Monthly Archives: October 2013

Croatia

DSC01415We left Hungary on a rainy day heading into Croatia. It is always interesting trying to spot the differences when you cross a border. The villages were more alive. There were cafes in even the smallest village, and the cafes were pretty busy.  It was great to see pensioners sitting in cafes socializing rather sitting in their homes alone.

cafe culture

cafe culture

The concentration of cafes increased as we neared Zagreb. The roads also got busier and soon we were fighting for space on pavements. We stayed in Zagreb a few days.We had booked an apartment through airbnb.com and as usual it was excellent. We spent the days exploring Zagreb and tuning in to the culture. What’s the rush, the sun is out let’s sit down and enjoy a drink.

We enjoyed Zagreb, it has a relatively compact centre, with a great market just in the old town. The city has a buzz to it.  The trams and the traffic make cycling on the roads off putting.

DSC01428

DSC01433

Getting out of Zagreb was relatively easy, we followed a cycle route south and headed south west towards Istria. This took us through the mountainous region of Gorski Kator. The road steadily climbed and unfortunately the clouds started coming down so we cycled through rain and mist. When the mist cleared we were treated to spectacular views. The roads were good and quiet and the drivers gave us plenty of space.

DSC01419

 

DSC01435DSC01448We started dropping down from the mountains to Rijeka on the coast. The landscape changed abruptly from tree clad mountains to rock and scrub. The temperature also shot up as we enjoyed the 1000 metre descent to the sea and temperatures in the mid 20s.

DSC01452

We celebrated arriving at the Adriatic with a pizza at a restaurant with a plaque on the wall denoting that the inventor of Valium lived there as a child. There even was a pizza Valium on the menu.

DSC01468

DSC01472

 

We were heading to see friends in Momjan a tiny village near the border with Slovenia in the north west of Istria. We crossed Istria which was very beautiful and hard cycling, with rarely a flat piece of road. We spent most of the time going up, climbing more than 1300 metres in a day.

DSC01502

1390782_10151952740294791_718345958_n

We stayed a few days with Michael and Marijana, keen tandem riders. We borrowed one of their tandems and had a great ride with them to Porto Rosso in Slovenia, celebrating with some excellent ice cream.

Fiat 500 Arbarth

Fiat 500 Arbarth

 

 

 

 

We also checked out the Auto e Moto D’epoca in Padova as Michael has a lovely 750 Zastava and wanted to go to the autojumble. It was a fun day with about 10 halls full of classic old cars, a lot of them for sale. I was very tempted but had nowhere to keep one!

 

Cute Autobianchi

Cute Autobianchi

DSC01475

Beautiful DS cabriolet, but nowhere to keep it...

Beautiful DS cabriolet, but nowhere to keep it…

Lamborghini Muiria

Lamborghini Muiria

Vincent Black Shadow

Vincent Black Shadow

Michael's zastava Michael’s Zastava 750
DSC01519DSC01529DSC01526

It was tempting to stay longer in Istria but we had been lucky with the weather and needed to keep heading south. Reluctantly we bade farewell to our friends and made our way back across the roller coaster that was Istria, past beautiful hill top villages with bell towers, olive groves and vineyards.

DSC01538

From Istria we caught the ferry to the island of Cres, our plan was to make our way through the islands heading south. We had been told that the coastal road although beautiful was also very busy despite a motorway running parallel to it. The tolls on the motorway were so high that most traffic stuck to the road.

DSC01544

 

 

DSC01554

Cres was beautiful and incredibly quiet, once we had let the 20 cars on the ferry go we had no traffic on the long climb across the island until the next ferry which was 2 hours away. It was bliss, an empty road, sunshine and gorgeous scenery. We passed the 45th parallel on Cres, we had cycled up past the 60th when in Helsinki.

DSC01561
We stayed a couple of nights in Cres town which is a small medieval town with a  very pretty harbour. The streets are too narrow for cars and there were very few tourists around. It was obviously popular in summer but had retained it’s character despite that. It had not been prettified or bought up for second homes.

DSC01568DSC01559

DSC01564

Hungary

DSC01331

Our first view of Hungary was the basilica at Esztergom dominating the view across to the plain. It towered over the town and the Danube. Certainly the town had a different feel to towns in Slovakia, it was a lot warmer and it had felt as if you had crossed over into Southern Europe.

DSC01339

We headed down the south bank of the Danube towards Budapest, it was warm and sunny and the cycle path was empty. During summer the path is heaving with cycle tourists and the Danube bend on the way to Budapest is meant to be one of the prettiest parts of the Danube trail. There was the hilltop castle at Visegrad still with plenty of tourists around and the pretty village of Szentendre which was  obviously a popular spot for a Sunday afternoon outing.

DSC01341

The trail was mainly off road but with a few stretches on a rather busy road. The cycle paths continued into Budapest, the biggest city we have seen so far. We stayed for 3 days soaking up the sights and the sun in temperatures in the mid 20s. It has a pretty good cycle network , we stayed near the centre where most of the sights are in easy walking distance.

The Parliament buildings on the Pest side.

The Parliament buildings on the Pest side.

St Michaels Church on the Castle

St Michaels Church on the Castle

DSC01352

 

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge

DSC01349DSC01347

The Palace and Castle on the Buda side.

The Palace and Castle on the Buda side.

We headed out of the city along the cycle track that took us down the west side of the Danube on a misty and cold day. The route was mainly car free and was an easy way to get out of the city. The roads around Budapest were busy though, we were heading towards Lake Balaton and had to cycle stretches of the main roads. These often ran parallel to the motorways and had signs on them prohibiting cyclist from using them. We had no alternative to use them, no one seemed to mind and the roads were generally quiet and the traffic considerate.

DSC01387

DSC01405

 

Lake Balaton is the largest lake in central Europe 77km long. It is a popular place for cyclists as there is a 200km cycle route that takes you around the lake mostly off the main road. The cycle path is very narrow in places and I can imagine it must be a bit of a nightmare in summer. We had it to ourselves though, the leaves were changing the sun was out and it was very beautiful.

DSC01390
DSC01392 (1)DSC01383
DSC01380 (1)
DSC01385

Slovakia

DSC01263 (2)

After crossing the Polish Beskids we had a brief respite before we tackled the Low Tatra’s, a relative term as they have peaks of 2000 metres. We were really lucky with the weather, we had sunshine most days, the autumnal leaf colours and Slovakia were beautiful. We stayed in small pensions and sampled the local cuisine which was very tasty, filling and excellent value. DSC01266

 

The towns were incredibly quiet and the pensions we stayed in almost empty. The scenery was amazing with long climbs over the foothills of the mountains then dropping down through deciduous forest ablaze with colours into the next valley.

DSC01277

DSC01268

Oravsky Castle near Dolny Kubin

Oravsky Castle near Dolny Kubin

DSC01274

DSC01279We had a couple of big days to get us through the Low Tatras climbing more than a kilometre a day, through small villages smelling of wood smoke, fueled by amazing hot chocolate so thick you could stand your spoon in it.

DSC01286

Then a 16km woosh down to Banska Bystrica, only slowed down by lorries limited to 60kph on the downhill.
DSC01289

Banska Bystrica is a pretty city with a museum to the Slovak resistance in the war. It has a large section on the Czech and Slovak fighters who joined the RAF and fought against Germany during the second world war, but very little on the Soviet occupation.

The main square

The main square

A touch of Soviet town planning

A touch of Soviet town planning with the Slovak museum in the background

We headed on down the Amber route towards Banska Stiavnica. The towns main industry had been a gold mine. The hills around here were lower with peaks of 600 to 800 metres.
DSC01300

From there it was downhill to the Hungarian plain. We were sorry to leave the mountains. We’d had a fantastic time cycling through them, but winter was on its way with both temperatures  and leaves falling .
DSC01311
DSC01318
DSC01324

Into the mountains

Our last view of Krakow

Our last view of Krakow

We have had a pretty flat tour so far, with some undulating terrain in Sweden and Finland, but looking south from Krakow things were definitely going to get lumpier. We had been investigating a routes from Krakow to Budapest and had found a website showing a “greenway” through Slovakia, the Amber Trail. http://www.szlakbursztynowy.pl/?lang=en we planned to follow some of the route as it took us through the more beautiful areas.

Amber route DSC01253

DSC01255

We headed south towards the Polish Carpathian mountains, the Beskids. It took us a few days to find our climbing legs. The roads were quiet and  kept on going up, the temperatures were dropping down to freezing at night. We went pass ski resorts, fortunately with no snow yet, and a 1000 metre col to get our first view of Slovakia. DSC01256The small road we followed through the forest was getting increasingly bumpy and it was no surprise when we came across a group of Polish workers digging it up. They were replacing a bridge and it didn’t look like there was anyway through but they kindly helped us carry our bikes across.DSC01261