After a cup of coffee and a few slices of cheese and toast, I pack up Doc and ride north. Climbing out of the small basin where the Port of Rijeka sits and I head north, glancing at the islands across the bay and beyond to the Istria Peninsula. Known for its truffles, crisp white wines, and the Italian influence that differentiates this part of Croatia from the rest, for a long time Istria was Italy.
Then again, Istria was also part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and before that under the Venetians. It’s complicated. Much of the territory fell under Yugoslav rule after World War II, but only since 1975 has the entire peninsula been part of Croatia—at least the Croatian part of Yugoslavia. I wonder.
I’ve had difficulties here in Croatia. So with dry eyes, I leave Croatia behind. Admittedly, it’s a love-hate relationship with this former Yugoslav republic. With Slovenia, I start fresh—another country and another story.
It takes only thirty minutes to ride to the border. When I get there, it’s jammed with traffic, cars, and trucks all jockeying to get to Slovenia. And likely beyond and deeper into the European Union. This is why customs and immigration are more diligent here than any other border crossing I passed through in the past two months.
The sun beats down. Small beads of sweat trickle down and tickle my back. I’m idling just a few cars before the guard house and officials. My temperature light flashes on. Shit. The last time this happened I was stuck in 110 degrees heat in downtown Athens traffic. It’s not that hot here. I’ve hardly idled for ten minutes.
I hand my passport to the woman with a big smile dressed in an official and well-pressed uniform. She asks for my bike documents. I must dismount the bike and dig into my Jesse Bags. They were much more accessible when I had my tank panniers. But those bastards in Split have both copies of my documents and my panniers.
I start my bike and pull away. Minutes later the temperature light flashes again. I pull into a parking lot of a small duty-free shop. To get out of the sun, I walk into the shop. It’s stocked with booze, perfume, a couple handbags, and other odds and ends. It seems weird. Tucked into the woods on this barren roadside, no other buildings other than this small shop. It sits lonely, by itself. The people inside seem lonely too. I’m the only customer. They follow me around as I browse with my eyes. I wonder if they think I’m a thief. It’s uncomfortable, so I leave.
It then occurs to me, I’m in Slovenia. Another border crossed and another new country. But wait. I’m just ten miles from Italy. And with all this reflecting on Italian influence in Croatia, I ride to Italy where I’ll spend a night in the seaside port town of Trieste.
I hope on my bike and head to Italy. So far no hot engine warning.
Within an hour I’m winding down the narrow cobbled streets that twist, turn, and tumble to the city center at the port and Bay of Trieste. With no itinerary and little understanding of this town, I navigate to the waterfront. A large cruise ship is docked, troughs of people mill about the Piazza Unitа d’Italia—the central square dominated by a fountain and enclosed by impressive buildings, like palaces, on three sides, and wide open on the fourth to the sea. Pedestrian promenades emanate from the corners and sides of the piazza.
I find a modest hotel just off the plaza, park the bike and set off on foot to explore the plaza and seaside. Children and adults alike line up at gelato carts, while tourists toting selfie sticks pose in front of the fountain and ornamental municipal buildings. A group of locals just sit on the steps of one building and watches the world—and me—walk by.
Trieste, for a brief period after World War II, was an independent state. Sitting at the top of the Adriatic and today serving as Italy’s northernmost port. Like Istria in Croatia, over the years, Trieste bounced between monarchies, imperialists, fascists, socialists, and communists. In 1947 international law recognized it as the Free Territory of Trieste, though even during that time it was under a military chokehold. In 1954 Italy annexed the territory.
It’s Sunday, and most of the more notable restaurants are closed. Before dinner, I grab a seat at
I’ve been to Southern and Central Italy before. I’ve never been to Venice. Though I don’t subscribe to the “bucket list” mentality, I recognize that I MUST visit Venice some day.
It will not be on this journey, however.
I sip the crisp glass of Friulano, savoring its flavors of lemon, almond, and dried herb. Swishing the juice around my mouth as the sun sets, I’m startled when the porter from my hotel finds me in the cafe.
“You must move your motorcycle,” he tells me. I parked it on a wide pathway that abutted the side of the hotel, covered it, and felt secure that it was out of the way.
“The police,” he says. Just hearing that word in the same breath as my motorcycle, I pause the wine drinking moment and move my bike, finding a place among a dozen other bikes on the street. I’m nervous, but cover the motorcycle again and cross my fingers.
Later I wander the maze of pathways and narrow streets looking for the one place to have an Italian meal. Oh, that’s right. I’m in Italy. With a bike that’s now overheating.
I order the local fish and another glass of wine—this time a local Malvasia.
Tomorrow I will be in Slovenia.