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May 31 2008

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European Wander ’08

Part 2

Lake Bohinj to Dubrovnik – 667 miles

3rd June

The plan for today was to try to solve the issue with the information system on the bike, go on a boat trip on Lake Bohinj, then up the mountain on the cable car.

We think we fixed the bike, then we had a read for an hour then looked out of the window. It’s pouring again. Suddenly the books look a lot more attractive than the lake! There’s always tomorrow…

[By the way, we invested in some electronic book readers and they are brilliant! We’ve got loads of books with us – around 60 – all stored on two (one each) A5 sized devices. We’d have to leave half our clothes at home to be able to get all our books on the bike if they were real instead of electronic.]

Something we’ve noticed is that the rain here is much bigger than the rain at home. The blobs are really large and wet!

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj, when it stopped raining

4th June

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj

Went on the boat to the other side of the lake and caught the cable car to the top of the mountain. The boat was an electric boat as the area is a national park. It was one of only 2 boats allowed on the lake. It was really peaceful going across and the water was crystal clear. Kevin saw a peak he wanted to go up but I said it was too far. An hour or so later we were at the top! There we met a local lady who was picking up flowers from the grassy slope. She said it was salad and they really enjoy them – they were dandelions!

Lyn at top

Made it!

You could see where the mountain was used as a ski resort in the winter.

Kevin on mountain

Kevin was keener than I was to walk up the slopes

Returning on the boat we were treated to a view of the old church.

Bohinj church

Bohinj Church

5th June

Slovenia and Croatia to Starigrad Paklenica, 302 miles

Today we were staying at a different hotel to the rest of the group and did a different route to them too. We wanted to visit the Plitvice lakes, a UNESCO world heritage site. We had our waterproofs on from the off as it was raining hard when we left the hotel. Slovenia really is a lovely country that is very green. It’s easy to see why – it has rained every day since we got here but not enough to generate the waterfall that only appears if they have had torrential rain for three days; weren’t we lucky!!

On the road

One of our frequent waterproofs stops!

Our ride was a slow one. We lost an hour to a huge traffic jam in Ljubljana caused by a blue car with a very short, squashed, bonnet. We rode through on main roads to Senj then took off cross-country where the roads were very interesting, unwinding on the Sat nav like an intestinal tract. Eventually we turned Mrs Nav off as we were so far off the beaten track that the roads weren’t on the map and we were fed up with her keep telling us to do a U turn! The surfaces were not good (the New Zealand road builders must have been taking lessons from the Croatians!) and we were glad of the off-road abilities of the GS.

Good roadsurface

NZ roadbuilders would have been proud!

The countryside had changed from the rather affluent looking Slovenian houses to much more rural farm type communities and we saw many stark reminders of the recent problems that the country had faced: Skull and crossbones signs for mined areas and houses that still bear the pock marks from bullets and shrapnel. There were quite a few houses that had not been returned to and were left derelict.

Finally at about 5 o’clock we arrived at the Plitvicka lakes and wandered into the park. We were advised that the park closed at 7 o’clock, but there was a 20 minute walk which would take us past some of the lakes and waterfalls, followed by a boat trip across lake and, finally, a bus ride to return us to the entrance. Off we set, still wearing our waterproofs. That was a mistake as the weather was now glorious, the sun was out and the rain had stopped. We had left our helmets at the reception desk and were conscious of needing to be back on time so we took a brisk walk to ensure we didn’t miss the boat. 40 minutes later we puffed up to the boat and were told we had a 20 minute wait. Thank goodness, it meant we could have an ice cream and drink.

Lakes

Beautiful clear water

The lakes and waterfalls are out of this world. The water is so clear it is like looking into an aquarium teeming with fish. The fish are curious and follow you round, perhaps people feed them? The waterfalls just keep coming, every turn you see another one, linked to its own special lake. It’s like something out of the Lord of the Rings, but real.

Lakes

This is a small part of the lake complex and the pictures just don’t do it justice.

We caught our bus but had to radio ahead so that they didn’t lock our helmets up – thanks to the kind man at the Information desk who waited for us. The girl at the bus stop was surprised we’d been told the walk takes 20 minutes as it should take about an hour so our 40 minutes was quite an achievement! It was a shame that we were so pressed for time and that we already had a hotel booked for that evening as we would have happily spent the whole day there. If we return to Croatia we will definitely put time into the schedule to do that. Thanks to Glynn for the recommendation – you were right, we weren’t disappointed!

Arrived at the hotel at 9 o’clock, just as it was getting dark. Another good find, the hotel was clean and quiet.

6th June

Croatia – Bosnia – Croatia – arrive in Dubrovnik, 259 miles

Today’s ride was a long one, not in miles, but in how it felt. Kevin’s back was giving him some grief and the roads, whilst often having stunning scenery, had too many slow moving vehicles to make progress easy.

Bullet marked house

If you look closely you’ll see the bullet marks on this house (we were lost by the way, hence the intensive study of the map!).

The roads are bendy with solid white lines along much of them and there were a lot of heavy lorries as it is the main coast road. At one point we travelled through Bosnia as they have a 16 mile chunk of the coast. Finally we arrived at Dubrovnik and had some fun (not) trying to find our hotel. This included going past it three times before we saw it (it has the smallest hotel sign in the world!) and doing a bunny hop up two steps to get to the right road.

The hotel has stunning views across the bay and an internet connection.

Sunset

Sunset from our hotel room.

We went into the town for a meal and spent some time talking to the restaurant owner who spoke to us about the siege of the town, pointing out where the front line was and giving us some insight into the after-effects.

7th June

Spent the day in the old town of Dubrovnik which has been beautifully restored. I imagine that it was always lovely. It has maintained its medieval buildings but 70% of them were hit during the recent war. We saw from the town the position high up on the hill where the attackers were firing from. It must have been horrifying to be in the town seeing the enemy so close and not being able to prevent them from firing on your homes. There are still signs of the conflict – some buildings have evidence of the assault – and we visited a museum memorial to the 200 people (mostly young men) who died protecting the town during the siege in 1991/2. I thought that seeing the buildings was hard enough but this was a much more poignant reminder of the real cost of war.

Chris and Lyn ice creams

Chris and Lyn enjoying an ice cream (or 2!).

8th June

Saw the other PEMC’ers off this morning – they are heading back home. Walked down to the old city again and retraced some of our steps from yesterday, this time with a camera with some battery life in it! We had planned on catching a boat to one of the islands but the queue was so long we decided to give it a miss. Had a pleasant walk round and then returned absolutely worn out.

Dubrovnik street

A typical Dubrovnik street

This evening the whole city stopped for 90 minutes whilst the footy was on. Austria vs. Croatia. Just before we went out the whole city erupted with fireworks, smoke bombs etc. Had they won? Not yet, they’d just scored! We finished our meal and wandered back to the hotel just in time to see Croatia win. The city went mad! More fireworks and it was like the city had suddenly discovered cars, bikes and that there was a life outside the TV screen. What an atmosphere! I understand this is only round one, I’d love to be here for the final if they get through.

Croatia scores

Croatia Score!

9th June

Montenegro and back, 106 miles

We decided to go to Montenegro today – it’s only 25 miles down the coast. The first thing we had to do was buy some insurance as our Green Card didn’t cover this country – 10 Euros, not bad for 2 weeks of 3rd-party insurance (assuming it’s worth anything more than the piece of paper it’s written on!).

The first thing you notice going from Croatia to Montenegro is that there are a lot of ‘Eastern Bloc’ cars on the edge of the road rotting away – Ladas, Yugos etc. Then there are a lot more derelict houses and more blocks of uninspiring flats. I didn’t think much to the country to start with but then we got to Kotor which is another walled town (like Dubrovnik) and the town is lovely – much more ‘real’ than Dubrovnik with dirtier walls and lots more old houses that look like they’re falling down. There are quite a few derelict houses here too. There’s a huge fort climbing up the hill above the town. It looked a very lonnnnggg way up but Kevin got it in his head that we could do it. So, about 1350 steps (yes, over a thousand!!) over a length of around 1200m later we were enjoying the view from the top, about 260m above sea level. I’m not sure my heart or legs will ever recover!

We then had all those steps to climb back down but somehow we managed and had an ice cream at the bottom to celebrate!

Kotor

It was a long way up

Yes it was as far as it looked! The red flag is the top and the church at the bottom of the picture is half-way up the hill. Kotor is on Southern Europe’s deepest fjord and the scenery round the fjord is spectacular. You can’t see the state of some of the buildings so it looks lovely. There is a lot of new building going on – many adverts for apartments for sale; I assume this is for the tourist investor.

I wish I could say that the driving experience is lovely but the drivers all sit on the white line in the middle of the road…or over it and their ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ sequence seems to be ‘manoeuvre, signal (if you’re lucky) and mirror (my hair looks good, what else would I need a mirror for)’! Ah well, it keeps you on your toes and there’s not really much opportunity for overtaking so there is more time to enjoy the view.

It’s our last night here in Dubrovnik – my knee pads arrived this morning (thanks Jane!!) so we can move on. Tomorrow we are planning to go to Mostar and Sarajevo.

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