Friday, September 10, 2010

Dinaric Alps of Croatia and Krka National Park

A wind farm in eastern Croatia.

Most of the rivers in the eastern mountains of Croatia had vegetation growing out of the water.

The day after visiting the lakes, I was still cold and wet. I figured the best way to warm up would be by biking. Luckily, I had a 12k hill to start the day. Unbelievably, that did not warm me up though, no matter how fast I pedaled. It was not until the sun came out and hit the valley that I finally warmed up. Ugh.

This not great picture is of a typical road stop: inn, garage, and pig roasting pit.

A church in Udbina, Croatia.

This morning was tough. It looked like it might get nice out, but I was not sure. The weather report was for more rain. If it was going to be nice, I would have loved to take another walk along the lakes. In the end, I let the fact that I am now behind schedule (because of my visit home) dictate my decision. The sun came out and it was gorgeous. It was a hard reminder that I don't get to travel at a leisurely pace anymore. Most of my enjoyment comes from just riding my bike and from taking photos, but the experiences with locals or just having flexibility in your schedule can often lead to the best memories. I could keep extending my trip, but I also know I want to get home sooner than later. Now, is not the time to keep going. I have been moving since September 2009 and would like to be in one place for a bit.

The dead zone in the eastern Croatian mountains.

As I left the homes with private rooms behind, I entered a dead zone that lasted for hours. There was nothing. No homes. No restaurants. No gas stations. Nothing. The mountains of Croatia are not nearly as populated as the coast, but I could not believe how much nothing there was. I felt like I was near that sign in Death Valley that says no services next 75 miles or something like that.

An abandoned building.

When I finally found positive signs of civilization again, I also found negative signs. Destroyed houses. House walls with bullet homes. Signs indicating no trespassing due to land mines. While the military vehicles from my last post seem like so many US war museums, the face is the Croatian War of Independence was just fought from 1991 to 1995. At times, it seemed like over half of the houses were abandoned. I know a lot of people died, but I believe most of the abandoned houses are simply damaged or belong to Serbs who fled the area. Almost everyone you see in Croatia has experienced, first hand, war. I cannot imagine having that experience. Going to war is hard enough, but being a civilian as it goes on around you has to be . . . I can't even come up with a word for it.

A house damaged (by the war?).

My resting spot for the night was Knin, the base for the Serb fight against Croatia. It has mostly been rebuilt and was pretty lively for a smaller town, but there were still some remnants behind. I had planned to bike farther, but was feeling a little tired. I found a cheap hotel, checked in, ate an entire pizza, was still hungry, and passed out.

Knin, Croatia.

Sunset from my hotel in Knin, Croatia.

My next day of riding started out quiet enough. I road through more dry mountain landscapes until I finally turned towards the coast. I was passing by another national park, Krka, so I decided to stop in. It was another cascading lake area filled with fish and turquoise water so I almost skipped it, but I figured they made it a national park for a reason. My legs were also happy to get a break. I was dogging it. These lakes were more forested and smaller, but the waterfalls had more volume. They are definitely worth a look, but if you only have time for one, head to Plitvice.

A waterfall at Krka National Park.

Another set of falls where you can swim at Krka National Park.

One of the rivers feeding the lakes at Krka National Park.

The view as you descend down to the lakes at Krka National Park.

After leaving the national park, I got to have my big adventure for the day. I only had 10k to get to the famed Dalmatian coast that everyone raves about. I don't think I have ever heard someone mention the mountains. Anyway, as I pedaled towards Sibenik, a sign pointing the way was colored blue. Blue means cars only and is usually for autobahns. I was supposed to be crossing it, not going on it. As it turns out, the road went through a tunnel which was only for cars. Just before the tunnel, there was a sign for two towns, one to the left and one to the right. I chose the one to the left because it was closer and was just hoping it would take me over the mountain, passed the windmill farm, and back down to the main road. After half a kilometer, the road turned to loose gravel and rocks. It was hard climbing, but doable. One car came down while I was climbing up. When a second car came down, enough doubt had crept in that I waved them down to ask them where the road went. As it turns out, the gravel road did rejoin the main road and I only had 2km to the top. However, the way down was a lot steeper and had worse gravel. After a great chat with the German couple driving the car, they offered me a ride. They had been on the road to check out the wind farm and wanted to get over to the coast too. I was hesitant because I wanted to earn it, but the idea of biking on even worse gravel and risking a flat convinced me to jump in and join them. On the way, we found some raspberry bushes, yum!

Sibenik was a bust. I skipped town as soon as they let me out. I thought there were two roads to Trogir, one shorter, but I wasn't sure which. I was about to go into a gas station to ask, when I saw an off-duty taxi driver. No one knows an area better than an experienced taxi driver. He told me one road was hillier, but 14km shorter. Sign me up for shorter.

The shortest producing grape vines I have ever seen.

On the shorter root, they have built walls for miles. I assume the walls are just the farmers removing rocks from their fields. However, this isn't just one or two walls. These are three feet high and break the fields up into different sized sections. Some were 10m x 10m, others 20m x 30m. There didn't seem to be too much rhyme or reason beyond getting the rocks out of the way so they could grow their figs, grapes, olives, tomatoes, and tons of other stuff I could not identify. It made for a fascinating late afternoon ride.

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