Packed, suited up, and ready to go after my club to the Ljubljana castle, I wait for the owner of my apartment. He shows up with a colleague who wrestles a pair of crutches before climbing out of the car. We climb the stairs to the apartment, but his colleague struggled. His left leg was in a painful looking restraining device, and he had yet to master using crutches.
I can’t resist. So I ask, “What happened?” He looks at me, then hangs his head low, answers to the ground. “Motorbike accident,” he says, lifting his head. Ouch, I think.
I ask, “Were you wearing protective gear?” I knock my knees with the top of my helmet. The thud of the BMW Rallye suit protective armor is undeniable and loud. I bang my elbow on the metal hand railing in the stairwell. It rings.
“No, I was wearing shorts,” he says, sheepishly. “Never again. I will never ride without protection. Ever again.” He insists. I know he feels stupid. And he was that morning he hopped on his bike. Regrets are a bitch, and riding motorcycles can be risky. It’s best to hedge that risk with protective gear.
Traffic is light leaving Ljubljana. Still, just a few minutes motoring through traffic the warning light pops on showing my bike is overheating. I make my way to Avtoval just outside the city. Rok, the service manager, promises to take another look at my bike. Only two weeks ago I was here with the same problem.
While waiting, I meet two other BMW riders from Zagreb in Croatia. They tell me the BMW dealer here in Ljubljana is more trustworthy and reliable. So they make the hour and a half ride and cross the border to have their bikes serviced in Slovenia.
When the technician tells me, he found a crack in my radiator, and while it’s not leaking much, if at all, air is getting into the system and compromising its effectiveness. I need a new radiator, but it will take two days for shipping from Germany. It’s Friday, so that means we’d be lucky to get the part by Tuesday. It probably will get here Wednesday.
My new Croatian friends make a few phone calls. I will stop in Zagreb before making my way to Serbia because I must pick up a copy of my “green card insurance” from Dooby at Lobagola. I kept the insurance paperwork in my tank panniers which thieves stole from my bike three weeks ago when I was in Split. I’d prefer to have proof of insurance before heading to Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.
I call Tomić & Co. the BMW dealer in Zagreb to see if they have the part in stock. Then I call three different dealers in Serbia. None of the dealers stock parts for my bike, so no matter where I go, the part must be ordered. With each minute passing, I push against the order deadline for today. Rok thinks I’ve already missed it. Ivan at Tomic BMW in Zagreb is more positive. But the Croatian dealer will not order the part until they receive payment.
I email Dooby to see if he knows the folks at BWM Zagreb and can convince them to order—or better yet, pay for me. But Dooby is off the grid. So I call the BMW dealer back and plead with him to order the part. I drop names, give him my website, and try to provide him with a credit card number. But the Zagreb BMW accounting department cannot accept it—there must be an invoice, but there cannot be an invoice without a work order.
It’s getting complicated. After several back-and-forth phone calls, and email messages, Ivan sends me an “offer” — I equate it to an estimate. I must sign and return it with a payment. So I send the signed “offer” with a photograph of my VISA credit card along with a photo of me and the bike along with a link to my website. But Ivan tells me it’s too late to send an expedited order to BMW in Germany. He tells me he’ll order the part on Monday morning. My stomach turns as I count the days. The bike is just not ridable, I must park it and wait. I might be stuck in Zagreb until next Thursday, nearly a week.
Dooby returns my email. He tells me two US-based customers riding the same bike as Doc will store their bikes at Lobagola for the winter. He suggests I ask them if I could swap out the radiator from one of their bikes and let them have the one I ordered. I could at least be on the road sooner. Dooby tells me to cancel the order from Tomic BMW, and he’ll order one from elsewhere in Europe for about one-hundred euro cheaper. It sounds like a good idea, but more complicated than I can stomach. I agree to ask them about the radiator, and if they’re open to it, I’ll make a more definitive decision at the time. For now, I’ll cross the border and return to Croatia, and Zagreb.
I never planned on returning to Zagreb. Now it’s my crossroad between Slovenia and Serbia. When I was here a couple of weeks ago, I took care of my aging exhaust system. Now with an overheating bike, missing insurance documentation, and a website falling behind each day, I promise myself I’ll be productive in Zagreb. Hey, I also get to see Dooby again and spend some time with the lovely Stanka.
I take a back road route through the border, but when I try to pass the border control, officials tell me I cannot cross here. They can only process vehicles registered in the EU. I must cross the larger border. The one on the main road I tried to avoid. The border is backed up with hundreds of cars when I get there. But somehow I find myself in a special lane exclusive to pre-cleared cargo trucks. I worry I might be chastised and escorted to the proper lane. But I’m not, they wave me through, and in another hour I’m pulling off my boots in the cozy lounge at Lobagola.
Back in Croatia.
Even though Stanka again offers me the living room sofa I slept on last time I was in Zagreb, but rooms are available at Dooby’s Lobagola B&B, so I stay here. I’d rather not intrude and would like to give Dooby the business considering all the extra work and help he gave me over the past few weeks with my clutch cable, exhaust, and insurance.
But I promise Stanka we will wine and dine while I bide my time here in the capital. In fact, the night I arrive back to Zagreb Stanka meets me at Dubravkin Put. We sit outdoors on the leafy terrace of this beautiful restaurant tucked into a hillside near the city center. It is quiet and peaceful and yet has an energetic vibe. Our server tours us through the wine regions of Croatia—even sharing from a bottle one guest offered me. The food is outstanding and so lovely to have a wine and dine alfresco experience at one of the city’s highly rated eateries.
I spend most of Saturday and Sunday inside Lobagola writing, editing, and processing gigabytes of digital content including video, still photos and audio recordings from the many interviews over the past week. The following evening Stanka is busy, so I walk to the city center and have a glass of wine in the bar of the luxurious Hotel Esplanade. Built in 1925, presidents, heads of state, movie and rock stars, and travelers on the Orient Express stayed here. I walk around the swanky lobby and grounds and admire its nouveau architecture. I did not bring my camera with me this evening, so I’m showing a photo from the hotel’s website—a rare thing on worldrider.com
After wandering the downtown area I duck into another recommended eatery, Gallo Restaurant where I dine alone but relish in the people watching and the paranoid guards roaming the terrace shared between Gallo and the Turkish Embassy next door. They rush to keep me from taking a picture. I make a funny face but oblige.
The next morning, Monday, I receive good news from Ivan at Tomic BMW. His email explains he ordered the new radiator and it will arrive tomorrow—Tuesday. Even better, his service staff will install it too. I try to get them to install the swing arm bearings I’ve been carrying for a week, but they do not have the time and prefer not to install parts purchased elsewhere—even though mine are genuine BMW OEM parts purchased from another BMW. No worries. I’ll find somewhere down the road to help with the bearings. At least I know I can get back on the road Wednesday.
Tuesday morning, I ride to Tomic BMW and hang out in the dealership’s tony lounge drinking espresso and cruising on its wifi. Unlike BMW dealerships in the United States, both the Ljubljana and Zagreb BMW dealers sell and service both cars and motorcycles. I take a walk across the parking lot to a separate building where the BMW motorcycle sales showroom sits on the second floor. There aren’t a lot of bikes, and the accessory inventory and selection are sparse.
After a few hours of wandering and waiting in the dealership, Ivan tells me the bike is ready. After handling the paperwork and payment, he reaches below his desk and pulls out a bottle of wine.
“I see you like wine,” he tells me and reveals he took a peek at my website. It’s a kind and unexpected gesture. From the Plančić vineyards on the Croatian island of Hvar, it’s a red blend called “Pharos Reserva.” I thank the crew at Tomic, pack the wine in my panniers, and return to Lobagola to organize my things and prepare for my departure early tomorrow morning.
Though I never intended to return to Zagreb, I enjoyed my second visit. With no agenda or itinerary, it was great to reconnect with good friends Stanka and Dooby and to indulge in some creative cuisine and more Croatian wine.
Bosanska 3, 10000 Zagreb
+3851 5801 990 | +38591 4311 076
Dubravkin put 2
10000, Zagreb, Croatia
+385 1 4834 975
+385 1 481 40 14
Folnegovićeva 12, 10000 Zagreb
+385 1 6301 999