It’s brisk as I pack my bike outside of Lobagola in Zagreb. A guy walking his dog passes me, stops, and looks at my bike.
“Are you Allan?” he asks. I’m stunned. Not only does he speak perfect English, he knows my name.
“I am,” I admit, and before I can ask him how he knows my name, he reveals that he has followed my thread over the years on ADVrider, an online adventure motorcycle community. During my first three-year journey that sparked this obsession of traveling the world on two wheels, my “ride report” was one of the most viewed and interactive on the site. We chat and share stories about other ride reports we each followed. He now lives in Zagreb and doesn’t follow ADVrider much anymore. Neither do I, but I’m flattered he remembers me. He takes a picture of Doc and me.
As the clock ticks, and with still a few more items to pack, we say goodbye, and in a few moments I’m on the road—new radiator and all. I rely on the prompts of my iPhone GPS to get out of the city. It’s still early, but traffic is light.
I’m riding in the far right lane of the major road out of the city when the car next to me, a late model Mercedes Benz slows abruptly. Before I pass him, he moves into my lane. I try to keep steady, but my bike wavers, wobbles, and wiggles. He just hit my left pannier. I’m nearly knocked off balance, but miraculously I’m up. I lean on the horn—for thirty seconds, maybe more. He moves back into the lane next to me. Then he passes me. He holds his hands in prayer, looking at me. I’m shaking. And then shake my head in disgust as he drives past me and I merge onto the road east.
It’s the first time in nearly 100,000 miles a car hit me. I’m lucky, I guess. But my heart is racing. On the lonely road that leads to Serbian border and the eastern part of Croatia the skies are gray, the air is frigid. For the first time in two-and-a-half months I’m cold. So much so I must pull off at a primitive roadside cafe and gas station for a warm cup of coffee.
The building appears abandoned. Boards cover up many of the windows, and there are no lights on in a restaurant with a large dining room. It seems to be out of business. Dust covers the counters and tables. On the other side is a small shop with just one employee. Inside there are more empty shelves than any stocked with product. I order the coffee and head to the restroom. But I’ve got to pay my “barista” before I can pee. For me, this is a first in Croatia.
It’s about a four-hour ride to my next destination, Ilok in the Slavonia region near Vukovar near the border of Serbia. I plan to spend a couple of days here due to the strong recommendation of my friend Ashley, an Emmy award-winning host of her own travel show. She connected me with Ivica who works in the Ilok tourist information office. I wrote to him a couple of days ago, but as I warm up my body and change into warmer gloves, I still have yet to hear.
Back on the road and after three hours, my GPS guides me off the major highway and onto a narrow two-lane road. There are no businesses, no facilities, just miles and miles of grids of what look like wheat for corn fields. I’m turning left, then right, then another right. I question my GPS. There are no lines on the roads, no road signs, and nary a car. I think I’m lost.
I’ve played this game before. Question the GPS or motor on in blind faith. It’s much different from the early days of my world riding. Even then, there’s always someone to ask directions—or confirm I’m on the right track. But there’s nobody out here.
I motor on.
Forty-five minutes later I’m rolling into a small town. It’s Ilok. Good god, I made it.
One reason Ashley insisted I visit Ilok is the Iločki Podrumi, the Stari Podrum or the Old Cellar. It’s one of the oldest and most renowned wineries in Croatia. Far from the coast, the locals and travelers alike refer to these parts as “continental Croatia.”
Ilok is a tiny town, sitting on a steep hillside that tumbles into the Danube river below. It doesn’t take long to find the Ilok castle, and the medieval fortress surrounding it. A few minutes later, I find the Old Cellar, which also is a three-star hotel with about eighty rooms and six apartments.
I park Doc outside the Old Cellar next to a large stone wall and iron gate. Before I can pull my gloves off a large bus pulls up, and dozens of elderly German tourists pour out. At the reception area, I’m told there are no rooms available this evening. My research showed few hotels in the area, so I’m worried. I ask the receptionist if she knows Ivica. “Of course I know him,” she tells me. I explain the purpose of my visit and how I ended up here. She calls Ivica, and after a few moments speaking, she hands me the phone. It turns out, Ivica never saw my message. He asks me to sit still and will meet me in thirty minutes or less.
Meanwhile, the receptionist speaks with another woman, and after a few moments of chattering, she suggests I wait—a possible cancellation might open up a room.
I walk out to my bike, and a half-dozen people are posing and taking pictures next to my bike. I don’t mind, but retreat to the cellar. Ivica shows up sometime later and sees people gathered around my motorcycle. We’ve never met nor has he seen a picture of me, so he wonders if I could be one. The German language he detects clues him in I’m not. A few moments later we’re sitting on the back patio of the old cellar away from the tourist crowd sipping a glass of Grasevina—a white wine made from a grape of the same name, or as it’s known in Italy “Italian Riesling” or Germany as “Welsch Riesling.” It’s the prominent varietal grown in this part of Croatia.
Though it’s late afternoon, I hear the distant sounds of roosters crowing and dogs barking we talk about wine, the history of Ilok, and chat about our mutual friend Ashley. As the sun sets, Ivica suggests we enjoy dinner at a local restaurant down the street. So we finish the glass of wine and walk to Restoran & Rooms Villa Iva. It turns out. Iva is Ivica’s sister.
It’s cozy, warm, and the aromas of roasted meats, vegetables and potatoes fill the air. A group of tourists from France sit in one corner and few locals in the other. It’s earlier than I usually eat dinner, but suddenly I feel hungry and thirsty. His sister and her husband renovated the building that once was home to a pharmacy and a market. He tells me of the struggles they had purchasing the building, which after the war turned to state ownership. It took over eight months to get in touch with the correct government officials who could administer the sale.
They offer accommodation and this restaurant specializing in homemade local dishes. Villa Iva’s food is steaming hot and hearty and the perfect meal after a cold day of riding. Ivica decides not to eat but is the first to order and dig his fork into dessert. After dinner, his young nephew walks me down to the cellar. It’s cozy and arranged for dining and tasting. The wine they make lines one wall, and on another is a selection of jams, spreads, and sauces available for purchase. He tells me almost every house in Ilok has a cellar, and practically every family makes wine.
Wine is important, and its history deep here in Ilok.
After dinner, Ivica’s nephew takes me home, and we plan to meet in the morning to learn more about history and wine.
Dr. Franje Tuđmana 72
Tel: +385 325 90003