“Is Jason still alive?” asked Miro as he stirred the chicken in Stipe’s flat, just off Avenija Marina Drzica, in Zagreb.
“Jason who?” we asked, contemplating that this may be a reference to a failed transcontinental cycling attempt.
“David Jason, Del Boy…you know?
DEL BOY! Rodney? Boyce? Peckham Springs?
And so it started…a hilarious evening of reminiscing about Trigg and Uncle Albert as we discovered that Stipe, Miro and Ivanko had all grown up on a diet of Only Fools and Horses. Lovely Jubbly. This time next year, Rodney…
What was due to be a pit-stop in Zagreb turned into a longer sojourn due to the kind hospitality of the above named, welcoming us into the heart of their generous city with its late night jazz-bars (Bacchus) replete with friends drawn in from all over the Balkans, to work and study in this no-nonsense city (save for the Fools and Horses).
This is the kind of irreverent city that within one city block is able to host the Museum of Naïve Art and the Museum of Broken Relationships. Both brilliant in their own idiosyncratic ways.
Late night discussions debated the merits of taking on the Bosnian hills or skidding down the Adriatic Coast. And there was clear winner. So, on Saturday morning, despite his must-make appointment with the hairdresser, Stipe led us out of his city (on a bike, course) for the first 20km towards what he promised would be the glorious Dalmatian coast of his birth.
Reaching the coast (175km) over 2 days required a stop-over in Duga Resa and, due to now torrential rain, we elected a “Sobe, Zimmer, Camere” gaff above what appeared to be a tranquil pizzeria. If we knew what was to follow, camping in biblical-esque floods would have been distinctly tantalizing. As it was, from 11pm until 4am the walls were alive with the Sound of Turbo-Folk.
For those unacquainted with this charming genre of music, we should say that we are not usually ones to shy away from a Balkan Beat or two but this, my friends, made root-canal surgery seem like a stairway to heaven. Dying animals may have been involved but the RSPCA were nowhere to be seen on this little industrial highway.
Our first blustery panorama of the Adriatic, we believed, would be a transient phase having climbed the final mountain pass before dropping down to the shore at Senj. This was clearly wrong. What would have been the most gorgeous day of cycling imaginable, full to the brim with wonderful sea-views from precipitous curvy mountain roads alive with blue, blue skies and a benign sun, was in fact one of the most frightening (and dangerous) days we both have known on two wheels.
What Stipe did not tell us, or maybe down-played, was the formidable strength of the Bura wind (North-Easterly) that has puffed so hard today that, not only have we repeatedly feared that we would be blown off the cliffs, but it has slowed our progress to a crawl (barely able to push our bikes at times) and to top it all off…… the Bura stole Sam’s glasses. Literally. A dishonest super-gust added to the prevailing 50mph winds ripped the glasses clean off his face. They sailed off for what seemed an eternity before crashing somewhere on the cliffs and brush below. A patient 1½ hour search was fruitless. The glasses were gone.
As we type, the Bura continues to whistle and knock at our window, maybe taunting us with its newly acquired spectacles. Francesca promises that when we recommence Battle with the Bura in the morning, the sacrifice of the glasses will be sufficient to draw its sting and allow for our proposed Adriatic island-hopping southwards and onwards.