Category — Slovenia
today’s distance: 126km
total distance: 1569km
riding time: 6-7h
The day started well enough - Marko’s father was kind enough to fix breakfast and we had a great time again. My bags were also stuffed with delicious cakes and cookies and pastries which Marko’s mother had made. Absolutely gorgeous stuff … the good kind of calories.
Then it was time to head out and just as I was about to pedal out, the rain started coming down. Whatever I thought and an hour and a few hills later, I was wet. Or so I thought, as it was going to get a lot worse. Marko had given me a nice quiet route, which I deviated slightly from and had my first go at offroad biking with the full load. All went well - the liquid sun doing ist magic as well. I arrived at the border thinking that this would be close to the top of the climb. Marko had called ahead (he works as a borderguard) and the guard went: “You want a stamp in your passport!” I was a bit puzzled, said yes and then he mentioned Marko calling. Funnily enough, he did not know what lay ahead. Said he’d never been there. This is what the external EU border looked like. No man’s land. Serious no man’s land. I happened upon the container in which the Croatian border guards were busy drinking coffee and shaking their heads about the biker coming through in the pouring rain. Next stamp in the passport. Thought I was at the top, but it was infuriating. Whenever it flattened out and looked like it would god down, it went up again and again. The rain which had been alright before was coming down in sheets now. This was on the uphill. On the downhill pinpricks started hitting my face. The only good thing was the temperature - which was a mild 11C. Not bad. Eventually my shoes gave in - despite booties the right one went first followed by the second one. I felt a bit desolate. It was raining, the first two places had only been ghost towns (small wonder as this is border land now, didn’t use to be that way).
Hardly a car passed. It was only when I hit the main road to Rijeka that things became a bit more lively. I had finally managed to drop some altitude - the high point was about 800m. Riding down into Rijeka was a welcome relief, the weather cleared up a bit and at least the rain stopped. Met Tim, a Californian who had biked with a broken rear rack from Athens to Rijeka. Nice guy and good fun to talk to.
Then I visited the Rijeka computer museum. First I dumped the water from my shoes though - it was sort of a glass full in each. Yikes!!! My real mission had been to find a computer to check some stuff out on the web, but this was amazing. Computers from the last 30 years and with Sveto as a great and enthusiastic guide, Peek and Poke was definitely worth a visit. Check them out when you get a chance. It just so happend that there was a reporter there when I lounged around drinking tea and from the souns of it, I will be appearing in a Croatian newspaper tomorrow. Wooohooo …
Heading out of Rijeka, I wanted to cover some more mileage getting further down the coast. Suffered my first failure as my bike computer gave up. Seems like some of the wiring has come undone and for the time being I will have to guess distances and speeds. It was lots of ups and downs over the next 40km to Crikvenice and it seemed like an eternity. Not sure whether I could make it I had looked for good places to camp, but the road is hanging on the cliffs and there wasn’t much space to go for. It was seriously getting dark when I arrived and it started pouring again. I opted for a hotel instead, one or two being open right now. Finished the day off with a big plate of Cevapcici and fries. Can’t beat this after a long day of work and not much to eat.
April 10, 2008 4 Comments
today’s distance: 0km
total distance: 1440km
The day was a day of rest. I needed it - my body had called for it. The last two days had been slow (though with some good climbing of some 1000m two days before), but still, I’ve been covering a good amount of distance since I took off. I wanted to update the website and bring things up to speed only to discover that the site had gone down.
Plus, I wasn’t all lazy today. There are good news since I now - after traveling to Ljubljana by train - have my work contract for an academic position at the University of Miami in my hands. My parents had sent it to Miha - a former grad student at the University of Heidelberg. He was kind enough to bring the contract to Ljubljana from his home town. I owe him a big thank you for this - my attempt at making up part of it was thwarted as he was not going to let me pay for good cakes and tea we consumed. But Miha, thank you very much - you do know that you have a standing invitation to Miami for as long as I will be there.
I headed back to Sezana in the overheated trains (as Gandalf had pointed out a day before) doing some planning for the upcoming days. Another word of thanks is due to Marko and his parents - they have been great. The food his mother prepared was hitting the spot every time. Thank you for letting me hunker down for a day of much-needed rest!!!
The lone picture for today:
April 9, 2008 2 Comments
today’s distance: 59km
total distance: 1443km
riding time: 3-4h
The day started off badly - rain pouring down all over. Not much visibility, so for the first few hours I just hunkered down and took care of some unfinished business on the website and other miscellaneous issues. Taking off the rain was coming down quite a bit - not the hard, big drops, but still a good amount of water hitting me. The wind was more or less in my back, letting me make some good progress at least despite the nasty watery surroundings. Temperatures were low - hovering at just above freezing for most of the day.
After taking a wrong turn and doing some backpedaling (wonderful Slovenian cake was a major plus though), I arrived at the Skocjan caves - an astonishing maze of caves and crevices. The place is simply amazing and awe-inspiring.
The river has created an enormous cavern - and the atmosphere is eerie. Arriving at the gate, I was floored by what turned out to be six Italian school classes, but Borud, the guide made the whole experience all that much better, explaining little things here and there for me. He’s a gentle person and gave me good insights not only into the caves and its inhabitants (i.e. bats), but also more generally about his life and family.
We finished the conversation over coffee in the adjacent restaurant before I packed my bags and headed to meet Marko in Sezana, about 15km away. It was bucketing down when I arrived - the local pharmacist didn’t know the street name, but she let me make a phone call and soon enough Marko turned up and I followed him to his house. He’s a major cyclist himself - having covered Mongolia, Tunisia and South America by two wheels and is planning another trip at the end of the year to Great Lakes region of Africa - and is kind enough to let me spend my rest day at his place. Thanks a bunch Marko. We had dinner over really good rucola-carpaccio-parmesan pizza - and I got to watch some amazing movies Marko made from his previous trips.
April 8, 2008 No Comments
today’s distance: 51km
total distance: 1384km
riding time: 3h
Heading out of Ajdovscina, I stopped briefly at B52 - with Tea being there since 6 am. I was off into a pretty ferocious headwind, but knowing that the day would be short, I wasn’t overly concerned for time. Battling the wind and traffic, I finally headed away from the main drag and into a small valley. Needless to say I took the wrong road, with a big dog coming right at me. Arghhhhhh … turned out he was a friendly guy after all. The lady directed me into the right place and eventually the road turned into a steep climb to join the main road. A whopping 22% for a good time - not really funny I should say. It was hard work.
Tea had told me that it would be going uphill, but I wasn’t quite expecting the big climbs. It was all good though in the end and I eventually turned off towards Predjama and its castle. The initial castle was only a wall covering the caves and eventually it was enlarged to this magnificence.
The town has a special meaning … after graduating, Ulrich and I toured this part of Slovenia. We had arrived in this town with a great castle, sleeping under the steeple of the little chapel.
More importantly however, we had been helped by an already old couple at the time (it was 1996) and I wasn’t quite sure whether I would be able to still meet them. Our burner back then hadn’t worked and it being cold, there wasn’t much we could have eaten. Our packaged soups were no good after all. We walked up and found an old couple and asked for some tools. There was really no common language, a bit of Italian on both sides. When fixing the stove didn’t work, the old lady took the packages and started fixing the soups on her stove, went to the garden, picked some cucumbers, made a salad and served the soups and the salad with some bread. Life was good again. They offered a place to stay, but we went back to the church steeple. At night, we wanted to show our appreciation and drop a couple of pasta mixes from our large vault of these items. Going up myself first, I failed miserably as the dog came after me right away. Ulrich, the fast runner that he was then (he’s even faster now, look, he just won the Freiburg Marathon by a big, big margin - congratulations!!! - there are more photos here) made it, dropped the soups and evaded the dogs.
Wandering up the sole street in the village I soon recognized the house on the left with a garden and a dog kennel on the right. Sure enough, there was a middle-aged lady around. I approached her and almost obviously, she spoke only Slovenian - with a bit of Italian. So, I started saying something about a friend of mine and I being here 12 years ago and meeting her parents. Once I mentioned that I was German, she eyed me a bit suspiciously, but as soon as I mentioned soups she was almost in tears. Her parents must have talked about it quite a bit before passing away. Sadly, her mother two years ago and her father seven months ago - it would have been great to meet up. So, I was asked inside - we had some tea and biscuits, I had to tell her what I do, what I am going to do after the trip and so forth. It was really amazing and certainly made my day …
Afterwards, I headed to Postojna, I met up with couchsurfing hosts Gandalf and Sara - two great guys. We took the long walking tour of what the Lonely Planet calls the unremarkable Postojna. Thanks to both for your hospitality!!!
Gandalf and Sara are an example of what new Europe (not the Rumsfeldian distinction - he was wrong I think) is about. He’s Swedish, she is from Slovenia, they met in Prague during their time with the European Volunteer Service, they now live in Slovenia where they are both students. We talked a lot about European identities and the difficulties in “creating” one - my two cents are that this process will take place regardless … open borders certainly are a major plus, but it certainly goes well beyond that.
April 7, 2008 No Comments
today’s distance: 116km
total distance: 1323km
riding time: 5.25h
The day started out pleasantly - the sun came up and dried my tent out somewhat from the moisture that was in the ground (it could do a bit better in that regard) and soon enough I was on the road towards Slovenia.
Beating the Italian police state by using a store owner’s internet connection, I was able to figure out my initial route in Slovenia. It was also the last flat sections before Slovenia showed its face with gorgeous mountains as a backdrop. Crossing the border was a no-brainer … there isn’t one to speak of. I tried to come up with some kind of stamp, but that was not to be - and rather unsurprising. Maybe an exit stamp when crossing into Croatia. Before entering Slovenia I met Petra (pronounced with a German R) and her parents - her mother being Slovenian, her father Italian. We had a good conversation about the trip and about the Slovenian minority in northeastern Italy. Already on the way in, signs had been posted bilingually - both in Italian and Slovenian. There was also a noticeable increase in Slavonic names on store fronts and houses.
They also told me about a race that had just finished on the Piazza della Transalpina and arriving there I was given pasta, drinks and some munchies for the way by Tamara. It was also the last easy border crossing as you can see.
Headed on to the largest stone bridge in the world, destroyed twice - rebuilt twice. Impressive structure.
I’m also pretty sure I know what this sign says …
On into Slovenia I went and the wind that was pushing me before started to turn against me quite a bit. All things considered it wasn’t bad though. Flying blindly because I was devoid of any guidebook and relied on a map only and without any planning I asked a biker whether there was a youth hostel around that he knew of. He pointed me to Ajdovscina. So I changed course and after crossing a few ridges finally arrived there. But there was no youth hostel to be had and I was about to give up after the first internet connection failed constantly … The idea was to move on a bit further and camp there as I was sure I would find a spot. I was then directed to a bar called B52 and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Tea (pronounce Te-A) is the owner of this place in the middle of Ajdovscina and she helped me in more ways than I could have hoped for. She made a good number of calls trying to find out whether there was anything close that would be good for me … she finally called a friend of hers who said that the communal grounds would be good and the city government would have no problem. Had that not worked out, she would have offered the couch in her bar, figuring that she had gone through the same problems as a traveler many times. Perfect spot the communal grounds, I must say. Protected from the wind and out of sight pretty much I set up camp and then returned to B52. Once there, Tea treated me to a Coke (it was her b-day the day before) and though I had eaten plenty I was given some pizza, potatoes and fried calamari. Thank you very much Tea for setting everything up!!! It was a perfect ending for a roughish day … with the rain coming down, I eventually fell asleep soundly.
April 6, 2008 No Comments