In Varaždin: Western Međimurje - Balkan Dreams - CycleBlaze

August 31, 2020

In Varaždin: Western Međimurje

It’s much cooler today, but we strive for an early start anyway because we’re due to see the first rain of the tour roll in by early afternoon.  We get up at 5:30 again, but somehow one thing leads to another and we don’t make it out the door until nearly 8.  Slothful.  Hopefully the rains will hold off long enough so that we can get home dry.

As promised, we’re striking out in a new direction again this morning.  Our primary goal here of course is to show you some variety and keep you entertained; but we’re curious to see something different ourselves.  We’re heading north again, to Međimurje; but this time we’ll explore the western, hillier edge of the county.  Hopefully our legs will be up to a few hills— the last two days have been virtually flat.

The first 12 miles today are pretty flat too, and also pretty uninteresting as we ride straight north to Čakovec, the largest town in the county by far.  the route we’re on is the main northern route out of Croatia, leading to Slovenia and Hungary.  It’s a truck route, and we regularly feel the wind from huge semis whizzing past our shoulder.   it’s safe enough though, with a smooth, wide, trash-free shoulder the whole way.  With no reason to stop and look around we make good time, banking some minutes to slow down later for whatever lies ahead.

Have we seen enough squash yet? Here’s one more characteristic look. I think what is going on here is that squash are culled and put into long rows, often by hand. Later, a tractor and wagon will come along after and scoop them up. But what do I know? I’m just a city boy.
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About a mile past Čakovec we veer left, pass through another small town, and suddenly find ourselves out in the country.  And climbing.  And stopping a lot to admire the scenery, which is absolutely stunning.  We’ve seen a lot of fine country already on this tour, but today is a cut above. 

As we climb above the plain, we’re in vineyard country.  Steep hills are blanketed in vineyards that drape down their slopes, their lines contrasting beautifully with those on neighboring hills angling in a different direction.  It’s all really breathtaking, visually and physically. For the next two hours we wheeze up some 10-12% slope, pause to admire the gorgeous view, and then glide off the other side.

The lower slopes of western Međimurje are mostly wooded like this, with woods interspersed with villages.
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The villages at this end of the county have a different, more interesting, and probably more prosperous look than further east.
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I’m really surprised at how many of the properties here have a domestic well.
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A corn crib and some gourds.
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Two vintage horse-drawn wooden fire trucks.
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A few hundred feet off the valley floor, we enter the wine belt. This is one of the most important wine regions in the country, and is more or less contiguous with the Ljutomer-Ormož wine district just across the border in Slovenia.
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Stunning scenery. This country really reminds me of the Italian Piedmont that we bicycled through two autumns ago.
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I’m not sure of our direction here, but I think we’re staring off to the hills of Slovenia.
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In the Međimurje wine district.
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In the Međimurje wine district. I’ll bet this is fantastic in another month.
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In the Međimurje wine district.
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Video sound track: Out in the Country, by Three Dog Night

In the Međimurje wine district.
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In the Međimurje wine district.
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In the Međimurje wine district.
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Nearing the end of our ride here, I hear a strange rattling sound as I’m climbing yet another hill.  At first I think it might be coming from my bike, but then I place it.  It’s coming from a wind-spinner of some sort, atop a tall post off in the distance in a vineyard.  We can hear it from quite far off; and when the sound of this one fades out, I hear another one ahead; and later, a third comes into range.  These are Klopotecs, or wind-rattles.  They’re characteristic of this corner of Croatia and Slovenia and parts of eastern Austria apparently.  A klopotec is a wooden, wind driven clapping device whose purpose is to drive off starlings and other small birds from the vineyards.  They’re more or less the logical equivalent of the cannons you hear going off in orchards back home, but much more aesthetically appealing.

I’ve never seen one before, but I was aware of wind-rattles from planning our trip through Slovenia 22 years ago.  The northeast corner of the country, around Ormoz and Lutomer, is a renowned cycling area and one of its cycle routes is called the wind-rattle route.  We’re only about fifteen miles east of that here, and in essentially the same country.

A klopotec. I’ll have to watch for others. I imagine there’s some variety to be seen and heard.
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Jen GrumbyThanks for including the video!

Love the sound of this device and its visually appealing and seemingly simple* design.

*"Simple" here is not meant to imply I would ever attempt to build one.

Seems like the variability in volume, pitch, and speed would make the klopotec pretty effective in keeping the birds away.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYou bet. I’m glad I thought to do this for a change. We’re going back out that way tomorrow, and hopefully I’ll find another instance.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYou bet. I’m glad I thought to do this for a change. We’re going back out that way tomorrow, and hopefully I’ll find another instance.
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3 weeks ago

Most of the ride is hilly but well behaved - smooth, paved roads, minimal traffic.  We do have one brief surprise though when our route takes us across this small lane, labeled a Touristicka staza.  That certainly sounds appealing enough, and it is - for about five hundred yards, when the lane turns to gravel as soon as we enter the trees.  It’s soft enough and the terrain is sloped enough that we have to walk parts of it, uphill and down.  Not a pleasant surprise, because it’s getting on lunchtime, we’ve still got twelve miles ahead of us, and the clouds are darkening to the south.

Fortunately it’s a short distance until we come to a paved side road.  We reroute to the hard stuff and make quick time the rest of the way home, pushed along by a welcome tailwind.  An hour after we arrive the rains start in; and won’t let up until tomorrow morning.

We like these Touristicka stazas! We’ll have to seek them out. And I see that we captured a decent flock of jackdaws in the upper left too.
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Well, on second thought.
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We looked it up when we got home. Staza translates as path, for future reference. Good to know.
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Ride stats today: 43 miles, 1,800’; for the tour: 420 miles, 10,500’

Today's ride: 43 miles (69 km)
Total: 420 miles (676 km)

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Suzanne GibsonI had never heard of wind-rattles before - interesting!
And I am very impressed that you are carefully observing the diacritical marks when writing the names of places!
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3 weeks ago
Bruce LellmanIn the smaller villages do you ever see places where tourists can stay?
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3 weeks ago
Rich HarrellTo Suzanne GibsonNow if we just knew how those names are pronounced . . . . .
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Rich HarrellGood point. It’s a strange looking language alright, and it’s not just the letters with markings. I’ll put together a brief pronunciation legend so people can sound these places out when they read them.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonNice to show you something new bout your adopted continent! And thanks for the new word, diacritical.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanNot that I’ve noticed, but I’ve been more focused on signs for suckling pigs and produce. I’ll start keeping an eye out. There are a few guest houses listed on Booking that look very nice, but they’re more like farm homes out in the country.
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3 weeks ago