Category Archives: Croatia

Croatia

When we left Split our plan was to ride to Zadar, another coastal city and on the way stop at Krka National Park,  which known for its waterfalls. We set out on the 14th intending to ride to Krka, about 80km away, but it was not in the cards (in a very good way). As soon as we left Split I realized that we were only a few kilometers from Salona, which my uncle had recommended seeing. We didn’t know much of anything about it, just that there were some cool ruins. We got there and quickly realized it wasn’t just a few ruins, it was about 1000 years worth of ruins from a pre-Christianity Roman city that over time became one of the first Christian cities in the area. We spent at least an hour and a half walking around the site (which is free and had no one there). We are still getting used to how accessible the ruins we have visited have been. We could walk around inside of all the ruins that were there with no fences or glass keeping you from getting close. It’s pretty awesome.

The baths

Part of the Church

Looking out over the Church with Split in the background

One of the gates to the city

The original Church before a newer one was built

The Roman amphitheater

From inside the ampitheater

An old bridge and newer workshops
It was really cool to be able to see the layers of history at Salona. The ruins range from around 100 AD all the way until the Slavs invaded in about 700 AD. Over time traditional Roman elements like the forum and its temple gave way to Christianity and the Church became the new center. We were really surprised to only see a handful of other people there as the ruins are really well preserved and very cool. We had lunch in the sun overlooking the ruins and then headed out towards Trogir, our plans of making it to Krka less sure. We were both sleepy and enjoying the sun and the going was slow. We stopped in Trogir and lay in the sun in the park for a while deciding what to do. We spent a little while walking around the city. It’s another in the Venetian style and had a cool little watchtower type fort right by the water.

The view of the city from the watchtower
 After spending a little while wandering through the city (it’s quite small) we headed onward to find somewhere to sleep. We ended up at the first open campsite of our trip which was right on the water. Nothing special, but a good place to sleep. We have started to get pretty good at setting up and breaking down camp and the tent is actually quite comfortable. That night was the first night of camping that was actually comfortable. Previously we would wake up throughout the night cold in our light sleeping bags and even resorted to wearing jackets to sleep. It was finally warm enough for that to not be a problem. The whole camping part was getting a lot more appealing. The next day we started climbing within the first 500 meters and continued to climb away from the shore for a lot of the day. The landscape was very barren feeling all day, lots of rocks and very dry. It would have felt somewhat desert like were it not for a all the flowers just starting to pop up along the road. We did get some nice views of the water on the way up!

Goodbye coast!

Lots of flowers starting to bloom
We stopped in Šibenik for lunch at what we thought was a buffet (because it said buffet) but was really just a restaurant. Autumn tried a Zagreb style veal steak which is a pretty awesome concept. Take a veal steak and pound it flat, then fold it around cheese and bacon before breading and frying it. She had no idea what it was when she ordered it but it was really good. (no picture, sorry) We rode over one more big climb to find our campground right by the entrance to Krka. The scenery at the campground itself was pretty standard but the showers were fantastic. Best shower I have had since leaving home by a fair bit. Most of the showers have been in hostels or cheap hotels which mean small, not much hot water and pretty cramped. Europe takes its camping seriously so the amenities have been pretty good. The next day was long and busy. I planned for us to ride the length of Krka which is a park that runs along a river for about 70 km. We had a few spots to stop along the way to see sights. The first stop were the waterfalls at the southern end of the park. There are these neat wooden walkways through he marshland with water rushing through the grasses in all sorts of directions.

This is not much water for the falls, they control it with a series of dams

The big falls

There are many of these “necklace” waterfalls along the river

The woman who took this had a really hard time with my phone. Also note Autumn’s tan lines coming in nicely
 Also at the first stop were some historical buildings from the late 1800’s including a mill and place for processing wool. One really cool thing was this washing basin which spins the water from the river in a hollowed out rock. It was used to clean cloth, just like a washing machine today.   From there it was more climbing and as we worked our way up the river. We stopped in Skradin for lunch by the river (where we almost got attacked by these guys).  Afterwards up up up before a nice fast descent to another set of waterfalls. When we got there we found out that there was a cool cave to see, we just needed to climb 517 steps up the cliff to get to it. With already tired legs we decide to run the stairs to save time and make sure we got to Burnum, an old Roman camp, by nightfall. We sprinted the stairs, breaks only every 50 steps and made it up to the cave. By the time we got to the top our calves were really feeling it. Too much vertical movement for one day. We walked through the cave and read a bit about the prehistory of the area. But what really made the climb worth it was the view of the falls below.

Worth the climb

Only a few more!
We continued our riding up the river and Autumn’s knee which had been bothering her a little bit off and on really started to hurt consistently. Any time we were going up hill (which was a lot of the time) it hurt a lot. With a few stops and a bit of walking up a long hill she toughed it out and we made it to Burnum, which we were really excited about, a bit before sunset. We were a bit underwhelmed. After spending the last hour and a half of our day racing to get there with Autumn in a fair bit of pain at times it turned out that there was very little to see. The arches that are still standing were very cool but the amphitheater which we were excited to check out was mostly reconstructed with no original stonework remaining.

2 remaining arches

All reconstructed

Side of the road stealth camp
The next morning we rode into Knin, a nearby town to stop for a day or two and hopefully give Autumn’s knee some time to recover. We found a place to rent a room, but they were full so we ended up staying in the owner’s brother’s spare bedroom downstairs. Right after we got there he made us a plate of bread, cheese, and bacon all made by him, as well as some apple strudel. The family has a piece of land across the street from the hotel where they grow garlic, onions, and potatoes, and keep goats and chickens. They invited us over to check it out and we enjoyed seeing their space.


 Since we didn’t have anything to do for the day, the castle is the main thing to see in Knin and we had decided to wait until the next day, we thought we would try yo make some Mexican food for dinner. Every now and again something familiar is nice. We knew that it might be tough to find some ingredients but we figured we coud substitute other stuff. We figured there wouldn’t be any tortillas but I was pretty surprised to not find any black beans (we got pinto) or any limes (I made salsa with lemons…) It actually ended up being pretty good.

Semi-Mexican food
In the morning Branko (the brother) made us awesome crepes filled with his own apple-lemon-orange marmalade, Turkish coffee and a drink they call white coffee which is actually made from barley and chicory. The crepes were awesome like everything else he made. After breakfast, Branko went out to get things to make pizza that night and we headed out to see the castle.

Yummm
When we left it was a little overcast and luckily we thought to grab our rain jackets. As soon as we got up to the top of the hill and into the castle it started to drizzle. It was actually pretty cool. It was pretty intense to be up on top of the hill in an ancient castle on a blustery rainy day. The castle is really big, essentially a walled protected city. Looking out over the ramparts into the valley below you can imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago.

The castle sits on top of a hill overlooking the town

Grey but dry on arrival

The castle incorporates a lot of natural rock into the walls

The view up to the top

More natural rock in the walls

More stairs as always

The valley below

Can’t you almost picture it in the 1400’s?

Sheltering from the now very hard and cold rain
After a while the rain got a lot harder and with the cold it was a bit much to be out in. We made a run for it and spent the rest of the day warm and dry working on the blog. That evening we had delicious home made pizza with Branko and his nephew and watched a movie. Hopefully in the morning Autumn’s knee would feel ok and we could head on to Zagreb. When we woke up the knee was not feeling much better and we realized that there was not a whole lot of places we would be able to stop along our route if it got worse. We made the call to catch a train to Zagreb to take a few more days of rest. We thanked Branko and rushed to the train station (the last minute call meant that we got our tickets as the train pulled up) and made it on. We had a really nice time staying with Branko, he was so generous and fun to talk with, we felt very much at home and were sad to say goodbye.

Us with Branko
When we got to Zagreb we found a nice little hostel and went to go see the Museum Of Broken Relationships which I had read about months ago. The idea of the museum is that people submit objects along with a story about the relationship that was broken and what the object means. These un-edited stories are displayed along with the objects as a symbol of people’s lost relationships. The museum was fascinating, you would go from a heartbreaking story to something really funny and back in a few exhibits.

The next day we headed out in the morning to replace a few of the things that had been stolen (finally in a city with good bike shops). We went to 3 shops to find shoes for Autumn and ended up getting a great deal on a nice pair of Sidi’s. Afterwards we spent the rest of the day sightseeing. Zagreb was a really nice city. The downtown was a really manageable size and there were some really cool buildings and things to see. I’ll let the pictures do some work here.

The square in Zagreb

The cathedral

An example of the restoration, before and after

The stained glass was awesome

There were many styles present from many years

Still working on the restoration

Another neat church
We left Zagreb in the morning head for Hungary. We had a nice day riding, going slow as to not make Autumn’s knee worse (it was finally starting to feel better) and ended up camping at a fire station in Novi Marof, a small town. In the morning we met the President of all the volunteer fire stations in the county who happened to be by for a little bit. He offered us showers and gave us some cool trinkets.  For the fire brigade’s 90th anniversary in Novi Marof they had pins and a DVD made which he gave us, as well as a cool patch.  

In the afternoon we stopped in Varaždin, a small baroqe city. We went and saw the castle there as well as stopping into an exhibit of Ivan Generalić sketches. Ivan Generalić one of the most famous of the Croatian naïve art movement, which we knew nothing about until we saw the exhibit. The artists who were part of the movement had no formal art education, so the art lacks perspective at times and can look a little childish. The artists are very talented though and childishness adds a certain authenticity to the pieces, especially since most of the art is of their local village and people. The final pieces are done with oil paints on glass, giving them a very unique look. Generalić’s work is really interesting and seeing the progression of each sketch was very cool.  After visiting the local cemetary (very old and very ornate) we rode to the next town and found a place to camp. After a bit of confusion, we were generously offered a spot in a family’s yard to spend the night.

A baroque castle

The cemetary was very cool

Last sunset in Croatia
The next morning we rode our last 15km in Croatia and  on our way out of the country we spent the last of our coins at the final gas station and stopped to look up a few Hungarian words.

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Spring at last!

April 8th we headed out of Dubrovnik along the coast. Split had been our next destination but after talking to the owners of the hostel in Dubrovnik we decided we needed to ride on an island. Croatia has over 1200 islands along its coast so our trip wouldn’t be complete without riding on at least one. We rode along the coast towards Pelješac, a penninsula north of Dubrovnik. We’ve really enjoyed riding along the coast because regardless of how hard it gets there’s never a shortage of nice stuff to look at. It really helps to make the climbing at 6 km/hr bearable. We stopped for lunch and just so happened to see Jacques, who we met previously in Dubrovnik. He is from France and is nearing the end of his 5 year circumnavigation of the globe by bike and boat. We had some pizza with him and realized we were headed in the same direction. We rode together towards Orebić where we could catch a ferry to Korčula Island. The riding was beautiful and it was really cool to talk to Jacques about his trip because he has seen and done so much! He told us about riding through Central Asia and the Middle East and about how different the culture is from what we see every day in the media. As a traveler on a long trip it seems that wherever you go people are curious about what you are doing and willing to go out of their way to help you. Talking with Jacques has us both really excited about one day going to South America and Southeast Asia. I’d highly recommend checking out his blog here. After a few hours of riding, we crossed a final ridge and descended to a campsite right on the beach that wasn’t open yet (AKA free)

Beautiful views from the coast
Beautiful views from the coast
6 wineries in 1.5 km
6 wineries in 1.5 km

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Castle on the hillside
Castle on the hillside
Water everywhere you turn
Water everywhere you turn
Making some dinner
Making some dinner

The next morning we set out early with a plan to get to Korčula island by the evening. More beautiful riding all day. Rolling hills, great views of the sea and tons more vineyards. The vineyards aren’t growing anything yet so the fields look eerie with all the vines cut short, twisted and gnarled near the ground. We stopped for a snack at a little seaside town which was really cute but didn’t have a store to get food for lunch. As spring is just beginning there is so much in bloom all along the sides of the road. There are tons of flowers and everything is so green. Everywhere we have been in Croatia the water has been remarkably clear, it looks almost like lightly green glass.

Snack break
Snack break
A very torn up road
A very torn up road
Vineyards everywhere
Vineyards everywhere
Lots of climbing to get this view
Lots of climbing to get this view

We had to climb a lot in the second half of the day, it seemed like we were going uphill for hours. After lunch we saw a group of tourists from London on the road and they told Jacques that there was only one ferry at 5 pm. We didn’t want to risk missing it so we picked the pace up a little bit. Eventually we got to the top of the last hill and had an amazing descent down to the water. Part of the way down we met a couple of tourists who had just come from the island who told us no need to worry, the ferry goes every hour. We chatted with them a while about their trip and the island and continued down to the coast. We got into town and even had time to grab a coffee before catching the 15 minute ferry to Korčula town.

Finally descending into Orebić
Finally descending into Orebić
On the ferry!
On the ferry!

We slept at another not-yet-open campground which was right by the water. The ride down the whole island was only going to be 45 km the next day so we decided that we would go explore the city in the morning. We spent the night cooking, eating, and talking.

Camping
Camping
Entrance to Korčula town
Entrance to Korčula town
One of the Churches in the walled town
One of the Churches in the walled town

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Soon after starting our ride we took a break for lunch and relaxing in the sun near an old church. It was the first day that it was truly hot out. We all felt pretty lazy and wanted to do nothing aside from lay in the sun, eat, and nap. It’s really nice to not have any sort of specific schedule. If we want to take a 2 hour break that’s totally fine, if we don’t make it where we planned to go no big deal. We always have tomorrow. The rest of the day ended up being pretty hilly but we had a really nice time. Great weather, great scenery, pretty much a perfect day of riding. We got to Vela Luca where we had to catch the 6:15 ferry the next morning. We stopped and asked for water at someones house before finding a camping spot and were given not only water but also a 2 liter coke bottle of homemade wine. It was actually pretty decent (Jacques has been teaching us a bit about different wines and what to look for). We had a fun time cooking. In the process of cooking dinner we managed to spill half the rice and run out of fuel in both our stoves, but we had a good laugh and dinner was still great. Autumn and I have adopted Jacques salad recipe which is basically buy whatever vegetables you see and an apple, chop it all up and douse in lemon, oil, and salt. It’s the first salad I’ve really really liked. We camped without the tents to cut down on time to break camp in the morning.

Hanging out in the sun
Hanging out in the sun
Spring is here, we had to tie our Martinitzas on a tree
Spring is here, we had to tie our Martinitzas on a tree
Late afternoon
Late afternoon
Sunset from camp
Sunset from camp

We caught our early ferry and a few hours later we were in Split. It took a bit to find the hostel ,but after finding it and carrying our bags up the 9 flights of stairs we got to relax for a few minutes. After we had recharged a bit we went to the market and I got some pants to cut into shorts (no one had shorts for sale yet…) and then spent the afternoon lazing around on the beach. The market in Split was our favorite so far. It was very lively and really big for a vegetable market. There are also a lot of nice butcher shops, cheese shops, and pekaras (bakeries) We are really starting to get used to the “euro” way of shopping where you might go to 5 different shops to get what you need. We already find ourselves a bit overwhelmed when we go into a big (by European standards) supermarket. In the evening we got dinner with Jacques as he was headed off the next day. We had a really great time riding with him and hopefully will see him when we get to France!

Lazy afternoon in the sun
Lazy afternoon in the sun
Dinner with Jacques
Dinner with Jacques

The next day was spent wandering around Split and seeing what we could of the city. We hiked up to a park overlooking the city and hung out for a while. We wandered around the city and saw the cathedral and walked through the narrow streets of the walled city. Split is another city that was at one point controlled by the Venetians and the style is very similar to the others we have seen. The walled cities we have been to feel really cozy and homey with lots of little alleys and crooked streets. It also seems that everywhere you go in Croatia are stairs and more stairs. With all the cycling plus a few hundred stairs a day our calves are going to be ripped by the time we get home. We got stuff to make sandwiches from 3 different stores in the green market and caught up a bit on our postcard writing.

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The cathedral
The cathedral

On our last day in Split we made a picnic and rode our bikes with no bags on them to the end of the park and ate and relaxed on the beach. It was so nice to ride a bike without all the extra weight. They feel so light and fast. It’s so easy. We both are excited to be able to ride without all our gear when we get back home. The park in Split, called Majan, is wonderful. It is almost as big as the city itself and has hiking trails, roads for riding bikes, picnic areas and playgrounds. On the weekend there were tons of families from the city walking around and hanging out in the park which was really nice to see.

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Nice
Nice

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The next  morning we headed out of Split towards Zadar by way of Krka National park, but as you know our plans are always changing…