Cycling in Sydney Australia
<story goes on forever and has way too much detail\>
Croatia is a very green natural place with a lot of history. Due to 2 sisters visiting, there was no space in the car. I had 4 days to get there.
Panic took me the day before. I wish you could bottle that feeling so you could open the bottle a week ahead of time, when there was plenty of time to plan, instead of surfing the internet. The route had seemed simple, but now zooming in, each town is a morass of turns, including streets with no names. At work, realising it's getting late, a bus rolls past, so I run for it. There's no time to check for hotels etc for the trip.
Sitting on the bus, I'm reminded of my favourite travel quote, whatever you need will come to you. At home, asking for some tape, the only roll of tape we have is packing tape, which is perfect. The next day though, my pedal spanner is confiscated at the airport. Apparently a 15cm spanner is considered a weapon.
The inflight magazine has a story on shepherds, who don't trek in the Atlas mountains anymore, due to the loss of pastures, due to global warming. There's an ad for the new Jaguar. This fat cat drinks 17 litres / 100km. Mmmm.
Venice comes into view, and looks like it did on Google maps, alrighty. I watch the luggage boys on each end of the bike box give it a 1-2-3-thump onto their cart. A truck with blue skies painted on it fills the aircraft with fossil fuel.
I'm absolutely itching to go, but need to find oversize baggage, and assemble the beast. Where to assemble the bike? In France, the rule is do first, ask later, in Italy more so. The box is dumped next to a recycling bin in the terminal, and then it's time to get out quick, and see if the roads are chockers with semis or what.
My fears subside a bit on seeing two friendlies locked up to a barrier. The road out of the airport is cruisy. Even a bakery on the way even has a bike rack outside. Next time I go to Italy I won't be worrying about the cars and roads.
The part of Venice I see is my idea of Amsterdam. There are pathways, racks and bikes everywhere. The Italians are doing amazing things; dead end streets, one way streets, pedestrian plazas, all make it just heaven. But they don't seem to have the great reputation to match.
The guy in the bike shop here shows me the spot for an allen key on the pedals, easy! At the train station, there's 4 minutes till the next one. I clop like mad on slippery cleats. But, the guard gives me a stream in the second language for today, like 'interditto' and 'regionale', then shuts the door in my face. I clop back down in defeat, to queue up, and swap my ticket for the regionale in 2 hours time.
It's a good chance to ride around, and soak it up. Clusters of bikes roll past every few seconds. All the oldies have seriously old bikes. It's like the bikes are waiting in the garage, ready for when the bike paths roll out. Build it and out they come.
Waiting for the train, I meet 3 other riders, who speak Italian. We ride like mad down the platform. Tip for travellers; the bike hooks are right at the back of the train.
The train gets to Trieste, a beautiful city on the sea. Large squares, all pedestrianised are linked by pedestrian malls, the width of Pitt St, so it's easy to get around. The road out goes up, then it goes up, followed by up. Walking in plastic bottomed cleats once again sucks.
The Slovenian border is now just a sign and an empty booth. Slovenia here is mountains of magically thick horror movie forest. Everyone is off to fish, ride motorbikes or hunt it seems. Highway 7 is the only road through here. The Croatian drivers go too fast and too close. Klanatrans semis give me no space at all, while the Rijeka trucks kindly go into the other lane.
Crossing the Croat border takes forever, and finally we're in our 4th national language for today. The road goes down, down and down. The sign says 23km to Rijeka, then 21km, and eventually 6km, then 8km. Asking for directions, some couple has no idea, but they say I'm in Rijeka.
After a little Katoomba, there are Stalinist apartment blocks with strange patches, and a hospital with all the external blinds drooping or missing, then a large shipyard with a hero worker statue, dated 1965 in front. The gleaming metal of the statue contrasts with the surrounding appartment blocks. The train station is handsomely beautiful, surrounded by monster industrial structures. Awesome!
While rubber necking and hitting a car mirror on the road, the bike stops, and down I go in lane 1 of the main road, still clipped in. I panic, but noone runs me over.
Rijeka is a Slavic Trieste - large squares, and perfectly preserved handsome European buildings. Tourists drink, eat and wander around. It's great to be out of the Euro zone, and in the monopoly money zone. The ATM cheerfully spits out 2000 of them. Dinner is awesome.
Brekky's included, snags, bacon, cereal. The hotel man says the way goes way up from our current sea level, past a ski resort called Platak. Today I'm on b-road 3 towards Karlovac. There are some cool Soviet factories, European houses, and a cluster of apartment towers high on a hill near the freeway. Everyone says "Jutro", especially the other 1 or 2 riders on the way. The road is quiet enough. You can smell the pines. Stopping is necessary every hour, as my arse is killing me. Damn this bike. Coming to a stop going uphill, I manage to fall again, and wallow around on the highway, still clipped in.
Lokve is a magic little village packed onto a hill, with the church tower a bit higher than the rest. There are cafes all around Delnice. None of these serve food. All are full of people. I guess they're busy getting ready to slow down for lunch. At the only hotel, which serves food, the lightest thing on the menu is turkey stuffed with chestnuts and smothered in a cream sauce with gnocchi. I'm going to have a sore stomach and a sore arse. On the 50 note is Ivan Gundillic, a local Mozart, probably the forefather to today's Eurovision grade Croatio rock music, that can be heard everywhere.
The arvo ride is pretty damn good. The road is like the Bell's line of road, winding left and right, long gentle ups and downs. Clusters and clusters of mountains. Neat ranges of horror movie pines and war documentary trees. Often the road is fully shadowed by the trees.
Before you know it, here's Karlovac. Time to get onto the footpath before being run over. Not for long - there are suddenly bikes everywhere again. Stalinist residential towers abound. All of them have nice lawns and trees between them, some with kids play equipment. All they need is some paint, and maybe fill in the bullet holes.
The inner city is in the shape of a star, with a green belt, in that shape. The people are nice and show the way to the centar. It is fully pedestrianised, except for bikes. Dinner is in a parking space on a wooden platform with seating. Cycles pass every few minutes. Couples with a kid on the back, a boyfriend with his girl on the top tube, young kids, and heaps of oldies looking fabulous and graceful. Commie towers are not depressing when everyone gets out and has a nice time. Most of the bike path network is simply painted lines, and that works fine here. The other streets are good to ride too. This town has the skinniest people in the land. Hats off to you Karlovac. You are a noble workers paradise and 10 kuna beers are the best.
To pronounce Karlovac, that's Karl with a growling R, o like OR, then vac is vutts like nuts. I have some bad tourer's legs this morning, so today might be slow.
Starting out, the road is super flat. Getting to Sisak should be a breeze. The sign to Sisak is not obvious where to turn, so I ask a local, saying Sisak, pointing to the sign for Sisak. He looks confused, and I try with Sisuck, and then he says "ahh, seeee suck".
The flat road makes going quick. I had thought it was 60k so expected to be there by 12. The road starts to roll a bit. I photograph a chicken, next to a well, a shed and immaculate lawn. Out comes the owner to say hello, Stjepan who used to be a soldier in Belgrade. I've got no idea what else he said, but he seemed like a nice old guy.
About 1/2 an hour or an hour after I hope to be in Sisak, I stop for a drink, and to ask for directions. I've stuffed it. I'm in Bovic. I'm now actually 63km out of Sisak, and have spent the last hour odd winding around the wrong way. Looking on Google now, I'm really not sure how I should have gone. I really was following the signs to Sisak, and as per usual in Croatia, there were none.
Sitting there having a drink with some guy called Dubravko(?), I'm gutted to think I've wasted a lot of effort going the wrong way, and coming up with a different route across the country. He spends 20 mins waving his arms and saying something in German.
Being in Glina for lunch at 2 in the afternoon is bad news. I lost about 30k's, am off target and late. Dubravko laughed at me when I said I was going to Novska, and mocked me with a bike motion. Dwelling on it, I'm keen to prove him wrong.
The other villages look like pretty gold rush towns, houses close to the road, which gently curves through. Often the houses are made from plain dark wood. Many homes have been wrecked, not sure by which side. Vlahovic has more than most, including one that looks to be only 5-10 years old, with fresh paint, glass brick sections, a few major holes, brick sections smashed in, and half the roof down.
Coming to a t intersection, there are no signs. I ask a driver who's map is worse than mine. I find him again, in someone's front yard getting directions. They are curious as to where I'm from, where I've come from and where I'm going. I mention Slavonski Brod, and they all give a satisfying collective whoa. I love that, and it's more incentive to get to Novska. I can see now, I never had a hope though.
The song we've got tonight, who needs tomorrow, is cheerfully in my head for the next 10k's. After Jabukovac, there's a sign for Petrinja. Oh f***, ***, ****!!! That's close to Sisak. Have I been going in circles all day?? The guys at the pub send me 5ks back to Jabukovac. The shop owner sends me back 5km past the guys in the pub again. It's another 15km wasted. It's dawning on me that this place is winning, and I'm being conquered.
20km further on, there is a series of punishing 10% inclines. I pride myself on going all day, but after 10 hours in the saddle, these hills have me walking. My legs are giving out, and my arse is killing me. The slippery cleats once again suck. With the mistakes of today, I feel like I've let myself down, and the horrible thought of the missus picking me up in the car is making the whole ride feel pointless.
After this, the touring gods smile with a flat road. I have a horrifying feeling that I've overshot it, but a man tells me that Hrvatska Kostajnica is not far on.
Coming into town is a magical reward, and makes the day worthwhile. The approach is very high and looks across the river to Bosnia. A large minaret is a strange to see on the Republica Serbska side of the river. It's hopefully a good sign. In town, the place is shot up a bit, and obviously one of the towns badly affected.
I say my standard 'do you have a room' in Croation for a laugh, but the guy answers in Croatian. Oh well. We work it out. The hotel is an amazing European period masterpiece in the shape of a wedge, fitting the roads.
The small pizza for dinner is huge. It is not possible to lose weight here, even if you cycle for 12 hours.
Am keen to make up ground, so I skip the free brekky and am riding by 6.30. There is a cluster of burned out homes, and another further on still has upended furniture, one bureau with all the drawers opened, looted I suppose. Breakfast is another 40km on in Jasenovac. Outside in a large field is the memorial of the concentration camp, which is a big steel flower and a little train parked nearby.
The next town is Novska, and as per normal, there's a sign with Novska something to the left, and Novska something to the right, which is better than no sign. I pick the wrong way of course, but ask for help not long after.
It's plain sailing from here, with frequent stops for ice cream or chocolate. The next 100k all the way is one village after another.
One village (Smrtic or Medari) has the top of the church still missing, the rest damaged, and every single home in the rest of the town shot up. Outside there is an EU sign stating the "right of return", so I guess this is a Serb village. There is a handful of people, seemingly excited by a simple hello as I roll past. Lord knows their story and I don't know how to ask it. Maybe just as well.
Rain comes after the heavy humidity, and the gilet I bought in Venice is exactly what's needed. Slavonski Brod finally arrives. After texting the missus, she turns up about 2 hours later, after eventually checking her phone. Whatever you need will come to you, eventually.