“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination”
Croatian ferries are quite possibly one of my favourite modes of transport. They just work (well apart from not going where you want them to go). Sitting on the deck of the ferry sipping on a much needed vino, is pretty much the best way to soak up the views of passing landscapes and islands, especially after a horrendous day in the saddle. We stopped off at a couple of islands and spent a lot of our time napping in the sun or chatting to one of the crew members, who had exceptional English. The journey was around 6 hours, which meant we arrived into Zadar late at night. We had reserved a hostel for the night, realising there were no campsites in town and we would need to head off for an early start on the bikes, it was highly obvious that some ‘admin’ time would be needed to work out how we were going to reorganise this trip bearing in mind the lack of ferry options and my limited cycling capacities!
Our new pal on board (crew member) had said the cycle from Zadar to Sibenik was pretty flat and we thought we would probably be able to cover this in a day or 2…good news. The only problem was that we didn’t know how we would get from there to anywhere. If we cycled as far as Split we would be massively behind schedule and there was no way I was going to be able to catch up, let alone even manage to cycle through Albania and Greece anymore.
On arrival into Zadar port we were quickly reminded of why we never rely on Lonely Planet maps! The port they had drawn was a mere few hundred metres from the hostel. Why then we were cycling for over half an hour in the pitch black (with no lights I may add as I opted against this purchase believing we would be nicely tucked up in our tent come nightfall every day that cycling was involved) in the middle of nowhere I have no idea. It turned out that the port moved a couple of years ago…something the old blue book forgot to add! Thanks to some passing locals we were given some directions but the ride was not easy, bearing in mind we couldn’t see anything, no one could see us and drunk tourists seemed to make it their mission to walk in front of us every couple of minutes. Eventually we reached the old town, which was stunningly beautiful. It was a walled centre with shiny cobbled streets bursting with life and party goers. Trying to manoeuvre a laden bike through these narrow alleyways was quite the challenge, but finally we reached the hostel reception. We were given such a friendly welcome and they were kind enough to store our bikes in the office overnight, as there was no way they were getting up the windy steps of the hostel.
Unfortunately we were staying in separate rooms, but all was fine as the hostel was clean and tidy and we both just needed to take off our smelly lycras and crash out. Despite the cycling for that day being over, the effects of the emotional roller-coaster I had been on were still impacting on me and I found myself struggling to control my heart rate to be able to fall asleep. It wasn’t helped by the fact that we had just met a group of travellers heading to Greece who were making the situation there out to be serious; talks of rioting and mugging of tourists etc were not helping me settle.
The next morning we met for breakfast to discuss options. With a booking on an island in Greece on the 24th July we had to think realistically. Basically it became obvious that I had bitten off more than I could chew. On closer inspection of the map Andy confirmed there was no way I was going to cover that ground in the time given. The problem was that once we had committed to the Albania part of the trip we would be tied there with few options for onward travel should I have another break down. It is funny looking back on it now, as making a sensible decision would not be in the slightest bit hard right now, but clearly we were exhausted and stressed and for that reason any form of rational decision making seemed to go out of the window.
Here are some of the options considered:
- Cycle to Sibenik/Split, hire a car from there and drive to Dubrovnik then fly/ferry via Italy to Greece
- Cycle into Albania and then get a ferry to Italy and on to Greece
- Hire a car and drive through as many countries as we possibly could to get to Athens, stopping off for cycling along the way
- I fly to Greece and Andy cycles
- Number 1 plus cycle through Montenegro then train to Greece via somewhere
- Go home!
I was not wanting to commit to the full cycle touring element of the trip anymore (at that point anyway) and Andy was not really keen on doing so alongside me if what had happened the day before was likely to happen again. I hate giving up on things, but we had to be realistic. I was in a fragile state, having not fully wound down after the end of term and just wasn’t in the right place emotionally or physically for such an adventure. Flights were extortionate, especially when you included taking the bikes, and all went via other countries bar one. Buses were essentially useless as we couldn’t take bikes, but trains were basically non-existent in Albania. I could see that Andy was keen to cover as much ground as possible and didn’t like the easier option of the ferry to Italy and then Greece, so we decided perhaps we should just hire a car and drive to Greece, until we realised that due to the issues over there at that point in time, no car hire company would let us do a one way hire to Athens. Instead we came up with the ‘excellent’ idea that we would drive me and the bikes all the way to Athens and Andy would then drop the car back in Dubrovnik and jump on a plane. The one condition from Andy was that we would go through as many countries as possible and cycle every day. Clearly a stupid plan, but at the time we thought it was fantastic. So we went to the car hire company and got a quote for this, clarifying that we were allowed to actually take the car into non-EU countries (something that had caused a barrage of stress over our morning coffee) and decided we would collect the car the following morning and stay another night so that we could use the time to unwind and plan the next adventure.
Zadar is a beautiful city, but there were way too many tourists crammed into the tiny streets for our liking. It was exceedingly hot; reminding me why this whole day of cycling nonsense was exactly that, and other than mooch around the coffee shops, we didn’t really find much else to do. Instead we used the time to sort out some life admin, cook up a tasty meal and have an early night.
The next morning we woke early and found ourselves sipping on a coffee, munching fresh pastries and conducting more research. I had since found that not only was there the red tape around taking hire cars into non –EU countries, but you needed to have an international driving permit for nearly all of the countries we wanted to go through. Having been advised we needed this in Botswana and then never having to show anything we were pretty sure it wouldn’t be a necessity, but crossing a border on almost a daily basis increased the likelihood we would be stopped and just meant that there would be something we would be stressing about continuously. The idea of visiting countries just to basically drive through them was also not sitting well with me. The intent behind the whole thing wasn’t right and it wasn’t exactly the cheap solution, what with the car hire, fuel and then Andy’s flight back! We were really at a loss. The bikes seemed to be causing so much hassle and we questioned whether we would just have been better to have backpacked, used public transport and then hire bikes when there!
We started to look at the ferry option. We could hire the car and drive down to Dubrovnik and ferry it from there to Italy and then Greece, but now that many of the ferries that served the islands of Hvar and Korcula are no longer linked with Dubrovnik, we were at a bit of a loss as to what we do there. We didn’t fancy staying in Zadar any longer and the only other place that you could get a ferry to Italy from was in Istria, in the North, pretty much where we had just come from! We did a bit of reading about Istria and having never travelled there before I was quite keen to give it a visit. Reading about its food, wine and array of nudist beaches, Andy was sold. If we managed to find a cheap campsite, we could cycle every day and cook at camp; saving a fortune. The whole point of this trip was that it would be cheaper than being at home and paying rent, so we had to start cutting costs.
And so, within the hour we checked out, cycled to the car hire company and asked to change the previous booking to a one day hire and then we would just work out what we would do when we got there…nothing like heading in the total opposite direction from where you are actually trying to get to! Major planning u-turn.