Hey Friends!! Now that I have your attention with a cute Scandinavian sex symbol holding a puppy, let's get on with the show!
Last I wrote, Ville and I were holed up in Keszthely, Hungary on the western shore of Lake Balaton just in time for all the tourists to head home. It was awesome! Our ride south from the Lake towards the border of Croatia was gorgeous. Oscillating hills, really green countryside, and always the occasional small town or village to ride through to get food and snacks. Traffic was kind and manageable. Once we crossed the boarder into Croatia, there was absolutely no difference other than I got a stamp in my passport on the way in because, although part of the EU, Croatia is not a part of the Schengen Zone. And we found this insanely cute puppy at a hotel near the boarder Ville named Davor Suker (one of the best Croatian soccer players). He would name a dog after a football player.
The ride to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia, was really pleasant, only gradually became more mountainous. Zagreb was absolutely nothing to write home about, one of the more boring capitols after going to Prague and Budapest. Even though most of the Baltic Countries had atrocious roads, they all miraculously had decent bike paths that wove through their capitols. Not Zagreb, horrific highway into the City with no shoulder and no bike lanes. After leaving, we had a plan to head southwest towards the coast just narrowly brushing the boarder of Slovenia, but not crossing over. As we neared the coast, we began to climb. Climb and climb and climb some of the steepest graded roads since Guatemala and Slovakia. And of course is started pouring rain and we were soaked by the time we made it to the top of our climb in the Dinaric Alps and luckily a roadside motel with a vacant room.
The following day we had a big drop before climbing again over the next range, on small back roads with very little traffic. Possibly because the grades were 8-15% and no cars wanted to chug up them, but at least it was scenic. Large pondorosa pines mixed in with an array of deciduous trees and towering dark grey rock. By the end of the day we made it over the last climb and had our first expansive view of the Adriatic Sea. The drop down to the coast would have been a little more fun and less stressful if the road wasn't 15% graded on the downhill and we had to stop to cool the brakes a few times while giving our hands a rest from gripping the handlebars and brakes so tightly. More cute little European towns perched in the hillside we streaked past on our speedy decent into Rijeka.
Rijeka is the principal port town of Croatia, and on the northern coast tucked inside a large inlet looking out on a few large islands reachable by ferry. We rented an apartment a couple nights and wandered around the "old town" and ate far too many pastries. On the following day when we planned to get back on the road, I woke up to my neck completely locked up and Ville found me a savior; a chiropractor who would see me just as a walk-in. After cracking and popping me back into place, we headed northwest along the coastline, turning out to be one of the nicest stretches of road we have biked so far on this trip! The road wound right along the waters edge, passing through a handful of touristy towns full of pastries, gellato and overrun with German tourists. So much so that we saw more German license plates than Croatian ones cycling through the country. We dubbed Croatia, "Little Germany."
After stopping to swim in the crystal clear ocean somewhere along the way, we changed and biked around the point to Brsec; a tiny village perched up on the cliffs looking northeast back at Rijeka and the islands. Scoring a great deal on an apartment in the off-season, we booked a couple nights and the couple who owned the place were cyclists who were nice enough to let us use their private beach, lent us snorkeling gear and a kayak! It was one of our favorite days spent out of the saddle relaxing, snorkeling with thousands of colorful fish and soaking up some sun. The next morning we road down to Brestova where we caught the ferry full of German RVs to the island of Cres. As soon as all the RVs unloaded and took off, we had the whole road to ourselves for the long climb up and away from the shore to the spine of the island. We had some stunning 360 degree views of the islands and sea on both sides and made our way to a hidden point overlooking the next ferry terminal in a sheep pasture to camp.
Both Ville and I love to camp. However, cycling through Eastern Europe has posed a lot less easy to camp as it was in the Ride through the Americas. Mexico south was less developed and people were so kind and open to us for camping on their properties, churches, rodeo grounds, etc. Our experiences on this journey have taken us through a much more developed part of the world, much of Eastern Europe is in the European Union. We observed that where people have more, nice houses, cars and toys, they feel that they have more to lose. They are less interested in talking to us, learning about adventuring by bike, and sharing their yard. It was our same experience biking through the United States. Made us miss biking through Mexico and Latin American countries.
It looked like we had just a short distance to the ferry in the morning, however, it was actually on a very steep goat trail littered with giant boulders and was a bit shady to ascend. Once we made it to Merag, we took the half-hour ferry to Krk Island where we waited and caught the next hour and a half ferry to Rab Island. Just for fun, those of you following this on a map, email me what you think the island of Rab looks like (email@example.com) or write it in the comments below. Those of you that do, I will mail you a We Lost The Map sticker. :)
On the ferry we met a super nice guy, Mark, who is a gym teacher from Switzerland on a sabbatical touring by bike also. When we arrived on Rab, we all biked together to the town of Rab and had lunch. Mark rode on to find some camping and we found a place to stay in Rab so we could wander around the small historic town and check it out. Wandering the small narrow walkways of Rab was very reminiscent of small villages in Italy. We understood why it was packed with tourists and because of that, expensive. That night in Rab, there was a good band that played on a big stage erected in the town's square. The next morning at breakfast, we recognized the musicians from the band all staying at our hotel and had a good chat before heading out. From there we rode south on the island to the southern tip, Misnjak, where we caught another ferry to Stinica on the mainland. From there we climbed up to the coastal road, E65, and rode south.
The E65 road south along the coast was another big highlight of this ride. Stunning views similar to the infamous Highway 1 south of San Francisco, but with almost none of the traffic, save for those pesky Germans (just teasing, we love the Germans). We stopped for the night in Karlobag and scored a cheap night in a really nice hotel, dinner and breakfast included, even with an oceanfront room and balcony! Off season in Croatia is the way to go. The kid at the desk organized a driver to pick us up the next day and drive us with our bikes 10 miles up the hill so we could go on a long hike in the hills and ride back down to town. Well, that was the plan anyways. What actually happened is the bean bag chair that showed up in a clown car to pick us up was shocked that our bikes were "full sized." When he put his hands out about 3-4 feet apart demonstrating the size he thought our bikes were, I wanted to ask him if that was the size of his bike at home. OH, so you have a kids tricycle at home do you sir? Ah, what is lost in translation I guess. So we bagged the ride and climbed on the bikes minus bags and rode up the hill anyways and just had a much shorter hike once we got up there. The views were still spectacular and the ride down a total blast.
From Karlobag, we had a scenic ride all the way down to Seline where we got a hotel room to park the bikes and took a day off to hike up into the Mala Paklenica National Park, well known around the climbing world. Of course that day a major weather front pushed in and the wind was howling and making whitecaps on a normally glassy ocean. Hiking was still a blast although by the time we made our way down the really steep switchbacks of a side trail, it was raining and we were grateful to have a nice hot shower to make it back to instead of the tent. On the TV, we noticed there was a big bike race airing live, similar to the Tour de France, but in Croatia called CroRace. Ville looked up the route and turns out they were about 15 miles away from us heading south down the coast. The next day, as we rode south, opting to bypass Zadar and make our way on back-roads back to the coastal road, we passed a giant Astana (World Tour Cycling Team) bus followed by a van loaded with bikes and the driver honked at us while the team waved and cheered for us as we passed them. It was pretty cool!
That night we made our way to Sibenik, another cool Itialian-esk village on the coast with cobblestone streets and narrow walkways. We stayed only the night and then rode south, opting to climb up into the hills with a bunch of little villages and grapevines everywhere instead of the coastal route which was much longer around the point. Since it was "off the beaten path" it was nice to have no cars and absolutely no tourists for a change. We dropped back to the coast and stayed in a tiny hovel of a room in Trogir, a tiny town that had been highly recommended and jam-packed full of tourists about 30 miles up the coast from Split.
The next day we had a short ride into Split, on a side-road full of busy early morning traffic. We passed right by the Split Airport on our way in, where we planned to take a flight in a couple days. We booked an apartment in Split right on the outskirts of the "Old Town" and with the nicest caretaker,Duje, who helped us with tools to get Ville's very stuck pedal off and work out getting bike boxes. We spent a day taking bikes apart, tracking down a cheap dufflebag to check our gear separately, arranging a car big enough to get two giant bike boxes into and walking around the town. It was fine. A lot of the "Old Town" areas of cities of Eastern Europe were blending. They began to all look and feel the same. Except Split was very crowded with tourists; it has an airport AND a giant port for all kinds of ferries and even cruise ships. Packed cities are NOT our bag.
But a good end to a chapter. Not the end of the book, but a pause. A pause before the next chapter. We were picked up by Duje's friend, rode to the airport, dealt with the typical run-around checking bike boxes as one does who booked airline tickets on an airline company that just claimed bankruptcy the week before. At least we were still flying. And then, we had an overnight layover in Frankfurt, Germany, luckily with enough funds to get a hotel and not sleep on the floor or chairs at the airport like we had always done. The next morning at the airport we were randomly asked by a guy if we spoke Spanish. Heck yes we do! And were able to help translate to a woman from Peru stuck at the airport because her flight to Japan was cancelled due to a typhoon. Poor lady, but helped work things out for her before heading on our way to our next long 11+ hour flight. Paying it forwards.
As we began to taxi onto the runway, I stared out the window reflecting on the last few moths of cycling. How being on a bike seat pedaling in high heat and then pouring rain can weigh you down. How the kindness from a woman who does not even share our language, lets us camp in her yard and makes us some coffee in the morning sending us off with a giant bear hug, can make your spirit soar. How simply crossing an imaginary line can change a language, social norms and all the rules. How sharing my meal with cigarette smoke everywhere makes me cranky, but pastries make it all better. How moving far away from your comfort zone brings us closer to truly living. How spending every day in a new adventure with my best friend is the best life I could have ever imagined me living. Over 3,000 miles pedaled, over 23,000 miles total now traveled by bicycle. On to the next chapter...
Until the next post, keep on keepin' on...
Howdy Ho Good People of the World!
Was hoping to get another update out sooner, but it is really quite difficult to ride a bike, put in miles and distance and then get to a hotel and sit all day inside the room while at a computer. I had all the best intentions to write last while in Budapest, but the City was just too cool and we spent the entire time there out walking around. So the update had to wait, I'm sorry.
Last update, Ville and I were in Ruzomberok (say that ten times fast), Slovakia in an absolutely giant apartment waiting out the rain. I think Ville could have led a yoga class of 20 just in the living room the place was so big. Well, if he could sit still long enough to do yoga that is. And we had a fully equipped kitchen for cooking some meals, which sure beats the one titanium pot on our little Snowpeak stove! Riding south we had more excellent bike paths that climbed up into the thick forests of the Lower Tatra Mountains, passing multiple ski resorts along the way. The weather has cooled down, the drivers give us plenty of room while passing slowly (moving further from the Poland border has been a blessing as the Polish drivers lessen) and the people in towns are extremely friendly! We are jazzed.
We dropped down into Banska Bystrica, a cute mountain town with a large central square and walking street, and rode straight to Techie, a fix-it shop Ville found online in Ruzomberok, who felt very confident they could fix my broken phone. After looking it over, they told us they would need to order a screen to fix it, but would then mail my phone onto Budapest once it was repaired. Having nothing but fantastic reviews online, we agreed to give it a go and left the phone to go check into a Hostel. After a sleepless night of street noise, we set out to find another hotel, meeting this super nice girl, Slawuska, who although the hotel she worked at was booked, served us coffee, gave us WiFi and helped us search for another hotel to stay. Thanks a million Slawuska! After another night at a hotel off the Central Square, we pedaled on south and upwards into wide open high plains and grassy fields passing occasionally through small little villages along the way.
Just before dark, we found a gated dirt road, ducked under the gate and rode a ways up to a ridge and camped nestled in the trees with beautiful views of the forested mountains. The next morning, as we were waking up, we heard the grinding of a truck in low gear heading up the road past us. After being told it was illegal to camp in Poland, we were both immediately nervous not knowing if that was the case in Slovakia as well. But when the driver rolled by, leaned out and waved and kept driving, we exhaled a sigh of relief, elated that we were not going to prison. Yet anyways.
After packing up, we had a long hair-flapping-in-the-breeze thrilling decent out of the mountains and straight to the Hungarian border town of Balassagyarmat, where we immediately found a gigantic Tesco Supermarket. For those not having spent much time in Eastern Europe, the countries we have traveled through are a far cry from most of the Latin American ones we last rode through. Many places in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina have large cities and capitols with many of the modern conveniences allotted to the Western World. However, there are many, many areas we spent lots of time that people live more rural, "off-grid" you would call it in the Western World where it is done by choice; no electricity, wells, but no running water in the homes. We loved biking where you saw so many people also biking, walking, waiting for buses, riding a horse drawn cart, pulling donkeys loaded down with supplies, families packed onto mopeds, etc etc. But Eastern Europe is not that. As Ville pointed out, most places have to meet pretty strict guidelines to get into the European Union. So all the towns and villages we ride through are developed with running water, electricity, insulation in the walls of houses, most everyone drives cars, the only cyclists are by choice, you can get a latte or pastry almost anywhere. We are in the developed world folks.
One of the biggest noticeable differences between Eastern Europe and Central Europe, would be nicotine. Oh sweet nicotine. Those of us that live in the US or Central Europe are very educated around the dangers of nicotine. Unless you live in a cave removed from the outside World, we know that smoking is bad. Chewing causes mouth, throat and stomach cancer. Vaping is a good way around trying to pretend you are only sucking down sweet smoke, but it also gives you cancer doctors can't identify yet. But here in Eastern Europe, they don't know. Or, it's so entrenched in their DNA that they just don't care. Smoking of all kinds is EVERYWHERE. You stay in a hotel, open a window and someone will be smoking right outside. Go to a restaurant and choose to sit outside? Expect to share your meal with the next tables second-hand. Probably because most of these countries are in the EU, they cannot (thank God) smoke indoors, but by golly the outdoors are for filling up with nicotine smoke! Ah, Eastern Europe.
We stocked up our food supply at Tesco, and then rode into town to find breakfast. Unfortunately, not being able to read menus, we very often get the opposite of what we are wanting. For example, a veggie sandwich turned out to be a giant block of breaded and deep fried cheese on white bread for breakfast, but at least we are not going hungry so that is a total bonus. Northern Hungary turned out to be also beautiful, green rolling hills with kind drivers, and very friendly people in the grocery stores we pop into. By nightfall we found a field near a forest to camp and had another day riding through countryside and towns before following a zig-zagging bike route into the heart of downtown Budepest.
Excited to see all the sights, and needing to wait for my cell phone to get fixed and shipped, we booked five nights in an apartment with a balcony and a big kitchen. With all the best intentions to catch up on this Blog, we spent every day walking 10-12 miles all over the City focusing on eating healthy, and taking it all in. We spent a day running in the Central Park when it rained all day, a day lounging in Lukasc Bath House, walked to the top of Buda Castle, Gellert Hill and along the Danube Riverfront. One of the funniest trends right now in Eastern Europe (and quite possibly the rest of the World for all we know) is women of all ages, and sizes, are rocking these jean short cut-offs that expose the bottom quarter to one third of the girls ass. My personal favorite is when I see a young mom pushing a stroller with her ass cheeks jiggling in the breeze. You GO GIRL! I could only imagine what my parents would have said if I came downstairs in a pair of those on my way to school. "What are you wearing?" "Mom, Dad, it's fashion." "Well, you can take that fashionable butt of yours right back upstairs and cover it up with some clothes missy" And that would be the end of that fashion statement. But imagine the traffic I might stop wearing a pair while riding! Would put a whole new spin on my bike-short tan lines.
Both Ville and I were sad to leave Budapest, we thoroughly enjoyed checking out all the different areas and hangouts in the City while having a place to call home for five whole days! My phone even arrived on the last day in town and is, thankfully, working! Hurray! Having connected with our good friend Zoltan (from Hungary and now lives in Bend), while in Budapest, he put us in touch with his cousin Buci who met us at his horse farm on the outskirts of the City. We loaded our bikes in his trailer and drove with him back north to his home in Vacduka. We spent a night at his place eating the biggest sausages I have ever seen, drinking palinka, eating the best deserts in Vac, and hearing stories of his wild life of travel before his year old daughter came along. Buci is a Roma Gypsy and although many were killed along with Jewish people in WWII, they are still severely discriminated against all over Europe. I don't blame him for punctuating most sentences with "shit" and "fucking shit" when discussing everything from the Police to the weather. Thanks a million Buci and Silvia for having us at your place and showing us around! After getting a ride the next day back to their horse barn, we pedaled west through the City, crossing from Pest over to the Buda side of the river and loaded our bikes on a train heading to Lake Balaton.
On our hour train ride out of Budapest, we met two super friendly young guys originally from Teheran, Iran now living in Budapest for college, Amir and Mehrshad. They were also on bikes, heading to the lake to spend the weekend riding around the lake. We spent the train ride and then the ride to their hotel chatting about their country; foods they missed, family that sacrificed for them to study abroad, injustices of government and religion. Now, I don't follow the news as closely as Ville does, but many of you know more than me that the news has been reporting of tensions between the US and Iran right now. Why? I don't really know, and to be honest, I don't all that much care. Because tensions between countries usually means tensions between men sitting behind desks playing a global chess game. Because sitting with these guys we can make jokes about these tensions between our countries, being more alike in the world as any people are. And yet I still felt compelled to say, "I'm sorry for what is happening" and they said, "Us too, but it's not your fault" and really we have nothing to do with any of it anyways. As usually is the unfortunate case. Governments, leaders and Dictators have issues and all us human beings are at the core, just human. We want health and happiness for our families, friends and ourselves. We can talk for hours as our stories carry more similarities than differences, make friendships, stay in touch, maybe even see each other again in each other's home countries. All while our countries decide to be allies or enemies. And the reality is, we are all human. We are all the same. And yes, it really is that simple.
Riding our bikes around Lake Balaton was one of the highlights of the trip so far! A designated bike path around the entire giant lake, riding through small towns, fields of grape vines and grass, restaurants and hotels, beaches and boardwalks. At nightfall we arrived at the boy's hotel and pedaled down the road to find a place to camp. Being college students, they had booked the cheapest place they could find and we figured we would get a better night sleep out in our tent. The next day we pedaled back to the ferry terminal at Szantod and ferried to the north side of the lake, Tihany. On the ferry crossing over, we found ourselves surrounded by sailboats with their multitude of colored spinnakers flying. We think it was either a for-fun race or parade not really sure, but so cool to see so many boats!
Before climbing up the hill to Tihany, we found an excellent swimming spot with a changing room and everything! Ville went to chat with a local guy on a windsurf board and was able to take his board out for a spin. We packed up, rode up through the super-touristy town of Tihany, and took the lake front bike road west. After 20-ish miles, we veered off and climbed up into the hills and away from the lakefront to a small town called Kaptalantoti. There we called another of Zoltan's good friends, Robbie and Silla. They are also world travelers, from Hungary, who have returned to buy a small plot of land in the hills, rich with orchards, grape vines, walnut and plumb trees and are in the process of building a retreat/community center. Robbie and Silla have the cutest little 3 and a half year old boy, Zen, who loved to run around exploring with as much clothes on as you can expect a 3 and a half year old to wear. What a cutie. We camped at their place and spent the next day at a huge Sunday Market in town brimming with locally made everything; honey, cheeses, meats, shoes, sweets, clothes, fruits and veggies.
Another total fail with food, I ordered what I thought was a stew, turned out to be the biggest bowl of liver and onions I have ever seen and I HATE liver. It was everything I could do to choke it down and not have it come back up. I know what you liver lovers are thinking, but it's not the texture or even that I know it's an animal's liver. I loved the brain and cheek tacos in Mexico. I even loved the cow tongue tacos. But liver tastes like iron while chewing on rubber. Not a fan. We then biked down to a swimming spot on the lake, but this one was covered in green algae. Another fail, but we swam anyways and tried to shower off after. We had forgotten sunscreen so ended up pretty red by the time we arrived back up at Robbie and Silla's farm, strike three and your out. Silla had made us some really yummy chilli we ate when we arrived back, but after our three strikes, we both had raging migraines. I have struggled with them for years now, but for Ville to have one too was a first.
That night Robbie played for all of us music on his flute, drum, and citera in their yurt. It was so relaxing we drifted in and out of sleep and barely made it down the hill to our tent. By the next morning, both of us were feeling pretty sick and still with head splitting migraines. We knew they would have been happy to have us stay longer if we asked, but we both felt that we needed to get out of the sun and get some hydrating things in us. We thank you both for such a warm stay and having us at your farm, may your sanctuary grow into everything you dream it to be! We made it back down out of the hills to the Lake and by that time realized going much further would not be a good idea. We ended up finding a hotel to check into, rested while downing gallons of water and electrolytes, and by the evening Ville was totally better (as per usual, he would tell you it's because he is a super human), but I had stomach issues. We found veggies and white rice to eat downstairs, as far as I was willing to travel away from a toilet or bed.
By morning I was feeling a lot better and stomaching a little more food, and we headed out on our trusty steads. We tried to visit Szigliget Castle perched up on the hill overlooking the lake, having rode our bikes all the way up to the top of the hill to find it was closed for construction, but still had a really enjoyable ride on the bike trail circling around the lake. Running out of steam, I am still not feeling 100%, we opted to get a room where we are now in Keszthely so I could get more rest and catch up on this here Blog. Chatting with all of you while just an arms reach from the toilet. Just in case :) Ahhhhh, what fun it is to be sick out traveling. Part of the adventure.
We had originally planned to head south through Serbia and Bosnia, but after chatting with multiple friends about the route, have changed plans to ride through the Croatian Islands next. Not because we don't want to go to those countries, but because of timing and, well, you just can't see everything. But the adventure continues...until next time friends, hug your neighbor, make some friends with those around you, trust others, smile more, and keep on keepin' on!
K.G. & Ville
In Helsinki, Finland still writing the Book
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson