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Thread: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

  1. #1
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    Default Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    It has been a strong two weeks - I give you ‘Skirtin the Curtain’.



    Posting this as a standalone thread due to length, but mods feel free to relocate the weekly photo thread should it so be desired. I find everyone’s photos and ride reports inspirational, so hopefully this can provide a bit of the same for others.

    I spent the past 15 days tracing a line from Germany to Montenegro, loosely following the edge of the iron curtain with several friends. Since we hit Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, I can’t say we were particularly precise in following the edge of the actual iron curtain, but ‘Skirtin the Curtain’ makes for a much better trip title than ‘A bit to the left of the curtain’, so I am sticking with it.

    We rented cars to travel in between riding spots, which is really the only way to do this unless you have far more free time than I do. This resulted in a fair amount of driving, but I wouldn’t cut anything out if I had to do it again. In particular, Croatia and Montengro were a revelation. Croatia seems to pop up more frequently as a riding destination, but I reckon everyone is missing out on Montenegro and that it will explode in coming years.

    Seriously, go to Montenegro to ride.

    Brilliant terrain, scenery and relatively inexpensive. I wouldn’t peg the food and wine as tops on the Adriatic, but sticking to simple grilled stuff was a winning strategy.

    NB, as far as I could tell you can’t rent a car in Northern Europe to drive to Montenegro, as this requires passing through Bosnia (at least without a long ferry) and Montenegro itself. We exchanged cars in Split, Croatia to pick up ones with the required green cards for driving outside the regular EU insurance coverage. From what I saw of Bosnia, the riding would be great, but that will have to wait for another time.

    We kicked things off in Munich, which was down more to logistics than preference. Starting in Innsbruck or thereabouts would have been optimal, but we were coming from all points of the globe. This left us with a short drive to Austria, so we chose to hit Rossfeld Panoramastrasse as a warm-up ride on the way to Zell Am See.



    Not sure I would go out of my way to hit this specifically, but it is a solid HC climb that can be done as a loop from Hallein, with a lovely flowing descent. I only hit 90km/hr, so I must be losing my touch.

    Zell am See brought us a rather incongruous mix of an IM 70.3 triathlon, halal grocers and off-season ski town. However, it provides an ideal base for an assault the Grossglockner and there is good schnitzel and even better wine list to be had at the Steinerwirt. Go for the Austrian Zweigelt, it will be good. Doesn’t matter which one, I can attest to the merit of all four.



    I found the Grossglockner pretty difficult. From Zell itself it is over 30km and about 1500m vertical to Fuschertorl and there are bits that are quite punchy. I think I struggled because this was neither a shorter steeper climb, nor one of the true 2000m+ monsters like Doi Inthanon or Wuling. This puts it in a mental grey zone for me. On the upside, this meant lots of stops for photos! We rode the Grossglockner on a summer Saturday, when it was quite crowded. As a major tourist attraction I doubt it is ever truly empty. Traffic was generally respectful, but I won’t be disappointed if I never hear another motorcycle coming up behind me.



    Next up was a transfer to Slovenia and a pleasant ‘easy day’ ride on the bike path from Kranjska Gora into Italy to Lago de Fusine, where beers and a mixed grill platter can be enjoyed looking out on the backside of Mangart and the rest of the Julian Alps.

    We stayed at Hotel Kotnick having used a proprietary algorithm for hotel selection involving picking the place with the oldest pizzeria in town. It turns out this was the right choice, since - my apologies to any Kranjska Gore-ites - food was otherwise a bit grim.

    Fueled on diavolos, we were ready for the biggest day of the trip - a loop over the Vrsic pass, on to the Soca Valley, up and back to Mangart saddle and back via Tarvisio. Wow - epic, world class route. This route gives you about 100km and 2500m of vertical. Perfect combination of challenging but not ridiculous climbs and amazing scenery. I rate Mangart among the top climbs I have ever done.









    This called for some celebration at Hisa Franko, which is conveniently located in between Kranjska Gora and our next stop in Friuli. A dinner here will require making a reservation many months in advance, but the food and wine exceeded my expectations. Have a watch of the Ana Ros episode of Chef’s Table for a feel. See, there is hope for Slovenian food yet!



    Friuli was a pleasant change of pace after the high mountains. My friends said it reminded them of Tuscany with a bit less steep climbs. There are great rides through the rolling hills and vineyards, popping back and forth between Italy and Slovenia with pleasant town squares for coffee and mountain top refuges for pasta.

    La Subida in Cormons is a good spot to base yourself both for the slow food (and wine and vinegar) and Mitja Sirk’s riding expertise. The Sirk family owns La Subida and Mitja is a keen cyclist happy to provide info on routes, including some gravel, through the surrounding the hills. The topography is very complex, so figure on 75-100km days with 1500-2000m vertical.

    Some bad weather put the kibbosh on an attempt on Monte Crostis the following day, so we decided to head down to Croatia a day early. This is the second year in a row the weather has stymied a ride up Monte Crostis for me. Last year I had to turn around at the top due to snow accumulation and this year it was thunderstorms. I am not sure this actually signifies anything, but I guess it means you shouldn’t plan on riding Crostis with me.
     

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    An airbnb in Makarska, Croatia was our next base as it is ideally suited for a ride up Sveti Jure and a ferry ride away from Brac Island, which has surprisingly great riding. It also a good spot for observing the genus ‘Adriatic Beachgoer’, which makes for some interesting people watching.



    Sveti Jure is a really impressive climb on a road that gets ever smaller and wilder. Always interesting to go from sea level up to 1500m in one ride and the views over the ridge that runs along the coast, ocean and islands are exceptional. It is a big climb, but the gradient is manageable.





    If you are in the area, I highly recommend taking the ferry to Sumartin for a ride around Brac. Just be sure you check the shoulder vs. high season ferry timetable. Ask me how I know the difference…



    We did a 90ish km ride on Brac, riding up the hill from Sumartin down to the east coast and then back up the spine of the island to conclude with a gentle coast down to the ferry stop. I recommend going counterclockwise like we did, because that puts the nice rolling section along the coast earlier in the ride and means you can coast down to Hacienda restaurant just above town for some grilled lamb and beers before taking the boat back to Makarska. The owner seems to like cyclists, ask him for a sample of the sour cherry liqueur.

    Croatia crushed, we moved on to Montengro. We based ourselves initially in the old town of Kotor. Kotor bay is wonderfully scenic and the stone old town is remarkably well preserved, which makes it sad that it is essentially a theme park for tourists pouring off the cruise ships with not much local life to speak of. Food is rather mediocre grilled fish and chips for the most part as it seems to cater to on and off the cruise ship crowd. Better to base yourself further along the coast or in Porto Montenegro a few km away for the full billionaire yacht owner experience and easy access to the marquee ride. Porto Montenegro has sushi and avocado toast! Don’t judge me, I liked this much more than the ‘local’ fare.

    We did one ride just along the coast, which was pleasant, so long as you don’t hit the road back up towards Dubrovnik which sees heavy traffic and would be unpleasant.



    Our big ride from Kotor involved climbing the spectacular switchbacks (over 25!) above town and then continuing on to Lovcen peak and Cetinje. This makes for a big day out of over 100km and 2000m, but the scenery should sustain you. It is amazing that there is so little information about this climb on the internet.





    From Kotor we headed inland to Zabljak, which is on the edge of Durmitor National Park. This is to say that it is a small ski town essentially three hours in the middle of nowhere. We drove over in the midst of heavy rain and I think my friends were a bit skeptical that it would be worthwhile. Boy were they wrong. Looping through Durmitor may well have been the best ride of the trip. Small un-trafficked roads. Local color with shepherds and small villages. A mix of a deep gorge, high alpine terrain near 2000m and steep wooded bits. This was a pretty grand, grand finale for our trip.





    From there is was on to Dubrovnik, which is ideal for a last night on the town and walking behind your friends shouting ‘Shame! Shame!’. My only regret is that I didn’t have a bell to ring.
     

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Outfreakinstanding!
    rw saunders
    everything is connected

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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Wow - this is incredible. Bookmarking for future trip inspiration!
     

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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    wow!! Thanks for sharing this.
     

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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    beautiful
    ***Instagram***
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    Wow, this seems to not suck !
     

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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Thanks, Toddykins! Inspiring!
     

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Great trip, great report!

    I really enjoyed Brac. We rented MTBs there for a day and puttered around the coast but didn't see much of the interior of the island.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Skirting the Curtain would be a great title for a Playboy spread on some Eastern Euro romp. My mind's not in the gutter but rather hasn't forgotten staking out my neighborhood on bicycle to find a Playboy subscriber back in the day and riding off to open the "Lesbos of the Kilimanjaro" spread in the woods. This was probably 1987 if anyone recalls that airbrushed glory.

    I've shared my epic rides here same format. Go for it the goal is inspiration which you've done in spades.

    I'm currently sidelined so this felt like a vicarious present. This type of post is important to bring closure or it was for me anyway to pay it forward and share what I learned, mistakes, etc.

    If I may encourage you, your pics don't need the filters let them shine on their own with light editing
     

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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Highly inspiring. Thanks!
    Guy Washburn

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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    fantastic travelogue!
     

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Quote Originally Posted by Toddykins View Post
    This is by far my favorite picture you posted. I can vividly imagine the feeling of suffering up a climb and then seeing this view. Road dropping off finally, amazing scenery/view. It must have been euphoric.
     

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    This is awesome. Any way you could do a route on google maps with a screen capture just to give some idea of the route you were driving? Also, what's the situation with communication? I'm stuck in the monolingual handicap and was wondering if something like this trip was still easily done.
    Jason Babcock

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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Excellent way to spend 15 days! Beautiful mountains.
    Jorn Ake
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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    I kept saying, "you lucky bastard" over and over as I scrolled down. Damn. Pinch yourself for me.
     

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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Quote Originally Posted by holliscx View Post

    If I may encourage you, your pics don't need the filters let them shine on their own with light editing
    Thanks! I kind if figured it was my style, but my buddies have been telling me to back away from the saturation...
     

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Quote Originally Posted by Bwana View Post
    This is by far my favorite picture you posted. I can vividly imagine the feeling of suffering up a climb and then seeing this view. Road dropping off finally, amazing scenery/view. It must have been euphoric.

    Ha - I would like to say that is how it went, but I was mainly concerned with making it back to Zabljak before sunset with no lights...Just before this section there is a killer of a false summit. Complete a set of switchbacks, round the bend and see the road snaking up further to another pass. Luckily it was about 20km downhill from this point to the finish.
     

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Quote Originally Posted by mjbabcock View Post
    This is awesome. Any way you could do a route on google maps with a screen capture just to give some idea of the route you were driving? Also, what's the situation with communication? I'm stuck in the monolingual handicap and was wondering if something like this trip was still easily done.

    Hey Jason - Here is the driving route. Its a bit more than is strictly desirable, but you can't change the geography. The biggest driving day we did was down from Friuli to the Croatian riviera. Since we did this on a rest day, it was not too bad. As far as places we stayed the route runs: Munich > Zell Am See > Kranjska Gora > Cormons > Makarska > Kotor > Zabljak > Dubrovnik.

    I speak no German, Slovenian, Italian or Serbo-Croat - but English is widely spoken. Fluency varies, but we had no problems whatsoever communicating even in small villages along the rides.

     

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    Default Re: Skirtin the Curtain - Trip Report

    Fastest route, the usual traffic.

    Love it.

    Amazing to find the curtain pulled back, frankly, given what the likelihood was in 1956.
     

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