The plan over the next week or so is to cycle a minimum of 100km and find a campsite to stay in overnight. Today was day one of the plan, and it worked a treat!
Leaving Dubrovnik and all the other tourists who had flocked there wasn’t difficult. It’s a beautiful city and I would urge anyone to visit – I can even now recommend a cracking place to stay in the very heart of the old town at a price that will only make your eyes water rather than pop out all together – but give me a bit of solitude any day and I’m a happy man. As I headed north-west along the coast through the port area I got another close up view of a cruise ship. This time it was the thirteen decks of the MSC Fantasia, an Italian floating apartment block that is capable of carrying 3,900 people (I think I met most of them yesterday in Dubrovnik). It took me about a minute to cycle the length of the ship on the road that was adjacent to the dock. Most of the balconies were empty of people save from a couple of blokes who were looking out forlornly. I like to think that they saw me and were thinking “I’ve always wanted to do a bit of cycle touring. If only my wife would let me, just once, sort out the annual summer holiday”. It’s more likely they were thinking “OK it’s Saturday 20th July so where the hell are we today?”
An elegant bridge not dissimilar but much smaller in scale to the one I had crossed a couple of weeks ago from Patras back onto the mainland of Greece spanned the long, thin lake just to the north of Dubrovnik and we were eventually on our way to, well, at that point I had no idea.
The highlight of today’s foray along the Eurovelo 8 was going to be the point when I entered Bosnia, the fifth country of the trip and the one that would allow me to declare that in one respect – the number of countries I am cycling through – I was half way to Portugal. Clearly this is a load of hog wash; had Yugoslavia still been in existence, the half-way point would be a more reasonable Italy but since its fragmentation into many parts I am able to tick off five countries already. For the record I’m now back in country number four, part 2. The border guard at the first frontier between Croatia and Bosnia was far too interested in something on his mobile phone to bother too much with trivialities such as passports. He almost looked annoyed when I paused and offered him mine. “Clear off will you! I’m nearly at my Angry Birds high score!”
I don’t consider that I have actually visited a country if I haven’t done something meaningful there. I haven’t been to Austria as when I did it was merely changing trains en route to Prague. I did want to say that I had visited Bosnia so I made sure that I used it for my lunch stop. My route along the coast of Bosnia could only have been six or seven kilometres so I couldn’t be too picky about where to stop. I chose a restaurant just before the town of Neum. I had no idea what kind of town Neum was so couldn’t risk going there and finding it was a dull industrial place with no suitable place to tuck into something nourishing for lunch. In fact it turned out to be a rather pleasant seaside resort. You win some, you lose some… The restaurant I had chosen was more of a Portacabin with an awning under which tables and chairs had been set up. The menu was a pictorial one and it would have given palpitations to a vegetarian (and probably does give palpitations of the heart to locals who eat there every day). Every dish contained meat in abundance. I could have killed for pasta in some kind of sauce but I had to be happy with a Wiener schnitzel (I could hear the poor thing being hammered into submission just after I had ordered it but I suppose this proves it was freshly prepared) and chips. The waiter seemed insistent that I also had a salad which was commendable for a restaurant so seemingly dedicated to glorifying the consumption of dead animals. The meal left me very full far too early in the day and subsequent cycling was done just a little more lethargically than I was comfortable with.
At least my passport did receive a cursory check at the entry back into Croatia. This is all part of the curious jigsaw that is the modern day Balkans. The checks between Greece and Albania were very strict. As were those between Albania and Montenegro. Others are inconsistently lax. Another curious thing – I will need to look up later – is the existence of this little bit of Bosnian coastline. I had assumed that it was because Bosnia had demanded in some peace treaty during the 1990s that it had access to the sea for the purposes of exports and imports. But there is no port as far as I can see. Just the nice seaside town of Neum. Anyone got any better reasons why this seven-kilometre wide bit of Bosnia exists? Is Neum a town famous for having a large proportion of Bosnians? More research needed.
I crossed quite a few cyclists today; I gave them all a cheery wave and most reciprocated in a similarly happy fashion. The only ones that didn’t were two too-cool-for-school lads in their early 20s who just looked up and as I didn’t fit their idea of someone to be bothered with (i.e. I wasn’t blond, bronzed, female and half-naked as I cycled) they nodded wearily and cycled on to the next beach where they are no doubt chatting about the strange cheery cyclists they see coming in the other direction; “What a bunch of sad tossers. So where are you from darling…?” To give me faith in the community of twenty-something cycling tourists I did meet, overtake, meet again, get overtaken, meet etc… a couple of lads who had just graduated from Cambridge and after having cycling around Italy for a couple of weeks had just arrived in Dubrovnik this morning to continue northward along the Adriatic. I suspect I may see them again over the next few days. It got me thinking that perhaps if I had done something similar after graduating from university it might have got it out of my system.
The views along the coast continued to be consistently stunning – a couple of them are shown below – and then I passed the all-important 100km at which point I pricked up my eyes (is that possible?) and started activity looking for somewhere – a campsite – to stay. My maps indicate campsites with a red triangle but these don’t seem to be entirely accurate but when I arrived at the Makarska Riviera, there were quite a few red triangles and just after the town of Podaca I found the kind of campsite that I wished were at the end of each 100km cycle. Perhaps there will be this week. Not sure if I will eat something substantial tonight or not. The Wiener schnitzel is still in my stomach and I’m tempted to (this is really sad but until you’ve tried it you won’t know how much fun it can be, really!) buy some snacks, go back to the tent and nibble my way through them while sipping a glass of red wine. What do you think? Place your bets now!