My itinerary for this tour was partially determined by trying to match the itinerary of some friends who were doing a fancy supported tour with van transfers. Because of the relative lack of infrastructure in this part of Croatia, pretty much no one is organizing through tours like the one I was doing. Keeping up with the vans required some big days, and day 3 would be one of them. It should be easier (I thought) because I was starting in the hills and ending at sea level.
Because I’d arrived late at Plitvice I felt like I didn’t get to see it as well as I would have liked, so I decided to add a bit to my route by started to the north to see the most picturesque spot, an overlook where you could see the most impressive waterfall cascading into a blue-green pool. It was really beautiful, but crushed by tourists at the designated tour bus spots.
The park also could be much better set up for bikes. Bikes are not allowed on tram roads I had taken the previous evening (shh, don’t tell anyone), which are wide and well-paved, and really do not carry much traffic. Those could provide great opportunities for enjoyable bike loops in the park, and take pressure off the busiest areas. As it is, to get around by bike you have to take the highway and deal with a lot of traffic and tour buses.
I went down to the lake (amazing blue water), then up to the main overlook, where I found a nice hiking path with absolutely no one on it. I hiked for a total of maybe an hour, had a piroshki (not bad) at one of the roadside tourist stands, and then headed out towards the sea.
This area of Croatia is hemmed in by mountains on the west side, and the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina in the east; my route passed within 5km of the border. (Yesterday I was about 10km from Slovenia). Because it’s so constrained, there are not many options for roads, so the main highway was the only real option for much of the way. Because of that, it’s busy, especially with tour buses going to and from Plitvice. The roads weren’t as bad as those near Zagreb, but I still preferred the dirt when I could find it. There were a number of options for dirt roads, mostly in better shape than the ones I rode yesterday, but it was still a bit tiring.
Riding in Croatia in general is tiring. One thing I was learning is that there are very few flat roads in the country; even when the total altitude delta is small (or, in today’s case, a net downhill), the riding is almost all up and down. Between that, and today’s moderate headwind, my pace was slow and I was feeling tired. (Headwinds always make you feel tired). As I rolled past an army base near Krbavsko (site of the Battle of Krbava Field, 1493, which marked the beginning of the 100 Years’ Croatian-Ottoman War), I pulled into town and looked to refuel. I had a great beer and a great panino with pršut, which got me thinking about how I grew up not pronouncing the “o” in prosciutto. This area was once part of the Republic of Venice, so there’s a lot of cross-influence from what we would now call Italian culture.
I was running a little late, and took a couple of wrong turns trying to find the one road over the mountains. The rain cloud that had been wandering around the sky for the past hour found me, and I got damp but not soaked, and came out of the rain onto a beautiful road for big ring cycling. The sun came out, nearing sunset, and I kept stopping for pictures even though I was pressed for time. I was energized by my lunch stop and riding strong. I knew I had a big climb to finish, about 500m up, 1100m down according to the profile. I was hoping to hit the summit in about an hour so I could beat the sunset for the descent.
It was a nice road, marked as part of two different national bike routes.
But fairly soon the pavement turned to dirt, and my dreams of making it up in an hour evaporated; even though the road was in decent shape, it was much harder riding. I switched off my phone navigation to improve my night vision; fortunately the rain cloud had passed on and I at least had clear sky.
The climb seemed endless, and too difficult to go fast on. I eventually summited in full darkness and got out what lights I had, just small LED flashers, for the descent. It would probably have been fun in the daylight, and the canyon (Tulove Grede) clearly had quite impressive limestone formations, but with very limited vision I had to go slow and couldn’t really appreciate it.
After descending down unpaved switchbacks for approximately forever, I finally got to pavement, near where the old road crosses the new highway tunnel. It was so nice to be on pavement, and the descent continued for an impossibly long time. The road was completely dark, which kept me from going full speed, but I rode the center line and was able to keep a pretty good pace.
The descent ended at a causeway, one of the few relatively flat Croatian roads, and I blasted it at big ring speed towards the port city of Posedarje. After a small rise there was another descent, which also seemed to go on incredibly long. I crossed what must be an impressive bridge in the daylight, and went down, down, down towards the water. Arriving shortly after 22:00, I found my AirBnb, but all the restaurants in the small town were closed. I ate the rest of my great chocolate chips, some the great mints provided at the AirBnB, and of course a great beer.
Tomorrow is supposed to be a mellow day (foreshadowing…), so I will check out the town in the morning before getting rolling.
Daily musing: Tourism and the experience of place
A huge portion of the new Croatian economy is tourism, but as I saw in my first three days of riding, the developments funded by tourism are limited to certain areas, and there are portions of the country which still seem to be abandoned or struggling. So the tourist industry is oriented towards a few specific spots, and towards organized tours by ferries, cruise ships and tour buses. This results in places like the tour bus overlook at Plitvice being overwhelmed with crowds, while other areas remain almost entirely empty.
At Plitvice, not wishing to stand in the 3-deep crowd at the railing, I took a hike on a promising-looking trail which went the other way from the tourist stampede. The trail was beautiful, with great scenery and overlooks, and I was on it for about 20 minutes without seeing another person.
The photo below is taken from the trailhead. Because of the limited nature of tour bus tours, these folks all go to the overlook, all walk the same trail down to the waterfall, and all take the same selfie there. And of course, this kind of thing happens at many of the world’s natural wonders.
To me, it feels like the wrong way to experience a place, but in saying that I’m placing a value judgement on others. Certainly it’s not an experience I would choose, but is there something wrong with it? Croatia, and places like it, need tourism income, and it’s good that a spectacular place like Plitvice can be accessible to so many people. The experience of this one overlook is degraded by overpopulation, but someone like me who would prefer to have a more natural experience can just go the other direction from the hordes.
I’m not sure I can a priori assert that selfie-stick tourism is a problem. I can certainly assert that I don’t like being around it.