Winter in the Mountains in Istria

Cycling over the Učka Mountains in winter

My apologies.  Some of you have been telling me that you keep checking and that there is nothing on our web page.  Well that was largely because nothing of much interest happens when you stay in one place and you are in lockdown.  There was a 6.3 earthquake in Croatia a while ago.  Because they needed to get humanitarian aid to the area they lifted the travel restrictions that had prevented us from leaving the Istria county within Croatia.  Other than a couple of bike rides that crossed the internal borders this hasn’t made much difference to Mike and I.  We have stayed in Istria, which has been the safest place in Croatia throughout the entire epidemic.

I should say that the picture above is somewhat misleading.  Yes we did cycle in the snow a couple of times when we cycled across the Ucka Mountains but this was the only day it was this deep.  Where we camp, near the seashore, there was never any snow.  We did have almost a week where the temperatures at night were below zero Celsius and basically at the freezing point during the day.  There is one gentleman on the campground who has a car and a tent.  He slept in the tent the entire winter.  I couldn’t do it.  Mike is tickled to see the grass getting greener.  If you look hard enough you can even find some tiny flowers and small buds.

We have certainly done more cycling here than we did when we previously visited Croatia.  As you know, it is very hilly and mountainous in this area and our previous ebikes couldn’t handle the steep hills.  Over the lockdown period we have cycled uphill with elevation gains of 22,000 metres or over 72,000 feet uphill.   To put this in perspective this is the same as cycling up the height of Mt Everest two and a half times and of course we had to come back down the same amount!  I told Mike yesterday that I don’t feel like my legs are as used to long distance cycling as they were before we arrived here.  The problem is that it is so hilly that if we go for a 30 km ride, 15 km of that is uphill with motor assist, so it isn’t too bad.  The other 15 km is downhill and the most exercise I get then is my hands on the brakes.  Even though we usually ride between 30 and 40 km my legs think we are doing small 15 – 20 km rides.

Including last year, we have cycled over 2,000 km or 1,250 miles just on the Istrian peninsula.  You might know that Mike and I have enjoyed creating a single long bike trail across this part of Europe.  I wondered if the distance we cycled in Istria would have taken us down to the southern point in Croatia if we had been able to travel.  It turns out that we could have cycled to the southern part of Croatia three times, or to Athens, Greece from here with the amount of cycling we have done in this single area.  Cycling to Athens, Greece would have looked much more impressive on a map that the cycling we did in Istria.

Climbed hill to Istria’s Stonehenge
Unusual depiction of Jesus on the cross

The picture of Mike sitting on the rocks was taken on a ride and then a hike up to what is known as “Istrian Stonehenge”.  It needs a lot of imagination to see anything like Stonehenge here but it was another nice bike ride.  With all the restaurants and cafés closed we are enjoying a stop for soup on all our rides.  Restaurants should be open for outdoor dining March 1.  We are looking forward to it.  The other picture here is a very unusual depiction of Jesus on the cross that we saw one day while biking.

Mike and I ordered a drone to be delivered to us in Canada last October.  We finally got notification in January that we had got to the top of the manufacturing queue.  We have 60 days to keep our place at the top of the queue before we have to decide whether we are going to continue with the purchase or cancel and start queuing all over again.  We are waiting until the last minute to decide what to do.  We can’t have the drone shipped to Europe.  If we are going to be home soon then we want it shipped now.  If we aren’t going to be back in Canada for a long time, then it is silly to pay for a drone and having it sitting in a box as the technology gets out-of-date so quickly.  Most countries or regions in the world now require written tests prior to flying a drone.  I decided to take advantage of the lockdown and take the online tests for both Canada and Europe.  I have never held a drone in my life but I am now licensed to fly one throughout the European Union and in Canada.  It cost 20 kuna which is about $4.00 Cdn or 2 ½ Euros to register my EU drone license.  Since we don’t have a Croatian credit card the internet said that we had to send a wire transfer.  How silly and expensive is that for a couple of dollars owed.  Mike found out that we could go and pay at a local post office and they would register the funds with the government.  The poor lady at the post office didn’t speak English and couldn’t believe that we wanted to send the government such a small amount.  She kept thinking that we had a translation problem.  Eventually an English speaking customer came in and the money was sent and I am officially registered as a drone pilot throughout the EU.  Notice that there is no mention of my husband is this section.  He never got around to writing his tests so I guess that just means he can’t put his hands on our drone when we eventually get it.

The drone we ordered is an interesting one.  It isn’t the standard DJI drone which is great if you want to send the drone up and control its flight the whole time.  Our drone, the Skydio 2, is called an autonomous drone.  You can control it with a controller if you want.  You can also launch it and, by default, it will register who launched it and follow you while you are walking, cycling or even in a car.  It does this with phenomenal obstacle avoidance capabilities.  The obstacle avoidance is so good that it is warranted for two years if you somehow manage to crash into something.  Mike and I are looking forward to taking some short videos of some of the great places that we cycle or drive through on this trip.

I read on the internet that Istria placed second in the category of the 10 most interesting regions in the world.  It was also crowned with the title of the Best European Destination in 2019 and was a winner in the Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Travel this year.  It has certainly been a lovely place to stay and visit even during lockdown, but I am more than ready to move on.  The picture below is Motovun, a well-known walled tourist village in Istria.  With everything closed it has been basically deserted during the lockdown.

Walled City of Motovun

My sister mailed us an envelope from Canada about a month ago.  We still haven’t received it.  I ordered Mike a small Christmas present on the internet at the beginning of November.  It arrived in Croatia Dec 8. It didn’t make it to the campground for Christmas.  It didn’t make it for Mike’s birthday in the middle of January.  It was February or two months after arrival in Croatia, that it got from Zagreb to our campground three hours away.  We have been told that it can often take 2 or 3 months to get something from the capital city and that theft is a known problem with both the postal service and delivery services.  None of the campers we know have had theft problems, just really slow deliveries.  One couple ordered an item from the UK that was supposed to arrive early in December 2020.  Due to the very slow delivery service it didn’t make it here until January or February.  In the meantime the UK had left the European Union (Dec 31) and our friends got hit with large, completely unexpected duties that they wouldn’t have had to pay if the delivery had been on time.

Our Birthday Celebration

We spent our birthdays in this campground as well as Christmas.  Our small group got together for a celebration dinner which was good fun.  Here is a short link to a video someone took of our very unmusical group singing Happy Birthday.  Birthday Video

The family with the two young girls who adopted Mike and me and our camper have just left.  They are Americans living in Spain.  The girls are going back to school in Spain.  They just hope that they can get there with all the travel restrictions.  Many countries allow you to transit the country but not stay.  Hopefully this will work for them.  They just left a few days ago and the campground is way too quiet now that they are gone.  We miss their smiles and excitement.  After the family left, our friends from Australia headed to Split which is south of us in Croatia.  They will be back at some point.  This morning our friends from Ireland left.  Mike and I have decided that we are going to go further south in Croatia as well since this is allowed now.  I have been extremely restless living in a small RV.  The local campers would laugh at that because we have so much more space than they do.  I love the RV when we are travelling around and seeing things.  Sitting in one spot for months would be much nicer in a full size house.  Nevertheless, spending the winter in the RV while being able to cycle and explore Istria has been better than being home and not being able to see friends and family and not get out at all.  Mike thinks that we might not be able to get back home until the end of this year.  I am still expecting to get home for 3 or 4 months before summer starts.

Town of Poreč near our campsite

We took this picture as we were cycling along the Adriatic to Poreč, the main town just north of us.  I use the term “main” quite loosely.  The town has a population of about 16,000 people so it isn’t exactly a booming metropolis but it does have grocery stores, internet stores and places to get the oil changed in our car.  Everything Mike and I need ?.

Today is Tuesday.  Mike picked up the oil we needed for our car this morning.  We ordered it last week.  He has an appointment booked tomorrow for the oil change.  Mike can’t believe that everywhere we have been in Europe you have to book days or weeks ahead of time to get an oil change.  It really bothers him that he can’t just drive in and get an oil change whenever he wants.  We hope to leave this campground the following day, Thursday.  We have paid until April 5 so we can come back any time, our campsite will still be reserved for us.  This means that we will be paying twice for every night that we are away but the winter rate here was excellent and it will be worthwhile.  We aren’t sure if we are leaving for just a week or so, or if we are going to continue travelling and cycling further south in Croatia.  It is somewhat coronavirus dependent. We will wait and see.

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