Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Day 7 - Motovun to Matrei

It was raining at the start of the day, and I spent the first hour on emails and reviewing a conference paper. By the time I'd had some breakfast and packed my stuff, Ranko was up and we went to the Hotel Kastel for a final coffee. We chatted about this and that, and I noted that there was almost no one around on the streets, and we returned to the house. I stowed my gear on the bike, manoevered it out from the space between the houses, and with the rain now dried up, I was off on the road again, headed North. The wet roads made me a lot more cautious about my speed, and I was approaching bends very cautioualy indeed. I knew the route home by now, or so I thought. At the boundary with Slovenia, I showed them my passport, but they did nto ask me to remove my helmet, just checked the validity of the passport. At the Slovenian border, 2.5 km further on, they waved me through, as I slowed. Somewhere between Gračišće and Crni Kal, I missed a right hand turn towards Ljubljana, and after ten minutes realised I was off track, so turned round and found the right road. I soon made it to the Italian border, and apart from some road works, it was all very straightforward.

I stopped for petrol and a snack at lunch time, then pressed on, making the winding roads up to Plöckenpass within an hour, to play on some of my favourite hair-pin bends.  But it was a bit wet after the rain, and still a bit of drizzle. Worse, the temperature hovered between -1 and 1 so I was worried about how the tyres would grip on this surface, so I rode up the roads like a novice, going in slow, and not accelerating too much out of the bends.  The last thing I wanted to do up here was drop the bike on a sharp bend.  Coming down the other side of the mountains, the roads were easier, as the temperature was a little higher, but it was awfully cold all the same.  I was thankful for the heated handlebar grips, and I worked out that I was quite comfortable around 7 degrees, but chilly below that, and when it was around zero, I really felt it.  However, it was not too cold to keep going!  The occasional light showers continued, so the road was not suitable for pushing hard into the bends, and every so often there was a bus or a lorry coming around the corner from the other direction occupying the whole road. I was glad not to be in a car!

Finally, at about 15:30, bang on schedule, I arrived at the guest house in Matrei-in-Osttirrol, the Ruggenthalerhof. I was welcomed in English by Olivia, who introduced me to her 5 year-old neice and the two of them showed my to my room, where her mum, Anna, was just finishing making it ready. It was a nice big room, with soafe, table and chairs, a balcony and so on. It felt more like a suite. They told me when breakfast was, and I asked about dinner. Apparently, there was a pizzeria open in Matrei, but probably nothing else, and there were a couple of other places to go. I decided to jump back on the bike and visit the Spar shop near the main road about 5 km back, from where I got some things that I could eat and drink in the room. When I got back, Olivia asked if I wanted some coffee, and I was quick to accept. I chucked my shopping in the room, as well as the bike gear, and joined her and Amelie in the breakfast room, where she made me a coffee, and practiced her English with me. After the coffee, she offered me a beer, and she joined me, and we continued to chat. Anna joined us, and we talked about all sorts of things. They got out some Schnapps made in this valley, and I tried two types, the first one was a bit too primitive, Williams Birne (Pear Schnapps) and the second one was very nice, which was made with Apples and Pears.  Anna pointed out to me that the Preglet label on this one was a protected trade mark, and only Schnapps made in this locality could bear this label.  I was not sure about which one was made by Anna's uncle, but at least one of them was.  Then Anna surprised me by offering me something to eat. She prepared some fried eggs on toast for me. I wasn't sure if I should have been embarrassed, because they didn't eat, since it was now too late for them to be eating. After this, Olivia and I compared our favourite music by playing each other the first 10-15 seconds of songs on our phones and we chatted about movies as well, until about 9:30, then that was the end of the evening. I was struck by her enthusiasm for all sorts of things and the lack of social opportunity in a remote place like this.  She was clearly wishing for a more interesting social life and, perhaps, sense of purpose. But she seemed stuck in a lifestyle that she would not have chosen. I guessed that this was how life was for large numbers of young people in similar situations.

It was a remarkable evening, all told, and I really felt like one of the family, having also met her brother and her uncle while we were there. Looking at the stuff I bought from the supermarket, I decided that this would make a good lunch tomorrow, instead!

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