The border official at Zagreb Airport glances at our European passports and pushes them back to us, unstamped.
And just like that, we're done with Border Runs and foreign embassy visa applications. This is what home is supposed to feel like, isn't it? Not being kicked out of the country every 90 days and begging to be let back in the next day?
We've slept in fits and bursts for the last 36 hours. In airport terminals and shivering on the benches of the cold outdoor bus terminal, waiting for the morning run to Pula.
On the bus, I stare out the window as the early morning sun hits the terra-cotta roofs of Istria's small villages along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. What a change from Lanna temples, searing temperatures, Buddha statues, high humidity and Islamic mosques! Not exactly Culture Shock, more of a Culture Jolt.
We are staying in Medulin again. This time Iva is helping us out with yet another Culture Jolt - the prices for rentals in Istria have skyrocketed because tourist season has officially kicked off here and we're unable to afford a place to sleep in while we pick up our bikes and prepare for our European tour (part III). So she's graciously offered us her apartment to stay in, while she moves in with her mom. That really helps us out a lot.
It's so expensive here and now, compared to Thailand. :(
The next day, we're giddy with anticipation as we throw open the barn doors to be reunited with our bikes
We never really bonded with the Honda dirtbikes. They were too small and uncomfortable, and they couldn't carry any luggage at all. Neda is beaming as she quickly threw off the covers to reveal her F650GS. "My baby! I've missed you so much!", she proudly exclaims.
The next hour we spent hooking up our batteries and stacking all our RTW luggage on the back of our patient mules
We wheel the bikes outside. Before we thumb the starter motors, we nervously whisper small prayers. We've had really bad luck with drained batteries all throughout our trip. We finally got wise to disconnecting the terminals before storing them and this time, we've even splashed out on trickle chargers and Iva has been maintaining our batteries all winter long for us in her apartment.
There should be no drama this time round.
Will they start? Or will we be catching the bus back to Medulin?
The moment of truth: Neda's bike starts up with a small cough and starts chugging away healthily. My bike is more middle-aged (mileage-wise) and turns over less exuberantly. And then it dies almost immediately. I closed my eyes and thumbed the starter again. More pleading under my breath, "please... please... please..."
*BRRROOOOM*! But its vital signs are faint. The engine chugs along with a sickly air and settles to a tentative idle: Brm... Brm... Brm... It sounds like the crankshaft is revolving at vinyl record speeds. 33 1/3 rpm. It's as if I can count each individual Brm and I fear touching the throttle will kill the engine. And in my mind, this death will be punctuated by the cartoon sound of a needle scratching the vinyl.
We let my bike idle for a couple of minutes until the revs rise and sound more confident. I goose the throttle and after six long months of hibernation, my GS roars to life. SHE'S ALIVE!!! WAHOOOOOO!!!
I'm very happy. But this exhilaration will be short-lived.
We suit up to head back to Medulin, but as soon as I put my leg over the seat and try to lift it off the side-stand I notice something horribly wrong. Somebody must have broken into the garage and tampered with my motorcycle. Because it feels like someone has been feeding it a steady diet of potato chips, KFC chicken, hamburgers, pizza and high-sugar drinks every single day while we've been away. It's so friggin' heavy!!!!
We ride off and I'm wobbling all over the place because the weight of the bike+luggage is so heavy and high up on the motorcycle. If feels like I'm trying to ride while balancing a bowling ball on top of a broomstick. And to do all this, while trying to remember to stay on the *right* side of the road, after so long in SE Asia.
I've owned this bike for over 10 years. I've personally put over 200,000 kms on it. And now because we've gotten used to booting around on 100lb dirtbikes for the last half year, I feel like I've never ridden this motorcycle before in my life. I'm scared to death I'll drop it.
I radio Neda, "I don't think I can ride this thing. It's too heavy".
Neda's voice is just as shaky as mine. "Me too."
We wobble back the 7 kms to Medulin. At every stoplight, I put both feet out like a newbie rider, unsure about which side it'll lean towards.
This sucks. :(
Neda is reunited with the rest of her clothing!
We haul all the luggage off the motorcycles and bring them back in to the apartment to enumerate the contents.
Stuff that we had sorely missed while in Asia was hastily unpacked. Neda took out all of the clothes she left behind in Europe and spread it out on the bed and flopped happily onto the modest pile. You know, like how rich people sprinkle $100 dollar bills on top of their bed every night and fall into it before they go to sleep - like in all the Instagram photos we see.
We have 10 days worth of clothing again, and we feel wealthy beyond belief!!!
We pay a visit to Neda's grandmother and she feeds us
After we took off all the luggage, we've been taking the bikes out and running errands and visiting friends and family around Pula. The bikes feel sooo much lighter without the bags on. We are slowly getting used to the weight. I never thought I'd say this, but the seating position on the GSes is soooo low - compared to the dirtbikes. The CRF seats were 3 or 4 inches higher than the GS. I feel like I'm sitting inside the bike, whereas on the CRF, it felt like I was perched on top of it like a horse. It'll take some getting used to again.
However, I do like having over 100 horses at my command within the grip of my right fist once again. BRRRRRM!!!! :)
We rode our steeds to the local autopraonica (Car Wash) and gave them a good scrubbing down
This is for everyone who has been ragging on me about my dirty windshield. I did this for you.
It's nice being in Europe, but one reservation Neda had about departing Asia was all of the delicious food she'd be leaving behind. "Everything is going to taste so bland in Europe!", she lamented.
Then in Pula, one of the first places we visited was Neda's favorite bakery to get some Burek
Mmmm... chowing down on some delicious Bosnian cheese pastries
Then after, we went to the grocery store where Neda loaded the cart with Istrian prosciutto, Istrian truffle spread, Istrian olive oil, fresh fish caught that morning just off Pula's coast. She literally skipped down the aisles of the market like a kid in a candy store.
Yeah, you really look like you're missing Asian food, Neda... :)
Then we loaded all the heavy groceries in the panniers of the bike and wobbled all the way back to Medulin. :(
We are only in Medulin for a few days, but to re-pay Iva back for her generosity, Neda does some yardwork
I'm working on the blog. It's months behind and it's tempting just to let it slide and go outside to enjoy the nice sunny weather in Istria.
But we stay in the apartment most of the time. Medulin is sooo crowded! Foreign tourists have invaded Istria and cling to its streets and beaches like flies. I remember when we were here back in October before we left for Thailand, the streets were absolutely empty. The local restaurants and stores, which were boarded up in the Autumn have flung open overnight, as if the doors and the windows and the signs behind them were spring-loaded. Now we can't even find parking for our bikes amidst the German, British and Russian-plated cars and SUVs clogging up the laneways outside Iva's apartment.
We spend most of the time just relaxing in the apartment, away from the tourists.
Iva's apartment is not the land of Milk and Honey, though...
We... well actually Neda, has been victimized by the neighbourhood cats who hang out in Iva's back yard. Every morning, she finds footprints on the seat of her motorcycle. They like sleeping under the bike cover because it's sheltered and warm in the night. However, they've scratched up our seats pretty badly.
Neda's Nemesis #1
Neda's Nemesis #2
I'm also very allergic to cats, so we keep shooing them away from the yard, but they keep coming back.
And then one day, we go out to grab some stuff out of our drybags, which we've left in the corner of the yard. Only to discover that the cats have peed all over the bags, either in a display of territorial behaviour, or maybe just to get back at us for chasing them away every day...
Cat pee is a sharp, acrid smell that permeates and invades the furthest corners of your nostrils. Thankfully, the dry bags do their job and keep the contents safe from the smell. But the outsides of our bags... such a stink! Then on another day, we walk out to the bikes and found that they had peed on Neda's seat as well. She is pissed!!! No pun intended. I've never heard her swear more in my life.
All-out war has been declared.
I hid inside and watched Neda cursing away while trying to rid our bags of cat pee
You don't want to get in Neda's way when she's mad.
But other than that, our short time in Medulin was quite nice. For once, Neda is able to go outside during the day and her brain doesn't melt like it did in the soaring temperatures of SE Asia. She is much more used to the Nedaterranean weather here.
Also, she takes the opportunity to spend as much time with her friends, going out to concerts and parties
The Pula Girls, Iva and Tajana, help plan our European motorcycle trip
We are really looking forward to riding around Europe this season. I hope the weather holds up for us. Fingers crossed!