Welcome to Croatia!

After a quick breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Phil and departed for Croatia. We crossed the border, got our passports stamped and were in a different country. Does this mean we are international cycling tourers now?

The weather is the same as Hungary – surprisingly – a hot 30+ degrees. After some 30km of cycling through nice flat farmlands and countryside, we reached the town of Koprivnica where we met up with our new couchsurfing host, Janja.

She was a super host. Very welcoming and friendly. We were given lots of home cooked food and made to feel very much at home. One of the big advantages of staying with members of couchsurfers is the local knowledge that they can provide. Janja went through our route and showed us great places that we should visit, which we will certainly do. She has similar interests to us, in terms of how travelling should be done and she will be very welcome on our couch should the need arise for her. Thank you, Janja, for everything.

In the morning – which followed another night time thunderstorm – we set off to Bjelovar. It was a cold damp morning and it was to be a day that the sun did not come out at all. The cycle to Bjelovar was largely uneventful, although it was our first experience of some of the hills that Croatia has to offer.

The route was very undulating – a 10% climb followed by a 10% descent. The descents were fun and after a while the ascents became fun too in a strange kind of way. It felt like we were being challenged.

As we approached Bjelovar, to meet up with our newest couchsurfer, Kris, it began to rain. This was the first time it had rained on us while we were cycling, but I managed to find a waterproof chestnut tree in the main town square to hide under. We eventually found Kris’ house and he immediately told us to make ourselves at home, take a shower if we wished and even use the washing machine, then he went off back to work and left us in his house alone after meeting us for only five minutes. Very trusting! He obviously knows what the power of a hot shower and clean clothes can do to a persons spirits. He too was a great host, he took us out into the town, told us a bit about the history of the town, bought us a beer and we chatted away about anything and everything. He then took us back to his apartment and cooked us dinner and then played a bit of his own music on the guitar. All in all it was a great evening and he is a fantastic guy. If any couchsurfer is in the northern part of Croatia, I would suggest stopping off with Kris on your way to Zagreb or further south.

In the morning Kris made us some Turkish coffee (I have never had Turkish coffee before in my life, but now I have had it twice in two days) – it’s very popular here, due to the Turkish influence on Croatian history. Once again we said our goodbyes to our host and we headed off on our bikes – to Sisak this time.

The early morning fog soon lifted and gave way to brilliant blue skies and bright sunshine.  The cycling was pleasant and relatively easy. As ever the heat was…well…hot! Just after one o’clock we found a nice quiet spot by a canal. It was very quiet. It was off the road, there were swans in the water and horses on the bank.

We got all of our food out, got the knives, plates and other lunch time items out of the panniers, laid them all out on grass ready to go. Next thing, a television camera crew turned up in a van, tripods came out, cameras came out and here we were surrounded by our jam, cheese and bread rolls. We felt a bit silly, but also a bit annoyed that the quiet spot we found now appeared to the centre of some breaking news event. As it turned out, they were just taking some shots of the swans and the water – probably for a slow news day – and we were once again left in peace to enjoy our lunch.

As usual the chaos really started when we arrived at the town. We had no couchsurfer organised for today, but we had noted the address of a hostel in Sisak so we could go straight there instead of having to hunt around the town for somewhere to stay. At least that was the plan! We arrived in the town, cycled round in circles for a while looking for the street, then decided to ask some people. No-one we asked (and we asked eight different people who lived in town) had even heard of the street or the hostel. It was like we were in the twilight zone! It turns out that between ten and fifteen years ago, towns and cities all over Croatia decided to get rid of any trace of the communist era and so preceded to change all the street names. Unfortunately nobody bothered to learn the new names of the streets and they are still referred to as their old name on a day to day basis. After a trip to the tourist information office (which was closed) we figured out the location of the street that this hostel was on. Hurray! So off we went. Before we got there though, I was stopped by a Croatian guy and his wife – who wanted me to give a short interview on camera giving my opinion on the cycle lanes in Sisak. It was a bit of an odd experience, especially because Monika arrived in the middle of it and had no idea what was going on!

An hour and half after we arrived in Sisak, we located the hostel! Only one problem…it was closed! Surprise surprise! It was half five, darkness would be descending soon, we had already cycled 90km and we had no more options. There are a couple of hotels in town, but they would have been ridiculously expensive. Monika wanted to try wild camping, but I was more inclined to start knocking on peoples doors and asking them if we could camp in their back gardens. It was around this time where I decided to sit down on the ground outside the closed hostel. Monika was not very impressed with my lack of activity, but I wasn’t going to move. I said to her “If I sit here long enough looking miserable, maybe someone will take pity on me and come over and sort me out”. Sure enough about two minutes later, there was some activity on the street with the hostel owners neighbours. There were walking backwards and forwards across the street to each others houses, some were pointing at us and it was clear that they were talking about us. One nice lady came over and spoke to us in Croatian. Apparently the owner of the hostel was at work in Zagreb, since she wasn’t expecting any guests today – since we hadn’t booked ahead. The neighbours had seen two tired, fed up cyclists outside her hostel and had given her a call, so she was leaving Zagreb now and would be here shortly to let us in. In the mean time, the neighbour had a key to let us into the back yard, so we could at least go in and relax. How do I know all this if the lady was talking to us in Croatian? Well it turns out that Monika can speak and understand Croatian! I did not know this! I knew about all the other languages, but Croatian was not one that I was aware of. I am constantly amazed that somebody can talk to us and Monika understands everything perfectly and is able to talk back, where I just stand there looking rather quite dim. It happened in Hungary, with Monika talking to everyone in German and now again in Croatia. Just wait until we get to Australia and I will be able to show off my Australian language skills!

In the end, it all worked out nicely. We are in our nice little apartment in Sisak and are planning on a rest day tomorrow, since we haven’t really had one for over a week now.

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