Of Beautiful Croatia, Kikis, and Albania

Split, Croatia was so beautiful, I almost couldn’t believe it. I was wheeling my bike through the White City of Gondor, looking up at the white ruins, down at the worn white steps and smooth pathways winding through old buildings giving way to open squares. I was talking to my friend Patrick, whom I had been running into all along the coast since we first met in Marseille. We both loved to eat, and ended up having a dorm room in the hostel to ourselves where we spent the better part of one rainy day watching Orphan Black and eating Kikis, these amazing Croatian candies which are like Starbursts only better.

The hostel was on the third floor without an elevator, and was the tiniest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. It only had two bathrooms and two dorm rooms, but was so cozy, and my bunk was tucked into one corner of the room and felt more like a fort than a bunk. That night, I lay back in bed, happy to be in a wonderful little hostel, in my own little home for the night. It was a nice day. All of a sudden, a hand reached out of the dark and grabbed my arm. I screamed. I didn’t know I had that kind of ability in me, but apparently I do. It was involuntary and terrible.

And then, giggling. It was Patrick. Jerk.

* * *

It’s been my dream to visit this beautiful country forever, and now that I’m here, I’m overwhelmed by how much I love it. The towns are small with a wealth of history and old city walls and friendly people. Unlike some of the bigger cities I passed through in France and Italy, these towns still have souls— they don’t solely exist for tourism. Locals call out to tourists on the streets, asking them if they need a place to stay. If refused, they give a friendly wave, say thanks, and move on. There are still markets selling produce, and on corners little old ladies crochet and sell their wares (lavender pillows and crocheted table runners).

The scenery is stunning. In this small country, 9% is protected land, with eight national parks. I’ve been on a hike or trail run in every place I’ve stopped. The biking has been mountainous, but stunning. I biked down the island of Cres, sweeping around mountain curves and through small towns, sheep watching me as I cycled by.

In Split, one day Patrick and I hiked over a small mountain, climbed down a tiny, gravely trail (where sections were washed out) and found a sweeping curve of impossibly clear, blue water, lined with giant boulders. We found a log wedged between two of the boulders, and spent the next few hours crossing it, hands scraped raw from the rough limestone. It was wonderful.

After spending the last few months biking through touristy, more thoroughfare places, Croatia felt like coming home to my adventure travel roots. I’m now in Dubrovnik, the most amazing place I’ve ever been. I’ve spent three days here, walking around the city wall, eating at a fantastic vegetarian restaurant I found, and sunning myself in the tiny streets watching herds of feral cats.

Tomorrow I’ll bike into Montenegro, into the city of Buvat, where the old town is almost an island jutting into the sea. A few days later, I’ll head into Albania— the last frontier of Eastern Europe. I’ve heard a lot of negative rumors circling around about traveling Albania, so I’m gearing up my Albania cycling kit— namely, my bear mace. Stay tuned.