Day Twelve The morning sky was clear and the salt air was invigorating. A large crab crawled out of the sea to start the day’s activities. A small market opened in the camp and we bought some fruit and bread for our breakfast. The giant size apples were almost rotten but the bread and peaches were delicious. We had to choose our next direction. Krk Island would be hilly and long. It would give us glorious views of the Croatian coast. However, we would need to catch a ferry from the far tip of the island back to the mainland. As fun as that sounds, we had no information on the ferry. We couldn’t learn its schedule, its route, or its price. The route was in question because there are two other major islands nearby and each has interstate roads connected by the ferry. We might have a long, long wait before we could continue along our route. The coastal route would probably not be as steep and might save us time. We chose to cross back over the mighty bridge and continue along the mainland. Our view was mostly of the glorious Krk Island. It was all rocky mountain terrain but extremely beautiful. We traveled past several attractive towns. Vinodolski is a beautiful seaside town where we stopped to swim. A sea wall separates the water from the artificial beach made of cement. The beach and the water were crowded with people (but no topless women). The water is clear and still cold. Big boulders are in the water directly beside the wall but the descent from shore is steep and invites diving past them. Jirko and Ota happily jumped into the cold seawater but I only dangled my legs. I was afraid that my sore knee would prevent me from crawling back up on the sea wall. I also didn’t want the extra water in my clothes to weigh me down more as we climbed more mountains. Vinodolski is in a valley between mountains. In too short a time, we left Vinodolski and continued to our final point along the Adriatic Sea, to the city of Senj. Here, looking down on the water, we sat at the gas station
and ate the hearty lunch we bought there, sometime after 13:00. Including the dip in the sea, we had been traveling more than four and a half hours. Here, in the genial setting of this red-roofed, white-walled seaside resort, we revitalized. From our perch over the Adriatic coast, under the wispy white clouds, we saw no sign of a ferry. The whole time we rode along the coast, we saw no ferry. Perhaps we had made the right decision in our choice of routes.
Krk but no Ferry
From Senj, the ride to the capitol city, Zagreb, Croatia, is across 175 kilometers of mainly mountains. Immediately, the mountains greeted us. I rode as hard as I could for as long as I could. Jirko and Ota were solicitous and understanding. While I plodded, they either lingered behind or rode ahead, giving me my own space to choose my own (dis)comfort zone. When we periodically convened, they reassured me that I was not messing up our plans and if I needed to move even slower, it would be no problem. They were just being magnanimous. I was peddling up those mountains very slowly. At the most onerous inclines, I had to walk. Happily, the vehicular traffic was very little. I had the road mostly to myself. I enjoyed the mountain scenery and concentrated on its beauty as I climbed and climbed literally for miles. As we began to ascend the mountains from Senj, the sky became overcast. The air was cool and misty. Eventually, I donned my jacket. Even though I was bicycling uphill, I was getting very cool. I suppose the temperature drop was due to the high altitude. In time, I did meet the guys at the top of the mountain range. They had already bought a quarter wheel of the most wonderful smoked sheep’s milk cheese. I later learned that the price was a hefty 10Eu for what I believe was about two pounds, or less. I am glad that they didn’t inform me that the roadside cheeses were so expensive because I wouldn’t have wanted to buy them, eat them or enjoy them. In my ignorance, I savored all the farm fresh cheeses and even now consider them to be among the highlights of the journey. The view from the top of the mountain gave me a great feeling of accomplishment. Jirko and Ota both congratulated me, and each other, for reaching the top. Ota asked the woman selling the cheese where we might stop for an afternoon tea. She directed us a little way down the other side of the mountain. We never did find a place to stop for tea. From that point on, we continuously passed roadside stands selling farm fresh cheese, wine and honey. Some stands had refrigerator cases and some had only makeshift boxes with electrical cords, which probably were phony. Perhaps Croatian officials are making new food safety rules and the poor farmers are attempting to comply within their meager means.
Down, down, down we rode, into a bucolic valley. The sky cleared and the sun shone brightly near the mountain horizon behind us. While we rode, we cast giant shadows on the flat asphalt. Sheep and cows and horses ignored us as we traveled. Dogs, however, usually made a fuss and even ran into the street after us sometimes. We stopped beneath three plum trees laden with fruit. The plums were small, crab apple size. Each tree bore a different color plum; black, yellow and red. Each color had its own distinct delicious flavor. Jirko and I filled a bag while we filled our stomachs with these wonderful treats. Ota was not as excited by plums. Soon, the sunshine became orange. The mountains that lined the valley turned to black silhouettes. The fields of corn and grains shimmered golden. As the sunshine became weak we were riding out of the valley, toward foothills. At this time, I caught sight of an elevated superhighway that paralleled our route. Even far away, the high volume of truck traffic was visible to me. I now understood why this stretch of road from Senj seemed almost like our own private bicycle path. A full service grocery store came into view when we passed through a pretty little village. We loaded up on water, candy and cookies. I asked the woman in line, in front of us, if the store accepted membership cards. I just took a shot that they might and also that this young woman would understand my English. They did and she did. We used her card. Whether I got a member discount or not, I donâ€™t know. At least she received the shopping credit. Once in the foothills, we saw ruins of the homes that were destroyed by war, not many years before. Another remnant remained, landmines. A sign bearing a skull and cross bones warned of the likelihood that landmines are present.
Nearby ruins, we usually saw clusters of recently built homes. At one such cluster, there were children and adults and a dog playing in the yard. We approached the people, timidly and asked if we could pitch our tent in their apple orchard. Of the four adults, one woman spoke a bit of English and one man spoke a little German. Ota spoke German with the man and procured permission for us to stay. When the tent was pitched, I timidly went back to the group, in twilight.
“Problem?” the woman inquired. With an outstretched arm, I handed the woman a $5 bill. I only had one. The rest were 50s and 100s. I said, “No problem. Souvenir. Thank you.” She refused it saying “No pay.” “No pay.” I countered with Czech language. “Malý (little) Souvenir. Děkujeme (We thank you).” She concluded our conversation with a benevolent smile and said “No pay.” We three were completely undisturbed through the night, even by the dog. We ate a dinner of that wonderful smoked sheep cheese and bread, apples from the trees around us, plums and more of the canned spreads that Ota had been schlepping for us. Now that we were camped in the yard of these generous people, I wondered how to be a good guest. Where, for example, would I spit my toothpaste? Across the road was a church, which, at the time, was closed. I crossed the road and did my business in the dark, under the cover of trees, beside a truck-sized dumpster. The guys followed my lead. Once again, my sleep was the sleep of winners