Monday 23 January 2017

Advent and Events in December

Home Sweet Home
They say that Advent is a time of planning, preparation and waiting. In my case I don't think I've ever done so much of all three. Much of early December was spent working. Yes I know. This is something that I've been plotting for some time and finally reached fruition this month. More of that anon. However having some extra cash coming in meant that I could be a better friend and aunty, and get to the UK over the festive period. So my trip to Split expanded to include London and Wiltshire.

Despite my earlier decision to spend longer on Šipan, the plan was never to stay on the island over Christmas and New Year. I think that would have been an isolation too far. If circumstances had been different...still, there is no use crying over broken hearts. And my lovely friend in Split would have been rightly cross with me. As it happened another friend there was going to be away so I could happily and warmly take my laptop and work in her cosy apartment.

I was excited to reach Split because as usual I had no idea what to expect. An early start on a cold, dark ferry meant that my hugely heavy rucksack and I arrived there in bright early afternoon sunshine. The winter market on the Riva was alive to the sound of music and excited conversation. Festive aromas of frying fritule and kuhano vino filled the fresh air...I felt drunk just on the atmosphere. Wanting to dump my bags, I headed up to Maria's first but soon realised I had the wrong keys. Or the right keys for the wrong lock. Resisting an eye roll at my uselessness, I went to see my redoubtable friend to get help. Once in I was happy to relax into the swing of Split life.

I went back to hers picking up ham, cheese and wine on the way. Situation normal. And took my homemade sloe vodka with me. As we sat in the kitchen chatting about everything and nothing, it was like I'd never been away. The children were doing homework, the dog was trying to get on my lap, and we made no plans at all. There was loads of Christmas things to be done; cakes, decorations, food shopping, some exciting exam (not mine!) paperwork... so no planning really needed. Ahem.

I arrived on 16 December and that first week was spent industriously writing several January blogs so I could relax into the new year. The weather continued to be sunny so I did lots of running around Marjan park. And discovered punč - fruit tea enhanced with golden rum. There had been an announcement that our favourite bar was closing on 25th December. This place had contributed so many memories earlier in the year, so it seemed fitting to celebrate their end with the last karaoke session. Catching up with familiar faces was fabulous. It did mean that as of 23rd of December I was officially on holiday! After a working interlude, Split was back to the whirl of singing, dancing, lung and liver bashing, and general hedonism. And an Elvis impersonator, not to mention a Bulgarian clown who is also a sushi chef.

I'm not a big one for Christmas but this year's was the most perfect I've had. We baked Christmas tree cakes, decorated the actual tree, lit advent candles...and drank plenty of kuhano vino. Our shopping was completed on Christmas Eve. We had plenty of coffee breaks to enjoy the sun whilst shopping. If I had been in the UK I would probably have had a nervous breakdown. But the shopping centres were quiet and relaxed, so she and I only had to contend with my general dislike of shops. Fortunately we have very little money so apart from presents for her children, there was nothing we could buy anyway. Food is a different matter... Our trip to the butchers was characteristically unorthodox.

On 23rd Dec it was karaoke night with a Christmas hat competition. I placed faith in my good friend that something would present itself regarding headwear. Given I'd totally failed to get my hair done as is usual when I'm here, I wasn't looking my best. Still, it was glorious sunshine and we shone with the usual contrary glow of happy friends. We were heading to the afternoon Hvar catamaran to deliver a chocolate cake*, when I saw the perfect hat.

Only the images can do this justice. These conical Christmas trees were tarted up with white fur and fairy lights and turned heads everywhere. Strolling up Marmontova later on where polite Split goes to show off, we styled it out. It's fair to say our arrival was NOT low key. We dived into the hot smoky melee and sang and laughed the night away. Under Chatham House rules, I can reveal nothing about my friend. However at 3 my feet decided they fancied a dance and so I found myself in Klub Central. Though my hat chose to stay at To Je To. Apparently this club is where all the cool kids go; there were dancers in cages, fire jugglers and hot half naked ladies on stage. Perhaps I just dreamt it.

Strolling home later, I bumped into my friend. Given there is a tradition of raiding the bakery in the early hours, we headed up the road to Varoš. The butcher was standing outside his shop taking in the morning air, and he watched with interest as we cackled noisily up the street. She decided then was the perfect time to order beef for Christmas Day pasticada. He is a sweet guy and I decided his morning could be improved by asking to kiss his cheek. He seemed keen. He blushed. With promises to pick up his meat later we continued to wobble up the hill. For hot jammy bread.

Hot jammy bread at 5am is the best.

Christmas Eve is traditionally a fishy sort of day. There is a communal lunch in Split where they make a cauldron of bakalar and serve everyone. Those that haven't been out the night before had finished every last morsel so we arrived too late. Never mind. We went on a wander around the bright sunny city taking in the sights, scents, sounds...ah the sounds. The gentlemen struck up hymns to Dalmacija just off the main square. Tearful and transported, we gathered for a moment in time. Just being. We carried on with festive meeting and greeting as people just enjoyed their holiday. We picked up our last ingredients for the following day.

So I'd be less tired for Christmas Day I decided a nap was in order. My hat was still in the bar so I called time on its shenanigans and went home via the sunset. By 8am I was back at her's where we prepared potatoes for njoki, a platter for breakfast and made sure everything was perfect. For once that week I had an early night and was back in bed for midnight. Enjoying yourself is exhausting!

Christmas Day. It had its family dramas. Don't they always? I even spoke with my mum where I arranged my trip to Warminster. I finally had a rough plan for the UK. By midday we'd eaten and were out taking in the sunshine on the Riva. The day passed by in a haze of food, good wine, and friends. The greatest gifts you can possibly get.

As this day was the final night of To Je To, the plan was to help them clear stock. 50 kunas all you could drink. They wanted nothing left by the end of the night. So letting her have a nap, I popped down there for 9 to see what was happening. It was full of the regulars and we passed a lovely evening. There was gin and lemonade, vodka and vodka, and finally vodka and red stuff. I have no idea. By 3am a cheer went up at the bar. We were dry. What to do now? The owner had a craving for Mexican food so opened the restaurant opposite to refry beans. Guys brought their guitars, and I sat and pondered the meaning of life. The sheer weird fun of it all - what a start to Boxing Day. After an impromptu party we parted, wishing everyone a happy Christmas.

*everything from oranges, suitcases, 'things' in Croatia get delivered by bus or boat. You give it to a man, they pop it on, then your friend or contact goes to pick it up when the transport arrives. Simple. Imagine National Express doing this!

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