Croatian Colors

Croatian Colors
Cycle Touring in the Beautiful Dalmatian Islands
(A Ride up “Octopus Hill“)
By George F. Karioris

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The first rays of the rising sun magically changed the scenery from monochrome grays and browns to a kaleidoscope of brightly mixed colors. I watched with awe as the sea was transformed from a black void into a radiant nearly-transparent aquamarine liquid gemstone. A long journey from the United States had brought me here to this beautiful place and I was overwhelmed with colors and light.

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A cycle trip to Croatia is like traveling back in time to a simpler and cleaner world. Although modern amenities await travelers from afar, the pacing and essence of life there is definitely vintage. I visited Croatia on a tour with VBT (Vermont Bike Tours); my favorite, award winning, cycle touring company and could not have been more thrilled.

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Our two week adventure tour began for us in the historic walled fortress city of Dubrovnik. This amazingly well preserved sea port is the most visited site in the country. Thousands arrive daily via bus, plane, and cruise ship to see it and walk the wall. We enjoyed several days in Dubrovnik as the pre-trip portion of our VBT tour. Our group of six spent this time seeing the city’s sights on foot and also by sea for boat rides and kayak rentals. The scenery was phenomenal. If we waited until the cruise-ship people left town we had the city to ourselves.

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Our VBT group assembled at the island town of Trogir where we overnighted at a lovely hotel within walking distance of the old fortress and town. From there in the morning we transferred by bus, then ferry to the quiet island of Brac in the tiny harbor town of Postira. Our hotel was right on the sea with beautiful views of the water on one side and the high mountains on the island’s interior. This was our first opportunity to meet our three energetic and entertaining guides; Nevin, Vanya, & Nevinka. Suited up for biking we took our first warm-up ride to familiarize ourselves with the VBT bikes and get them adjusted. While this ride was only about 10 miles the scenery was wonderful. As we rode the guides; Vanya on his bike and Nevin in the support van checked up on us and made adjustments for our saddle position, and handlebar orientation until we were pleased and comfortable. That short ride with interactive cycle fitting made a huge difference. My VBT bike fit me perfectly and I had a relaxed and pleasurable cycling for the entire week of cycle touring.

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We woke on day five of our tour to daybreak where the turquoise sky seemed to meld seamlessly into the deep sapphire of the sea. The morning in Pastura was cool but the rising golden sun promised warmth for later in the day. On this day our guides were shuttling us to the very topmost point of the island of Brac to a place called Vidova Gora. The van ride took us up, up, up a winding roadway in places open to the sea hundreds of feet below and in others through shady pine woods. We would eventually ride some of this same roadway to the seaside town of Milna. On our arrival at Vidova Gora we left the van and walked up a gravel pathway to the summit overlooking the entire southern Dalmatian Island chain. The stiff wind blowing cool mountain air was only one factor to our loss of breath there at the top of Brac, the amazing view was the other. From a height of 2,500-feet above the sea the water took on nearly infinite shades of blues and greens. We could see the nearby island of Hvar, where we would be just two days, and seemingly hundreds of islands in the distance reaching out to the very horizon. The vistas were breathtaking.

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After some serious gawking at the views and taking a myriad of photos, we returned to our bikes which were waiting for us at the van. Our guides gave us instructions and directions for the morning ride which were pretty simple: Ride downhill and veer right at the gray stone church, then keep riding downhill to Milna. Easy enough! Armed with one simple turn for directions we set out on an unforgettable downhill run of almost 15 Kilometers. Retracing our van route through the pines and out into the brilliant sunshine of stony cliffs overlooking the sea we raced effortlessly downhill. We coasted through the colorful village of Nerezisca, turning at the gray stone church, and town of Lozisca (it’s considered a town, not a village, because it has one stop light!). Along the way we stopped to study and snap photos of the varied tangerine, orange, salmon, and coral terracotta roof-tiled buildings and churches. I know that true cyclists, crazy though they (we) may be, will argue that real riders relish the challenge of an uphill ride. Well… We’d certainly have that in the afternoon, but for the moment this glide 2,500 vertical feet downhill to the sea was about the coolest thing I’d ever done. Our group of 19 cyclists consisted of all different shapes, ages, genders, dressed in different colors but there was one overriding similarity for that morning: everyone had a jubilant smile. We all had such a flood of endorphins pouring through our systems that we could do nothing but be ecstatic.

VBT sponsored our lunch in Milna at a quiet and casual restaurant where we were seated at heavy wooden tables seated on long benches. Lunch was a variety of salads, seafood, and vegetables followed by cups of yummy and super-strong Turkish coffee. In an attempt at full disclosure I have to admit that while engaged in conversation and in a moment of unfocused clumsiness I spilled 90% of my beautiful coffee right into my lap. Argggh! But the last 3 drops were delicious!.

So… there we sat full and satisfied in Milna – at sea level – remembering the precipitously steep ride here from the high country, and thought… Oh yeah, we’ve got to go back up! Our ever-pleasant and ready-to-please guides offered a van ride up the steepest part of the hill from Milna to the town of Lozisca. I politely declined the offer of vertical assistance and instead called upon my inner cyclist to address the hill: Hello hill.

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In stark contrast to the early morning’s sun which had barely taken the chill off our stint high at Vidova Gora, the afternoon sun had become a fireball of sizzling heat. I left the aqua blue of the Adriatic Sea and began what seemed like an endless ascent. Within half a kilometer I was in the lowest biking gear and settled in with determination to conquer the hill. The group that chose to challenge the hill was quickly spread out and while digging in on the tightly winding road I felt as if I were making the climb alone. The world seemed to be getting warmer as I cranked one revolution of the pedals after another, after another. Along the way up the mountain I passed (slowly!) some cyclists from Canadian group, and dodged some post-communist era cars and trucks.

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The namesake of "Octopus Hill"

I’ve seen lots of odd things in my years of riding and really love the experience of seeing the world from a bike seat. But that day I saw one of the most curious sites ever. There, on a very hot Croatian road miles above the sea was a large octopus; right in the center of the road! He was gray and blue with wet tentacles sprawled out on the scorching pavement looking unhappily at his last conscious moments. Cyclists sometimes play mind games with themselves as a distraction from the labor of a tough uphill grind. There on what later became known as “Octopus Hill” I tried to imagine the octopus’s fate. I guessed that some fisherman had caught him in a net and then thrown him into a box or pail in the back of his open truck to drive to the next village. The octopus, believing that he could make an escape, wriggled and climbed out of the pail and over the side. It’s last thoughts “I’m free!…” followed immediately by “Oh crap! What is this hard hot place I’ve landed?” By the time I worked out all the possible octopus scenarios I was nearing the top of the mountain and leveling off. Fun stuff to make the climb pass.

Later that day we rounded past green wooded roadways, pine scented perfume replaced the smell of the sea. Then back down again to the sea to yet another village where we stopped for cooling gelatos of all colors and flavors. You don’t need to speak a word of Croatian to get a yummy scoop or two of gelato, just point and smile. The people are super-friendly and the prices are really a great value for the American traveler. I’d recommend going sooner than later before they think of going onto the Euro.

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We had lots of great adventures and fun in Croatia! Our three VBT guides really helped make our travel fun and stress free. The amazing level of logistic planning that they did allowed us to seamlessly integrate ourselves into the colorful fabric of Croatian life. Our meals and entertainment were truly wonderful and served to further deepen our appreciation of this wonderful country. Cycling is, in my opinion, the very best way to see this destination. It provides a well-paced method of appreciating the natural beauty and a really great way to get right up to every gelato stand in the country.

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I would recommend this trip or one like it to anyone who even dabbles in cycling.
Please visit Vermont Bike Tour’s website (www.VBT.com) as an excellent starting place for your biking adventure.

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Be sure to read our complementary article —> Croatian Foodie

.VBT.com

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Published October 2015

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A Video from our trip to Coratia

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