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Day 13: Ljubljana to Villach, first day in the Alps

August 13, 2019

Day 13: Ljubljana to Villach, first day in the Alps

"Slovenia has a very good biking infrastructure, which we would be taking advantage of today."

by Donald Hess

If you have been referring to the image we posted of our updated route from Day 7, we neede to amend it last night. We were supposed to spend tonight in Tainach, but there was nothing in Pols or the vicinity. My sister Diane spoke to a lovely woman in Pols who told her that there was a huge motocross race in/near Pols this weekend and she said everything within 50km of Pols is booked. 

Justin went to work quickly. The goal would be to be in Salzburg in three days, with stops in larger towns that would have availability. Justin pieced together a new route that would have us in Villach, a large Austrian town, Sankt Micheal, a ski town, and then Salzburg. We figured all should have accommodations. As soon as the new route was sent, Command Central quickly confirmed that lodging looked available, and they confirmed the first place in Villach. This is what was planned for the day:

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

As you can see, two big climbs but nothing as bad as what we had done on earlier days.

We left Ljubljana through the old city, which was just waking up.

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

We were pleasantly surprised to find a bike path that led us out of the city as traffic started to pick up. Slovenia has a very good biking infrastructure, which we would be taking advantage of today.

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

We decided our first stop would be about a quarter of the total day's distance in Kranj. When we make plans in advance, we never know what to expect from a town, but Kranj delivered. Although it had a small feel, it's the fourth largest city in Solvenia. We chose Brioni as our breakfast spot and sat under large umbrellas with a cool breeze coming off the town square. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

While eating we were approached by a representative of the town's tourism ministry. She dropped off four surveys and said she would be back to get them after breakfast. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

The three MDs must suffer from survey fatigue from work, as we were done quickly, but Justin was very earnest and wanted to debate how we should rate the town's sustainability on the Likert scale provided.  

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

Breakfast was wonderful: very American with eggs, meat, juice, coffee, and potatoes, all for one price. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

When we got back on the road, we were well fed and ready for the first climb of the day. This one wouldn't be bad, but as we started we could see the Alps in the distance. Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

The morning climb was initially gradual but then began to get steeper. Garmin had routed us on smaller roads, and we began to see many more cyclists than we had previously. The other big difference today was shade. There were trees everywhere, and the path was narrow enough that we had canopy most of the day. In the early morning, we cycled through small pockets of cool air that had yet to be disturbed. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

The road down was so narrow and windy that it felt more like the gentle turns skiing than cycling. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

Once we had reached mile 35, the halfway mark of the 70 planned for today, we needed to fill up our water bottles and wanted a snack before lunch. There was a small store on the route that had beautiful sugar topped peach-filled donuts which each ordered one. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

Although this market was small, they did a good buisness with many people coming in for freshly baked bread. The very nice woman behind the counter filled all of our bottles, and we bought four soft drinks as well. We sat outside on a bench to eat and made plans for our next stop to be Podkoren, which was right before our route would turn north and the second climb of the day into Villach. 

Less than a mile later, we were introduced to bike path D2 in Slovenia, with which we fell in love. It was for bikes only, but it went almost as directly as the road. It was following the valley that we had chosen all the way to our scheduled turn and beyond. As we cycled along, Alps began appearing to the right (south).

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

The northwesterly cut of our route was a valley floor with very gentle climbing, which was ideal. All along the way there were small towns with churches. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

At one point a number of trails seem to merge near a river, and we found a sign that described the set of trails that we were on. It was a very extensive network that seemed to extend far beyond the borders of this image. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

From what we could tell, we were on the Alps-Adria trail taht continued from Slovenia into Italy. 

When we did 22B, we rearranged our route one day to bypass a big climb on Route 2 heading into Williamstown, MA to have a more gentle climb that added a few miles and a new state for our trip, Vermont. This bike path had a wonderful grade and the hills we were to climb seemed to be getting small as we progressed. Could we modify the route again to take the bike path into Italy and then take a branch north into Austria? Too difficult to figure out without WiFi, so we headed to lunch. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Cycling Jerseys

We reached the town of Podkoren and chose a restaurant full of locals for lunch. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

It had just what we needed, traditional hearty Slovenian mountain food. 

We were so pleased with how the day was going, that we had a round of Radlers. Radlers are very popular in Croatia and it seems Slovenia, too. They are like a shandy with a very small amount of beer (2% alcohol content), which we decided would not affect our riding. We all agree the grapefruit flavor is the best. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

While at lunch, Justin took a look at the route, and, indeed, it would be a little bit longer, but we would eliminate some of the big climbs by going along the valley floor and heading north after the hills ended. Here's the remaining part of the old route, followed by what would become our new route. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

Much more muted climbing, and, instead of losing elevation over a few miles, we would savor it for much longer. Also, we would enter Italy on the bike path, which we all really wanted to do. We didn't know if they had a separate border control booth on the bike path, or if they made us join the road, surely cyclists would have their own window. Another reason to go to Italy is to make this blog correct. In one of the first posts, Justin said we would be visiting ten countries. Now it would be true. 

We gladly got back on our bikes, back on our lovely D2, and headed to Italy.

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

Crossing into Italy was underwhelming. I think it was Patrick who first noticed that it had happened when we were already well into it. There was no border crossing, just a sign. That seemed to make sense for two EU countries not to have customs, but we had waited in lines to go from Croatia to Slovenia, both EU countries, and earlier today we could see traffic backed up at the border crossing before the tunnel from Slovenia into Austria. Anyway, we took our standard picture and two of the four of us entered a country they had never been to, even if it would be for under an hour. We thought this counted, even though touching down in a country's airport doesn't count despite sometimes being for a longer time.

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

There was nothing that we could tell was different about this small piece of Italy from the part of Slovenia we had left or the part of Austria we were about to enter. Equally as leafy and beautiful. 

We kept with the bike trail to the Austrian border, which is documented here.

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13 Pactimo Custom Cycling Jerseys

At this point we were getting anxious to get to our aparment in Villach, so we took the road and sped along until we crossed the river into town and took the first left. 

The place was great: clean, sleeps four, airy, and spacious. We fell into our normal routine. We took showers, planned a dinner spot, and thought about the route for tomorrow. The bike path we were on continues all the way to Salzburg, so with the help of my sisters, who sent links and images of the Adria-Alps trail, we began to get excited at the possibility. Everything seemed to be lining up when we found that there was an 8km tunnel through which bikes couldn't travel. There was an option of a train that takes cyclists and their bicycles one-stop through it, but this was not for us. We were back to the plan of Sankt Michael for tomorrow night. With that plan, we would be on the bike path for about 20 miles before heading north. 

Dave picked a great place for dinner, again full of locals. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

The food is getting much more calorie-dense, which is great for us as it makes it easier to replenish the day's losses. Lots of schnitzel and potatoes. Vegetables are less common, but we usually order a salad, although today we ordered a giant pretzel and radishes to have before the meal. 

After dinner, we toured the town and hunted for ice cream. By American standards, the town was lovely, but after being in Ljbljana, Zadar, Split, and Corfu, our standards were becoming unrealistically elevated. But, as you can see for yourself, the town is charming. 

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

Athens 2 Amsterdam Day 13

I'm headed to bed, very pleased with the day and the extra country we briefly visited. Finding this extensive and well-used bike path network was wonderful. For those who are interested in the specifics of the ride, the Strava link is here. Again, join Strava and follow one of us to see the full mileage and elevation for all the rides you've been reading about. 

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ABOUT DONALD HESS

Athens to Amsterdam - Donald HessDonald is a minimally invasive surgeon at Boston University and is the director of the surgery residency program. He first became interested in distance athletics when he was stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. It was there that he was introduced to triathlons, completed his first marathon, and went on to do a full ironman (Ironman California 2000). He has lived in Boston for the past 19 years where he has completed over 15 marathons including 6 Boston marathons, many half-ironman distance triathlons and countless adventure races. He first thought of attempting a cross country bike ride after participating in the 148-mile Harpoon Brewery to Brewery ride in 2008, and rode across the U.S. in 2014 from Seattle to Boston with Dave and Justin.

 




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