Balkans 2016 – Day 61 : Graz, Austria

The forecast was rain today but I was planning to chance it as it could be just intermittent.  As I woke up I heard raindrops falling on the window pane and I was thinking this is not going to be good. And it wasn’t. The skies looked completely dark and grey and it was raining quite heavily not torrential like in Malaysia but heavy enough to be not comfortable for cycling. I was hoping it would clear up after breakfast and it didn’t. Anyway Tobias said I could stay one more day if I wanted to. So I decided to do so because it will not be fun cycling in the rain and also I do not have a place to stay in the next destination and I dread looking for a suitable place while in the rain. 

I am glad I did as it actually rained the whole day. I did a bit of email and updating of my blog and later went out on a city tour. I first wanted to check out the castle on the hill and I took the cable car up. It was interesting ride up. The tram actually had to negotiate a very step section of an almost 61% incline. That’s incredible. Anyway it was wet, grey and slightly cold so I did not spend too much time at the top of the hill. 

After that I walked around the old town and visited the Christmas bazaar. Well even the Austrian has caught on with the early Christmas events. 

It continued to rain so I decided to return back to apartment and cook a late lunch and chill the rest of the night. Tomorrow the forecast looks good so I will definitely head out. Hopefully I can find a host in my next  place or else I might wild camp as so far there is no hostel or cheap place to stay that I can find on the web. Perhaps I can find something when I am there. 

Lions Project : Same as Day 60

Aiseh no ride today. Or should I say yahooo !
This tram that takes you the top of the castle hill can climb 61% incline
Best view of the city given the weather
Graz from the Castle hill
The bell tower at the Graz castle
Wet Christmas Bazaar
Mariahilfer Church
Inside the church ground
Interesting grafitti inside the church courtyard.
Kunsthaus Graz
Street in okd town Graz

Balkans 2016 – Day 60 : Ptuj, Croatia to Graz, Austria

Wow! Two months and almost 3,000 KM on the road already. On paper in looks like a long time and lots of distance but to me it seem to have gone by rather fast. Initially I thought doing a solo tour would give me a lot of free idle time. So I actually brought along my ukele so that I can entertain myself and also learn to play it better. Well I can tell you out of the 60 days I took out uke only once in Macedonia. Actually my days have been very full instead as I find myself either busy sightseeing, interacting with host, updating my blog and planning my next route. 

Today is the the day I say goodbye to the Balkans and start my Western Europe journey. I had a blast and wonderful time in the Balkans. I am hoping that Western Europe will offer the same. Probably in different ways. It will certainly be more expensive and more predictable. Let’s see. 

Damjana and kids need to leave the house at 730am and we planned that we all leave together. I was up already very early and had my breakfast and packed. After taking a selfie of all of us, I was on my way. This time I made sure my navigation app worked and it did. Soon I was on the right track to Austria.

I knew the ride will be at least 95KM and I plan to arrive around 3PM. So I plan to ride with minimal breaks. Probably one coffee break and lunch break in between. 

The day started with cloudy skies but no rain. Temperature was also not too extreme and I think was around 9 or 10 C. After awhile the skies turned more grey and dark clouds start to appear. I believe at some parts it drizzle a bit but nothing uncomfortable. 

As I approached the Austrian border the sun started to appear and right after passing into Austria it was blue skies and everything nice as if to welcome me in the most perfect way. That made me very happy and really pushed me on. So much so that I arrived at Graz around 2 pm which is 1 hour ahead of schedule. 

I had a little trouble finding my hosts apartment. At first I could not find the unit. I was on the right street. The unit number was 37 and on the street there was no 37 at all. There was 35 and then 39, 41 and 43. So I asked a passer by if he knew where 37 is which he say it should be the unit before 35 but it wasn’t. Finally said that 37 could be a unit actually behind 35 and I should go through the door of 35 to find it. True enough that was it. Problem solved. 

I met my host Tobias which is doing an apprentiship in Graz on designing prosthesis for limbs. Interesting stuff. Anyway I am lucky to have him host me in Graz as he actually just moved to Graz and first time hosting guest in this new apartment. He was living in Linz before. Anyway we discussed dinner plans and I suggested I cook a curry for us. We decided to go vegetarian as one of the apartment mate is a vegetarian. 

We had a nice time chatting over dinner and  some beers. I turned in early because I was tired after another long ride. Tobias and his housemate went out to party till late. Young people. 

Lions Project : RM 290.40

My host Damjana and her kids.
Drava River by Ptuj
Nice sunset to kick off my ride
Clouds are nof too bad
Bike storage and parking space at the MRT station
Austria welcomed me with blue skies and nice sun

Balkans 2016 – Day 59 : Ptuj, Slovenia

Damjana, my host is a mother of 3 kids, 2 daughters and a son. One daughter is in Switzerland studying and the other 2 studying in Ptuj and lives with her. She has a very spacious home and had hosted many travellers both on Warmshowers and Couchsurfing. Damjana is a kindergarten teacher and teaches English. 

Since today is a school day all of them had to leave the house before 8am. I took my time to make myself coffee and some breakfast. I left at around 10am to have a look around town. The first visit will be the Ptuj castle. It’s a museums so well.  So I spent around 1 hour there before taking a walk around town to look at the interesting buildings and shops. It was great weather for walking around. Not too cold and too warm. Just nice. I believe the temperature during noon time was around 15C. 

I had a Burek for lunch and then went to the bank to check if I can exchange my leftover Croation money to Euros. I could and also for the Macedonian Denars. However they did not accept my leftover Albanian Leks. I hope I can change them in bigger cities. 

After that I had a cup of coffee at a local cafe bar before going back to the apartment. Damjana and the kids was home already and she was busy cooking lunch for them. 

After lunch we chatted awhile and had tea. Damjana and the kids usually have a late lunch only. For dinner it is usually something very light if any. So I had to adjust to that as well. 

Tomorrow I have another long ride to Graz, Austria and I will be leaving the Balkans with rich and fond memories. The weather is looking good as well. 

Lions Project : Same as Day 58

Autumn at Ptuj town center
The magestic town tower
Charming Ptuj
Alley ways leading to the top of the Ptuj castle
Mask for Carnival time
The castle center court
Intersting design on bike racks
Ptuj from across the river
Minorite Monastery
Ptuj town house
I stole a shot of the man in the alley way

Balkans 2016 РDay 58 : Zagreb, Croatia to Ptuj, Slovenia 

Last night Drago my host made some joghurt and I was looking forward to try it. We had it with some oats, dried fruits and some flax seeds and it was great. After breakfast I did my usual packing and was ready to leave. Drago gave me a small sample of tree tea oil to go. He told me that he uses the oil diluted with water to clean himself when wild camping. He said it’s also good to spray it on clothes and attires to keep odors away. I must try this and see if it works. 

After bidding Drago thanks and farewell I was off. Getting out of the city is always a pain. And it was. The night before I tried out an app to plan my route to Austria. However it acted up and was more or less useless for getting me out of the city and on to the right path. I was confident that the app work so I didn’t ask Drago for help. On hindsight perhaps I should always do that as backup. 

Anyway after awhile I saw a gentlemen that looked like a regular cyclist and I hailed him down to ask for help. I am glad I did. Turns out that he belongs to a NGO that is mapping the city’s bicycle path to improve it. Wow. He gave me some fantastic directions and also instructions on how to get where I want to go. With that I was able to get on the right route.

It was not exactly easy going even with the directions as I was trying to avoid highways. At times you have a choice of 3 routes. One is the toll way which has a abbreviation of A and in this case A2 and that I guess the trunk road D1 and then a rural road. I was kind of rushing for time as I need to be in Ptuj pronounced unfortunately as Ptui ! by 4pm. I knew it was tight as I have at least 90KM ride ahead. So I minimized the rural road and went on the D1. It’s really a touch and go situation as some parts of the D1 ,bicycles are not allowed based on road signs but I went ahead anyway. Luckily there wasn’t any issue and I manage to make good time. 

It begins to be trickier as I approach the checkpoints and I asked a passerby how to get to the immigration checkpoint and he told me I need to go up to the A1 for about 100m to get through the check points. It seems there are no other way. In any case I managed to get through again without much problem. After clearing Slovenia side I was told there are no tollway or highway. So I was quite happy about this. Initially it started ok much like the single lane D1 but what I did not know was that we’re building a massive highway on this road and I was trapped inside this semi finished highway and with no exit in sight. I was comforted though to know that I am around 18KM to Ptuj and so I pedaled on. 

After awhile I saw an exit and I estimated that Ptuj must be closed so I stopped and ask the construction worker where I should go to get to Ptuj. Luckily I did and he told me indeed that exit was the one to take. I was making great time and I estimate I would reach Ptuj around 3pm and will give me ample time to search for my host apartment. 

I really need to get a new iPhone when I get back. Battery died and refused to charge up. So I asked another cyclist if he knew the place and he said he did and was too complicated to explain and instead he asked me to follow him as he will show me the way. Once were on the correct street we began to look for the unit and suddenly a lady came up to me and said she was my host. It seems like she was on the way shopping when she spotted me and guessed I must be her guest. Wow again I am so blessed and lucky. 

So she showed me to her apartment and also her cute shack for me to park my bike. On my way into Ptuj, I noticed how charming and interesting town it must be so I decided to explore it tomorrow instead of rushing off. In any case I check my ride distance and it was 103KM ! I think in this case I deserve a rest. 

Lions Project : RM 280.40

Drago’s apartment in Zagreb
Lucky to bump into him. Turns out he is mapping thd cycling paths in Zagreb
Autumn colors too pretty not to take a picture
Slovenia beckons
Hello Slovenia
Ptuj looks interesting.
I love this type of buildings. happens to be where i will stay while in Ptuj
Luxury parking space for my bike
Nice and cosy

Balkans 2016 – Day 57 : Zagreb, Croatia

Today is a rest day for me and my host was so gracious to let me stay for another day. He was off to work early so I had the whole apartment by myself. After making some eggs for breakfast, I was ready to explore the city. 

I thought took the tram to the city which was relatively straight forward. However just 4 or 5 station away from the city center the tram stopped and everyone started to get off. Something was announced in Croation and of course I didn’t understand what’s it’s about. Thankfully a gentlemen told me I should get off. He told me that this tram is going to the depot and I need to catch the next connecting one. It’s was no big deal as the next one came after a short time. 

As soon as I got off the tram I noticed there was a big group of cyclist with panniers gathered at the corner of the city square. It appears that there was an event going on. So I went to have a closer look and also to ask what’s going on. it seems that it was an organized bike toruing ride by a local bike club to east of Zagreb. The ride would be 400 KM over 3 days. 

After that I proceeded to look at the open farmers market stalls at the city square before moving on to the important city sites. Went to the famous 12th century Zagreb Cathedral. It was a very impressive building. I went inside to have a look around. I noticed that there was a lit of Asian looking people in the front and soon after an Asian looking priest appeared. What startled me further was he started his sermon in Malay ! It sounded like Indonesian Malay. But it was so interesting that there was such a service going on. 

After that I went to explore the towns famous sites including the ride on their cable car which was for me the shortest cable car ride in the world.  The ride lasted 55 seconds. 

It was getting a bit chilly so I decided to get into a coffee shop to have a hot drink and warm up. After thatI decided to return to the apartment. 

On the return tram ride I bumped into the same gentlemen who helped me earlier on. What is coincidence. He is even living on the same street as my host. 

My host cooked a bean soup dinner and we had some wine before winding down for the night. 

Tomorrow I will ride into Solvenia and will bid Croatia goodbye. The weather is forecasted to be good.

Lions Project : Same as Day 56

Tram ride to the city
Farmers market
We are not the only ones eating deep fried pork lard.
Smoked meat shop
Nice colors
Farmers market Zagreb
Vibrant colors at the farmers market
Zagreb Cathedral
City wall
The clock above stopped during the massive earthquakd in Zagreb
Confession booth anyone ?
The beautiful St Marks Church
Why would anyone be interested in this ?
Blue wrapped trees
World shortest cable car ride ?
Cable car station
Nice bikes needs to be secured this way.
Delicious bean soup with Croatian wine. Tommorrow we will have homemade yoghurt for breakfast
My host Drago

Balkans 2016 – Day 56 : Kutina to Zagreb, Croatia

Time to head to the biggest city and capital of Croatia. The weather is forecasted to be sunny with some clouds but cold at -2C in the morning and probably around 4 C in the afternoon. 

My host Luka had to leave for work early at around 615am so left the keys to his apartment to me as I plan to leave only around 730am or so. I couldn’t find a vessel to boil water for my coffee so I just made do without it and had a simple breakfast before pushing off. 

It’s going to be a long ride to Zagreb at around 80 plus KM and I like to get there before 2pm. These days it gets dark at around 430pm. I am lucky again to find a Warmshower host in Zagreb so I was able to ride without having to worry where I would stay the night. 

The route is mainly flat with a few rolling hills. Nothing spectacular in terms of scenery so that explains the lack of photos. 

These plains are beginning to look boring. Getting into a big city is always a challenge and not so fun. After weaving in and out of the major roads leading to the city, I managed to find the host’s apartment. Drago the host works for a credit car company in fraudulent charge detection. He cycle tours around the region. He lives with his girlfriend but she is away in the US to finish her PH.D. in Harvard. 

Drago cooked a simple dinner of meatballs ( from his mom ) and pasta. After dinner, he helped me review my next ride destination. After checking some potential routes, I have finally decided on the following route going forward to Basel. I would rest for a day in Zagreb and also to see the sights. I plan to leave the day after and will head towards Graz in Austria and there after to Vienna and join the Danube route to Basel. I will pass by Solvenia briefly while on the way to Graz. 

After that we had some Rakiya and chatted awhile before turning in.  It was a good ride as the weather was tolerable. I hope more of the same tomorrow and day after. 

Lions Project : RM 270.10

yay bicycle path in some parts
First coffee break
Looking pretty in the meadows
Frost from last night
Second coffee break
Wine factory
Passed by many such churches along the way.
Finally Zagreb
Drago’s apartment

Balkans 2016 – Day 55 : Gradiska, Bosnia to Kutina, Croatia

I was relieved and happy to see that the forecast for the week in these region would improved. It will be cold but at least sunshine and no rain or snow. The hostel in Gradiska is one of the best I stayed in so far. The rooms, toilets and dorms were all very new and spacious. The owners are very friendly also. In fact the owner drove me to a shop to buy Cevapi lunch. For breakfast this morning the owner made coffee and offered me some cakes. That’s a nice touch. 

The border control is around 1KM from the hostel. Clearance was quick on both sides and within 10 minutes I was off riding away from Bosnia and into Croatia again.  

The route is pretty straight forward to Kutina. Kutina is a small industrial town and most folks there work for a large fertilizer plant. I managed to find a Warmshower host so I was under no pressure to get to Kutina early to look for places to stay. Kutina is around 60KM from Gradiska so I should arrive around lunch time. 

The ride was very pleasant but slightly on the cold side. I think the average temperature was around 4 or 5 C with the sun out the whole time. The roads are also very quiet today as its a Sunday.  In terms of the scenary it was ok as I passed by many small towns and villages but mostly devoid of any activity. I wonder where are all people. Well at least there were some interesting townhouses to watch. 

My iPhone started to act up as soon as I arrived in Kutina and that is a problem as I need to go to a pre decided place to meet up and call my host. So I decided to ask someone if they are able to show me where the meeting place is. After finding the place I need to contact my host. Most shops were closed but I spotted a Pekara ( Bakery) that was open so I asked the worker there if she could help call my host. She agreed without a fuss and I managed to contact my host and with that sorted I decided to buy a cup of coffee but did not have small change so the bakery lady bought me a cup instead. 

My host Luka showed me the way to his apartment. He stays with his parents but they live on the ground floor and he has a whole floor to himself upstairs. Luka is a biker as well and have hosted my cycle tourers before. 

I was offered lunch of  homemade soup and Muossaka which was absolutely delicious compliments to his mom. After that I was offered some homemade black berry wine and also grapes from his garden. He has a huge backyard where there is a pond and also fruit trees like plums, apples and grapes. 

Lions Project : RM 260.70

I like the forecast for the week
Blue skies at last
Yes the day is going to be great
Border control
Goodbye Bosnia
Hello Croatia its going to be great
Autumn is reallly here.
Yes its sunshine
And that makes me smile
They use a lot of wood for heating
The route passes by many of such villages.
A lot of the villages still have such homes
Wow the colors
Homemade soup for lunch
Moussaka homemade by Luka’s mom
Homemade mixed vegetables pickles

Balkans 2016 – Day 54 : Bajan Luka to Gradiska, Bosnia

Today I am heading for the border with Croatia and would be my last couple days in Bosnia. It has been a fantastic experience so far. The weather has been not the greatest but that’s expected . Anyway I will have fond memories of Bosnia. The forecast was rain and rain it did. The whole day actually. 

After having breakfast, Malinic accompanied me downstairs and showed me the direction to head to the border town of Gradiska. The route there will be flat as a pancake and it’s only 50KM plus. So should be easy peasy? It was not. 

First it was grey skies and light rain all the way. Temperature was around 2 or 3 C. About mid way I hit the open farmlands and the cross wind kicked in and made cycling and progress slower than normal. The road is also used by many big trucks and buses to avoid paying toll on the adjacent toll way. Familiar isn’t it ?

Anyway coupled with the crosswinds and sometimes headwinds and the charging opposite big trucks, I got blasted several times with huge gust of cold wind and rain spray. That was not pleasant at all but still I pushed on. The consolation is there are many towns in between and petrol station where I can take a coffee break and warm up. And I did. 3 times at least. One time I had coffee and Rakiya as well and that warmed me up significantly. 

Finally I arrived Gradiska at around 1PM and I must say I have seen better riding days. Tomorrow I will say goodbye to Bosnia and hello to Croatia again. The weather  is forecasted to be sunny but cold temperatures of 0 to 2 C. That should be fun. 

Photos ? There are none. Ok I will post 2 just for fun. 

Lions Project : RM 254.40

I am seeing this the whole day

Balkans 2016 – Day 53 : Jajce to Banja Luka, Bosnia

The forecast for today was good. If appears that it will be dry and with a bit of sun. So I was upbeat as I prepare to set off.  However as I set off the temperature was on the cold side at around 3 C. Also it was a bit foggy. What’s a bit of fog anyway after snow rain and wind. The route today follows the great Vrbas River and the good news is I am following it down stream. But it doesn’t mean it’s downhill all the way. However in general it is with a few climbs along the way. I followed the M16 route and boy was it spectacular. The fog made even more so. 

I passed through gorges and spectacular views and I stopped many times for photos. The thing is that this route is very remote and there are only very few towns in between. So after about 2 hours of riding I was ready for some coffee. 

I had a coffee break at a nice river cafe mid way and after that I was annoyed by some creaking sound from my bike. I am not sure what is causing it. I suspect is the seat. I will try to tighten it to see if it will stop the creak later. 

I managed to get a Warmshower host in Bajan Luka so I am happy to not have to stress where I sleep tonight. After arriving at the host’s apartment , I had a delicious lunch cooked by Malinic my host. After that I went out with him to buy a USB wall charger as my current one is broken and later stopped by a local store to buy some Bosnian white wine. 

We had 2 bottles of local Bosnian wine together and then went for a nice Cervapi dinner near his place. Malinic claims Banja Luka has the best Cervapi. And it was really good. Very different too as the meat patties were square instead of the usual sausages shaped.  

I had a nice day riding and also meeting with Malinic. He is also a cyclist and have done a ride from Bosnia to Portugal during the summer. He actually recommended the cycle route called Canal Du Midi in France. I will definitely look that up later. 

I did not get to see much of Banja Luka. It is the second largest city in Bosnia and the capital and administrative center of Republik of Srpska which forms part of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s sits along the Vrbas River and is well known for being a green city. 

Anyway I must make my way tomorrow to Gradiska which is the boarder passing to Croatia. Rain is forecasted tomorrow so I hope it’s not too heavy and cold. 

Lions Project : RM 249.50

A foggy start
This Church complex caught my eyes
Interesting modern design but unfinnished. i wondef if they ran out of money
Fog lifting with a hint of blue skies
Still foggy in parts
Yay blue skies on the way
Many tunnel passing around this area. Good thing is they are mostly less than 200m.
Dramatic gorges
Hydro electric generation inside the caves systems
Hydro electric generation inside the caves systems
These parts of Bosnia has its own administration
Time for a much needed coffee break
I wonder if these are caught in the river around there.
Fantastic view after the climb to the peak.
River Vbras
Canoeing and kayaking comptetion course. For night as well
I am heading into the fog but i like it.
Delicious lunch cooked by my host Malinic
Wonderful Bosnian whites. We polished off both of them

Balkans 2016 – Day 52 : Travnik to Jajce, Bosnia

Weather forecasted to be reasonable. Meaning low probability of snow and rain but cold at 3 C. So that made me happy. I woke up to the sound of passing car with no slushing tire sound. So that’s good true enough a quick peek outside my window shows the road dry. 

After a quick breakfast I packed and headed off. There are still snow left over at the sides and some roof tops but none on the roads. Oh yes I decided to choose this time the longer river and valley route. The reason is the mountain route involves climbing to almost 1500m and that would be too risky with this kind of weather. I am trying to keep below 1,000m if I can. 

By the way the valley route also includes some climbing in the middle section from around 500m to a peak of 925m. The climbs were moderate and around 8% gradient at the steepest. The best thing is after the climb of around 10KM or so the rest of 50KM plus is downhill mostly. 

It lightly snowed on my climb and continued to do so on the first part of the descend. So the first cafe I spotted on the way down I dashed in for a couple of expresso to warm up. 

I was feeling a little chilled on the downhills as I was sweating on the climbs and now the dampness is making me cold. Anyway after awhile with some paddling I began to warm up and feel comfortable again. 

What a difference on this side of the hill. There are hardly any snow and the roads seemed dry. In fact as I approached Jajce,  the sun came up and showed me some blue skies. What a treat after so many days of grey weather. 

I arrived Jajce in good time and had a quick lunch before taking a walk around town to see the sights. Jajce is famous for its waterfall in the city and it looked spectacular. I only took pictures from the distance as they charge an entrance fee of 2 Euros just to get close to the waterfall. I think that’s a rip off so I decided against doing that. 

It also has a very well preserved fortress up on the hill which I enjoyed exploring for awhile and also on the outside as the opening hours is past by the time I got there. Still was good enough experiencing it from the outside. 

Went shopping for dinner and had a simple chicken soup for dinner. After that it’s lights off. 

Tomorrow I plan to get to Banja Luka and the weather seems reasonable again.  Yay !

Lions Project : RM 242.00

The day started like this but eventually improved
Very interesting
Hmmm i wonder about this wish.
It seems drier the other side
Yay the sun is winning
I wonder what Malaysia ‘s contribution to this is about
The beautiful fall of Jajce
The fort of Jajce
Great views from the fort
Had a wonderful walk in the old town Jajce
The fort exterior
Nice view all round
Entrance to the city
I wonder what the locks are about