2009/10/19: Day off in Rijeka, Croatia
The boat arrived at 7:00 in the morning, and we found a coffee shop for something breakfast-like. Rijeka has free wireless all down it’s Gradska, a pedestrian-only street with many cafes. We’ve had a lot of this public wireless in Eastern Europe, but the problem is that they must limit the bandwidth usage. This means we can check email, but we cannot upload photos to Flickr or our blog. Also, we cannot update the Google map that appears on this blog. We’re not clear on the reason, but it’s quite likely a restriction motivated by politics; we’re in countries that disagree with the position of their borders as shown on Google Earth.
We found a room for a quiet day before starting inland (and uphill) to Slovenia. My legs hadn’t fully recovered when we left Dubrovnik after our last rest day, and we’d spent a night on the floor of the children’s playroom on the boat. Maria, our kind landlady, let us into the room early and we had long afternoon naps. The laundromat touted by the tourist office eluded us, but we enjoyed Rijeka’s coffee shops and its Austro-Hungarian architecture.
2009/10/20: Scocjan Caves Camp 73 km (odometer rolled past 15,000 km)
Accelerating by taking boats in the Aegean and in the Adriatic has made crossing the Alps a realistic possibility. From Rijeka we have a GPS track (sent by Carsten) to follow north across the Alps. The route threads its way through some of the lower passes, the only sensible option at this time of year since higher passes are likely to be either snowed in or closed. Chris was determined to cross the Alps (so much for easy peasy Plan A) and I came on board easily once we’d accelerated by boat.
It was quite a climb out of Rijeka. We stopped at a coffee shop before the Slovenian border and counted our kuna: just enough for two cappucinos, one piece of baklava (you cut, I choose), and the tip. To avoid changing money unnecessarily, we try to spend our last local currency just before leaving a country if we can. The Slovenian border gave us a feeling of being that much further into familiar Europe: European Union, Schengen Zone, and separate lanes for EU, CH (Switzerland) and EEA (European Economic Area) and “others” such as us. The guards were kind enough to admire our bulging passports with their array of exotic visas, and the word of our starting point was passed cheerfully from official to official as went through.
We rode to the Skocjan Caves which are in a Regional Park that protects an area of karst limestone. Too late to tour them, we looked for a room. Rooms could be had, but finding food was an issue. There were no shops or restaurants nearby and our panniers were poorly stocked. We wanted to stay near the caves to tour them the next day, so we camped discreetly and made a supper of carrots and garlic stewed with windfall apples. We’d had a big restaurant lunch, so we were alright scouring the panniers for a meagre meal.
2009/10/21: Skopo 32 km
Breakfast consisted of more windfall apples stewed with the last of the margarine and honey along with the handful of raisins that had been with us since Tajikistan. Like emptying the fridge, cleaning out the panniers is a good thing. Served with the last oatmeal cookies and tea biscuits, it was a fine breakfast indeed.
For the cave tour, we were to divide ourselves amongst the two guides depending on whether we wanted Slovensko or English. Besides us, the only others who opted for English were the two Hungarian lasses. This left an enormous Slovensko group that included a rowdy high school class of chain-smoking punksters. We were not displeased to see the school group go separately with one guide, and our group became a bilingual one with twelve grey-haired Slovenians, the two Hungarians, and us. The caves were truly spectacular, with all the classic formations, several enormous chambers, and a bridge 45 metres above a substantial underground river.
The Skocjan Caves are located in Skocjan Regional Park, and the interpretive centre had information on ALPARC, the Alpine Network of Protected Areas, which promotes cross-border co-operation for the management of Alpine protected areas in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Countries co-operating to manage a single ecosystem makes refreshing sense. Here’s hoping this level of awareness can be reached in southeastern Europe when it reaches the level of economic development that is evident in Slovenia.
Realizing we were only a few kilometres from Lipica, one of the stud farms and training centres for Lipizzan horses, we decide this was a day for tourism and not for mileage. The stud farm tour was informative, and Chris and I were the sole members of the English group; we had a very knowledgeable guide to ourselves, and he filled us with details of the breeding selection process. I really enjoyed watching first a serene field full of gentlemanly white stallions, then another of cavorting iron-grey fillies, and later black foals alongside their white mothers. They’re born black but turn white as they mature. We learned that the Lipizzan breed is very slow to develop and very long-lived, many reaching 35 years old. They have high bone-density as a result of their slow development and from grazing on karst terrain forage which is rich in calcium. This contributes to them being able to do their spectacular leaps without injury.
We pedalled north into a threatening sky and found an apartment rather than a room. Determined not to be short of grub again, we were well stocked with dinner ingredients and breakfast bits, so we settled in. We were glad we didn’t try to camp in someone’s vineyard, because the heavens opened that night. It’s unseasonably cold and the nights are long now; we’d rather spend the evenings indoors.
2009/10/22: Nova Gorica 35 km in a downpour
We set out in the rain hoping it would ease, but it just rained harder. In Nova Gorica we asked some teenagers about internet access, and they directed us to the city’s well-appointed library. This is quite a different attitude to the internet than the online gaming culture we’ve seen in this age group in other countries. We checked the weather forecast, and decided to hole up for the afternoon rather than get any wetter – if that were possible.
2009/10/23: Bovec 74 km
In much improved weather, we headed north into the Julian Alps. Our restaurant lunch included enough wine to make the early afternoon riding wobbly. The scenery was stunning, and – even knowing we’re in for tough climbs – we were feeling elated to be moving into the Alps. There is something very familiar and home-stretch about the Alps which perhaps stems from the years we lived near Geneva. Arriving in Bovec at 4 p.m., we contemplated starting the 20 kilometre climb to the Italian border, but when the dark sky began to spit we decided to leave the climb for the next day.