We hope you enjoy these bike tour memories from BikeTours.com president and founder, Jim Johnson.
My first trip to Croatia, in 2006, was the start of my love affair with the magical country. I’ve been back eight more times, and I will return as often as budget and health allow. The majestic coastlines, the untouched islands, the remote villages, the centuries-old traditions, the fusion cuisine blended from countless invasions and conquerings, and the charming and kind people–all call me back!
This was also the first of many bike and boat tours for me and started that love affair as well. Being able to access places that cars and buses can’t. Relaxing on sunny decks. Not having to pack and unpack every day. So many delights!
As is often the case with travel, my fondest memories from this tour center on people, in this case about my dear late friend, Hugh. In his late 70s, Hugh had never been to Europe before, and he embraced every new encounter with a sense of childlike wonder. A lover of nature, he marveled at the craggy coastlines, the waterfalls, the unfamiliar trees, and the fish swarming the turquoise waters. He spent hours over the course of the week asking crew members about their lives, their country and their culture. He was like a sponge.
Hugh died less than a decade later, and, in the intervening years, many of our conversations focused on memories of Croatia. Like the time the captain stopped the boat miles off-shore, ran from the bridge, and cannon-balled from the deck. As many of us gawked in wonder, the rest of the crew dropped floats and kayaks into the water, and in moments most of us were floating, swimming and paddling in the Adriatic. Or the “sea organ” in the town of Zadar, where the motion of the sea forces water and air through tubes set below a set of marble steps. The rougher the sea, the louder and more vibrant the “music.” Or the vast and towering waterfalls in Krka National Park.
Somehow, while dementia robbed him of much of his memory, his week in Croatia remained vivid. And a source of joy for both of us.
Some years ago, a cycling group I was with rolled into a village square in the Slovenian countryside and started to fill out water bottles from a spring-fed fountain. A white-haired gentleman seemed to listen intently to our small talk, and he walked over.
“England?” he asked. “No, America,” we replied.
He stepped back, took his hat off, and placed it over his heart, reciting three of the few words he knew in our language: “God bless America.”
A woman who identified herself as his granddaughter joined us and explained: “His village was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The Americans liberated it.”
Grandpa listened and nodded, putting his arm around a woman in our group. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
The sun hung bright in the blue sky as our group made its way up a dirt road with deep forest on one side and vineyards to the horizon on the other. The road was gradual and looped around and around and around as we made our way to the top.
Well before we reached our destination–the family-owned winery in Hungary’s Balaton Uplands where we’d have our lunch–hints of our meal reached our nostrils, pulling us ever more steadily to the top.
When we arrived, our hosts showed us to a row of tables and benches in the shade of ancient trees. Within moments, our new friends brought out course after course of Hungarian delicacies–with bottle after bottle of Hungarian wine as the perfect complement. The main course, piles of pork hocks and freshly picked vegetables that had been roasting for hours in ovens set into the hillside, earned a collective “Wow!” as the heaped-high platters arrived in front of us.
Some of us took the Henry the VIII approach and gnawed at the hocks. Others used utensils and ate more delicately. All of us followed the advice of our hosts and simply threw the spent bones onto the ground–where the vintner’s massive mastiffs gnawed the remnants.
By the time we’d savored the last of the desserts (note the “s”), we were full and slightly tipsy. As the same thought crossed each of our minds–”How are we going to get on our bikes after this?”–the vineyard team walked out with blankets piled high in their arms. Within moments, you could hear snoring from amidst the grapevines, as we napped our way to mid-afternoon.
Just another day in cycle tour paradise. And another bike tour memory made.