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 —
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