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 CafĂ© in Europe, Caffe Florian, I do have more travel writing to do but not before I say…

I’ll be back in July.

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