Cycling in the Clouds

Cycling in the clouds in Ucka National Park, Croatia. Altitude 900m

When I left off the last time, Mike and I were about three days into a Jugo weather pattern.  Jugo can last here for a week or more and brings potential gale force winds and rain and rain and yet more rain.  On the occasions it wasn’t raining, it looked like it would any minute which prevented you from starting a walk or ride of any distance.  By the time Jugo ended, we hoped this meant that December had had all of its rainy days at once, wrong!  The temperature highs where we are in Istria range from 7°C to 12°C so as long as it doesn’t look like imminent rain we can get out and enjoy our walking and cycling.  As a surprise to some of our readers, our RV is currently 180 km (110 mi) NORTH of our apartment in Canada.

Recently riding our e-bikes has been our main (only?) form of outdoor entertainment.  Typically we drive to somewhere in Istria, unpack our bikes, go for a ride and then pack them up again.  If we are in the hills and mountains we have to reduce our circuit to about 30 km.  We have done multiple rides where we have climbed 3,000 feet or more (900 m).  Once we rode over 40 km with this type of steep altitude change and by the end we were very concerned wondering whether or not our batteries were going to hold out.  You do not want to run out of your e-bike battery in the middle of a mountain range.

In Italy and Austria we often drove to train stations.  We would then take the train down the line and bike back to the car.  This doesn’t work here.  In this part of Croatia there is one very small train line that crosses part of Istria about an hour from our RV.  We checked the train schedule on both google and the company’s website and drove one hour to get to the station shortly before the train was due.   Before Mike unpacked the bikes I went into the station to buy tickets and check everything.  The man working at the station didn’t speak English very well, but he did manage to tell me that we would need to buy our ticket on the train and not from the station.  I also found out from him where the washroom was. This was important with all the cafés and restaurants being closed. Surprisingly it was an eastern toilet which isn’t the norm here.  When I got back to Mike, he asked if the train was running and I said that I hadn’t specifically asked but since I was told how and where to buy the ticket for the train everything must be fine. Famous last words.  We put the bikes together, took them onto the train platform and the train line employee then told Mike that our train was cancelled due to the coronavirus and we would have to wait four hours for the next train, which of course wasn’t happening.  I had been told how to buy tickets for a non-existent train!  I was not happy.  Mike and I decided that since our bikes where already out of the car and setup we would go for a different, circular ride starting at the station which would be a little longer than I normally like to ride.  We had a great day for it and everything worked out fine.

Automatic Flagman

Driving to the train station we had to stop for an automatic flagman that really fascinated Mike.  This flagman takes no holidays, is always working, never argues and looks great as well.

Besides automatic flagmen, Mike is very intrigued with the large sink holes that we see all over the interior.  Many of them look to be a few acres or about one hectare in size.  Some of these sinkholes are big enough that the bottom of the sinkhole has become a farmer’s field with crops growing in it.

Many of the buildings in this part of the world are painted in a variety of solid colours that we aren’t used to in Canada.  You will often see solid blue walls or orange walls or yellow or red and even purple walls.  It keeps things interesting.

We have had a couple of other interesting things happen on our bike rides.  One day, near the very end of a long ride, our route took us on a small path around the end of an airport.  In the middle of the path was a gate and a guard.  We now assume that the path led through some sort of military location.  The guard refused to let us through, even when we showed him our phones with our route just going through the corner of this area.  Not being able to ride past the gate added on extra 7 km (4 mi) to our ride and about 2 km of that was over really rough gravel which we don’t like.  The stones were so large in some areas that we were afraid we might end up with multiple flat tires.  It wasn’t a great ending to our ride.

Pula, Croatia’s Roman amphitheatre

Mike and I have continued to explore different towns and villages across Istria.  Here you can see Pula’s Amphitheatre or Arena which is one of the best preserved amphitheatres in the world.  Since it gets dark by 4:30 pm (16:30h) Mike and I get to see the various towns lit up for Christmas.  If anyone is interested in Roman era history, Pula, which sits on the apex of the Istrian peninsula, is a great place to visit.  The picture below was taken in the Forum or main square from Roman times in Pula.  The Forum is very well preserved.  It used to be the main gathering spot for the market, fairgrounds, the court and various public events.  On the left of the picture you can see the Temple of the Emperor Augustus from early Roman times, with its marble pillars.  Beside it in the centre is the communal palace.  A very short video on Pula’s Roman Empire monuments can be seen at https://youtu.be/hybiLHKnvHw.  At the end of this post I have included a photo taken in the main town of Poreč near where Mike and I are staying.  You can see the boats on the Adriatic in the background.  I am constantly amazed at what great pictures cell phones can take these days in the dark of the night.  When we were in lockdown in Toronto earlier this year, I had all our photographs digitally scanned.  I have been going through trying to label the pictures from the many trips that Mike and I took years ago.  What a difference in quality between the pictures we took even in the earlier digital camera era and today’s photos.  I think it is great.

Forum / main square from Roman times in Pula

As many of you know, we have been playing card games over the internet with multiple friends at home.  It is surprising how very enjoyable it is.  Phones are a great start to keeping in touch with people.  Better than phones are video calls where you can see the other person.  I was surprised to notice that if we had problems with the quality a video call we will stick it out longer because we can still see the other person than we do when the quality is poor on a phone call.  Even better for staying in contact are these card games.  We usually play and talk for 2 or 2 ½ hours.  You get to see video of everyone who is playing on half the screen and you see your cards on the other portion of the screen.  It is really nice because you can chat but you don’t have to talk all the time.  Over the course of a couple of hours, you catch up on a lot and discuss things that you wouldn’t in a normal call.  Our poor friends have to play at 2 pm (14:00h) in the afternoon because of the time zone difference, but they have all been great about that.  For Mike and I, it is a fun way of keeping in contact and we don’t even need to clean the house or prepare food and drinks!  We use a website called www.trickstercards.com.  There is an app, but the website seems to work better, at least on a PC, for video and all.  I have to thank my niece Charleigh for introducing me to Trickstercards.

When I was looking for a new computer I think I told you that the keyboards over here have some differences.  One difference is that they switch the Z and the Y letters for easier typing.  This is because Y isn’t used very much while the Z is very common throughout central Europe.  The other day we visited a town called Žminj and then another town whose name started with the letters “Vrs” (Vrsar).  Scrabble would be a completely different game over here.

Start of ride in Opatije, Croatia up 900m into the Ucka Mountains.

Yesterday we biked from the Adriatic sea in a town called Opatije, up into the nearby Ucka mountains.  Because there aren’t many roads through the mountains and there is no train in the area, we rode about 17 km in one direction and then just turned around and road the same 17 km back to the car.  We biked from the sea up to an altitude of 900m or 3,000 ft.  We then wore our brakes out the entire way back down.  We went from lovely seaside views into cold, wet clouds near the top of the mountain.  You can see Mike in the clouds at the top of this post.  On our next ride, we will return to where we turned around and continue riding over the mountains to the other side and then BACK again to the car.  Luckily traffic is very low on this mountain road due to a 5 km tunnel that runs through the mountain.  We will end up having started at the sea, cycling right across the mountains and Ucka National Park.

Our neighbour

We might have decorated our camper a little for Christmas, but one couple has gone overboard, actually it is great to see right outside our windows.  I think their camper is like a cottage or second home for them.  They live in Germany.  When Germany closed its border this couple was at home but they wanted to return to Croatia.  They had to have a negative COVID test to get back into Croatia.  The timing was really tight.  They waited up the night before the border was closing checking online for their test results.  They got their negative results in the middle of the night and arrived at the campground at 8am the next morning.  They plan to be here for at least the next few months.

It has just been announced that the lockdown in the Toronto area is tightening and being extended until at least Jan 23.  Mike and I are still planning on coming home for a while as soon as the lockdown is lifted and it looks like things are getting better.  Going from one red area to another red area doesn’t really make much sense at the moment.  That is how covid gets spread around the world.  Hopefully we don’t have to wait too long.

Merry Christmas to all and please stay safe.

Poreč, Christmas during a pandemic





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