Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Reason for No Free Camping in Croatia

Day 339
Rastovaca to Gospic
Time: 4:39:00
Distance: 70.3 kilometers
Avg Speed: 15.1
Terrain: Remote Hills
Location: 44˚ 33’ 9.5” N, 15˚ 22’ 26.8” E

Today we rode through the most remote part of Croatia yet. At the end of the day we found out why.

After some route planning last evening we decided to stick to the major highway system and head south to Gospic. After the off-road adventure we had a few days ago and the mountain range that lay ahead, we figured that it would be easier to deal with some traffic rather than endless kilometers of unpaved roads.
The first 20 km or so continued through the peaceful forests surrounding Plitvicke National Park. It was a great way to start the day. We pedaled a gradual uphill for most of the distance and then had a short descent into the town of Korenica. There we stopped for the best cheap cappuccino I’ve ever had. For $1 I got a real cup of coffee, different than the other cups I’ve had for the same price. They usually come out of a machine labeled “Nescafe”.
After the much needed caffeination, we started up the big climb of the day. Our map labeled the pass at 980 meters – we were starting at 650. By the time we stopped for lunch we had completed a very steady climb, but nothing too hard. Chris pulled over at a concrete structure and I reminded him of the landmine threat. He said that the floor was entirely concrete and that it was actually a well with a collection gallery behind it. We had a little picnic and enjoyed the solitude. The ride from Korenica had been very quiet – hardly any traffic and we encountered little development along the way. Most of the structures we passed were abandoned or suffered some destruction (probably from the Balkan conflict).
We reached the town of Gospic just about an hour and a half later. We passed a few more landmine warning signs, similar to the one we saw a few days ago. We found the town center and go acquainted with a nearby ATM machine and the town map. I also found another map – this one stopped me in my tracks. It was a map of the landmine zones of the region. As I studied further, I realized that we had traveled through dangerous territory for the entire day. In fact, we had essentially been sitting in the middle of a landmine area while eating our lunch.
As soon as we checked into our hotel and got the computer up and running, I quickly went to work researching the landmine dangers of Croatia. What I found gave me chills.
Between 1.5 and 2 million landmines were laid on the front lines by both sides of the Balkan conflict. 8% of Croatia’s land area has been affected by these destructive weapons. We have been traveling through this region for four days now – we’ve only seen three signs along our route. As I read later, the lack of signs may be due to the quest for balance between providing information and developing successful tourism. Thankfully the universe directed to the safest pee spots and photo viewpoints. Others, almost all Croatians, have not been so lucky. Over 400 people have died and another 1,300+ were wounded between 1998 and 2006. The Croatian government has been dedicated to demining, but doesn’t expect the country to be “mine-safe” until 2009. For more information on the landmine issues see:

On a lighter note: Chris and I have secured the most interesting hotel room of the trip. The highlight is the shower with a built-in radio. Chris got to sing the 80’s hit from Top Gun, “Take My Breath Away” while I belted out a slew of classic alternative tracks. Good thing we had unlimited hot water…

Thankful for my place in the universe,

Unesco World Heritage Park

Day: 339
Time: Most of the morning

We were treated with one of the most grand displays of nature I have ever been fortunate enough to see. The Plitvička Lakes National Park is a series of lakes tucked into the mountains in central Croatia. The lakes lie in valley of limestone cliffs and are separated by natural limestone dams. The water has, over time, created waterfalls, spouting rocks, hanging gardens and caves throughout the park. Plitvička was listed as a Unesco Heritage sight in 1979. This was during the first round of Unesco Heritage Sight listings. The park service has a series of tours and paths that lead around the park and tours can take anywhere between 2 and 8 hours depending on how many little nooks and crannies you care to check out. We ended up making a hybrid tour and checking out certain areas more in depth than others. We were glad we did our homework yesterday since the information booth told us to get there early before the tour buses showed up. We rose early and were in the park by the time it opened. In fact we had to wait at the ticket booth until the attendant showed up. Our first couple of hours in the park were spent in solitude. We didn’t see anybody until two hours into our visit. We were able to stroll the kilometers of boardwalks taking pictures, and exploring the little side trips. We timed it perfectly and arrived at the boat dock in time for the first boat of the day. In our tour we ended up walking a couple of hours, taking a boat the length of the biggest lake, walking a couple of more hours, and then finally boarding a motorized train for a ride back to the entrance. About two hours after the first tour buses were scheduled to arrive the trails and boardwalks filled with all humanity and we quickly made an exit for a bite to eat.
We headed on back to our room and spent the afternoon watching the international news coverage of the American Presidential Campaign. We were able to get a lot of coverage on BBC and CNN Europe.
Happy B-day to my sis. I was able to talk her for a little while. It was weird to hear our cell phone ring all the way over here, but it was cool to have a familiar voice on the other end.
Vote early, vote often, vote the environment

All Things Plum

Day 338
Rastoke (Slunj) to Rastovača
Time: 2:22:00
Distance: 30.3 kilometers
Avg Speed: 12.8
Terrain: Rolling Hills
Location: 44˚ 54’ 33.15” N, 15˚ 36’ 34.10” E

It must be plum season here in Croatia. Last night we had the šljivovica and this morning we had a fresh plate of plum jam. It was actually the consistency of apple butter – very tasty. Chris and I managed to annihilate the entire plate of fresh bread just to make sure the fruity spread was used in its entirety. The wonderful little breakfast also included eggs, smoked meats and blintzes. All of these items were homemade and, as you can imagine, we were giddy like school children.
We weren’t in a rush to get on the road today as we only had 30 km or so to our next stop. We enjoyed a third cup of coffee on the bridge and then got the bicycles loaded. By 9 am we were headed south towards Plitvička National Park. There was no aggressive pedaling and we enjoyed looking at the heavily forested countryside. I was not expecting this sort of landscape in Croatia. It’s definitely a “getting back to nature” sort of area.
We planned to see how close we could get to the park without having to ride too much to the entrance tomorrow. Our last day off hiking was a bit too much so we’re going to try a different strategy. As luck would have it, we found a really nice guesthouse about 5 minutes away. We scoped out all of the logistics this afternoon at the park entrance and will get an early start in the morning. The main draw of the park is a series of lakes which are connected by cascading waterfalls. The park was formed in 1949 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage area.

Happy Thursday,

Land of Extremes

Day: 337
Mostanje to Slunj
Time: 4:03
Distance: 58.1 km
Avg Speed: 14.3 kph
Terrain: Hilly

Location: N 45˚ 27' 59.7", E 15˚ 33' 34.2"

We slept in a little roadside town last night called Mostanje. We ended up at a Zimmer Sobe, or a private room. They are rated as 3 stars for a room with a private bath, 2 stars for a room that shares a bath with another room and 1 star for a room that shares a bath with multiple rooms or the homeowner. Prices are set by the tourism board for that area, and everything is priced pretty fair. Our room last night was above a bar and was full of truckers. It reminded us of rooms we had in Laos: small, smoky, noisy and clean enough. We went for a stroll around town last night to get some groceries and noticed some of the houses had bullet holes in the brick walls. Most houses had fresh stucco coatings and paint and you couldn’t tell whether or not they had suffered the same fate. The night went as we expected with a low murmur rising up from the bar and the 2 am stomp down the hall by the other tenants. We got up early and brewed a little tea in our room before heading out around 8. The riding was great as we rolled along back country roads passing big fields of corn and plot after plot of personal gardens. The houses in the countryside didn’t escape the shooting either since we saw just as many homes with bullet holes as in Mostanje. Toward the top of one hill we passed a plot of forested land that had a sign warning that it was mined area. I thought mineral mines, but Leslie said that it was land mines. I just can’t imagine growing up and living in a place that had experienced and is still experiencing such violence. Our little country, two lane paved road abruptly ended and we shifted gears on a single lane dirt road that was passage for the next 14 kilometers. It was marked as paved on our maps, but not only was it not paved, it was very rough in major sections. We made it to the next section of highway intact and danced with big rigs for 20 kilometers or so to our little oasis of Slunj. We stumbled on a great little zimmer sobe and were rewarded with views of cascading streams running right under our private deck. The whole area has rivers and streams carved into limestone runnels that have been dammed, and diverted over the centuries. The water is clear is can be and is teeming with trout and another local game fish that looks like a grayling. After arriving Leslie and I took a little nap and then got cleaned up before heading into town. We did a little grocery shopping and hit a fruit stand for peaches and plums. It is so nice to have timed it for fruit season. After getting back to our place our hostess offered us some coffee or šljivovica. We opted for the latter since we had grabbed a cappuccino in town. Šljivovica is a homemade (in this case by our hostess’ brother) plum brandy that is smooth as butter, but can knock your socks off. We both had a little tumbler and felt warm all over. It was a nice way to cap off the day.

Buffet Strategies: Eat the High Dollar Items First

Day 336
Zagreb to Mostanje
Time: 4:04:00
Distance: 70.90 kilometers
Avg Speed: 17.4 kph
Terrain: Flat
Location: N 45˚ 27’ 59.7”, E 15˚ 33’ 34.2”

We enjoyed our second morning of a great breakfast buffet. Unfortunately, we haven’t been riding enough in the last few days and our per plate average was pretty low. Last evening I was getting psyched up for the feeding frenzy and discussing options with Chris. Should I start with the healthy stuff and then work my way to the eggs, butter and croissants? His cold, calculated response was “eat the high dollar items first, period.” I guess if you grew up in Reno you would know how to tackle a buffet.
Our first day riding in Croatia was very pleasant. We rolled out of town with a bike lane part of the way and then found the country roads fairly quickly. We are once again in farm country and passed row upon row of corn. We enjoyed all of the little villages along the way – familiar territory.
Time for the geography lesson…
Croatia is almost as much sea as it is land. The land area is just under 57,000 km² while the sea area is a bit over 31,000 km². The landscape is diverse and has both continental and maritime climates. Interestingly enough, it is possible to see ocean, karst topography, forests, mountains, and plains, all within 100 kilometers. The highest peak, Dinara, rises to 1,831 meters.
On the political front, Croatia has seen its fair share of war and conflict in the last 15 years. Independence from the Yugoslavian communist regime was declared in 1991 but heavy fighting broke out as minority rights were not guaranteed and many Serbs were dismissed from public service. The conflict lasted for six months in which 10,000 people died, hundreds of thousands escaped, and massive amounts of homes were destroyed. I’m sure remnants of those days will be visible at some point along the way. I’m also sure it will be a candid reminder of how good we have it in the States.
Finally, there are definitely a few interesting people in history that were Croatian. Nikola Tesla, scientist not band member, is responsible for many contributions to science. His most significant was the innovation of alternating current. Ivan Vučetić invented the modern fingerprint method called dactiloscopy.
Tomorrow we hope to pedal to Plitvice National Park, spend a rest day, and then make a push for the coast. We’re looking forward to discovering, as Alfred Hitchcock once declared, “the most beautiful sunset in the world”.

Hope all is well with you,

Monday, August 25, 2008

Train Traffic Boogey

Day: 334 and 335
Budapest to Zagreb, Croatia
Time: All Day
Distance: A lot of train kilometers
Avg Speed: Stop and Go

We left the cocoon of our little Budapest apartment and headed out into the great big city. After spending a few days getting our bearings among the streets and buildings, riding our bikes in them was pretty easy. We went and checked out some more sites that our bus tour earlier only touched on. We went and spent some time at the Fishermen’s Bastion and the Castle Hill area. Both areas are in the Buda side of the city on Buda Hill. We checked out the cobbled streets and cafés before dropping over the hill and to the Deli Train Station. I was a little worried when we arrived and saw 500 people dressed as Pokemon characters chanting in a square nearby. The worrying was for naught and after hauling our bikes upstairs to the platforms I went to double check on the time of our train. I am glad I did, because instead of a 1:45 departure time it was a 12:55 departure time. We quickly got our act together and got on the train. We had planned to buy a little food at the station before getting on the train, but with our accelerated schedule the food lost out. Luckily we had a few packages of crackers to tide us over for the five hour jaunt. After arriving at the station where we were to make a train switch I went and got a few sandwiches to tide us over until Zagreb. The earlier train meant we had a longer wait, but it allowed us to get a plan for the next train. The trains in Hungary don’t have a lot of attendants, don’t announce trains in advance and aren’t very well signed. All of this almost made us miss our train because we couldn’t find the baggage car or an attendant to ask if this was the train to Zagreb. We quickly chucked our bikes in the barn doors and found a private coach to sit in. We decided that we would sit there until they kicked us out. The lack of people or help is a two way street because we had our private section all the way in to Zagreb. After arriving in Zagreb at 9:30 I grabbed every light we had to give us a little bling for our ride to the hotel. We found the place quite easily and quickly ate the rest of our crackers for dinner and settled in for a little shut-eye.
This morning we woke up famished and cruised on down to the breakfast buffet. I am sure the restaurant staff loved to watch us go back again and again for food. We like to eat big breakfasts when they are included in the room price. We were also making up for yesterday and trying to eat enough that we wouldn’t have to have any size of a lunch. After breakfast we headed into the downtown square area for a little map shopping, a haircut and some sightseeing. I found a salon for my haircut and before I could tell her what I wanted I was a getting my hair washed. After the haircut she washed my hair again and blew dry my fresh buzz cut. Leslie just loved seeing me get a hair dry on what I have left for hair. After that we shop hopped around putting together enough maps to get us where we needed to go. Armed with maps and knowing that we had some stinky clothes back at the hotel, we grabbed some laundry soap and Leslie started working on her forearms. I ran out to mail some post cards and a package home and missed most of the washing game. I did help out wringing and hanging, but the majority was done by Leslie. That flurry of activity did us in for the day and we spent the rest of the day hanging out and rotating laundry.
Tomorrow we try and figure out how to get out of Zagreb and start working our way south.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pool Time

Day 333
Budapest Rest Day 2

No drunk people last night – it was rather quiet. We had another “sleep in” morning and then ate the usual bowl of muesli and drank the usual cup of coffee.
Our plan for the day was a leisurely one – go to the park and take in the thermal baths followed by a café stop. Since we still had some time on our bus ticket from yesterday, we hopped back on and rode to Hosok Tere aka Hero’s Square. The area is a collection of beautiful bronze monuments dedicated to the 896 Magyar (Hungarian) conquest of the Carpathian Basin. We lingered a bit to take some pictures and contemplate the long history of this country. The most remarkable thing to me is that most of the city was destroyed by bombing in World War II and everything was rebuilt to the style and character of the city. Amazing…
After a short walk from the square we found Szchenyi Furdo, one of many thermal baths in Budapest. This complex was opened in 1908 and has both indoor and outdoor pools. The place was definitely a busy hive of activity and we enjoyed the people watching just as much as the water. I’m trying to talk Chris into changing his swimming attire from baggies to a banana hammock. I think something in shiny blue might be nice.
After a good soak we packed up our things and strolled down Andrassy, Budapest’s version of the Champs Elysees. The avenue is lined with beautiful trees and lavish homes. In the days of horse and carriage, this end of Andrassy had alleyways lined with wooden boards so that horse’s shoes would not disturb the affluent citizens.
Instead of coffee we had an ice cream at an up-market café called Lucaks. Apparently, it used to be the old stomping ground of the secret police. There is now a museum just down the street dedicated to their former exploits called the Terror Haza. We didn’t venture instead but read that it is quite the draw.
Tonight we’re going to venture out and see the city lights. I’ve read that castle hill, across the Danube, is quite spectacular at night.

Here’s to speedos,

Café Hot Dogs

Day: 332
Budapest Rest Day 1

We slept in this morning after having a bit of a fitful sleep. A drunk guy in the next apartment spent an hour or so moaning and buzzing the doorbell trying to get his buddies to let him in around 2:30 am. He finally went away, or his friend let him in, or he passed out in the staircase. Bottom line is he finally shut up. We had our little apartment to ourselves this morning and had a leisurely breakfast of coffee and cereal. We slowly got ready and went to look for a café for a cappuccino and a croissant. Leslie was looking for a café reputed to be the local hangout of the Budapest intellectual crowd. I was bummed because I had forgotten my t-shirt that reads ‘Talk to me, I’m smart.’ Luckily we didn’t find it so we had to settle on a cool little spot in the theatre district. It made for good people watching and Leslie thinks she maybe finally had a cappuccino to knock the old #1 off of the list. That one was from a little café on the Great Ocean Road in Australia. After some proper caffeine we decided to play super tourist and take a bus ride around Buda and Pest. The bus tour was set up to be a hop on, hop off type, but as we got to our first stop and saw the driver turning people away we decided that were here to stay. The tour was surprisingly thorough and we took a lot away from it. The basic gist of the city is it has been created, pillaged and bombed for around 1000 years. WWII took care of the city’s bridges across the Danube, but the city persevered and rebuilt most of the bridges just like the originals. All in all, quite educational. We finally decided to hop off in the Jewish quarter of the city where several thousand Hungarian and other European Jews sought refuge during the war. We both were hungry and sat down at the first café we saw. The special was frankfurters or grilled sandwiches. We both opted for the frankfurters and had a really nice meal. Leslie joked that we were having café hot dogs or ‘lips and a-holes with a view’. I wanted to title the blog the latter, but decided against it. We then worked our way over to the train station where we lined out some tickets for a train to Zagreb, Croatia on Sunday. We had to buy one ticket for each of us and two tickets for each of the bicycles. After our Bangkok train experience, we know what kind of questions to ask and don’t mind buying the bikes a ticket.
Tomorrow we are off to one of the cities famous baths and then a tour of the park.
I am sure there will be more cafés in our future.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Adventures in Hungary

Day 331
Esztergom to Budapest
Time: 4:48:00
Distance: 78.2 kilometers
Avg Speed: 16.2 kph
Terrain: Flat
Location: 47 29' 51.63" N, 19 04' 19.28" E

We left Esztergom at our usual time this morning and quickly found the bikeway along the Danube. We snuck out of town under the grandeur of the Basilica, a neoclassical structure that dates back to the 19th century. This area of Hungary actually bears some important and interesting history. From here to Budapest, the Danube Bend area was once a popular place for the kings of Hungary. Way back in time, Esztergom hosted the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century. It was while he stayed here that he wrote is famous work, Meditations.
We had quite the mix of riding surfaces today. That, coupled with our sub par route finding skills, had us going in all directions. One of us would spot a trail with a bicycle sign and off we’d go only to find that the trail ended or diverted itself in the wrong direction. It’s always amazing what signs you find (to point you in the right direction) when you turn around.
About 15 kilometers out of Budapest we found a major trail route called the Euro Velo. We hopped on and figured we’d have a smooth ride into the city. In a matter of five minutes we were on singletrack dodging trees and potholes. Chris yelled back to me to see if I wanted to continue and I hollered forward to carry on. As long as we were heading south and along the river, I was ready for whatever terrain lay ahead. The trail soon turned back to hardpacked dirt road and didn’t pose too many challenges after that.
The first glimpses of central Budapest definitely took my breath away. Sometimes I feel like I’m traveling through all the movies I’ve watched in the past about Europe. The magnificent parliament buildings set on the left bank of the mighty Danube River is a memory I think I’ll have forever.
We made our way to the Szechenyi Lanchid (bridge) and crossed over into Pest. You see, Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest (I didn’t know this before reading my Lonely Planet book). Buda is the more relaxed of the two, while Pest is the commercial center. Anyway, we crossed the bridge and then did the usual zig-zagging to get to our apartment.
Tonight we are tucked away four doors in and four floors up. Tomorrow we explore the city…

Here’s to Viennese coffee houses,

Day 330: Komarno, Slovakia to Esztergom, Hungary

Time: 3:45
Distance: 61.6 km
Avg Speed: 16.3 kph
Terrain: flat
Location: 47 47' 25.4" N, 18 43' 58.4" E

After a little respite off the bike we got back on the road this morning. Our two days in Komarno were great. The city offers a lot of great old architecture, nice people, good food and ease of access. It was nice to roll out in the cool morning air watching all the café owners setting up their wares for the day.
We quickly found the Danube bike route and rolled on out via the mountain bike route. We enjoyed double track dirt roads on top of the levies all the while keeping track of the flat farm and pasture land to our left. The right side of our route was the river and all the people who cruise its waters daily. We dipped toward and away from the river throughout the day, but if you kept an eye toward the high earthen levies, you could always pick it up.
We arrived in our last Slovakian town around lunch time and decided to do just that. Sturovo is a nice little tourist town right on the river and we were content just to eat our bread and nutella sandwiches and people watch for an hour. After we had our fill we quickly located the bridge heading east and rolled on into Hungary. We switched the last of our Slovakian Koruna for Hungarian Forint and came away with not as much as we had hoped. So much for having faith in the money changers for a good deal. There are three campgrounds in town and we seemed to have located the one with the most cyclists. I would imagine that there are just as many cyclists as other campers in this park. You can really tell that we are on a major bike route.
We have now had announced over the loud speaker in the campground, in German, Hungarian, Slovak and English that the pool is closing and rolls for breakfast should have been ordered. The fact that we picked a site right below the loud speaker has me hoping that they are done for the evening. Who knows, they may announce that the restaurant is out of beer around midnight.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

If It Doesn’t Have a Picture, It Doesn’t Have a Flavor

Day: 329
Kormarno Rest Day

We decided that we liked Komarno enough to take a rest day. The central part of town is quite nice with narrow cobblestone streets and beautifully renovated buildings. Rather than push all the way through to Budpest we decided to stick around and get caught up.

It’s only afternoon and we’ve already had a crazy day. Chris laid out the task list this morning and was kind enough to allow for a stop to get caffeinated. We examined the café menu and both selected our drinks. I wanted to try something new and the espresso macchiato caught my eye. Somehow my mental map created a much larger cup of java than what was brought out to me. I should remember that espresso is universal for very, very small cup of coffee. Chris’ cappuccino aroma was much more what I had in mind. After spooning out the last bits of foam we headed back to our pension to pay another night and find out about laundry. We once again found ourselves having a conversation in two different languages. The same girl that helped Chris yesterday whipped out her cell phone and called her English translator. We arranged for the room one more night and then got the scoop on laundry. Instead of trying to give us directions, the guy on the other end of the line said he would be over to pick us up in five minutes. Robert arrived soon after and we followed him through the streets of Komarno on our bicycles. Nothing like being motor-paced just to wash clothes. We traversed all over town and ended up at the cleaners – I had a feeling I’d being doing all the washing after all. Sure enough they wanted to charge for each piece and it would be extra to have it back by tomorrow. We politely declined and stepped outside. Robert kindly apologized and we told him not to worry. Chris then asked if it’s possible to wash clothes laundromat style. Robert replied “No, only in America I think”. We said goodbye to our accidental host and pedaled back to our room.
I sorted the stinky duds myself while Chris got himself together for the other errands of the day. As I started pile 1 of 5, he was out the door for a metal file, degreaser, groceries, and a haircut. In the middle of pile 2 I heard a knock on the door and found the pension owner waiting outside. He rattled something off in Slovakian and then somehow managed to tell me that our room had been booked for the night and would it be ok if we moved to another room. I looked behind me at all of our stuff strung across the room, shrugged my shoulders and nodding my head yes. Ten minutes later I had schlepped everything to the new room and was working on pile 3. I kept the door open hoping to catch Chris when he returned. It may have been quite a sight for him to go back to our original room and find the place cleaned out…
Chris made it back with his own stories – no degreaser, no groceries, and a nice metal file. I didn’t ask too many details as he needed to get his bike to go on a larger search for groceries. He was off again in no time and returned sooner than I thought with a backpack full of calories. We quickly dug into the pumpkin seed rolls with Nutella. To wash it all down, Chris found a couple of Activa yogurt drinks. The outside of the bottle looked kind of plain as I opened it, no picture. Chris wondered what flavor it was just as I took my first sip. I replied “If it doesn’t have a picture, it doesn’t have a flavor”. He sighed – another crazy moment in a manic day. I wonder what the rest of the day will bring?

Danube Hustle

Day: 328
Dolna Streda to Kormarno
Time: 4:33
Distance: 80.4 km
Avg Speed: 17.7 kph
Terrain: flat
Location: N 48.272055, E 17.747325

After riding through mountains and hills for the first part of our trip we emerged to the flatlands of Slovakia. Kilometer after kilometer of corn and sunflowers guided us on down the road.
We left our little haven in Dolna Streda this morning with a little cereal and coffee in our veins and settled in for a little riding. After the first hour we hit a sizeable town that had a grocer and grabbed a little more brekkie and some snacks. Leslie found a tasty little juice that gave us a great sugar high for a kilometer or two. Another couple of hours down the road we stopped in a park near a church where we tried to reintroduce some bread and cheese into our diets. It all worked out ok, but it just didn’t hit the spot like the first couple of days. It was here at the church that Leslie turned into Rambo and took photos of passing cyclists from the shelter of some trees in the park.
More corn, more kilometers brought us into the Danube River town of Kormarno. Across the river to the south is Hungary, but our route will take us further east on the Slovakian shores. We checked out the local camping ground and ended up finding a penzion in the city center. Most of the penzions are attached to restaurants so it is always fun trying to rent a room from the waitress as she is hustling between tables. Add the language barrier in there and the fun is compounded immensely. We were very fortunate at this place in that it had a menu, with pictures and prices to choose from. Very painless, pretty quick and pretty affordable. Leslie and I later went back to the restaurant for dinner. A two course dinner with beers and cappuccinos for dessert set us back $20. Earlier we had ran into two Spanish cyclists riding the Danube who replied that the western part of their ride was so much nicer, and that Slovakia is so poor and hard to get around in. Leslie and I haven’t been out west, but if Slovakia is as backward as the Spaniards made it out to be we should just float on through Western Europe.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Across the Vah River Plain

Day 327
Trencin to Dolna Streda
Time: 5:31:00
Distance: 98.3 kilometers
Avg Speed: 17.8
Terrain: Flat
Location: N˚ 48 16’ 19.4”, E 17˚ 44’ 49.6”

After a night in simple accommodations, we took one last look at the castle and rode on to the southwest. The clouds were still hanging around and it still looked like rain. We kept the wet weather gear handy and headed towards the bike path along the Vah River.
It didn’t take long to realize that we wouldn’t be riding the path at all. The storm that had rolled through the previous days before had uprooted just about every large tree along the river bank. There was no way to go through and so we turned around and found our way back to route 507, our friendly road for the last few days.
We stopped for groceries at our new favorite store, Kaufland’s. I spent quite a bit of time there yesterday – it’s quite the store. Chris spent even more time today. The store has several rows dedicated to sweets – you can see why we prolong our shopping experience. It’s a fascinating world of wafers, biscuits, and chocolates…
Lunchtime found us at our first café. We’ve been trying to self-cater as much as possible, but our appetites are getting stronger and we wanted to fuel up on something other than fruit and crackers. We stuck with some basics; soup, vegetables, and cappuccino. Our waiter was very good (quite formal for a café) and spoke great English. In fact, most people in Slovakia know a little English. In Poland we used our trusty language book a lot more.
After lunch we headed out for 40 more kilometers. In an otherwise flat ride, we stopped for a great view after climbing a hill above the town of Hlohovec. From the scenic rest area we could see far across the Vah River plain. The most striking feature on the landscape was the nuclear power plant.
We finally rolled into Sered and found no campground as indicated on the map. We soon figured out that the sign pointing to Ku Campingu was a road name not directions to our accommodation. While I staged a silent sit-down protest, Chris rode around town but found no other place to stay. There was nothing else to do but get back on the bikes and hope for something down the road. It wasn’t a great feeling, but I think we knew something would pop up. Sure enough, about 1.5 kilometers down the road we found Penzion Mlya. It was like an oasis – new building with plenty of rooms and a well stocked restaurant. We celebrated our long day (and a good friend’s birthday) with a nice cold Slovakian beer.

Happy Birthday to Jennie,

Beneficial Barfies

Day: 326
Povazska Bystrica to Trencin
Time: 3:29
Distance: 65.1 km
Avg Speed: 18.6 kph
Terrain: Flat

We got a crack-o-noon start today from our hotel. We spent most of yesterday sleeping and trying to take in some clear liquids. Yesterday was a good day to be off the road since thunderstorm after thunderstorm rolled through. This morning we awoke to more lightening, thunder and rain so we grabbed a late breakfast and enjoyed some Slovakian Olympic coverage.
I would like to add here that the Slovaks have some of the most comprehensive Olympic coverage as long as you are interested in Slovakian athletes. I am now up to date on my kayak (3 golds for Slovakia), shooting sports, archery, judo, weight lifting, fencing and track and field. It is on 24 hours a day and has been a treat to watch. We have had to check internet for any American feats.
After signing off of the Olympic coverage for the day we got after it. The weather broke for us and we were able to stay dry from above all the way to Trencin. The puddles on the road did pose some wet difficulties for us, but as the day wore on, they got fewer and fewer. Our legs did feel a little bit weak from a restricted calorie diet, but we got in the flow of things, ate a few crackers and nuts and made it with no major difficulties.
About 12 kilometers out of Trencin it became quite evident that our stomach bug helped us out. A major wind storm or gust came through yesterday and blew down hundreds of trees, several steel sheds and lots of shingles. The small towns we rolled through on the approach all had the sounds of chainsaws going and people moving cut wood in wheelbarrows. There was one half kilometer section of road where a dozen or so apple trees had been snapped off several feet above the ground. Quite the crazy site as we rolled on through. I am glad that we didn’t ride or camp in that fury yesterday.
We have been gingerly introducing some easy food back into our diet. Lots of tea, crackers and soup on the menu tonight. We are staying in a penzion, which is a little like a B&B without the charm. We are in an older soviet style apartment building which is directly below the castle that looms above the town. Very clean, pretty cheap and a million dollar view. We even have a little 10” black and white television (which works and has the Olympic coverage going) to round out that apartment block feel.
No more grumbly tumbly,

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Google Earth and Bicycle Geography

Day 326

A rest day and fast internet gave me the chance to cook up something new for following our travels. Actually, being a GIS person, I should have thought of this a little earlier.
I created a layer of our current European route that can be viewed in GoogleEarth.
Download the file here:

Note: you will need GoogleEarth installed on your computer. For more info on GoogleEarth or to download the program, click here.
Alternatively, you can use another program, ArcGIS Explorer, which is similar to GoogleEarth. Click here for ArcGIS Explorer.

Stay tuned for more refinements – in the future I hope to link photos and daily blogs to each route segment.

Have fun,

Thursday, August 14, 2008

No More Tapas

Day 324
Dolny Kublin to Povazska Bystrica
Time: 5:06:00
Distance: 90.2 km
Avg Speed: 17.6 kph
Terrain: Around Mala Fatra NP to the Vah River
Location: 49˚ 8’ 13.39” N, 18˚ 27’ 30.8” E

Now, you’d probably figure that we might be saying that in a few months once we had been traveling through Spain. Chris decided to try some cured meats from Spanish country today for lunch and he paid dearly. As a result, I’m the guest blogger this evening.
It rained a fair amount through the night and we were both a little worried about a wet start to the morning. Luckily, it let up and we got rolling with some humidity and mist. As we ride through this country, I’m intrigued by the landscape. It’s such a paradox; communist era apartment blocks and smoke stacks, verdant countryside and old world architecture. It’s definitely got me thinking about history and its progression in this part of the world. I have nothing to compare it to since my country has never been occupied by other people who didn’t share the same beliefs.
We decided to take the scenic road, a recommended bicycle route around Mala Fatra National Park. The area is quite beautiful with high mountains, limestone cliffs, and quaint settlements. The traffic was light and the air was cool – a perfect combination for touring. We had our first 12% grade and resigned ourselves to granny gear and a slow climb. The view at the top was great and in just a few minutes we were on the downhill slope for the rest of the day.
By kilometer 50 we had reached a large city called Zilina. We had two goals – lunch and the procurement of a bicycle touring map for this part of Slovakia. I found the map while Chris shopped for groceries. We left the city square just as the police were hassling a vagrant.
For the rest of the day we rode along the Vah River. Our stomachs had started the day a little queasy and continued to get worse as the kilometers piled on. I’m pretty sure that our lunch of bread, cheese and cured meats did not sit well on top of the medium pizzas that we ate last evening.
At kilometer 73 we stopped in town to look for a room and found nothing. We continued on and looked for anything that might be off the road. At kilometer 88 we spotted a sign for a hotel and turned around. A combination of heat, fatigue, and queasy stomachs led to an 80€ (yikes!) room without argument.
The budget suffered a little, but at least we have a very nice room tonight and a chance to rest and feel better for another ride tomorrow. I’m sure it will save us down the road.

Here’s to eating tapas in the right country,

A New Day, a New Country, and a New Map

Day 323
Zakopane, Poland to Dolny Kublin, Slovakia
Time: 4:41:00
Distance: 76.4 km
Avg Speed: 16.9 kph
Terrain: Rolling with One Big Climb
Location: N° 49 12’ 18.2”, 19°16'4.1"E

It was a good thing that we crossed into Slovakia today because our map for southern Poland was just about to disintegrate. It had been folded and refolded several times. It was invaluable and I hope we can find similar maps for this country.
We tried to get up early today so that we could avoid some of the heavy traffic into the resort center of Zakopane. I had forgotten that we require about two hours when we are camping. We still managed to roll out onto the street at 8am – not bad.
The Poland/Slovakia border crossing came about two hours into the day. It was the first time we have actually ridden across a border. No need to rush into things you know. The moment was fairly uneventful – we took a picture with a generic sign.
As we pedaled through the first small town I noticed two things immediately. The architecture has a strong influence from the days of communism and there are definitely less people around. Slovakia has 1/7 of the people in Poland (and is also 1/6 the size).
Luckily, we found ourselves in a river valley most of the day and had some very pleasant downhill riding. About 15 km out of Dolny Kublin, our stop for the day, we passed our first castle. It was quite spectacular, even from the freeway. I’ve read that we have more on the way – certainly something to look forward to.

Some rest day (the times and distances above are the riding portion)

Day: 322
Zakopane to Kunize
Time: 1.18.55
Distance: 15.55 km
Avg Speed: 11.8 kph
Terrain: Hills the whole time

We decided to spend an early rest day in Zakopane so we could take the tram to the top of the mountain and straddle the border of Poland and Slovakia. We got up early for a rest day and got ourselves together to go for a little ride to the gondola. The little ride turned out to be a little more than we had bargained for. By the time we got up to the tram we found ourselves in a line of people 150 meters long and 5 people wide. With the car able to carry around 200 people an hour we figured we were in for a wait. Frustrated, we decided to hike to the top rather than wait for the car. We soon found ourselves on a well worn track with just as many people who were in line for the tram. After dodging and diving around people for 15 minutes or so we were able to get in a stride and head to the top. The hike turned out to be not as easy I had thought, but we covered 5 kilometers with 950 meters of elevation in just under two hours. Once on top, at the summit of Kasprowy Wierch, we snapped a few photos of the truly awesome Tatras Mountains and went down to the gondola building for a ride down. No sense in pushing ourselves too far. We timed our departure perfectly and caught a half full car down just as we stepped into the building. We made it back to the bottom of the hill in 2.5 hours and figured if we had stayed in line we would still be standing there. After a little lunch in the village we had to run some errands, hit the internet and go food shopping.
The language barrier has been the hardest thing to overcome for us here. The only thing that is going for us is the letters and numbers are just like our language so we can at least read. Other than that there really is little verbal communication going on. Lots of pointing, gesturing and furiously looking up words in our phrase book. We are starting to get the hang of Polish, but tomorrow we enter Slovakia, so we will start all over again.
I may sound like I am griping, but I really do have a good time being a local at the grocery store, or post office or restaurant, only to have my cover blown by giving them a blank stare when I am spoken to.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What’s Better Than Cheese and Crackers?

Day 321
Jordanow to Zakopane
Time: 4:21:00
Distance: 57 km
Avg Speed: 13.1 kph
Terrain: Rolling
Location: N 49˚ 19’ 20.3”, E 19˚ 59’ 7.4”

Cheese and crackers has become a staple in our life. It wasn’t always that way. In fact, we used to make fun of someone (my dad) who has made the snack one of his major food groups (the others are – popcorn and ice cream). Anyway, we have succumbed to this easy and tasty snack over the last year. Today, I think we found something better. Cheese and homemade bread!
Last night was rather uneventful except for the air raid siren at 2am. I think I’ve watched too many movies about World War II because I thought we might be under attack. Not sure why the siren went off, but nothing occurred afterwards but a chorus of barking dogs.
Like usual we rolled out of our sleeping bags, packed up our gear, and made a mug of instant coffee. It doesn’t take long to get back into the routine. After breakfast we chatted with a nice couple from Holland. They had done some bicycle touring in the past and told us all about the route along the Danube. We listened intently and made a mental note to see how it can fit into our plan. They also gave us the heads-up on the best campground in Zakopane, today’s destination.
We were a little tardy in our 9am start, but we’re cutting ourselves some slack since it’s just the second day. The terrain was much the same as yesterday – up and down the green hills and hay filled valleys of southwestern Poland. We found our yummy bread and cheese at a little sklep (I think it’s Polish for corner store) and turned south towards the mountains.
We spent most of the ride zigzagging our way toward Zakopane. Every time we intersected the highway, we checked for a road shoulder and then moved on. Yesterday morning must have been the exception and not the rule. We’ll be looking for some really detailed maps so that we can stay off the highways. We got spoiled this summer in Colorado.
Tonight we’re camped at a nice little place right behind McDonalds. We’ve got a decent view of the Tatras Mountains, really clean bathrooms and a friendly host. Ah, it’s good to be back on the road.
Here’s to a new twist on an old favorite,

Welcome to Poland!!

Day: 320
Krakow to Jordanow
Time: 4:41
Distance: 70.1 km
Avg Speed: 14.9 kph
Terrain: Rolling

We rose early at the hostel to take advantage of a free breakfast and to get on the road early. It is nice to stay in a hostel that has a bunch of partiers in it. The 7 am free breakfast is usually empty. We shuttled our gear down the three flights of stairs to the street, snapped a few pictures and got to work getting out of the city. City riding is always an adventure, especially when you don’t have a clue where you are going and couldn’t even begin to ask someone for directions. We managed quite well with the expert guiding of my co-pilot and soon found ourselves on the highway heading out of town. The shoulder was huge so the riding wasn’t too nerve wracking. We even spent ten minutes passing cars as they sat in a construction zone. Our first break was a gas station/café. I thought a cappuccino sounded good so I went in to grab a couple. The lady behind the counter replied ‘nie, Nescafé’. I was suddenly down graded from a cappuccino to an instant coffee. Beggars can’t be choosers. We rode the highway for a little more until we managed to pitch off onto some frontage roads. We finally got to the turnoff to Jordanow and rode a great 19 km through river bottom land with stacks of hay standing like snowmen in the field. They actually looked more like cousin It from the Adam’s Family, but I digress. I think they stack the hay on small frames that help it dry faster and keep it off the ground. I haven’t figured out if it is put up for the winter from there.
We finally rolled into our little campground around 2:30 this afternoon. We were happy to find a nice clean, quiet, family campground. Around 4:00, fifty or so boys showed up as part of a school/tribe/release program. They are actually well behaved for fifty boys, but we happen to be camped next to the sand volleyball court, where a match has been going for the last 4 hours. It must be a sport group because there are soccer matches, ping pong matches, badminton matches, and volleyball matches all going on.
Tomorrow we head to southern Poland to a ski area. Looking at the maps and judging by all the cars with mountain bikes on top, it looks to be a great mountain biking area. I don’t know if we will ride anything or not, but our interest is piqued.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rain Delay

Day 319
Still in Krakow
Time: Less Than 10 Minutes
Distance: Less Than a Mile
Avg Speed: Slow
Terrain: Wet Pavé

We woke up to pouring rain, promptly went back to sleep, and stayed another day in Krakow. We did move our accommodations a few blocks to the main square. Our day wasn’t completely shot – we did a lot of people watching while we waited for our room. Then, a bit later while walking around, we were soaked when a passing golf cart (giving a city tour) purposely found a couple of big puddles to race through. Good thing we have quick-dry pants. Finally, we found some good, greasy Polish food. Nothing like pierogi, kielbasa, and vegetables cooking in heavy oil to make you feel like you’re in Europe.

Here’s to clearing skies,

Friday, August 08, 2008


Day: 318
Krakow to Oswiecem
Time: All Morning and most of the afternoon

Getting our luggage yesterday really helped us out keeping a schedule. Today we had wanted to get out to the town of Oswiecem and visit a pretty grim museum. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is a dark reminder of this area’s history during the occupation of Nazi forces in WWII. Leslie and I spent several hours guiding ourselves around the grounds and the restored blocks of Auschwitz. We viewed what atrocities occurred under the names of science, and genocide. For 5 years the camps murdered and cremated around 1.5 million people. These included Soviet POW’s, Gypsies, Poles, Czechs, Yugoslavs, French, Austrians, and Germans. The majority of the deaths were Jews. The actual tally is up for debate since most Jewish people who came in to Auschwitz never were registered; they were taken directly to the gas chamber and then cremated. I can’t even begin to describe what we saw today. One of the most haunting images was a room full of hair that had been cut off of dead women. The hair was then sold to a German textile mill to be used in the manufacturing of cloth. The hair on display weighed a disturbing 1950 kg. The prison block of personal effects was also disturbing containing thousands of pairs of eyeglasses, shoes, toothbrushes, hair and clothing brushes and artificial limbs. One of the quotes around the grounds is by the philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."If you are ever able to go see Auschwitz or read a book or watch a movie about the atrocities that occurred at these concentration camps please do. The hollow feeling that you get inside when you actually see what a human being is capable of doing to another human drives you to make sure that the world, your space, is a better and safer place for those around you.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Only the Bags Know

Day 317
Krakow, Poland
Location: N 50˚ 03' 58.4'', E˚ 19 55' 46.3"

It’s happened to most travelers at one time – lost luggage. I’m not sure you ever really think it’s going to happen to you. When you arrive at the airport and watch your bags float off down the belt into the underworld, you just turn around and head to your gate. As you sit in your seat during the flight you’re thinking more about what drink to order than how your luggage is getting along in the cargo hold below. It isn’t until you’re the last person standing at baggage claim that you realize something went wrong.

Day 2 started without out our bags as they did not arrive last evening. We called first thing and got one of several different stories. I’m sure it must be frustrating to work in the lost luggage department at the airport. It wasn’t until later in the day that we remembered that Lufthansa employees are on strike. Maybe it’s just the baggage handlers.
We decided to stick around for awhile this morning just in case our luggage arrived. We read our books and took a few catnaps. We are still trying to catch up from lack of sleep during our flights. In between the shut-eye, I managed to start and finish The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I would definitely recommend it to everyone – it’s about following your dreams.
After lunch and a few more phone calls we were no closer to seeing our bags so we ventured out. Krakow has been pretty close to my mental map – interesting history, beautiful architecture, and vibrant people. Our goal for the afternoon was Wawel (pronounced vavel) Hill. Set on the banks of the Vistula (pronounced wisla) River, the hill is essentially a fortress with several structures inside. The most commanding building was the cathedral. Built in the 14th century, the copper and gold domed building was the coronation and burial place for Polish royalty for 400 years.
Upon our return we found no bags. Many things started to run through my mind, but before I got too far there was a knock on the door. Three bags had arrived and maybe the fourth bag would come today or tomorrow. Unfortunately, it was my gear bag that was still missing. Chris made a trip to the kitchen to get a beer and when he came back he had the last bag in hand. Apparently, it came with a different driver. At least we had something to drink to.
And so we ended the day on a very positive note and wondered where in the world those bags had been. I guess only the bags know…


Nothing to Declare

Day: 316
Denver, Colorado USA to Krakow, Poland
Time: Too long
Distance: Too far

We left Denver yesterday at 10:30 am. Leslie’s family put together the going away caravan and shuttled us out to the airport. DIA was a breeze except for the liquids I forgot I had in my bag. The TSA people were nice and just took a look at them and let me on through security. You would think I had never done that before. We got to the ticket counter early and the United clerk was kind enough to bump us up to economy plus for free all the way to Munich. I always can use an extra couple of inches for my legs. We switched planes in Washington DC and flew through the night to Munich. I couldn’t sleep so I caught up on my movies. We landed in Munich 7:30 am local time and tracked down a little breakfast and coffee. Those thoughtful Germans had free coffee stations all over the place to help us get a little more caffeinated. After a three hour layover we boarded our last leg to Krakow. The flight was a little rough and the landing was a two hopper. It didn’t seem that windy, but if I were flying it I would have crashed and burned so I can’t complain. After landing and waiting for our luggage I learned my first Polish phrase: Moj bagaz zostal zagubiony. It translates to ‘my luggage has been lost’. Yes, for the first time on our trip we became detached from our luggage. The office for lost baggage had a very helpful lady working who took our information and promptly figured out where our luggage was. Our bags zigged when we zagged in Washington DC. They are supposed to be on a flight to Frankfurt and then on to Krakow tonight. We are keeping our fingers crossed. We did luck out and arrived in Krakow with a change of clothes, a desire for a little adventure and just in time to catch a professional bicycle race in the town square. We hung out there most of the evening watching a crit around the cobbles. We caught three wrecks in the corner we were in. One guy took a little while to get up and get moving. The others bounced up and headed back to the vans. I can’t imagine sliding across cobbles at 30 kph feels too good. I think I would have bailed as well.
We are looking forward to seeing our bikes and bags soon. Hopefully the airlines share our feelings.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Europe Tour: The Final Clue

Day 315
Home Base to the Airport

Our summer break is over and it’s time to go back to work. Today we’re headed for Europe and the final leg of our ‘round the world journey. We’re pretty excited and anxious to get back on the road. There is a lot of history and culture waiting for us.
So finally we get down to the last clue. We didn’t pick our arrival city for a special reason. It was more about economics than a place on someone’s wish list. We knew we wanted to start in Eastern Europe and when this city in Poland popped up on the United Airlines route map, we said “why not?” If we’ve learned anything on this journey, it’s knowing that you can ride your bike just about anywhere and have a good time.
Ok, here we go…
Geography: in southern Poland on the Vistula River
History: was once the capital of Poland and attracted great scientists and artists from around the world; 50 km east of Auschwitz
Population: 800,000

If you know the answer (I’m guessing you do), click here to see more info on where we will start our European adventure.

Here’s to good drink, good food, old buildings, and a lot of cool history,