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Luca's Tour. Days 50 to 58.

Day 50: 05/10/03
From: Zagreb
To: Karlovac
Dist: 81 km
Weather: Rain, headwind

It totally threw it down last night. When I woke up this morning I hoped, in the back of my mind that it would still be raining heavily. Zagreb is a superb city, the best I’ve visited, and I desperately wanted an excuse to stay another day. The highlight of my stay was definitely the Romany wind orchestra I saw on the Friday night. If you ever come to Eastern Europe make sure you see a genuine gypsy brass band. What a wild night. By far the best gig I’ve ever been to.

Alas, the weather was fine so I reluctantly set off out of the south of the city on a secondary road. The first 20 km were dead flat to Jamnicka Kiselica (follow signs to Remetince when in Zagreb and you’ll get to it). Just before the Kupa river turned right to Donja Kupcina and swung directly in to a fierce headwind. The sky above me was blue but for the whole breadth of the view ahead a dark front was rolling in. The headwind had me down to 14/15 kph and by the time the dark clouds had engulfed me I was down to zero kph, sheltering from the inevitable deluge in a dilapidated barn. Got to Karlovac about 2 and while getting something to eat the heavens opened again.

yed in the bar drinking coffee and watching Middlesbrough vs Chelsea til the rain subsided and then went out in search of somewhere to stay. Again, camping was a no-no – drains were overflowing and the streets were totally flooded. The towns hotel was way to expensive and just when I was running out of options some guy started asking me where I was from etc (this happens a lot when you are on a touring bike). He said that if I go about 1 – 2 km down the road I’ll see loads of houses with Sobe/Zimmer/Room signs outside. And that’s where I found somewhere for about a third of the hotel room price.

Day 51: 6/10/03
From: Karlovac
To: Catrnja
Dist: 86km
Weather: Cold, scattered clouds

Hardly slept last night due to heavy rain battering the tin roof of a nearby shed all night. Thankfully it stopped about 7am so by the time I got on the road I could so without waterproof.

Turned off the main road to Split just after crossing the river Mreznica, on to a minor road to Primislje that slowly climbed past quiet little villages. Along this road there are signs warning of possible mines in the surrounding area. Nothing to worry about so long as you stick to the road. The road to Primislje turned to track eventually and the heavy rainfall of last night made it hard going in places. The scenery though, was fantastic, and i really felt alone out here. Rejoined the tarmac road at Primislje where i saw the first real evidence of the war, that ended only 8 years ago. The place was desolate but for a few old folk scraping out a living amongst derelict, bullet ridden buildings. This scene was repeated from here all the way to the outskirts of Slunj – every house on the main road was an uninhabited wreck.

At Slunj I picked up the main road again and hammered the last 30km or so to a campsite just outside the Plitvicka Jezera National Park. Due to the cold weather and the likelyhood of another downpour I deciced to get a bungalow rather than camp (only 4 quid more a night anyway). I think i could have got a better deal at one of the many houses offering private rooms so but i didn't feel like shopping around. Apparently the lakes and waterfalls that I've come here to see have been very low recently due to the dry summer. Hopefully all this rain will have helped get them back to full, spectacular levels.

Day 52: 7/10/03
Rest day: Plitvicka Jezera National Park
Weather: Cloudy, windy

Plan was to ride the 8 km to the park, lock up my bike and walk around lakes. If you intend to do this make sure you don't forget to bring the key to your lock, otherwise you'll have to spend 10 minutes persuading Tourist Information to look after your bike for you. The series of 16 lakes that cascade in to one another, and the surrounding waterfalls were stunning, and well worth the visit. They did have a slightly over-commercialised, theme park feel to them though so the perfect antidote was an afternoon hike up to Medvedak (Bear Mountain).

This mountain and the surrounding peaksthat overlook the lakes are not only home to brown bears but also wolves, lynxes and eagles – a real wilderness. The trail leads from the back of the Rastovaca car park (follow the red circles filled with white that are marked on trees). Having got my bike from T.I., I rode up as far as I could (not far) before stashing my bike in the forest and carrying on up the path on foot.

While my macho side was saying, 'Yeah, It would be great to see a wild bear', my less stupid side was thinking 'Don't be an idiot, thats the last thing you need. And what would you actually do if you saw a wild bear anyway, apart from crap yourself, scramble up the nearest tree and spend the next 3 hours there crying for your mum'.

Needless to say the 'What I would do if I saw one' issue wasn't resolved due to me not seeing a bear. I'm sure the various wild mammals of the area stay well clear of annoying humans trampling all over their manor thinking they are doing something exciting. Anyhow, this path makes a great hike. There are 3 peaks with great views, two of the lakes and the final one of the land beyond the park. The lakes only take half a day and theres so much more to this park than just them, so I reccommend this walk. You might not see any bears, wolves or lynxes but knowing that they are lurking about in the forest somewhere makes the imagination run wild, and this is an enjoyable thing in itself and something everyday life doesn't allow nearly enough time for.

Day 53: 08/10/03
From: Catrnja
To: Gospic
Dist: 122km
Weather: Snow, tailwind

Snow? Yeah snow. I couldn't believe it when I threw back the shutters of my cabin to see snow covering the mountains, trees, ground and still pouring from the sky. This is Croatia for Christ's sake. I'm 60km from the Mediterranean coast. Its early october. Its not allowed to bloody well snow!!!

Once I'd worked out that there was no quick way out of the mountains to the coast I resigned myself to a day of riding over mountain passes in this weather. Hopefully I'll manage 60 km or so. Actually once I got going it wasn't too bad. The mountains looked amazing and due to the treacherous conditions the main road I was on had hardly any traffic at all.

I also had a tailwind so I take it that this weather has arrived curtosey of the seasonal Bora wind from the north. Made ok progress along this road and the futher I went the warmer (or rather, less freezing) it got. Would have escaped the mountains totally today but I made a really bad move in the afternoon and ended up getting lost. Was low on food and water so had to bite the bullet and divert to Gospic, a town well off course and with a long off road climb seperating us! Gospic itself was really badly battle scarred – it was bombed and shelled heavily. This area was right on the frontline and 8 years later the evidence is still very openly there.

Day 54: 9/10/03
From: Gospic
To: Biograd
Dist: 146 km
Weather: Cloudy, then sunny

Set off on road number 50 with the snow capped peaks of the Paklenica National Park to my right. The coast was on the other side of them and once I was past the highest peaks and they started to drop away a little I turned up a minor road that would take me over the range at the first available pass, the Mila Alan.After4 km or so of the climb the tarmac gives way to gravel and rocks for 10km. The gradient is steady though so before long I got in to a good rhythm and was at the top. The pass itself is flat for about 2 km. There is a burnt out tank up here, evidence, together with the memorials to tradgically young lads killed here lining the climb, of the battle that took place for control of it.

Once through the pass the climate changed instantly from alpine to Medeterranean. Was it really only yesterday I was riding through the snow? The view from up here was terrific and continued to be so for the whole of the the 21km descent.

Eventually dropped down to Obrovac, a nice little townon the brigh turquoise river Krupa and from there climbed sharply up to road 502 that I followed to the 27 on to Berkovac and in turn (after an annoying detour due to roadworks) on to Biograd and the Med.

Day 55: 10/10/03
From: Biograd
To: Solaris (nr Sibenik)
Dist: 64 km
Weather: Sunny, hot

Headed straight down main costal road which wasn't too bad traffic wise. Rode through Sibinek town out on to a little peninsula with a couple of campsites on it. Am now camped about 20 metres from the sea and after my first swim in the med chilled in my hammock on the beach. Will get to Split tomorrow from where I intend to island hop down to Dubrovnik. Today was deliberately qiute light biking wise, as the next few days willbe. Need a bit of a rest before the run across the Balkans to Istanbul.

Day 56: 11/10/03
From: Solaris
To: Split
Dist: 86 km
Weather:Hot and Sunny

Woke up to yet more excellent weather. Got straight on to route 58, a shorter but hillier alternative to the main coastal road to Split. After a bit it develops in to a long climb, then an undulating section, and then an awesome dscent in to Trogir. The view on this downhill across the sea to the islands is amazing. Worth the climb for that alone.

Trogir is a picturesque town with a castle on the harbour. Worth a browse before heading on the local roads by the coast to Split. Don't know if there is a better way to get in to the city by bike but the dual and triple lane flyover I ended up on were a nightmare! Old town is nice though, a maze of narrow, jumbled streets so typical of old mediteranean ports.

Just staying the night though. Getting 9.30 ferry tomorrow morning for the islands.

Day 57: 12/10/03
From: Split
To: Rt Bad (nr Sucuraj) on Hvar island
Dist: 67km
Weather: Hot, sunny, slight cloud.

As I was gong to have a few lazy days on the islands I figured a few books were necessary. The only place selling English language books that was still open by the time I got out last night was, according to the ultra-helpful hostel guy, a place down by the port. Turns out this place buys and sells books from and to English speaking travelers. The books cost 40 kuna each (about 4 quid). When I asked how much I’d get for my old book he said 10 kuna. How absurd, and what a perfect example of the total stupidity of Capitalism as a system of distribution. I didn’t exchange my book. I left it at the hostel for someone else to pick up. On my way out I saw someone else had done the same, leaving “Full Tilt. From Ireland to India with a Bicycle”. Perfect, and with no greedy sod profiting from this anonymous and moneyless “trade”. Book pools at hostels make sense, fellow travelers.

The ferry left dead on time and got to Starigrad on Hvar at 11.30. From there I cycled east along the traffic free road that runs the length of the island. I stopped off on route at the town of Jelsa which has a lovely harbour and town square.

Like many sizeable islands off the Croatian coast, Hvar is long and thin and so following this road, that at points dipped towards the sea and then rose again to heights of 300 - 400m asl generally meant a magnificent view of the sea on one side or the other. Hvar’s beauty makes it a tourist magnet, but this being October I felt I had the island to myself. The lack of traffic meant that I could totally absorb myself in this spectacular ride.

Dropped down to a campsite on the coast about 5 km from Sucuraj where my ferry leaves from tomorrow. On arrival there my odometer flashed up 4000km total since leaving London. After the usual routing of pitching my tent, showering, cooking and eating I settled down in my hammock by the sea, looking back across the northern coast of the island, to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Day 58: 13/10/03
From: Rt Bad
To: Lumbarda (nr Korcula Town) on Korcula island
Dist: 66km
Weather: Warm, sunny, light cloud

Left campsite leaving plenty of time to make 11 o’clock ferry. Wanted to get some breakfast and have a look around Sucuraj. A stiff climb from the campsite back up to the main road was followed by a great descent on a totally silent road, the whirr of my freewheel being the sound.

The town had an extremely chilled harbour area. I could have sat there out the front of the café I was at all day, watching fishermen untangle nets and generally observe village life go on. What a shame most people see this island when its inhabitant’s natural lifestyle is buried by mass tourism. I doubt the old boys hanging around the harbour, each one a real character, are at all visible in august, let alone inclined to wish breakfasting travelers a cheery “bon appetite”.

The ferry to Drvenik on the mainland took half hour, as I was hoping. This meant I didn’t have to rush the 30km down the coast to Ploce, on this real James Bond car chase of a road, to get the 14.15 boat to Trpanj on the Peljesac peninsula. Once there its only about 7 or 8 km as the crow flies to Orebic where I was to get my third and final ferry of the day to Korcula island. However, as I had to go up and over the island on winding roads the actual distance was about 25 km. Once the up and over bit were out of the way I was hit by a gobsmacking view of Korcula and other smaller islands over the Neretvanskl kanal. This really blew me away. It was so beautiful it made me want to weep! Thinking about it now I almost feel moved to write a poem (don’t worry, I’m not going to). I took some photos, but they don’t do it justice at all.

Got down to Orebic and had time to both get a haircut and go for a swim before jumping on the 6pm ferry to Korcula from where I rode the 7 or so km to Lumbardia and found a campsite (less than 3 quid a night!) and a cool bloke from Seattle who had worked on boats for most of his life. He knew how to navigate by the stars, and indeed actually had. He guided me through the night sky and rekindled a long forgotten interest in astronomy. Need to relearn my stars when I get back. Gives your mind a whole new dimension. Tomorrow will be a rest day. The next boat to Dubrovnik doesn’t go ‘til Saturday (its Monday today) so I’ll either stay here or more likely cycle to the other end of the island and get a ferry to the off the beaten track island of Lastovo.