Monday, 30 July 2012

Home cooking

This evening I sat around waiting for the nice restaurant staff to take my order. Nothing happened. The flatmate told me to get cooking and in this way I realised I was no longer on holiday.

Being a charitable type I decided to treat her to a holiday salad special with a dessert. As we are still determined to be healthy and there were lots of lovely things in the fridge, I got out the griddle pan and olive oil, herbed salt and turned on the extractor fan. This was going to get hot.

I sliced courgettes, aubergine and cut yellow/red peppers, brushed them with oil and singed them thoroughly in the pan. I placed the now striped veggies in a hot oven to continue softening. Once I was ready, I took them out, added chopped spring onions and tossed everything in oil and white wine vinegar and sprinkled the lovely herbed salt I'd brought home from Ston's salt beds. I assembled the salad of tomatoes and sliced gem lettuce, warm griddled veggies and crumbled over feta, adding olives to mine for luck. Seriously yummy.

The dessert had been a long time in the planning. When I tasted the prošek (proshek) at the vineyard, I imagined a honey and wine marinade with baked peaches/nectarines and this stayed with me. So when I found some fragrant, quite ripe nectarines today I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them.

I quartered and slung them on the hot griddle pan. Whilst they were burning, er... I gently warmed Montenegran honey with a good splash of the prošek. Once this had melted, I poured it over the soft nectarines which I'd transferred to an oven proof dish. I popped them in the warm oven whilst we were eating the salad. They were juicy, slightly tart, sticky and utterly delicious. Would have been perfect with a cool creamy creme fraiche.

But we were being saintly. And we sat and ate outside and watched the sky turn pink. Just like being on holiday and the flatmate even loaded the dishwasher.

If you want to have a go at the dessert, use a medium sherry or Marsala to replace the Croatian wine.

Best of diets, worst of diets

It was the best if diets, it was the worst of diets, it was healthy breakfasts, it was foolish lunches, it was the epoch of sensible, it was the epoch of hash browns, it was the season of snacking, it was the spring of hope, it was the summer of despair, we had everything for dinner, we had nothing for breakfast, one of us is going to heaven, the other is... Actually. Scratch that last bit, that really is incredulous.

I'm sure Dickens would be turning in his grave at the deviant distortion of the opening lines in a Tale of Two Cities. Obviously I used this introduction, or similar, sometime ago when we first started the diet. But this week it seems apt.

Steak and peppers. Not chips.
If you've not been paying attention I'll give a summary. My lovely flatmate went on holiday. I stayed at home. She calimari and fruit. I ate steak. Twice. She barely touched the winez. I may have had an evening of debauchery. Really, it was not ideal. I definitely let things slip. Didn't walk enough and generally did things I ought not do.

At least I didn't eat blue ice cream.

So it was with some trepidation I got on the scales... 89.8kg. Eh, wait a minute, that's the same as last week. My flatmate? Well, after tiddling around at the top of the stairs trying to think of a reason to get on, she did... 69.3kg which is slightly up on her last official weigh in, but heh, she has been on holiday and I think that's allowed. Plus, she'd already had a cup of tea before standing on the judgement device.

So we've pretty much stood still, but that's better than the alternative. Time to get back in to the diet.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Last day

Here I am on the last day of my holidays. What have I learned?

1. Croatia is truly stunning and exceptionally cheap. Get here before they join the euro
2. Do not book 3 early morning trips in a row. It is stupid. Early is bad enough at home
3. Do not attempt to diet on holiday but eat as many of the incredible tomatoes, melons, plums and grilled corgettes as possible
4. Fat British people eat too much cake and they are really disgusting sunburned. Lose weight porky, no excuses!!!
5. Though it's nice to go away by yourself, some form of human interaction is required. Turns out no woman is an island and I have literally and metaphorically been on one
6. Fish, of the live variety, are brilliant
7. European maps are crap
8. Watching the folly of other people is endlessly entertaining
9. Even if you can't see/hear the insecty bitey bastards, use repellent anyway...
10. Do not do aquarobics in a teeny bikini. Nipple poppage is certain
11. I think the Pillar of Shame is an excellent idea and should be reinstated
12. Blue icecream is plain wrong

So all in all it has been nice. But next time I'm taking someone with me; flatmate, I'm looking at you :)

Friday, 27 July 2012

Boys in blue

Things are going down in Lopud in Lopud 'collection of houses, a bar, small dog and a white cat'.

It could turn nasty. And get out of hand. Sand could get in the bikini...

That's right, as I was heading to the ferry this morning an event of enormous depravity was advertised.

Tonite Beach Party!

The local constabulary had clearly caught wind of this momentous event and had despatched two of its bravest rapid response members over to the island to assist young ladies in the preservation of modesty and keeping maintaining sand free cracks.

As it was of clearly of utmost importance, the yummy young men in deep blue had been popped on the best municipal ferry money could buy. Oh, a rusty bucket then? I looked for the addition of flashing lights but I was disappointed. Furthermore we chugged along at the same old rate of knots. Slow.

Did they not know they carried Croatia's finest?

Anyway as the old tired farts climb into bed, it is comforting to know that the youngsters are well supervised. Of course it could be that the white cat was stuck up a tree, or a boat had been seen without a licence, a golf buggy had overturned or something of that ilk.

Who knows, perhaps they were the strippers but their equipment seemed real enough. Gutted to miss the party of the season. Zzzz

Escape from London...

One and a half miles, as the duck flies, from Contrary Towers there is an event this evening. Which will be why I'm 82 miles away, by said duck and Clare is around about 1,000 miles away. And she has orange sauce waiting.

It's not an animosity towards the inevitable stunning sporting achievement, but more a feeling of weariness of a level of hype that is reaching rabid proportions. As I left London late this afternoon, the insanity was becoming increasingly apparent. Masses of people wandering aimlessly, copy of tube map in hand, in a vague hope that all would be well. Simultaneously, travelling the other way, the way I was going, was those that wanted to actually escape.

I know I'll be back Sunday evening and will have to deal with the ongoing daily agony for a couple of weeks,  but I could at least get away briefly.

Central Line. Empty.
The strangest part of the day was this morning, I actually chose to go to Notting Hell, not to see a client, but to pick something up in between calls. Mile End was amazing, a modern Marie Celeste, empty platforms, empty Central Line trains, empty District Line, empty Hammersmith & City Line. Weird.

District Line. Empty.
Some hours later, at a little after 3, I was back, it was even quieter. There was me and one other person on the carriage. At 3:02pm. The afternoon. London. Huh?

It really was the lull before the storm.

Hammersmith and City... WTAF?
I do hope that all goes well. I do hope it's a roaring success and the country as a whole doesn't look ridiculous. And that there really is a legacy that makes this insanity worthwhile.

And above all that I hope that after the games we won't hear Boris every 2 minutes at the stations.

Good luck London, I'll see you on Sunday evening.

Gold and blue

I've never seen so many beautiful men and women in my life. So this is where they all are...Budva, Montenegro.

It's basically a Russian Blackpool with lots of gold (jewellery, shoes, anything), loud music and the tiniest bikinis and bottoms you've ever seen. There were men who had six packs of the taut tummy type. No I didn't take any photos. Perverts. But why in English resorts are all the young people fat and frumpy?

I had some blue icecream. Thought about buying some tarty shoes. I dread to think what dreams I'll have on the way home...

There was even some Clare/other human interaction today. I nattered to a lovely Ukranian librarian (I had to act out in charades style 'legal librarian') and a chatty German lady. All the Brits are loved up couples and not talking to anyone.

Heading back into Croatia now via Tivat, Porto Montenegro, a ferry and Herceg-Novi. Fancy, the only car to be pulled over at customs was an Albanian merc...

Some unexpected evening.

Every now and then something happens that makes you smile. This week I had such a moment when I was told, very surprisingly, that I'd been drawn as one of the winners of a pair of tickets for the Volupté Lounge on the edge of the City. I've never been before, though my flatmate has been to their Afternoon Tease. Which doesn't surprise me at all.

The only tricky problem was that of how to get there. The nearest tube is Chancery Lane. On the Central Line. On one of the hottest days of the year. Poo.

You see I don't do heat, I will suddenly melt for no apparent reason and then cool down as quickly and getting in to something red and frivolous for the evening was guaranteed to bring on a case of the melties.

I was going to have to catch a cab. The problem here being I would have to first get to a decent road. In a scarlet dress and heels. In broad daylight. In a deeply conservative (religiously speaking) area. Oh joy.

Fortunately I had recollections of seeing an app called Hailo. Hmmm. A quick download and register later and I was set, it was pretty funky, no, really funky, telling me when I could have a cab by and letting me pay by card. Handy.

As the time approached and I finished my last call of the day I did have a moments anxiety at depending on a piece of technology, especially with my reputation for epic lateness. Anyway... I got a face on, raided my flatmate's jewellery box, pulled on said red number, heels, picked up my teeniest I'm-going-home-after-this bag and virtually hailed a cab...

There was a slow whirring... A moment of “errr” and then suddenly it told me Jim was on his way and told me the cab registration number. Cool. All I had to do was wait outside! Which would have been less stressy if the local neighbourhood urchins weren't out in force. Grr. My calm outlook was momentarily rocked. Quite a lot.

So Jim arrived. I could track his progress on the map and when he got there I found I could have waited indoors as he would have waited a few minutes. Hey ho, you live and learn. As a first experience it was brilliant. And I didn't have to worry about having enough cash as, of course, I'd opted to bill my business account.

Some time later I arrived at the agreed meeting spot to find my date and chaperone for the evening, once again my lovely Irish gentleman friend stepped up to provide suitably amusing entertainment, wit and a teeny twinkle. Which isn't a euphemism.

First half, Emma and her boys...
When we got to the lounge it was still relatively early so our table wasn't quite ready, the lovely girl on reception showed us the bar and explained she'd come and find us when ready. Time for a little vodka and tonic then. Just in case of malaria. Obvs. I liked the bar, it had a similar feel to Harry's Bar in San Francisco, a place I spent too much time in the late nineties. Great for people watching and yet intimate enough to talk quietly.

As promised, the nice girl came and found us and took us down in to the lounge proper. Now this I liked and she seemed to be bringing in most people like this, a very controlled building of ambience. It very much had the eclectic, slightly eccentric feel of a traditional nightclub, small, compact, low lighting, intimate. Trouble was as I was carrying my I'm-going-home-after-this bag, I didn't have my reading glasses. Fortunately my Irish friend had his. But the lighting was so low he couldn't read the menu. In that case we'll have the beef.

As food was ordered we got talking with a couple of guys also on the winners table, one of which had been meaning to come for ages and hadn't quite got around to it. So none of us knew what to expect, which makes a nice change.

Second half, sparkly dress!
The main entertainment for the evening was the delectable Emma Divine, singing a mix of classics and her own work. Interspersed with the singing was a little light burlesque from Beatrix Von Bourbon. Even the pianist got in on the act by singing one of his own witty ditties, “Ladies prefer a cad”. At which point my gentleman friend starting protesting a suspicious amount...

It was a really good mix, the musicians were all very accomplished, slick and looked like they were enjoying themselves. The highlight of the evening though had to be Emma, her voice was amazing, especially when you consider how tiny she is. An incredible dynamic range and control with all you'd expect from nightclub jazz with a twist of the blues. And of the things we'd talked about that evening this we all agreed on.

I believe she is in the process of producing an album and I for one will be keeping an eye out for it and will definitely be planning to hear her sing live again.

The evening finished quite late. And I may have had a teensy bit too much vin rouge as I can't quite remember how we managed to be in a cab rattling towards St Katherine's Dock. Hmmm. I do remember getting out of the cab though. I was probably gassing, that usually distracts me.

You know how I mentioned the I'm-going-home-after-this bag? It didn't work. I'm just glad I had powder and lippy to effect a repair job in the morning for the walk of shame home. Which I didn't do.

Yet again I pulled out my trusty phone and used Hailo. This time my driver would be Oliver. The trouble was, owing to the O word, Wapping has been effectively divorced from the rest of civilisation and the only way he could get to me was over the St Katherine's Dock bridge, which had been raised, so my wait was a little while, but he called me twice to keep me updated. Which really, really impressed me. A lot.

I can thoroughly recommend Hailo. And I am definitely going to see Emma Divine as well as visit the Volupté Lounge again.

Which, I think you'll find, is also a recommendation.

Montenegro 2: East meets West.

Montenegro... Not sure how to begin. Let's start with specifics. I'm in Kotor old town eating a Cipolla pizza* in a street which could be in any mediterranean town. And yet... Not.

It's stone was provided by the quarries of Korčula so the colour is familiar from Dubrovnik. Many buildings have a Venetian flavour with some gorgeous examples of gothic window travery. This town was badly damaged by the 1667 earthquake so since then a succession of regimes have made their mark. The later ones having less Venetian delicacy and more c18th pomp.

It has obviously been very wealthy place in the past given the number of palaces built by single families between c15-19th. All of this from trade/navigation. And now wealth once again is being generated from overseas; they are actively encouraging wealthy Russians and Americans.

The relics in the cathedral were brought over from Saint Irene's, Constantinople, the ikons in the orthodox church were painted locally. There is this mix of latin and cyrillic text. This historic - and current - connection with the East I think is what gives it the air of difference.

And to continue the wall theme, they have a 5km defensive wall which has been a work in progress since the c8th. Given the vertiginous scenery behind the town, I'm in awe of these engineers/builders.

The town is beautiful. I hope that the rest of the country benefits from the business being generated here** because I can't imagine there being many fashionable boutiques in the mountainous interior.

*I have euros!!
**Also I bought a MASSIVE jar of honey off a local in the market. The bee was hanging on to it but I persuaded him that it was going to a good home.

Montenegro...part 1

Those amongst you who think I'm a bit of a noodle will be relieved to know that I brought my passport with me to pay a visit to Bokokotorski Zaliv, Crna Gora.

Now the last time I crossed a Croatian related border on a bus, a couple of people were marched off it by armed police and taken into the little roadside cabin. *gulp* I'm sure that this time all will be well.


So far so mountainous and overwhelmingly green with soaring black pine cypress which give the country it's name. It's a tiny country; 13800 sq kilometres and 600,000 inhabitants, the capital is Podgorica. This used to be called Titograd and between 1945-1992 the country was part of Yugoslavia.

After independence in 1992, they were poor and the economic situation so bad they were bailed out by Germany and took the Deutschmark. They then took the euro. However it's not part of the union. Is this the only country to do this?

After the obligatory contact lense faff, no way am I putting the dratted things in at 5am, I'm ready for the sun!

Kotor Moat
First stop is a trip to the only man made island in the Adriatic, the Catholic church of Our Lady. Biggest collection of silver votives in Europe apparently. Rather stunning place. Next stop Kotor.

On the boat back from the island the objectionable fat child klaxon sounds. He sees a small gap on the bench, plonks himself down leaving 2" for his over large (grand?) mother. She sits virtually on the lap of the man next to her. Such a look of disgust on his face! The child doesn't budge and is absorbed into his icecream. Charming.

Today's blogs are clearly going to be a mixed bag! But to conclude with me not being a noodle, I'm rather peckish and guess what? I've no blumin euros on me...

Guten Morgen!

Guten Morgen, es ist 7am und ich bin auf einer Car, daß voll von die Deutsche ist. Sehr schöne, ja? Wir fahren in Montenegro, oder etwas. Ich habe keine access to google translate. Can you tell? Oh, ich kann alles verstanden; Italiano, Francais, Deutsch - oh yes I can be contrary in any European language.

A good day for an excursion because the rep tells me that there are three massive cruise ships due into Dubrovnik today; one floating city was already there, and another was coming into port. So it would have been quite busy today. Leaving the country is a bit drastic but, you know, I'm awkward like that.

Montenegro sounds rather spectacular. I'll keep you posted, obviously.

I thought you might like to see Lopud rush hour too. After downing my 80p coffee with milk, I dashed to the ferry. This morning was chaotic, as you can see...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

In loving memory

On Tuesday I had itchy feet. Not literally of course, but I was bored of my own company and I felt the need to walk. Fortunately, I was also in dire need of clothes hangers owing to having washed multiple things in the next size down in a hope of being able to wear them...

A path through the park...
So my route was set, I knew that Messrs Poundland sold a dozen for a quid and, according to Google maps, was 1.6miles away, hurrah, a chance to squeeze out a few miles. Now the trouble with Google maps is that it tends to take known routes and I could see that it would add little, if nothing if I went the pretty route via Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. A place we pass daily as we march from Contrary Towers to Mile End, but have never been.

I'm glad I went.

The place is simply astonishing. From what I can gather the whole site is, of course, a graveyard, but nature has been allowed to run amok creating the most sublime transition between the stony silence of monuments and the dynamism of life in all its optimistic glory. As birds and insects teem, and crickets do their crickety things, I could be forgiven for feeling I wasn't in Poplar but, given the sudden return of summer, was actually wandering through some forgotten back water of Provence. I felt enveloped by nature.

And forgotten memories of the past.

I was struck, in particular, by one gravestone. It marked the passing of one Olive Lilian Rudge, the daughter of Emily Rudge. She died on the 2nd of August 1929, aged 17. Which, on a personal note, would have made her 100 this year, the same as my beloved grand-mother-in-law. The date struck me. Whilst mourning the death of her daughter, Emily would have then been thrown in to the living trauma of the depression that engulfed the industrialised nations from late October 1929, the Wall Street Crash.

Another thing struck me. There was no mention of a father. Could it be that the Rudge that Emily took her name from had died in the Great War, whilst Olive was still a toddler? A heartbreak that was crystallised when her daughter died in the prime of her life. I am of course making presumptions, and these are based on the next name on the gravestone... Henry Smith, who died at the ripe age of 88 on the 25th of November 1945. He'd survived the war and, maybe, left Emily alone with her memories.

The final name on the gravestone was Emily herself. She died on the 25th of December 1964 aged 77. And at this point I cried. I had no idea who she was, but written on this stone was a slice of sad history. I had no idea whether she had other family around her, or if she simply died alone taking any sadness with her.

And there's the strange thing about dates. The 25th is just another day, yet we apply such value to it and, hence, it is an enormous tragedy if anything happens then. But it's a day like any other. The same could be said of that most innocent of days, the 7th of July, or 11th of September. Or even the 8th of May. Empty little blocks of calendar that suddenly acquire momentous meaning.

For Emily the date would have been the 2nd of August. In the same way for my own father there is the pain and joy of the 15th of December, when his youngest child, my brother, was born exactly a year to the day his mother died.

Impossible moments

There are moments when frankly, it would be wrong to be miserable. And this is one of them.

I'm sunkissed in a bar on the beach with an aperol spritz and a warm sea breeze. Gentle music beats with pebbled waves and the sun is going down.

Pure paradise.

There was a bored young man (about 10?) on the beach earlier being ignored by his sun bathing parents. He'd been pestering them earlier to go out swimming as a family and they'd obliged for 10 mins or so. Then they'd fobbed him off with an iPad or something.

I politely asked him whether he'd like use of my snorkel after I'd checked there was nothing dangerous out there first. So I gave a child his first experience of an underwater world.

His face made my day. At first he shivered in the shallows; he couldn't swim very well so I took his hand and he gained confidence. We marvelled at the fish and I explained about sea urchins and that he should not stand on them.

Clearly my kind hearted nature is getting the better of me. Just don't get too close, I'm a prickly old London urchin, getting slightly pickled... ;-)

Do fishes sleep quietly?

I suffered a melancholy moment today, caused by tiredness, loneliness and lack of breakfast. I'd slept straight through it which was a good thing in some ways but I'd missed my melon.

I'd had the forethought last night to cancel my trip so I had a day of rest. My ladylike beach reclining lasted all of five minutes due to the continuing childhood gift of needing to run screaming into water as soon as I can. These aquatic tendencies meant procuring a snorkel from a local and heading off into the quiet watery depths.

The variety of Mediterranean fish (Adriatic if you're going to be picky) going about their business a mere three metres from shore never ceases to amaze me. My favourites here was the shoal of tiny electric blue flashes, suspended in the water like those Christmas led lights.

There was also fish from the dining room last night. Bream, I think. As I haven't yet been to the disco, I'm not sure if there are any sharks here.

The prickly sea urchins doing what they do both repelled and fascinated. I chuckled at the sight of some of them who were under pebbles; others looked to be digesting fin and scales, one being cheekily assisted by a tiny sand-speckled monster.

Sitting in the shallows disturbing the pebbles with my feet, I watched a few inquisitive fish forage around my feet. Marvelling at their silence and delicacy, I truly wouldn't mind dozing with these fishes this evening...!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


From wine to salt; I sense that all I'm missing is a lamb to put over a grill for a perfect dinner...

If you're paying attention you'll remember me mentioning the mini Chinese wall at a place called Ston. They have been making sea salt here since at least the c12th.

Salt was crucial in the ancient (look up Latin 'sal', stem for salary) and early modern world as an important ingredient in days before refrigeration. Therefore these salt beds were highly prized by the Ragusans. They feared that the Venetians just across the bay would capture the beds. They started building this wall in the c14th and it was over 7km long until the early c19th.

Napoleon decided that buildings were more important than walls and used a lot of the stone for them instead. However it's still a spectacular piece of engineering and you can climb all the way up. Sadly we didn't have time but I bought some herby salt.

Now where's that wine/garlic/rosemary marinated lamb?


I resisted the urge to sample Pelješac's wines at lunch which demonstrates that I have no need of the Pillar of Shame.

Given the complexity of this Slavic language, I'm hoping my pronunciation will improve today. Let's get cracking on this viticulturing!

There are many indigenous Croatian grape varieties...etc. Look, go check out Zinfandel, California and Croatia on google to look at the research that has been done.

I'm going tasting. I wonder what 'hic' is...


Turns out to be 'hic'. The independent wine industry here is very young, only 14 years old but they are working hard to establish it. The Matuško family vineyard we visited produces half million litres a year using the native plavac mali 'little blue ones' grape.

1. The standard Plavac mali was the weakest at 12% and is the one they drink every day. Plenty of tannins and a happy table wine. At £2, a bargain, I'd say. Mmmm.

2. Dingač is the same grape but is grown in a different area with more sun so is a sweeter, strong wine. It's a rich, dark ruby red, with a port like aroma. It's good chilled and can be kept for 10-15 yrs.

3. Prošec is a very sweet white dessert wine made with grapes left on the vine. Can be kept 30-40 years and the tradition is to buy on a child's birth and kept until their marriage. It's like a sherry; woody, honeyed, salty, with a burnt caramel colour. Would be marvellous to marinade grilled peaches in.

4. Cherry liqueur. This one was stunning. A taste of summer! Light fruity and v dangerous. Long cherry finish. Delightful poured over ice cream or in a black forest gateaux...

5. Grappa. Natural medicine apparently. Crikey! *falls over*


Water and wine

Another meteorological day of variety. It's not a problem because the temperature is perfect for wandering around in and ducking into beautiful churches for shelter is no great hardship. When the sun comes out it's as if the rain didn't happen!

Today's magical mystery tour has been very relaxing. How wonderful to sit back and let other people do the work and just soak up the information.

Pelješac it turns out is the second largest peninsular in Croatia, with Istria in the north being the largest. It derives from the Greek and means 'grey stone' because the native limestone weathers to a light grey in the vicious winter Bora.

There are three regions to this stretch of land; the first is famous for it's oyster/mussels and salt beds. Salt has been produced here for hundreds of years and is the reason for the c15th 5km defensive 'mini wall of china'. The second region is the consists of newly established vineyards. More on those later. Finally at the far end is the touristy bit, where small boats ferry people across to the large island of Korčula.

Korčula the town feels Italian (tucking into polenta is perhaps the reason) and it's no surprise to learn it was part of the Venetian republic. No St Blaise here, only St Mark. It's proximity to Ragusa made it strategically important and almost a frontier place, with invasions occuring regularly.

The little town is build on a fishbone (Herringbone) pattern. This was for purely practical purposes; the straight streets are air conditioning, channeling a breeze on the one side and on the Bora side streets are slanted away from the 250km an hour winter winds. Clever.

Though tiny, there are nearly twenty churches, many belonging to brotherhoods, eg Stonemasons - who are a confraternity of some importance. The limestone of Dubrovnik came from here (I haven't checked this!). Each brotherhood has a house and church, with processions still taking place four times a year in period costumes.

Other items of interest in the town include a Pillar of Shame [flatmate, I'm looking at you] and a Tintoretto in the cathedral. And how can I not mention Marco Polo? Easily as it happens! He never lived here; though his family did, they moved to Venice around the time of his birth. No one knows where he was born, there are simply no archival records. But he is Venetian simply because Korčula was part of the republic at that time!

Anyway that's enough historical wittering, you'll be looking forward to the wine tasting, I'm sure. But not as much as me!

East goes west

This early rising malarky clearly screws with your mind. But as some idiot had booked a trip somewhere it seemed I had no choice but to go along with the madness.

I dressed for a trip to the East though as it turns out I really had no idea because I hadn't checked my ticket. So with packed breakfast in hand I hit the Lopud rush hour on the hotel's golf buggy to get the early ferry.

In between spilling the cherry yoghurt the hotel had thoughtfully provided, I took in the incredible scenery - seascape meeting skyscape. Yesterday I'd wondered at my logic when deciding to stay in such a remote place but these islands are so evocative and majestically natural that I honestly don't mind taking the slow boat.

On arrival in Dubrovnik harbour it turns out I'm not off to Mostar.


I'm off island hopping to Korčula and Pelješac instead, exploring the birthplace of Marco Polo. How apt? How intrepid* am I?

*confused in thought

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


I'd clearly brought the London weather with me. The 50min ferry over to Dubrovnik was mildly damp but on arrival at this 'pearl of the Adriatic', I got within sight of the town gates and the heavens opened.

Now a large amount of drizzle I can stand, after all, I'm a Londoner. But thunder, sheets of rain and roads becoming rivers is a different story. So I decided a coffee and a conversation with an Irish man was exactly what I needed.

After deciding the rain had slowed from biblical to merely torrential I headed into the walled city. To the nearest covered historical palace of interest. I've never seen so many people dwell on bad c17-18th art, it seems that the rain turns people into butts of culture. The eclectic treasures of the Rector's palace were interesting, highlights being the St Blaise rooms and the collection of pharmacy jars.

I spied blue sky so came out blinking into the bright honey coloured square. The purity of light on the reflected marble pavements is truly beautiful. I popped my head into the relatively new cathedral - successive earthquakes have meant serious rebuilding and it's the third on this spot. It's an airy plain building with a far more decorative rococco exterior.

But right now the needs of the body outweigh that of the soul. I was ravenous. Send pizza!


If I was in any doubt of the precious beauty of this place before, I'm now awestruck. The city walls which encompass the Mediaeval centre show what you just don't see at street level. The precipitous drops to the sea, the orange tiled roofs, hidden gardens and the sea vista... 2k of absolute wonder.

Heading back to the last ferry home, I spied the little place that offered shelter before. As I hadn't tried the local beer, though it rude to pass up on an opportunity. So beer in hand, vistas in mind and very step weary feet, I'm contemplating a hot shower and a substantial dinner.

Modern Historic Ponderings

In a small corner of the renaissance Rector's Palace, the seat of the old Ragusan Republic, there is an exhibition of war photos from 1991-1992. This was the moment when Dubrovnik was under siege.

This has a peculiar resonance and returns me to a time when my political innocence was shattered; when I first asked why do countries go to war? Why are people in Europe fighting? (I still have no answers) We had been to (Northern Croatia) Yugoslavia on an idyllic family holiday in 1989/90 and I wondered what would happen to those friends we'd made.

Only now does it take on the true horror of what happened and has become a 'moment in history'. People queuing for humanitarian aid, children carrying water, sandbagged ruins, burnt out boats and cars, treasures stored away.

Though war images are with us all the time, these are particularly shocking for me simply because 'they and we' are European and I knew these people. I knew their culture, their architecture and art and history because it was so familiar.

What is striking in these images is the hope amongst the despair; children pictures exhibited outside the rectors palace, the boarded up shop windows painted with colourful Christmas messages, images of St Blaise, the city's saint. The utmost care that the people took to protect their heritage, echoing the pride that can be seen in other historic civil displays elsewhere in the palace, is inspiring.

It's modern proof that Europe can still be susceptible to unrest and I can't help feeling uneasy about certain parts of southern Europe. An inevitable sense that they're entering another difficult chapter of a history yet to be written.

Delaphodia: A brief history

You've had more than enough random ramblings, it's time for the history bit so pay attention.

The Lopud you see now is a faded relict of an incredible past. Some of the 16th century houses on the promenade are roofless and abandoned and those which stand are stunning reminders of what it was like in previous centuries.

There is evidence for ancient civilisation here; for instance in the Greek name 'Delaphodia'. Where the Greeks were, the Romans surely follow. However it was in the 9th Century that the Croats really made their mark, building four Romanesque churches, the remains of which still stand and are still in use, eg the roofless St John's with the incomparable views.

At this time the island 'Isola di Mezzo' became part of the Commune of Dubrovnik. This wealthy, proud republic rivalled Venice in its sea trade connections. By the 1400s the island's ship building and trade ventures ensured a steady supply of cultural exchange.

Intellectual endeavours were continued by the monastic inhabitants who set up schools in the 1480s. Their curriculum emphasised navigation which would have been invaluable to the seaward bound students. So impressive was the island's fleet of 80 merchant ships, that writers described the city here as having 14000 inhabitants. In actuality there was probably about 2000; these poets are prone to exaggeration, you know.

From the 17th century the island began its economic decline, which meant people left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Conquest by Napoleon in 1808 brought the monasteries to a close and by the time of the Austro-Hungarian rule the diminished population of 300 were mostly farmers and fisherman.

The industrial revolution brought new trade and weaving was introduced along side the traditional occupations. Over 50 new looms also meant jobs for women. The island which is now covered in lush greenery was then highly cultivated with vineyards, olive farms and mills, grazing for the sheep which provided milk for the cheese industry and wool for the weaving.

From 1927-1990 tourism was an inevitable industry and brought new channels of prosperity. The population had new investment and stability was enjoyed. Despite the hotels being state property post WW2, all was, at least on the surface, thriving. From 1991-1995 however war interrupted this prosperity and it is only now with foreign investment that things are recovering. The hotel I am in was built in the 70s but has been recently refurbished by an Italian at great expense.

As the rep said this morning, it is important that the people here look to the future and try to leave the recent past behind. This place feels unexplored and I have to wonder what archeological remains are up in the hills. I also wonder what the local wine was like 80 years ago.

Not drowning but laughing

After the storm, comes the calm. This morning is bright fresh with the sea being a 2 or 3 on that weather scale. The swimming pool was a smooth 1 and after being topped up with cold rainwater, was 'quite refreshing' on the Clare nipple scale.

After chortling quietly at the fat Brit carefully laying out towels, rearranging sun loungers (at 7.15am) from my watery haven, I went to breakfast for the usual three courses (fruit, ham cheese egg, choc croissant and several coffees). Honestly the things people eat for brekkie!

One child is tucking into a plate of 10 sausages... The larger guests prefer the plated mountain of food arrangement. With pommes frites on the side. Gosh, who knew!

It seems I am doomed to find my fellow guests an infinite source of amusement.

My ferry to history and culture departs at 12am. Apparent the people of Dubrovnik are smart and stylish so I'm in my Sunday best. Oh. You know what I mean, not in trainers and shorts. As I have a guide book and large breakfast to digest, l'm going to sit in the local park under a tree.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Drama in Dalmatia

Things could get dramatic here. It could even take an ugly turn.

1. The weather has gone all Greek gods and someone is hurling thunder bolts around in a fit of pique. The sky is incredible, the cicadas are perturbed and your correspondent is getting splashed - still eating* on the veranda.

2. I have booked three trips and each one is a 5am start. I've always said lie-ins were for the weak.

3. Sitting at my balcony earlier I saw people clutching yoga mats and a very fit instructor. So I went to investigate. Yes I did a legs bums and tums exercise class overlooking the sea. No gym will ever be able to compete.

4. Chef's special sauce is pink.

5. I'm planning a historical piece at some point. Turns out Lopud is a fascinating place with drama at every turn.

6. Even alone I'm having more conversation than the couple on the next table.

7. A German gentleman just made a joke about a banana...

None of these are desperate, I'll pull through somehow. I just hope I can walk tomorrow after all the exercise.

*For diet watch purposes I had 2 dishes of side salad, mushroom stuffed cannelloni with 'chef sauce', swordfish in tomato sauce with pesto mash and a long sit down. I *looked* at the chocolate cake, it was delicious.

Whilst the cat's away...

Sunday didn't quite work out as expected, but was still lovely. It was nice to wander about, take a walk down the tow path, do the shopping (buying my own flowers, again) and generally feel at one with the world. That was until I got the munchies, made fish cakes (again) and worked my way rather decadently through a bottle of fizz.

Quite naughty really.

Not sharing...
To be fair, I did avoid having an even more decadent afternoon owing to the gentleman friend I had been planning on seeing being struck down with man flu. Or something nearly as serious as that. So I got away with it quite lightly.

That was until late in the evening when the snack monster hit big time and I had to eat hash browns. Had to. Yes. That bad. I did feel delightfully disgusting afterwards but knew that my punishment would come with the morning light...

It did.

89.8kg, urk. That will be the result of little exercise for two days, naughty food, Limehouse Half Cuts, and champagne. That or I shouldn't have sucked that lime. That'll be it! Not the best of starts for a week when I was expecting to be a lady of leisure(ish) for at least part of it. I did realise this morning that maybe the one upside of being in Notting Hell was I walked an awful lot. Hmmm.

Legs still hidden...
Anyway. I've had a nicely relaxing day, I have been working, I've done two loads of washing, I've cleaned the windows and I even managed a lay in the sun followed by a doze on the settee. I didn't though have a telephone interview I was supposed to be having as the client didn't confirm or something, and I'm still waiting to hear from megacorp, but I'm not too concerned with that as I know they are holding further interviews. I would like the role though, it's only two and a half miles walk from Contrary Towers which will solve the issue of the O word as well as guaranteeing me five miles a day walking.

I haven't been for a swim though, Limehouse Cut is a bit dodgy now owing to the huge increase in water traffic for the O thing, and Mile End Leisure centre pool may not be as enticing as the one my lovely flatmate was making like a mermaid in earlier. I have though got a glass of delightfully warmed red and I'm about to do something unspeakable to non-Portobello Road Portobello mushrooms so all is largely well in the world. Still.

Oh yes. How could I forget! I've won a pair of tickets to the Volupté Lounge on Wednesday! As my flatmate is annoyingly unavailable I've found a gentleman friend to be my chaperone for the evening. This I am very much looking forward to...

It's not a holiday if...

It's not a holiday if I don't get lost. Combine walking miles with a rubbish map and that is how all first days should be spent. Also not having enough water...I'm such an idiot.

After a false start where I startled a man having a pee, I traipsed through some rather lonely Mediterranean flora with only the cicadas and butterflies for company. The grasshoppers were reasonably friendly and so big, I bade them good afternoon. I asked the insects to stop dive bombing me but unlike everyone here they didn't speak English.

After meandering for some time I found some amazing slanting rocks to sit on. With toes in the water I wrote and listened and enjoyed the sounds around me. Watching the colourful ferries reminded me that there are people out there.

But to be honest the disagreement between the virtually transparent shrimp and the sandy coloured fish was far more interesting and important than the human noise. I don't know why they kept arguing, the rock pool universe was more than big enough. I'm just glad they decided to ignore the elephantine toes dangling above them.

After heading back the way I'd come, I had an emergency juice and set off again. There was the option of hotel pool, beach or jacuzzi, so this is why I found myself climbing up 200m to St John's c9th belvedere. The Elafiti islands fade off over the misty distant horizon like a Chinese print. St John wasn't here, like the men of the local monastery, he seemed to have been evacuated.

Time to retire to the shade to nod over a cocktail and book. After all I've got cheesy 80s classics in the disco tonight. You see, it's not a holiday if I don't get lost, dehydrated and - dance to terrible music.

Nectar of the Goddesses

There is a concern I *may* fall victim to a decadent life style. Readers perhaps believe that we at CT already have one.

Oh no. Here the five senses don't have to struggle into existence like they do in London. Each one here is rewarded easily. Sun drenched food, skin kissed by warmth, the sheer quiet of a 12 hour good nights sleep, the pine/lavender/salt breeze. Nevermind humanity returning but an almost inevitable goddess like serenity and sense of wellbeing and invincibility.

Did I mention the food? The diet isn't so much forgotten as part of the day. For instance last night, the tomatoes, prawns, salad, fish were saintly. And this morning when I saw the array of perfect fruit I didn't know whether to paint it or sit there flapping like a fruit bat. Probably to the relief of waiters, I did neither but scoffed a load. Followed by ham and an egg. Perfect.

No guilt because I'd already spent 45 mins doing lengths of the pool. After the obligatory happy campers meeting this morning to decide what I'm doing the rest of the week, I shall be putting my best foot forward and heading off to explore my very own island. There may be more swimming...I'll be the mermaid with seaweed in my hair.

How easy is this regaining goddess status thing on holiday?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

From the Isle of Dogs to the Dalmatian Coast

So Contrary Towers has branched out. I've taken my own unique brand of insanity to the Dalmatian coast. Yes I can say, I've literally gone to the dogs.

The journey was incredibly smooth with the only small amount of excitement taking place a couple of yards from home. My lovely cabby had rescued a young man who was being chased down the road by some youths. So we gave him a lift home and all was well. A reminder that our area is to be treated with a certain level of respect.

Though there was a screaming child on the plane, there were no nuns or inflatable co pilots as far as I'm aware. On arrival, in an inevitable fug of tired unreality, an easy coach ride up the coast to Dubrovnik harbour gave way to a wooden boat.

A sea ride which was hypnotically blue. The mental cares were being left on shore. Though I know they are still there looming like the nude and barren mountains I can see now, I'm on an island of wooded grey green being serenaded by the coarse voices of cicadas. Music as beautiful as any I've heard recently.

As ever indecision as to what I am going to see here reigns. A trip to Mostar (probably), Montenegro (as previous, seems rude to leave the country as soon as I've arrived), the old city of Dubrovnik which looked stunning? But then the interior of this island is actually calling to me and the hire kayaks I've seen look suitably spill inspiring.

So in the meantime I shall sit on my balcony with some wine and a book and see what happens. Hard to believe I was looking at the Thames at 3am.