Friday, September 21, 2012

Cycling in Croatia

Day 2 Cycling: Motovun to Rabac, Croatia
At the breakfast meeting, our tour guide Bob described the morning’s climb to us: “You’ll climb some and then climb some more. You’ll hit an ‘Oh My God’ hill and think it couldn’t possibly continue. But it does.”  That pretty much describes the hill. The reward at the end was looking back and seeing Motovun across the valley. 
Motovun



















Once again, we saw tons of gorgeous views of valleys and many small farms growing grapes, olives, corn and apples. I quickly realized that cappuccino was fast, delicious and inexpensive here, so I started my steady stream of cappuccino. At the lunch break in Pazin, we viewed the gorge that inspired a Jules Verne’s novel, walked through a castle and saw a tool shed with a heavy file, a kitchen/hearth and a torture room.  After lunch, we went down nice fast switchbacks; these had long straights and smooth roads. Of course, we almost immediately went uphill again. After the climbing, we quickly descended again into the seaside resort of Rabac. The water was clear and cool, but not cold enough for a much needed ice bath.
Rabac



















Day 3 Cycling: Rabac & Cres
In the morning, we wearily got back on our bikes and climbed back out of the previous day’s descent into Rabac. Roman didn’t need as much time for the climb, so he stayed in the hotel room a bit later. Unfortunately, Bob didn’t count the bags and left Roman and his bags behind.  Bob went back for Roman’s bags, and all was well. 

Scenic overlook before Cres ferry



















Before taking the ferry over, we stopped at a scenic overlook for a drink and to take some pictures. The descent to the ferry terminal was a bit steep and fast, and the ferry ride to Cres was uneventful. After waiting for all the cars to unload, we started our climb out of the ferry terminal. It was a nice long climb but at manageable grades (4-6%). Towards the end of the climb, we saw the Mediterranean Sea on our right.  The road finally flattened out on the ridge of the island, and we could see the road ahead along with the Mediterranean Sea on both sides of the island. This was one of my favorite views the entire trip.

We descended into the town of Cres (same name as the island) for lunch, and we stopped at a nice restaurant on the water. We gorged on a fish platter with amazing grilled squid and then bought some pastries at a nearby bakery and packed them into my jersey pocket. During the climb out of Cres, I felt the donut melting, so Roman transferred the donut from my pocket to Greg's backpack - all while riding up the hill.

We rode along the ridge again, and this time we had an undulating descent through a wooded area into Beli for the night. The descent was somewhat scary for me as the roads were narrow and there was traffic in both directions. At Beli, we went to the secluded beach (an 0.8 mile walk that dropped 414 ft), and Roman got into the water. 
Post-ride bakery treats

On the ride to Beli




Beach at Beli

Beli from our hotel






































































Day 4 Cycling: Beli, Cres to Krk
That morning in Beli, I had a big breakfast that included a multi-egg omelet and pancakes (crepes) with jam and nutella on top.  On this full stomach, I rode through the fog to climb out of Beli back to the ridge. I left a bit early as the sky was dark and threatening, and I preferred to ride in the sunshine and minimize the amount of time riding in the rain. 
Right through the fog from Beli



















The undulating hills from the previous night made for some respite for the morning’s climb. Since I was familiar with the roads towards the other end of the island, I rode tempo for a few miles while enjoying the gradual descent off the ridge. Before long, we had a nice long climb. (Being my silly self, I underestimated what an 0.9 mile hill entailed and worked the hill trying for a Strava segment.) Once more, we descended into the ferry terminal, and we could see the fog and mountains on the other side of the island where Beli is situated. This ferry ride was more eventful: we were worried that the support van with all the bikes wasn't making the ferry. When it was nearly full, the ferry opened up its belly for small cars and our van was one of the last vehicles on. Interestingly, there were tons of campers and RV’s going from island to island on this ferry - I never knew before that this was popular in Europe.

Once we landed (at a bigger terminal that could handle two ferries), we climbed out of the ferry terminal and had an undulating ride into Krk (same name as the island). Here, we had lunch on the waterfront, and again we climbed towards our destination of Vrbnik on a full stomach. We had a fast undulating descent. When we got to town, folks on the tour stopped at the wine shop and picked up quite a few bottles of wine.

The hotel for the night had lovely views of the sea and of the mainland. We swam in the cold yet clear water and had appetizers of bread, salami, prosciutto and white asparagus on the hotel terrace. It started to rain about dinner time, and overnight, a huge storm blew in. As the thunder and lightning woke me up, I made a resolve to not ride in the lightning – in my dreamlike state, I didn’t want to be a lightning magnet on my steel bike.

View from terrace at Vrbnik



















Day 5: Unexpected rest day
This was supposed to be the hardest day of the trip: a 3.2 on the Bob scale. Cycling to Motovun was the hardest so far, and it was only a 2.9. I spent a lot of time worried about my gearing and whether or not I could even make it up the climb. Most of the folks had a triple chain ring and could spin up the previous climbs. I had double chain ring with and felt like I was in trouble on some of the harder days.

All the worry for was naught: when we woke up, the conditions were miserably cold with a windy downpour. Bob asked if anyone wanted to ride, and no one really seemed up for it. So, he found a van to drive us to the next stop of Brod na Kupi, a Croatian town on the Slovenian border. On the drive over, I could see why he canceled the ride: the hydrofoil that was to take us to the mainland wasn't operating due to the waves and the wind gusts could have easily blown me off the road or over the bridge. Even though I dozed in and out of sleep during the drive, the bridge from Krk to the mainland seemed like it went straight through a mountain. In a short span, we went from a Mediterranean to alpine atmosphere, and I may come back to ride this route one day.

Brod na Kupi couldn’t be closer to the border. I could see the border crossing from the hotel window, and we walked by the river that makes up the border.  That night, we had an amazing feast of mushroom soup and veal at Hotel Mance.  
Turbulent coast in the morning at Vrbnik

View from Hotel Mance of Croatian border crossing

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