Curiosities – Yugoslav night lamp

When we visited Croatia we stayed in a very old guesthouse and I found this pearl:

It was plugged on a socket on the wall next to the toilet door, so I imagine it was more to guide drunken guests rather than to help children deal with their fear of the dark. I was very, very tempted to take it home with me!

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Relativity

Day 64 – Tuesday 27th of August – Omis to Ljubljana (577km)

Some days seem to have less than 24 hours, some others much more than that. I guess it depends on where you are, what you are doing and who you are sharing the day with. Today was one of those days that seem to have 36 or more hours, not because it felt long, but because by the end of it, chilling out with a cup of wine in my hand, it was hard to believe that we had time to fit so many things in only one day.

To start with, this was one of the long days on the motorbike. I had long forgotten my self-imposed 300km a day limit and was used to riding longer than that, but Nat, who was on her first motorbike trip ever, had insisted on not exceeding that distance. However, much as we wanted to ride easy and have time to visit things, real life was waiting for us back home, and we had a schedule to keep. That meant that if we still wanted to have some time to enjoy the Alps, we had to leave Croatia today and make it to Ljubljana in one day.

I wanted to follow a straight line, both to do less kilometers and to enjoy better landscape, but the GPS said it would take all day and having seen the roads in the Istria Peninsula a few years ago, I did not have any reason to doubt it. Taking main roads and motorways cut the journey down to seven hours, but added over 100km to it, as we had to go all the way to Zagreb. It was a long detour, and I was afraid so many kilometers on motorways would be boring, but in the end we decided to go for it.

We set off relatively early, feeling a bit sorry to leave the comfort of the apartment and the lazy days on the beach behind, but looking forward to being in the mountains again. The motorway had been extended since the last time I was here, and we did not have to spend too long on the coast road to get to it. It was a beautiful day, but there were some thick gray clouds lurking behind the mountains, right where we were headed. Seeing that, I left with the rain gear on, but had to remove it at the first fuel stop, as it was baking hot. As I was sitting by the bike in my underwear, another couple pulled up on a Yamaha – they were from Slovenia, and were also heading back home after a two-week trip around the Balkans. We chatted about Serbia and Bosnia I Herzegovina and they recommended visiting Albania and Macedonia as well. More countries on the ‘to visit’ list!

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We spent the rest of the journey to Zagreb playing the game of trying to stay ahead of the rain, trying to read the weather and putting on and taking off the rain gear when we stopped for fuel or a rest, not wanting to make extra stops. We were relatively lucky and escaped the worst of it, although there was a moment in which heavy rain caught us unprepared and I just went for it, seeing that the sky was clear ahead. Fortunately, it did not last for long and we dried up fast.

We stopped for the last cup of coffee on the border with Slovenia, having ridden around Zagreb on the ring road. I had already seen the city, but it is a shame we did not have time to spend a night there so Nat could see it as well. We bought the only vignette I had paid for in the whole trip so that we could use the motorway all the way to the capital, and a couple of hours later, in heavy rain and rush hour, we arrived in Ljubljana.

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The hostel looked like a 90s teenage sitcom set (think Parker Lewis Can’t Lose) and was a bit far from the center, but it was nice enough and there was space to park the bike on the driveway. As we were only going to be there for a night, we had gone for the cheapest option and booked a shared room. It was still early, the rain had stopped and we had a couple of hours until dark, so we dropped our bags and then took a long walk to the city center.

Nat loved the city, and to me it felt somewhat special to be back here for the second time. I had arrived in Ljubljana on my third day on the road only, all my gear new and shiny, and here I was again, after thousands of miles. We wandered around, enjoying the lively streets, and when it got dark we sat in one of the bars lining the river and had some wine.

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The rain came back while we were there, but it stopped for long enough to allow us to get back to the hostel on foot. We went to bed late, looking forward to getting to the Alps the following morning.

Surprising beauty

Day 62 – Sunday 25th of August – Omis to Split to Omis (50km)

Expectations are usually a bad thing, especially when travelling. When we are told again and again how beautiful a place is, our expectations are set quite high, and more often than not once we actually lay eyes in the actual place, we feel if not disappointed, at least a bit underwhelmed. ‘It looks like Bellvitge’* Nat remarked as we were riding into Split in the early afternoon after having spent another morning relaxing on the beach. And right she was. Years earlier that had been my exact same impression when we were driving through the outskirts of the city, even though in our case we had zero expectations as nobody had ever told us anything about it.

It has to be said then, that when a place is so truly beautiful that it still manages to impress the visitor despite all the hype, it must be something special, and Split is undoubtedly one of those places. The fact that you have to drive through such grey and dull suburbs to get to the center only adds to the surprise. The old town was built on the ruins of the Diocletian palace which itself was a huge complex, and it is a unique and impressive sight. It is still quite touristy, mind you, but not as much as Dubrovnik, there are less cruises calling there and it is mostly local tourism. We enjoyed a long walk in the center and went down to the ferry terminal to enquire about the prices and schedule of the ships going to Brac and Hvar, the two islands in front of the city, which were one of the things I had missed on my previous trip and which I really wanted to see. Prices turned out to be quite reasonable, so we decided to go back the following morning and visit them.

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The Mostar Bridge

Day 60 – Friday 23rd of August – Sarajevo to Omis (290km)

It was not a long way to Croatia, but we set off early because we wanted to stop and visit Mostar and its famous bridge and also because we had not booked anywhere to stay in Croatia, the plan was to get to the coast and then ride north until we found a place we liked and try to find an apartment or a room there, as there is a lot of offer and it should not be difficult to find something.

Riding out of Sarajevo we discovered that it is a much bigger city than we had imagined when we were visiting the center, it extended to the south before turning into suburbs and industrial areas and then the hills closed around us again and we were on twisty roads, enjoying the nice weather. After a while the road wound its way into a canyon following a river that further down flowed under the bridge in Mostar. The scenery was amazing, a winding road along an emerald river with majestic grey-white cliffs on both sides. When the canyon finally opened into a wider valley we found the town, or rather city. It was bigger than I thought, in fact it is the fifht biggest city in the country, and as usual, we rode through some uninteresting suburbs before finding the old town. We rode down a cobbled street following the signs that pointed towards the Stari Most until we came to a point where we could not ride any further. I was turning the bike around to go back up the street and find a place to park when a boy gestured me to ride onto a bar’s terrace where there were already four motorbikes parked. It seems the owner of the bar, seeing the country was a popular destination for riders, had smelled business and decided to use the terrace as parking space. We left the bike in the shade and under the eye of the barman for a couple of Euros (that price was for the whole day if we had wanted to stay) and walked a few meters down the street to find the bridge.

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The first impression was that it was a very crowded tourist spot, there were a lot of people standing on the bridge, so many in fact that it was difficult to make our way onto it, but then we saw the reason so many people had congregated at the same time on the bridge itself and on both banks – a young man in swimming trunks was getting ready to jump off into the ice cold river below. He dosed himself with cold water from a hose to get ready, stepped over the railings, clapped his hands a few times to get everybody cheering and flexed his legs as silence fell over the crowd watching. Then he jumped up and forward, spreading his arms like wings and arching his back as he stood in the air for a fraction of a second before plunging into the river more than 20 meters below. It seems that it is traditional for young men to dive from the bridge into the river, there are formal competitions organized every summer, a diving club in a house by the bridge, and it dates all the way back to the bridge’s construction, in the 16th century.

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We visited the rest of the old town, including an exhibition with photographs of the city before, during and after the war, and a video of the destruction of the bridge. During the Bosnian war, the town saw fighting between the army of Bosnia I Herzegovina and the Croatian army on one side, and the Yugoslav’s People Army. The Croatian army bombed and destroyed the bridge claiming that it was of strategic importance, although the action is mostly considered to be an act against Bosnian cultural heritage. After the war it was reconstructed and it stands as a symbol of the union between cultures in the country.

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We left the town under the intense summer heat and stopped one last time before crossing the border to spend what we had left of Bosnian money on petrol and a bottle of water; we had some lunch sitting in the shade of some trees by the petrol station and then rode to the border. The crossing was the easiest one I had done outside the EU – I handed the guard the passports, and the moment she saw they were EU passports she waved us through. After a short ride we finally saw the sea, and started making our way up the coast. We had decided to skip Dubrovnik, as it meant riding almost 90km south and then back up again, I had already seen the city and it was swarming with tourists this time of the year, as all Mediterranean cruises call on its port. Instead, we decided to try and get as close as possible to Split. By late afternoon we had made it to Omis, a beautiful fishing town a few kilometers from Split and once a pirate haven, where we tried to find accommodation. The idea was to try and rent a room in the center, so we could walk back to bed if we went out for dinner or for a beer, but all the places where we asked were out of our budget. In the end we rode for just a couple of kilometers out of town and found an apartment with a view to the sea, two minutes away from the beach on foot and with internet connection at a very reasonable price, so we took it for four nights.

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