To say goodbye to Italy, we ate Pizza, had a Cappuccino and a Gelato each for dessert. Our route then led us along the Slovenian cost into Croatia. At the first Croatian campsite we were surprised with the price. We expected Croatia to be much cheaper than Switzerland and Italy, but we were wrong. It was by far the fanciest campsite we stayed at and that has its price. Now, after seeing some of the inland of Croatia, we are astonished by the contrasts this country showed us. The beating heart of Croatia’s culture has become much more prominent as we ventured inland. We both agreed that the moment we left the turquoise waters and fancy campsites and headed inland, we were truly exploring.
Originally we wanted to ride down the Croatian coast to Bosnia and Herzegovina and on to Montenegro. It is one of Europe’s more stunning coastlines. The water is crystal clear and changes it’s colour slowly from turquoise to deep blue. After riding along the gorgeous coast for a few days we both changed our minds. We changed our minds due to three main reasons: Hills, stupid ferries and traffic. In the next three paragraphs I will try to explain these three reasons.
The coastline of Croatia is very hilly. There are no big mountains like in the alps that you can conquer and then roll down with a sweet feeling of victory. On Croatia’s coastline you have more of an up-and-down-and-up-and-down-situation. With all the luggage we carry on our bikes we love flatness or just knowing that this massive mountain leads to a few days of downhill rolling. When the road is flat, we don’t notice the weight, but on the hills we feel every single gram. Whenever we are riding up a hill we talk about all the unimportant things we plan to send home. If Croatia’s post offices were situated at the beginning of steep climbs I am sure we would have sent home a package or two. Whenever we see a post office in a flat town the things we wanted to send home seem too valuable for the trip and we ride on.
The second reason we wanted to leave the coast is: There are big passenger ferries to the stunning and more flat islands of Croatia but most of them do not transport bicycles. In Pula we waited for a ferry for two days only to find out in the morning of the departure that they don’t allow bikes on board of the big ships. It did not say anything about this policy on their website. Matt was so annoyed with the ferries that we spent two hours in the sailing ship harbour of Pula trying to get on a private boat. It almost worked out to my surprise! Matt is a great travel partner, he is never too shy to ask for help or to start a chat with some locals. In the end the private sailing boats that agreed to give us a lift were all too small to fit two bikes, all our luggage and two more passengers. So we had to ride back along a hilly 65km in the heat to another port that lets bikes onto the ships.
The third reason why we left the seaside is: There is only one main road along the Croatian coast. As it is the only connection from the north to the south, there is a lot of traffic and little space for bike paths. Cars ride fast and do not leave much of a gap between us and their side mirrors. We had to be very concentrated when we were riding (so basically the whole day) which can be tiring.
Because of these three reasons, we headed to central Croatia and it turned out to be a great decision! Soon after we left the seaside the landscape became flat as a pancake. Also traffic slowed down and there were obviously no more ferries to refuse us. The further inland we went the less touristy it got. Buildings changed from shiny hotels to old brick and stone houses with small gardens. People are sitting in front their houses watching us rolling by, nodding, waving or giving us a friendly “Dobar dan” (good day). The last week we spent riding through farmer villages. Time seems to have stopped fifty years ago in some places. We were snacking on a bench in one of these old villages as Matt said to me: “Look around. If there were no cars you would never guess that we are in the year 2017 here.” True.
As we ventured east we were amazed at how obvious the signs of war were. We passed countless houses riddled with bullet holes and bombed churches. As we rode past an interesting monument in the outskirts of Jasenovac, we guessed from afar what the significance of such a structure could be. It wasn’t until we later googled the town did we discover that the monument was a memorial for the victims of the Jasenovac concentration camp during world war two. The finding of this, naturally sat quite heavy with us. Jasenovac camp was labelled the “Auschwitz of the Balkans” and the conditions and atrocities committed here have been described as some of the worst of all camps during world war two. It is difficult to comprehend the changes since then, given that we are freely exploring these lands and meeting the Croatian people that have endured so much.
To pass such poignant historical landmarks completely oblivious to the cause, makes us feel very naive, however we will continue to be curious and learn. The day to day nature of bike touring doesn’t allow us to research all of the towns we pass through beforehand, but that is what keeps travelling so interesting and magical, isn’t it? There are times we stumble upon beautiful old towns in full celebration and other times war memorials and ruined houses line the streets. We are now, and are growing more appreciative of our freedom we have to travel.
We enjoy travelling by bike a lot. If we were backpacking we would have probably taken a bus to Croatia’s main attractions on the coast and visited the gorgeous national parks. That would have been an awesome holiday but we love that we were able to explore these more hidden places of Croatia by bike. No bus or travel guide book would take you through those little villages and towns. Our failure at the coast line’s hills brought us here and we are glad it did.
Since we left my hometown in Switzerland almost one month has passed. To me that last month feels so much longer than a month at work does. There are countless impressions of this journey in my head already. It is now that we start to realise that this trip will be our life for the next few months. To say that we are happy about it is an understatement. Soon we will enter Bosnia and Herzegovina and then Serbia. We’ll keep you posted on our adventures.
Talk to you soon
Matt and Jasi