Monday, 23 May 2016

Bacon

Day four and I'm still in Split...

So having got in at oh-deary-me o’clock what the hell was I doing awake so early. Let’s face it if you’ve read the previous instalment you’ll know I was in bed perilously late though with my virtue inevitably intact. I’m good like that.

As the partying one was not going to surface for some time I pulled yesterday’s dress on over my nightie and padded outside with a cup of tea to write. What was clear was that the weather was massively different to the day before, we are talking angry skys and a distinct cooling, but still rather lovely. I even managed to write quite a bit, that simple joy of reliving moments is an incredible thing, sadly though the realities of day-to-day life often cause an unintended writing break.

I guess the irony of this is that I’m writing about writing about something a month after it happened from the departure lounge of Gatwick airport as I am heading east once more, though this time to Venice. You’ll probably be able to read about that in six months time once I’ve caught up. Or maybe July when I know I will be next travelling…

Anyway, ignoring the moreish nibbles - which I can’t - and the pink wine - ditto - it was a pleasant couple of hours of writing and contemplating until eventually the creature from the duvet emerged banking in to the sunlight.

I made her tea.

As we sat pondering the gloomy weather we realised we needed one thing. Bacon. Trouble is it’s a little harder to come by here, or at least in the form that we are used to. We decided we needed a foraging expedition to find bacon. After all how hard could this be, people love bacon!

Yeah, right. 

We’d noticed the day before that you could get ruddy great lumps of porky pig that looked vaguely like bacon but unsliced so we knew we had a fall back if needed. It is from such simple thoughts that great plans are born. We would head out, hit the local little supermarket and… As it turned head somewhere else. No bacon. So we went to the place that sold so much stuff aimed at visitors, they were *bound* to have some we reasoned.

It turns out one can’t really reason after dancing until 4am.

So no bacon. Which meant we bought a lump. It might have been that we could have got the people behind the counter to slice it for us but given that I’ve barely progressed to five words and Missy was still dancing in her head it was unlikely we’d make ourselves understood without risking being arrested for miming the Texas Bacon Slicer Massacre.

Oh, that wasn’t a thing. Apparently.

We could improvise, how hard would this be? Fortunately we like bacon thick and unevenly cut. No we do, it’s great. So after hardly any giggling the psychopathic one with the knife managed to assemble something that vaguely looked like slices. Needless to say once fried nothing else mattered. It was epic.

Finally sated it was time to shower and dress properly. I don’t normally go wandering off to the supermarket with a nightie vaguely covered by a crumbled cotton dress. We decided to was back around to the beach we’d been swimming from to sea weather the sea would be cooperative and hence we’d be able to go for a swim. It was not to be.

The sea was decidedly cross. wonderful to see but really not the sort of thing to go plodging in safely. This meant the only thing for it was to sit quietly and enjoy a coffee as we watched the waves crash on the beach. It was cool, fresh and quite simply idyllic.

I’ve no idea how long we sat there but in time we wandered back to Chez Clare and the prospect of a light supper before catching up with the sleep we didn’t have the night before. After all, in the morning…

…We were going to church



Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Dancing with tears in my eyes

Day three in Split...

*yawn*

Which idiot decided this was a good idea? The plan today had been set as visit the market, have breakfast, go for a walk around the coast heading South to see how far we could get, nap, swim, cook and finally go out for a little dancing.

What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out… Nothing! Dull I know. As we are a little rubbish at leaving the house on time owing to endless nattering we decided to omit the usual shower and head straight to the market, after all we were then going for a long walk on a hot day which would negate any vague cleanliness. It was worth getting up early just to see the town so alive with locals bustling around the get their fish - Catholicism being the predominant religion - and vegetables. We were only really visiting the fish market to get a feel for it, but at the veg market we actually wanted to buy something, basil plants so Clare could grow them and eventually make pesto. I was happy just wandering along seeing the sights though it perhaps wasn’t smart having gone out on an empty stomach as it meant I kept smelling things delicious to eat. Never a good thing.

Plants bought it was time to head home for a little something to eat before we marched South along the coast. We elected to take the swimming things just in case we found a suitable place to dip and once ready we set off back towards the Riva and hugged the coast for the next three miles or so.

What a scorcher.

I was glad that I’d been sensible enough to cover up, in fact I was even more glad that I kept a couple of size 18 white cotton shirts from pre-diet as they gave the perfect loose cover though they weren’t exactly what you might call flattering and next to the shapely one I felt decidedly elephantine. Not that this would ever change but I was unsettlingly aware of it. After about three miles we found a suitable place to stop for coffee, water and to water the waves lap on the shore. Unsurprisingly as this was very much out of season it was not as easy as you might think, the free shoots of activity were showing as various business owners lethargically got their premises ready for the coming assault of sun seekers but at this time of year it was predominantly locals and the odd lunatic brit. Let’s face it I am quite odd.

Still the view from the Barracuda Caffe Bar was quite agreeable and other than a chap to our right reading the local rag it was pleasantly peaceful. We consulted maps and briefly considered wandering still further along the coast to Stobreč but in the end decided to be vaguely sensible as a nap would be good in preparation of drinks and dancing later that evening. Wandering back the most suitable looking place for a dip turned out to be simply not that suitable as nowhere to change! There were changing rooms but the ominous looking padlocks indicated that maybe we were a little too early in the year. Oh well.

We decided that unless something better came along we would head back to where we had swum the day before. After a nap. See, sensible!

According to Google Maps the nap was best part of three hours, or at least that’s how long we were in Chez Clare and that was mostly snoozing. So at just after 5pm we emerged, swimming costumes on and scampered round the coast for a dip. We’d also brought bags as we decided it might be worth trying out the supermarket we’d noticed the day before. So the plan: saunter, squeal, swim, shop, cook, eat, drink, dance.

Perfect.

What we didn’t expect was that the waiter the twinkly one was twinkling at the night before would also be on the beach with a friend. If nothing else this guaranteed that the water baby would go in without too many squeals…

Well maybe not.

But it was lovely, refreshing and certainly washed the sleep out of the eyes. Rather shockingly she didn’t swim too close to the boys…  Wonders will never cease to amaze. Anyway, we stayed in for a suitable amount of time before eventually heading for dry land and the walk back. The supermarket was an interesting one, a huge range and clearly aimed at feeding visitors rather than perhaps locals as plenty of international brands. And it was certainly a lot quieter than the Lidl on the other side of the hill. If nothing else it would be handy for getting the things that you couldn’t get elsewhere. But one of those things wasn’t Yorkshire Tea. But with food and wine bought we trudged back to shower, cook, eat and natter.

As Clare cooked I sat and looked to see what flights looked like to Dubrovnik as it was likely that the next time I would come back it would be when she moved to Šipan. The best days as it turns out were Wednesday to Wednesday and I casually asked whether she’d like a visitor for the week of her birthday in July… I’m sure my ears will stop ringing from the squeeeeees eventually. That decided I booked, twitched at the time I would have to be at Gatwick and had another sip of wine.

Actually it turned out this wasn’t so bad. Whilst it’s a 05:35 flight and I have to be there at, say 03:35 because I now live where I do I just need to catch a night bus from Limehouse Station, head to Blackfriars and catch the Thameslink train down to Gatwick. No taxi worries and a bargain at the cost of a bus ticket and a train journey. Although it does mean I have to be a bit organised!

Oh.

Anyway. That’s for later and there is a follow-up tale to this which I’ll save for another blog post. We ate, we drank, we giggled. There was a pattern forming here. We also waited for Clare’s lovely friend Ives who was going to join us for the evening. Eventually. It was reasonably late when she arrived and we left Clare’s poor Austrian friend waiting in the bar I imagine shaking his head in disgust at the lack of precise timing on our parts.

You may recall that I mentioned things were fairly quiet it being off season? Certainly the bar we went in to the night before was empty with barely a couple of handfuls of people. Not so with To Je To Caffe Bar. It turns out this is thee place to go at the moment in Split, happening central and it was packed. And the Karaoke had started. As usual there was a stream of admiring gentlemen saying hello to Missy and I did my wallflower thing as I was feeling slightly uncomfortable as I was pretty sober and surrounded by people I didn’t know plus it was difficult to have actual conversation without shouting. Cue rabbit in headlights.

Fortunately the rounds were cheap though in hipsteresque jam jars, admittedly the atmosphere was nicer than what you might find in Shoreditch. Of course that might just be me. Talking of atmosphere…

*coughs*

Quite a lot actually, jeez Croatians can smoke! It’s been a long time since I was last in a really smokey place and it took some getting used to, though later in the evening it did become a little more of a problem. Anyway. Drinks were drunk and the hour grew late so it was time to move on to the next place.

For a dance.

Clare had shown me the place the day before, I think, then it was a scruffy looking locked door looking suitably innocuous. Now though it was… Different.

And very, very, very eighties. I mean not just the music, but the atmosphere, decor and general hidden awayness. It reminded my actually of a small club on South Shields sea front, I can’t remember exactly what it was called. During the day it had exactly the same hidden look yet at night it appeared as a gasping grubby butterfly from its nicotine and beer soaked chrysalis, a place for sweaty bodies to rub against each other and outrageous dancing. Perfect.

It really took me back.

Anyway, we danced, Clare got attention and I got hot. Not in a good way. This became a bit of a problem, at one point it got so hot I became a bit sweaty and this mixed with the smoke to produce a heady acidic mix guaranteed to hurt eyes. Which was where the mix went. There was nothing for it, I had to stand there like a chimp delicately trying to dry the area and wait for tears to rinse out the pain. I would have gone to the loo if a) I had any idea of where it was and b) I thought I could actually get to it though the solid mass of bodies or c) get back again.

At around 2pm the music changed, not slow music, no, Croatian music, a totally different feel and this lead to a change in the attitudes of the local men. Ah yes, the local men. I’m fairly tall but there I was a midget, did I mention this place was attached to the rugby club? I was in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges of blokes. All I can say is it was fortunate that there was a group of maybe ten young - defined as anyone under thirty - girls who took some of the attention flak.

By maybe 2:30 it was becoming a meat market. The persistence of some of them was impressive, mostly Missy could put them off with a not interested, one though wouldn’t take no for an answer and we had to half pull the lesbian card to try to get it through his booze addled brain. And it kept getting worse. By the time we got to around 4am and even I was getting felt up by passing drunks it was time to go. The trouble was we were missing someone. I felt we should go looking but the sensible one pointed out it was unlikely we’d find her here and as she was very much a local she would be fine, it was after all out of season so this was predominantly locals.

We escaped through a hidden door in to the club reception bypassing the problem of pushing our way through a heaving throng and fell out in to the cool night giggling at the bonkersness of it all. Utterly crazy. Inevitably we fell in to conversation with a chap who had earlier made a play for Missy, it transpired that he was a professor of French at her university and that he and everything was, and I quote, fucked. We asked why, it turned out his brother had got married the day before and presumably he had gone out to drown his sorrows at his lost sibling. Fortunately we managed to lose him as he stopped to engage with some shouty lads…

…Only for us to meet a maritime student who was also studying at madame’s university. She really does have the gift for attracting people to talk. We parted ways and we wandered on to the Riva where we sat and watched the twinkling lights and a boatman putter out of the harbour in the dark… His day just beginning as ours ended.


It was time to sleep.

Monday, 16 May 2016

You're never alone with music

It's a sign of how much I've mellowed that I didn't bounce out of bed for more culture on Friday morning. To be honest I woke up feeling content just to be in my own beautiful place, with the sun shining in. I put the radio on and after a tussle with the smart tv, found my favourite Otvoreni radio for serious dancing tunes. All in all, it took a while to get going...

I finally and unwillingly ventured out to the central shopping mall to see what could be obtained underwear-wise. My host had already made the mistake of assuming I'm the average Balkan woman with a shopping fetish and was surprised when I said I really couldn't stand these places. However I hadn't seen anywhere remotely helpful in the old town. I supposed I could have asked for something with a beaten copper bottom...

Three pairs of tiny lace undies later, I was feeling more uncomfortable in a normal comfortable way.

It inevitably started to rain on the way back. What's a traveller to do? I'd walked past a lovely riverside restaurant a few times now on my way home and so I took advantage of the weather, time, indolence, and hunger. I've been a bit stupid food-wise in Sarajevo. But it's the same story whenever I go away - I don't mind eating alone when I'm in a certain comfortable zone. So yes, I went to pastry-sweets-and-meat central, and have actually lost weight.

My lunch at the Dva Riba was a lovely veal escalope with a tasty salad and really hot fresh fries. Nothing special but until the pizza slice at 3am, it was my only meal of the day. And that was normal for my time here. For someone who comfort eats to excess, perhaps solo city breaks in places that make me nervous are the way forward if I want to drop a size. Anyway the lovely waiter brought me a chocolate cake to have with my Bosnian coffee. Mmm sugar cubes!

I'd also been messaging my Sarajevo contact for this evening's entertainment. When I knew I was coming to this city a few weeks ago, I had joined the Young Sarajevo group on Facebook and asked for ideas about what to do there. One chap posted that classical crossover duo 2cellos were appearing and it was going to be huge! So we had exchanged a few messages, and given he was a student, tickets were reasonable and I didn't want to go alone, I'd invited him along. Anyway bless him, as he had access to a printer, I'd asked him to print not only the tickets for the evening, but also my bus ticket home!

I ambled home sleepily and did what any lazy bum would do after a late lunch. I went for a pre concert, pre beer nap as I had no idea what to expect that evening. We had arranged to meet in the Celtic Bar - so from a London theme to an Irish style one in two days? Glad that I was getting the full Sarajevo experience and the view of they have of the English and Irish!

After not managing to oversleep and making myself vaguely concert ready (sparkly Zagreb casino earrings and hefty walking boots), we finally met and had a good natter over beers. We covered everything from stereotypes (Turks - haha!), travelling, life in Sarajevo, study, going out... Then it was time for the main event.

The outside of the venue is distinctly rough and ready. We had no idea what to expect but we queued
up and entered. It's actually a sports - basketball - venue so was much smaller than I expected. But once the lighting pyrotechnics began and the atmosphere thickened with smoke, it took on an incredible feeling. Thousands of people letting their hair down, singing and drinking - Bosnians and hedonism are natural bedfellows it seems. I like them a lot.

2cellos (and a drummer) were very good and if they can bring classical music up to date and engage all ages, then I salute them. They are very rock star and seeing a cello played whilst the musician was lying on the floor, well, frankly it's sexy. The next music event involving cellos will be most dull. But for me the magic remains within the enthusiastic response of the crowd. Hvala Sarajevo!

This noisy and hedonistic theme was continued, as we decided 10.30 was far too early to retire. First of all we tried what looked liked a carpark but I am assured it's one of the best clubs in town but it was too quiet. So we headed back into the centre of town and climbed some steps up to the entrance of another grafittied concrete brutalist building. Club 'Mash' was packed out with a live punk-rock band playing and so we joined the party, carrying on with the beers. At a certain point the crowd thinned - I wonder where everyone went? - and we moved closer to the musical action to dance, whilst admiring the pianist's action. They were all seriously good. Free drinks arrived (normal) and many hours later when the band had done its final encore, we bumbled off for hot slices of pizza. Parting for the evening, we made no plans but this was Sarajevo, anything could happen!


Sunday, 15 May 2016

There are no mistakes in history...

I left you with a glass of Turkish tea in a Han deep within the old part of town. These places were designed for weary travellers and their horses to stay, and as Destination Sarajevo explains Kolobara Han, Sarajevo’s first inn, was a caravanserai built in the second half of the 15th century by the city’s founder, Isa Bey Ishaković. It is a green sheltered paradise with a fountain, and a quiet spot away from the hubbub of shops. I was happy to spend time there just soaking up the atmosphere, and wonder what the two ladies were making on the next table along - something crafty and delicate by the looks of it.

I meandered back through town, taking in the copper works and tiny streets, picking up milk on the way, feeling quite damp and alone. But as experience has taught me, there is nothing like a good night's sleep, a natter with a friend, and a plan for the following day to make you feel better whilst travelling. So after a small altercation with my laptop which was protesting about something, I settled down with a milky hot chocolate, a stunning view of the city lights, and my first and only early night here!

The next morning I threw my plan in the bin and instead went wandering along the river to see what I stumbled across. First stop was the Latin Bridge, just metres away from the assassination; in the murky gloom it's easy to imagine dark deeds and it was a somber moment as I stood on the bridge next to a missing monument. Despite the rain, I didn't feel the urge to visit the museum - Dan Carling's hardcore history of the First World War is pretty much all you need to know about this incendiary moment in time and his dramatic retelling is fresh in my mind. 

I carried on until I reached the fairy tale Vijećnica - city hall. I had no idea if it was open so was cautious in entering. 5km later, I was alone in a mind bogglingly beautiful space, full of colour, light and drama. The staircase had me wanting full ballgown, and the council chamber, full on regalia. Then you realise the significance of this place and, suddenly I wanted to fade to black and white, and  mourn. An entire archive was lost here...the national library lost 90% of its material. That is when the first tears of the day appeared, the screen said;

There are no mistakes in history. The whole of history is a mistake.

This incredibly simple statement sums up precisely what I've been struggling comprehend in my history classes. From the earliest time this region has sat on a metaphorical and ideological fault line, with regular tumultuous earthquakes occurring. It must seem to the population that no sooner had they found prosperity and stability, they were at the mercy of some new world catastrophic mistake.

The modern history exhibition on the lower ground floor of the city hall is brilliant. Like a burek, it coils through the story of Sarajevo since 1914; from Franz Ferdinand and his love match, through the World Wars, socialism and the rebuilding of the economy, then sports, Olympics, leisure and societies, and finally the last war and the re-rebuilding which is taking place. This very building only re-opened 6 months ago; the regeneration is extremely slow but determined.

From images of cultural devastation to the bright space of the well preserved Gazi Husref Bey's library and museum. I had enjoyed a lunch of cevapi, salad and flatbread from Mrkva along the way. Nothing was lost from these archives, and the atmosphere is that of prosperity and wealth. When I was there a large conference was taking place and they didn't look too concerned about having men only panels... The museum downstairs was opened especially for me and I enjoyed the 19th century framed calligraphy, embroidery and the time pieces. Some of the fragments of masonry were very beautiful; it was a light peaceful place to regain equilibrium.

My wandering feet took me back through town and the weather was definitely looking ugly. It hadn't been great anyway but the showers were now getting longer and harder. One thing I really wanted to see was the Despić house museum; not because I knew who they were but I love seeing how people used to live. There is something curiously and eerily dolls house-like about wandering around domestic houses with preserved furniture, wallpaper, and set tables...especially when you're the only one in there. They were a well to do Serbian family interested in theatre and the arts; I wonder if the trams rumbling past outside were welcomed by the family?

By this point I'd had enough and was ready to burst wth information and feelings. I needed a beer in a completely familiar environment. Retracing my steps I found the pub with a red London telephone box outside. It was lucky I chose to make my move then as the heavens opened, and I was happy to sit there for the rest of the afternoon, to write and to drink!

Three hours later I felt much better. Even the weather agreed, and for the first time since my arrival the sun came out! Feeling mildly guilty about my afternoon in the pub, I remembered that were was music in the town hall and headed back there, but sadly I was an hour early so I set off for a walk to see if I could find a panoramic view of the city. My invaluable guide said the best nearest spot was Vidikovac - sadly the cable car was yet another victim of the war so I walked up. And up. Past endless cemeteries. Met some angry looking dogs, so ran up for a bit. Collapsed to soak up the sun and admire the colours, then just kept going up. What a place. What a view.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook I was due to meet some actual real life people later that evening, and now I was thoroughly hot and sweaty. Heading home I had a serious attack of not wanting to go out, but pulled myself together with a warm shower, a glass of wine, and some music. I was an hour late in the end but happily so was my contact. Ha! He welcomed me and introduced me to the group. They were mostly Bosnians who had spent time in Germany and so often gathered to speak German and just network over coffee. They delighted in my 'proper' English accent and we talked about life in Sarajevo (hard!), opportunities (few!) and pop concerts (rare!). As the party drew to a close, Mirza and I went for a stroll around town and then had a quick ticketless tram ride, which was a giggle - like most people I meet, he was curious as to why I'm travelling alone and why I'm single. I don't know, if I wasn't alone, I wouldn't be doing crazy things like meeting strangers and having interesting conversations on late night trams.

Finally getting in at 12ish, it was the end of a long and interesting day. Then I remembered, I had no clean knickers for the rest of my stay.

Friday, 13 May 2016

More journeys

The day started with a squeeee! I mean I'm usually happy when I wake up but this morning had a more than unusually exciting start. You can stop sniggering at the back - my thrill was innocent. As I was coming out of the gate to head to Split's main bus station, I bumped into Milo who was off to work. He offered me a ride on his scooter down the road, so hopping on, the poor man had a middle aged woman giggling all the way. Made my morning anyway! 

And it had only just begun. The reason for the early start was a trip to a new capital - Sarajevo. I've not been international since Ancona; Zagreb and islands don't count apparently. The thing about travelling is the endowment of optimism that it brings. Even seven hours on a bus with chronic period pain leaves me fairly undaunted, after all, what can you do? Armed with bus wifi, glorious scenery and a very curious destination, what would await me?

The journey passed by uneventfully by anyone's standards. Very few people were travelling and it was leisurely. Some parts of the road were familiar - the route went through Jabuka where I'd been invited to be a Roman Queen of Football during a first communion party lunch. I don't know, it's a long story and there was honeyed wine involved. I started to get excited around the Croatian-Bosnian border crossing. I've mentioned before about my fascination with crossings. There is something profound about them, especially when they are on land and, in this case, leaving the EU. What can I say I'm an island woman!? 

The second pit stop was in a curious place. The first place - Livno - had a loo and a cold bracing wind but still felt quite Dalmatian. However that strange 'over the mountain' moment had occurred and we were definitely in a different country. Bugojno was where it was. Here I didn't need to go but would have killed for a coffee. Turns out I am as daft as I look - I had no Bosnian cash. So I stretched my legs by taking a walk round the place, and was immediately accosted by a gentleman. For five minutes, what is it with service stations?! He was looking for a nice gentle woman to marry apparently. Some could say he was barking up he wrong tree. 

After more stunning scenery and some seriously medieval farming techniques, it curiously started to feel more reminiscent of home. Mosques were sharing squares with churches; and the damp weather was closing in. It could have been east London on a normal weekday afternoon. Clearly in diversity there is familiarity, and even the language is becoming easier to read, whereas the Arabic at home is more foreign to me! My head is still spinning though and until Thursday evening, had not yet been brought to a standstill by a real conversation. 

With about two hours to go it was all change. For some reasons at Kaćuni we all got off and moved to a new bus. The was also a useful loo - resigned to no coffee - and we continued on. The countryside was resolutely green and cultivated. This was like no city suburb I've ever seen! Even as we reached a motorway, it was still kitchen gardens all the way. Until we hit new Sarajevo and it became beautifully grim; the light had been eaten up by the hungry functional grey. 

The pock marked bus station is incredible. And frankly I'm dreading going back there! Which I have to do at some point as I have no ticket home; one way was all Split bus station would sell me...what are they saying? Clutching everything I scuttled from the station, into the drizzle, and followed the map into town. By the time I found my apartment I was utterly blown away by this place; the monumental architecture, the misty mountains, the river, and those ancient  rattling squealing trams. 

With that I disappeared into my perfect haven of a top floor apartment! As I unpacked I realised the pile of clean underwear was still in Split. Adult supervision once again lacking, but how I found myself knickerless in Sarajevo is the name of my book. My day hadn't yet ended but the meat and rice, and sweet Turkish tea in the Han is definitely part of the next day's more exotic story. Such is the mystery of Sarajevo...

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Plans and other fiction

It's been a while since I wrote anything so waiting at an airport for an hour is a perfect opportunity to put pen to paper, as it were. A few weeks ago I arranged with my friend Lou- you may remember her from such larks as Zagreb Visit the First - to once again test the patience of the poor people of Zagreb. Tickets and accomodation arranged, and the week before the visit, I leisurely wrote an email to a historian from Split. 

Now I wasn't expecting an immediate response from the man because Split history has been rediscovered all over the place over last few weeks. In fact it's caused a bit of a stir; mediaeval walls in town, and Greek remains on the Riva. The latter is being turned into a taxi rank and archeologists have been looking at the other foundations. Let's say it's been controversial. 

I got a lovely message back saying I was welcome to come to his 8am lecture at a local hotel and then to join his architectural students to look at the newly restored Roman remains of the Palace. This Saturday. The Saturday I'd be in Zagreb with Lou. 

Oh. 

I pondered over this and agonisingly decided that history of Split was irresistible. I messaged her and told her all about it, and thank goodness she knows me well - history is obviously a bit of an obsession. We simply arranged to have a sunny coffee in Split before she went on to Zagreb. What could be nicer? 

After a couple of beers and 10 mins before she had to be in a taxi to the airport, we had a brainwave - some mean type might suggest it was 'alcohol related'. Why didn't I come to Zagreb for a night, just for the ride? I mean, the flights were paid for, all I had to do was get back to Split for Saturday. We looked at one another, and in true cartoon style, I left a Clare-shaped blur in the seat and sprinted up the hill to home. 

I was in shorts, sunglasses...you know, dressed for the Riva. I grabbed trousers, other shoes, scruffy jumper, passport, makeup bag (which I promptly forgot), phone battery, hairbrush (spare was already in handbag) and a pair of knickers off the washing line as I ran past. The place was already upside down as there had been a sunglasses related emergency earlier. So frankly this second whirlwind hadn't helped the state of the place. As I write this, I'm already dreading getting in. 

Still, I legged it back to the taxi rank at Sv Frane (jedan dva jeden dva as my helpful butcher yelled as I ran past) and scrambled into the waiting car. I clearly cause nothing but entertainment for my good neighbours of Varoš. 

We passed an uneventful trip to the tiny airport. I munched my emergency burek and giggled with Louise about the apartment with a hot tub. I'd never flown from Split and I was aghast at the beauty of my city in the setting sun - my forest hill looks vast from above and I was happy to remember the brisk bright jog from the morning. A morning where the day had calmly spread out before me, the most exciting thing being buying sunglasses and turning pink as I researched klapa from whichever cafe I decided to write at. As we decided our Zagreb 'plan' of action, we thought about my return trip. 

I'd need a ticket if I was flying back. And it would need to be a flight because I couldn't get the bus which takes about 5 hours. Air Croatia said there was an early Saturday flight to Split which gets in at 7.20. This meant that I could also attend her friend's gig on the Friday night. Perfect. I booked it for the princely sum of £35. 

Who doesn't love getting up at 4am after a midnight finish? 

So we arrived in Zagreb relatively late and met our patient host on a dark unknown street, in front of a grafittied iron door. He warmly welcomed us and showed us to a stunning apartment on the top floor. Lou's baggage had already given the airport bus driver a hernia but this young man grabbed it and carried it up the several flights of stairs. Crikey. Knowing that finding food after 1030 here is a challenge, he hurriedly explained everything and we were spectacularly inattentive - I mean, how hard can a state of the art steam jacuzzi bath be to work?

He walked us happily into town - us for food, him to get a tram home - and chatting merrily, with blyth disregard for where we were going arrived at the main square where we said goodbye. The first place was closing, the second option was a fast food pizza slice...we then struck lucky with Trattoria Leonardo which served excellent food til midnight. Excellent. I was famished! That burek had been gobbled up a long time ago! Pizza and beer was probably not a good late night option but, then neither were snap travel decisions - as I realised I had pretty much nothing with me. At all. 

We rolled in a pizza shaped direction home. So far so good, until the familiar streets become less so and much, much quieter. I squeeeeed as I saw the national bank of Croatian (some artist had turned the fountain outside blood red during President Bush's visit a few years ago) but Lou is used to this kind of unhelpful behaviour. We've gone the wrong way a few streets back; giggling over our host who'd distracted us earlier, we consulted the map. No problem, five minutes later we arrived at our snug home, and decided that hot tub larks were probably best postponed. Before passing out in my sea themed room, I had a small altercation with the heating coming on and off *switch OFF* done. 

I woke up to bright sunshine and a fervent desire to shake my past self. Closing the shutters would have been helpful! Clad in my bedspread (no pjs)  I had words with the coffee machine and rapidly became fast friends. Although the more cultural attractions of Zagreb called me, we decide we couldn't leave without flying the bath - after all it had been the deciding factor of the trip. A last minute change of plan on her part meant we were only staying here one night. It was now or never. After a final look at the instruction booklet, trial and error soon had a bath of water, a room of steam, and two naked ladies. 

We mourned the lack of champagne to complete our rock and roll lifestyle. As well as the absence of some essential oil to enhance the steam. 

Wobbly bits well and truly wobbled, a slightly scalded hand (she needed to see where the steam was coming from), and with no farting - not from me anyway - we completed our toilette. I've never been so clean and relaxed! Breakfast called and we needed to move into our new place sooner rather than later. We strolled into town and into our favourite spot. 

The sweet Mario at Gajbica remembered us! And we scoffed his tasty bacon mushroom egg special and marvellous fruit juice concoctions. Lou also bought some healthy cake for her singer friend who we'd we seeing later on. Ah yes. The gig. So, I asked, what was the thing with the gig, where was it? We hadn't really worried about it; there was no dress code, it was her best friend, at a casino...

A casino?

Images of Las Vegas, or London's finest  popped into my head. I had on my finest grey hiking and cycling jeans, sensible warm green jumper, and no make up; this was mildly troubling. I felt undressed for breakfast, never mind an evening out. First things first - accomodation. We went back to the apartment to collect belongings, and met up with our cute host and another feat of strength involving the suitcase. Waving cheerio and vidimo se, we went off with Lou's wayward suitcase to find a tram. 

Rattling through the city on one of the more old fashioned trams is a brilliant way to travel. Not so convenient to clamber up several steps with baggage, but the driver was patient. We arrived at the next place and met our new hostess. We had a natter, chuckled about our language learning, booked my early taxi to the airport, and admired our new flat. The terrace outside was pleasant and relaxing would have been nice. I looked in the mirror; some mad scruffy woman looked back and laughed at me. 

We scampered out to see what we could get in the way of suitable clothing. Make up - check; a smart cream Italian openknit sweater - check. Lou had tried on a frock but nothing was working so with rising panic, we decided more information was required. Doing what any normal English girls would do, we had a beer and checked out the venue online. 

Feathers. Teeeny frocks. Sequins. 

We started to laugh hysterically again. Where on earth did one buy feathers from in Zagreb? Sensibly Lou messaged them about dress code. I mean, my new top was lovely but were my jeans ok!? As a reassuringly prompt exchange took place, where they explained cocktail dresses would be preferable, as long as you weren't in flip flops, you'd be let in. We stopped panicking and went to buy glitzy  jewellery.

We ambled home via a rather good local restaurant and ate too much. It's always hard for Lou to leave Croatia and her good friends here so we were quieter than usual. But we perked up as we went to try on new make up (wrong shade) new jewellry (dear god), hair (recalcitrant) and surveyed the results. We looked good - if we'd been going to a pub or ordinary gig venue we would have rocked the joint. On arrival at the cheesiest casino you can imagine, we perhaps felt out of place. 

Two ladies. Cake. A casino virgin (me). The cake wasn't allowed in as it didn't have a passport. I envied it. 

But then we met her friends and they were truly lovely. We were glad to be there and all discomfort fled. The evening passed without a hitch as we played spot the super model, assessed the plastic surgery, and generally took the piss. There will be a lot of photos of two random English ladies sat at the front table with the stars of the show! I regretted that my favourite black lace frock was in Split like Cinderella but I was happy to feel comfortable in my own unbotoxed skin. Lou's friends did the necessary photos, tv interviews, and casino bits. I didn't envy this naturally angelic looking lady with the beautiful voice. All she wanted to do was to be at home with her baby. Such is the reality of showbiz glitz. 

Their set was wonderful and worth the trip, and sadly I had to leave early as I had to be up at stupid o clock. But I would have loved to hear more of a perfect guitar/voice combo of two people who work in perfect loving harmony. All the running around, giggling over pushing boobs into unsuitable frocks, insane amount of taxis, and lack of museums - their music was worth it to face the hot tub and dance!

Monday, 25 April 2016

Let them eat burek

Thursday I woke bright eyed and bushy tailed to the gentle sound of some child shouting. A lot. It seemed just like old times when I received a message saying simply “tea?”. What a marvellous idea. I had a bit of a chuckle as I remembered the evening before in the restaurant where Clare recalled we needed milk so scampered off to the shop near by. Later in the evening we took the milk for a walk down on to the Riva to look at the sea.

I think it liked it.

Where was I? Oh yes, tea. We sat nattering and slowly a vague plan was formed, we’d go for a walk and at some place or other we’d have a swim before changing and heading in to town for dinner. There was just one teensy little problem, I’d not brought a bathing costume. I know I have one, somewhere but as you know dear reader I’m still sorting out and with all the excitement on Wednesday it was a miracle I even remembered my clean knicks. Not a problem said the pragmatic one, you can borrow mine.

Hers. She’s a size twelve. Yes, exactly.

Not going to happen. As it turned out though her costume was a 14 and as we discovered a few weeks before the road trip I was largely down to a 14 even if my shoulders mean a 16 is more practical. It was worth a try.

There may have been excited shrieks as I realised a) it fitted and b) I looked half presentable. That’ll do. The bag was loaded, factor 50 applied to our faces, 30 everywhere else and with the water bottles filled we set off for an amiable amble.

Straight up a very steep hill.

The problem was whilst missy has been running around this mountainous country - quite literally - I’ve been stuck in the decidedly flat London and even though I’ve found time to walk to work it’s not been consistent owing to tiredness from the move. By the time I was less than half way up the first set of steps I was gasping for breath. I should have told her what I thought if I could breathe, all I could do was watch her giggle and scamper up the steps.

Right…

We stopped at a suitable spot for me to catch my breath. And then another one. Followed by a stop to cool down. This was purgatory. Fortunately life became easier as my body managed to muster some sort of reserve. We stumbled on some interactive sculptures which the bouncy one proceeded to clamber over. To the untrained eye they simply looked like somebody had read the plans after they’d been crumpled up ensuring a chaotic appearance.

As we marched on we finally reached the top of the hill where the Croatian plan is fluttering proudly.. Apparently the young men of split march up here during exercise and rest under the flag before heaving their sweaty bodies on to a wall to take selfies below the flag. Or sweaties as we decided. I have no idea how she knows this, perhaps she read about it in the local rag. Right on cue two guys turned up and took some images. I didn’t quite emulate what they did, the inability to get on the wall was an issue so I did the next best thing and grinned like an idiot.

As we headed back down the hill we were stopped by an American couple who asked whether there was anything further up the hill, the tour guide one did her best to pass on her enthusiasm of all things here. The plan had been to follow the road, instead we diverted off to see a chapel that clings for dear life to the edge of the cliff face. Above it I realised were a set of small windows, presumably a hermitage. Quite a lovely setting.

We continued our walk. Our speed was picking up, after the crawl going up the hill we were back to a respectable three or so MPH, down on London speeds but okay in this heat., with this turn of speed we reached the intended beach i good time. It was a bit rocky. And nobody seemed to be swimming. I’d already check and seen that the average sea temperature in Split during April was about 15C. Or the same temperature as my boudoir. It must be lovely! Well yes and no, you see yesterday evening we had paddled our feet in the water and it was a bit chilly. Freezing actually. So we were a little apprehensive.

So we had coffee.

Clare started reading the local rag as I pondered things and convinced myself it was a good idea. I knew I’d reached the point when I decided to spend a penny and change in to the bathing costume. We sat a bit longer. When she started reading out bits of the horoscope.

She was definitely delaying the chilly inevitable.

It took a while but eventually we managed to move from the table to the water’s edge before stripping back to our respective bathing costume or bikini set. Much to the amusement of the old boys who’d been bathing. I went in first and began to build up the nerve to go higher than my knees. Clare was even further behind.

Finally I plunged in before coming straight back out to let my core temperature drop. She was not impressed. Why? Well it meant that now she had to go in too. I am so evil. As she stood on the water’s edge I swam about showing how nice it was. How I laughed.

Eventually after much jibing she plunged in and once the initial shrieks subsided we swam around making like water babies. It was brilliant fun. It’s been a long while since I last swam in the sea and I’d quite forgotten how buoyant the salt water made you. Needless to say we also looked on in disgust at the wusses who didn’t think April was a good time to swim, honestly people the average water temperature is about the same as my bedroom. Admittedly my bedroom is a little chilly. Thank goodness for high tog duvets. Eventually we had to get out which was a pain as it meant walking on the stones again, Split doesn’t really do sandy beaches.

Flasher...
Once we were out of the water we changed back, I kept on the costume as it was as easier to just pull on dress and hope I dried quickly. Needless to say madam felt it better to strip and flash anyone that happened to be near, you didn’t think she’d changed did you? The consensus was that it was brilliant fun and we would have to do it all again. Tomorrow.

Wandering back we agreed that the best course of action was to go back, shower, change in to something more suitable for town and then go for a meander. Sounded like a good plan. Oh and find that ice cream I’d been promised if I went for a swim.

Fifty minutes after arriving salt coated and scraggy looking we were back outside looking suitably tidy. The important thing was that we had to be tidy enough to not look like tourists whilst also being ready to eventually find something to eat. An easy task for somebody that by now looks like a local, slightly less easy for someone that looks decidedly English. It was nice to be showered and in fresh clothes, the walk had been lovely but a little sweaty at times as we climbed the Marjan, the rinse in the sea helped but of course merely left us a little salty.

As we wandered the short distance to town we bumped in to somebody Clare knew, this being a small town it was rather inevitable that this would happen regularly, introductions were made, pleasantries exchanged and we wandered afresh. It seemed that the nice weather had brought everyone out to enjoy the sun along the Riva which helped us decide that we’d wander up in to the relative quiet of the old town to follow Clare’s usual commute to University. I was already feeling sorry for her, the sight of all these stone buildings and marble paved streets must be excruciatingly difficult for a girl more used to the mean streets of WC1 or the leafy trails wending through Herefordshire.

We decided a snack was a good idea before the serious task of ice cream, so I was taken to a pekara close by where she usually bought a burek. A burek? Think of the sausage meat in the rolled up shape of a traditional cumberland sausage surrounded by filo pastry. A coiled sausage roll. Morsels purchased we wandered over to where she usually has lunch, unfortunately the sanctuary of her usual bench was taken so we were forced to slum it on a different bench. With a different view.

It was horrible.

The sight of the stone fountain twinkling as pigeons danced around with a backdrop of the outer walls of Diocletian's palace was almost too much to bear. I would have booked her an escape ticket there and then if my fingers weren’t now busy holding the twirly sausage roll so I couldn’t work my phone. Those clever Croatians think of everything to stop people escaping. I told her I could see how difficult things were and she was right to be complaining, I vowed to find her safe passage.

Just as soon as I’d had an ice cream.
Nibbles nibbled we walked straight back in to the palace weaving through groups of tourists, our destination a gelato that was reputed to be the best in town. At least according to a waiter called Victor. We know that they will use any trick to make people stay. Coincidentally the gelato was right next to where Clare studies and opposite the restaurant where Victor worked. It just gets worse! So she’s stuck in the middle of this UNESCO world heritage site with a gelato next door and a friendly restaurant opposite. The poor thing.

The ice cream was fab. Inevitably there was a choice which always makes things difficult so we were brave and split four flavours between us before sitting down on a handy wall nearby. At about this point a bossy tour guide turned up and insisted we moved because, as she put it, there was a map behind us and she had a tour group. Needless to say I made a comment on this which she either didn’t understand or sensibly chose not to.

Trolling tour guides...
Of course the distance between what I think and say is now zero, a consequence of which is that as she would explain how the map showed how Diocletian’s Palace used to look I had to say “no it didn’t”, she also explained how it used to extend to the water for defence and ease of access by sea. No it didn’t. In fact there were quite a few things which she stated as fact and which recent research have shown to be little more than flights of fancy by a single bloke who decided this is what the place looked like. This was just part of the wealth of knowledge I gleaned - and missy wrote about in her intellectual blog - at a Croatian Embassy talk a few months back. Oh well, it amused me and no doubt annoyed the hell out of her.

It does rather beg the question though about whether the truth should be out there, i.e. should the good people of Split change the endless tourist blurb, displays, guides and have all the tourist tat souvenirs re-made? Probably not, it would be prohibitive, but at the very least the guides should get their facts right and acknowledge that what you usually saw was an incorrect artistic impression. A Croatian Disney image if you like.

A little like most films made in Hollywood that are intended to depict the realities of life in Europe.

#NotAllFilms I imagine…

Anyway. Having tourist guide baited a couple of times we continued our wanderings. We decided that art was needed so it was off to Galerija Umjetnina to see what we could see. It was very quiet. I can’t decide if this was because it was a quiet time of year or that the sun was shining or, dare I say it, because you had to pay. But it was nice to wander through the various exhibits without the interruption of others. The pieces ranged from the bonkers, a pile of what had been 180kg of sweets - somewhat depleted by now - or a washing machine showing some truly extreme ironing to the sublime. The sublime? Well a piece entitled, I believe, One Ordinary Life part of this was a series of stills taken during the filming, part the film itself. The back story was that the artists grandfather emigrated from Brač leaving behind a wife with the promise that once he had made his mark in the Americas he would send for his bride. All seemed well with regular correspondence, as things seemed to be getting better she arranged to sell everything and then waited for a boat to tale her to her love and a new life. Sadly the boat arrived with the news that he had died.

The whole story was shown with little description but the meaning was as powerful as it was profound, an astonishing story that left us watching over and over again without a single word being spoken. It was truly heart rending.

We moved on.

Upstairs there were more galleries which had a range of art from around the 16th century to the present day. There being a lot of very modern art we started giggling about what a nice piece certain things were namely fire points and air-conditioners. Even a piece inspired by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It wasn’t until later we discovered we had inadvertently fallen in to a twisted universe where these pieces were actually being touted as the art you are not expected to see, items that are in themselves fascinating but not what most would consider art in itself.

Maybe we’re just too cool for school.

It was now approaching kicking out time so we bumbled off in search of a glass of something cool on the Riva so we could watch the sun go down before foraging for food. Nice plan. Shame we don’t really do plans. We did though do cool drinks in the form of an Aperol Spritz with a front row view of the Riva and the whole world wandering by. Or at least the bit of the whole world that extended about an eighth of a mile each way. And some sea. A lot of sea. And sky.

It was pure hardship.

There may have been some *discussion of gentlemen walking by. Sometime later in the evening the gentlemen that had been sitting behind us left and, according to the **as-it-turns-out-73%-in-her-Croation-language-exam one they had definitely heard and understood everything we said. To be honest this was only fair, the common view being that it’s okay for blokes to discuss us.

You have to laugh.

We were going to go wild and have one but the young waiter was clearly trying to control our alcohol intake and didn’t make his present felt at all. I know I *could* have gone looking but that would involve a level of energy that I left in E14 so it really wasn’t going to happen any time soon. Besides, we were now feeling peckish. Again.

I’m not sure exactly why we were heading back to Clare’s apartment but we did bump in to one of her friends and neighbours Ives and after discussion agreed to accompany her to a live traditional Croatian music event going on under Diocletian’s Palace. It would be wrong to have said no. Especially as it meant we avoided having to pay to look around. Ives is fab, she is one of those people that you instantly like and she also seems to have a strong streak of Contrary running through her. The only problem was we would be a little late but this was not a problem by all accounts.

The event was fab. Not just because of the surroundings, but mostly because the chap that was working his way with full explanations through every instrument in his collection was utterly fascinating. And talented. You can go off some people. His daughter was also very talented, I’m not sure how old she was but definitely very young with an incredible voice. At one point ion the proceedings another musician was dragged from the audience her guitar like thing in hand - I know all the technical terms - so that they could jam in a way that was both brilliant and simply defies description.

You truly had to be there.

By about 8:30pm the pot pourri of dancing, singing, music and instruments drew to a close and we once more headed in to the night. Our next stop would be a little place that specialised in freestyle food. Whatever that is. Clare had been there before as a school friend of another friend of hers worked there. Sounds like a recommendation to me.

I liked it.

As Clare chatted amiably with the waiter I let my eyes wander of the chaotic decor, reminiscent of a place I’d had breakfast in Venice several weeks earlier. I even chose the special, a simple beef stroganoff with rice, perfectly balanced with the home made bread and a decent local wine. What better way to spend an evening. We even went wild and had some pudding, something we would have to swim off the next morning.

To end the day we moved on to a crazy little place called the Ghetto. It wasn’t particularly busy, but then this wasn’t a busy night. To be honest I was glad, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in places where smoking was allowed and it was rather hard on the eyes. But I loved the atmosphere and would happily spend endless evenings there chatting with friends. Well, friend. We were sensible and simply had a single walnut liqueur similar to what we’d finished the previous evening with. This wasn’t about getting drunk, this was about soaking up the atmosphere.

Of which, given the smoke and the mixed languages being spoken at the next table, there was much.

In time we wended back though the marble streets back to the place Madam now calls home for a final natter and night cap before retiring for the evening. We had to get an early night as tomorrow we would hit the market…

*perving

**I’m writing this at 11000m over Basel in Switzerland so have had the good news that she’d done okay