Most of the time we are tied to nobody’s schedule – we truly go where we please when we please. In fact, I rarely know what day it even is, much less the time. Today, though, was different. Today was the day that we left Italy once again in order to begin the Eastern European phase of our bicycle tour.
The rain, as we have come to expect from Venice, fell intermittently all morning. Since checkout from our campsite was 12:00 pm, and our alleged ferry whose tickets we did not actually purchase didn’t leave until 5:00 pm, we spent the morning eating a good breakfast, searching for fuel for our stove at nearby campsites since Croatia isn’t known to be a reliable supplier, and doing some last minute route planning. We were fortunate enough to have enough of a break between bouts of rain to get our tent and camp packed out without getting wet. The break didn’t last long, though, and as we rolled out of camp the rain began to fall once again.
Luckily, we had taken the bus to the city a few times and noted that the most obvious way to get onto the causeway through the Venetian Lagoon would be totally sketch on a bicycle due to some really narrow bridges with high speed traffic. After restocking our food supplies to maximum capacity and unsuccessfully searching for fuel for our stove at several supermarkets, it was time to make a plan as to how to get to Venice.
The rain was falling at a pretty substantial drizzle, making the rails that support the light-rail system in Mestre very slippery. I nearly went down a time or two, as did Bree, so we kept a very slow and deliberate pace as we crossed back and forth across the tracks. The previous night I had found what I thought was a route onto the causeway that would avoid all highways, so we set off in search of the route. The rain fell harder the closer to the coast we got, and by the time we were on the coast it lost its drizzle status in favor of downpour. The road I thought we could take (as it was denoted as an intersection on our GPS) proved to be 30 feet below the elevated highway. After following my gut for a bit, we were able to weave down into a shipyard, across some tracks and back onto the appropriate road which parallels the train tracks that run to Venice. The road had zero traffic, and most importantly, avoided the highway.
After weaving through more shipyards and industrial complexes, we finally arrived at the causeway. The 4 km stretch luckily had a designated pedestriant/cycling lane with a metal divider to keep the traffic at bay. We were thankful for the separation as the heavy wind and rain drove our stability down the drain. We rode hard into the storm, surrounded by the shallow Venetian Lagoon. Before we knew it, we were in Venice!
After purchasing our ferry tickets to Pula, we had a nice long wait in the ferry terminal. We were sopping wet, and after ringing out our sopping wet socks in the bathrooms and switching to dry shoes we were glad to be out of the rain. As it came time to board, we noted that this was not like a train station. We had to go through security, and almost every pannier contained a banned item. Knife? My rear-right pannier. Combustible fuel for our stove? Also my rear right-pannier. Screwdriver and other similarly sharp tools? Bree’s top pannier. The list goes on. We stood first in line, trying to figure out how to get our precious supplies to Croatia. We had gone long enough at the beginning of our tour without a knife or stove, and knew that it was no fun!
As the line opened to begin the security screenings, which were similar to the airport with x-ray machines, stern guards, and metal detectors, one particularly sour looking security officer eyed our bikes with displeasure. After talking to another member of the staff, he told us to just walk on through. I wheeled my bike through the metal detector – obviously setting it off. Bree did the same. After the guards paid us no attention for another 30 seconds as we stood waiting further instruction, we realized that we were home free! Not a single piece of our luggage was x-rayed. Sweet! Two passport stamps later, we boarded the ferry headed to Croatia.
The ocean was not too rough, but on a boat the size of ours (about the same size as ferries to Catalina Island), Bree and I both felt in serious danger of seasickness. We were lucky that the ride across the Adriatic Sea was only 2.5 hours! All throughout the ride, the equivalent of a stewardess with characteristically funny translations told us all about the islands in the lagoon and their history. We couldn’t help but laugh at her choice of words, but had to give her credit for being trilingual as she translated everything she said to English, Croatian, and Italian!
We arrived at port around 8:30 PM, and unfortunately we still had a 6.5 km ride to our camp. We were unsure whether or not it would be open, so we blitzed it, hoping for the best. Our first views of the city of Pula contained yet another Roman ampitheater. It is funny – we set out in Italy to make sure that we sought out some Roman ruins since we were afraid we would miss them in the event that we did not make it to Rome. It turns out that they are everywhere and we notice them almost wherever we go! Since it was getting dark, though, we did little more than look before moving on.
We finally arrived at our camp on the coast just as it was getting dark. At first, all we could see was reception closed up tight. Not a good sign. Within seconds though, we were met by a friendly man who was walking down road to the campground entrance. He was called by his boss who had seen us riding on the road toward the campground as he was heading home so that we could get a pitch. Once again, the stars aligned for us. I suppose the universe owed Bree for riding across a causeway through the ocean in a thunderstorm this morning.
He led us to a nice field full of olive trees with basically no one camping in it and told us to set up wherever we liked. We could deal with any registration issues in the morning. We were relieved to have a home for the night and that everything worked out so well.
Settled in, we are loving Croatia already. Our campsite, which is next to the coast, smells of the pine forest that hugs the coastline here. The water is clear (from what I could see in the dim light), and the temperature is perfect. A subtle breeze seems to find its way up into the campground every now and then. I cannot yet vouch for Croatia during the day, but the smells, sights, and feel of our incredibly quiet campground lead me to believe that I will be a very big fan.