Rijeka, Croatia: If this Euro cycle has appeared too easy, or if I have given the impression that I am having too much fun, then today’s events should dispel such notions.
I’ll start from the beginning of this blue Monday.
I anticipated that my journey to Croatia on mountainous back roads would be difficult. After fretting over this route, I had prepared so well for the navigation that I had minimal issues finding my way on a succession of quiet, rural roads. Perfect cycling roads. The back roads were so quiet and so remote the region had a deserted feeling, with very little life stirring. Many of the tiny settlements — clusters of just a few homes — I cycled past seemed abandoned. While it was scenic cycling through forest, I felt isolated; alone.
And then it rained. And rained. And rained some more, off and on, for the whole blessed day.
After 35 kilometers and after ascending a minor mountain, I had my first real border crossing on a bike. The border between Slovenia and Croatia is very visible even in these remote parts. As I pulled up to the Slovenian border office, a dour and serious looking customs official (aren’t they all?) came out to check my passport. Since I might be the only visitor to this border post in hours, he had plenty of time to spend with me. He carefully examined each page of my thick passport, occasionally looking at me with suspicion. Once he found my EU entry stamp he then pointed out a line on the ground and said this is the EU border, the end of the Euro Zone. He instructed me to ride on to the Croatian checkpoint after stamping my passport, but not before rolling his eyeballs when I told him I am heading to Istanbul.
After cycling 100 meters in no man’s land, I arrived at the Croatian checkpoint. It’s drizzling. A female guard came out and stared at me. I looked at her. The conversation went like this:
Me: Would you like to see my passport?
Border guard: You have?
Border guard: Which country?
Border guard, without even seeing my passport: Then go on.
I cycled about 5o meters, then it occurred to me that when I exit Croatia into Bosnia the border guards may not be so laid back. A Croatian entry stamp may be helpful for my exit. So I turned around and went back to the guard at the border control.
Me: Can I please have an entry stamp.
Border guard: OK, as you please.
I then officially entered the tenth country of TransEuropa 2011 and continued cycling through more forest and vast emptiness. Near one settlement there was a small tavern, the only commercial establishment for many miles. I went in and asked the owner if I can have something to eat. He prepared a veal schnitzel, and accepted Euros.
I didn’t see an ATM machine, or get my hands on any local currency, until I got to Rijeka. On my way to Rijeka I had another technical descent — almost 1,000 meters — and it was beautiful coming down from the mountain with the calm, blue Adriatic in front of me. The calm before the storm. The horizon was ominously bley-grey in color.
I made it to the industrial/port town of Rijeka in good time. I was even pondering how I would spend the rest of the afternoon. People were scrambling about, trying to beat the storm. Traffic was heavy. This was not pleasant city cycling.
And then, POP. My back tire tube blew. #%*@! I had an instantaneous flat.
I asked two guys whether there might be a bike shop nearby. They did not know of one, and so I dealt with my tire-changing phobia head-on. I parked my bike on the sidewalk, unloaded the rear panniers and the camera bag, took off the rear wheel, and changed the blasted tire.
I got the job done, but not before the rain arrived. Then the skies poured. It’s one thing cycling through rain on a quiet country road, and quite a different experience getting drenched in a city full of traffic and anxious activity. Busses splashed me as they passed through puddles. Oh what fun.
I made my way to the Continental Hotel in Rijeka, completely soaked when I arrived. Another day of cycling challenges met. At least I am 81 km closer to Istanbul than when I started in the morning. Tomorrow is a new day with a new set of challenges.
Day 53: Koper, Slovenia – Rijeka, Croatia
Distance: 80.96 kilometers
Ascent: 1,069 meters
Weather: grey skies and too much rain
TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:
Distance: 3,842.44 kilometers
Ascent: 27,731 meters
Countries: 10: Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia
Incidents: 3: flat tires on Days 45 and 53; police reprimand on Day 2