We learned a lot of lessons on our journey into Croatia one being that after spending that much time solely together it is easier to forgive and understand your part in the conflict or in this case, taking rogue directions.
Riding towards Croatia started with one of the best rides we have had on this journey. We knew we had a relatively heavy day, about 75km, but the roads were so glorious on the first 40km we couldn’t imagine that it could be anything but a record speed, fantastic day in the saddle. To cross into Croatia we needed to ride on the Hungarian dyke path until we reached Mohacs where we could cross the river on a ferry and decend the rest of the way through Hungary on the other side of the Danube into Croatia. It should be noted that this is the recommended Eurovelo route, but for those who would rather skip out Croatia, you can continue on the path into Serbia towards Belgrade.
We arrived at Mohacs just as the ferry was arriving thinking we had fantastic luck on this day. Unfortunately however the ferry operator informed us that we had needed to buy tickets from a cafe around the corner before we were able to board. We had taken lots of ferries prior to this point and all of them had allowed you to buy the tickets on board. We pleaded with the man to wait 5 minutes and allow us to run over and buy the tickets, but he refused. I took this as a sign that we should continue on the dyke path (off our planned route) into Serbia with the hope that we could then cross at Batina. Possibly even saving ourselves 20 km!
This plan started off swimmingly well. We flew along for another 10 – 15km until we saw what looked like a border post. Unfortunately this turned out to be a military post with Hungarian soldiers informing us we couldn’t continue the 10km on the comfortable dyke path through Serbia to a crossing into Croatia, but instead we needed to travel an extra 40km out of our way back into Hungary around to Serbia and find our own way back to the Croatian border.
At this point, as is typical on a bike tour the weather changed, it started raining pretty heavily and as soon as we left the lovely paved path we found ourselves on terrible potholed roads which eerily had Hungarian military posts (with machine guns) about every 100 meters. At this point my partner’s anxiety really started to rise. Unlike me, he tries to plan this bike tour completely before every ride and during a momentary feeling of wanderlust he allowed me to make the call that we should go off the route.
We found the one and only cafe and realised that if we wanted to get to Croatia that evening we would need to take two major roads through Serbia. Not yet having entered Serbia and through my partner’s extensive reading of other peoples blogs who had completed the tour, we were worried that the roads might be too large to go on with bikes and that the Serbian drivers would not be very accommodating.
Luckily it was a lot of worry for nothing. We did have to ride an extra 25km over the entire expected days ride but the roads in Serbia were ok and we finally arrived at our hostel in Croatia!
Unfortunately as soon as we arrived we were informed by the woman who was overseeing the place that we would need to pay in cash and the closest ATM was 30km away. Not being able to face adding another 60km to our day, I begged the woman (who spoke no English) to help us. Before I knew it she had contacted her son who sped me to a cash point. After a tiring day it was great to finally speak to someone in our newest visited country, Croatia. Unfortunately he, like me, had a small town itch and wasn’t too complimentary about his little area of Croatia, but he did inform me that Belgrade was amazing and his words to describe it precisely were, “Belgrade is the centre of our universe” so that definitely wet my appetite for our next big city.
After all of that, we settled, exhaustedly, in to our 8th country and looked forward to a couple days off in the largest town we would visit in Croatia, Osijek.
I don’t have a lot to say about our time in Croatia, other than my extended explanation of our journey in, because we only had about two days ride in the country and we stayed close to the border on the far eastern side. I don’t think it would be fair to define a country based on this experience especially since the majority of towns and people in Croatia inhabit the far western coast of the country.
Some observations we did have, was that the roads were better maintained in Croatia than in Hungary, or the little of Serbia we had already experienced. We guessed this may have been due to their success in tourism. It is cheap where we were in Croatia, actually similar prices to Hungary (although the grocery shopping was a bit more expensive). The evidence of the, not so long ago, Yugoslavian war was very noticeable. For example, in the major towns we visited, Osijek and Vukovar, there were still many buildings covered in gun shot wounds and monuments and memorials for the war can be seen everywhere. The drivers started getting bad again as soon as we entered Croatia, and by bad I mean it is the first country that we visited on our travels which I would liken to English drivers. They don’t give you enough space and they often pass you even if another driver is passing on the opposite side of the road. It should be noted that Eurovelo 6 pretty much ceases to exist from Croatia on and there are no longer recommended bike routes, it is really just a series of recommended roads to ride, so you are all of the sudden very much amongst all of the other traffic.
Finally, and maybe most surprisingly to us was the patriotism that we encountered in Croatia which I can only liken to the immense patriotism you see in the USA. We did plan our journey into Croatia to coincide with watching their final world cup match against Switzerland and their current dominance in the tournament may have had something to do with the patriotism. But it was really interesting to see flags everywhere; on cars, buildings and parks. The support for the football team was so expansive, children and adults were walking around in the football shirts all days of the week, not only when their team was playing. They covered their cars’ hoods in football flags, and probably our favourite of these idosyncrosies were the amount of football songs that were written for the tournament and played regularly on tv. We heard at least five football songs when we were there. All of which we loved, I should add!
All in all I would say my experience in Croatia made me regretful. I wish I had seen more and my partner and I vowed we will definitely go back to the coastal side of the country. Unfortunately I really felt we only got to scratch the surface of experiencing a very interesting country.