We flew from Istanbul to Ljubljana, Slovenia (via Paris), and what a contrast of cities! Ljubljana is a lot like Who-ville during Christmas time: constant street Christmas bands, chestnuts roasting on open fires, endless hot chocolate and mulled wine, Christmas lights and quaint stalls everywhere witha giant sleeping-beauty-esque castle and dragon draw bridges to complete the scene. No more Muslim call to prayer, warm weather, bartering stalls, or people who don’t identify as white. Recycling, composting, and bike lanes are huge in Ljubljana, as well as vegetarian options, which was quite convenient and comfortable for us. We stayed in an air bnb right in the city center next to the giant Christmas tree and the general center of merriment for the season. We decided to take it easy for a few days, watching Christmas movies (Elf and While You Were Sleeping), and taking afternoon and evening strolls through the cobblestone streets absorbing the Christmas cheer (Joe more tolerated it while I ecstatically basked in it).
We also reunited with our bikes, and met some awesome new friends: Oto and Matejka. We went out with them a few times, and I tried to not bombard them with too many questions about former Yugoslavia, how many paid days off social workers get a year in Slovenia (25-34 days!), and general culture questions. Everyone spoke English really well here, and when we asked about it, we found out it’s from a combination of movies/music being in English and it being mandatory for kids to learn in school at a young age so that Slovenians can communicate with the greater world (not that many people in the world speak Slovenian). For those of you who don’t know, Melania Trump is from Slovenia, and we joked about how Slovenia is feeling very safe at the moment because Trump would never do anything to endanger her country. Several people we talked to also commented on how Melania doesn’t speak very good English compared to the rest of the people from Slovenia, which I would have to agree with because everyone’s English in Slovenia is astoundingly impressive (However, I am not one to judge being that I only know one language, so more props to her for being more bi-lingual than probably most of the US). We were told that the tiny village where she is from had a huge party on election day, and is preparing for an increase in tourism.
We noticed that some of the Christmas lights had a rather “fertile” theme to them- lots of XY chromosome lights, a fetus looking light, and globe surrounded by sperm, and we were told that it is like that every year, I guess to encourage Slovenias slender population of two million to keep reproducing. Our new friend Oto offered to take us rock-climbing (which is huge in Slovenia), and then drop us off just over the border in Italy so we could catch a train to Venice. The climbing was awesome, with lots of different climbs for different skill levels. Climbing is great because you can do it all over the world, and it’s still the same knots, gear, and strategies- which is reassuring. I was a little out of shape, but Joe did awesome!
Then, we spent a whirlwind of 48 hours in Italy, taking 5 different trains (bikes aren’t allowed on the fast trains and the slow trains are cheaper). We spent an evening in Venice, where I ate some of the best pasta and house wine in my life, surprised that it lived up to it’s stereotype. We got off at a wrong station (two stations back to back with the same name- so confusing!) missed our transfer train, and spent a “Well, fuck it” night in an expensive hotel because we were stranded in a tiny Italian town. After another 4 trains, we made it to Montpellier, France - the start of our next bike tour route. Biking through Southern France has been amazing! It’s so good to be back on the bike, seeing different landscapes, experiencing life a little slower. This is one of the reasons i have loved bike touring, you get to see all sides of a city, and watch is slowly transition to the countryside, then back into a small town again, and then maybe a bigger city. On the edge of towns, there are usually Roma(gypsy) camps, or circus camps set up, and we will randomly see camels or zebras just munching on some grass. It’s been a pretty good ride so far- we’ve been going for three days and have covered about 120 miles, biking through mud flats, beaches, and vineyards. We have been using this website called “Warm Showers” that is like couch surfing, but for bike touring. Strangers take you in for free, and you sometimes they will offer you a yard to set up your tent in, to sometimes letting you stay in a spare bedroom. We got incredibly lucky for a warm shower stay near Set, France. Our host, Sofie, had a three course meal ready for us when we arrived, let us stay in her bedroom while she slept on the couch, and shared many crazy adventure stories with us.
As we were getting ready to leave in the morning after she gave us coffee and some chocolate eclairs, she asked if we if we had ever been sailing and if we would like to go out on her boat. Of course, we enthusiastically agreed, and had a great morning out on the water. Our host, Sofie, has crossed the Atlantic twice on a sailboat, and when I asked her if she ever got bored, she said she never did. This was obvious when we were on the boat because she was incredibly attentive to the wind and the water, and noticed even when the ripples changed slightly. Staying with her was such a good reminder of the kindness of strangers, and paying attention to the impressiveness of small details that are often overlooked. She biked us to the next village over, gave us directions for next section of our route, and we said our goodbyes.
We biked another day, camped a night on the beach, then biked another day to Les Barcares, where we are at now. Yesterday, there was a crazy head wind, and we had to make up some miles we lost from taking the previous morning off to go sailing. While taking a power nap/reassessing my ability to continue on the side of the road yesterday, another biker came over and started talking to us. He had been biking for 9 months, and had biked around the entire globe (flying over the oceans obviously). He was two days from finishing his adventure. He said he was surprised that we were American, because while he was biking through the US, he realized people in the US don’t take extended vacations, and even a 5 day vacation for his US friends would seem like a long vacation. Feeling energized by our conversation, we finished out the day- only 50 miles, but fighting a head wind made it seem like 100 miles. Now we are just taking a chill day, literally eating bon bons and cheese while we rest our muscles until we bike another three days to Barcelona.