This year Sven flew to Hamburg, so we could start our trip together from our hometown. Sven arrived at the airport on time in the morning, met as usual some friends and relatives for breakfast, lunch and coffee, so we could cycle to the airport in the afternoon together and get a quick start.
For the first time, we are flying with Easy-Jet. And for the first time, our tour is at serious risk. Despite the pre-registration of our bicycles, Easy-Jet is not willing to take our bicycles without the appropriate bicycle carry bags. Talks with the manager, phone calls with London, cardboard boxes taken from EDEKA (the local grocery store), quickly wrapped around the bicycles, all without success. Last hope: The complaints desk. A glimmer of hope came up as the manager brought along more cartons. Only 35 minutes left till departure, we finally carry the bicycles to the bulk baggage scanner. Sven’s bike lost already the first carton and does not fit through the scanner. The search for the guy with the hand scanner begins. 25 minutes left until departure. Finally, it works. Now boarding starts, the security checkpoint is packed. The hate-filled looks of the other guests do not bother us: within 30 seconds we make it to the gate and enter the aircraft without a pause, but soaked in sweat…
Big surprise in Venice: Our bike bags and bicycles made it into the plane as well! It is only a short ride, about 25 minutes from the airport to the train station, but the light drizzle seems to signal that this year‘s stage is not going to be an easy one.
Around 11 pm we arrive in Monfalcone, our starting point north of Trieste. After a short disorientation, we find the hotel we stayed at last year.
After having a nice breakfast, we ride straight ahead along the coast to Trieste. We have a short break at the Piazza Grande with the stunning town hall and other beautiful palaces.
Along the water, we cycle around the city’s really steep hill, ending up by mistake on the highway yet luckily manage to take the next exit after the tunnel. Then we have the rise to the mountains of Slovenia in front of us. Slovenia welcomes us at the border with a short but heavy rain shower.
In the quite sparsely populated mountains of Slovenia, we fill up our water supplies at a farm and almost miss the only restaurant. While enjoying delicious chicken with pasta, the next rain shower passes by. The border to Croatia is pretty exciting, secured with barbed wire, three border guards are waiting for some cars passing through once in a while and us, two cyclists.
The last 12 miles are almost only downhill towards Rijeka. On our first day, we started pretty well with 70 miles covered and more than 3,300 feet in altitude climbed.
Rijeka, located in the north of Croatia on the Kvarner Bay, is a beautiful city with nice pedestrian zones and especially in summer is filled with tourists. However, that we are supposed to pay for two cups of ice cream 31 Euro, is surprising to us. Finally, we realize that after 2,000 miles we are out of the Eurozone and must pay in Kuna.
The second day leads us along the steep coast of the Adriatic. Right at the start leaving Rijeka we have to master the first 900 feet climb, which immediately leads to a downhill portion again before we start to climb once more. We slow down our pace and take more breaks. This will by far be the most stressful part of this year’s leg! Several power bars and good food refill us with energy. The water supply is not easy: the two liters are quickly consumed and no store, petrol station or restaurant in sight. Finally, a we see a sign for a restaurant and we are looking forward to some refreshments coming up in the next 2 miles. Unfortunately, the restaurant is closed, but a nice, old lady has mercy on us and not only refills our bottles with water but also gives each of us a handful of cherries. Cherries never tasted so delicious! Finally, we get to the junction leading to our hotel, where we had made a reservation because of the sparsely populated area. The road goes steep down to the bay and all of the sudden we realize that we have to climb up the hill all the way the next morning!
The Hotel Lux is a very nicely restored building in a tiny bay, surrounded only by very old, partly rotted houses. A concreted area with steps gives access to the water, since the coast is steep with rugged rocks.
The next morning, we get up early to have a walk along the steep coast to a lonely bay in a nature reserve. We got this recommendation from the daughter of the hotel owner. The water in the bay is crystal clear and ice cold, as the sun has hardly a chance to warm up the water due to the cliffs surrounding it.
Thank god, the rise of 800 feet within 3 miles back to the road is not as exhausting as we had feared. After 10 miles, we decide to take the ferry to the island of Pag. A cycling freak from France tells us about 3 heavy ascents on the island, but this doesn‘t scare us anymore.
The island of Pag is almost without any vegetation and looks like a moonscape. The northern part is really hilly, but as the wind turns, we easily manage the last ascent with tailwinds and arrive after a steep descent in the bay of the village Pag. We treat ourselves to several cups of ice cream, ice cold Coke and a bath in the warm sea.
We continue our smooth ride, knowing that we don’t need to finish our daily stage of 65 miles since we had done already more mileage during the first days. However, since we do not find a reasonable accommodation along our way, we continue our ride to Zadar. Zadar is a harbor city and seaside resort with 75,000 inhabitants, but surprisingly few hotels. We ride about 3 miles out of town to the Marina, where we find a nice hotel, we are the only guests! Here aside from a youth hostel we only find a simple BBQ place for dinner, it’s open, but from the outside it doesn’t look like we would get the delicious food we had in mind. But this ugly grill turns out to be a very good restaurant with a nice roof top terrace and a very tasty house wine.
Today we have only 50 miles to master and we start after a modest breakfast southwards past a huge Marina. The first 10 miles are still hilly, after that it is a beautiful, flat stage, just hampered by the constant headwind. Fifteen miles before our day’s destination, Šibenik we meet Felix from Augsburg. He wants to recharge his batteries with a bicycle tour before he starts his studies at the university. We agree to have some ice cream together in the next city and he generously lets us “Oldies” go first to give us a little advantage. We meet him in front of the place breathless and we buy with our remaining kunas some ice cream.
Together, we ride over a 1,000-feet-long bridge with an impressive view over the great bay and at the city of Šibenik, our day’s destination. We enjoy the sun at the beach of Šibenik and take a bath in the bay, which is being supplied with fresh water by the river Krka. The touristic town impresses with a great old downtown with many small shops and restaurants. We find a nice private accommodation with the help of the tourist information office. They give us also a recommendation for a good restaurant, where we meet Felix to check it out. We enjoy the warm evening with delicious food and wine in a cozy side street of the old town. With a drink at a bar at the harbor promenade we end this great day.
Next morning, we enjoy a fantastic breakfast on the loggia and start the day in a good mood, knowing that we have only 40 miles ahead of us today. Following the coastal road, our way is going constantly uphill and downhill. We meet a guy from Australia. After quitting his job, he takes the opportunity to do this bike ride through Europe. Best equipped with GPS, navigation system, powerback and solar charging station, he smiles about my printed map material. He cannot know that I work in the printing industry.
The perfectly planned tour reveals its highlight on the last day: the small village Trogir. A charming old town on a tiny island, which serves as a transition place to the little island Ciovo, consisting of restaurants, small shops, ice cream parlors and churches. We go for a walk to the beach in the late afternoon and return at sunset to our hotel. A great dinner in one of the restaurants on Trogir is the perfect finale of this year’s trip.
Feeling a little nervous we ride to the airport pretty early and are curious to see if our bikes would get checked in without debates. At the airport, we see a guy shrink wrapping a suitcase. We ask him if we can do this with our bicycles as well. He instructs us to remove the front wheel and puts the first bike with the rear wheel into his machine. We press the start button and actually he manages to hold the rotating bike by the rear wheel. With our bicycles shrink wrapped, check-in is easy. Unfortunately, my connecting flight from Vienna to Hamburg was canceled, so I had an overnight stay in Vienna. Nevertheless, I arrived back home before Sven.