My friend Tom and I recently did a cycling trip in Croatia and Slovenia. We have both toured extensively in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, etc. and were looking for a relatively unknown European adventure. The six new countries that make up the former Yugoslavia are pretty new and there has been some bad things such as ethnic cleansing and civil wars as recently as the past ten years.
To be sure, we weren't looking for adventure by riding into a war zone. For the most part, all the bad stuff has settled down and both Slovenia and Croatia are headed in the positive direction. In fact, the idyllic coastal towns of Croatia are a haven for German and Austrian tourists during the summer months. Add to that, Slovenia is part of the European Union(EU) so euros are the currency. Croatia desperately needs to join the EU, their economy outside of tourism is struggling to get going.
But, my reason for writing this is not to become Rick Steves II. What I would want to talk about is an incident that happened early on in the trip. Actually, it was the first day where Tom and I left Trieste, Italy late in the day and headed south through the rolling hills into Slovenia and then quickly into Croatia.
After about two hours and 40 miles of up and down riding we came into the Croatian town of Bruzet which appeared to be big enough to have a hotel. Bruzet, did, indeed, have a hotel and being a Sunday night we were the only guests. Also, because it was Sunday, the only restaurant open was in the old section of town, a one-mile, 500-foot climb to the top of the largest hill overlooking the area. We got back on our bikes and pedaled up the cobbled climb to the restaurant. Being the only guests, we were treated like kings and given the best table which offered a spectacular view to the west and the setting sun.
Again, I am not writing this to describe the delicious meal, it was the incident that happened halfway through the meal that is driving this tome. Just as we were savoring the last of the entree, a commotion broke out downstairs and the proprietor summed one of us to fix the problem. It seems that we had parked our bikes inside an anti-room next to the restaurant that had actually turned out to be someone else's house. But, to make matters even more confusing, the owner wasn't complaining about our two bikes, Tom had left his cycling shoes next to our bikes and that just wasn't cricket.
It must be remembered that we had only been in Croatia for about two hours so, though I am completely capable of creating an international incident in that span of time, I just couldn't read between the lines to determine if we were just being singled out as ugly Americans or we had really crossed the line. I quickly picked up the shoes and hustled back into the restaurant to order desert. Incident over.
The rest of the trip was pretty much without international incident, in fact we even made a few Croatian friends. Looking back at it all a month later, that wasn't the worst part of the day. Descending down from the restaurant back to the hotel on 10% cobbled roads in the pouring rain in the pitch black without lights was definitely more troubling. Hey, but that's all part of the adventure.