Waking to a beautiful panorama of Dubrovnik bay and its capital we wondered just why it was we were leaving this place. But we'd already bought our tickets and it was too late to turn back now.
That and we were now in a hurry to get to Switzerland, where our friends Sev and Francois are waiting for us to meet them at the Saint Bernard hospice, at 2480 meters in allevation, one of the highest motorable passes in Europe and the highest point in last year's Tour De France. But first we had to get there.
We made it to the bottom of the mountain in five minutes and stocked up on food for the eight hour journey to Bari, Italy. We had originally planned to cycle to Split and catch a ferry to Ancona, but the traffic in Croatia pursuaded us to leave earlier than planned. Once we arrived in Bari we would catch a ferry or train or bus further north, closer to Switzerland.
The ferry was filled with Italian pilgrims who would spontaneously break into a chorus of gospel singing and were frequently fingering their rosary beads. They even took over the inside salon for an hour an held an impromtu worship service. We wondered where they had been...
Arriving in Bari as the sun was getting low (why do we always arrive in new countries when it is getting dark?!) we went to the train station to see about catching the night train to Ancona. There were a few trains running - but we couldn't take our bikes. We were referred to the information desk where a little English was spoken. They had the same answer. No bikes. But Italians love bikes?! Apparently you can only take bikes on some regional (country) trains not inter-city, and even then only on certain trains marked with a bike on the timetable. The office staff were not helpful and just wanted us gone. They had no timetable for me to check if there were any trains we could catch. And provided no options for us to consider. So the train was out.
We tried to find the bus ticket office. But again, no one was interested in helping us and it seemed the office would be closed by now anyway. It was dark - too dark to find a campsite - and we were stuck in this city. We searched for a cheap hotel, and the cheapest we could find was 60 euro - our most expensive one for the whole trip, and a dump compared to most places we'd stayed. We needed internet to look at our options for getting out of this city, so we cycled around the Bari in the evening dusk, until we found, in a dimly lit alley way, a small internet cafe with four big black guys standing outside. Can we go in, we wondered...
Dejectedly we spent hours looking up ferries, trying to find out about buses and trains... without really finding any economically viable options. How do people with bikes get around in Italy?!
Sorry still no wifi... but we can't wait to find some to post up some photos!
We left The Bay of Kotor with a few sad glances, looking behind us to wonder, or hope, that one day we'd be back, and headed along the coast up a few small but steep hills towards the Montenegro/Croatia border point.
Around lunch time we arrived at the checkpoint, and after climbing the 150 or so metres in altitude at about ten percent gradient between the borders, no-mans land you might say, we finally arrived in Croatia.
For maybe twenty kilometres the riding was pleasant, a little hot and windy, but mostly enjoyable, but then the road veered towards the hilly coast, and the traffic increased dramatlcally. The coast was a beautiful site, as we hope you'll see through the photos we'll post as soon as we can, but it was a little scary riding alongside so much traffic with so little room for error!
Aftter ascending a mountain alongside the ocean for what seemed like more than an hour, we stopped to admire the unbelievable view of Dubrovnik, a fascinating medieval coastal city, at a small shop atop the hill. We bought a drink (for an exorbitant price) took some photos and then sat down to rest our legs and admire the view. Just before we set off I looked at the temperature, it was 39 degrees (in the sun).
As we began our descent into the city, thunder and lighting struck, and despite the sky above us being perfectly sunny, the heavens opened and the rain began to pour, freezing cold but refreshing drops of icy rain. The contrast with the heat of the day was startling, the rain hitting the road and instantly turning into steam.
Down into the city and we found the ferry terminal, perched near the water, seeming to quietly await our arrival. Leaning our bikes against the wall to find and fish out out the wallet and our passports I suddenly realised that once again I'd left the wallet behind, back up on the hill. Or had I? Stil unsure at this point, I began to look through my bags when two angy Croatian men began yelling at Shanna to move the bikes. The sick feeling began rising in my stomach with the realisation of what I thought I'd done, the men yelling to move the bikes, why, where to, where did I leave it, is it up the mountain, could it be somewhere else... and our introduction to Croatia was a little more difficult than I'd anticipated.
An argument ensued with the mysterious men yelling at Shanna to move her bike, maybe she wasn't moving it quick enough for there liking, and enough was enough. I began yelling back, 'we're moving, shutup you idiots.' Moments later a police officer arrived. Asking what the problem was, we explained we'd been told to move and where in the process. The officer turned to the men, and to our relief, gave them a stern talking to, after which they tucked their tails between there legs and walked off.
I cycled back up the hill.
Finally arrived, exhausted, sweating, and walked up to the little shop counter. Strangely I was ignored for a little while, and even when I asked if they had found the wallet I was met with a blank stare. Seconds ticked by, I searched the area with my eyes, and then, after more hesitation, my wallet was produced. Relief!! Looking inside, cards are here, but.... no money. Eighty Euro, gone. I tried to get some back, even half I argued, you can keep half, more men appeared from nowhere, 'there is no money' they said, gesturing wildly.
Back down to the ferry terminal, 'you just missed it' they motioned, 'next one leaves tomorrow at 11am.'
We cycled under a massive suspension bridge and found a place to swim and wash. The ocean water was cool and cleansing, and I stayed in a long time despite the coldness, watching the boats float past whilst the sky began to shake, thunder and lighting once again enveloping the horizon. Catharsis, maybe not, but some sort of purging nonetheless.
We cycled back up the mountain, and turned around to see a sunset we'll never forget, and a man, an old man, sitting disconsolately, saddened, head down, holding a sign. Stopping to take photos of the beautiful scene, before pushing up further to find a camp site we wondered about this man. Back in Dubrovniks inner city we'd been approaced by at least twenty different people asking if we needed a hotel, he was another of these, but he hadn't said anything to us, unlike the others, some of them even following us into shops to push us into accepting.
'How much?', Shanna asked.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia