GL005: Magistrala

June 8th, 2016 — Ćevapčići

Having the bikes much closer to our hotel in Trieste is useful but packing the bags and boxes on the bikes is still a lot of walking and sweating. We adopt a more Italian attitude to parking and nearly block the narrow sidewalk, just like the 4 abandoned vans in front and behind us.

For me it feels like the trip begins here. No more long stretches of motorway and the prospect of a long ride on the Adriatic Highway (Jadranska Magistrala). But before we reach that highway I’d like to see a bit of countryside. Therefore we leave Trieste and head into the direction of Koper in Slovenia. This route leads us through woods and small villages as soon as we leave Trieste and Italy behind. The roads are not wide and slightly bumpy with occasional sharp turns and steep narrowing roads in the villages. Petra is mastering these roads really well with the rather unfamiliar bike and the luggage.

After Koper we decide to take a more direct route to Rijeka because we could spend all day in this pretty countryside but we’d also like to cover some distance today. Because Slovenia’s West is not that large, we reach Croatia soon. Note to self: don’t park so close to the custom’s booth that you can’t get off your bike anymore without making the officers laugh at you.

It’s not all sunshine today. There is a dark thunderstorm looming in the direction where we’re planning to go. Soon it rains and we’re taking shelter under the roof of a large fuel station. Then there’s a power outage just after a local has filled up. He’d like to enter the station to pay but the doors are not opening. He waves with his wallet for a bit and then drives off anyway.

Our first off-road test is a slow ride through a few kilometers of road constructions. They’ve simply ripped out the road in both directions and we’re supposed to deal with the gravel and the mud. We’ve had a bit of practice on our off-road course in Hechlingen but never on our own bikes with all the luggage. Petra manages to get through as well, although not without heightened excitement, partly also because the truck behind her was really close and she managed to stall the bike once. All went well and as a bonus, the bikes look like we’ve had a long adventure already. We celebrate our success with a short ride on the motorway to Crikvenica.

At the end of a steep street, looking over the village of Crikvenica and the Adriatic coast, we find Guesthouse of Barica and her husband Francek. A very kind and hospitable couple that have recently had their 50th wedding anniversary. They’re relieved to find out that we speak German too as their English is as good as our Croatian. Barica is progressively more shocked as I answer her question “Where do you go next?” by summing up the countries we’d like to visit between Croatia and Malaysia.

After a good dinner of Ćevapčići with vegetables and rice we withdraw to our comfortable room for some more visa planning and e-mails over a rather crappy internet connection. Thankfully, the neighbor’s WiFi network is better.

June 9th, 2016 — Croatian Coastline

I didn’t get much sleep last night due to the mails I needed to send to travel organizations for questions that we have. If they answer these we can decide to have them arrange the Letters of Invitation (LOI) for Uzbekistan and Iran. This is important because it allows these administrative things to move forward as we move south east ourselves.

Random observations from the darkness: Mosquitos won’t disturb you that much when you wear earplugs while you sleep. Or actually, this postpones the annoyance to the next day.

The filter coffee at breakfast is the worst I’ve tasted since the burned brew in Gurnellen-Dorf in 2001 (oh yes, I do remember). Unfortunately I was so courteous to get Petra a full cup as well. Hmmm!… We devise new tactics for future breakfasts: if it’s filter coffee, I sample the coffee first.

After a cordial goodbye with the guesthouse owners we take the very steep road down again. We get to enjoy more of the Magistrala and stop at Senj for lunch and the much-needed ATM for Croatian Kuna. So far everyone was happy to accept Euros but I don’t expect this to work everywhere. We’ve parked in front of our restaurant and can observe other riders’ reactions to our strange looking bikes. Stiff Spring’s auxiliary fuel tank draws most attention.

  • The value of all the expensive bikes around ours: 100.000 Euros
  • The value of our mascots (one Beesie, a small globe and a Valentino Rossi turtle sticker): a few Euros
  • The fact that two 10-year-olds have more attention for our mascots than the other bikes: priceless!

With our stomachs and our fuel tanks filled we ride the first long stage of this wonderful coastal road. There is not much traffic because the main holiday seasons has yet to start. If we do encounter some traffic, the possibilities to overtake aren’t plentiful with 48 or 53 horses and a safety margin to observe.

We skip the the ferry to the peninsula of Pag (which is probably a shame) but find a beautiful alternative. You can’t really go wrong in such a naturally beautiful area as the Croatian coastline. Close to Maslenica we witness a wonderful play of nature with a lowering sun and an approaching rain shower. By chance, we manage to zigzag mostly out of the way of the showers through a landscape that has a Scottish flavor to it. We’re both enjoying the brisk ride over this plateau with overgrown rocks. There are traffic signs with unnecessarily low speed limits before every curve. Ignoring those, we’re making great progress.

In Tisno we find a comfortable hotel. Our room is on the top floor and there is no elevator. The helpful receptionist offers to carry part of our luggage to our room and asks out loud where we keep all this stuff…

The two parts of our double bed are three meters apart. We can barely keep the cooperative receptionist from putting them together. Petra had tuna with garlic for dinner, so we’ll gladly keep the beds where they are.

June 10th, 2016 — Salty Pines

Breakfast is good. I don’t need to sample filter coffee first. Before we go we talk a bit with yesterday’s receptionist on his day off and he asks us whether we will take one or two months to reach South-East Asia…

We backtrack through the nice landscape of last evening and are treated to another wonderful afternoon along the Magistrala. There are bridges over narrow inlets, small islands everywhere and water in places where you wouldn’t expect it. This road just keeps meandering along beautiful beaches, picturesque harbors and pretty towns like Trogir.

The traffic near Split becomes much denser and suddenly we’re in a traffic jam. Our bikes are too wide to comfortably ride between cars in traffic jams. Wanting to stay together also complicates things and on top of that, even at ambient temperatures of 25C (77F), it’s really warm in the sun and above our hot engines. Fortunately I manage to avoid most of it using the navigation system to find a nearly empty parallel road. Traffic thins out quickly after Split.

We have to start thinking about where to stay tonight and call a hotel that Petra has looked up this morning. We never really know where we’ll stay the night, but with my routing suggestions and Petra’s search for some options in the morning we usually find something without too much effort and avoid having to find a place after dusk. And even if we wouldn’t plan ahead, there are so many apartments and rooms advertised here that it’s not going to be difficult to find a place to sleep. Petra even gets an offer from a local scooter rider when waiting at a red traffic light, in Swiss-German, mind you.

On the ride from Split to Gradac, where we’ll stay the night, the coastal road gets even more beautiful if that is at all possible. The coast is now lined with a serious mountain range and fragrant pine tree forests. The smell of the trees is a strange combination with the slightly salty sea breeze.

We’re staying in Gradac in Hotel Marco Polo. Their restaurant is very good and they have a fitness room too. We decide to stay an extra day to relax, do some sports and inform ourselves of the transit through China by the end of September.

June 11th, 2016 — Rest Day

We have nothing to complain today. After some serious showers in the morning, it’s already sunny and warm. I catch up on the photos and the website and Petra enjoys the beach. We try the fitness room where no electrical machine seems to be working so we stick to the purely mechanical ones. Thankfully our fitness trainer back home also showed us how to train with our body weight alone. In my case, that is really tough…

We’re still traveling faster than we’d like to because in the back of our minds we know that this part of Europe is easy to reach for another visit after we return from this trip and also that we like to reclaim some of that ‘lost time’ in May. I know that sounds a bit strange given the time that we have for this trip but if we want to reach South-East Asia we do need to cross the Himalayas not much later than the beginning of October. Among other things, that transit shapes our route to China. Nevertheless, a day of rest now and then is really good to break the rhythm and gives us some time to plan ahead. A day of riding also means a lot of packing and unpacking and searching for a place to stay and that time is not available for rest and planning.