Real Italian pizza and 3 countries in one day
After we decided to leave the Dolomites, we quickly searched for someone who could host us near Udine while we made our way towards the coastline. Luckily, we found a super enthusiastic guy, Lorenzo, who even gave us advice about where to camp the night before. So we camped at a lake a lake we would have missed otherwise. He later turned out to be the host for several other travelers we’ve met, and everyone was telling about how funny he was J
Lake camping again
The road leading to the lake had quite a few up and downs, with dense forest all around. Instead of going on the main road we made a detour on a cycling path which led us right into the forest, touching the car road intermittently. These roads are usually quite scenic, but the drawback is that they follow the bumpy terrain of nature, which can be exhausting at the end of the day. After climbing a mountain pass that day, it was a bit tough for me, and it seems I pushed too hard, because at a last, steep uphill my knee just warned me that I have to stop, shooting a sharp pain through my body. I am not sure how I made it to the camping spot down to the rocky beach of the lake, and we were worried that I might need a bit of rest to continue.
At least the weather was warm and sunny, and finding a wooden platform with a roof over the lake, the scenery couldn’t have been better. We descended down to a valley and big, green mountains were all around us, closing us in, reflecting on the clear blue water. Some of them still had a bit of snow on the top, reminding us of the past few weeks we have spent among them. We fell asleep watching the stars but awoke feeling raindrops on us. It turned out the roof had quite a few cracks on it, and the hard pouring rain was getting through. We had a few instances where we had to act quickly during the night to avoid all of our stuff getting wet, and these moments are terrifying. Some cases, if we wake up just a few seconds later.. well, let’s just be thankful that luck stayed on our side so far.
Our last Italian memories
The next day I didn’t feel the knee pain anymore, and that gave us an immense amount of relief. During a tour like this, staying still in order to heal a sprained muscle means a lot of lost time. And trying to find a place to stay for a few weeks in a short notice is almost impossible without money, which we can’t really afford. We quickly cycled the few kilometers to our eager host, and just as we made it inside and got acquainted with Lorenzo, the sky fall down like it was a replay from Noah’s Ark. He had another guest having a day trip out, and that poor Dutch guy arrived like someone who just swam in a pool. We finally had our much-needed shower and a relaxing and fun multicultural evening.
Turned out he made the best pizza ever, and we got pizzas after pizzas delivered to our plates until we couldn’t eat a morsel more. I kept moaning because it was so delicious, and Alan later told me the Dutch guy was looking at me incredulously. 😀 This is why I love warmshowers/couchsurfing, you get to experience the culture at close and meet the best of people the country has to offer. Even if we had the money to stay in nice hotels and such, I would choose to travel this way instead, because this is the way to really discover a country, through the eyes of the locals.
Our original plan after Udine was to go to Triest. Before we even reached the city, there was a choice to be made. We wanted to go to Croatia through Slovenia, and it was climbing either way, but it was a much steeper one should we go to the city first. We were unlucky and there was no host waiting for us there, so we decided to go on the ridge instead, and had a beautiful lookout to the cost, with the city and the port below us. Excited to see the sea again, we were contemplating going on the coast in Croatia. As there is only one road with a few hundred meter high wall on one side and a drop to the sea on the other, this seemed like suicide, mingling with the cars, even in the early season of May. So we chose the highlands instead, not wanting to pay for ferries on the island route, which was the go to option for most cycle tourist, having not so much elevation involved.
We arrive to the doorstep of the Balkans
In order to get to the highlands, we had to get through Slovenia first. Being just a 50km stretch, it was easy to cross it in a day. So we started to cycle in the morning in Italy, went through Slovenia, and ended up in Croatia at a small border crossing in the evening. One thing is in high contrast compared to Italy in the Balkans, and we noticed it right on the first day we entered the peninsula. In the former, we did long climbs, went through a mountain pass and enjoyed a long rewarding downhill (par cycling in snow and rain). In the latter on the other hand, nature decided that flat roads are indeed boring. Once you get up a small or bigger hill and you just think that it’s over, the climbing starts again. There are downhill sections for sure, but only to lure you into a fall sense of easiness. At least we were cycling through forests and had some shadow to accompany us, and the weather was getting better, as we hoped.
After we crossed the border, we discovered a small little village and to my delight I realized that they have recycling in Croatia too. The terrain changed a lot, with rocks, grass and shrubs dominating the view, and not much of a human settlement in sight other than the centuries old village we passed. You could smell wild thyme everywhere, especially on the meadow we finally laid down our heads to for the night. And this marks the day I started picking thyme for tea and to use as a spice, reminiscing about my childhood in my grandmother’s village, where this was an everyday thing to do.
The next day, we had to descend down to Rijeka before climbing up again to the highlands. That long 600m downhill was even painful on the way down, knowing that we have to get up to the same elevation we just lost, but we welcomed it as a challenge and a way to get stronger. After we passed through a few villages and mostly climbed for a few days, we had to go through a thick forest before we entered an enormous area untouched by civilization. All around us were meadows spotted with shrubs and wildflowers, rocky hills and some green pastures with half wild horses grazing. The view was gorgeous, as we were riding along the edge of a steep mountain, and it was almost like a drop of wall down to the Adriatic, which was so close it felt like we could almost touch it, making the scenery unique. From the map we didn’t realize how big the islands were, spreading along half the horizon. It shows how big this land was that we barely met any car and saw nothing else than nature and horses for days. The silence was making the experience all the more breathtaking and peaceful. I can safely say that this period was one of the highlights of our Balkan tour.
Although it didn’t last too long, we couldn’t be sad, as the next exceptional beauty was waiting for us in the corner, and we were eager to get to it. But more on that in our next blogpost 😉