We have spent the last few days making our way south from Austria and today we find ourselves in Croatia; finally leaving the EU. And what a splendid few days we have had. Our last two nights in Graz saw us enjoying dinners with former outdoor clubbers: our generous blog-master and very dear friend, Christoph (‘09/10) and Erich (‘07/08). Christoph had us over to his flat and we prepared a massive feast. We felt so welcome in his home and enjoyed spending quality time in a kitchen. Afterwards we met up with our Austrian guides from the previous day (Wolfgang and Andrea) and we headed out on the town. Graz is a big student town and we were delighted to see how many options there were and how many people were out, despite it being a Wednesday. The next evening, Erich and his girlfriend Violet took us out for a traditional meal and we followed it up with a visit to an Irish pub, and their company was matched by their generosity.
We really enjoyed our time spent in Graz. It was nice after five weeks of cycling to feel a bit more grounded. We felt spoiled to not have to cycle to our next meal and weather the various elements. And speaking of weather, it was fabulous! We were really lucky to see quite atypical weather for November: lots of warm, warm sun. In our mind, southern Austria is truly tropical! We also really can’t emphasize how much we appreciated seeing our friends. As much we have loved meeting new people, it is priceless to spend time with people who know where you are from and who we share some memories with. Although we enjoyed the comforts of urban living, after a week we were both eager to get back on the bicycles.
Leaving Graz we were happy to welcome our first guest on our cycle tour, and there could be no one more fitting than our biggest supporter, Christoph. And cycle we did, 100km along the Mur River to the spa town of Bad Radkersburg. We had intended on camping and were interested to see how we would manage three people in the tent, but when we arrived at the campground we were offered to stay inside, an offer we could not refuse. We quickly settled in, ate a meal and then departed to our final destination of the day: the spa. After the ride, the warm water, massage jets, saunas and aroma rooms were too much for conscious bodies and we all fell asleep in our lounge chairs. It was exactly what was needed after the ride and a fitting good-bye to our wonderful stay in Austria.
The next morning the three of us departed Austria for Slovenia. The plan was to cycle to Maribor so Christoph could catch a train home and then to continue south towards Zagreb. However, as is common to cycle touring, plans changed. At about 11am we passed through the small town of Lenart (population approximately 3000) and happened upon the annual St. Martin Festival, which celebrates and blesses wine. We walked the market where we snacked on local tasty treats and then headed towards the wine stalls where local wineries were showcasing their sweet nectars. Not long after entering we met our newest friends: two fellow cycle tourist who had cycled to Albania this summer. Our friends had lots of good advice and were and made sure our hands were never empty. We were introduced to the mayor who was interested in our trip and extended warm wishes. We even had our photo taken with him and are told it will appear in the local paper! Our new friends (Dayn and Ulray- sorry for the spelling mistakes) insisted that we spend the night and introduced us to Radovan who operates the Suman Organic Winery and who offered us a place to stay. Christoph was then faced with a difficult moral dilemma: to accompany us to the winery in Zavrh or to continue to Maribor to catch his train back to school. Being responsible, he chose the latter.
We bid our farewells to Christoph and cycled the 9km to the winery, the last 2 km of which was UP-hill, which felt even steeper thanks to our afternoon wine. However, the climb to Zavrh was worth it. We met Ulray and Dayn at the top of the hill and were escorted to Radovan`s home, which is also his winery. Ulray and Dayn shared videos and stories of their bicycle trip in Albania while Radovan supplied the wine. After the videos we were invited into “the cave“ (the wine cellar) for a proper tour by the wine man himself. Suman is a “small winery“ that has nine different wine varieties and which, on a good year, produces about 100 000 bottles. We think we tried most of these varieties, all of which we remember being excellent. The evening progressed to good conversation around the kitchen table and an excellent meal of home made soup. We could not believe our good fortune and retired to a room perched high on a hill overlooking the lights of the small town below… it was surreal! Our only worry was how we were going to be able to cycle the next day after so much wine. However, thanks to the lack of preservatives in Rado`s wine, we next day came and we felt great, and even better after another delicious meal courtesy of Radovan`s wonderful wife Simona.
After breakfast Dayn met up with us at Rado`s and took us to the local museum which is in honour of Rudolf Maister: a general, poet and painter and the man responsible for establishing an independent Slovenia after WWI. This was a unique experience as well, as Dayn borrowed the keys to the museum from a friend and gave us a personal tour. We could have asked for no better guide as he is a history and geography teacher.
After the museum we donned our rain gear and made a wet ride through the mountains of Slovenia and followed a river into Croatia. Since we had arranged on couch surfing in Zagreb tonight but had no chance of making it there thanks to the weather and our wine detour, we decided to treat ourselves to another warm bed and shower at a small Inn. Tomorrow we plan to arrive in Zagreb and stay with a soon-to-be-friend via couch surfing.
To all those back home we wish you all the best,
Caitlin and Alec