Monday 25 April 2016

Let them eat burek

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

I think it liked it.

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

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

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

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

Straight up a very steep hill.

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


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

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

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

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

So we had coffee.

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

She was definitely delaying the chilly inevitable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was horrible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#NotAllFilms I imagine…

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

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

We moved on.

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

Maybe we’re just too cool for school.

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

It was pure hardship.

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

You have to laugh.

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

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

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

You truly had to be there.

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

I liked it.

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

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

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

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


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

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