(Croatian wind). "The Croatian border is right over there. As you can see, we have some problem with migrants at the moment." A construction worker was pointing me in the right direction. Minutes before I had to carry my bicycle the last meters through Slovenia since the minor road I cycled on was being rebuild.
I reached the border but couldn't see the 'problem' the man was talking about. Of course there were some refugees. The only problem I experienced though was unfriendly border police and kilometers of barbed wire. Both were blocking my way into Croatia and made me switch to the highway so that my passport could be checked. It's sad to see this on a border between two European states. The next few kilometers I had to cycle on the highway.
After staying for two nights in Zagreb at a galician/colombian flat, relaxing and enjoying my time with Elena, Miguel and Daniel, I continued south. The sea was already so close. But what I didn't know back then was that there was still one last challenge to overcome before reaching the Mediterranean.
Although it was raining now and then I had a really good time crossing Croatia. After two days I put up my tent just before Plitvice Jezera National Park and was very happy about the perfect location I found. As I watched the sun set behind the mountains, bathing the landscape in red light, I experienced for the first time the pure satisfaction I was looking for on this trip.
The next morning changed it all. Of course winter had to come back. And he came back with full force: Climbing up to the National Park it slowly started to snow and within a few minutes it turned into yet another serious snowstorm. All the streets went white and fog made it hard to even see your own hand. It was dangerous for me to keep on cycling but impossible to stop because of the cold. After fighting for 25km against the snow and the wind I was very proud of myself until... SPLASH! An oncoming truck just coverd me in snow slush from head to toe. It was disgusting. The mud was in my eyes and in my mouth. I was forced to take a break in a touristy restaurant.
Two hours later my clothes were almost dry and I was ready to take on the snowstorm again. Round two. After an hour or so the snowfall slowed down but at the same time whe wind went even stronger. It was unbelievable! Never in my life have I experienced such a powerful wind. When it blew from the side I had to lean into it so that I was basically cycling in an 45-degree-inclination. Everytime an oncoming truck passed me it was like a punch in the face. Furthermore I had to pedal in the middle of the road because the flaws were always trying to push me into the ditch. And that was exactly what happened shortly after: For one moment I was too weak to fight the wind. That's when he pushed me and my bike to the right side of the road where I got stuck in snow. Seconds later a truck went by and his airstream just knocked me over. There I was laying in the snow, too weak to get up again. The wind had won. (Later I was told that this kind of wind is common around here. It even has a name - bura.)
With my last energy reserves I reached Gračac in total darkness. I found a guesthouse and took a hot shower. Today was a hard day but tomorrow I will be at the seaside and everything will be forgotten. That's the good thing about this journey: I'm always moving forward, never backward.
Reasons. Why am I doing this journey? Now that I reached the Adriatic coast I slowed down a bit and took the time to reflect on a lot of things. With the Croatian sun in my face and the still strong wind mostly in my back, cycling was a bliss. So, why am I travelling in this way for one year? A lot of people I met so far asked me this question. Normally my answer would go like this: “I always liked the idea of travelling on my own strength. It’s eco-friendly. You see cultures as well as landscapes change slowly. You won’t get a jetlag or a culture shock. You’re much closer to the locals. You get to see what’s in-between the well-known sites…”. This is all true, but in the last days I remembered again what fascinates me the most about travelling this way.
First, it’s the intensity of feelings. A few days ago when I got trapped in that massive snowstorm, I was really devastated. At one point I got so desperate that I began shouting silly swearwords at the wind (which eventually just made him stronger). But somehow I managed to survive and when the next day came and I cycled up the last mountain range before the sea, I had this overwhelming view of hundreds kilometers of coast. This made me just smile and forget about everything else. Within 12 hours I went from the saddest person in Croatia to the happiest one.
Second, travelling this way makes you always look forward to the next day. You really want to know what comes next. What people will you meet and what curiosities encounter once the next morning starts? Will there be a lot of mountains on the way? Is the wind in your favor? What I experience right now is very hard to obtain in an everyday life: To be excited about every new day.
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I’m in Kastela right now, a beautiful small town close to Split. I met this awesome guy on warmshowers.org (a website for cyclists in search for accommodation) who is also cycling around the world right now but leaves his apartment open for fellow cyclists. So I basically have a whole house to sleep in for myself, situated right next to the coast. Even though this would be a perfect place to accommodate tourists there are just locals hanging around the narrow streets which makes the town even more authentic. The only problem is that I arrived on Easter Sunday and all the shops are closed.
The apartment is also pretty basic. This means there is just one bed and that’s about it. Water is not working anymore so in order to clean myself I had to do a day-trip to Split (4okm back and forth), to search for a shower at the beach. But the showers didn’t work yet because the sea is still too cold and nobody is swimming there right now. In the end my ‘shower’ came out of a 1.5-liter plastic bottle I filled up with water from a fountain.
A few words about the last days: The Croatian coast is very beautiful and the towns are just gorgeous. I guess the setting for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones is Dubrovnik but to be honest, every Croatian coastal town looks like King’s Landing. Zadar did and Šibenik as well. The latter surprised me since I never heard anything about Sibenik before but it is totally worth a visit. It’s like Bergamo in Italy, where I cycled through last summer. Highly underestimated and hardly any visitors but as beautiful (or even more) as all the other touristy places.
Note: I uploaded the summaries about Austria and Slovenia. You can have a look at them by clicking on Route.