Sea To Sky

By Jane Mountain | April 28, 2013

Whew, what a day. It feels like we fit a week’s worth of sites and interesting encounters into today. And we also managed to ride 74 km, much of which was uphill. To keep this post short(ish), I’m going to tell the story mostly in pictures.

Design Matters

We left the incredibly cool Hostel Forum Zadar this morning at a bright and early hour of 8:30. Sorry roomies for setting our alarm on the wrong side of seven. The hostel is a design nerds’ paradise. I was fascinated by the way the whole place was put together to give each hosteller the sense of privacy and space, while actually packing us in like sardines.

Here’s a diagram of a four-bed room.

Floor plan of our 4-bed room.

Floor plan of our 4-bed room.

Each bunk bed was its own perfectly white box, with a mirror on the wall to create the illusion of space. The beds had an opening at the side and at the end, that were equipped with roller blinds you could close for extra privacy. Natural light flooded in the windows and into the bed space through the end hole.

bunk bed at hostel in zadar croatia

Upper bunk at our hostel in Croatia.

The walls between each bed and the bathroom areas were thick enough that you couldn’t really tell if someone else was in the room or not. There were two big locking drawers under each bed, that opened with the key card of that bed’s owner. When entering the room, the key card turned on the light in your bed, so you could see without disturbing the other guests. Finally, there was ventilation between the bathroom and the shower to keep the air flowing and fresh in each space.

Just brilliant design. I would have loved to see some of their other room types.

Before we got more than 100 m, we had to make the first stop of the day.

Getting fuel.

Getting fuel.

That’s OK, this guy is even slower than we are.

Where's my snail at?

Where’s my snail at?

Leaving The Coast Behind

Outside of the old town, Zadar looked a lot like many modern European cities. There were shopping malls, hypermarkets, and people going about their Sunday morning business. We love leaving cities on Sunday, because everyone is a bit more mellow and the traffic is light. Not far from town, suburbia turned into green meadowy fields like none we had seen in the drier south.

We stopped in Posedarje to stock up on essentials. That is, more baked goods. As we rode through town, I noticed that most people were heading up a small side street near the bakery.

“Probably going to church,” Stephen said. “Kind of late for church,” I remarked.

We followed them and sure enough, they were all moving towards a tiny church which was packed inside and standing room only outside.

Standing room only at church.

Standing room only at church.

The congregation was singing a hymn, and we joined the crowd outside. As we listened, several more people arrived, including a young man who stubbed out his cigarette and then pushed his way inside. We don’t know if it was a special day, or if this happens every Sunday.

Around the corner, we happened upon a tiny cafe, so stopped in for a drink. This being a seaside town, we could tell it was unusual to get tourists in this backstreet cafe, and we had to rely on non-English communication.

After coffee and third breakfast, we turned inland, crossing a bridge that marked the end of our time in coastal Croatia. The view from the bridge was too good not to shoot.

bicycles on a bridge near gracac croatia

Stephen on the bridge admiring some incredible Croatian views.

While in Zadar, we had been exploring our options for getting to Plitvice Lakes National Park, the site where we are now headed. To get there, you have to do a steep climb. We inquired about excursions (too expensive) and buses (too hectic), but finally decided that our legs could handle the climb. All morning we had been mentally gearing up for the 20 km of uphill we’d have to do.

Just before the climb started in earnest, we stopped for a break at this random roadside menagerie.

white peacock in croatia

Albino peacock.

I was already feeling sorry for the animals when Stephen spotted a mother and baby baboon in one cage. I didn’t have the heart to photograph them, but here are a few of the other animals.

People Are The Same All Over

As I completed my animal photography, this lady wheeled up on her bike.

Coolest cyclist we are likely to meet.

Coolest cyclist we are likely to meet.

There’s always great excitement when we run into another cycle tourist, and this was no exception.

Elizabeth, for that is her name, had come down from Ljubljana, and regaled us with her best road tales. About the same time as we’d retreated to our fancy hostel to avoid the Zadar rain yesterday, Elizabeth was facing fierce headwinds and driving rain. She had been camping almost everywhere and rarely stays in hotels.

She talked about the people she’d met, and how they have been so kind with her wherever she goes. Her family doesn’t understand her desire to travel at all and they won’t even venture to New Zealand to visit her. So every other summer she does a 2-month cycle tour on the way to visit relatives in Switzerland.

I hope some day I grow up to be half as awesome as she is.

Lunch With MC Hammer

Part way up the hill it was time to stop for some fuel. We sat across from this seemingly abandoned house to eat our picnic.

An 80s rock fan lives here.

An 80s rock fan lives here.

A few minutes later, a man went inside and cranked the radio. We ate listening to hits from the 80s such as “U Can’t Touch This” and “I Ain’t Missing You” pounding out through blown speakers. The latter made me think of my sister, who I seem to remember loved this song when we were teens. Hi Patti!

When we unwrapped the pizza we had bought earlier in town, we discovered that what we’d thought was tomato, was actually ham. Neither of us could bring ourselves to taste it, so we peeled it off and chucked it into the scrub for the wild animals. We then added an assortment of veggies from our food pannier to liven things up a bit.

De-hammed pizza.

De-hammed pizza.

The Physics Of Mountains

After that we climbed. And climbed. And climbed.

Actually, I don’t understand the physics of it, or maybe it is all psychology, but these steep, long climbs seem much less painful than the milder, shorter ones we often encounter. I love getting into the mountains and watching the landscape shrink away below as we go up.

road winding through croatian countryside

A tempting road.

It did seem like a long 20 km to the pass though, and I was thankful for a small downhill before we reached Gracac. We considered getting a room in the town, but other than being accosted by a friendly Russian lady, who spoke to us at length in Russian about a room for rent, we didn’t see anything promising. It is a sad little place, with lots of buildings half-built or half-destroyed lining the streets.

When you read the history of the town, the sadness makes sense. In 1991, the population there was more than 10,000. In 2001, the population was just under 4,000.

We did find some young folk having fun at the very modern alpine cafe Rustika. We drank coffee and beer as more 80s hits played on the radio. We were treated to Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat, and Paula Abdul.

“Tell me straight up do you really wanna love me forever, or are you just having fun?”

We don’t mind the 80s jams, since they are better than what passes for music on most modern radio in the US (yes, I am an old codger).

It’s Sheep We’re Up Against

Since we were on flat ground now, we decided to free camp, and before long we found a hidden spot behind a clump of scrub brush in what was clearly a sheep grazing pasture.

wild camping croatia

Hiding behind a prickly bush.

About an hour after we arrived, as we were just finishing cooking dinner, we heard the unmistakable sounds of a herd of sheep, complete with shepherd, heading in our direction.

As the flock, led by the shepherd with his wife bringing up the rear, passed within 50 metres of where we were sitting, we had a whispered conversation about what we should do. Should we go talk to them and ask if we could camp, or should we lay low and wait for them to pass?

The right thing to do would undoubtedly have been to go and ask, but we didn’t do that. We held our breaths until the whole herd passed and then spent a pleasant evening in their pasture, with no one the wiser.

As darkness descended, the field filled with mist and edges began to blur. In no time, the entire sky was filled with a field of stars so dense it took our breath away.

Soundtrack: Thom Yorke, The Eraser | Adrian Sherwood, Becoming A Cliché/Dub Cliché | A.C. Newman, Shut Down The Streets | Frank Turner, Tape Deck Heart   


  1. Comment by Jane

    Jane May 2, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Hi everyone! Thanks so much for your compliments. It means so much to know that people are reading and enjoying this. We love writing it and reflecting on what happens every day.

  2. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie May 2, 2013 at 7:58 am

    *applause* Fantastic. And Jane, you look lovely!

  3. Comment by Kimberly

    Kimberly April 30, 2013 at 6:14 am

    Thank you for yet another beautiful and inspiring post. Your travels have introduced me to parts of the world that I’ve never been able to envision, but now that you’ve so beautifully captured your time in pictures, I’ve been able to visualize these amazing places. Safe travels!

  4. Comment by Michelle

    Michelle April 29, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Great post, thanks for sharing! I am living vicariously through your adventures – just incredibly.

  5. Comment by Diane

    Diane April 29, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Lovely post Jane. Quite lyrical. I could feel being there. And of course the pics are wonderful.

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