(Guide says 26.2km- 16.3 miles, but we walked 29.7km- 18.5 miles)
Today is the day we officially reach and then surpass the halfway mark. Our spirits are high knowing we will soon be on the downhill side of this, although, ironically, all the walking will be up hill for a few days.
We had a such nice day and met several nice people in Varaždin. We ate at a fabulous Italian restaurant and after moving in and out of three different hotel rooms, finally got one with a little bit of air-conditioning. By far, the best thing we did was meet some local crafters at a small outdoor market. We made the mistake of sampling some divine homemade honey liquor that is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. We struggled with the decision, but purchased some to take for the rest of our trip. It was simply too good to pass up even though we have to carry it now.
It’s a family recipe that is known to no one else, says Snježana, the woman selling it. She also tells us that her name means snow child, but she really prefers the sun and she would very much like to visit Hawaii someday. As she mans her stall, in between helping customers, she quickly hand paints the Varaždin Castle with exquisite detail, on each of the bottles and jars. I enjoy talking with her so much that I ask if I can take some photos and she’s a bit shy, but agrees and then gives me two tiny jars of honey and says, “For your breakfast!”
Next to her stand is a woman selling an assortment of things, but small misting bottles of lavender oil water catch my eye. I purchase one to carry in my pack and mist myself, hoping it will ease the stench a bit. But who am I kidding, it has now been seven days since we’ve been able to do laundry. We’ve washed things out in the sink with shampoo, but hand washing doesn’t really do the job. I stink to high heaven, and lavender water isn’t going to touch it.
At another stall, we learn how to press coins the old-fashioned way. Dovar, the gentleman who shows us is so nice and personable too. He tells us that he also makes furniture, something new from something old he says. In his stall he has rows and rows of antique handmade tools. I tell him that these are exactly the kinds of things I’d love for my tiny cabin someday. I tell him that his space is lovely and that in the shaded corner, he has a pretty good spot. He gets a glint in his eye, and asks if we’d like to see an even better spot.
Of course we say, yes. He leads us around and behind the small market to an art Gallery. He smiles and says, “It’s closed, but I have the keys. Now this is a very good spot!” As we walk in I can’t believe my eyes, so many different types of art and several pieces of his furniture. He has salvaged a grape press and turned it into a rustic table that I would love to buy right here on the spot. At one point, he tells me to stand on a small stool to see another good spot. I climb up and see over the rock wall, the most beautiful and huge garden, right in the middle of the city behind the church. Dovar tells me it belongs to the Monks of the Franciscan Order and the walled area is the monastery. I can’t look away, it’s so beautiful and surprising that this would be smack dab in the middle of the city. Dovar smiles a huge smile and says, “See, this is a pretty good spot too!” Needless to say, we enjoyed a day of playing tourist, but we are happy to be walking again so that we can make progress.
Our goal to get started this morning was again 4am, and again, we didn’t manage to get out of the hotel until 5:30. This is mostly my fault, I’ll admit. My body doesn’t like getting out of bed in the mornings and the first few steps are brutal.
We’re really hoping to beat the heat today as we have about six hours of walking. The last day we walked in 96° weather left us both with mild heat stroke I think. We’ve had headaches and upset tummies since, so we’re hoping for much better weather today. Of course, the tummy aches could possibly be from all the ice cream we’ve been devouring at each opportunity. There’s a mental thing that happens for me with walking like this and I have to give myself consistent treats, it’s like the dangling carrot that keeps me going. With the heat and ice cream stands at each turn, it’s just irresistible. There is something horribly amuck with the Croatian marketing scheme for ice cream though. The photo they’ve chosen features a woman who looks like an evil temptress offering a lot more than a traditional ice cream treat. The first time we saw it we were very cautious, wondering if there were actually such things as blowjob/ice cream stands. You know, along the lines of the bikini coffee stands in the states, but taken up a few notches. I told Gary to go in first to check it out and then bring me a cone too. I figured he’d either come back happy with an ice cream cone, or REALLY happy with an ice cream cone. Either way, there would be ice cream in it for me. He blushed so hard he turned purple.
We begin by making our way through town for about a kilometer and then go out through fields and onto gravel roads. We don’t have high expectations for the day as the guide makes it sound like a boring walk and even suggests skipping this section.
At one point we have to cross a highway and climb over the barricades on each side, but my short little legs aren’t able to step over them so I end up teetering over from one side to the next on my rump. Not such a nice feeling really. In the distance we can see beautiful mountains that we know we must begin to climb tomorrow.
After walking for 12 to 13 kilometers we stopped in a place called the Pik Pub in the village of Vidovec for cappuccino and a snack. I also got a chance to take my boots off and dry my socks in the sunshine for a bit. (I’ve found that this helps so much to keep my feet dry and prevent new blisters.)
It’s a very nice pub with really clean bathrooms. Ah, the simple pleasures! 🙂 It’s actually a renovated farmhouse and barn which is a great way to make some money in a tiny village with no other pubs. I decide that I really like this ladies entrepreneurial spirit, and try to tell her, but I’m not so sure I got the message across with my three Croatian words and exuberant hand gesturing. Still, she smiled.
Just a few kilometers after the pub we walked into the village of Greda and made a quick visit to the bakery. This is out of control and unheard of so far on the EPW. Two yummy stops in one day! We got something wonderful and apple filled, something wonderful and chocolate filled, and yet another wonderful cherry filled something. It was pure heaven.
I’ve no idea what the guide was talking about, so far today has been one of the nicest yet. We finally got to see some different things growing in the fields as well. There were potatoes, onions, butter lettuce, peppers, pumpkins, and we watched eight guys harvesting giant heads of cabbage by passing them to one another as if they were basketballs. We’ve also gotten to walk through several little villages and it’s been fun to see the houses and beautiful gardens along with the little stands of their daily offerings for sale by the street.
After a few km of this pure pleasantness, we go back into the woods and it’s a shaded and a nice gentle up and down walk. However, the spider webs are so thick and strong that when you hit one it feels like it bounces you backward a bit. This tells us two things. One, we are the first ones to come through for today, and two, it’s very likely that no one walked through yesterday either. Is it possible that we are all alone on the EPW now? Hmm…
Anyhow, we’ve decided that the spider webs add a bit more aerobic exercise to the walk because every few minutes we’re doing the ‘spider web in my face’ dance. You know, kind of like a Zumba class, but out in nature and with some screams to work the lungs a bit more.
We actually love that the mountains are in such close view now because it’s beautiful, and the foothills feel cooler, but we also know that we have to climb over them. Still, it’s time for something different. We’ve had so many days of hot, flat, exposed walking that we welcome the hills.
Our 5:30 start wasn’t as early as we wanted, but it made a huge difference. The heat begins to mount at about 10:30 am, so we get a good five hours of cool walking in and make good distance before it’s sweltering. In the mornings my feet and legs are stiff and the first few kilometers are painful while everything loosens up. Then, I have about two hours, or 10km that everything feels nice before the friction spots start to heat up. These are mostly on my feet, but also on my hips and shoulders where the back pack touches me. After 13-15km, it’s a painful slog. Just like when I run, I feel like I’m lifting my feet high with each step, but even the smallest stone or raised root has me stumbling and tripping like a drunk old man, usually cursing out loud at myself as well. I know I’m not alone in this and I wonder if the locals think just that. A bunch of drunk Americans, Australians, & Canadians show up every summer to do some sort of ultra-marathon pub crawl through their country.
The pubs today are thick. We passed several at various times and stopped for cappuccinos at one. In Europe, they tend to be coffee bars/pubs. Something we’ve noticed about Croatia is that no matter the time of day, all the men in the village can be found sitting at the pub together. No women present except the one who works there and serves them, but all of the men sitting together. It looks like a village meeting has been called. They all drive their tractors or trucks up and just hang out. In the mornings until 10am, they drink coffee and smoke incessantly, then they switch to drinking beer and smoking incessantly. On a Tuesday, mind you. We aren’t sure why or how this is. When do they work? Maybe they’ve been up since 4am, put in a few hours and then hit the pub at 8 to stay for the day? What’s very clear is that it’s a mans thing only and women don’t participate. I got several side eyed looks as I sat with my feet up and sipped my coffee with all the boys. I just smiled and said, “dobar dan.” (Good Day)
The good day was almost perfect, and it looked like we had finally made it through one without getting lost and walking 5 extra kilometers, but no, we couldn’t have that. While looking for the accommodation we were to stay in, I found an arrow pointing up and at an angle of a driveway. We looked at the sign, it didn’t match the name written in our guide. So we discussed. I really felt this was the place, Gary did not. He wanted to continue walking because we could see that the arrows continued, but here’s the thing, the EPW continues too, right?
So he keeps walking and after a while, I decide to follow. Did I mention that we’ve run out of water? Yep, 2.5km ago, we finished off the last bit. It’s now after 2pm and the sun is boiling and he just keeps walking. I sit in the grass to remove my boots and put my flip flops on because 8 hours of walking in them is currently all I can bear, and then I follow him. After about 2.5km I just stopped and said that I literally couldn’t walk another single step without at least knowing if we’re going in the right direction. He’s not happy but stops to see if he can get reception for Google Maps to locate where we actually need to be. We are both tired, thirsty, and grumpy.
Some people appear on the porch of a house and Gary walks over to ask if we can fill our water bottles from their garden hose. A giant German Shepard comes out barking like crazy, leaves the porch and comes towards Gary snarling. He continues to stand there although the people do nothing to stop their dog. Gary finally backs up slowly and is next to me again on the street with the dog literally frothing at the mouth. We can see the owners are kind of enjoying it and not planning to do anything to control their dog, so we walk on. At this point I have tears welling up in my eyes but I don’t want him to see so I walk slightly ahead. Suddenly he gets cell reception. Then two people who appear to be waiting for a bus tell us that we have gone way past it, and Google Maps confirms this. It was a slow, quiet and rather painful walk all the way back, to find that there was no one there to meet us. The place is all locked up tight with a note on the door to call Tatjana when you arrive. We did just that. Apparently she just had a baby and there is no one else here to greet us. She tells us that we are the only ones, where to locate the key and that her husband will bring something for dinner by 6pm. It seems we will have the entire place to ourselves, which may be just what I need to sort myself out again.
Kucha Izador (Don’t look for a sign saying this, the sign says something entirely different)
30 euros per person for bed, dinner, and breakfast (You have no other food options unless you bring your own)
40 euros for bag transport
Some additional favorite photos: