Sunday, 26 June 2016

That was the week that was. Sort of.

I should get up early and travel more often. In this way I may actually get more writing done because there is nothing like being on the move to get the creative juices flowing. Some friends and I in Split were once discussing the places in which we feel most inspired, and now have an answer. For me, I think anywhere which is moving, or a place where transit is immanent. Ironically once settled in a place, the recording process becomes, not a chore but certainly a little laborious. 

Here I am on my way to Dubrovnik for the day, primarily to meet someone from the UK, but also to get some plug-in mosquito repellent. Oh I'm also out of yogurt and shower gel. Strangely I'm not suffering the feverishness and allergic reaction to the buzzits and wickies that I used to have in previous years. There are only two explanations for this; acclimatisation over the past few months, or more likely, the blessed HRT. Whatever it is, I may still be a meal for them, but I no longer get sick, thank goodness. 

It's been a week of ups and downs, and some extreme emotion. Just don't get me started on the refeyredum. The transition from city to village has taken some mental adjustment and I still don't think I'm quite there yet. People are friendly and pleasant, indeed, I expected nothing less from such a hospitable place. The fault lies with me I because I'm missing friends - both in London and in Split - so much. You don't have such an incredible three and a half months, experiencing everything in a city and becoming a part of people's lifes, then retreat to a quiet island alone without a certain level of culture shock. Still, you make your own entertainment and I haven't been bored!

Monday evening saw an important bargain fulfilled. I was appointed chief washer up at the celebration BBQ in payment for the trip to Dubrovnik earlier.  Events are definitely hazy...the wine is lethal, but the Norwegian guests were lovely, and fireman's hoses are as innuendo ridden in Croatian as they are in English. Didn't laugh much... And it wasn't a late night. Oh no. 

A week or so ago after the football - the cracking Croatian team sadly fell victim to the perfidious Portuguese last night -  I met a Slovenian nurse in the little village bar. He is over here with his best mate for 3 months and they are working in a new beach restaurant just around the bay. The idea of a nurse giving up hospitals for the summer months is rather novel, but least if you fell on your steak knife or swallowed a fish bone, you'll be in safe hands. Anyway on Tuesday after a morning of sleep, bread making, radio 4 to catch up with the world, I decided to take my lazy bum out for a walk/swim. I took a detour to see what this place was like. 

Remote. As I stumbled off the 'main' track and down the goat path behind the monastery, the buzzing undergrowth was seriously alive - I'm constantly reminding myself that the snakes aren't poisonous but, goodness they make me jump. I imagined wandering back in the dark, tipsy on the local brew. I wonder if a boat would be better!? The restaurant is truly beautiful and has little wooden and canvas constructions on tiny individual terraces, though I'm told that the beer is Dubrovnik prices! Special occasions only then... The beach is small and I had no wish to make a tit of myself in front of everyone so I headed round to my second favourite beach. Stunning views along the way, as ever. 

The village is probably getting used to me coming back from the beach looking like a drowned rat. I scuttled home for BBQ veggie pasta, a shower and some suitably patriotic clothes for the football. As I got comfortable in the old mill - forgetting about the hour time difference on the BBC sports fixture *le sigh* - I was greeted by the Norwegian guests. We spent a pleasant time nattering whilst the atmosphere erupted around us. Scoring goals means letting off red flares; celebrating a draw requires diving into the shallowest part of the harbour. More red did a trip to the hospital. Turns out the local doc was on the next island, having a quiet beverage. Who can blame him? 

Wednesday was already shaping up to be a good day as I had a catch up with a friend from Split uni planned. She works on one of the many cruise ships, and had contacted me to say she was unusually coming to Šipan for the night. I combined the walk over to Šipanska Luka with a few hours on my favourite Maslinovica beach, for swimming and yoga. I was more than ready for food and drink by the time I got to the village at 6ish. We had a lovely evening and inevitably had too much red 12.30 it had seriously started to dawn on me I was walking 5km home. Alone. In the dark. I remembered the wild boar road sign...and spooky looking ruins. And ordered another drink. Drinking buddies said I should call my landlord...with the bicycle fiasco fresh in my mind still, he already thinks I'm a trouble maker! On the bright side I wasn't going to get lost - and the moon was incredible. I had a very happy meander home, and the only wild animals I saw were in the sky as constellations. 

As a direct response to far too much wine, walking, wow, look at that sun burn, I thought a day in would be in order. So I baked some sunshine instead. I don't know what other people think when they see lemons, rosemary, olive oil and polenta but I thought cake! After the icy wind mess, I was slightly nervous - cake making and no scales never normally has a happy ending. However I can report 100% international success. And mere crumbs left by sunset... 

At 1pm I received a message asking if I wanted to kayak later. Daft question when you have sunburn, so I covered up and went out on the perfectly flat sea. Marija is an incredible tour guide and she introduced me to sea urchins as a snack. I've never actually held one and they are actually a really beautiful deep purple colour, and can use their spines to walk across the rocks. Limpets also have snack value...who knew!? We snorkelled the afternoon away, before she went back to her vineyard, and I headed home for sausage and potatoes. And cake...and nervous referendum watching. 

But the highlight of my week was undoubtably the cave of aquamarine light. Apparently it was only accessible if I was accompanied by a hot young Croat...and he would meet me at the apartment at 9ish. Bugger. Little did I realise that I would be distraught by the turmoil at home. Thankfully it seems that there is a  cure for political depression; speed boats, crystal clear waters, panic induced by claustrophobia, extreme diving and being hauled back into the small boat like a landed tuna. Not sure about needing the hot Croat but I felt privileged by people's generosity and care. Even if my dignity is in tatters after aquatic manhandling! 

All of which nearly brings me up to date. Oh and I still haven't been shopping today! Next week I shall be attempting to return to some intellectual normality and continuing my research on current awareness in the legal market. On the bright side there is a trip to Split planned. And who knows what else!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Speed bonnie boat!

Naughty car
If you're mildly stressed, take a ride on a speed boat across a blue sparkly stretch of water, wind in your hair, and bottom bumping thuds. This needs to be a rule for life generally, in my humble opinion. You may recall a minor drama regarding my status here and it seems I've had more to do with the law over the past few weeks than I have in my entire life. And this includes the time I was allowed to pretend to be a police officer and sit in the front seat of dad's car pressing the neee naaaaw button. Definitely no flashing lights here though thankfully. Not even on the boat.

I'd spent the previous day panicking and having imaginary conversations, before deciding that there was nothing I could do, aside from admiring the storm, reading books, and having an early night. An over active imagination is never a good thing when it involves long term plans in a foreign country. I was warned to be up and ready at 7am for my first non public ferry trip to Dubrovnik. I had no idea what to expect and was feeling mildly guilty for dragging my landlord and his father, to the big city. The elderly gentleman was required to sign stuff to say that I was living in one of his apartments. I was comforted by the fact that three large plastic canisters were also placed in the boat. Clearly other errands were going to be run.
The day was beautiful after Sunday's wild wind and rain; the sea was flat, the sun golden peach, and islands vividly green; just perfect!
The man at the engine is clearly a speed freak - also confirmed by the later car driving and wonderful display of earthy Croatian. We zipped into the little harbour on the mainland and swished to a sudden halt as the wall seemed to get very close, very quickly. They fastened the boat up with the same speed and grace, and I would give anything to have that natural ease on and about the water, it's amazing to watch. We walked towards the little buildings on the harbour, and it was a hive of early morning Monday activity. A number of guys dressed for a day's decorating, and clutching sandwich bags had congregated, clearly waiting for a boat; a sprightly looking elderly gentleman was heading to the turquoise sea for an early morning dip; and cars and vans were coming and going along the dirt track. My landlord apologised for his 'shit' car and was muttering about needing to replace it.
Yup. As if the heavens knew that I was coming to Dubrovnik, his car refused to start. In fact, even the doors refused to open with the electronic key. Oh. I agreed, his car was shit. Not that I said that, I remembered the axe.
After a calm chat with one of the decorators nearby, one of them went off for his elderly VW polo, and jump leads were retrieved from the boot of the dead car, which thankfully opened with the ordinary key. This is what I love about the people here, an absolute practical certainty that nothing that can happen which can't be fixed by their own hands. And the fact that everyone helps one another, no hesitation, no worries. Most of the people I know, the contrary one excepted, would have immediately rang for the car rescue people and sat with their head in their incapable hands until a van with a stranger arrived. And I include myself in this observation.
The three guys chatted as the battery was charging. In the meantime, the other decorators hopped into a little boat and headed to Lopud for their work, but this one seemed unconcerned. I was later told that it would return for him, and apparently the next job they had was on Sipan - there would be beers to say thank you for the help. With a hiccup and alarming grind, the car started and seemed compliant. So we climbed in and headed up the steep road to the main drag into town. The traffic was normal - maniacs on bikes, suicidal overtaking on corners, and slow buses and trucks clogging up the steep hills. We pulled into a car park and the car was left running.
Yes, running. Windows open. Key in the ignition. I was sniggering as I imagined this in East London!
The first law office was no good because the man behind the big desk wasn't there. The ladies kept us waiting for what seemed like hours, after pulling faces at the paperwork before telling us they couldn't help. We meandered across to another hidden little office, again full of serious looking ladies on computers. After a conversation and explanation of circumstances, one pleasant lady took the papers, and essentially 'decorated' them. Multi-coloured string threaded through the holes, a large golden seal, a stamp, signature - basically everything to impress. She very kindly did some copies of my health card and passport, took payment, and feeling thus armed, we wandered back to the car. To my unsurprise, it was still there and ticking over. We drove back across town to the police station and I was feeling sick.
Especially when I saw the blond bitch from before who immediately stopped her photocopying to glare at me.  How pleasant. Luckily we got her colleague who by comparison was merely arctic and unfriendly. She hated every single document and questioned everything, but there is just no arguing with coloured string with a specific date on. She told me to come back 'next week' when my certificate may be ready. I queried this, because it's quite an investment of effort - 3 hour round trip - if a piece of paper hasn't been printed. She looked at me as if I was mad for questioning her. Mind you if there are no ribbons and fancy stamps involved, I'll be cross.
So job jobbed. After that we took a trip to the local hospital and had a coffee in the sun whilst waiting for landlord senior. In my relief, I was happy just to tag along with essential tasks such supermarket shopping, random stops in out of the way places, and other man business. Again...every time the car was left happily burbling along, awaiting our return. It was only when we were on our way back to the village harbour, did we to stop the engine to fill up the tanks in the boot. The car battery by this time was happier and there were no further mishaps. Looking at all the shopping and heavy tanks, I hoped that the little boat would be ok and take us all on board!
The weather was still incredible and I had to pinch myself to feel sure that this wasn't a dream. I turned to look at the driver with a broad grin and a squeak as the wind made the waves more lively, and I can't believe that this is a normal part of everyday life and ordinary commute for local people. I'm under no illusion that life is generally physically hard here, but there must be moments when the beauty of everything makes it all work worth it. Later on, whilst eating, drinking and being merry - with locals, Norwegians, Brazilian Swiss, Finish Croats, conviviality is absolutely central. What a place! Thank goodness I'm allowed to stay for a bit longer!

Sunday, 19 June 2016

What does a lady do on a paradise island?

Is it still possible to write a 'first impressions' post about Šipan? I think so, as I've only been here full time for a week and haven't actually experienced a full Sunday yet. I had a nasty back twinge again last night and so went to bed early - probably why I'm awake with the swifts now. It's lovely to lie here with tea, and the sound of song bird, the 7.30am ferry warming up and gentle rain falling. Add to this the crunch of homemade bread and burbling coffee, and I think you've got Sunday heaven
Question. If I'm by the sea, why no seagulls? Why only lovely tweeting birds, not raucous screams of the gulls that are so annoying and vicious in Torquay? Perhaps it's the lack of fish n chips, rubbish and landfill...who knows. Answers on a postcard. The programme on Radio 3 this morning incidentally had me reaching for bird websites. There is an island close by which doubles as lighthouse and bird sanctuary. Wonder if an ornithologist fancies taking me round?
The reason for not having had a Sunday here yet is because the last one I was in Split, and the one before that I was clambering aboard the Dubrovnik ferry so that I could get the bus north. Exams and moving upheaval caused minor stress, with some serious mileage covered up and down the coast. Whether it was related, my troublesome lower back disk decided to remind me of the importance of not sitting for long periods of time, and to get my stationary studious arse jogging. Hence the reason for spending 3 days in Split, curled up willing it to shrink back so I could move again! Yes, just move...let alone carry a ton of stuff around with me, and then sit on public transport for 4 hours. Oh did I mention clubbing on Friday? As far as I was concerned, that was 'therapy', essential for back health! Happily it cleared up enough for a fabulous Friday night *misty eyed*...
This was partly how on Monday I could amble 'drunkenly' - so my friend Ives said - with all my bags down to the port to catch the catamaran to Dubrovnik. That rucksack was so heavy, I think I lost a couple of inches off my height. It turned out to be an exciting boat ride as the weather wasn't great to start with, but got worse and worse en route. We hit a storm around Mljet and it got 'bumpy'. Can I say that with more glee? But oh that poor guy behind me... I was lucky enough across the full seat at the front so I could rest my back, but also kneel there when it got really rough and enjoy the bounce of the waves! Never sure whether I enjoy the swoop or the bump more!
I had the usual ferry wait when I got to Dubrovnik, but this time only for an hour, rather than the couple of hours I had experienced previously. I had luckily only paid 20p extra for my ticket - my booked return had to be amended! Once aboard, nearly throwing my bags overboard in frustration, I enjoyed the ridiculously pretty abstract colours and shapes that the rain was making on the old tub of a ship. I was greeted by one of the aforementioned guys from the bar - fully clothed this time - and he was obviously unaware that we'd met. Then he did a comedic style double take and he wouldn't stop apologising for the evening. He took my bags and called my landlord to help. This time when I arrived, I had more to unpack so I was adamant about not being lured out for drinks.
A relatively quiet evening followed, and Tuesday saw me getting the second ferry of the day  (7am)back to the mainland for provisions and a trip to the police station. I was even hoping for some art. The shopping here is very limited and I really needed boring inexpensive things like bleach and washing powder. If I could live on olive oil, wine and fish, I'd be sorted! Sadly my clothes wouldn't... It was a baking hot day and when I arrived, I really did hot foot it to the first police station I saw on the map. The wrong one. I was directed to the next one just out of town, which instead of a reception, had a photocopying shop. Obviously. A country which demands paper in triplicate...they must make a fortune. The queue, redolent of boredom, sweat, and photocopy ink, was breath-taking. Clutching my own essay of paper, I asked for the counter which dealt with aliens and was ushered down a corridor to another hole in the wall.
From this point onwards my day went downhill and I wish I'd stayed at home washing my clothes with fish and olive oil.
The woman was unbelievably rude and unhelpful. I'm not going say much more because it might jeopardise any chance of me staying in the country. However the simple process outlined in Split, according to her was rubbish; if Split was so easy, I quote 'why didn't I go back there?' She said I needed a bank account here  because my English money in a fully accessible account is fake and nonsense, my printed statements off the internet are fiction, and even if they aren't fiction, how does she know I haven't spent it, and in any case I need the balance translating - how does one say £10,000 in Croatian numbers?! Not only that, but my landlord has to prove that he has registered me with the police - um, isn't she the police and aren't I on a database? Anyway, I came out of there in tears. Ona je bila picku.
I did the only logical thing after that. It was pointless going shopping immediately because it was 4 hours to the next ferry. Imagine the state of butter, meat and milk after a few hours in the sun! So I sat in a café and drank coffee. I've had practice and after months on Split's  Riva, I'm at least PhD level of expertise on doing nothing. I was seriously not in the mood for art after that brush with the law.
Finally I ambled into a large Supermarket Tommy where I was happy to spend a couple of hours. Food is always soothing. I picked up a Gimi (Moore) shopping trolley for £20, figuring it would be cracking investment for carting stuff back and forth. And proceeded to shop as if I was going to be on a desert island with no freezer.
It's going to be an experiment and I will only know over time what sort of stuff will be useful. But I bought the usual whole chicken, a few sealed packs of sausage, veggies, fruit, flour, yeast, baking powder, milk, juice, and cleaning materials. I've never spent quite so much on one shop here (£130 which included my trolley, and a large baking tray which cost me more than an electric slow cooker at home!) but I'm hoping to make it through til my next 'pay day' on 26th June. Yup, mackerel and olive oil will become a staple! I'm already making a note of the fact that next time I should pick up more fruit juices and long life milk. I'm enjoying making bread because I refuse to wait for the ferry at midday but next time I shall Google the flour before buying. I'm not a light touch at baking at the best of times, and future attempts at rye bread might mean a trip to the dentist. I also bought the ingredients to make my landlady's cream cake recipe...! That was frivolous, fun but a waste of shopping bag space. Scratch was the best cake I've ever made!
More and more impressed with my sturdy trolley, Gimme and I trundled back to the new port and on to the ferry, and a gentleman parked it along with the others. I fumbled for my return ticket but it must have fallen out at the police station. Bugger. He was not impressed and so I had to run and get a new one from the office. With 5 minutes before departure...would my chicken be flying solo across the waters... ? I was not having the best of days and I was wishing Dubrovnik to the far corner of the earth. And it was only 2pm. Needless to say, I made it back to the island and was happy to once again start unpacking and put a comfortingly large amount of provisions in the fridge and cupboards.
Did I mention I could rent out my 2 store cupboards as pod hotels? They are at least 7 foot deep, 4 foot high - that is a lot of tinned tomatoes and pasta for which I may be grateful when it's the depths of October and the ferry isn't running and there isn't even any fish. Still, mmm olive oil...
It doesn't need to be autumn for this place to experience weather. I mean, I've had 'weather' on holiday; Italy where we had to hastily roll up blinds to prevent the villa from taking off and being blown out to sea; iciness in northern Spain which threatened to remove body parts; rain in Russia which meant serious head injuries for the unwary. But Croatia has been spectacular over the past 4 months or so - we've had all of the above. Not to mention raging hot sunshine for a few days in April. After conversations with the farmers and vine growers here, they are seriously concerned over what is happening to the weather over the past few years. This year the fruit harvest is a disaster, the vines and olives are struggling, and who knows what is happening to the wildlife in the sea - invasions of tropical fish which are also chomping through indigenous species faster than the Italian commercial fisheries. It is basically katastrofa of the first order. Anyone who denies climate change is a complete potato head with no connection with the natural order of things.
Tourism is also affected by the weather and given the precarious state of virtually self sufficient Island life, visitors and their kuna offer security for the winter months. However if the weather is stormy, this tiny place with beautiful beaches, remote churches and mysterious woodlands, the colourfully dressed invasions of people disembarking the ferry will dry up. As my helpful man in the bar said, people now have access to fairly reliable weather forecasts on their smartphones; they can check before booking excursions to this out of the way place.
Although there are exceptions, such as today - non stop rain - days which tend to start murky, often end in glorious sunshine. There are clearly benefits to being a late riser but running when it is cool and grey is very pleasant. Especially when you get so lost you end up retracing many of your strides. Follow that with a long afternoon walk in the sun, and a late swim, and you have a perfect day. The atmosphere has also provided some sunset pyrotechnics which makes all the weather uncertainty worth it! Being distracted by one of these meant I was stuck with the option of walking home in the dark, until I realised that there was a bus back to my village at 8.50pm.
Transport here is interesting. There is the aforementioned bus, whose timetable is as erratic as the main road, the landlord's bicycle (not a euphemism), various taxi boats, and obviously you can walk around. The island is only about 7km long, and the two main villages are 5km apart, roughly, so it's not that much of a hardship. Unless you baulk at the thought of a dark empty road, devoid of street lighting - not that much will happen to you here, if I'm being honest. The bicycle and I have already had a lover's tiff and as far as possible away from home, its front tyre burst into... well, burst. What a drama queen! Happily, I was chatting to a very drunk fisherman from Nottingham, my landlord's other guests walked past. They offered me and the limping bicycle a ride back to Suđurađ. Phew! Today I was told that the bike was at my disposal again...after seeing him wield an axe precisely and with care the other day, I'm loath to upset him again!
Yesterday I returned to my perfect isolated cove - on foot - for an afternoon in the sun. With not a puncture in sight, I managed not to get distracted by the thought of the cute little Bar No Name in Šipanska Luka, and headed straight to the beach. I was vaguely disappointed that a couple of naked Germans, with a little red dingy (stop sniggering at the back) had got there before me. Still, we exchanged some witticisms about me wanting a nibble on his bread. Further guffaws were caused when they went to leave and he had problems detaching his dingy from the mooring post...after an irate few words with his lady, a soaking of his feet as he fell in, and finally taking the wheel, I waved a cheery goodbye. I don't think they heard me laughing. Ok, so people in Dubrovnik could hear me.
After that, I had the place to myself and I counted every single blessing I could think off and it was only as the sun was disappearing behind the mountain, that I realised I should head home for fresh chicken and noodle soup, Dalmatian style. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

The spirit of Split

Fascinating place this Croatian island of Šipan. I say fascinating but I think I mean incredible, and when you consider the amount of anticipation riding on this new location, I'm stunned. All those worries may have evaporated. The journey wasn't so difficult so much as long and I arrived quite tired in a quiet, twinkly delicately lit harbour. My village of Suđurađ; my home for 6 months.

I've been in sporadic email contact with my host Miho for a couple of years. I'd never really thought about him more than 'oh my god I'm sending a stack of cash to a stranger' and certainly never tried to imagine what he'd be like. Turns out he's a gentle giant of a man, a fisherman, farmer, olive grove owner and drinker of white wine. [Also red wine when I told him what I'd written]. And mint tea when he has a hangover. We meandered the 100m or so from the harbour up to my apartment, with him laughing at the weight of my smaller (quite heavy) rucksack. Only when he felt the weight (very heavy) of my huge rucksack did he decide I was worthy of farm work.
Now normally I'd have leisurely explored my new home, unpacked, and made it messily mine, whilst opening the wine and collapsing in a heap. I'm getting remarkably good at that in new places. However when he asked if I fancied a drink, it would have been rude to refuse. Grabbing my bag, and brushing my hair, and frantically wishing I could spray some deodorant on my sweaty self, we left. Thankfully we sat outside and he didn't get too close!
The old mill - for olives not flour - restaurant is a beautiful spot on the corner of the harbour and apparently a really good place to eat. I wouldn't know, but their lemon and herb infused rakija is spectacular. After a single bottle of beer - given I'd had a travelling diet of milka chocolate and a ham sandwich - it would have been responsible at 10.30 to stop drinking, go home and sleep. We had a shy conversation about Croatian music, olives, cooking, and to my horror I was told there is no bakery on the island. I imagined the flatmate rolling up her sleeves and getting floury for the whole island. By this point it was getting chilly so he offered me his coat, and even the other people getting merry nearby had just gone inside.
I popped to the ladies and I can confirm that the party was lively. He asked if I wanted something else to drink and that was that. We joined the guys at the bar; they were celebrating the return of one of them from a massive cruiser in the Caribbean. 2nd engineer apparently. The music had gone mainstream 80s and the lady (me) had music choice but given they'd been singing Croatian pop music all evening, I asked for that because it was hysterical and I even know some of the tunes.
People who know me can probably guess the Bacchanalian outcome. The guys decided that dancing on the bar was a good idea; then they stripped to their pants; the owner dug out another 10 litres of wine; the lights went off; round after round was drunk and the measures were becoming ridiculous. At some point around 2am homemade bread and cheese was shared around, and I need to go back there just to ensure it was as good as I remember.
I don't really recall getting home. I must have because there are some splendid sunrise pictures on my phone. I know I missed gate-crashing the local bakery. When I caught up with Miho later on for a soothing - sorry, excitedly squeaky - moped ride to Šipanska Luka for a cup of mint tea, he admitted that his head was very bad! So looks like the essence of Split has followed me to the island.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Ispiti i izleti

Rather horrifyingly I last wrote something when I was in Sarajevo, which is a good few weeks ago. Intentions are clearly aspirational. It has been manic with university work, a hectic social life, and making the most of everything that friends in Split have suggested. This has included getting up close and personal with Split's aqueduct deep underground, meeting spelologists and historians, menu testing in extraordinary places, braving an introduction to deep sea diving, and helping my friend with wedding flowers. Not to mention karaoke and dancing til dawn most Friday nights, music on Saturdays, harmonica BBQs, meeting people for coffee, conversations with little fish whilst swimming, spontaneous walking and yoga with friends... and some very drunken jogging. Finally, the evening before last I was happy to join my lovely fellow students, and enjoy the sunset from Marjan as its farewell gift. 

This Friday saw me dancing with definite tears in my eyes. This was not even the result of a local English man and his karaoke take on the Sex Pistols. There was now no way to avoid the constant companionship of time; the enemy of all hedonists. This would be my last spring dance as a resident of Split, and I wanted the night to last forever. Probably why I went home to change into my running stuff and hit the glorious beach path. On my way back I caught the now rarely empty morning sun-drenched town, and was deafened by the swifts. It is not a coincidence that summery Split saw the arrival of these birds, as well as many people. And something has definitely changed in the town. Perhaps it was the half naked group of Frenchman... Even my favourite dirty local club was quieter and more subdued as it's now competing with the many mushroom-like summer beach bars and clubs that have appeared recently. Change is a right pain at times! 

And I was facing another mental and physical shift this week. Perhaps not as big as the one from London to here, but given I had company for that journey, it felt easier. A new place to live, in a completely new environment. No wonder I was unprepared yesterday; who'd want to leave wonderful neighbours and the flower filled sanctuary on Penića Ulica? I'd messed up my dates and thought I had until 1st June there. Still, who cares, it was an excuse to finish the orahovac languishing in the fridge. After moving all my belongings out yesterday, I crashed at a friend's last night and in a mental fug, went to bed. 

The other coming change is the end of term. For the past three months university has been a lifeline of normality. Exams have been hideous but motivating. Since February, one by one, I've been letting go of structure, and after next week's finals I'm on my own, without mental scaffolding and discipline. Every weekend recently has been something new and required a certain determination to overcome physical fears. I'm damn sure now I prefer those over mental fears. 

Today sees me thoughtful on a bus to Dubrovnik. From there I can catch my reasonably familiar ferry connection to Šipan and my new home. Earlier as I scooted down the Riva to the bus station with heavy baggage part 1, I was grateful for the cooler weather! It is strange that I'm now more anxious about this move from Split to Šipan because I've had my wildest dreams surpassed here, and it's hard to imagine how this summer can compete. As ever I remain open to every experience!

Speaking of which. The bus always stops in Neum in Bosnia and I was reliving memories of being stranded here a lifetime ago. Inevitably another service station, another proposition. What the heck is it with guys!? An elderly gentleman - perfect for the enigmatic one in London - has just offered his house, boat and car to me. Despite his age, he is in rude good health and in full physical working order. Apparently. 

Travelling here is always an experience. Whether it is dark green and grey brooding mountains clad in mist, endless lush agricultural land, or towns with their own brand of brutalistic architecture, medieval spires, or as today, glimpses of rounded islands in a glassy sea...the landscape is spectacular. There is no rushing through this inaccessible part of the world; you get to your destination when it allows you. And as if to build anticipation, finally the dark wooded outline of the Elafiti Islands has emerged and they will accompany us all the way to Dubrovnik. And although my village of Sudarad was just visible, I won't arrive there until at least 9.30pm. It is now 5.30pm

The island's dark mystery might help me answer a question. Everyone from the gentleman just now, to the beautiful waiter earlier, my lecturer, my friends, have been asking - what am I going to do here for 6 months and stay sane? Their certainty of my current - admittedly loose - grip on my sanity is heartening. But parts of me are actually looking forward to the less frenetic and constant distraction of town life. Split has been perfect; let's open the next chapter of this venture. And visits to friends and family! 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Great Escape

Those that know me well know I have a great dislike of birthdays, there are a myriad of reasons and after some thought I’ve decided against listing them here and now. Why, well it’s being covered before with those that I wish to share these with but more importantly I’m sitting in a legendary bar and that’s never a good place to shed a few tears as I think about the reasons why.

For many years the actual date of my birthday had been treated as something of an official secret, I didn’t like the attention and more importantly I was shying away from one terrifying thing. Disappointment. You see I’d always ended up doing what somebody else wanted and somehow that never quite felt right. This might sound terribly ungrateful but it’s not meant to be.

I’ve been asked often recently what I planned to do for my birthday, some even going as far as talking about my fiftieth. I didn’t know, well I do have an inkling of what I would like to do for my fiftieth though that will require a certain amount of financial commitment which might not be possible given other things that are going on. What I did know was that I didn’t want to end up drunk in a restaurant somewhere knowing that the next morning I had work to do.

I needed a plan.

My first thought was Paris or maybe Versailles. So I checked out various AirBnB spots, fiddled with Eurostar times and… decided that I really didn’t fancy Paris alone and as I intended to be away for the whole of the Wednesday and that being a work day it would mean I would find it difficult to meet up with various people I know in the area. And I still didn’t fancy Paris alone.

Then I considered Split, it was certainly a possibility though the downside there was that a) I really wanted to sleep in a bed, b) Missy should be preparing to move out of her little piece of paradise  and c) I can’t remember what C was. These Bellinis are really rather good here.

Hmm, tricky. So I cast my mind back to the February/March Contrary road-trip, we’d covered a lot of ground and there had to be somewhere I fancied visiting, somewhere that I thought I could explore, think, eat, sleep and occasionally have a sip of something. Plus It had to feel okay to be travelling alone. I ran down the list crossing out various spots: too grey, too full of leaning towers, too difficult to get from the airport, the list ran on. And then I remembered Venice. If I remembered rightly I walked, I giggled as I got my shoes and tights wet in the rising waters, I was serenaded by a passing gondolier, I blushed and I was soaked in the rain the next morning. And I stayed in a hotel where every room was a baroque inspired tarts boudoir.


Now I blame my new flatmate for all of this as he was feeding my winez at the time. But that does help you ignore any little nagging about whether this is a good idea and instead it is transformed in to being a GREAT idea. I checked flights, okay, doable, and I could get them to what worked out at about £81 return. Hotel… Well first I did consider AirBnB but I could find nothing that even came slightly close to the convenience of the place I stayed in March with Clarissa. Or as tarty. So I checked the hotel. It was available from Tuesday to Thursday. Hmm. How about getting up at dawn to watch the sun rise over my fiftieth year? Okay, try Monday to Thursday. Still available. Great. How about Sunday to… Nope, no hope, Monday to Thursday it was, I lined up the browsers and clicked okay three times: hotel, airline, airline.


Okay so this was a bit irresponsible but I was doing my own thing. Which is good. Very good.

With that done I knuckled down to get my work decks cleared, after all this was a bit last minute and I wouldn’t have much time to catch up.

As a preamble on the day before I unexpectedly had my friend Stef visit so for the first time since I’ve moved to the new place I could go and sit in the residents garden with a bottle of nicely chilled fizz and a bag of Minstrels. Classy me. As I suspected the garden was nicely shielded from the stiff breeze that’s often rattling between the buildings and the only thing that lead us to scurry indoors was the rain that decided to make it’s presence felt.

It reminded my that as a result of checking the weather and knowing my rain coat was lacking in waterproofing I’d gone mad and bought a new coat, a decision I wouldn’t come to regret! Indoors I managed to singularly not pack and instead we sat and nattered whilst also ignoring the chaos in the kitchen caused by a morning making pease pudding. I was definitely aiming for a chilled day.

The next morning I woke bleary eyed and realised I had still not managed to pack. Go me! It takes serious effort to be this hopeless. On the bright side I’d at least made a very detailed list to ensure I actually packed what I needed, more to the point that I would avoid making a repeat of the out-in-out-in-out-in-out escapade of my last trip and Monty was helping. So packing was easy I even managed to not empty the entire contents of the bag all over the floor as I went to weigh the bag

7kg. Get in!

And that included the iBastard, heels, two dresses, two tops and all the other paraphernalia. By the time I added a guidebook and my handbag which had the portable charger, a small camera, Monty, sweets and everything else I was just over 10kg. Now the trouble was that Monarch - with whom I would fly out - said that the weight limit was 10kg in total. Hmm. I would keep an eye on the people in front and if it looked like they were also weighing handbags I’d decant the battery and camera in to my coat pocket to bring my under the weight. Silly rule. Of course first I had to check that I could actually put things in my coat pockets!

With all that done I was ready. Or I would be once I’d painted my nails. By some miracle I managed to leave five minutes early. Me. Early! I even knew the train times and hence which train operating company and therefore which ticket I needed to avoid a repeat of my last effort at being confused going through London Bridge. I was determined to not be beaten this time…

Did I mention I’d also re-used the ridiculous little plastic bag and also knew everything fitted so as to avoid a repeat of my inability to close the clip thing. Goodness I was organised. Everything went well, I was travelling off-peak, I didn’t queue for a ticket, sauntered on to the *right* platform and calmly waited. All was going so well. Finally they called the platform and I cooly wandered over and… Used my bloody Oyster to go through the barriers. It’s a Pavlovian thing that people living in London do, you see a little yellow circle and you have to use your Oyster. When I get the train to and from Norfolk I explicitly hold the ticket in my hand to avoid Oysteritis. But I’ve not done that in a while as I currently have the Contrary Clio.

So yes... Beep. Oh, that was easy…. Yes, then I realised, gah. I’d have to go back through. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t need to go through I just needed to tap back out and if I’m charged I’ll argue the toss with TFL when I get back, seriously, how far can you go in 8 seconds?

That blooper aside I boarded the train, stowed my bag and sat ready for the relatively quick journey. As I had a few minutes I decided now was a good time to call the hotel again. I’d been trying before I left as I needed to know how to get in owing to their reception closing fifteen minutes after my plane was due to land. I’d called six times already. It occurred to me that maybe they were having lunch so by the time I got to London Bridge. It might be over…

The phone answered. And then hung up. Oh. I called again. Same. Maybe they were dealing with somebody, having been there before I knew how tiny staffed they were… I waited five minutes. Called. Hung up. Oh bugger. I wrote them an email explaining that I called and I really needed instructions and to say I’d try again at the airport…

…but it wasn’t necessary. By the time I got there I saw I had and email to say that they had a problem with the phone system and explained what the procedure was. Phew. I realised I was feeling a little anxious about this so it was a huge relief. 

Having already checked in online - twitch - I went straight to security and beep-beep-beep. Hmm, I was wearing almost exactly the same as last time that had metal, i.e. Jawbone, pearl studs and pearl necklace, so not much. But a different bra. There was a report recently that M&S bras set of airport scanners and I wondered if this was one that did, after all I went through exactly the same scanner. So it was shoes off for me and then in to the full body scanner before finally a lady officer checked around my bra band. I didn’t giggle. Or make any flippant comments. But oh my they were screaming to get out.

Finally through it was off to find some lunch, I needed something filling as I expected to get in quite late. The options are relatively limited so I went for dirty chicken at that Nandos place, a venue that normally only Jack can drag me in to. Of course travelling alone meant I had to play “can you watch my bag please” with the elderly couple that arrived at the same time as me. A game I then played with a solo travelling chap who sat next to me. Anyway, I can recommend their butterfly chicken, at least I think that’s what it was called, it was beautifully done and no bones to faff about with. Oh and the pink that they recommended to go with peri-peri, very lovely.

Food eaten and the boarding times engrained in my conscious I headed to the bar for another drink or two and to write. All very civilised. I even managed to leave at the right point at heard the call for people on my flight to go to the gate. I really was on a roll.

The chap at the gate smiled, checked my papers, lifted the bag once, decided it was way under, and stuck on a little approved thing. Woo Hoo. Honestly I don’t know why I worry about these things. I sat near the exit to the aeroplane and waited quietly. I’d decided that as I had to book a seat to do online check-in I might as well get one at the front so once the infirm or with children went through I was next, walked quickly on, deposited my bag in the thingie, sat and promptly closed my eyes. It was so much easier being at the front.

The flight was gloriously empty which I know isn’t great for the airline but it made for a very pleasant flight. Sadly I had to forego my usual tradition of Champagne on a flight and had to do with Prosecco, gosh life is hard sometimes. As we taxied to a halt it was clear that my belief in the Met Office was rewarded, not only did I have a brolly but I had the new raincoat I mentioned earlier. Judging by the grumbles I heard a few rows behind me it was not a universal decision. 

We stopped, I gathered my bags, there was a knock on the door and I was off. Not quite scalded cat but quite sprightly. I whizzed through immigration, bought a return ticket for the water bus, giggled about it having the word ARSE on it and then set off following the directions I’d been given to find the pier. I was very quick. I imagine some people were still leaving the plane. For a while it felt like I was actually walking all the way to Venice but finally I found the stop and heeding a comment I read about not accidentally taking a water taxi and being stung I walked to the right pier, handed my ticket, stowed luggage, sat down and… We set off! If I’d been in line to hand over my passport I would have been waiting.
Now I did have a moment of wondering whether this was wise, okay the upside was that I would be kicked off at San Marco just a few minutes walk from my hotel, the downside though was it was much slower than the shuttle bus. But I didn’t have to walk all the way through Venice. Which I’ll admit can be a tiny bit disorientating. Never mind all that, I got to see Venice from the water. And a few of the other islands. Would I do it again on another visit? Hell yes. I was in no hurry and whilst it was about 90 minutes I got to see things I would never seen if I’d been on a bus with wheels. A water
tour where I disembarked really close to my destination.

I loved it.

At San Marco I was off like a shot, two reasons, 1) I knew the way having been here only two months earlier with Clarissa and it was oh so familiar, 2) I *really* needed to spend a penny. By now the rain really meant it so I scuttled the short distance along the Riva, across the big square, down the road, over a bridge, turn right, then let and I was there. A good decision methinks. I rang the buzzer as instructed, spoke with the owner, was let in and there sure enough were my keys and a letter explaining where I would be. Utterly perfect. And only the second floor so not far to walk.

If I ever come back here I’m going to request this room. In fact if you ever go to Al Gazzettino stay in room 212. It’s wonderful. Whilst the size of the bathroom is smaller than the room I shared with Clarissa, the bedroom itself is far larger, but - and this is the important bit - it has a balcony. Plus a huuuuuuuge couch to lounge on. On the road-trip the theme was that every day would start with Missy looking out of the window. It was my turn, but nobody to take the picture.

Stuff dropped I went out in search of provisions, I didn’t want to eat per se, but I did at least want nibbles, water and some fizz. I knew of a place nearby so I popped there, got the essentials headed home in the rain, kicked my shoes off and began to write. But not before taking pictures of lunatics taking a romantic night gondola ride.

In the rain.

Once the fizz was done I pulled the shutters to, closed the windows and settled down for - as it turned out - a good nights sleep.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Let there be cake...

<native Geordie accent on>

It's day five in the Contrary household.

By some miracle both of the contrarians are awake and bouncing with energy and ignoring the fact that the heavens have decided to open. The challenge today is to go to church and avoid being struck by lightning before heading to the hills for a family dinner to celebrate a confirmation.

If only things were that simple…

<native accent off>

By some incredible miracle I was relatively organised, I’d even brought something suitable for me to wear in church. Not that I was really sure what that would be but I was fairly sure of what it wouldn’t. So a simple white dress and a relatively restrained pashmina. We’d even managed to be vaguely coordinated in that we had both something loosely white. 

Perfect for the torrential rain.

At the appointed hour we wandered out to join Clare’s hosts to wander to the church. Along the way I gathered that it was both her host’s daughter and Clare’s friend’s son who, along with many others their age, would be getting confirmed. Now I wasn’t really sure what this entailed. As you might be aware I have no time for sky fairies and even less for religion, but I know it’s important to many so am happy to be included and help mark this moment.

Admittedly I was slightly worried about the whole lightning thing. By this point the sky fairy was flexing its muscles and the flashes and rumbles indicated that the game was afoot. I was kind of banking on the fact that they wouldn’t try to take Clare and I out whilst surrounded by hundreds of Beliebers. Oh, sorry, wrong religion. Believers. Or at least, as I gathered, people who went to church because it was what others expected.


Gosh what a lot of people. Over the last few months we’ve been in many churches, cried in several, lit a number of candles - look, I might not believe in sky fairies but I do like to mark moments, plus they need the donations - and had moments of silent contemplation. Actually, there’s a plan for today - I’m in Venice remember - I shall find a suitable church. But what I’d not seen was a service of any type.

Ooh, the sun has just come out in Venice, I’m off to play outside!

Where was I? Oh yes. At a service in Split. The place seemed packed, in the centre front there were several rows of angelic little faces all dressed in white ready to do whatever it is they do. By the looks of things they kept the girls and boys separated presumably to stop the boys knocking off the girls floral crowns or something. I was about to comment on how busy it was when Clare’s host said in her day every pew would have been filled with children. So either fewer kids or a lessening of grip by the church. Who knows. What was interesting though was the profusion of cameras whether they be clicky, video, or phone. Every moment being recorded of the cherubs doing what cherubs are expected to do when they are ready. I couldn’t decide whether this that the event wasn’t as sombre as I had in my head or that simply the church was accepting that maybe they couldn’t stop this. My point is that at every church entrance there a sign saying about photography and use of phones during services being forbidden.

This was definitely a service.

Oh well. In other news, the lady in red was busy flirting with God over WhatsApp. I don’t know what she said but it seemed to work and a truce was forged that meant the church wasn’t struck by lightning or taken out my a tempest designed to knock out the heathen.

Finally it was over. We stood around in the rain outside as people emerged before finally heading back to base to spend pennies and collect things needed for the post event dinner. When I say things I mean cake. Oh yes.

Mmm, cake, okay so I’ve now scampered out of my tarts boudoir in San Marco and headed to the square to be ripped off for coffee whilst listening to an orchestra play. To be fair the tiny little orchestra - their words - isn’t bad. I will of course now have to sit here for ages to justify the cost.

Anyway. So pennies spent and cake watched we headed up the hill to the car and after a little rearranging we were all in and scurrying off to the hills with Milo - who was driving - chatting away. We didn’t get far before we stopped at a filling station to hand the enormous cake over to one of the other cars heading that way. At least I hoped that’s what it was and not some sort of dodgy cake dealing ring that we’d unwittingly become involved in. Gosh, that could be awkward. Charge: Smuggling cake across Croatia m’lud. Oh, that’s a very serious offence, I’ll need my black cap for this one…

So yes you’ll be glad to know that the family had split into several cars and this did rather explain what had happened to Mia whose big day it was. Off we trundled with discussion varying between football, of which I know next to nothing though learned that in 2011/12 Stoke City played the local team Hajduk Split. Unfortunately Stoke won, so I’m surprised we were even allowed to visit, especially with my potteries connection. I’m not saying that they are passionate about football here but on the first evening of this trip we heard the roar from the stadium a considerable distance away. I digress. At the other end of the conversational scale was the war. I know slightly more about that but still it was apparent that the pain was still apparent.

It turned out that Milo’s mum was from the area, at least I think that’s what was said, so this was very much home turf. But it had been a while as became apparent from the slightly heated conversation going on between the locals. We didn’t know exactly where we were going. Fortunately there weren’t too many restaurants in the area, it was a little isolated, so with the aid of our omnipresent being that moves in mysterious ways - Google - we had a location and could see from maps that we weren’t that far away. Phew. Discord averted.

The venue was the Premijer Gaz. A restaurant set by a river and endless landscape. It was quite a location. It was quiet inside, or at least would have been until several cars pulled up and the extended family proceeded to fill the place. The food would be over many courses and once a serving of a local spirit was passed around the proceedings were officially open. Considering how good the food was I was a bit rubbish at recording the whole thing. After the opening of cured meat and cheese with Russian salad. Or was it french. I have no idea, Clare can correct me on this. Anyway, after that incredibly tasty start there was, well, think flat Yorkshire pudding. I was in Northern dirty food heaven and I’m disgusted that as I write I’m yet to make it!

But there was a problem. The main was to be lamb. And that was still slowly rotating on a spit in the cook house next door. They reckoned it wouldn’t be ready until 4pm. This wasn’t that much of a problem to be fair, the wine was flowing as was the conversation. At the naughty end of the table we found a fellow Contrarian spirit in the form of Milo’s mum. She was telling us that this place used to have horses gamboling in the fields but today there seemed to be none. After a brief conversation with the waiter we all went trotting outside to see the neddies in their stables and generally have mooch about. It made a nice change from polite chit chat between courses and it was a perfect opportunity to stretch our legs and take in the view.
It was a lovely place.

As well as the horses there were chickens all of which seemed to be chuckling that it was lamb on the menu though now I come to think of it there were no lambs… Well, except in the cookhouse. There was plenty space to wander and it was pleasant to stand watching the swollen river course by though yet again the picture was photobombed by some local or other.

She gets everywhere.

The adults headed back indoors and left the children to play. Proper play, you know the sort where there was clear and imminent danger of a trip to A&E if it got out of hand. It was fab. Back indoors I was handed the baby who was suitably bemused at being passed from pillar to post and he was very sweet. Me broody? Not too badly but also a bit pointless all things given... Meanwhile back at the table there was wine and conversation. Much of which I didn’t understand. But I did understand wine.
Finally the lamb was done. Great platters of the meat were placed at intervals along the table and everyone began to tuck in. Thankfully the local custom seemed to be eat with fingers and even more thankfully I was now so squiffy I didn’t care that I was dressed in pristine white cotton. It was simply delicious. The head was also available and Milo’s mum - whose name I was told but you know me and names - proceeded to show it thus traumatising her granddaughter in the process, you know the one whose big day it was. Bless.

As sure as day become night it became time for cake. I could be wrong but judging by the selection on offer Iva, Clare’s host, had pretty much gone in to the local purveyor of baked goodness and on being asked what she’d like she must have replied “everything”. It was an impressive show. If arms races were done with cake then Croatia was in with a chance of being first. Of course me being on a diet meant that I had to try “everything” but not until the young lady of the hour had her moment.
Goodness her cake was big.

I mean I know she is quite small but really it was big. Of course the adults were faffing around way too much, couldn’t they see there was cake! Honestly.

When the cake was finally broken there was a momentary silence. And then there were more cake things. This was truly epic.

The evening wore on and the flirty one had clearly caught the eye of two local gentleman who were hanging out in the next room - I KNOW shocking. This meant that we probably took more trips to the loo than strictly necessary so that she could twinkle on by. It was suggested to the waiter that perhaps he could pass on an invite for the gentlemen to come and join us but it transpired that they were as shy as Missy was.

At some point the problem was resolved by madam taking a solo trip to the loo and introducing herself, inevitably joining the two to discuss Anglo-Croatian relations I imagine. Goodness, I hope she didn’t mention Stoke City. Eventually I was asked to go over too. Now Missy doesn’t need a wingman, or woman even, she’s quite capable on her own, so I suspect I was there to be her moral  guide and keep her on the straight and narrow. Because I’ve been really successful so far on that front. Oh.

The conversation wandered around, you have to forgive me for a lack of detail as frankly as well as it being a month ago there was the little matter of the endless red wine that seemed to appear magically on the table… The red wine fairy clearly. Like the tooth fairy but slightly naughtier. I was introduced to some local concoction, mead I guess of some description and they explained that every year they had games of locals versus the Romans with the two chaps we were talking to, builders I believe, being on the Roman side. The problem was they needed a queen and obviously the flirty Welsh girl would make a perfect Roman queen. With the decision made and numbers exchanged on the promise of them getting in touch with Her Royal Contrariness at some point before August we realised we should maybe check to see if our party was still there…

A fool and her brolly...
…it was, phew. But they were about to leave. It was in this ensuing *shrieks* moment that we both managed to forget our brollies but didn’t realise until it was way to late. I really liked that brolly, if you happen to be in Jabuka can you be a love and collect it!

The drive home, inevitably, seemed to whizz by and before we knew it we were in, drinking a last cup of tea and preparing to pass out of the evening after a last few giggles about HRC Clare of Roma.

Normally at this point I would fade to black and you’d have to wait for the next day but as the next day was going to be exceptionally short I’ll tack it on.

Inevitably we had tea and something to nibble before, after protracted discussion because I didn’t want the studious one to be late for University she accompanied me to the bus station. Admittedly this was also fair as we’d agreed that I would bring a suitcase back with me with winter clothes and various other bits and pieces. And as it turned out because I was travelling back on Croatian Airlines that I actually had a hold baggage allowance which was a bit of a win. I must admit dragging two bags to the bus station would have been a pain!

I struggled to buy a ticket owing to the two gentlemen behind me that insisted on discussing something or other VERY LOUDLY INDEED right behind me ear. The soft spoken girl on the ticket desk didn’t stand a chance. Finally clutching the piece of card I stumbled back out in to the day to find the friendly one was chatting with my bus driver and had already ascertained that he hated being in town and far preferred being in the mountains. She’ll be just fine in Croatia. Friendly.

As we parted ways once more it wasn’t any easier than last time though I managed to keep the waterworks at bay until we were heading out of town on by now very familiar roads. The good news was that the shuttle bus was a dinky little thing this time of year and I got to sit in the front by the driver. The bad news was that he had a wandering eye which irritated me a little.

Road. Look. Now.

At the airport I sat to compose myself, dig out flight details and get my bearings, whilst I’d been here before twice I’d only ever seen where the arrivals were. A lady sat next to me who, as it turned out was French but married to a Croatian, she was en route to Paris and also travelling alone. We had a friendly stilted conversation and I played bag watch as she went off to deal with a call of nature though on her return I took the opportunity to check in Clare’s bag, head to security and scuttle airside.

It was quite quiet.

On the plus side a snack bar was open so a ham and cheese sarnie, gin and bitter lemon plus crisps for Monty were bought. He wasn’t that hungry so I ate them anyway, ungrateful bear. We sat quietly writing, well I wrote, he just glared ominously muttering something about honey and finally other people started to drift in.

The expected boarding time came and went.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. It turned out that the plane we would be on was actually the one that had landed some time before from Zagreb, but they weren’t quite finished. When they started to let us through there was a rush of excitement, people presented their papers, passed through the gate and…


On the stairs. Oh for five minutes.

No, make that for fifteen minutes. Amazingly once we finally did board we left only about five minutes late. It seems that desperation to go focusses people’s minds and they don’t faff about so much. That and the fact that the flight was relatively empty. Monty and I had a row to ourselves, which was nice and meant that he had his own seat.

I’d like to say it was good to be home. But it wasn’t. There is nothing quite like going through London Bridge and then Bank at what was now early rush hour with one cabin bag, one full case and a hungry bear to really make you think about what the hell you are doing with your life. In fact it was even before that. The dreary run from Gatwick to London Bridge was enough to induce a fight or flight reaction and send me scuttling back to the airport and anywhere.

Of course as you might have gathered reading this that as I’m currently and rather unexpectedly sitting in reputedly the oldest Café in Europe, Caffe Florian, I do have more travel writing to do but not before I say…

I’ll be back in July.