Daily Archives: November 19, 2011

Alps, Adriatic and Alcohol – page six

It was certainly Bank Holiday Monday again in northern Italy as the next stretch of road had very heavy traffic with a fair smattering of trucks from eastern Europe. Obli-Tablach was the dot on the map I was heading for and it turned out to be a busy holiday centre with quite a mix of Austrian, Italian and German visitors. I was running out of steam by this time and so was my wallet with the XJR averaging 38-40mpg over the fifteen hundred miles covered up to that point.

I found a hole in the wall to replenish my funds and a proper Italian ice-cream from the cafe across the road revived me enough to carry me over the border and into the Austrian Dolomites. I soon picked up a fantastic biking road that took me to the promising looking village of Maria Lugga.

This tiny village set in a beautiful valley is dominated by it’s massive church and I was very fortunate to find lodgings with Herr Imtal – Gastronome – Retired!

First impressions of his roadside guesthaus were misleading. When I parked and was led downstairs from the main entrance by this little old man I had visions of sleeping in some dark, dungeon type cellar. Imagine my surprise when he opened the door to a pleasant double complete with en-suite facilities and it’s own south-facing terrace looking out over hayricks in a peaceful valley with the majestic Italian Dolomites rising in the distance. I wanted to stay – and did for two nights.

The icing on the cake was to find that my terrace connected with a bar-cum-restaurant nex door and another plus was that Herr Imtal had me park my bike safely locked in his sun lounge on the side of the house.

I was soon showered, changed and over to the bar for a tall glass of Austria’s finest to enjoy as the sun set over the mountains to the south-west. It was even more magical when the moon rose between the two main peaks.

M-mmmm—– I must have had two glasses – but I do put in long days in the saddle. My face does get burned through that visor. Where’s the aftersun cream?

The following morning I sat down faced with a breakfast that would have fed a battalion and plowed through it as much as I dared. I didn’t really want to go up two sizes in my trouser fitting! Without my luggage for a day I was off down the valley and over to the Italian Dolomites to play. The roads were brilliant! Over, round and through the picturesque mountains. There were a few bikes about but the previous day must have been the end of the busy summer holiday period and judging by the massive logpiles by the back doors of all the houses, winter would be a long drawn out prospect.

My route took me over the Plockenpass on the road to Tolmezzo. Not too high at 4500ft but the weather had changed and the top few hundred feet were shrouded in low cloud. Wet and miserable just like a bad day at home.

I was back in Maria Luggau in time to take a walk in the late sunshine by the river on the valley floor. The villagers were taking their last cut of grass from the communal fields round the village and the thought taking a few days into the mountains with my boots and rucksack was an appealing proposition.

I had a look round the churchyard when I was out as old graveyards facinate me. I notice that members of the Imtal family had been interred in that little burial ground since 1410 and probably before that! Considering our different backgrounds, aspirations and languages my host and I hit it off really well. As far as I could gather he had lived in the village all his life while I on the other hand had spent much of my life travelling. There was little doubt that we were both somewhat envious of the other’s lifestyle.

Road hazards Maria Luggau style – the children bring the cows home to be milked. The second cyclist doesn’t look too sure but I think she picked the wrong side because that cow is turning right and she has right of way!

The cow won! But the owner was fined for not fitting her with a bell.

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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Uncategorized



Alps, Adriatic and Alcohol – page seven

Mine Host – Herr Imtal – Gastronome – Retired.

My second breakfast in Maria Luggau was even more imposing than the first! Splendid! Frau Imtal had set it up before going to clean the church at seven o’clock leaving the Gastronome himself in charge. No wonder I wanted to live there!

Time to go! Settling up was no hardship at twenty three euros per night and I was on the road again heading east right after the photo session with Herr Imtal. Maria Luggau had marked the end of that fast biking road and the first thirty kilometres were on a single track clinging to the side of the mountain. There were many sharp blind bends, crumbling road edges, narrow bridges and the odd hamlet where there was sufficient suitable land to grow fodder for the cattle. Grassland didn’t have to be flat. On slopes too steep to be worked by the tough, Austrian built four wheel drive Stehyr tractors, scythes were used. The cut grass would be raked off by hand held rakes, back-breaking work, just like farming at home in Scotland in my youth.

All too soon I was out of the valleys and on to the modern road system that connects Austria with it’s neighbours down the eastern flank. A massive new tunnel has been built through the mountains all the way into Slovenia and unlike some of the Italian tunnels I was to encounter later, the Karawanken is a modern, state-of-art job with splendid lighting and many safe refuges in case of breakdowns. You emerge from the mountain on the southern side virtually on the border with Slovenia at Jesenice. The town itself is a bit of an old communist style culture shock after the splendour of Austria but is soon passed by as you head south.

Funny how it is when you stop for a break and get the map out, some well meaning soul will come over and ask if you are lost. Before you can say ‘not really’ they will give you advice on where to go next. Usually somwhere you have no interest in! This time it was a well-tanned German lady dripping in gold jewelry who accosted me at a wooded service area in Slovenia.

When I told her I was heading for Dubrovnik by road she thought I was mad! ‘On no account take the coast road – far too dangerous!’ ‘Go to Rijeka and catch a ferry for Dubrovnik stopping at the islands on the way!’ That would have been fine if I had the money and plenty of time to do it in. I explained that I had worked in Africa and the coast road couldn’t possibly be more dangerous than that. ‘Oh yes it is, absolutely no-go on the coast road! Ok, if you must be stubborn take a ferry to the nearest islands, go to Rab, ask for Anna, tell her I sent you and she will give you a room!

Give me moe than a room I bet! What did this bossy shiela know about anything? Poncing about with all that jewellry she was asking to be mugged! She didn’t have to go to Croatia for that! Once things calmed down it transpired that she was on her way to the Adriatic to spend a few days with her husband on her yacht. She didn’t even offer me a bite of her prawn sannies from the coldbox although my mouth was watering just looking at them!

My brush with the fraulein made me more determined than ever to do my own thing and I took the direction for Ljubljana, aiming to run down the backroads of Croatia rather than the ill-starred coast road or touristy island route.

Lunch was taken in the company of farmers, builders and truckers at a roadside restaurant in a forested area south-east of Ljubljana then I headed for the border with Croatia on the 108 hill road. I thought I was doing ok till I ran out of asphalt and had to ride for many kilometres on marbled gravel wishing I had fitted the engine protection bars I’d considered prior to my trip. That Akroprovic titanium exhaust hadn’t come cheap! I’m sure the armed border guard at that remote crossing thought it was Bin Laden himself on that red-hot motorcycle coming down the track that afternoon. It wasn’t exactly the main road into Croatia.

A  quick scan of my passport, on went the appropriate stamp and I was in.

There are still some areas near the border between Slovenia and Croatia under dispute which would account for the unsurfaced road on the Slovenian side. Most of the signs in the north were directing me to the new motorway down the central spine of the country and I was determined not to use it. I got ever-so-slightly lost soon after crossing the border and stopped to ask a young lady in a small town where I would find a particular road. I usually find that young folk are more likely to speak English than the older ones.

A bolshy school-teacher type rode up on his scooter and interrupted my young lady guide who was doing her best to give me directions. ‘No don’t go that way on all those interesting back-roads, follow me!’ – and he guided me to all those signs that I had just passed for the new motorway!

B*ll*x! For one thing I didn’t want to ride down his bl**dy motorway and for another it ain’t even finished yet! The bits that are, run for miles through dry thornbrush covered, uninhabited countryside with few completed service stations. Quite worrying in the event of a puncture or breakdown.

Sorry about that outburst – it’s been a long day! I gave my scooter riding guide a smiling thankyou – headed for his motorway and turned off it for the backroads first chance I got.

I was heading for KrKra National Park, a series of lakes and waterfalls, crystal clear water holding shoals of darting fish and many species of birds and butterflies.

At least that’s what it said in the brochure I had come across before leaving home. The park lay about halfway down the country and was twenty kilometres or so inland from the coastal city of Sibernik.

Many ot the towns in the hinterland are still uninhabited, bullet, grenade and shell scarred  roofless buildings then nothing but roadside brush for miles. It was getting late and I was riding into the setting sun after a long haul from Austria when I reached Kistanje, a two-street town. It looked big enough to have a hotel or lodgings of some kind but I guess they weren’t expecting visitors. The men dressed all in black sat silently in various groups on the sidewalk, not a woman or child to be seen. I kept the engine running and pretended to check my maps as I looked around for a guesthouse. Nothing moved! Not even a dog so I selected first and rode quietly out of town!

It’s obvious these people have been to hell and back in the last ten years or so and have little time for anything so frivolous as a touring motorcyclist.

Another thirty kilometeres in the gathering gloom took me to Skradin, gateway to the National Park. Dark by this time I passed the floodlit football stadium on the edge of town where a match was in progress and stopped to get my bearings. I hadn’t time to raise my visor when this girl was by my side. In her tight pants and forward manner I thought I’m too tired for that nonsense but when I explained I was just looking for a room she was good enough to sort me out with a bedsit behind the bungalow just across the road.

I’d fallen on my feet again. My converted garage came complete with cooker, kettle, washing machine and en-suite facilities plus safe parking and I negotiated with her a reasonable rate at twenty euros per night. The bungalow was owned by a war-wounded veteran of the recent troubles. He lived there with his wife complete with shrapnel scars in the walls and in the morning I found my young lady English speaking saviour was none other than the car-park attendant from across the road working late to cater for the football crowd.

Beautiful Skradin – I could live there —

AAA page seven

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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Uncategorized



Alps, Adriatic and Alcohol – page eight

And the good lord said – ‘ on the seventh day thou shalt rest,’ – or words to that effect. I know it was only Thursday but with around two thousand miles of mixed going under my wheels in the past six days I thought I would take his advice. having found a safe haven amongst the Croats, I parked my bike and became a tourist for the day.

First impressions were not so good – the table and bullet pocked walls of the ruin were only two doors from my bedsit —

Someone had obviously had their last supper at that table but I didn’t ask who.

I wandered round Skradin for a while and looked over the yachts in the natural harbour. There were some big ones. Although the Adriatic is over twenty kilometres away, a deep gorge runs out to the sea making this one of the safest harbours on this oft-times windswept coast.

I sampled a couple of pavement cafes and just chilled out. Then I had a flutter round the market stalls, found the local grocer and arrived back at my digs laden with carrier bags. Thought I had better eat some of it while the bread was fresh. Lunch of local produce consisting of hard boiled eggs, cheese, ham, grapes and tomato went well, perhaps the ‘olive oil’ I purchased on the market stall had something to do with it. I had seen the locals dip their bread in olive oil instead of spreading it with butter. ‘When in Rome’ – so I dipped – pooffff!

Just as well I wasn’t smoking! My olive oil turned out to be local fire water! I should have known when I saw the twig of berries floating in it. Hence the ‘Alcohol’ in my title!

Fortunately I had no plans to ride that afternoon. Instead I ambled down to the jetty and joined the rest of the tourist herd on one of the five boats taking visitors to the waterfalls.

The sail upriver under the bridge seen in the photo on my title page and walking amongst the falls and greenery was totally unexpected. Shoals of fish darting this way and that and a myriad of butterflies. So much better than I could have imagined it would be. Most of the day-trippers were Croats and had come equipped with picnics and swimming gear.

Silly me! I’d had my picnic for lunch back at the digs so after wandering around, snapping a few shots and admiring the birds, butterflies and fishes I caught a boat back down river to town in time to chill out over a few beers at a waterfront bar near where the tour boats were moored.

The sight and smell of the crew cooking a big seafood risotto on the afterdeck once the last tourist had been brought down for the evening made my mouth water. Nothing else for it but to head home and do my chores before having my own seafood risotto and a drop of red on a softly lit hotel veranda.

Lovely, lovely KrKra National Park had woven it’s spell on me – I was at peace with the whole world —

AAA – page eight

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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Uncategorized



Alps, Adriatic and Alcohol – page nine

I had taken my bedsit for four nights all told and decided to ride over the back roads to the port of Zadar on Friday to book my ferry to Italy in preparation for my Sunday night crossing. Yes I thought I might follow the advice I had been given by all and sundry and go home that way.

After booking my ferry I had a look at the coast road to see what all the fuss was about. Absolutely no problems. Granted it was a bit stop-go as with any tourist trail, only worse because apartment owners, mostly German, had every layby staked out as they tried to attract passing motorists to stay in their newly built houses.

Next I parked in the shade of some pine trees and went for my first dip in the clear waters of the Adriatic. Two beautiful girls wearing only miniscule thongs from a family group bathing next to me made me realise how much I was missing the comforts of home! When I couldn’t take any more I got back on the bike and rode down to Sibernik. It has a beautiful promenade, gorgeous girls, waterfront bars and cafes. I found I couldn’t chill out so I struggled out of town through the grid-locked traffic and headed for the hills again!

I approached the lakes from the west this time. Down past some dusty lime-stone quarries by the hill-top town of Drnis where I spotted barbed wire fences and watch-towers surrounding a group of nissen huts in the dense scrub. It could have been a prison camp, a munitions dump or even a mine field but with all the scull and crossbones signs on both sides of the road I wasn’t tempted to investigate further. Mindfull of the fate of the British plane-spotters in Greece I didn’t take pictures either.

The upper lakes were fantastic! There was quite a variety of birds including heron, cormorant and duck plus many colourful smaller birds. Every kind of butterfly you could imagine fluttered about the lush trees and undergrowth near the water which was full of shoals of small fish darting this way and that in unison and possibly even big uns too for all I know. Best of all I had most of it to myself. I even found my own waterhole and went for a dip in the cool, clear fresh water.Magic!

I think it was about then I realised I had missed lunch so it didn’t take much to persuade me to stop at a quiet restaurant terrace in the middle of nowhere with views down to the lakes. Their grilled trout tasted just like the rod-caught or ‘tickled’ brownies I remembered from my youth in the Scottish Borders. The only thing missing was the oatmeal dressing.

I washed my meal down with a cool beer and scrambled out of there up an old dirt road that was rough enough to have me worrying again about  my precious titanium exhaust but thankfully my exhaust and I emerged unscathed.

My favourite photos? It’s hard to choose my absolute favourite but this first one taken from the Sibernik road to the south comes close —

The bridge beyond the yachts is part of the new north/south motorway system which was being built while I was there in 2004.

the bridge in this next photo is at the entrance to KrKra National Park and the official tourist boats sail under it.

big and small – it has them all —

Another day ended with a few beers at a waterfront bar in Skradin and a sneaky night-cap from my ‘olive oil’ bottle before bed. I told you it can be thirsty work being a motorcycle tourist.

AAA – page nine.

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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Uncategorized



Alps, Adriatic and Alcohol – page ten

Saturday was my last chance to see Dubronik as I would be starting my homeward journey on Sunday.

The coast road runs through Bosnia at one stage and I had no insurance for that country so to be on the safe side I made a detour by ferry from Ploce to Pelejesac Peninsula and carried on south.

After riding all that way I didn’t actually enter the city but saw it from across the bay. Struggling with a large capacity air-cooled bike in grid-locked cities isn’t really my thing. Far better to fly there for a few days at some time in the future and ‘do’ the city of Dubronik properly.

I had no problem with riding back to Skradin to spend my last night in Croatia in the beautiful old town. Yes it had obviously taken a few hard blows during the Balkan wars but it felt right for me. In fact I was quite sad to be leaving as I could easily have spent a few days more down there.

No worries – time to pack and get on the road again. Heading for home this time.

Lazy Sunday. I rode over to the ferry port of Zadar in the morning stopping for a snack with the locals at a village cafe on the way. The laden XJR was parked under a shady tree while I had my coffee and pastry —

Then it was over the last range of hills and into Zadar where I checked out the dock gates and the times of loading as much as I could before going for a tour of the old walled city built on a peninsuls jutting out to sea. There are eleven churches, all busy on a Sunday, an internet cafe, numerous bars, restaurants and market stalls within the walls with yachts of every description on the water around the city.

As it was a beautiful hot sunny day I chilled out in one of the many shady parks by the promenade and watched the girls go by. Excitement would come later in the afternoon when Croatia won a gold medal at the Olympics. Probably gold in the netball competition. Everyone was on the streets celebrating, convoys of cars and scooters with horns blaring and flags waving were soon speeding round the city! The celebrations didn’t last long before everyone returned to the more serious work in the bars and I made my way to the port to catch my ferry to Italy.

AAA – page ten

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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in out and about