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Category: Europe Cycling 2017

Holiday cycling in Europe – Rome to Hamburg

4 May – Kris rides alone

4 May – Kris rides alone

Today Kris set off on his own, shortly after breakfast, to ride from Molinaccio to San Severino Marche, a distance of only 42km.

Kris setting off on his own from B&B

Jenny travelled with Anna and the children with the bicycle in the car. After dropping the children off to school (another coffee at the bar), Anna drove Jenny to the B&B on a hill just outside San Severino Marche. We got there at around 9.30am. They were expecting me early and a cleaner was there to let me in. She spoke only Italian so it was good that Anna stayed around to translate. She was an old lady, but insisted on carrying one of my panniers up the stairs. The owner of the B&B was away until 5pm and the cleaner left too, so we had the place to ourselves.

This accommodation was beautiful – a self contained apartment with kitchenette, sitting area and bedroom – exquisite, but one of the cheapest so far.
Kris arrived not long after Jenny had settled in. He had ridden quickly and then done some shopping in San Severino Marche. The route was quite straightforward (not too hilly), and Kris enjoyed the freedom of going a bit faster on the downhill ride.
We spent a lazy day – going for a short walk and then sleeping in the afternoon.

View point during our walk
When we woke up we went and met the owner and settled our account. She speaks only Italian and makes no attempt at English – none the less we could understand each other well enough and she was very warm and friendly.

In the evening we had a beautiful meal at her restaurant. We were the only people in the place. This must be one of the most delicious meals I have eaten in my entire life at an extremely reasonable price.

Antipasti – cheese, salad

Gnocchi – traditional sauce

Pane cotta

5 May – Jenny rides again

5 May – Jenny rides again

Today Jenny was back on her bike, after a wonderful breakfast at the B&B. Kris doesn’t like cake, but even he liked these home made breakfast cakes. Then came a juicy omelet, with some bread and thickly cut Parmesan cheese.

For most of the day we rode along the SS77. The first part was flat and easy, and through fertile farmland. However the road was quite busy.

We stopped at a Decathlon on our route and bought a new hoody for Jenny to replace the one left at the hospital, socks for Kris and brake pads.  Jenny also got some knee guards to use when her knee has healed in case she falls again.

We then had a long snaking climb up to village Recanati that sits atop a hill, with a church, a tower and a large impressive outer wall.
Well fortified. When we left the village we had our first view of the deep blue Adriatic see. We made a quick descent, trimming some fat off our brake-pads.

We then had some up and down around the  old town of Loreta – the main attraction of the town is the Cathedral.

Leaving Loreta we spied the Adriatic sea again and made a short downhill run to the coast. We got to our accommodation early, so went to buy some wine, and then made our way to the beach. The entire ride was only 63km.

We had a good picnic on the beach-front. The whole town and beach-front were very quiet, with many cafe’s and bars still closed. The place is evidently packed in July and August. We were approached by two hawkers – one selling flowers and the other trinkets – it was pretty sad as there were no other tourists around for them to sell to.

This is the lovely view from our accommodation (from the shared lounge). The hostess used to work in the fashion industry in Milan, but followed her boyfriend out here. The house is very tastefully decorated.

At sunset

6 May – Catching the Ferry to Croatia

6 May – Catching the Ferry to Croatia

We set off after a delicious breakfast and a chat with the other, very sweet couple that were staying at the bed and breakfast. They were having time out away from their two year old before attending a church retreat. She was a Lord of the Rings fan and mentioned that when we said we were from Wellington.

We only had to reach Ancona, about 30km away, to board the ferry at 8pm. We reached Ancona at around 11am, after a beautiful ride along the coast. The ride was hilly but manageable, with some beautiful outlooks over the sea. As on the previous Saturday we spent in Italy, we noticed many Saturday cyclists, all dressed up in Lycra with stylish sunglasses and gear.

Ancona was fairly busy and not cycle friendly with many potholes in the streets. There were lots of people out and about doing Saturday morning shopping on the main arcades of the town. We walked our bikes through some open air markets, which were selling all kinds of clothes and trinkets.

There were many people walking dogs – Italians love animals.

We found a bank machine to draw some money and a supermarket to buy supplies for our supper on the boat.

We had a ride along the waterfront, checking out the ferry terminal.

It began to rain and we quickly found shelter for ourselves and the bicycles under an awning alongside a cafe, overlooking the ferries. Their main target audience must be tourists coming off the ferry, because they overcharged us for some seafood pasta and wine. However, we did sit there for a long time, even after they closed up at 2.30pm. The rain came down heavily for a bit, so we sat tight until it cleared up. We watched the Greek ferries loading and unloading.

Later when it cleared up we had another ride around, and went to check in for the ferry at the ticket office about 1km up the road. We checked out an old fort that had art exhibitions and galleries in it.

Finally we boarded the ferry. The ferry company’s communication on where to go was terrible. Other people in the queue didn’t realise they had to check in a kilometer up the road before boarding. Kris had to try to help explain this to a Russian lady with limited English, as well as two Americans. We also met an older South African couple from Benoni in the queue. We were first told we could board with the foot passengers, only to then be sent around to board with the motorbikes.

The ferry was almost empty. I was pleased that our accommodation had a shower and no bunk beds – we paid extra for a seaward facing cabin. The ferry left a bit late after 10pm, by which time I was struggling to stay awake.

7 May – Croatia – Split to Trogir

7 May – Croatia – Split to Trogir

We slept well on the ferry, and it arrived on time at 9am. We were among the first people off and through customs.

We enjoyed riding around the old town of Split. The emperor Diocletian’s palace is in Split and adjoining it are a warren of streets, with many touristy shops and cafes. There were many tourists out and about. There were also some special Sunday service going on, with many locals milling around the old town wearing yellow sashes.

We headed down to the waterfront, where there was a huge stage and sound system set up for a service – when we passed by a second time there was a bishop on the stage. There was a choir and rousing choral music. Some small family groups in the crowd were wearing traditional costume.

We stopped at a waterfront hotel bar for a coffee, before circling town once more and then trying to find the best road to Trogir. This proved to be a bit of a mission, up and down a few hills. Here is a view of Split again from a hilltop cafe we ended up at (it was a dead end, so we had to go back). You could still hear the music from the waterfront service up here.

We finally got onto some suburban roads to Trogir, managing to stay off the main coastal road. We stopped at a Lidl (a German supermarket) to buy some juice and pastries. It was threatening to rain and dripping a bit as we came out, so we ducked into this little cafe for a couple of coffees – the owner was extremely friendly.

When we arrived in Trogir we bought some cherries at an open air market – this little old lady dressed in black was quite an aggressive seller.

Trogir is smaller and less frantic than Split – it also has a warren of an old town you can wander around in.

The waterfront has a row of cafes and one was advertising craft beer! We had a local brew, from Split that was very much to our taste (Barba Pale Ale, American style, 5.4%).

Feeling more relaxed, we rode on to our accommodation, which was about 5km away on an island that you reach by crossing a bridge. We only did 47km this day, still taking it slow with my knee.

In the evening we walked down to the beach and had some more beer (another local beer, but not craft beer) and a pizza.

Italian and Croatian cycle roads

Italian and Croatian cycle roads

Italian and Croatian roads have been constructed without thought about cyclists (similar to New Zealand and the UK).
There are differences between Italy and Croatia though – generally Croatian roads are maintained and Italian roads are not maintained. Both Italy and Croatia control traffic speeds in designated urban areas. Croatia have ribs across the road that are noisy when you drive across them or alternatively chatter the teeth of cyclists. Italy uses the cost efficient method of potholes to slow traffic. The cost-effective Italian method would, of course, gain top marks under the New Zealand number eight wire methodology. The other difference is that Italian drivers are more used to cyclists than the drivers in Croatia. So there are normalised behavior patterns around cyclists in Italy. In Croatia drivers would either give you a very wide berth, or they would hoot at you and try to nick you with their side mirrors.

So it is no surprise that everybody in Croatia tells you how wonderful the road ahead will be for cyclists. Of course the Croatian roads have good views and the road surfaces are well maintained. The trouble is the roads are designed for at most two trucks traveling in opposing directions. Always when there are two cars on the road with us, the car behind us pushes between us and the oncoming driver, forcing the oncoming driver to the edge of his side of the road. So if there is one or more trucks involved it becomes Russian roulette on who is doing what.
Cyclists are forced on these roads for large sections along the Croatian coast road.
So don’t take any cycling tips from the Croatian public.

So we have decided to do some island hopping to avoid these roads. It will slow our progress a bit, some days will have less cycling, but it may be more interesting.

We have decided to enter Pag via Zadar, ferrying off Pag onto the road of death for a couple of hours, then using the ferryman for passage onto Rab, from where we obtain passage to Krk.

The above paragraph is a short extraction from the the Star Wars prequel.

8 May – Beautiful but exhausting

8 May – Beautiful but exhausting

Today we exhausted ourselves on the small mountainous Croatian roads. In the end we rode 90km, although the ride from Trogir to Vodice was meant to be around 70km.

We had a good breakfast at the hotel, and enjoyed chatting with a Swedish couple. They showed us a photo of their summer home in Sweden which is still under a meter of snow. Evidently this is not normal – we seem to come across people every few days who talk about the climate changing. The last conversations were with Anna in Umbria about the trees not fruiting.

It was heavenly setting off in the cool morning air, alongside the coast, riding off the island and passing the old town of Trogir again. We detoured off the main road about 20km later to try some small rural roads that would take us around the coast and off the main coastal road. We were soon doing a big hill climb – with amazing views of the little town, harbour and boats below and the coastline beyond.

It was dry and rocky at the top of the hill, with many olive trees – I was fascinated with the way they were growing. Some were surrounded by loosely packed stone walls. Some had stones packed around their roots, in a circle around the tree.

We passed a couple who were tending their olive trees. The man was hauling rocks out and his wife was carrying them away.  Croatian farming starts with the clearing of rocks.

It was very quiet, with hardly any cars passing or people about.
At the top of the hill, we found a maze of little roads criss crossing along the hill.

Every now and then we rode past a small group of houses, but with no one about. To my dismay, we had to ride along some unsealed roads, I am still a little nervous after my fall.

Eventually we concluded that it would be too slow to make the journey on these little roads, so Kris tracked us back down the hill onto a more conventional secondary roads.  The road we chose was tar, but still quiet. However we had more uphill climbs. It was getting very hot now, as it was around midday. We were still riding past olive trees, and occasionally vines – which also had stones packed around them.

After much climbing we came to the top, and could see how far we had climbed – there was an amazing vista down below of the rugged countryside, and the coastline with the busy coastal road.

We had a huge downhill run of about 5km and one of the most beautiful we have done with blue sea inlets, rocky mountains, brown houses with red roofs and a bridge.

After this, we were forced back onto the main roads coming into Sibenik, which was less fun. A bus passed us too closely, which was scary.
We stopped at a Lidl supermarket just before Sibenik for some ice cream, juice and pastries. I am loving the pastries you can buy here – both savory and sweet. We then negotiated some busy roads to make our way into the town, where we had a picnic on the waterfront, watching the boats go by. On the seafront water floated the first swans of my trip.

After Sibenik we had to go back onto the Jadranska Magistrale (busy road) to get across a long bridge on our final stretch to Vodice.

We left this busy road as soon as we could to head back for the coast and Vodice, via the adjoining town of Srima.

Our accommodation is a large apartment, again very cheap as we are out of season and there is obviously a glut of accommodation here – every second house has a sign outside advertising apartments for hire.

We did a quick ride around town to buy some more food and drinks, before heading back.
Kris tried to fix a wobble on his tire, unsuccessfully – it seems that maybe the rubber tire needs a preventative maintenance replacement.

9 May – an easier day – Vodice to Pridraga

9 May – an easier day – Vodice to Pridraga

Our sore muscles complained when we set off again today, however we soon warmed up. Luckily our route was was shorter too, only 64km.
We cut inland straight away to keep off the busy coastal road, heading straight north. When we hit route 27 we went parallel to the coast for a long time. The road meandered up and down, the countryside was green but dry, with more olive trees and scruby vegetation growing in the rocky ground.

The water from our apartment didn’t taste very good, so we stopped and bought some water at a small store in the small town of Stanvokovci.

We passed by the Google car (a few 100m south of Pristeg) – we will have to look on Google Maps streetview to see if we can find ourselves later.

We paused again at Bencovak, and went up the hill to look at their 15th century castle – we could climb up inside for good views of the town and countryside.

After a supermarket stop for some snacks and evening food, we headed north again.

This turned out to be a long slog against a heavy head wind and very slight uphill. We rode right past some wind turbines – so evidently the wind should not have been unexpected. Croatia is not the easiest place for bike touring, as we found that where there are few hills, you encounter wind!

Finally we had a good downhill run with lovely views, to lake Karin.

We didn’t go all the way down to the lake though, as it was a few hundred meter drop and we felt we wouldn’t have the energy to come back up.

Our accommodation was in the nearby village of Pridraga. This is really off the beaten track in a local village. The apartment is off a stone courtyard and is large and beautifully furnished. A bottle of local sherry was waiting for us as a welcome gift.

We headed back into the small village to buy some more food at the small shop and drink a beer sitting on the porch of the local pub. We had a local beer (Karlovačko) but it was terrible, it cost only about $5 for two. This is evidently what they drink here, one of the men sitting there was also drinking it.

10 May – Zadar and Nin

10 May – Zadar and Nin

Today we set out early to ride 37km to Decathlon in Zadar where we wanted to replace Kris’s rear tire that was starting to deform. As usual we had excellent customer service at Decathlon – the bicycle mechanic there, Bruno, helped us immediately and was very friendly.
The road there was fairly easy with a few nice long gentle downhills, meandering through the dry scrubby flats. However there was too much traffic for it to be pleasant.

Then we rode around Zadar for a while, it has a nice waterfront and some very old fortified walls.

We had some snacks and a (Belgian) beer at a waterside cafe before setting off on our last 20km to Nin where we had booked accommodation. There was an off road bicycle route alongside the main road that came and went for parts of this ride, but otherwise it was fairly unexceptional.

Nin is lovely, you cross a bridge onto an island to get to it. It is a tourist place but very quiet as it is out of season.

There is a cute old town and some Roman ruins.

A lady (tourist) was singing in German in this church – it sounded wonderful and reverberated right around the outside of the church into the little town – it has amazing acoustics.

Here is Gregory of Nin again – a smaller but similar statue to the one we saw in Split. His toe is all shiny from people rubbing it (for luck).

Our accommodation is great – large, light and airy apartment with a balcony. The couple renting it were super friendly – they looked very relieved when they realised that we could speak German as their English is not good. They lived and worked in Germany for 12 years. They gave us some wine, sparking water and cake as welcome gifts!

We went out again after a quick unpack to ride around the other side of the island – there was not much going on there with some of the houses looking closed up.

We put our feet into the water (it was not too cold and beautifully clear) and eventually circled back to the old town for a beer at a pub near the bridge.

This time we drank Belgium beer (Leffe Blonde and Dunkel) as the only Croatian beer they had was the one we know we don’t like. Kris ventured to try the dark version of the Croatian beer (too malty and sweet but better then the other one), I stuck with the Belgian.

11 May – Pag

11 May – Pag

Today we rode most of the length of the island of Pag, from Nin to Novalja in the north. It is a long skinny island with only one possible route for most of the way. Kris enjoyed a day without much navigation required.

This is one of the most astonishing landscapes I have ever traveled through. It becomes progressively more barren, and at the middle it is like a desert with white granite rock all around and the azure blue sea ever present in the distance.

There is not much (if any) soil here for plants to take hold on. There is also not much agriculture – evidently there are a few goats somewhere. They build these little stone walls around their “fields” to try to keep what soil there is from blowing away in the strong prevailing coastal winds.

We stopped at a roadside store and bought some local goats cheese – it must be the most expensive cheese we have bought in Europe so far. It tastes a bit like the common and cheap Italian Parmesan cheese blocks.

We had a good tail wind for most of the day and the cycling was very enjoyable.
We paused in Pag to have a quick look at the town.

Then over a bridge and a big slow climb up the white granite mountain on the other side. The view over Pag from up there was amazing and we stopped a few times to admire it (and rest).

We saw some other cycle tourists for the first time on Pag – three lone male cyclists on separate occasions – each carrying a huge load – they looked as though they were camping – carrying too much baggage.

Our final destination was Novalja, a tourist town at the north of the island. A very still, dead tourist town with no tourists and everything on hold, waiting for the tourist season to start in a few weeks time. Apparently it gets extremely crowded and chaotic – bizarre.

Our apartment is nice and clean and modern – in a block of tourist apartments, with a beautiful swimming pool out front. The price was heavily discounted. The hosts who greeted us were extremely friendly and helpful.

12 May – Island Hopping – Pag to Rab

12 May – Island Hopping – Pag to Rab

We were a little worried about the logistics of our day today when we set off as we had two ferry rides scheduled, but it all worked out remarkably smoothly in the end.

To travel from the island of Pag to Rab, we had to first take a ferry from Zigljen to Prizna on the mainland, travel around 15km along the main coastal road, and then catch another ferry from Stinica to the island of Rab.

We set off before 7am, to ride the 10km from our accommodation to the ferry terminal. We started off with some steady inclines to wake us up. We rode alongside stone walled kraals and spied a few sheep in them. There is not much for the sheep to eat on this rocky ground, they must be a hardy breed. We had a wonderful downhill run to the ferry – with white granite cliffs on one side and the sea on the other. Even better – we made it onto the 7.30am ferry! Off to a good start.
Each ferry was quite cheap – equivalent to around NZ$12 for the two of us and our bicycles – it only took about half an hour to get to the other side.

We had a quick coffee at a roadside stall on the other side and then tackled the steep climb up to the main route E65.

ferry leaving again – view from up on hill

Kris has been calling this the “road of death” as all the coastal traffic has to go on it and there are no alternative small roads for bicycles. We were pleasantly surprised by the low traffic on the road – we were most likely lucky with our timing.

It was beautiful riding along this road and seeing the sea and the islands on the other side. We stopped a few times at viewpoints. There were some steady uphill climbs again, luckily with the wind at our back, and then a good downhills.

The turnoff to Stinica took us down a steep switchbacking road back to the coast. As we pulled up the 9.30am ferry was almost all loaded and ready to leave, amazingly we caught it – Kris was the last person on the ferry after buying our tickets. This ferry was a little bigger than the first one with a few more cars and a bus on board.

Once on Rab our pace slowed, as we now had the whole day to cycle the length of the island to our accommodation on the other side.

We stopped at a supermarket for some warm fresh pastry (flaky pastry filled with cheese), a belated breakfast.
When we got to the town of Rab, we spent some time circling around it. There is a yacht harbor and an old town. These old coastal towns all look a bit similar. We ate and ice cream in the old town.

Our route out of Rab was incredibly steep and Jenny’s calves were burning from pushing the bicycle up the steep hill.

Our first impression of Rab is that it was just as rocky and desolate as Pag, however it began to get a little greener towards the north western side. We rode along the coast most of the way, with the wind to our backs, it was a lovely ride.

We are staying overnight at Lopar, to the north of the island. The next ferry leaves from here to Krk. Unfortunately because it is still out of season, there are only two a day and the morning one leaves at 6am, and we were hoping we don’t miss it.

We bought some food and wine from the supermarket, had a coffee, and then rode around to look at the Lopar beach. It is pretty desolate at this time of year as all the tourist kiosks, and many restaurants and bars are still closed up.

We got to our accommodation, right by the ferry terminal, early at around 2pm. Luckily the owner was here and let us in. We have a huge apartment, with views overlooking the harbour and the ferry. We enjoyed sitting in the sun drinking wine on our big balcony and then had a sleep.

view of ferry coming in from balcony