Cres, Krk, Rab, Pag, Hvar

This could be a list of random acronyms, it’s not. These are the Croatian islands we’ve travelled over in the past few weeks.

This could be a list of random acronyms, it’s not. These are the Croatian islands we’ve travelled over in the past few weeks.

Cres, the isle of sheep.

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Cres Island

31st of December, in Brseč. Time to make decisions. We face a dilemma. We must choose between following the coast northwards to Rijeka, the countries second largest city, or taking the ferry to the wild island waving at us on the other side of the shore, Cres. Landslide vote. For new year’s eve, we want to play Robinson Crusoe on a small piece of land where there are more sheep than two legged inhabitants. We enjoy the experience so much that we chose to continue island hopping.

Krk, our shelter against the rain

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Krk Island

From Cres to Rab, lacking a direct ferry we join the dots with a stopover on Krk. Rain has been announced. It’s agreed to have a rest day sheltered from the whims of the sky. Straight after landing on our second island we leave seeking refuge. To give ourselves more chances we split up and fan out. Between the chapel of a cemetery, a cabin in the forest and a family beach shelter, the last option seduces everyone.

Rab, the island of the shower

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Rab Island, Rab town

Up at 5am to take the boat, the kilometres pass slowly on this otherwise flat island. The city of Rab gives us a rich meal in its only open restaurant. A soundless visit of paved alleyways deserted by tourists and we realise that it’s been a week. Seven days with no shower. A quick internet search turns up an apartment for three with sea view. Thirty euros. Hard not to get tempted. The chef in the kitchen bakes cakes, the mechanic on the terrace changes chains and the photographer is forced to rest because his hands are covered in chocolate and grease.

Jablanac, temporarily stranded.

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Hotel Ablana

To go from Rab to Pag, you have to take the ferry in Mišnjak, travel 20 kilometres on the coast between Stinica and Prizna then take another ferry to Žigljen. Such was the itinerary on thursday the 5th of January. Once again, the weather got in the way of our plans. On disembarkation of the first boat, gusts and snow make it impossible to pedal straight. It will probably stop, forecasts announced a sunny day. Well, our forecasts. The Croatians knew. A storm is coming, it will be here in an hour maximum and for several days. A friendly motorist stops and warns us. He highly recommend that we head towards the next village and find a sheltered place. Seeing the mass of black clouds approaching at top speed, we believe him in a second and get quickly down to Jablanac, a peaceful village of which the only hotel is abandoned. 

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Hotel Ablana, cooking crêpes

Doors off their hinges, slamming windows, groaning stairs…but the walls stand up and a room  reveals itself as more or less welcoming. Intact windows, sea view and acceptable cleanliness. Anyway we’ve got no other choice. Three nights, two days. It will be the time it took to the weather to calm down. The time we get ourselves comfortable in our 3 star squat.

Pag, where the sea freezes.

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Pag Island

Finally, we’re there. Stepping off the boat on the island of Pag, it’s like landing on another planet. There are stones as far as the eye can see, rocky hills, pebble beaches, and of course cliffs to climb normally all year round. Except when it is minus 6. The storm is gone but the freezing temperatures hang around. Never mind, no climbing, we satisfy our appetite with breathtaking landscapes in very rare condition. In Pag, the sea is frozen. So are we. Fortunately, cheap apartments are easy to find.

Hvar, caves, creeks and cliffs

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Krka National Park

After Pag we’re forced back onto the mainland. Between the waterfalls in Krka National Park and meeting Matt, a traveller on two wheels from the UK in sandals like Adam, we have no regrets.

Once in Split the ocean calls to us again. In the chain of islands in view, one of them draws our gaze. It’s name is Hvar. In our climbing guide of Croatia, it’s got 30 pages dedicated to it. In tourist guides, it’s claim to fame is as the sunniest island of the country. As we arrive, it’s pouring with rain.

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Hvar Island
Hvar dirt roads
Hvar Island

When we take a shortcut to join our first destination, the rocky track climbs up so much that we end pushing the bikes… in the snow!Whilst raining on the Coast, it was snowing heavily 500m above. Taking much longer than expected, our road takes us to the top Sv Nikola, 623 meters above sea level, in complete darkness. In these conditions we are unable to find the cave that is marked on the map. Surprised farmers open the door of their overheated attic for us. Lucky.The next day, the 18th of January, the cave in which we wanted to celebrate Noémie’s birthday remains unfound. We have to face facts, our directions found on the internet are more wikipedia that Encarta ‘95. An icy descent follows down to the village that we previously towered above. Potholes, bumps, rocks, snow, it shakes and we take it all in. Incredible landscapes. Once in Sveta Nedjelja, there are signs to the infamous cave but it is too late to get up there. It’s just a question of time. It took two days to find it, no regrets to have kept trying.

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Sveta Nedjelja Cave

This cave is first class wild camping. Well, it’s necessary to leave the bikes at the bottom and walk up the hill for thirty minutes with all the necessary gear to sleep, cook and drink. Then go down to fill up our water bottles when deciding to settle for a few days. Then cycle 40 kilometres to the nearest grocery store to resupply, thanks Sylvain. Apart from this, it’s magnificent. The view. The silence. The cliffs.

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Vela Stiniva
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Pokrivenik

Even so, we eventually leave, there’s still a way to go. After playing hermits, we do 37 kilometres to find some more cliffs. This time the gear comes out of the bag. Overlooking the crystal waters of the heavenly creek of Vinika, we warmed up our arms in the sun. After two days our food starts to run out. We have just about enough to check out a cliff 10 kilometres further. Banco. Another paradise lost.A creek with turquoise waters, a cave to explore, cliffs to climb, a beach to sleep on and even oranges to pick. To say that we have to leave in the morning… We have to go tomorrow…

That’s how, in a month we’ve covered only 700 kilometers. Island to island, paradise to paradise.

Philosophical moments #2. Being late

Travelling, or the art of being late.

Travelling

Going fast, it’s shortest path to go far. It’s also probably the best way to not enjoy the trip. Winter reminded us of a forgotten lesson. We can plan everything, except the passing of time. Since planning is not our thing, time flew faster than expected. No danger, we’re late but still going in the right direction.

 

Thank you Christine for this poetic welcome.

A sunny december

OspDecember 12. Osp. A little village in stone nestled underneath a gigantic rocky cirque. The paradise of Slovenian climbing. The perfect wild camping spot; the crag a 10-minute walk away under cloudless skies, friendly temperatures and a six kilometre cycle to replenish the water and food. ShoppingEverything came together, we put our difficult winter behind us and finally used our eight kilos of climbing gear that had lain dormant in the depths of the panniers. We’d stay for ten days. Meanwhile, a third adventurer had the time to consolidate his equipment, pack his bike and find a flight to Venice, joining us on the 21st of December. From there, Sylvain took a train for Trieste whilst we climbed the hill separating Italy from Slovenia to greet him. Three on the road. With our need for the open road coming back strong accompanying the better than usual weather, we head for the Istrian Peninsula. Piran, the Slovenian Venice, calls us. An unseasonably zealous security guard dislodges us from our beach bivouac at 2300.

No worries. Awakened to splendid skies, we lose our memory of the night before in the colourful streets of Piran. 1300. Four hours of light to get to the border. Objective of the day: Croatia. The road rises, falls, we get lost, find ourselves again. No sunset over the sea tonight. No worries. This Kingdom of the wild boar is ours. An abundance of dead wood brings us welcome warmth.

FjordDecember 24. Alarm clock frozen, Sylvain gets straight to work. A few branches in the right places and we’re warmed up again. On the road, we advance at relaxed pace. We buy supplies, take some photos, stop for coffee. Thirty kilometres. Just enough to find an ideal location for a polite dinner party. A rocky terrace overlooking the fjord Limska Draga. imageThe sun gives us a rather grandiose show. Potatoes and mushrooms cook in the embers, mulled wine is on the stove, time passes and stars light the sky. We gift ourselves an extra day to admire the precipice. This small corner of the world is amazing but the nights are very humid. This is the only excuse needed to seek another paradise lost. 27 kilometres go by, and Rovinj opens it’s arms. Despite its apparent success in summer, all campsites in this pretty tourist town are closed.

RovinjNo worries. We find a hostel for a warm shower. Our Christmas present. We search for a new bivouac with a view. At the Forest Park Punta Corrente, also known as Zlatni rt, we receive a warm welcome. Aisles of cypress trees, colourful boats fishing the shallow waters of the Adriatic and rock glowing in light of the sunset. Our eyes are drawn to a small shaded terrace in front of the sea, set back from the crags. Rovinj pêcheurClimbing in every direction, temperatures hovering around 20 degrees, it was hard to leave. After four days climbing and lounging in the sun, envy for a new view of this country returns. Serious talks begin. Ambition, it binds us to an achievable goal. Brseč, on the opposite coast. Rovinj ClimbingSeventy kilometres. Departure is two hours later than planned. Good start. To make it more difficult the hills pile up on one another and we’ve got nothing to eat for lunch.

 

 

No worries. A short detour later and we’ve found pizza for tuppence. Darkness approaches. Mulled wine is now a firmly established tradition, so we add a glass bottle to our panniers just before arriving at our planned destination. Once, twice and three times we’re disappointed. It’s not possible to camp here. Night falls.Brseč The last option it is, the Chapelle Sv Magdalena. After a steep rocky trail, a field dominates over the sea. Isolated, flat, littered with dead trees in addition to a drystone wall enclosure to build a fire. Idyllic and ideal, no change there. Tired, we get to bed before the mulled wine this time.

Cres islandNo worries. we’ll drink it tomorrow. Tomorrow is Today. December 31st. The town of Cres, on the island of the same name. Plans change. Instead of following the coast, we’ll island hop. After seeing the landscape, we don’t regret our choice. That’s how we find ourselves, eating pancakes and drinking wine by the fire as we prepare to celebrate the New Year.image

Philosophical Moments #1. Small Bike

Small Bike on the road of a big adventure.

small bikeTo see things in grand context, there’s nothing better than feeling small.
To point the eyes upwards.
Being aware of the vastness around us.
As lying on the floor to take pictures reveals a new perspective,
With Small Bike it’s never far away.
Thank you Duch for this gift.

To follow Small Bike’s adventures, click here.

Winter in Germany. Cycling and camping.

good traveller[A little context: today is Thursday the 17th of November. After two days spent with our friend Christine in Regensburg, Germany, we are meant to be back on the road. The apartment is clean, our bags firmly closed, Christine is away at work and the sun is back after two days of persistent rain. We have only to load our bikes and leave. We weren’t counting on my legendary clumsiness…  Adam had held the door open with a panier, I decided to help him taking the luggage out. I let you imagine. A swift draft, a slamming door, and here we are sitting on the floor in front of said door, keys inside alongside the remainder of our bags and my shoes. In short, here is how to find time to write a new article!]

But what an idea!

To understand how we got to cycling in winter in Germany, we must return to the start of our project.

Winter 2015. Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.  France. It’s -20 degrees celsius (-10deg Fahrenheit for those of a certain persuasion). The van is enveloped in snow. Climbing and traveling is, as usual, the topic of conversation. Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Mexico … Why not go back together? By bike? Without taking a plane? Where to go? From Europe, we could reach Russia then cross the Bering Strait to Alaska. It would then seem only sensible to descend southwards. Then what? Why not continue on to Latin America? Learn to sail en route and return to the old continent via ocean? Seeing as we’d be away a while, why not go to Africa and pedal North this time. Adam gets carried away. We should buy a kayak, add some wheels, drag it behind us. This way, we’d have room for our skis. Snap back to reality, a kayak and skis, it’s a little too much. The rest is just about conceivable.

The idea is unleashed. A few afternoons surfing the Internet at the library are sufficient to understand that the Bering Strait is but a pipe dream. No way to cross this passage in a way that satisfies us. It has been a long time since the ice between the two continents is reliably solid. For a long time relations between the Americans and the Russians have been more icy than cordial. We’ll have to take a boat. A container ship with a hefty price-tag or perhaps a private sailboat in exchange for a hand. The solutions exist, we’ll improvise once there.

How long will it take? Quick calculations occur thanks to google maps. Approximately 15,000 kilometres to Asia. A year. More or less the same for America, from North to South. A year more. And for Africa, from South to North, perhaps a little less. About three years. 36 months. With a budget of 500 euros per month. We need 18,000 euros. Let’s say 20,000 to have a wee margin. At the worst, when we have no more money, we’ll look for a job. Three years without working, it makes you dream. When you live in Chamonix, it’s to enjoy the mountains. It’s out of the question to work too much without the incentive of something to save for.

Van HiverThe best time to pedal in Europe is spring and summer. If we plan to leave in the spring of 2016, that leaves us only two seasons to fill the bank account. Too ambitious. Could we start in the spring of 2017? Hmm, it’s a little too far. Good enough, we start in the fall of 2016. After all, we survived a winter in the mountains in a van with no heating …

Reality has caught up with us.

nono degueuYes, that’s what we thought before. The reality is a little different. The month of November 2015 had been hot and dry. We hoped to take advantage of the same meteorological conditions. This was the case until Cologne. Until the first of November. Since then, winter has arrived. Temperatures oscillate between 5 and -2 celcius, the rain argues with the snow for control of thebouteille gelee sky, the wind rows with the clouds rather than pushing them back. In short, it’s winter in Germany. And we are nomads by bike who spend their days pedalling OUTSIDE and their nights sleeping OUTSIDE. 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

neigeI know what you’re going to tell me. You don’thave the gear? If so, we have big down jackets, comfortable sleeping bags by -10 degrees, waterproof jackets and pants, a tent designed for arctic expeditions … A few minor issues, Adam cycles in sandals with waterproof socks and our gloves are very light – absorbing the rain like a sponge. We’ve invested in new gloves. Adam now dons waterproof footwear over his naked feet. But nothing works quite well enough. The cold continues, it’s exhausting. Everything takes on an air of mission impossible.

Packing away the tent for example. It has rained all night. Because of the cold, we’ve barricaded ourselves inside and the condensation is considerable. Everything’s wet. We’re wiping away the biggest drops. Our hands are frozen in less than five minutes. We put them in our pockets, wait for them to warm up and we return to work. At this rate, packing our gear takes three times longer than in “normal” conditions. Of course, it is night at 16:30. From start to finish, we only have about six hours to advance. When counting breaks for snacks, meals and coffee, it’s a little less than four hours. Suffice to say, celebrating the new year in Greece moves away a little more each day.

And yet solutions have been found!

The first of these genius ideas was to look p1350331for shelters to sleep under. With a roof over our heads, it’s easier to ventilate the tent and to pack it when dry in the morning. Cemeteries, churches, sports halls, bridges … We’ve even managed to spend a night in a chapel. No need to put up the tent nor to fold it.

p1350312The second change, we cook in the evening for two meals. At noon, it is enough for us to leave our lunch box, to eat and leave without taking too much time off from the saddle. We also take advantage of the evening to make tea and get well hydrated. Drinking when the water is about to freeze is not so appetising.

best gant everThird innovation, washing up gloves. With a budget of less than 1 euro, they’ve transformed our springtime gloves into a small jewel of technology. Waterproof, windproof and rather fetching. Almost. Once you start to sweat, everything is damp. Now they serve us to clean our bikes without getting our dirty hands and to do the dishes without getting our fingers wet.

All these solutions are not quite enough to give us the rest we need. It’s good to pedal but it’s also necessary to relax and enjoy. Simone, Lisa, Hannes, Christine, thank you. Without your welcome, we would not have arrived here. What a pleasure to meet you on the road. What a chance to enjoy your heated rooms, your washing machines, and especially your support and friendship. From Amsterdam to Marburg to Regensburg, the journey was long and full of emotion. And that’s just the beginning! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cycle paths: definition

Crash LandingIn the Netherlands

Red lanes allow cyclists and some other two-wheeled vehicles to travel from one point to another via the shortest route, avoiding detours and with maximum safety. At every crossroad there are signposts. The signs show place names alongside accurate, reliable distances. Any work on cycle lanes is clearly visible and a clear alternative is set up when necessary.

Pedalling in the Netherlands was a delight. The bike is a mode of transport like any other. Indeed, the cycle path network is thought of in the same manner as a national road network. From Rotterdam you can reach Amsterdam without needing a map. Cyclists are safe everywhere and all the time. The distance they have to travel from one point to another is always shorter than for larger motorised modes of transport. The result is an unusual silence at rush hour in the capital, incredible friendliness and a much more humane way to share space than we have ever seen.

What surprised us the most is that this system seemed relatively new. Forty years ago, just as elsewhere in Europe, the car was King. After a spate of children were injured and worse many took to the streets in protest. Since then, urban planning has evolved. Roads are designed to guarantee maximum security for all.

Bikes of all shapes anclogbiked colours and for all uses are everywhere to be seen, for all. We saw electric bikes with three wheels for the older generation, cargo bikes to carry up to six children, a bike to push a person in a wheelchair…

 

On the bicycle paths of the capital, the tourist is a real problem. While the locals seem to have a sixth sense of two-wheeled traffic, foreigners drown in a sea of bikes and the cacophony of bells is not uncommon. We had the chance to be introduced to the highway code by Simone, our Dutch friend and hostess. To indicate that one turns to the right or to the left, a discreet movement of the wrist is sufficient. To signal a passing by the left, a simple ring of the bell is enough. To identify who has priority, simply identify the ‘shark’s teeth’ that accompany the white lines on the ground. If they point to you, you must give way or you’ll be bitten. Finally, when you are pedestrians, deploy your panoramic vision and look in all directions before crossing a road or cycle path, cyclists are everywhere. You are quite safe on the pavement, the walking path is reserved for pedestrians and if you’re caught cycling a swift dressing down by a local will let you know your mistake quickly. If our explanations are not clear enough, watch the hilarious video uploaded by the tourist office of Amsterdam.

Lost in Venlo, unable to find the border with Germany as the light fades, a Dutchman flys out of the dusk to accompany us to the border. Richard, in a blue collar shirt and clogs returns from work on his bike and tells us of his and his bicycle’s travels in Europe.

In Germany

Cycle lanes are designed to keep cyclists away from the road, ensuring unmatched driving comfort for motorists. Signs are mere accessories, cycle paths end in fields, offer mysterious access and/or the pedestrians are not inclined to share. Their use is mandatory, so motorists have the right to bip you to show you the right way. Riding on the bike path increases distances by up to thirty percent and are often complemented by numerous exhausting climbs and descents for a good variety of exercise. Lastly, cycling-speed-bumps unlit and unsigned might be put up on steep descents ensuring unexpected emergency braking!

barring the way

It was with a twinge of heart that we crossed the border with Germany. After having used the unique Dutch cycle network, we know that nothing will be the same. Once the sadness has passed, we find we’re pleasantly surprised. Here too, there are ways that are reserved for us everywhere. Our first hundred kilometres are away from cars. Passers-by stop and help when they see us hesitating in front of our map. Arriving in Cologne, a local invites us to follow him. Christian and his folding bike take us on a guided tour of his hometown. The next day, we decide to follow the green cycling signs rather than the gps. At the end of the day, decisions are made. The marked trails have lengthened our route by 20km. On a day of one hundred kilometers, that’s a lot. Especially since you do not really avoid the hills. We will now prioritise navigation via gps and a map for the rest of our German stay.

Lisa and Hannes are waiting for us tonight in Marburg. 95 kilometres to go, with the assurance of a warm, dry bed tonight. As we have just started the first climb, Hannes calls us. He wants to join us today to pedal. The appointment is made, Hannes’ hometown, Siegen, at noon.

We set off as a three. After a giant picnic, Giant picnicwe deviate from our initial itinerary to follow a route that Hannes has heard about. It seems that it is beautiful and there are no climbs. Motivated and delighted with this surprise visit, we push on in good spirits between streams and forests awash with autumn colour. As darkness approaches, we still have not started the famous downhill. We arrived at Marburg at 9pm, exhausted but satisfied with this odd day shared, in spite of the extension of over twenty-five kilometres!

The grand departure

20.10.16

Chaotic start.

No passport, no credit card.

And we're offNo depart without a false start. As usual, we haven’t been able to leave without forgetting something. Ready, we take off without my passport. I left it in France and it’s on the way via post to the UK.  Adam’s parents will have to send them to our next destination, maybe the Netherlands, maybe Germany.

Without a map.

Arriving in Lincoln, it was decided to not follow the GPS, allowing us to take a picture in front of the cathedral. Since we have 300km left in England we didn’t buy a map. Our navigation is based only on this jewel ofLincoln Cathedral technology. Problem is with the route being so long it doesn’t appreciate our change in course.  We are lost and so is it. After long minutes waiting, it has recalculated the route and leave.

With the rain.

While it starts raining, we realise that the detour of a few meters has added ten kilometers.  In waterproof jackets and trousers, we chow down some cereal bars before leaving.  Without fuel for cooking.  Our stove runs on petrol.  It’s cheaper than gas and crucially it’s easier to source since we have only to stop at any petrol pump. But not today. Forbidden from filling our bottle.  Health and safety reasons. Any negotiation is impossible, their only solution is to purchase a jerry can and a minimum of five litres, enough fuel for a month…

Each problem has its solution.

The sky cleared up. Workers who have overheard our conversation at the petrol station kindly fill our bottles.  Passport Hand-offAdam’s Dad arrives and hands over my passport and credit cards, delivered by the postman a mere hour post departure.  To be sure to finish off the day strong, we listen carefully to the GPS. Night falls quickly and it’s time to pitch the tent. In a copse between a field and a stream. Regardless of the short distance, we’ve left.