Thursday, July 27, 2006

Mountain Passes and train trips...

Leaving Bovec (pronounced Bovets) at a height of 480 m I climbed slowly to an altitude of 650 m, this is where the fun began! 8 km, 2.5 hours, two tins of Slovenien bean and sasuage soup, half a kilogram of biscuits and 3 liters of water later (not to speak of at least 25 breaks), I arrived at the pass at an altitude of 1611 m...

I happily rolled down the other side stopping only to take in the amazing scenery. Arrving on relatively flat land I headed down the valley to the small and very picturesque town of Bled with its´beautiful castle and small church on an island in the lake. Thunder and very impressive lightning followed by very heavy, but brief rain kept me entertained for the evening.

Leaving Bled I followed a large storm up a mountain valley and crossed the border into Austria staying in a terribly commercial campsite near a lake. Feeling the effects of two high mountain passes and 1500 km of cycling in two weeks I headed (100 km) to the nearest train station and caught the next train to Vienna to see my friends Miriam and Sebastian. The bike will again be rolling on Satruday or Sunday, direction: Slovakia.

(I have updated and added some photos to the last entry...)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Heavy Metal and Slovenien Folk Music...

Crossing the three main northern islands of Croatia I arrived in Istria, the paninsula stretching down from Italy. The temperature was not decreasing, climbing above 40 in the shade. Stopping for lunch I was forced to pack up and get out of there as a forrest fire neared. The hills stretching down the centre of Istria where too much for me in this weather, I was forced to walk up the hills for the remainder of the day. This made a simple 100 km day into a tough battle against myself, consuming 9 litres of water through the day! I arrived in Poreč to meet Lana, the girl who had the graduation party. We swam, ate and then slept by the shore in the crowded but quite beautiful tourist town.
Leaving early I headed for the Slovenien border, arriving about mid day. The weather was not giving up...but nor was I! Climbing a seemingly endless 8 km hill I turned left and headed for the Italien border, crossing only to turn right and cross back out of Italy back into SLovenia, total time in Italy: 15 minutes.
Winding my way through rolling hill country dotted with beautiful vineyards and small villages I began to search for a place to stay. Soon after a man on a bike invited me in for a beer. After sampling first his home made red then white wine I was invited to stay. Our conversation was relatively simple since my German is still basic...
The evening ended with half the village in the square, his son and another man on the accordien and others on the drum and trombone. More home made wine made me feel ill but the traditional folk music and speaking German was enjoyable. My host, by now very drunk swayed back and forth all the way home. I had to encourage him to go to bed so that he would get out of my room...quite funny really!
Leaving early after being given breakfest I headed towards the alps, now amongst 3000 m tops and crystal clear rafting rivers, the last thing I expected was to find 10,000 heavy metal addicts listening wandering the streets of the town of Tolmin. Metal Camp 2006 was just finishing and thousands of revellers where on their way home, still dressed in black, with a tatoo or two and the mandatory boots probably stolen from the army.
The fun continues...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Natural beauty amongst the horrors...

Arriving at Plitviče I camped with some kiwis at the overpriced campground.
Heading to the national park I was amazed by the clarity of the water filled with friendly fish and bursting with waterfalls (and unfortunately, tourists also...). The picture gives some idea...
traveling south on the old main road, still scared front tank tracks, I again joined the main road and headed west towards the coast. Passing mine field after mine field and village after village heavily damaged by the war I arrived in Otočic, soon after meeting Sibil and Andrea from Switzerland who where heading in the other direction, we soon decided to camp together. Within an hour we had found a lawn next to one of the few undamaged houses in the town. A fine cooked meal over a local red wine made for an enjoyable evening.
Waking early we were treated to fresh pears and home brewed coffee from the old women at the house. We said our good byes and headed in opposite directions...
I headed up up up to a bear sanctuary into the mountains where they are raising wild bears that have lost their mothers. From here I climbed to an altitude of 1340 m overlooking the Adriatic. Staying in a hiking hut in the national park. Amazing views...
Now on the island of Rab and heading north towards Slovenia, shold be there by Sunday...

Another pointless war!

Leaving Korivnica, I headed south, feeling the effects of the graduation party. 120 kms later, the light was fading, nowhere suitable for camping anywhere...I summoned the courage and asked two men standing by the road if I could camp on their lawn. This being done in sign language and a little bit of very broken German, no problem! One shot of home made spirits later his two sons arrived and invited me for a beer on the back lawn, describing the horror of the war and having their house blown up by their Serbian next door neighbor. 10 years on, bullet holes remained in the original part of the house with the rebuilt parts still unplastered. The following morning I headed south, seeing hundreds of rebuilt houses along the way, all destroyed during the war. I crossed the river into Bosnia where the language changed and I soon took a wrong turn because I could not read the signs! 31 km out of the way and a broken spoke later I realised where I was and proceeded to hitch hike with a delivery van (who's driver could not speak a word of English or German!) back to where I should have turned. Unable to remove the casset front he back wheel, for lack of the correct tools, I was forced to make a new spoke from two tied together... Still going strong!Riding up a beautiful river valley I always had an uneasy feeling with mine fields on both sides of the road. I stuck to the asphalt!The narrow gorge opened out into a wide valley and I headed for the Croatian border. Still flanked by mine fields, my endurance was tested by a 12 km, 500 vertical meter climb to finish a 200 km day.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Water Snakes, Border crossings and a Graduation Party

It is strange feeling so at home in a very foreign country.

Leaving Budapest I negotiated the maze of streets to a point where the well established cycle roads disappeared and English became as useful as Swedish. My 1:550 000 map was as good as a compass at the south pole and I had no idea where I was going...Many wrong turns later I was barreling down a main road with loads of traffic, fortunately in the write direction!

Arriving 120 km later at the Balaton lake my wallet my promptly emptied by an over priced but very beautiful campground...Sometimes you are too tired to complain!

I was hastily supplied with a cold beer and invited to a BBQ with a couple staying there, things where looking up! Following a very dubious swim amongst the sea snakes I sat down to a much needed meal.

After being ripped off buying a melon but otherwise uneventful day and 100 km cycling along the coast of the lake I reached my next camp, again proceeding to the water to cool off while hoping that in the shallow water there weren't too many snakes!

Heading south with a much appreciated tail wind I arrived at the border to Croatia, somewhat relieved to find that the border patrol spoke English, a good start to say the least!

With only small amount of Hungarian money and no idea where to stay (I didn't even have a map at this stage...) I headed for the biggest town in the area. After 120 km I arrived in town and began searching for a shop to buy a map and an ATM.

This is where it all started!

I am rolling slowly through the street when approached by a young man with a video camera who looks at me and asks me a few questions. I quickly explain my situation...Another women has now joined who says ˝I know a place you can stay, but it is card to explain how to get there, I'll put you up...˝

One phone call later, I am collected by a Dutch girl staying at her house already. Soon after I am taken to their beautiful camp in a small village out of town where I presented for family, friends, daughters etc.

This place is amazing! She is an analogies teacher and runs camps for young people from all over the world, her husband is surgeon, builder and collector of very very old tools. I am treated to a swim in the pool as well as a night out in town with a cousin and the daughter...I stayed two nights here, last night attending the graduation party of her daughter which involved lots of drinking, singing and fun!

Now I am at there computer about to pack my things and leave...Strange how at home I feel here...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ben, didn't you say you where going on a bike trip?

I am often told that luck is on my side, this is a notion I often question. Am I really luckier than the next guy? I wonder....
When it comes to traveling, call it what you will, at the end of the day, luck or no luck, it all works out.

During a frantic morning packing session, less than 12 hours prior to departure I discover that the back wheel bearing on my bike is about as functional as a square wheel. What to do?

Arriving at Malmo airport I quickly strike up a conversation with Kristina and Freda. They are also on their way to Budapest. Little do I know that 5 hours, one mad taxi ride and much key turning and door pushing later, my bike will be happily in its' box in the entrance of Freda's sisters apartment in central Budapest while the owner snores loudy on the sofa in the next room.

I wake up with an uneasy thought about the wheel issue...several days wait for parts, new wheel, what more? one always fears the worst! However, after a quick search with some local help, turns out that the very bike shop required was less than 50 m from the guy snoring on the couch all along!
Dragging my newly re-assemble transporter inside the shop I politly ask: "Do you speak english?" (unfortunatly my hungarien is not so advanced yet...). I get the response: "How can I help" followed by "Is that the only problem? Come back at 5 ..."

That leaves me sitting on a high hill above the city watching the sun cast its' last rays over Budapest (as seen in the photo), one bicycle with two round wheels behind me and only me, the bike and the road in front of me.
I I lucky?

Friday, July 07, 2006

The planned route...

Hello there...after the trip to portugal fell through, I decided to try something a bit more out of the way. I have attached a map of my approximate intended route. I expect to cycle about 2500 km in 5 weeks, though I'm not sure how it is going to be with 30+ degrees everyday! Could be a challange...