Monday, June 10, 2019

Europe 2019

It started with a bike trip to Slovenia. Lida Clauser, who ran great bike trips to the Czech Republic, had expanded to Slovenia, so, of course, we had to go.

Then, on a whim, I decided why not see a bit of Venice on the way? It is so close. So, our first stop was Venice, "City of Falling Angels."
Turns out, it was city of falling rain, which became a bit of a theme for much of the trip.
Venice has a lot of tourists. Too many for its own good. Many Venetians have found it unlivable, or at least unaffordable.
It's a highly unlikely town, especially with rising sea levels. Already, the water is too high for many of the ancient buildings hovering in the canals. The streets are severely narrow. Very charming, but very narrow. So narrow that two umbrellas don't really easily pass each other, and Europeans use umbrellas. Anyone can buy one on the streets of Venice for 5 Euros. Our first rainy, windy day wasn't close to over when we began to notice all the trash receptacles were filled with umbrellas. Turns out, one gets what one pays for, and 5 Euros isn't much of an umbrella.
Venice is fascinating, and I'd like to return in February.

Slovenia is a very small country that has only been Slovenia since 1991. It has a complex history and a variety of seemingly wonderful people living in an amazingly beautiful place. Mountains and rivers and lakes and waterfalls, most of which aren't crowded, at least at the end of May. Of course, the bicycle part is a critical factor. Everything is more intimate from a bike, and bike trips generally include the best of a country. We were in and out and around Triglav National Park, with the Julian Alps defining the terrain. We had snow-covered peaks for much of the trip, but as we approached the Adriatic coast, we noticed palm trees thriving in small towns.
No real lack of rain in Slovenia either, but rain can just add another dimension to a bike trip. We were staying in lovely inns, so being wet was at most a temporary occurrence. It was a good way to test waterproof gear. A backpack that can handle a couple of loaves of fresh-baked bread through a downpour as we ride will be a pack I will use again. (And the Matador packable pack packed down to the size of a water bottle and weighed essentially nothing.)

From Slovenia, we drove to Croatia in a rented car. The car gave us the freedom to make choices about our destinations, but was its own aggravation. Croatia is beautiful too, but less spectacular than Slovenia, at least based on the parts we saw. It's most popular national park, Plitvice Lakes, is amazing, but way overrun with tourists. Way overrun. the Venetian crowds had nothing on the boardwalks of Plitvice.
The phenomenon of the limestone and the crystal clear water of the lakes as they pour into each other via waterfalls is worth experiencing, but maybe there's another way? Winter? Earlier in the day would work if one could enter the park then. Management clearly hasn't caught up with the demand.
Running in the predawn from the tiny village of Korana was soothing and inspiring and a great look at the countryside, likely in a way that the busloads of tourists in Plitvice will never see.
The Adriatic coast to Rovinj was beautiful and calming. Rovinj, at least in May, was great. One could walk into restaurants and have great food and stroll along the shore or through the streets of the oldest part of town. Rain was a factor here too. Golden light was not really to be had.

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