Mantova (Italy) to Dubrovnik (Croatia)
Distance - 982 km
Time - 8 days
Countries - Italy, Croatia, Slovenia.
Sorry it has taken me so long to get the next post up. Time management has never been a strong point of mine and whilst on the road i've struggled to keep juggling all the balls. Each day usually involves me waking up around 06:30am for an early breakfast then after some faffing around (i was known as king faffer at university) i'm usually away on the bike by 08:30am. No matter how long the day is i always seem to arrive at my destination just before sunset and then after showering and finding food it's nearly bed time. Anyway, i know how important it is to keep a blog going even if it serves as a sort of diary for my future self to look back on and reminisce so will try harder!
I left Mantova a little disgruntled as i had thought i had planned the perfect rest day. As if by magic it had fallen on a big six nations day and Mantova happened to have an Irish bar. After walking the 10km into town i arrived at the bar (Irish passport in my pocket just incase they wanted to confirm authenticity) with a plan maybe to start with a burger and a pint to line the stomach and then sip away at a few Guinness's whilst watching England vs Ireland. What i was met with shook me to the core. A supposed Irish bar CLOSED on a Saturday and on one of the biggest days in the rugby calendar. Dreams shattered i settled for a few bars of chocolate on the way home and an early night. A huge disappointment and although Mantova has plenty going for it i don't think there is any coming back for it in my books.
Glycogen stores replenished i was ready for what promised to be one of the most beautiful stretches of the whole challenge passing through Venice and Trieste before joining the Dalmatian Coast. This time i was not to be disappointed. I managed to arrive in Venice for the annual carnival and so had a surreal introduction to the city with what was effectively a night club in the middle of St Mark's Square wand people dressed up in full Venetian attire dancing to the latest Calvin Harris tune. A surreal but fantastic evening. The road was flat to Trieste and i was pulled along by the thought of being able to tick off my first country (France didn't count as i will be passing through on the way back.)
Trieste was my last stop before crossing the border. Sitting at the foot of an enormous climb i knew i was in for trouble the next day but tried my best to put it to the back of my mind as i went in search of a hearty carb laden meal. After some loitering i decided on what looked like a hip and trendy trattoria down a small alleyway. Embarrassingly, after one look at me in my dirty fleece and sun burnt face they sent me packing. Supposedly Italian restaurants don't look too kindly on bedraggled men wanting to dine on their own as they will take up a table for two killing the 'vibe' and spend less money. Joke was on them because i was planning to eat for three.
The next day, after a pizza-induced coma, i was set for the 40km climb out of Trieste up to the Slovenian border which stood at 700m. The excitement got me to the top and after a short ride through Slovenia i finally made it to Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast, a notoriously beautiful stretch of smooth tarmac and breathtaking views. The good weather continued through Croatia with temperatures reaching 18 degrees and a steady tailwind helping me along. I suspect in the summer these world famous roads would be gridlocked with tourists in their RV's making for a very different experience but in the middle of February i had them all to myself. It was the perfect 6 days on the bie and the only regret i have is not being able to share their beauty with everyone else.
Completely sold on Croatia, i decided to afford myself not one but two rest days allowing me to explore both Split and Dubrovnik aswell as giving the legs an extra day off before their final flogging to Istanbul. It was worth it. Both day's involved plenty of wandering, copious amounts of ice cream, the odd beer and the inevitable midday siesta. Safe to say i was ready for the next 800 miles.