Karlovac to Plitvice Lakes by Bike Day 2

The second official day of biking on this bike trip was from Karlovac to Plitvice.  In some ways, this could be considered my first official day getting into the real country of Croatia, and it was a great day of biking indeed.  I started out by leaving relatively early in the morning from the hotel in Karlovac, and was stocked up with some food and drink from the local supermarket.(The supermarket excursion was a super big trip in and of itself.  It seemed to be filled with communist era grandmas working the cashier stands etc… but great fun to check out none the less.  And there I was rolling around in my biking gear and saddle bags testing out what would fit inside)

Once on the saddle, my first task was to find the highway or road that was to take me all the way to my daily destination.  This didn’t turn out all too hard.  Actually, the road was a recently constructed new “highway” and that it was indeed.  It was nicely paved, and a treat to ride on.  But the best part of all was the bike lane was well marked most of the way, and that just made me feel great as I was still starting off this bike journey in Croatia, and all was still new.

I made a great pit stop on during the day’s bike ride at a side of the road restaurant.  This restaurant was one with a huge spit fire grill going presumably all the time.  The day I was there, they were in the middle of roasting a nice lamb, the entire lamb as well.  This was quite a treat to sit at one of the tables outside, right next to my bike, and  a few hundred feet off the road and to be able to watch the local Croatian guy cook up the lamb, that was going around and around.  I actually went up to him and asked him a few questions, and took some video with my video camera since this was all new to me.

If you are not in any hurry during your Croatian bike trip, I highly suggest getting off the coastal routes for a few days, and make your way up into the mountain towns and see what you can see.  A restaurant like this is always a super big treat, but especially after you have been bike riding for several hours during the morning, and you want to just kick back and relax for about an hour or so mid-day.

I ended up ordering fried trout and french fries, which was really tasty, and then got back onto my bike for the rest of the ride to the campground before the Plitvice Lakes.  This part of the ride took me through the town of Slunj, which is right off the highway, actually you bike right through the town if you are headed in the direction I was.  And, the best part is that there are all kinds of waterfalls in Slunj, some really big beautiful waterfalls that you can even see from the highway.  I didn’t stop in this town, as it was about 3:00pm when I was travelling through and there was actually quite a bit of hustle and bustle going on.  School kids were walking home from school, and some large trucks were making all types of noise, so I just kept on bike riding right through.

Eventually, towards the end of the afternoon, I did make it to the campground I was searching for.  I rode on in, and found the reception/administration part, and purchased one night’s stay by tent, and then off to the showers I roamed.  The campground itself was really really big, I guess it could accomodate a few thousand campers if it was in the middle of the summer during peak seasons.  One thing though, this campground was not filled with private campsites like I was used to being from the United States.  It was more like open fields where you picked a spot on the grass to setup your tent.  Either way, it was just fine, I set my bike up next to a tree, pitched the tent, and then off to the showers.

Zagreb to Karlovac by Bike Day 1

May 3rd, 2005

This was the first full day for me in the new country of Croatia.  Also, this was going to be my first official day of bike touring EVER.  My guess is that if you have ever gone on a bike tour, you can remember your first day pretty darn well.  That sure is the case for me.

The day started out early in the morning, maybe around 7am.  I woke up in the youth hostel that I spent the night at, took a quick shower, and ate my meal down in the cafeteria area with some other travelers.  I definitely did not get the best night sleep, but that is what you should expect with such a large time change and a new place etc…, but that wasn’t bothering me a bit.  I had to make it to Dubrovnik to catch a ferry and head to a wedding in Sicily, and time and distance was of the essence.  So off I went, out the door with my bike all loaded up, saddle bags attached to the rack, and a big grin on my face.  Also, a helmet on my head.

As is probably the case in any capital city on our planet, early morning is a tough time to be biking around, especially if you don’t know the area at all.  I was looking at my large map of the country, and trying to figure out how to get to Karlovac.  This was the city I was hoping to make it to to spend the night.  It appeared to be a potentially 30-40km bike ride for the whole day which isn’t too much, but a good warm up for my first day on the road.

As luck would have it, I would lick the pavement in the city of Zagreb within my first 30 minutes of starting off my first day’s bike ride.  That’s right, my first crash, and still my only crash(5 years later) but a minor crash none the less.  I was riding down a sidewalk, and there were all kinds of people in a small area getting ready to board a bus, and then the next thing I knew was I was heading over bike clips still attached.  Not a high speed situation, but embarrassing to the point where I jumped right back on the bike and sped away with a few tiny minor scrapes.  What happened was a real amateur mistake.  Mike bike bags that stick out about a foot on both sides, actually hit the building walls to my right and caused me to go the other direction and down I went.   Not a big deal, minor blood, and a few little scrapes.
So, once out of Zagreb, I was starting to get a true feeling for what it was like to be in a foreign land.  All alone, with a great mountain bike, great gear, and a camera or two to do some documenting.  I remember looking around all along, trying to figure out what the heck the deal was with the locals.  There were so many different things to look at.  It wasn’t too long until I was outside of the capital and felt like I was in farmland for good.  That’s right, small town farmers all around.  Old people who looked to be 80 years old, doing field work as though they were still in their twenties.  It was a sight to see.  And the greenery was great too.  It wasn’t all burnt out weeds everywhere like I was used to in much of California.

As you might imagine, there always comes a time where you want to make a quick pit stop.  For me, it wasn’t always about needing something to eat, or a question to ask.  It was more about wanting to go into some small shop and order a drink or a coffee, and just to talk with whoever was there, and to try and learn what the deal was wherever I was at.  That was always fun to me in Croatia, and has continued to be so much fun everywhere else.  But, as this was still my first day, I was always locking up my bike, making sure to keep my passport inches away from me at all times, and always watching out for every suspicious person.

After about 20 kilometers, it was finally time for lunch.  So I saw a small tiny restaurant in the town of Klinca Sela.  I wrote down on my map that I had lamb there, and it was actually not my favorite meal of the trip.  It was real real dry as I remember, but it was a treat to be at such a tiny place on the side of the road, so I didn’t care about the food at all.  And it was dirt cheap, so it was all a good memory.  But, within a few more minutes, I was back on the bike and headed for Karlovac at last.

When I finally did make it into the town, I was not sure where to go for lodging.   I had not learned any Croatian at this point, so my communication was either in English, or in sign language which I also do not know.  After riding around for about an hour, I came across a small hotel, and that is where I decided to spend the night.  As I remember, the cost was about $50 for the night, and that remained my most expensive lodging for the entire trip.  The best part of this was I met a guy who worked there named Marko and he spoke excellent English.  We both went out and had a drink later that night and I even saw him again in the morning.  Marko I would consider to be my first Croatian friend.  And as you may not expect, both Marko and I have probably emailed back and forth over 50 times in the past five years.  He is from Karlovac, and is a musician there.  He as well is planning on getting married to a girl from Zagreb in June of 2010.  So congrats to you Marko.

As for the town itself, I really can’t say I saw too much of Karlovac, I did walk around with my video camera the day I arrived in the evening and took some footage.  What I do remember was that it seemed to be quite a bit of a military type town.  And there also seemed to be some buildings that looked to be destroyed by the war or were just busted up pretty bad.  Some structures looked liked they had been bombed out in the not too recent past.  And there was a good amount of graffiti on some walls too.  The beer garden I went to was pretty interesting.  I didn’t strike up any conversation with any locals there, but that was just fine too.  Everyone seemed to be in a pleasant mood and I hope to make it back there someday to visit with Marko and his family.

Biking Conditions from Zagreb to Karlovac are excellent.  The roads are well kept, and there were plenty of places to stop for drinks and food on the way.  I do remember having a semi dangerous encounter with a chase dog, but he was not fast enough to get to me, I was pedalling pretty hard once he broke out of his sleep and ran after me though.