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DAY 9 – Chioggia to Sezana (Slovenia)

Snuck out fairly early to make sure we could pack and depart before being accosted and beseeched for a dodgy beach excursion by our friendly boat person. Rode off in already warm sun casting long shadows as we crossed the bridge back to the mainland and onto the country roads to take us past Venice and round the corner to Slovenia. It gradually got warmer and warmer until we saw a display sign announcing it was 24C – that by 11am.

Pulling off the main road, we headed down a gravel track beside a stream and stopped on a grassy verge for a spot of lunch. Decided to remove the waterproof lining from the jackets and open all the vents as it was now well over 30C. Lovely feeling to be warm and dry after a damp few days. Chatted about how long we thought the border to Slovenia might take and decided to expect around and hour or so given the age of the bikes and our nationality. Wondered what paperwork they’d need to see, how thorough the customs folk would be and whether we’d need a Carnet de Passage (which we don’t have on this trip).

Border? What border? One minute Italy, next minute Slovenia with not a formality in sight – straight through, completely unattended and the customs people who also weren’t there were obviously totally disinterested. Spent new 2 miles considering a life of crime smuggling contraband between Italy and Slovenia. Realised that’s probably already a “thing” so changed mind and will stick with Olives for the foreseeable.

As our digs for the night were only 10 minutes away decided to stop for a quick break before heading there. Parked up opposite a bar and wandered over the road to be greeted by a gent who’d clearly been in or around the bar for some time that day and he insisted on shaking our hands and giving me a manly, but frankly, winey, hug, before proclaiming in heavily accented Slinglish, “UK! Welcome, Welcome – I know England. Manchester United, Boris Johnson, Maggie Thatcher – Very good! Welcome!”. He then sat down and promptly fell asleep. No one batted an eyelid so we reckoned this was fairly normal for a Saturday afternoon in downtown Sezana.

Our friend,, had found us a beguiling sounding property, ‘Cozy Apartment Under The Vines’, now, writing this some days after the event when we’ve become a bit slicker at interpreting bollocks, it seems obvious that we weren’t going to find a cozy apartment nestled beneath trailing vines groaning under the weight of plump grapes as we had originally envisaged from the charming description. Instead we were greeted by our host, Branko, and led to a subterranean crypt-like series of rooms that were actually beneath the roots of the vines some way above our heads. Spotlessly clean, very comfortable, and amazingly well appointed, the whole place must have been built around the 2-person sauna with integrated HiFi/CD and Tuner that we found in the bathroom as there was absolutely no way they could have got the wretched thing in there afterwards. They must have poured the foundations around it. Amazing. Needless to say, we slept very well as the place was really rather quiet. And dark.

The next morning, blinking in the daylight, we sat and chatted with Branko to get his take on the climate, “Crazy – yesterday more than 30C. Next days – snow.” We asked him about the future, he gently shook his head and said, “I don’t want to think what will come.”

DAY 10 – Sezana to Draguc

Stopping at the garage in town to purchase our Vignettes (Road Tax) for Slovenia, we noticed a fair few other motorbikes in and around the place. That’s nice, we thought, and gave them all the cheery Jazz Hands wave, which we’ve developed and adopted in place of the low slung, left armed V as we’d like to think we can do something more in keeping with our Britishness and what better than a pair of Jazz Hands from a couple of sexagenarians on two old motorbikes? Turns out they prefer the low slung approach. We’ll keep up with the British Thing for a while and see how we go. Got to fly the flag when abroad.

It’s almost impossible to describe how stunning the roads were that morning – hilly, twisty, turny and sunny through the most amazing scenery and plastered with motorbikes. Everywhere. Jazz handing became impossible as simply too many to keep waving at so back to the low slung V’s.

Stopped in a layby halfway down a big rolling hill with frankly one of the most jaw dropping views I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness in the flesh. Gawping at the view, I glanced up the hill to see 30-50 bikes streaming down the hill and pull off into the layby. Not the time for Jazz Hands, we thought, as we’d quite like to make it to Croatia and their bikes were very shiny and the leathers very leathery and matchy matchy. Each and every one of them stared at us and our two ancient bikes, loaded to the gunwhales and then smiled in recognition of the fact we were Brits abroad and in their country on bikes. The biggest, broadest and beaming-est smile was for Annie from another lady rider in the group – lady riders aren’t necessarily rare but they certainly aren’t common. We got chatting and they were a club called Qvejtr Wajdušna (which Google translate has no meaning for) out for the first ride of the season. Seems this very Sunday is the start of the biking season hence why we were seeing so many bikers. We told them what we were up to. They gave us chocolate and wished us well. As we rode past them to go on our way we did the British Thing – they got the full Jazz Hands all the way out of the layby. Went down a storm.

Before we knew it we’d slipped over the border and into Croatia. 4th International Border crossing of the trip and as uneventful as the rest. We enjoyed it so much we went back and forth a couple of times – just because we could (I might have also been a teensy bit lost ish).

Croatian roads are every bit as lovely as those in Slovenia and we really enjoyed ourselves as we headed into Istria and to the hilltop village of Draguć which was where we were basing ourselves for the next couple of days. Perched high on a ridge in the middle of the Istrian Peninsula, Draguć is an ancient settlement being first mentioned in around 1102. It is incredibly characterful: old stone houses in various states of repair but with a strong feel of permanence and stability. Still has some young families as the odd washing line of little socks confirm. Just pop Draguć into Google and you’ll see what I mean.

Our hosts were delightful and the house beautiful after the bomb-shelter-sauna-crypt of the night before. We spoke to them about climate – he had been a merchant seaman specialising in troubleshooting electrical systems on super-tankers, “It’s the extremes – we already have people swimming in the sea here, it’s already 14C and in some places 20C – never were we able to swim before the middle of May. It’s all wrong,”

Draguć also boasts a particularly fine Restaurant and Pizzeria owned and run by Alexander – born in Yugoslavia, brought up in Germany, a builder and man of utter disdain for our current political masters of all flavours and countries. An interesting take on the questions which, for completeness are written as one answer:

“It’s the people – I tell you, it’s the people. It’s not the climate – that comes and goes. It’s the people. You see down there – that was the border between Austria and Venetia (the lands conquered by Venice back in the day). 40, 50, 60 years ago that was all agricultural land – farmed heavily and well – what you grew you ate, what you didn’t eat you sold. Now, the forest has reclaimed it. No one wants to work the land properly.”

“You see those fields, they are planting again – the olive trees. Why? They will not bear for 40 years but the Istrian Gold Rush is such that they plant expecting a swift return. The wise ones are the ones who planted 100 years ago. They are seeing the return.”

“I sit and drink my morning coffee and I see. I watch. I see them spraying the trees, spraying the ground with pesticide and weedkiller to kill the vegetation between the trees. This goes into the land, into the trees, into the water. Not good, not right. It’s the people.”

“I have ingredients from here, from Istria. Grown here. I see Lidl with tomatoes from Spain, Asparagus from Peru. Why? It’s the people.”

DAY 11 – Cesar Olive Oil

Spent the day getting our bearings and went in search of an Olive Oil producer. Rounding a bend on a hilltop I spotted a sign for “Cesar Olive Oil Shop 2.4km” and, to Annie’s slight alarm, made a snap decision to follow the sign. Some swearing later, Annie caught up and we headed along a narrow misshapen road that twisted its way through olive trees in various states of being cared for – some tended, some not, some very definitely not for some time. Tumbling down a hillside we found Cesar Olive Oil Shop and, amazingly, as if waiting just for us, we found Vlado Božić in his yard overlooking neatly tended vines.

He took us up to his shop and we duly tasted his oils which were all quite superb. He makes three different oils from a range of different olive varieties: Istrian Bjelica (Bell-It-Za) – green, fruity, bitter with amazingly low acidity and mild in character. Next we tried the Leccino – an Italian variety widely grown in Croatia – slightly more character but surpassed by the third we tried which he calls Cuvee – it’s a blend of a number of different varieties – very green in taste – fruity, bitter and peppery with tomato, grass and herbs. We bought a bottle and asked him the questions:

1. What changes have you seen in the climate in the last 10 years? In the past every action we took was done on a certain Saints Day – we have so many in the calendar. You would harvest on this Saints day, prune on that Saints day, press on this day, paint on that day, chop logs on this one and so on. For 40 years we did this. No more. That rhythm of nature is no more. One day is hot, one day  is cold.

2. How has this affected your and your family’s way of life? We used to harvest around 20 November each year. Now we harvest 10-15 October more than a month earlier – any later we lose the crop. The extremes are becoming hotter and wetter with no seasons. We still make the oil of the gods – Istrian Oil was favoured by the Romans above all other oil – it is still some of the best in the world. We just have to work a lot harder to make it so – each year the weather alters what we must do and when.

3. What effect has this had on your business? My business is stable – if you want my oil, you come to me. I supply no shops nor sell online. Just from the door you came through.

4. What changes have you had to make already and are planning to make in the future? Change is constant and we must adapt all the time – this year, the Acacia trees have all failed to blossom. This year there will be no honey.

5. How do you see the future?
Future? I don’t like to think. We have made a bad effect.

We left him and rode back to our base in Draguć, picking up some tomatoes and bread along the way. That night we ate bread with Vlado’s oil and sliced tomatoes with just a sprinkle of sea salt. Didn’t need anything else.

DAY 12 – Planning

When you are passage making and trying to get to a destination on time and in reasonable order there is not much time around that for any detailed planning so, every now and again we need to put some hours in preparing the next few days. Which is how we spent most of today as it all gets a bit interesting from here. More Bread, Oil & Tomatoes for breakfast before we spread the maps across the floor and tables so we could plot routes and timings. When we did our first trip around the Med, Middle East and North Africa back in 1992 all we had was maps, a notebook and a pencil. I’m not sure how often we got lost as we didn’t really know exactly where we were going – it was all very free form. No mobile phones. No internet. No SatNav. No All very analogue, Lonely Planet and, quite possibly, a lot simpler.

This time around we have definites. People, places and dates that are hard fixes in the diaries – appointments to be kept, exact locations to be navigated to. So we have tech.

Maps are great for the big scale route planning, and we do love a map, so we are carrying the full set – at least one for each country so, for our planning day, we had Croatia, Montenegro and Albania all spread out for wandering across and planning a bit. Looking around the room; various bits of luggage, bike gear, bags, things being charged up, panniers open with contents being rearranged, I realised how quickly we’d managed to colonise the place. Normally, when we are on the road, our discipline is strict – everything has a place and everything needs to be in it’s place unless it is in use. Use it. Clean it. Put it back. Ride, Rest. Go Again. Stay Upright. Those are the mantra’s that must be followed otherwise the world will explode. However, once static for more than night, everything comes out to be washed, refreshed, tidied and challenged: do we need it? Is it practical? Does it work? Is it necessary? Unless yes to all then it needs not to be a passenger any more and it gets donated.

As for the tech – we do have a bit. Mobile Phones that double as cameras, a Garmin SatNav that is on my right handlebar, an Ottocast Bluetooth screen on my left handlebar that mirrors my phone on which I have MyRouteApp which is what we use to plot exact routes and destinations in fine detail. We have a Go Pro and an Insta 360 camera for shooting video. Then there are two Powerbanks that are charged each night and used during the day to keep the phones alive. We have a large Solar Charger which works a treat when the sun is out but is a bit crap when it isn’t. Our helmets have intercoms so we can talk to each other as we ride – a blessing and a curse but more the former than the latter – they need charging every day. Each bike is fitted with two USB ports and a 12v socket – the same as the cigarette lighter in a car which might be great for lighting fags at 60mph in a car but on a motorbike it is a bit redundant. However, with all that lot, we think that, whilst the bikes are still analogue, we’ve teched up a tad.

Ironically, whilst I have all this tech on either side of my handlebars, the whirry bit in the middle where the speedo and odometer are, gave up the ghost eons ago and the numbers on my mileage counter have a mind all of their very own. Most of the time the trip and main counter are unmoving and stuck on random numbers than bear no relation to the true mileage the bike has done (around 50,000 now) and, at the moment, is indicating 81,906. Sometimes, and normally afgter passing over a particularly violent level crossing or set of rumble strips, will suddenly start to magically work again, but record 1/10th of a mile as a complete mile so in a very short distance 250 miles is added to the total. I reckon that, by the time we get back, I will have gone around the clock at least once and possibly be somewhere around the correct-ish mileage. As for the speedo – anyones guess. It wobbles about and gives a ‘sort-of’ speed – that’s the main reason for the Garmin SatNav – that gives me exact speeds so we can approach the numerous speed cameras with confidence that they won’t do the flashy thing and we’ll return to a nasty pile of brown envelopes from all over the continent.

Went to bed and slept well knowing we had the bones of a plan.


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