|07-11-2007, 03:05 PM||#1|
Joined: Oct 2005
1001 Dalmatian Miles: Bikes, Boats and Backroad Bordercrossings
But don't worry. This is going to be a bike ride report. At least most of it.
Like every year, Floodette and I were going to Croatia this summer to visit my father and his girlfriend on his boat and do a little sailing. To get a bit more out of it and to circumvent the stressful journey in a hot car, we tried a different approach this year: Take the bike and do the run down the coast in 3 days instead of one, get the bike on the ferry and explore the islands for a bit. No problem for me, but this was Doris' first big ride on the back of the bike. Nobody knew how it would work out.
To make things more interesting, we were on a new bike, untested so far for its passenger carrying ability.
Oh yes, and it's a 1984 Moto Guzzi Le Mans III, an italian sportsbike made to go like stink, to sound good and to generally make a very red appearance. Creature comfort wasn't very high on the constructor's to-do-list in Mandello del Lario.
To make things worse, work issues kept us from any kind of pre-ride testing, luggage optimising and route planning. Basically, we just loaded the bags with the few clothes that would fit in, filled the tankbag to its top the night before we left, slept a little and started the next morning, heading south from Vienna. Fill 'er up and off we go.
To get moving, we took the Autobahn to the border- we know that part of Austria pretty well and were anxious to get to the more unknown sites in Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. At the first rest stop, Doris said she loved it but the seat and the knee angle were giving her lots of pain. Pain is not good and doesn't comply with my vision of a nice holiday. So I left the 'bahn at Graz and told the GPS to route me to a big bike shop. We got a cruiser-size Airhawk seat pad and promptely installed it. As you might imagine, the well-being of my girlfriends butt is high on my priority list. And on hers.
As it turned out, the pad did its job. The higher seating position bettered the knee angle, the broad seat helped her hips and the air cushion generally lessened the impacts generated by some of the more adventurous roads, transferred only slightly dampened by the Guzzi's suspension.
After crossing into Slovenia, we left the Autobahn and headed to Celje. The plan was to follow the Sava river valley, but a navigation error got us on the wrong road. After 20 kilometers we decided to follow "those small roads" on the map that would cross the hills and get us to river Sava. This was the first of many times when I mis-judged the the accuracy of our 1:150000 map of Slovenia. Those nice, little "roads" between "villages" turned out to be tiny carriageways, often gravel roads, that more or less connected only a place of two larger farms. When we finally found a main road, it was under construction and mostly gravel. Awesome scenery and a good start to learn to ride the Guzzi with a lot of load on loose surfaces. Now the trip started to get interesting and we got the experiences we had lusted after. Doris took a few photos when the roads were "better".
After 415km I started to look for a place to crash and just followed the road signs to places of historical significance in the hope of finding a nice town. This tactic rewarded us by getting to the village of Kostanjevica na Krki, as the name implies on the peaceful, slow-moving river Krka. I'd like to buy a vowel, please!
Kostanjevica is situated on a man-made island, formed by a channel that cuts through a meander in the river. Not having access to a chopper, I need to steal a pic from the net to give you an impression:
Access to the city is by two old wooden bridges spanning the river. We relaxed in the shade of the willow trees next to bridges and cooled our feet in the water.
Caught this nice old KZ650 on the bridge
It was so idyllic, Doris jumped for joy
We found us a simple Hotel with parking around the corner. Everybody loves to see his bike from the room. Perfect!
The first day started out good. We managed to overcome the little problems we had, left the country and got treated with great scenery, great riding and great weather. Day two would lead us into the Croatian hinterland and down the coastal road, a route I haven't been taking since I was a kid.
|07-12-2007, 01:46 AM||#4|
Joined: Oct 2005
When planning the route for day two, we found out that the border to Croatia was right over the hills we could see in the distance. The large border cossings were a bit away from us, but the map showed a few small roads crossing the border just a few kms behind the town of Kostanjevica.
This was the second time I misjudged the scale of our map.
We went uphill and rode through peacuful little villages, surrounded by vineyards. Soon, the small roads turned to gravel
Time to consult the map again in the shade of one of the typical old barns.
I was unsure whether we should go on. These roads were small, in hilly and wooded country and the Le Mans was far from perfectly suited for this kind of terrain. I was afraid of a puncture. I asked Doris and she wanted to do it. I told her that she might have to get off and carry the tankbag if the terrain got worse and she was fine with that. So let's go!
Up and down through the hills, the roads were in pretty good condition. Only the steeper ascents, washed out by recent rains were a bit hairy and I felt my front wheel getting light a few times.
What we found were peaceful roads, a nice forest and scattered villages.
What we didn't find was an official border crossings. We found a few unofficial ones instead.
I'm guessing the above signs means something to the effect of "Border! Don't venture beyond this point or you shall be damned till judgement day!" But what do I know? I don't speak that language (that well), I'm lost and I can't just turn around with a heavy bike on roads like that! Right? Right! So on we go.
We must have crossed the border two times, but we weren't sure, so when we got to the next village I sent off Doris to ask the local Ladies for directions.
"Excuse me, but where the fuck are we?"
They sent us down another gravel road that led us back into the forest again and lo and behold, in the middle of the woods, 20 meters of roadwere laid out in tarmac and a nice little border post with a nice little lady in slovenian uniform was ready to take our passports!
After this, the road turned back to gravel until we finally, officially reached Croatia and found our way out of the valley. These 30kms took us 2 hours. Against our initial plans, we dicided against going down to the coast and save this stretch for the way home. So we took the main road to Karlovac and on through the Croatian Hinterland. I took this road many times with my parents as a kid, before and after the war. Now, I had time to stop and smell the flowers.
We chose Slunj for our rest stop to see the famous waterfalls. The area around the falls is now some kind of tourist trap, but it's nice nonetheless and they offered us 50% off for the tickets because we were riders
It's a nice place to rest in the shade and dip your feet in the cold water.
One of the many watermills around, this one from the 18. century. Note the
special turbine wheels as opposed to a standard waterwheel.
After a good, long rest we followed the road, passing the Plitvice lakes national park, saving this for a later visit. Then we headed south, towards the coast and passed the coastal range, the Velebit mountains near Karlobag. By now, I really got used to the added weight and the shifted center of gravity. Doris was enjoying it, the scenery was just great. It seems our plan had worked out and it became the great trip we had promised ourselves. In short: We were having fun riding.
At the summit of the pass, we finally saw the sea and tier after tier of the barren, rocky islands of Croatia in the late afternoon sun.
I climbed the memorial on the pass and I looked down on my companion
and I looked back over the Highlands
and I looked ahead at the road we were going to take that would get us down to sea level, to the famous coastal road and, hopefully, to a warm meal, a cold beer, a nice bed and a good place for the bike...
|07-12-2007, 05:55 AM||#5|
Joined: Oct 2006
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
|07-12-2007, 06:46 AM||#7|
Joined: Oct 2005
...and that's just what we found. The coastal road around Karlobag is in perfect condition, all new tarmac and it exactly follows the coastline. Going south, this means a fast left hander around a peninsula, followed by a slow righthander around a bay. Then peninsula, then bay...After a few repetitions, I felt the flow and the steel-armoured tips of my Alpinestars were scraping the road.
It didn't take us long to choose a small gostilna with private rooms above, located in one of the bays right on a small pier in the village of Tribanj. I coyly parked in the parking lot in front of the tavern and started unloading our gear. Soon, the inkeeper waved at me to come over with the bike, because surely I would sleep better when I parked it under our room's balcony. So I started her up and rode right between the tables in the dining area. The other patrons courteously moved their chairs but weren't impressed otherwise.
A cold beer in my hand, looking at the sea at sunset, and my bike right beside me. Boy, life's good!
The small harbour at night
The room was very simple, but we had a shower and a bed, that's all we needed. Who needs a luxurious room, when you have a million dollar view from the balcony? The bike, the sea, the old anchor...
The next day promised a lot of heat. We were in the mediterranean now, in the center of a heat wave. Thankfully, we had made good progress and the last 200kms to Split should be easy. We made a stop in the old city of Primosten and again, I need to show you an aerial photo found on the net:
Classic mediterranean: an old town square, roadside cafes, and scooters.
There are different ways to get to your preferred cafe: scooter, bike or else...
We made it to Split just in time to catch our ferry. Nowadays, Split is Croatia's second biggest city after stupendous growth during the 20th century which means it's not a very pleasant place. But the antique center is defined by the palace of the roman emperor Diocletian, who was born in the vicinity and built a huge residence for his retirement. After the fall of the roman empire, the palace was inhabited by dwellers, Diocletians tomb was large enough to form the christian cathedral and the city of Spalato/Split consisted of housings inside the palace's outer walls for centuries. In short, this used to be a city inside a house.
Ancient palace walls and octagonal mausoleum/cathedral with later belltower
After some discussion with the sailors on the ferry about the principles of tieing down a bike properly, which ended in me taking their straps from them and doing it myself (they were pacified when they noticed I knew how to do my knots: "oooh, you know. good, then you do!"), I sat down in the shadows on the top deck, exhausted by the heat in my leathers and the stress of boarding the ferry by bike, a first for me.
The ferry left on time. Perfect. The first part of the trip was done, and it was done well. Now, I could rest a bit, because my riding skills weren't needed for a few days and I could put our voyage into the hands of other helmsmen.
|07-12-2007, 09:34 AM||#9|
Joined: Apr 2007
Great RR Flood, ain't Croatia incredible. Please show the ADVrider community some more great pics , and next time when You're comming send me PM so I can show You around some more of my country...
|07-12-2007, 09:50 AM||#10|
Joined: Oct 2005
We met a few other boats along the way; smaller ones
and larger ones
We passed by the idyllic city of Hvar, the harbour already full of yachts.
The lighthouse Galesnik at the entrance to Hvar.
And finally arrived at the Island of Lastovo, farthest off the adriatic coast at 10:30 pm. I discussed the possibillity of boarding my father's boat with the Guzzi, but somehow, he wasn't amused.
So we unloaded and parked the Guzzi in front of the police station, chained to a post. My father completed the border and customs formality so we could leave Croatia early next morning.
Off the bike, on the boat.
Lastovo is only 65 seamiles away from Vieste, the shortest possible route to cross the Adriatic. Still, it was a voyage across the open sea and we had to cross major transport routes on a small boat. My father and I were on the lookout all the time, taking a bearing on the position and course of passing tankers and container ships.
OK, you can have the right of way, no problem. No, you're welcome.
Light winds meant it took us a bit more than 10 hours until we passed the old lighthouse of Vieste, arriving in southern Italy in the Apulia region.
We landed in the safe marina of Vieste and Marija, my father's girlfriend prepared our special welcome dinner. Obligatory food pic! Hi Lobby!
We were in the middle of a heat wave, with temps up to 38C (around 100F), so we waited until well after sundown to go sightseeing in the charming old city.
We're in Italy, this means bikes, bikes, bikes! Fun little Cagiva Mito.
Later, we found a nice bar for a goodnight drink. Cocktails and freshly made Grissini sticks
Next morning, we rented a car. Daddy wanted something fun, but I, always the voice of reason, pointed out that seating for four and AC would be clever. So a stupid Fiat Punto it was
We visited Castel del Monte, Friedrich II.'s enigmatic octagonal castle and Trani's magnificent cathedral, buildt in the 11th (!) century. Different from what we northerners were used to, this architecture thrived on a dialogue between Christian West and Islamic East.
A nice italian dinner for two concluded our stay in southern Italy. Next time, we'll come on the bike, and either in early spring or in late fall.
Red Wine, Tiramisu and Espresso
As usual, my dad had spent most of our stay glued to the radio, listening to the weather forecast. Strong winds from the southeast, perfect for our ride back, and following thunderstorms meant we had to leave immediately. Another short night, and we were off early in the morning. The reports were right, we had winds from 25-35 knots (up to 8 Bft.) and after just 9 hours of seasickness we were back in Croatian territorial waters, completing the custom formalities, checking on the bike and finally finding a quiet bay with a nice little restaurant.
The islands of Vis and Lastovo have been a military zone, closed to foreigners until Croatian independence in the early 90's. There are still many military installations around, partly used and partly deserted and some areas are unsafe due to anti-personnal mines. At first we used the rubber dinghy to inspect an ominous structure in our bay:
Turns out, this is an air-raid safe garage for u-boats and destroyers.
Tunnels and pathways are leading into the mountain to the left and right
Before we prepared out departure from the island for our trip back up the coast, we decided to explore the island. Although there are only two roads, there's plenty to see.
Back on the bike!
The city of Lastovo, built into the hillside
Detail of the main church, in the foreground one of the many old chimneys, typical of this island
The old churchyard, with a sailor's tombstone. The combo of flaming heart, cross and anchor would make a nice old-school tattoo!
Finally we climbed to the top of the island and found a military installation (still in use, so no pics!) and a helipad with a gorgeous view. The outline of the island of Korcula is visible in the background.
Again, Doris was happy. So she jumped. That's what she does.
Meanwhile, I fooled around on the empty helipad.
The view from the top of the island was as moving as it was humbling. To the west, the faint outline of the italian coast was visible; to the east, the hills of the island receded to the shore, the next islands as well as the croatian mainline could be seen in the last daylight. From up here, the only trace of human presence was the old lighthouse on a crest, allegedly the oldest in the adriatic sea.
The sun was setting, so we headed down again, to see a bit more of Lastovo. Most of the roads were blasted into the mountain.
The romantic bay of Zaklopatica, shielded by two small islands, is almost empty in this time of the year. Apart from the local fisherboats, only a few yachts had stopped at the quai.
Then it was time to head back to the boat. The next day should be the longest of our trip. The only ferry that could take us and the bike off the island leaves at 4:30am, so we had to get up at 3:00 sharp. We wanted to head north along the shore as far as possible, depending on traffic, our fitness and the temperatures.
|07-12-2007, 10:18 AM||#11|
Joined: Aug 2006
Location: Washington State
Awesome report and pics, thanks for taking the time to share with all of us less fortunate to experience places like that.
|07-12-2007, 01:17 PM||#13|
Joined: Nov 2005
Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Your girl and your bike are both keepers. Beautiful pics too.
"If you are looking for the typical ride to a restaurant, eat tacos, hold the middle finger over the food, stop and take a picture of a gravel road type ride, you probably won't be interested." - dlrides
"A guy I know was the lead researcher for the University of Utah federally funded study of cellphone and texting use while driving. He found that your twice as dangerous as a drunk while using your cell phone and I think it was up to six times worse if the driver was texting."-dakardad
|07-13-2007, 01:16 PM||#14|
Joined: Oct 2005
Well, no pics from the early parts of this day. After hugging daddy and Marija goodbye, I somehow managed to get us to the ferry port in time. Doris bought the tickets while I prepared the bike for boarding. I don't fall asleep easily, so the sun was already up when I finally relaxed enough to rest for another 2 hours. Then, after coffee, ham and eggs and re-runs of the Bill Cosby show on Croatian TV, we arrived in the port of Split again. At 9:20am we unboarded off Istra and hit the road. This time, we took the new highway for the first hour to really get going and avoid the coastal road between Split and Zadar. After a highspeed run on the almost empty Autobahn, hit the coastal road again at the strangely named town of Islam Latinski.
The road was perfect, the only traffic consisted of German and Dutch RVs, who obviously avoided the high tolls on the highway. We kept going until Karlobag, where we had a sandwich, looking at the sea and the island of Pag.
We noticed that we had saved a lot of time on the highway and we could easily make Rijeka and actually try to leave Croatia, cross a small part of Slovenia and stop in Trieste for the night. So we filled up, put the camera away and marched on. In Rijeka, we only stopped for a short brake and to take a look at the huge projects in the local shipyard.
At around 7pm, 16 hours after we got up that morning, we hit the evening rush hour of a major Italian city. Traffic in Trieste is stunning. Although I had been riding in Italy before, I had never seen so many bikes and scooters in one place before. While Doris checked out Hotels, I met this stylish guy on an old Guzzi V7 (note his loafers!).
Tired as we were, we still went for some sightseeing. It didn't take us long to find out we were made for the great outdoors, for the open road and not for the stylish inner cities. Nonetheless, Trieste is a beautiful city. we were there to see it, and that's what we did.
Trieste has whole streets dedicated to moto parking
The next morning, we left Trieste via the coastal road to the northwest, riding for about an hour to the Italian/Slovenian twin town of Gorizia/Nova Gorica. This was the third time, my detailled Slovenian map fooled us, as it showed three official border crossings: one on the highway, one on the mainroad and one on a secondary road. Of course, I told my GPS to route me to the smallest crossing, but the secondary road turned out to be a small
carriageway along the fields and vineyards which ended at a short stretch of gravel, an open turnpike and a sign in italian and slovenian language telling us that this crossing was only for local farmers.
This time, the border was in a inhabited terrain, the Slovenian city was in plain sight and I hesitated to cross. But just as I was about to turn around, a Slovenian farmer came by on his tractor and started to talk to us in nice english. He told us what we expected, that this wasn't an official crossing and we would get problems if the Slovenian cops caught us. But after some consideration he told us to wait. He would cross the border and look out for cops, if he didn't came back in a minute, we were good to go!
So with the help of this friendly farmer, we conducted our last unofficial border crossing for this trip and entered Slovenia once again.
This little fellow, who obviously liked the colour red, welcomed us in this nice little country.
After more than a week in the scorching hot south, surrounded by the sea, white limestone cliffs and crooked pine trees, we were delighted to come back to the alps, to flowing streams, bright green meadows and dense forests. We followed the river Soča, Isonzo in italian, one of the main battlefields of World War One.
Today, the Soča valley is one of centers of outdoor tourism, popular with rafters, kayakers, climbers, mountainbikers, hikers and motorcyclists. The road winding through the valley:
Sometimes, the river flows calmly in a wide bed,
then, it rushes through tight gorges
Doris watched it from above, fighting her fear of heights.
The valley, which passes Triglav, Slovenia's highest mountain, ends in a spectacular amphitheater of mountains. The road leads up to Vršič, the country's highest pass at 1600m. This equals about 50 switchbacks of fun.
Since early in the Soca valley, we had seen signs saying that the road to Kranjska Gora is blocked some days from 8am to 5pm. It was one of those signs you don't want to understand but go on nonetheless, with that bad feeling in your guts. Sure enough, on top of the Vršič pass we found out that the north side was closed to all traffic, they wouldn't even let a bike pass. Bugger.
Also, I was low on fuel and the last petrol station was in Bovec, half an hour away.Yet Doris saw the positive side: She said earlier that we needed to return to this wonderful valley soon: Neither of us had anticipated that it would be so soon.
Our plan had been to go to Kranjska Gora, head to Wurzenpass and cross into Austria. Now, we had to backtrack all the way down to Bovec and take the only other exit out of this valley, Predil pass to Italy (once again) and head to Austria via Thörl-Maglern.
Turns out we had more than enough gas, the Guzzi had her best day of the trip, consuming only 5.6 liters/100km (fully loaded!)Heading over Predil pass, we found more remnants of WW1:
The 12 battles on the Isonzo Front were among of the most bloody and futile theatres of the Great War. In the first 4 battles alone, 175.000 Italians and 123.000 Austrians fell. The war was fought using medieval strategies, namely that he who holds the highest ground, wins.
Which is a stupid thing to do in the Alps. On mountaintops. In winter. From September 1916 to March 1917, more soldiers died in avalanches than by enemy fire. Mount Krn is considerably lower than before the war, the peak got blasted away by artillery.
We inspected the fortress, adorned with an Italian flag in a somber mood, thinking of our grandfathers who fought here.
But soon afterwards we left the julian alps, crossing a small bit of Italy and were finally back in Austria. We had lost a few hours because of the closing of the pass and decided to look for a place to crash. This would give us the opportunity to ride another few passes in Austria before we would visit my mother's place in the Salzkammergut region.
We found a private room near lake Afritz in Carinthia, prepared by a nice old lady who told us stories about her poor daughter who "had to get on the back of her boyfriends bike all the time".
View from the parking lot, down into the valley:
|07-13-2007, 01:38 PM||#15|
Mas Naranjas Por Favor!
Joined: Jun 2005
Location: Calgary/ Houston/ Neuquen
Love This Report: Beautiful photos
SO much for Old Europe! Beautiful photos and bike.
I have fabulous memories of a childhood bacation circa 1974 in this area of Croatia. The incredible, terrifying coach ride (first time in a coach) on the extreme seeming coast road from Dubrovnik to the Airport-must be a fabulous road these days. Violent and bloody waterpolo matches between Croatian and Serbian towns in a tournament held (people would just "disappear" for a minute or two and surface with bloody, broken noses apparently holding their balls) in the salt water pool in Korcula; being overwhelmed, stunned at how unimaginably clear the sea is and how blue-living in England at the time, the sea was Cleethorpes, 'ull or Grimsby. Looks like you had a great trip in those beautiful countries. It's funny because one of our big shot investors, a good piratical sort, is an ex Dubrovnik native who telecons into our summertime board meetings from a Riva 60 somewhere off the Dalmation coast. Good for him and good for you.
PS that girl really can jump.
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