Table of Contents
The closing of doors.
Upon arriving in Italy, we knew that this time-period was a closing of a big part (or ‘door’) of the trip – two doors in fact; the first signifying the end of our limited time to spend having adventures in the Schengen Zone and the second hopefully meaning the end of waiting for my knee to have righted itself enough after six or more weeks of rest.
As is wonderful in life, the endings of things usually indicate the beginnings of others. We have almost shut the doors on these two parts and this action has indeed proved to be the catalyst for opening at least two more.
No man’s land.
Between the end of Slovenia and the beginning of Croatia lies a river to cross and a small patch of both lush and paved environment. Far from the destitute and dire ‘no man’s land’ that is implied by this nomination, the land seemed very free and more of an ‘all person’s land’. It was a funny feeling riding through a space that was everyone’s and no one’s simultaneously. Both border crossings were car-based, heavily guarded and came accompanied by reluctantly given passport stamps. When we crossed from Italy to Slovenia we rode through a disused border control station. It loomed its way over the road, looking to dominate us with its regulations, but ended up being little more than a slight fork in the road when we arrived at its lifeless jaws. It’s weird to see what the Schengen Zone has removed from Countries like Slovenia – its once proudly drawn lines in the sand are nothing more than mere movie-making opportunities (strangely, we were filmed coming through the crossing and riding off into the Slovenian countryside). This loss kind of alludes to the effect the exchange to the Euro has had too: taking something from the country.
The first door is well and truly closed.
Upon writing this, we have been in Croatia for more than a few nights now and have mastered a little beyond than the basic eight words (yes – da, no – neh, thank you – hvala, goodbye – dovnygeny, good day – dobe dan, one – un, two – dve and three – tree). We also know how to inquire ‘how do you do?’, how to readily apologise for our lack of Croatian and how to ask where a hospital is…with varying success rates in their use.
On our way out of ‘the door’ (from inside the Schengen Zone out of it) we paused on the threshold in Northern Italy and Slovenia. We arrived in Italy from Innsbruck on a train destined for Venice. Verona is a city I have visited before and had unfortunately been underwhelmed by, but happily, far from the small, tourist-poor, trattoria-ruled recollection of my experience five years prior, the city was alive and had its best colours on show. Thousands of people decked the streets licking cones overflowing with sumptuous flavours of ice cream. The old town was far larger and more impressive than I remembered, with cobbled streets to roam and amazing pizza to be digested, the central amphitheatre was enormous and inviting instead of stone cold and with a case of the ABCs (another bloody colosseum). Juliet’s balcony was excitingly almost unapproachable throughout peak times (although I managed to touch Juliet’s right breast with my right hand this time, undoing the bad luck I had given myself last time on touching it with my left) and seemed more romantic with four of us there in the dense crowd instead of two. The city was half the time covered in grime and the other half in sunshine, a mix delightfully illustrative of what Italy should be.
We stayed on the hill atop the city with views all the way to the mountains, we of course got lost on our way to the campground, when the Garminator suggested we simply ride the last 900 metres up a series of 200+ stairs (simple as that!). Alex as usual took to the confusing layout of Veronese streets like a squirrel to climbing trees and found us a beautifully graded hill to ride our bikes up to Castel San Pietro camping ground instead.
The campsite was not only beautiful but was populated with some thoroughly lovely people. We are so lucky on this trip to have already made such a good group of friends. We met Australians Kitty (Kaitlin Taylor) and Cami (Sarah Camilleri) on their first night and our second and proceeded to engage wholeheartedly in each others’ lives. As usual, our accents were what brought us together in addition to our shared preparation of food (we were cooking pumpkin soup and they were reinventing the brilliant staple that is pesto pasta). We learned about their six month journey around Europe (and Thailand and the UK) and also learned to just eat pizza and ice cream whenever the opportunity arises. We entered into their warm friendship with ease of gesticulatory storytelling, sharing laughter, food, interests from Australia, travel recommendations and family histories. We spent five excellent days together and, on their looming departure, shared our last period of togetherness time with two more travellers – Will (an Australian who has been living in Europe for the past eight and a half years) and Celina (his partner, a Swiss/Italian who has all but exhausted Europe as a travel destination).
As it turns out, these two are taking almost the same trip as us over the next eighteen to twenty four months by public transport and by foot. We spent the remainder of out Kitty and Cami-less time with Celina and Will, eating more amazing food, drinking local wine and of course, learning and laughing. We’re hoping to catch up with them again at Christmas time in Istanbul.
From Verona we endeavoured to travel to Trieste on what we hoped would be our last train trip. We’d heard that Italian transport is notoriously late (in a seemingly unparalleled way in the Western World) but having travelled in to Italy on time and without so much of a hitch we pooh-poohed this notion…until we attempted this next trip. Our train was transferred platforms at the last minute, then we boarded where upon the train proceeded to break down or the driver was on the phone to his mum, meaning we sat and became ever later – we left a full hour later than the scheduled time, and given that we only had a half an hour buffer at the other end to catch our connection from Venezia Mestere to Trieste we thought ‘damn!’ only in much more colourfully profane language. Surely we were going to miss it.
Our train started but our hearts did not lift as we assumed that we would be facing either a five hour wait at the other end or wild camping in Venezia Mestere (the industrial part of Venice). Neither option was all that appealing and we were frustrated seeing that it wasn’t our fault that our train was late. Cut two hours to Mestere station and a mad dash to a train that looked like our scheduled connection (clearly also running outrageously late) and BAM! There we were, admittedly in the wrong carriage for part of the way, and with a €18 fine for we’re not sure what to boot, but heck, a little bit of jostling and a lot of under-the-breath mumbling was well worth it. We arrived at Trieste at 8:30 and breathed an audible sigh of relief.
The hostel in Trieste was right on the beach front and we paid one euro extra for the pleasure of a twin room on the third floor with windows opening our little box onto the glorious moonlit ocean and the relaxing sounds and smells of the sea. Wendy, a Kiwi we met who adores bike touring too, told us of places to go in Croatia and made our late moonlight-drenched balcony dinner all the more palatable.
It was here in Trieste, with our decision to ride into Slovenia rather than stay another night with the sea lapping at our hostel window that the first door was well on its way to being closed. Closed to the Schengen Zone and the familiarities that came with it – the commonality of English speaking everybodies, the ease of finding a camping ground open and ready to have our tent pitched in it and of course the regretful nearing end of the magnificent weather summer in Europe has mostly bestowed upon us.
We left Trieste on bike, saddled with the prospect of navigating very busy Italian roads with the Garmintor as our guide.along the way I swapped my clip in shoes for my kicks, which calmed my nerves into only quietly slithering around my neck rather than boa-constricting my throat with their colourful, muscular circulations.
Subsequent to what seemed like a few near misses of potential motorway bikeriding (we all know how that particular activity turns out), a number of Garminator-led route changes and nestling as close as bike-and-humanly possible to the right side of the right lane on highways, we happened into Slovenia without much of a hassle.
After staying a night at what was the least densely populated camping ground so far, where silent grey nomads and vast droopy tent cities stood steadfastly empty, filled only with their seasonal loneliness, we rode on and were greeted by a welcomingly opened Eastern and more foreign door as we crossed the border into Croatia. Satisfyingly we left the Schengen Zone with a quiet shutting and securing of the first door behind our whirring wheels.
The second door.
As you might know, my knee has been a bothersome bitch over the past…well, over pretty much the whole trip. The ‘second door’ is contrary; like Alice in Wonderland, I tumbled down the rabbit hole but unfortunately the Wonderland was less a figure of my imagination and more two fractures in my knee. On the positive flip side of this negative injury, my dilapidated knee bones meant a slight change to the route and speed with which we travelled through Germany, Austria and Italy. And just as luckily, the reality of the Wonderland I reside in is that bones heal and Alleykat prospers on our extremely magical adventure around the world.
It is here that I have almost closed a door with the help of my humble human body’s healing powers, with the never ending understanding of Alex and a lot of generosity of friends new and old. I am nearly done closing the second door on the fractured state I was existing in; allowing the overflowing mess of sometimes-self-pity, frustration and smalltime stagnation to be kept in a room that I don’t need to revisit or clean, ever.
The closure of the second door leads us to a room filled with doors slightly ajar, and we are keen to try them all. Especially the door we find ourselves tentatively pushing open right now: how to meet locals and stay at guest houses (Sobe, Zimmer or Apartman) when camping grounds are closed and wild camping isn’t a good option. My knee being fixed means that we can do longer days (we recently did a 70 or 80 kilometre stint, a far cry from my hobbling around cities encumbered by my bike and knee pain) and also that we can tackle the hills and dales to the beautiful Mediteranean countryside without needing to put our bikes on expensive, possibly late trains. The knee is very nearly there, fingers crossed by the time we have to climb the daunting hills of the not-too-distant future it will be stronger than ever and we can fling every new door open with gay abandon!