Woke up to a very unpleasant wet morning. My brother went upstairs to checkout of the apartment while I brought the panniers down to the ground level. A few minutes later my brother came down along with the manager. She unlocked the storage room and wished us well on our journey as we loaded up our bikes.
The city of Trieste is sandwiched between the Adriatic to the west and steep mountains to the east. We knew well ahead of time that we would have to overcome these mountains to the east in order to leave the city. It was tough going for the first couple of miles. We were hungry, tired and cold. As we slowly started climbing the steep streets in the foothills, we spotted a busy cafe and stopped to get the much needed calories.
The cafe was quite busy. It was apparent from the liquor bottles that were lined up against the rear wall that they served more than breakfast. The tables were occupied with the elder residents of the neighborhood. For the younger patrons on their way to work or school it was just a quick morning stop. It looked liked the special of the day consisted of an espresso and a single sugar laden pastry.
A few minutes and several hundred calories later we got back on the road. But not even an half mile later, we had stop once again as the rain got really heavy. We sought shelter under a small bushy tree next to an apartment building. It was about the same time that we noticed a lone biker heading down to hill, travelling on the opposite direction towards us. “Huh!” uttered my brother, “I guess we are not the only crazy ones”. The other rider must have spotted us too, he stopped right across from us and waved. When we waved back, he hurriedly crossed the street and joined us for a chat.
Yorgo was a fit man in his late thirties or early forties. He looked as though he has been through some rough times. He was wearing a one piece oversize poncho that was riddled with patches. Following a quick introduction and handshake, he started telling us about his trip as he lit up a cigarette. He said he was Greek and he was on his way from Greece to Trieste. He had traveled through Macedonia, Serbia and then onto Slovenia. When we told him about our plans to travel through Albania onto Istanbul, he profusely objected and advised us against it. He said the reason he went through Serbia was to avoid Albania because it was very unsafe for foreigners. He wasn’t the first person to warn us about Albania. There have been others mainly on the internet advising against going through Albania. When I asked “why not”, his response was that he has been to Albania and they were really pushy and always begging for money. He uttered some other reasons most of which didn’t even sound reasonable. It quickly turned into a bitching session about Albania and Albanians. Once he was done with the Albanians, he turned his attention to Turks and asked us why we were travelling to Turkey as there was “nothing to see there”. By then we already had enough of Yorgo. We were simply nodding as he talked and talked, hoping that he would get the hint. Just as he was lighting up his second cigarette, we decided that we had enough of his ranting and the second hand smoke and asked to be excused. Said our goodbyes and left Yorgo to his smoking.
The route out of Trieste continued to be unpleasant as we slowly climbed up the hills under heavy rain. After a couple of hours of riding, it became painfully obvious to both of us that this wasn’t not ideal route for cycling. The climb was quite long, in fact 45kms long. The roads did not have any shoulders and the traffic was heavy with buses, cars and trucks. Although the scenery was nice we were in no mood to enjoy it.
The reason I picked this route was that it was the most direct one. The route would take us through Slovenia and we planned on arriving to Rijeka, Croatia before night fall. The alternate was to take a route closer to the coast, but I didn’t think that we would be able to travel that distance in one day.
Slovenia is a part of the European Union and there wasn’t an official border crossing between the two countries. Just a welcome sign. Once over the border we stopped at a shop to get some tea to warm us up. We were pretty miserable at this point. It was still raining and the temperature was perhaps a degree above freezing. I am sure my brother fared worst than I did. He still was using his tent for protection from the rain. The tent would flap and move around as he pedaled, exposing him to the elements. We constantly had to stop for him to adjust his cover.
Although, we originally stopped at the shop for some hot tea, we were ecstatic to see that they also had a large selection of rain jackets for sale. My brother managed to find one he liked. This time around, he made sure that it was rain proof instead of just repellent. And to top it off, it had a hoodie.
Around lunch time, we stopped at a convenience store in a village called Obrov. The shop owner was a nice young lad whose English was surprisingly good. We bough some bread and cheese and made cheese sandwiches from them. We were both feeling quite tired and weak at that point, decided that sugar was what we needed. We bought a bag full of junk food and a couple of bottles of soda (which neither of us regularly drinks). The sugar gave us an instant pickup.
After the quick lunch stop, we got back on to the road. Around the 45km marker, we finally made it to the top of the painful climb right before the Slovenia border. The Croatia was not part of the European Union at the time, so we were excited about going through our first “real” border crossing.
We lined up behind a dozen or so cars that were trying to clear the checkpoint. When it was our turn I handed our passports to the customs official. He looked just like a body of mine from the U.S. Marines whose father was also from Croatia. The resemblance was quite striking. I knew it was best to keep the conversations to minimum going through border crossings, so I simply said “Hello”. He nodded his head and started inspecting our passports. Both of our passports list our birthplace as Turkey. As soon as he noticed that he asked “going to Istanbul?” with a smile on his face. “Yes” we said. “You guys crazy” he replied, “bad weather! rain, cold…” Once he was done with our passports he handed them back to us, wished us good luck. “Thanks” I replied back, “we are gonna need it.”
After the border crossing, the remainder of the road was down hill all the way to Rijeka. The descent was really fast and we both got quite a rush out of it. At one point, we were going so fast that we were well exceeding the posted speed limit of 45kmh. Even the cars that were closely following us on the flat parts of the road were playing catch up around the corners.
At the bottom of the hill we crossed over the autobahn to Trieste. The descent became more gentle and the rain got brutal. The euphoria from the fast downhill wore off quickly. To add to our misery, my brother got his first flat tire of the trip. We stopped and sought shelter under a large tree. We unloaded his bike, turned it upside down and started fixing the tire. A few minutes into the repair a very old lady with a shopping bag in her hand walked passed us. She looked as miserable as we did. Only thing she was wearing that was remotely waterproof was what looked like a plastic bag over her head scarf. I tell ya, it is no fun fixing a flat tire in a downpour. Somehow we managed to keep the inner tube dry and our fix seem to work.
We arrived at the center of the city around the evening rush hour. Rijeka was a bustling city. Despite the heavy rain, the streets were quite crowded. The majority of the crowd consisted of well dressed young people. One could have easily mistaken it for an Italian city if it wasn’t for the water stained faces of communist era buildings that towered over the old streets. In fact, once we got over the crowds in the main city square, we found Rijeka to be quite depressing (I am sure the flat tire we had earlier and the terrible weather had contributed to that).
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the city had open WIFI access in its main square. “How progressive” I said to myself, only to discover moments later that it simply did not work. However, there were plenty of other open networks to choose from. It seemed like every single business had WIFI, many open to public. We got on one of those and started looking for a place for the night. After some tinkering we decided on staying at the Hotel Continental.
Hotel Continental was quite nice both inside and out. According to their website the hotel was built in 1888 and it was the oldest one in Rijeka. On the outside the architecture did reflect that era. However, it was quite a different story on the inside. The rooms were recently renovated in a contemporary style. So it was best of both worlds so to speak. We were given a room on the second floor facing the old town square and the river. With little trying we managed to get our bikes into the elevator one at a time and brought the bikes upstairs into the room. After a long and hot shower we decided to go to the hotel’s restaurant downstairs. The food wasn’t bad. I remember having a cheese sampler, octopus salad which was pretty darn good and some fish too mundane to remember.
After dinner we headed up to our room. By then it had stopped raining, and right on cue, crowds of teenager started gathering in front of the hotel adjacent to the river bank. As the crowd got bigger so did their noise. As we tried our best to ignore their noise, we discussed our options. We both had enough of the rain and cold. We knew that the train was out of question as the only line out of here was headed north-east towards inland. We knew that they had ferries out of Rijeka but the information on the internet was limited. So my brother went downstairs to speak to the receptionist. He came back in 15 minutes with excitement. The receptionist girl was nice enough to call the ferry company and managed to reserve the last cabin available on the next day’s ferry to Dubrovnik. We just had to go down to the ferry terminal and pay for our tickets. We were really excited about getting out of the this hell of a weather front. As the crowds thinned down around 10:00 pm I fell a sleep dreaming about riding in sunny weather just as I had planed before the trip.