Viewing entries tagged
slovenia

It's Not All Good

2 Comments

It's Not All Good

I’ve been quiet lately so here’s a bit of a recap post. I’ve continued to meet many awesome and inspiring people in Slovenia and Croatia, of whom I could’ve written several posts. But I really dislike interrupting conversations and meetings by taking out the camera. It usually makes everyone uncomfortable and disrupts the entire flow of the meeting. So I haven’t really been taking photos lately.

Also the nature hasn’t been quite so inspiring. The beautiful and perfectly clear Sava river turned into dark slimy mud somewhere after Ljubljana, after which it wasn’t even okay for swimming in. “We used to swim there as kids, but now…” is a phrase I heard many times. In Croatia there have been some nice places, but the world famous Plitvice lakes were just a huge expensive tourist trap. (Mass tourism is a topic I’ve been thinking about every day recently, and I’ll probably talk more about that later.) I took zero photos while there. And I don’t like to make blog posts with only text.

The Sava river back near Bled where it was still clean. Before “the incident”.

In addition to that, I was battling 30 degree weather with humidity, which really makes it hard to concentrate on anything. Heat dulls the mind and dries up any creativity. Whenever I ducked under some trees for a rest in the shade, I was chased back onto the road by vicious tiger mosquitoes.

The trip has felt a little too routine lately, which is worrying. After all, routine is what I was originally trying to get away from, in search of adventure and excitement. But after 15 months on the road, touring can sometimes feel even mundane. Wake up, breakfast, pack up, cycle, find food and water, take breaks, locate a campsite, sleep. Instead of adventure, it’s just my regular life, the normal way of things. I still enjoy many aspects of traveling, but enthusiasm for cycling itself has been lost recently.

Waiting for the ferry to leave in Zadar.

So what to do? Firstly, a change of scenery. I returned to the seashore for the first time since Italy. Outside the Croatian city of Zadar, I boarded a ferry to the island Dugi Otok, and camped on a small beach on the northernmost corner, based on a tip I’d received from a Decathlon employee. It turned out to be a nudist beach. To me nudism is a lot like dancing: I don’t mind other people doing it, but I really prefer to be an outside observer at the most. I tried to shoot a few sunset photos without cocks and balls wandering into the frame.

Okay, so there were only a couple naked people at this part of the tourist season, but still.

Darkness arrived, and brought with it a number of rats. They were highly interested in my campsite. I had to hang my food pannier between two trees, after they tried to gnaw through the fabric. My sleep was interrupted many times by them rustling the leaves around me, and even climbing up the inner mosquito net to the top of my tent. Rats climbing right above your head is too disgusting and disorienting to just easily fall back asleep. At least sometimes there was a satisfying thumping sound of them falling off the clothesline that I tied my food supply from.

In the morning I surveyed the damage. One Ortlieb bag had gotten a small hole from the initial attack, and the tent’s mesh had been chewed through in a couple places. Nothing major, but annoying nevertheless.

Lake Fusine back in Italy. Because I’m low on usable photos.

I packed up and continued towards the nearest grocery store. In a tiny residential area I saw a small cat, still a kitten really, rolling on the road ahead in the sunshine. Except it wasn’t rolling, but twitching in a weird way. To my horror, I realised it had been hit by a car and was dying. Fuck. I caught the attention of a woman on her porch. She explained it was one of the numerous strays of the area. No, there were no vets. There wasn’t even a human doctor on the whole island. But it wouldn’t have mattered, there was clearly no hope for the poor thing. So there was only one option.

Now, let me just explain how much I like cats. Because it’s a lot. As an example, there was one occasion in Corsica where we were staying at someone’s home, and their beautiful long-haired kitty sat on my lap and purred so cutely that my eyes actually teared up quite a bit. Look, the cat was soft and cuddly and I’m an emotional guy, alright? Anyway, to say that I like cats would be an understatement. Of course I still agree dogs are clearly better people, but cats will always have a soft spot in my heart.

Having to kill a kitten was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do, even though it would’ve been cruel to let it suffer. I spent the rest of the day drinking red wine and crying.

So yeah. As great as the bike trip is overall, it’s not all good. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes disgusting, and occasionally it’s downright awful.

There’s a storm brewin’.

2 Comments

The Many Faces of Slovenia

4 Comments

The Many Faces of Slovenia

Slovenia is a country of green hills, thick forests, rugged mountains, emerald rivers and turquoise lakes. I spent a week in Triglav, the country’s only national park. All of Triglav was an extra detour off my route towards Bled, so I did plenty of hitchhiking when faced with long ascents. (It’s not cheating if it’s a bonus detour!) Otherwise I doubt I would’ve bothered to climb to 1600m three times and 2000m once, in +30C August weather.

I expected Triglav's wild nature to be the focus of this update. The nature and landscapes were indeed beautiful, but the people I met there left even more of an impression. The young easy-going Dutch couple on their first day of a van trip who gave me a ride up the mountain, the camping ground owner who let me shower for free, and an unkempt local guy tending to a traditional coal-making fire pit for two months:

“9000 kilometres? Do you want a beer?” Besides those two questions he wasn’t much of a conversationalist, despite looking like he’d already had a dozen of those beers himself by 11am. Tending to a fire that lasts all summer must be a boring job.

This random small waterfall on the way to a much bigger waterfall turned out to be more photogenic.

To provide some change in his life, I let him tend to my bike instead while hiking to a nearby waterfall. I met a lovely lady out with her granddaughter, then hitchhiked back up the mountain with the help of two American pastors. The word “spreadsheet” was mentioned so often in their conversation that I figured it must be one of the most important aspects about running a church.

While looking for a suitable tent spot on the banks of the Soča river, I ran into a cute Czech cyclist called Anna with similar plans. (Also looking for a place to camp, that is - not plans to start a church.) By coincidence I had already met her briefly a week or two earlier in Austria, on her way to Italy. This time she was bound for home. I was in need of company, and it felt great to share a campsite with someone. We were out talking long after the stars came out. In the morning we went our separate ways, which is usually the sad reality of meeting other bicycle tourers. They’re always going in the other direction.

Another beautiful morning by the many rivers of Slovenia.

I needed two car rides to get up to Mangart, the highest road in Slovenia at above 2000m. First a young guy who already had another two hitchhikers with him stopped, and we just about managed to fit everything in the car by removing the front wheel and using a bit of force. Then the rest of the way was offered by a nice Austrian family with enough space in the van for several touring bicycles.

Mangart happened to be one of the checkpoints for the crazy Transcontinental Bike Race. About 300 cyclists racing to cross Europe self-supported. Some told me they were braving the challenge with so little sleep that they even hallucinated on their bikes. The race had started from Belgium on the previous Sunday. I received laughs when I said I had also come through Belgium… in November. Despite the exhaustion, the racers seemed to exude joy and life.

Sunset at Mangart.

On Mangart I realised I was starting conversations with strangers like they were already friends. This is really a huge deal for someone as previously introverted as me. Even if this were the only skill I learn from a year’s cycling, it would all be worth it.

I suggested a sunset-watching spot to another happy Dutch couple, and was rewarded by a bag of delicious liquorice candy (salmiakki), which I didn’t know existed outside Finland. In the night Jiri, a tired Czech racer arrived up the mountain and we chatted in the light of our headlamps before finding places to sleep. I saw him again in the morning, but by that time I wasn’t quite as social and talkative anymore. No amount of cycling is going to cure my morning grumpiness.

The view towards Lake Fusine and Austria from Mangart at night,

The ride down the mountain destroyed what was left of my brakes. The screws to change the pads were busted, so I needed to open the brakes to access the pads. I ran around Bovec asking people and in random shops for tools. I saw Marc, a German bicycle tourer having a snack by the side of the street. He also didn’t have a T30 Torx tool, but what he did have was decades of biking experience and a calming presence.

He didn’t use smart phones, because he preferred to live fully in the moment. And even though I agree completely that people’s need to constantly stave off the slightest suggestion of boredom by seeking for distraction on the phone is a terrible habit, I still do it myself. Honestly, I spend too much time looking at screens, even during the bike trip. Perhaps I need to learn to put the devices away more often and just.. be.

Some friendly laundromat workers offered me tools, a shelter in a garage from a deafening thunderstorm while I worked, a band-aid to fix the finger I damaged in the process, and finally a cup of coffee and conversation before I continued out of town.

These footbridges over the turquoise water were fun to cross.

Two nice Belgian hikers hadn’t been as lucky with shelter. They crossed a footbridge over the river in wet clothes as I was cooking dinner. Being outside for a lightning storm like that must’ve been scary. We had a brief chat, and later I got a surprise message from them via my website. They had gotten curious about my 5-year plans and had found my blog without me even mentioning it.

Next day on my way out of the national park, I had a tough time in the heat trying to hitchhike up the same mountain for the third time. But once again good people came to the rescue. First I took a break to talk with Darren from UK, driving with three teenagers to their holidays with a huge caravan. He seemed to consider changing his direction just to give me a ride, but the car would’ve been dangerously big for the steep and narrow hairpins of Vršič Pass.

With lifted spirits I tried to hitchhike again, but still no success. Eventually I resigned and started heading back to take a completely different road around the mountain instead. Until I came across a French couple with a toddler on a month-long van trip from Montpellier. They were on their way up and were happy to take me there. Remy and Flora seemed to be good parents, letting the baby play in the (very shallow) river without being overprotective.

Foggy river Soca.

The people I’ve met along my journey have been pretty amazing overall, but the first days in Slovenia were exceptionally friendly and social. (The above was not even close to everyone I met or spoke to during this time, but this blog might be the longest one yet, as it is.) This kind of thing will probably only increase as I had head closer to the friendly and hospitable lands of the Middle East. It made me realise how very wrong my attitude was in the Dolomites. Solitude can be nice, but when it’s unavailable, I should just talk to people and make friends instead of complaining.

Of course, I won’t just stop being an introvert entirely. And after all this, I chose to spend three days camping by the Sava river, enjoying some quiet time for a change.

Sunset before arriving in Slovenia.

4 Comments