking Andy would see me and also stop….not so!! I turned round to see him racing past, full of concentration and not even slowing down. The race was on!! With Andy thinking I was ahead of him, and me behind desperately trying to catch him (not possible), I was hoping and praying he would stop for a photo, or to check the map, otherwise I was freaking out he’d keep biking all the way south!! Flip, he’s pretty fast that boy!
A LONG way down, he did stop and was surprised to see him frantically roll up behind him, excitedly explaining my plight and how hard he is to catch! Phew. Thought I’d lost him forever…

Looking up towards Velo Ucka Pass

Shelter from the Storm… (Miri)

On the road, one can’t be too picky about where your shelter comes from. We have experienced and heard of bridges, trees, underpasses, toilets and supermarkets all being used to save the weary cyclist from the extremities of the elements. This story, while being much more urban and civilised, is still pretty different from our normal life choices in NZ. As we rolled into the town of Rejika on the front of a good storm we bee-lined it for the centre of town where there is usually a mixture of cafes, or tourist info centres.

This day, our saviour was the familiar golden arches of McDonalds, calling to us from across the square. The golden glow emanating from the inside and the promise of a warm hot chocolate was too much to bike past! So, dripping wet, we settled ourselves in at one of their outdoor tables (we were soaked) and waited out the storm under one of their flimsy tent umbrellas. It is amazing how slowly you can make a hot chocolate go down, how sneakily you can eat lunch when you need to and how many jobs you can get down on the free wifi when the opportunities present themselves!

Central Rejika just down from the Golden Arches

Snakes and Land Mines  (Andy)

It's 4:30pm in the afternoon and we are on the scout for a place to tent, when suddenly signs with red crossbones start appearing at regular intervals on the roadside where we are looking. On closer inspection we realise that they are warnings for landmines. Biking further, we come across a farm house and bang on the gate, shouting out a cheery Dober Dan! (Hello). A lady in her late fifty's appears, and we try and mime, draw and explain that we would like to sleep in a tent there the night. She eventually, possibly understands and then explains in Croatian (no English) that this would not be good, as there are snakes. Finding a spot to tent has become almost like a regular artform! However, between landmines and snakes tonight was proving much more difficult than usual!

The generous shepherd... (Miri)

The Goat Herdsman and his flock of 8 goats across from out tent site
Once settled in a safe spot, just outside the town of Budak, we were just sitting down to our dinner (CousCous/Vege/Tuna one-pot Curry Extravaganza) when we noticed a local man wandering up the gravel road towards us.  He was following his small herd of goats as they browsed the roadside vegetation.  
Despite no English, he was very friendly and it was a great reminder of how little you actually need words sometimes.  We learnt:
  • There was a well for drinking water 300m in one direction, 
  • That the inland road has rolling hills but the coastal road is flat, 
  • That 8 goats is enough for one man, 
  • “no, thanks” to our offers of water and chocolate (only wine and beer please), 
  • That 8L of goats milk makes 1 block of cheese ...and other various bit of information. 
It was a nice yarn and off he went (when we realised the goats had vanished!!). We got ready for bed and were in the tent just after sunset. Next minute we heard a car arrive and a gruff “Hello…”. Andy jumped out of the tent, not to a policeman, or landowner, but to our shepherd man who had returned to give us a bottle of milk and half a round of cheese!! LEGEND!!! Such a treat and we felt super blessed to have been shown unexpected kindness yet again.

Fresh goats milk and cheese

War and Peace (Andy)

I had heard of Kosovo, but didn't realise that here in Croatia, a place known for it's holidaying beaches, had also experienced a lot of pain, bloodshed and all very, very recently.  The warnings of landmines, other remnants of war and stories heard has brought this "in front of our faces".  Wikipedia suggests that in Croatian's war for Independence between April 1990 and 1998 some 500,000 Croats and Serbs were displaced from areas with various segments of ethnic cleansing. Over 10,000 Civilians and Soldiers were killed.

War sucks! It is both really sad and also really eye opening riding through many towns and cities that we have read about in terms of the number of shells that rained down on them, battles fought or people displaced from these areas, as little as 15 years ago. We are about to head towards Dubrovnic, a city that was heavily shelled, with both the new and UNESCO old city suffering a lot of damage during a seven month long siege in 1991. 

We hear stories from some too about remaining (less open, but very present) discrimination depending on your family background in various parts of the former Yugoslavia.  While illegal to ask your ethnicity or religion, this information derived from what your family name is, or village of origin may significantly influence whether you get a chance at a certain job.  

There's an interesting summary of general events on Lonely Planet at: for those interested....

Courtesy Wikipedia:  Dubrovnik during the siege

Abandoned building en route to Split
Here's a few pics from this segment of the journey ....

Enjoy and hope you are doing well!

Andy and Miri


Cycling with Yoann through northern Italy.  After 1 and 1/2 months of not seeing any other cycle tourists in Europe we seem to have hit the main trails along the coast!  We have been super privileged to have met, rode or stayed with at least four different parties in the 3 days since Venice.  They have had some inspirational stories to tell and it's been a pleasure to compare notes with them!
Ferry from island Lido near Venice to continue biking along the coast
Beaches near Venice preparing for summer:  Tractor sand grooming and umbrella installation for kilometers in front of the hotels

It's a wonder anyone can see the beach here in Summer!
Fishing nets drying in the coastal rivers
Hitting the Coast en route to Trieste
A great Italian dinner:  some awesome cheese, Salami, Bread, Spaghetti with Parmesan and a little wine.
Our final Italian Pizza before entering Slovenia:  A Margaritta with Baffello Mozzeralo in Trieste (thanks Tony!)
A freezing coastal ride leaving Trieste
Border crossings:  Our day in Slovenija
Gazing back at the Alps we'd crossed from Piran on the Istria Peninsula
Piran (Slovenija) - A cool small fishing village on the Istria Peninsula
Piran .... Ahhhhh
Roc:  An example of one of the many ancient walled villages regularly placed on the hill tops inland in the Istria Peninsula (Croatia)
Boj:  Hilltop towns (Croatia)
The green interior:  Istria (known for it's truffles growing amongst the oaks)
Green Istria
Plitvica Lakes (Inland Croatia) - Spot the umbrella brigade back right
Part of the Plitvicka Lakes from above
Castle ruins while climbing up from Obrovac

The view towards Sibenik

Sibenik, Croatia

The interspersed olives and vineyard groves adjoining the Mediterranean

A night spent in an abandoned apartment left open to Cycle Tourists near Split with these two epic adventurers travelling from Spain to China

The UNESCO world heritage Palace in the old city of Split

The old city of Split

Tis the season for vibrant red poppies, reminding us of ANZAC day back home

The view towards Trogir and the distant Split along the Dalmatian Coast

SUPPLEMENTARY SECTION: THE DESCENT AWARDS ***** Reader alert - probably meaningless to anyone who hasn't biked these roads *****

Most Deserved Descent:  Vela Ucka Pass to Rejika (Croatia)

Fresh from a particularly grunty ascent of Vela Ucka in Croatia, we'd like to take this opportunity to dish out a few awards to our memorable descents to date.  The descents are made all the more sweet (with some exceptions of the miserable ones) by the effort and enormous sense of satisfaction of reaching the top.  So without further ado:
  • Most Fun descent: Fern Pass to Nassareith (Austria)
  • Most leisurely descent: Brenner Pass to Brixen - 50km of old railway turned cycle path (Italy)
  • Most scenic: Gerdena Joch Pass to La Villa (Dolomites, Italy) - AWESOME!!
  • Coldest: Valparo Pass to Cortina d'Ampezzo (Dolomites, Italy) - ALMOST SNOWING
  • Most unexpected: Between Buje and Buzet (Croatia)
  • Most deserved: Vela Ucka Pass to Rijeka (Croatia)


  1. SWEEPSTAKE COMPETITION: We have cycled 2700kms so far, we've been going 2 months exactly....Reply with your guess of our final kilometer count after 7 months cycling and the closest person can look forward to a postcard!! (and maybe a chocy bar...) from Nepal - woop woop!

  2. Oh wow this is awesome! Makes me want to get back on the road asap! I missed out on south eastern Europe...abandoned buildings make great quiet and sometimes creepy shelters huh

  3. Hi guys. I have just caught up on your trip from getting to The Netherlands onwards. What a fantastic trip. Cycling certainly is the way to get involved in real life not just tourist cities and attractions like we did all those decades ago. I look forward to the next episode. Marg Bartlett