Italy to Macedonia – The end of social ineptitude

Days on the road: 86

Kilometres cycled: 3555

Countries visited: 13

Punctures: 0

Hello all, sorry for the lack of ‘blogging’, we have either been cycling too much or having too much fun (or a combination of the two). From now on, we are going to try and blog more regularly so that you don’t have to read for 45 minutes to know what we are up to!

So, here we are in Macedonia, it’s pretty surreal to be here, having only travelled by bike, and I guess that feeling is going to increase the further East we go. Our journey to here from Slovenia has been an eventful one, with ups and downs, friends and fun-times, and lots of cycling. Here’s how it went…

We travelled south from Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Trieste (Italy), enjoying the gradually changing scenery as we entered the Mediterranean world that lay before us. Arriving a day ahead of schedule, we decided to camp near a beach and fulfil our dream of gracefully running and diving into the first sea we had seen since Holland. Our utopian image was spoilt as soon as we set foot on the ‘beach’. Evidently, the geographical conditions in Trieste are not favourable to sand; in fact the beach had more glass then grit. After Tom nursed his cut foot, we headed to our apartment in the city centre where we would spend the next three days with my Mum, Sister and girlfriend.

Despite the poor weather, we enjoyed some amazing times, good food, lots of wine and many laughs. My Mother’s attempt at miming Bruce Willis was the cause of the biggest laugh; 15 minutes of unbelievable acting had us all in hysterics. This is on our latest video, but I fear it may have been one where you had to be there!

Having people come and visit us is always a huge morale boost, and after having such good time is hard saying goodbye to the girls. It was fantastic to get you out there, thanks for coming to see us; we loved every minute.

From Italy we headed down the coast and into Croatia. Before we hit the shoreline, we decided again to not follow signs and go where we thought best and as per usual, this resulted in a steep climb up a tiny road! So steep in fact, that we had to dismount and push our bikes up. As hard as this was, the unfortunate detour soon gave me one of the biggest laughs to date. Panting and sweating, Tom was pushing ahead of me, concentrating on his footfall and determined to make the top. Not paying attention to the road that lay ahead of him, he came to within a few inches of stepping on a snake (snakes are his biggest fear). I heard a commotion up ahead and looked up to see him retreating at pace and swearing like I’ve never heard before. Ten minutes later, after I had recovered from my hysterics, we continued the climb and were rewarded with this view and a beautiful cycle into the relatively cosmopolitan city of Rijecka.

Having interacted with approximately 17 people prior to this and feeling like social retards, we were both trembling with excitement at the partying that was in store. However, in typical Daring Dynamos style, we had arrived out of season and the ‘hot-spots’ were not so hot. Regardless, we arrived at our hostel and are luck changed as we met Dan, Linn and Karoline, an American hitchhiker and two travelling Swedish girls. Dan, Linn and Karoline would become good friends over the next few weeks. They island hoped with us, from Rijecka, to Pag and KRK. We spent days and nights with them, hitting clubs, beaches, riding quad bikes (and flipping them) and spent a rainy day in the cinema (we watched The Avengers…it was awesome).

Rijecka presented us with some pretty hard-core music. First off was a metal concert, the lead singer was a cult hero and could be described as a cross between Bon Jovi, Jack Black and Tom Jones; it was hilarious. There was actually a huge turn out in the sweaty club and he put on a good show that the audience loved, however, it made us realise the importance of language in certain forms of music. Not being able to understand a word of what the guy was singing, made it hard for us to really ‘connect’ with his songs. Prior to this, I had presumed that music was enjoyable in any language, like classical for example, but evidently this rule is not strictly true, especially when it comes to heavy metal! Here is a video of the band we saw, Opca Opasnost

We left half way through and went to a smaller venue, where a heavy thrash metal band was playing. Out of the frying pan and into the oven! Contrary to the above, we really enjoyed the screaming punks in front of us, despite it not being our type of music and it not being in our language. The guitarist and drummers made the set and were as involved and as watched as the lead singer. It’s not a gig we’d rush to again, but it was definitely an experience worth having!

The grunge/metal theme continued in Rijecka when we found ourselves, for the next three nights, in a dark back alley club. The clientele were mainly emos and students, but surprisingly the music was varied. One night presented us with rock classics and metal, the next electro house and the third and final night was a lock in with the music of our choice. The latter was by far the best one; we drunk until the wee hours of the morning, made good friends with the unbelievably cool barman and then, to say thank you, helped him clean up the bar. The night was full of laughs, mainly bought on by acting like children; high chair racing, games of hide and seek, head stands and dancing competitions…it’s what dreams are made of!

As we waved goodbye to Rijecka and headed for the islands, we started a hung-over race with Dan, Linn and Karoline, Dan hitchhiking to the island and Linn and Karoline on a bus. We thought we stood a chance of beating them there, it was only 40km away and we could get straight on with our journey. However, we were soon presented with a few challenges that would unfortunately not leave us until we departed Croatia.

  • Cycling up and down the hills of coastal roads not big enough for cars
  • Cycling on horrific hangovers
  • Cycling next to lorry drivers who apparently defy the medical advise of not driving with limited eye sight

The journey to KRK Island gave us our first real scare on the bike. An oversized lorry overtook us on a bend, pulling in way too early and forcing us to crash into the barrier (a barrier protecting us from a 30m drop). Eventually we arrived safe and sound at the hostel (which had police inspection tape over half the doors) and unsurprisingly we had lost the race. This journey was a stark reminder of the fact that we aren’t invincible and this trip is a hard and dangerous one. It’s times like this when Tom and I have to dig deep and think about why we are doing this trip; your donations and support provide huge motivation for us when we are on the road and we truly appreciate them.

Linn and Karoline soon left and we continued racing Dan from Island to Island and eventually set up home in The Big Yellow House Hostel, Pag. We’d spend a few nights here and didn’t do much sleeping. Every night involved beer, freestyle jamming, music recording and general fun! We ate with the hostel owners every night and have to say it’s the coolest and most laid back hostel we have been to so far. Despite Tom’s encounter with the resident Rottweiler, our stay there was awesome and we’ll be sure to head back there in a couple of years. The owners were genuinely welcoming and one of them was particularly talented. If you haven’t seen it already, please have a watch of his own single, Chocolate Milk.

One of the nights involved the creation of The Big Yellow House band; their first music video will be out in due course, so watch this space! Thanks to all the guys at the hostel who made our stay such a pleasant one.

After a rather lengthy rest, we were back on the road headed toward split. Between us lay a few hundred kilometres, a couple of mountains and a seriously narrow mountain road. The coastline of Croatia is beautiful, but unfortunately for us, we spent most of the time concentrating on hugging the side of the road, instead of taking in the beautiful scenery. Due to the rocky terrain of the roads in Croatia, wild camping was pretty hard. The one time we managed to, it was at a blatant dogging spot, evidenced by the plethora of condoms, rubbish and late night arrivals around our secluded home. Bad Boys II kept us company and drowned out the noise of the locals! In the morning, we decided that the mountainous route was safer and we were soon taking on another pass. In hindsight it was a great decision, but half way up it felt like we’d had a bit of a shocker.

A long day passed and we approached Split, in the morning Tom’s sister and our friend ‘Bear’ would be joining us. We were excited and knew we should get an early night whilst we wait for their arrival…the student night we went to was pretty good and drinks were cheap! We met a group of people, some Americans and Australians, and started drinking with them. A few of them would be following us to our next destination…Prior to this we saw a blues band, Rolin Humes , who played the longest song we have ever seen, a whole 17 minutes! The lead singer was awesome; a really enthusiastic, half Croatian, half Australian dude. The audience was small, but he grabbed everyones attention with a really tight and interesting set. There was no dancing, but everyone was tapping there feet and more than enjoying the gig. Here is one of his videos…

 

 

We welcomed Bear and Sarah with a stinking hangover and soon boarded the ferry heading to Hvar, where we would stay at Luka’s Lodge, a brilliantly run family hostel. The next few nights involved the making of the promo video for the upcoming rugby sevens tournament and of course, a lot of partying! Here is that video…

We met four girls from Hertford who were awesome fun and after introducing them to Vodka Pommes; they were soon partying the night away with us. Whilst walking home one night, one of us needed a wee, so we decided to try one of the docked boats and see if we could use their toilet. Within seconds, Tom was stripping off his One Piece and running onto the boat. Everyone else was wondering what was going on, but I knew exactly were he was headed and decided to follow suit. The climb to the top of the bow was a bit dodgy, but soon Tom was on the end, preparing to plummet into the Abyss. A loud cheer greeted his surfacing and as soon as I knew it was safe, I was in straight after him. This continued for half an hour, and in the process, Bear and I managed to get stung by sea urchins.

On the same night, two of the girls (Americans and Aussies) that we met in Split met some Australian guys who were touring on one of the boats we were jumping off. We won’t mention names, but they may or may not have hooked up with one another. Nine o’clock the next morning, one of the girls friends gets a phone call, they were still on the boat. Unfortunately for them, the boat was moving, destination Dubrovnik, 350km South of Split. To add to their misfortune, the road route back from Dubrovnik passed through Bosnia, an area where you need your passport to pass through the border…their passports were in Hvar! Four days later, in the same clothes and a few hundred Euro down, they arrived back in Hvar, just in time to catch their train to Italy! This story could only have been better if it had happened to one of us!

Bear and Sarah’s stay with us was just epic, we had such a good time and we really can’t explain how much it helps us when people come and visit. Thanks so much for coming out guys, I hope you enjoyed it just as much as we did!

With Dan still in tow, we made our way to Dubrovnik and again came face to face with a narrow coastal road. There was rarely a moment when a car wasn’t alongside you, and the furthest they would be away from was about one meter, whilst travelling at about 50-60mph. It was not an enjoyable journey and it was made even worse for me when we had our first hide speed crash. Going through a tunnel, an ambulance came past beeping its horn. I moved over to avoid being crushed, but hit a divot in the road and tumbled straight into the middle of the road. Whoever said it all goes on slow motion was a liar, it happened so quickly and before I knew it I was face down on the floor with two sets of lights heading toward me. Luckily the car was far enough back to swerve and avoid hitting me, and for some reason I decided the most important thing to save, was not me, not my bike, but the knife that had fallen out of my bag onto the opposite side of the road. Thankfully the road was relatively quiet, and Tom ran back to help me. It was a scary experience, but it’s all part of the trip; it’s taught us a valuable lesson, one we won’t forget.

We cycled hill after hill, and later rather than sooner, we arrived in the stunning Dubrovnik, a beautiful city, with an excellent mix of architecture, nightlife and culture. We stayed in a cute apartment in the centre of town at a really good rate, all thanks to Dan smooth talking the apartment owner! We’d heard about some cliffs to jump off, and like excited children we went there within an hour of our arrival. Here we met Dave, Dive and Shauna, three Australians with a passion for fun and also for jumping off high stuff. We liked them very much! The next few hours consisted of us jumping off cliffs, saving a chubby Australian’s life (with no thanks) and watching Dan jump an 18m cliff…LEGEND!

The biggest night we had consisted of a rave in a castle, an awesome DJ, stupid dancing and of course, lots of beer. The DJ was awesome and the club provided us with our first rave since leaving London. Being in a castle for a party is epic, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough, if you go to Dubrovnik, you should make sure you go there. The night was something like this…

 

 

The day after, we had a hung-over trip to Bosnia, to a beautiful town called Mostar. It was a humbling experience and also a great day out. The town was ravaged by war only 20 years ago, and the evidence of this was still there, bullet holes in the wall and videos of the bridge being blown up. War Child was started as a result of this war, and since then it has grown, all thanks to the support and donations made by you.

Having spent the best part of 3 weeks relaxing and partying in Croatia, we had left ourselves with the task of getting to Istanbul in 3 weeks in order to meet friends that are visiting. This meant that we had to step on the gas and race through the remaining countries. The first of which was Montenegro. The little that we saw of this country was beautiful, as well as hilly. Amazing rolling valleys, stunning lakes and good cheap food. The roads were constructed well and it allowed us to really concentrate on clocking up the kms. We ran into another tourist, a German named Christophe, who was traveling the same way of us, but not for too much longer. The brief time we spent with him was valuable, within 10 minutes he had taught us how to attach our back rack pack correctly and also gave us some other valuable tips on touring. The term ‘all the gear and no idea’ ran through our heads when we explained that this was our first bike tour and we were taking on the entire world!

We raced through the remainder of Montenegro and some passed into Albania. Simply put, this country is stunning in every way…except the quality of the roads. The scenery was the best we have seen so far and the people were so friendly. We had no problem camping in restaurants gardens and were greeted with waves and smiles of every person we met. It was a real boost for us going through, but the quality of the roads coupled with the heat and the number of the hills, made the riding extremely hard, but rewarding at the same time.

After two nights camping in Albania, we reached the border of Macedonia and crossed into yet another country. First thing we had to do was a huge mountain pass and just prior to taking on the climb, Tom and I talked about what to do in the event of being chased by a dog (wild rabid dogs are more common the further East we go). Tom’s sister had advised him that the best thing to do when being chased is to get off the bike and create a barrier between you and the dog. That’s all well and good in theory, but at the end of a long day, on a steep climb, with a massive hairy mountain dog chasing me, that is the last thing that went through my mind! I cycled past the dog thinking he didn’t notice me. Ten meters later I heard the first of many barks and turned to see the beast bounding toward me. It was gaining and I was tired. I dropped a gear and pedalled like a lunatic. Eventually the sound of the dogs barking was replaced with Tom’s hysterical laughter! Apparently this is going to happen more often from now on, so it’s really lucky we got our rabies jab….oh no wait, we didn’t!

Macedonians are just as friendly as their Albanian neighbours and this was soon to be proven to us. We made our second mountain pass of the day and found ourselves in yet another ski resort; this time however, it was 30c and pure sunshine! We couldn’t find a place to camp, and after speaking to a local bar owner we were directed to our best wild camping spot to date. A national park lake was home for the evening, and when we awoke we were gifted a morning bath in freezing water, a bath that was much more than needed!

Revitalised and in high spirits, we began our decent down the mountain, an amazing 20kms of pure adrenalin. We then began a scenic ride into Skopja, the city that would be our home for the weekend. With no expectations we were more than surprised at the bustling city we were presented with. Not only is it home to Alexander the Great, but it also produced Mother Teresa. It’s a place steeped in history and well-placed architecture, it’s also moments away from a beautiful gorge that Tom and I visited. Again, we took the first opportunity we could to jump off a cliff into the lake, I have a feeling this may be a reoccurring theme.

We are now staying at the Urban Hostel, one of the first and only hostels in Macedonia. It’s really chilled out and ticks all of the boxes we need when staying in a city; good internet, safe and secure rooms, comfy beds and good breakfasts. In addition, the staff are unbelievable helpful and even took Tom out to a drum and bass rave. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling great and couldn’t go, but Tom assures me that it was a good night! Our next stop is Plovdiv in Bulgaria, and from there we head into Istanbul. We’ll relax there for two weeks, repairing our bikes and organising visas whilst being visited by loved ones.

Thanks all for reading, we really appreciate you taking the time to follow our journey and I promise the next blog will be much shorter. Peace x

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Posted on June 12, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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