Before we left our mega-luxury campground this morning, we tried one last time to download our Kindle guidebook for Slovenia onto our laptop – of course failing once again. I’m not sure why, but Amazon apparently doesn’t love laggy connections. The fresh pastries and a yogurt drink from the campground’s onsite bakery and market made up for it, though, and after a hearty breakfast we set out for our last ride in the Istrian hills.
The cycling today proved much less traffic-laden than previous days, which I quiet appreciated. We wound our way up and down the Istrian interior – through the scraggly vineyards, olive orchards,and small wheat and corn fields. Bree is convinced that the GPS hates her, though. It seems that no matter where we go, it routes us the steepest hills it can find, only to drop us right back down on the other side.
To prove it, we climbed for what seemed like forever to an Istrian hill town. I totally thought it was worth it – maybe you’ll have to ask Bree for her opinion on the matter.
The architecture here feels much more natural and congruous with the landscape than it does in Itay. We are surprised at this since there is a heavy Italian – and in particular Venetian – influence here in the architecture and even to a lesser extent the culture. While the Italians typically will stucco their buildings with bright colors, the walls here feel very sturdy and timeless as they are built out of the same stone that the walls and churches are also made of. It definitely has an older and more permanent feel. The hill towns are also arranged in a defensive ring, creating the appearance of a cap on top of their hills.
We approached the Slovenian border with confidence knowing that we only had 10 km to go until we reached our campground on the coast. This should have been a red flag – never assume that 10 km will be easy! We had reached a point in the road where there was no where else to go besides what looked like a freeway entrance, so we headed that direction hoping that an arterial road would show up before too long. We rode one sketchy kilometer merging with freeway traffic with no shoulder until a turnoff finally presented itself. I don’t know if we have ever been so happy to see a stop sign, indicating that the death ride was over!
From there, our GPS first routed us down a hill and onto a theoretically paved road north to the border. As we approached the turn, there was nothing there! We rode a little further to make sure there was no error on our part, and then back again. No luck. According to the GPS, this was the only way across the border without taking one of several freeways that converged at a town just north of us. Since freeways are not an option, especially after the stretch we’d just survived, we whipped out the laptop in the parking strip of one of the local “grappa, honey, olive oil, and wine” roadside stands similar to the fruit stands we’ve seen in Hawaii. We found that if we backtracked about 5 km, then in theory we could take another road, albeit with switchbacks, to the Slovenian border. The problem was that our map indicated that there was no road across the highway. Bree, with her navigational skills akin to that of homing pigeon, was sure that she had seen one so we tried for it anyway. If it didn’t work, we would have to backtrack almost our entire day’s ride.
The traffic had picked up by this point, and I was losing what good spirits I had held onto thus far. As Bree suspected, there was a bridge across the freeway leading to the paved road which would theoretically take us north to the border. The road was paved – but only for about 50 feet. With no other options, we carried on down the rutted gravel path.
While I am pretty comfortable with riding on gravel, Bree’s unbalanced load made for slow progress and we were getting quite rattled. At least the switchbacks were downhill! I felt like Croatia is a casino, where every exit is hidden in order to keep you in longer. The gravel did end, though, and with a kilometer to the border, I was elated to be back on track.
Slovenia really knows how to win over bicycle tourists. After stamping our passports, we immediately found a sign indicating a designated bicycle route which follows the main highway. We gladly took it, and had a very nice ride along a river and salt fields. It smelled a lot like the Great Salt Lake due to the brine in the salt fields, reminding us a bit of home. Before we knew it, we were on the surprisingly ritzy and highly developed Slovenian coastline.
In order to get to our campsite, we had to climb over yet another coastal mountain. Due to our creative routing in Croatia, we STILL had 10 km to go, and the climbing was steep. We even managed to get ourselves up what I believe to be the steepest hill we have climbed to date, which is saying something!
(Bree’s Note: The sign at the bottom of the hill indicated an 18% grade. From past experience, we know that these signs can be a bit arbitrary, but man alive, this one was so steep it had stairs running next to it in lieu of a sidewalk. I got off to push within seconds, but Ben motored right up, stopping only once to catch his breath. Seriously his legs are something else! Once he reached the top, he parked his bike and came down to push mine the rest of the way for me. Thanks dude!)
After a quick grocery stop (where we were glad to find lots of cheese once again) we made quick progress until we finally reached our campsite just up the hill from Isola.
We spent dinner on the coast, boiling a typical meal of pasta with zucchini and pesto along the pier. Live music was playing down the boardwalk a way, with some very drunk people all singing loudly along (in English, of course), to hits of the YMCA caliber. Cracking up, we decided to get a closer look. When we got to the music, we found that we had just run into our first Slovenian wedding!
The guests were all drinking, eating cake, dancing, and singing along with the band, while the couple was being photographed on the pier as the sun was setting into the Adriatic. We really enjoyed Croatia (in particular, the landscape), but I think Slovenia will be more our style!