I am now in Kozina, Slovenia, a small city just E of the Italian border. It took me four days to get here from Venice. My route took me NE to Trieste, then up over some hills and into Kozina. Today I will ride to Ljubliana, and tomorrow I will ride across another border into Croatia and finally to Zagreb. There, thanks to my friend Keith and to a friend of his, Zoran, I have a couple of talks about Seize The World scheduled in the coming days. I also have a place to stay, I believe in student housing, set up by Zoran at the University. I may spend a bit of time in Zagreb to get visas for the upcoming countries along my route. I am looking forward to seeing the city as well. I am also looking forward to passing through Ljubliana, as it was previously known to me only as the name of a far-off city on a Led Zeppelin (or was it Pink Floyd?) poster that used to be on the wall of The Deli Downstairs in Telluride. I used to wonder about it – and the concert that occurred there – from time to time as I ate Pandoras there.* Ahh…those were the days. Never forget the Deli. So I will arrive with thoughts of sandwiches and live music.
Going backward, the ride to Slovenia passed through Trieste and Venice. I skipped a small section of the route through Italy – or rather, I completed it with help from a train – between Perugia and Venice. The trip was actually a bit more complex than that, but it will suffice to say here that I got a lift from Perugia to Venice. I thought that a train ride might be a nice experience. On the contrary, it was a pain in the ass, and the journey involved a missed train, boxing and un-boxing my bike, and being up both very late and very early at train stations where I spent my time either waiting, negotiating (unsucessully), or assembling/dismantling/packing/un-packing/hauling the bike. It was also expensive. I learned that it is wise to travel on your bicycle if you have one, because traveling with your bicycle is not worth the trouble. I will never forget the experience of pushing an 80lb. bike box on the ground for a quarter of a mile to the end of a train platform in Florence in order to board the only car on the train – the last – that would carry it. A few seconds after I finished the great journey down the platform, the doors on the train closed and it departed. I am now glad to have had the experience. At the time it was ridiculous.
Once aboard, it was nice to sit in a comfortable seat with a book and a glass of beer, and relax as the scenery rolled by with no help from my legs. It was also good to get a sense of how train travel works here. Despite the above account, it is actually a very easy system to use, especially on short journeys, so long as you do not have a bike. Automated ticket machines work well: much better than their human counterparts, who themselves must work with through their own machines. I quickly learned to buy my tickets from the robots rather than from the humans. Whenever I have the opportunity to deal with a robot, I almost always choose to deal with a robot before choosing to deal with a human. Speaking generally, efficiency and the quality of experience are usually increased by dealing directly with the robots rather than with their human interpreters.
The end of my train experience saw me, at last, in Venice. Once there, I took a couple of hours to walk around. Foolishly, I brought my bike with me as I walked around the city. I boldly lifted it over the first bridge and over the first canal that ran across my path. Then I lifted it over another, and another, until I was quickly lost in the city, separated by many stairways and many bridges, from the closest – only? – exit. At length, I reversed my route, lifting the bike back up onto each of the bridges I had crossed, and then tending the brakes to control its bouncy descents to the opposite side of each bridge. This made for sort of a tedious experience of walking through Venice, and I felt a bit idiotic as I lifted and bounced my bike all around the city! I met a German man who took my picture because he was excited to see the third cyclist he had yet witnessed in Venice. I would not be surprised if he had been there a long time either, because Venice is one of the few places in the world where bikes truly do not make sense.
Venice is, at its heart, a city of boats, and in its day to day reality,a city of pedestrians. There are a few privately-owned boats there, which locals use to move around, but they are in the minority. The collective role of the boats – and the canals through which they travel – is, first, to attract tourists. Second, to take them on tours. Third, to haul supplies and trash to and from various points inside and outside the city. Fourth, and only occasionally, to serve as practical transportation. Thus, it requires a certain ability to accept the fact that this city is based on novelty, and that maybe that is not a bad thing.
Venice is not a practical place, by any stretch, but it is unique and it is beautiful in its way. If I did not see for my own eyes the throngs of tourists who are attracted to a city with streets of water, then I would think it miraculous that such a place could be maintained. But I did see the tourists, and I am confident that they will support Venice until the day it sinks. In fact, they will most-likely find ways to prevent that too, if indeed it is still happening. I have not heard much about Venice sinking lately, although that is not to say that it is not.
After making my way slowly out of Venice – all bicycle travel during the preceding two weeks had been slow due to an unusable middle chain ring – I got on the road to Trieste. Part way there, I rode past a bike shop in Portogruaro. Noticing that it had Schwalbe tires in the window, I decided to wander in to see about replacing my drive train: chain, chain rings, and a couple of worn out jockey wheels on the rear derailleur. I had tried this operation twice before – once in Foligno, and once in Florence – unsuccessfully. In the both preceding cases, the stores where I stopped were unwilling to donate labor (understandable) or to lend me the tools necessary to install the parts myself (frustrating). In both cases I held out for a shop that would. Although I have usually been on the other side of the bench when a customer asks to borrow a tool, and although I have usually been the one to say no, I now well-understand how frustrating it can be from the perspective of the customer. So I was glad to find a shop that was a bit more lax with its interpretation of this often ridiculous custom. In Europe, insurance are not held up as an excuse, as is the case in America (i.e. “Sorry, can´t help you out because our insurance policy does not cover tools in the hands of customers.”) Here, the mechanics will tell you straight up that it goes against their dogma to lend out tools.
So, as I said, this shop was a rare find. I watched as Mauro, the mechanic, installed everything himself free of charge. At first I was nervous, after a negative experience in Ventimiglia, and would have felt better if I had been able to just do the work myself. But I quickly saw that he knew what he was doing, and it was nice to just stand back and watch as my bike got healthier and healthier by the minute. Worn out chain removed…destroyed chain rings removed…tired cassette thrown away…shiny cassette installed…new cranks and rings installed, new chain installed, cables lubed…. After a hour or so, the drive train was brand new. I paid the €111 for the parts, thanked Mauro for his work, left a business card, and rode away on a much-more efficient, safe – and enjoyable – bike.
My first ride was to a camp site outside Portoguaro. I camped in a field next to an abandoned parking lot, between the highway and the train tracks. Pretty much as close to a typical example of STW camping as it gets! An hour after I was comfortable in the tent, it started to rain. It did not stop, not even for a minute, for about 35 hours. When I woke up in the morning, things in the tent were wet, which I thought a bit strange because the tent had not leaked before. Then, I realized that the sensation of moving around on my pad was very similar to being on a water bed. I looked into the vestibule of the tent to see a six-inch deep pond of water. The same pond upon which my sleeping pad was floating and in which the tent was now pitched. There was a hideous mix of giant spiders, snails, caterpillars, slugs, millipedes and potato bugs crawling around the mesh of my tent, or swimming in its vestibule that morning. They had all floated up out of the mud in the down pore, an had sought shelter with me in my tent. I put on my crocks, without socks, stepped into the swamp, lifted up my tent and hauled it with everything inside over to the abandoned parking lot. The rain continued to fall. I got it set up on a dry (that is to say, not flooded) swath of pavement, and got comfortable inside once again to wait out the rain. I wound up moving the tent once again, this time just over a distance of five feet, when a ½ inch-deep pond reached out and engulfed the foot of the tent, making it impossible to stay dry. At 6p.m. on day two, I was staying relatively dry as the rain continued to fall.
I spent the day reading A Tale of Two Cities, all about the insanity of France during the revolution, and about the guillotine. Or at least, that is what it was about to me. It has some hilarious lines in it, worth reading if you have not read it already. I have been reading a lot lately, which is nice. Most bookstores here have a small selection of books in English, and hostels often have small book swap libraries which allow you to leave a book and take a different one. Now I am considering getting rid of the Nintendo DS in favor of spending more time reading. Kind of a tough call though. Returning to the parking lot and to the rain, the discotheque next door – of whose existence I was unaware before nightfall – came alive at night, and I listened to bass noise from the club and conversations from people in the parking lot. At last I went to sleep after one of the stranger days of the trip. I woke up, finished my book, and rode toward Trieste again.
I will post more information about Zagreb and Ljubliana after I have some experiences there. It is exciting to now be in places about which I know nearly nothing. This is sort of why I chose this route: to pass through the places about which I know the least. Stay tuned to read about what I learn!
* One of the Deli´s trademark Sandwiches: Turkey, Avocado, Sprouts, and other ingredients on Sourdough. I once heard of a Pandora that was produced in 27 seconds by a former employee, Ben, who was then a coworker of mine at the Nugget Theatre.