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 Brač 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

Saturday, 23 April 2016

And then...

You might recall that back in March I booked my return trip to Split because having finally managed to convince the flatmate formerly known as Clare - because the current one isn’t called that but let’s face it as lovely as he is she’s still The Flatmate - that what she really needed to do was to trek half way across Europe and live in the sun. To be honest it didn’t take much convincing.

Wine happened, it was great.
So anyway, I’m back and through my music addled brain and sore throat from the foetid smoke filled club we danced in last night I’ll try to give you an idea of what has been going on…

Stuff happened, it was great. The End.

Oh, I have to write more? Damn.

You might also recall I’d been in the throes of moving. Dear lord. That seemed truly like the labours of Hercules though incredibly I did eventually finish moving out at about 9pm on the Sunday before the so-called professional cleaners went in to remove the evidence of our dust bunny farm. The trouble was that didn’t mean I had actually finished moving as I now had almost the entire world goods of two people in my room.

It was a little messy.

When I say a little messy it’s like saying the Somme was a little loud and muddy in places. I would get home after work and wail as I pushed items to one side in a vague bid to find something to wear. My clothing had - amazingly - all been put away, even sorted and all on hangers but that didn’t help when I couldn’t actually get within arms reach of the wardrobe.

In a vague bid to stop me sobbing every time I went in the room I found that my endless wraps could do a sterling job of making the boxes look like they were there on purpose, possibly even an art installation in rival Emin’s excuse to her mum for why she hadn’t tidied her room. Come to think of it I really missed a trick there.
It’s amazing what you can do whilst being singularly bloody minded and having the help of friends, Stef kept me sane (ish) during the middle of the move and my lovely Irish friend offered his strength when it came to moving the furniture towards the end. Of course the true stalwart was the Contrary Clio. She’s now resting in the garage with the back filled with gardening related bits and pieces and she’s remembering endless miles of trips as she transported the detritus of our lives from one part of E14 to another. I’m not sure how many trips I actually made, when I came to make a quick collage of the images taken of most loads I ran out of slots at ten. I may have to do another collage to make a collage of collages.

My plan was to spend the weekend trying to get things in to some semblance of order, or at least make it so I could move around the room. Incredibly once fuelled with a stinking breakfast and a will of uncompromising iron I managed to bustle and hustle, sometimes rustle, the chaos in to some sense of order. By the end of the Saturday my new flatmate provided much needed refreshment in the form of fizz and I could finally feel that maybe this wouldn’t be too bad, it would actually fit without recourse to further storage.
The next morning I woke to a new reality, my boudoir was habitable. Well, pretty much. It was wonderful to languish in bed for a few minutes as long as I didn’t let my eyes drift to the left and the remaining boxes.

I even managed to take the time to test the oven properly with a mix of bread, yorkshire puddings and roast spuds. All looks well in my world.

In the end it took the rest of the week and in to the next weekend to sort out the last bits and pieces and if the truth be known I do have a little too much stuff on the top of the chest of drawers, not to mention a pile of art that remains resolutely unhang. But I will get there. That’s the trouble with things like this, work and life kept getting in the way.

The reality was I needed to try and clear my desk before disappearing for a few days.

The morning of the flight I woke bright and early to two thoughts. Firstly I must pack. This being closely followed by an additional of thought of why hadn’t I already packed instead of listening a fabulous talk about Shakespeare followed by sitting in the All Bar One on New Oxford Street with wine I could ill afford. Still, I had the world to put right with Stef. My second thought was why the hell was my new flatmate messaging me at 6:59am. Oh, no hot water.


I scampered around the flat and diagnosed that the Economy 7 circuit hadn’t switched over. I hope I didn’t terrify the poor chap with the vision of me, scary hair, nightie and thick stripey socks explaining what I thought was going on. By the time I’d finished contacting the electricity people and the landlord the 24 hour heater had done its work and it was possible for me to shower in something other than super chilled water. Of course this also meant I still hadn’t actually packed.

This was going exactly as expected.

My vague plan was to be on the DLR by 8:30 followed by a swift jaunt to Gatwick and the flight to Split. I should have known it would go perfectly. Badly that is. I managed to select something approaching a capsule wardrobe, I even remembered the christening gift for the weekend, and tentatively weighed the bag. 7.9kg. Okay that was a little tight as Norwegian have an 8kg limit for hand luggage and I really don’t know how accurate my scales are.

I took out my brolly and the iBastard charger.

Of course what I didn’t do before weighing again was to zip the flight case up. The carefully and beautifully packed case. The one that promptly flung itself open and deposited the entire contents of itself all over my boudoir floor.

I. Must. Not. Cry.

Having carefully repacked I went back in to my bathroom to weigh again worried that the dust bunnies might push the weight back up… 7.2kg. Oh yes.

I was happy with this. I would take out the brolly just before being weighed just in case and hope the scales weren’t too far out. As I was also by this point dressed I made for the door.

I then went back in to find the Kunas I had from the last trip. I made for the door.

Then I went back for my sunglasses. I made for the door.

And I made it out. Which of course meant I then stood outside mentally crossing things off a checklist… Passport? Monty? Pennies? Phone? Charger? Keys? Clean knicks? Shades? I answered yes enough times and thought let’s go!

Now I’d checked the route the night before and it reckoned the best thing to do was go via Blackfriars. I did ask Google if it was sure and it nodded enthusiastically. Right. Which was why when I double checked having got on the DLR for Tower Gateway - admittedly the first train in at Limehouse - I found I really should have gone to Bank and then London Bridge. As I suspected Google.

*glares very glarily*

So I got off again at Shadwell. And waited for the next train. Which arrived and then promptly waited until somebody had been and checked every single door to see why we couldn’t leave. Hurry up! Eventually I battled through the rush hour traffic with my wheely bag - that I carried - and got to London Bridge to buy a ticket. Oh. I had choices. I don’t like choices when I think things should be simple. I chose Thameslink. What can I say, I’m an idiot. Having acquired my ticket I looked blankly at the departure boards. How the hell do I tell which one is Thameslink? It’s weird SOTR. I gave up and headed for platform 14 only to find a Southern train. I did what any sensible woman would do and asked somebody only - after explanation of how I had a Thameslink ticket but no way to find a bloody train - to be directed at some other blokes who could help. I went through the same routine. They pointed me back at the other guys.

There was risk of a small thermonortherner explosion…

…until I realised there was somebody else. We’ll call him Victor for it was his name. Apparently I should get on that train. The Southern one.

Deep breaths. I explained again, my ticket was for Gatwick and yes I know that train went to Gatwick but it was a Southern train and I needed a Thameslink as my ticket said only valid on… you get the idea. He was insistent and he was wearing a Southern tabard so I eventually said okay as I really needed to get my bottom to the check-in. Though with the parting comment that if I was stopped by a ticket inspector I was going to name him explicitly. To be fair he was lovely and wasn’t even put off by the panicking wide eyed look.


To say I was a little tense on the journey was an understatement and relief only settled when I crossed the ticket barrier in to the airport. All I needed to do was get to the plane…

Check in was easy. I’ve become a bit of a fan of Norwegian. So I padded off boarding pass in hand to the security area. And the discovery that the plastic bag I’ve been using for many a trip had ripped. Oh fiddlesticks. This would have been fine if the bags they had available weren’t designed for people that had forgotten everything. I truly struggled, the problem was that not only was the plastic straining with the tension of everything I couldn’t actually see the zip lock strip to close the actual bag. It felt I struggled for ten minutes to get the stupid bits of plastic to actually go together.

I didn’t cry.

But oh it came close. With the thing finally closed I was then told I needed another tray for my coat etc. Oh marvellous, so now my worldly goods were separated by several other trays and I had to get them at the other side once thorough the metal detector…

…I can report that M&S bras don’t set off the alarm! Neither as I realised later does wearing a Jawbone wristband. I was a little stressed though, as suspected the bags had been separated and I really didn’t want to put them all in one place to fetch the other. It was all a little chaotic and I wasn’t the only person with that blind confused look pasted on their face.

But I was through and airside. I stomped through the duty free in search of a cup of tea as I hadn’t had one yet and this meant I was actually dangerous. I had to settle on Pret, a place I’ve not been to since I went to one near Covent Garden with a colleague from my Sony days. It was better than nothing, and I had something resembling a wrap too.

What I didn’t have was a signal…

Remember the electricity problem earlier? Just before I left for the third time I diagnosed that the actual problem was the neutral wire being loose in the Radio Teleswitch. That would do it. When it was pushed home there was a big clunk and the heating burst in to life only to go off again as the Economy 7 time then finished. Excellent. This meant I had to update my landlord so he knew what was going on. Which meant email. Which meant my work email. Which I could only do from iBastard Junior and that meant WiFi or tethering. The former wouldn’t connect. The latter had no 3G signal of any kind.


Food finished I marched back in to the lounge in search of a signal. Still none. But I did at least manage to connect to the WiFi so all was not lost. I wrote an email and dealt with a couple of other matters before finally closing the lid and walking over to see what was happening with my flight. The one that seemed an age away. The gate was closing at 11:15.

It was 11:08.

*pause*. Fuuuuuuuuucccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk. It turns out you can get an out of shape middle aged woman with a bag to a) run and b) get to gate whatever-it-was in under seven minutes through a packed airport without killing anyone. I imagine I covered double the actual distance as I dodged in and out. of the slow moving people who had been obsessively checking the departure boards and not dealing with a domestic crisis or work issues.

I amazed myself by actually getting to the gate, joined the end of the queue and thankfully was let through with little more than a cursory check and so late that I walked straight to the now boarding queue, actually had a human interaction with the chap that was directing people and made it to my flight.

There was even plenty of room in the luggage thingie.

Oh and I had an emergency exit seat so legroom plus nobody next to me… Bliss. Inevitably there was a bloke on the other side of the aisle that was too cool for school and was such seasoned traveller that he had to be told to put his belt on. Twice. And then promptly took it off. There always has to be one. Monty wasn’t very happy as he had to go in to the luggage thingie.

With the plane flying and Monty finally released I wrote as he sat glaring at me. Quite honestly that’s all the ungrateful little sod does, though he did perk up at the sound of the magic word… Champagne.

I think that should be my safe word.

The journey was thankfully short and having written a blog post and exchanged messages with various people the announcement was made that we were about to descend in to Split airport. Hurrah! The only downside was this would lead to my usual deafness and painful ears. And yes, I’ve tried everything over the years.

At passport control I had my customary moment of anxiety, especially as the lady on my line was looking particularly severe. Oh dear. It turned out though that she was just fed up with humourless travellers - predominantly in my line with British passports - that didn’t bother to learn even the most basic of greetings. Dobar dan! A smile, hurrah, she looked at my passport, back at me and then with a smile handed my passport back, with a cheery hvala I set off with her wishing me what sounded like “have a pleasant stay”. But in Croatian. It was that or she was warning me to leave the country as the security services had been notified and she was particularly pleased with the idea of me being interred before being departed for being Contrary in a built up area.

Finally I marched through customs and saw my very excited looking best friend waiting for me. I love being met by people. There might have been lots of excited squeeeeeeees hugs and we marched off to the bus talking twenty to the dozen. It was lovely to be back.

It was also amazing how much Croatia had changed since I left in early March, trees were in leaf, vines sprouting, the grass green and the traffic… At a standstill.

We later realised it was because there was some sort of football match on. Mostly because we heard them chanting as we walked around Marjan park later that day. After we’d eaten - a deliciously healthy mix of pršt, cheese and the local cucumber - that tastes like melon - we went for said walk around the park. A gentle stroll to break me in. It was truly glorious and the whole of Split seemed to be out exercising. The promise was of a paddle before a glass of wine at a bar on the far side of the park with a sunset view before wandering back.

It really was worth the effort.

I even had an impromptu blow dry!

The view was wonderful pretty much everywhere though Clare rather liked the view down on the beach as two very athletic young men were going through some sort of fitness regime that seemed mostly aimed at distracting ladies of a certain age. It worked in her case.

Sadly after a glorious sunset we wandered back around to her apartment before emerging once more to eat at a near by restaurant. One where Clare thought the waiter was cute.
This doesn’t narrow it down much.

Anyway. The food was lovely, the wine just right and the waiter was indeed cute. We could have gone on as the twinkly one was all a-twinkling but me? Well I was fading fast, after the strain of the move and working very hard I was exhausted and further hampered by the nagging pain of my high altitude ear. I just needed to sleep.

With that we had a convivial short walk back to her apartment, a night cap of hazelnut liquor and finally with a promise that I would still be there in the morning I drifted off to a long awaited sleep.

To be continued. After we’ve been swimming. Again.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


Sometime last week Clare left me a message on Farcebook saying I had homework to do for when I visit. What?! I'm sure that's not on.

However I've done it, not quite on the bus on the way to school, but rather at 35000 feet as I scamper across Europe en route to Split. At least it saved me from worrying whether my white dress for the christening has survived the journey...

So firstly, what the homework was...
1. What steps can/do/did you take to create Your Zone?
You can either describe the changes you've made to yourself/your attitude/your environment to stimulate, motivate, and focus yourself, take a picture of your existing creative space, or even share the name/location/snapshot of your favourite cafe to write in, etc.
2. Find a piece of writing that you find particularly interesting/inspiring/powerful/beautiful. You can either post it here, or bring it with you to the next meeting (especially if the piece is more powerful if read out loud). It can even be a clip of slam poetry, song lyrics, a couple quotes, etc.
Based on the pieces you find, next meeting we'll talk about writing styles, what makes a piece of writing particularly compelling/powerful/beautiful, developing our personal voice in our writing, etc.

Where do I begin?

Actually, maybe a better question is just what is my zone? Do I really have a special place or is that special place something that merely lives in a state of mind. I suppose my problem is this: I’m not a writer. Occasionally I will have a flash of inspiration, thoughts that would bubble up and I had to express them my zone was then quite simply wherever I happened to be, whether this be in my boudoir, the underground, at the office, in a palazzo or as it is right now a zone that happens to be at 35000 ft.

Perhaps the trigger is the unusual. Something that happens which causes my mind to switch gear and feel the need to begin expressing some thought.

It’s been a while but I used to write a lot of very short poetry. Mostly it was utter drivel and it was merely trying to express something that I felt in that very moment. More often than not I would keep to below 140 characters, the size of a single tweet and I’d send that out without thought and usually followed by a pang of regret as I realised I could have changed the meaning with a single twist of words.

My zone then would be more often than not on public transport, a place where I would escape in to my own mind, a refugee from city life. 
Voices sound
As steel wheels pound
A flutter
In rushing air
In eyes that stare

The big triggers would be emotions, whether they be great sadness, excitement or the erotic. Sometimes a mix of all three.

Pondering moments
A stolen kiss
Passion rode
Entangled bliss
Tyres turned
Hands held tight
Perfect. Right.

But there is no consistency. Recently I wrote a great deal as - quite simply - I had a great deal to write about. Instead of merely trying to make it through the day and move from the shock of morning to the lingering exhaustion of night I was on a single drawn out adventure.

My zone then was simply in my head.

As the miles whisked by I would toy with sentences in my mind, playing with the words as I tried to mentally capture how I felt and what I could see. Of course I couldn’t actually write there and then though I suspect the mere act of thinking endlessly was building a reserve of thoughts that would hopefully end up being written out when we eventually stopped.

And once we did I would write constantly until I had captured at least an essence of what had gone on.
Twisty. No, twisty is what an old plastic ruler is like after being abused in maths class for too many years. No this was beyond merely twisty. It wasn’t even slightly mental. It was full on I-have-to-keep-going-forward-as-really-don’t-like-the-idea-of-going-back mental.
Which brings me to now.

Now is an artificial construct. After the initial shock of being expected to do homework I agreed as I simply thought it might be a good exercise in seeing whether I could write on demand. I’m not sure I can.


Well my writing feels stilted and the pictures that normally build in my mind are conspicuous by their absence. What I don’t know is if it’s the act of being told to write or whether it’s because I am lacking the inspiration. What I do know is that I will find out for sure when my life finally settles and I can attempt to write again as I expand the blogposts that formed the bulk of my writing last month.

Finally, mostly because the champagne has run out, my favourite piece of writing. I imagine I have many pieces but this single piece always percolates to the top of my mind as I think of my endless journey. The piece is a single stanza in T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. 

Monday, 18 April 2016

Vis continued...

I left you as I was drifting off to sleep in a tent of 40 people, all in various states of dampness, annoyance, discomfort and oblivion. The charismatic gentleman who had been making me laugh with his attempts to marry me all night was still talking to the lady next to him. Clearly she was more susceptible. However given my sleeping abilities, I'm immune to most things but voices, so I was ready to brain them with a heavy object. Where's a tent hammer when you need one?
Sadly though my consciousness was awake, it would have required effort to move and I was fairly incapable to be honest. I was snug, surprisingly comfortable and actually happy to drift in and out of sleep. Mild guilt had kicked in about my quiet adorable music man, whose sleeping bag I'd taken; not to mention I'd recalled the girl guide admonitions about the only way of preventing hypothermia.
I was then diverted afresh, chuckling at the memories of a certain Duke of Edinburgh expedition up into the Welsh Black Mountains. One of the young army guides there had offered to demonstrate the efficacy of sharing a sleeping bag, much to the annoyance of my lovely friend Gill. My 15 year old self was having inward gleeful hysterics at this repeat of such an event. I could see and sense him shifting, so I did the natural thing and offered him a spot under his own covers next to me...frankly, in a life of erotic encounters it was a highlight of innocent warmth. You try being anything but whilst wearing five layers!
After an hour or so of actual sleep, and thoroughly gentlemanly behaviour - and no I'm not so naïve that perhaps he expected more - with all risk of hyperthermia averted, someone had had the foresight to set an early morning alarm. A persistent bastarding alarm. I mean, the risk of all of us oversleeping was clearly an issue because we all had places to be. And by this time the chatty gentleman and his lady were utterly passed out whilst the tent came alive around them but they remained out for the count. How is this ever fair?!
After realising quite how wet everything was in the cold soaked light of day, I gave up worrying and threw revolting duvet, mat and everything into my rucksack. That was a problem to deal with later when I got home! We abluted as best we could and then Maria and I went in search of tea and the bathrooms. The night had definitely taken its toll on the 2 toilets but never mind, the sun was out and people were already on klapa and breakfast rakija shots. It was rather pleasant stuff. I'm thinking that the term continental breakfast will never have the same meaning again. I can only admire such constitutions... especially as these guys would later run past me down the hillside. Hardcore fitness and punishment. 
After a chaser of a nut and cereal bar, and more sweet herbal tea, with a wander round the packing up camp, we decided which routes we would be taking to Komiša. Maria wisely opted for the route around Hum, and I went for the harder trek over the top. My walking companions from the previous day said that the view from the top was spectacular so that was that. We set off at about nine and the shaky head and legs magically cleared as the blood started pumping. The conviviality from the previous day was undiminished and the views astonishing; the island light after the night's storm had made the landscape glow. Perhaps I'm unqualified to comment because I was high on lack of sleep and unaccustomed 'continental breakfast'. Reaching the summit of Hum with my new found friends was a lovely experience and there is even a photo to prove that I wasn't hallucinating the view. One of the ladies was celebrating her 60th birthday - 'Sretan rodendan' - And I couldn't think of a better place to be.
The descent began as the day got hotter and we discussed wildlife; the snakes and lizards, black pines and all the different shrubs, and generally comparing the different nature and character of the various islands. Although they are all broadly similar to the untrained eye, they have their own dialects, peculiarities and micro climates. Darko - nicknamed Bili because of his white hair, bright blue eyes and pale skin - spends much of his winters wandering around Brač so I hope at some point to head over there and do some walking with a local. The derelict vine terraces on the way down were melancholy reminders of the island's recent history. Years ago a vine plague decimated the viticulture here, and many people left the island in search of a better life. Although there is the odd bit of replanting and restoration, the state of the neglected land and terracing means that large amount of hard work and investment would be required. Just don't tempt me...
We finally met other people as we ambled into the sleepy town. He pointed out curious sites; a large house split down the middle shared a window. But the two owners, clearly of a contrary nature, decided to make each side of the window their own - different frame, shutters, pane size. This sharing of buildings often comes about here when parents die and property is shared between siblings and their families. The pretty town was full of Venetian architectural detail and I was happy to gaze at it with a coffee and chocolate biscuit. We were joined by his family group and had a lovely chat until we were driven by hunger to find lunch.
By this time Maria and I were reunited and we headed down to the only hotel in town where large portions of bean and sausage stew with massive hunks of bread were being administered to hungry walkers. We sat with more old friends and laughed about our evening, shared our different walking stories, and obviously there were photos of my hamster cheeks. We were famished. The glorious little beach at the hotel was full of our hiking people and we could have stayed for hours. Sadly there were buses back to Vis town after lunch and so we headed to the meeting point.
I was happy to collapse with other overpartied and exhausted hikers when we arrived. I rejoined the Bosnians for some serious amounts of idling in the sunshine as we waited the few hours for the ferry. The enterprising charismatic gentleman was in full flow again as his friend strummed his guitar; I'm sure he was used to being pimped out! They laughed and joked at other hikers passed by, and pebbles, bits of paper, a pine cone and tiny coins were dropped in his hat. His gleeful dance when actual kuna appeared was hysterical. By this time more beer had appeared and it was all getting hazy again. I've never experienced being part of something like that but it seemed a perfectly normal thing to do that weekend. The fact these guys had another 6 hours on the road when they got to Split made me boggle...not to mention the amount of beer they were getting through.
Some people questioned my ability to do simply relax and nothing whilst I was here, but I'm currently stunned at the speed of my mastery of the art. Watching the world go by to the sound track of waves, music, voices, and the honk and rumble of the odd boat is as rewarding as any work or study. It's as if I've been saving all my free time over the past few year and I'm bingeing on its seemingly limitless supply.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

What goes on up a mountain, stays up...

The continuing island craziness continues. I've not documented my everyday life in Split as it has now settled into a comfortable rhythm of university, Marjan, friends and music. However every time I leave Split and head seaward something extraordinary happens. Lastovo was pure peace: Vis ... Well. Let me tell you about Vis.
A few weeks ago I joined the Split mountaineering society because there was a weekend expedition to Vis. I quite fancied another few days of nature, quiet, and tranquility with a guided walk in a new place so I was happy to pay my annual membership and trip fee at the local offices. One of the other expat ladies was going along so I thought at least I wouldn't be alone.

The night before I went saw an evening of great irresponsibility; karaoke followed by a bit of dancing. By the time I'd had a couple of bottles of witches brew, lager, a chilli honey grappa, some vodka and thrown myself around the exceedingly dirty smoky club dance floor til 3am, hiking wasn't on my mind. I had however packed and cooked and bought some healthy high calorie / energy snacks.
We don't talk about the night before the night before.
I groaned out of bed at 8am and pootled gently for a few hours until it was time to meet Maria. She was having issues with her case and I was feeling wobbly. This was the only hiking trip where a wheely case seemed like a good idea and she was already swearing at it. We arrived at the port sweating for different reasons and we were faced with utter chaos. Was it normal for so many hikers to be going to Vis? My idea of a gentle convivial stroll in the style of Lastova was disappearing fast...
Information was definitely mixed. After finding a distinctive lady called Alessandra (blue top and a knotted up hairdo) we discovered that we already had ferry tickets. We clambered on to the ferry in a colourful melee of hiking štaps and waterproofs. Chatting to fellow members of the Split 'Mosar' hiking group we learned that this was a special weekend gathering of all the hiking groups of Croatia and Bosnia. And we were bemused to say the least. Frankly we were both glad of each other's company at this point. So we found a quiet spot, opened our drinks and snacks and proceeded to natter the whole three hours over; Maria truly is inspirational adventurous spirit.
On arrival in the thoroughly uncharacteristic hubbub of normally quiet Vis town, we realised further what we had stumbled into. Over 700 people were pouring off the boat to be greeted with a brass band, food, and many many voices of greeting. There was a little dismay as the weather turned wet so there was a mad dash to the nearest cafe. We were told to put our bags on a truck and we did so...and waved them goodbye with a fearful gulp.
Never mind it was pleasant to lose our heavier bags. We milled around calmly, as we were organised into two groups. We could choose which route to take to the overnight stop, and eventually we set off. The sight of many people winding up and around the start of the route was incredible; the weather had cleared and the vibrant blue sent us up the hill. Laughter and chat echoed around and we marched convivially, occasionally munching wild asparagus and herbs as we passed them. As the path up widened and new conversations were struck up, this is when I discovered that people were very happy to be patient with my lack of fluency. The open friendliness of fellow walkers made the going easy and it was interesting to find out about people. The love of their countryside and passion for health and exercise was inspiring. Children were weaving in and out of the adult groups...entire families - cousins, brothers, sisters - all out for a weekend away.
The land was becoming more gentle and cultivated as we headed into the evening light. Figs, vines, neat and tidy fields of vegetables showed us the way; the scent of fire smoke wafted towards us, reminding us that domesticity was close. So domestic in fact, that people were selling homemade Vis fig cake and olive oil. It was all very tasty! Tents had started to appear along the road, and the hubbub of beer and laughter replaced the relative quiet of footsteps and chat. We turned into the square, retrieved our rucksacks with a sigh of relief, and the enormity of our night situation started to dawn. Due to the number of people on the trip there was no space in the old school. Instead we were shown to the 5* hotel around the corner, our baggage taken upstairs, and a martini ordered.
I say that but in reality it was far more fun. We entered the groundsheet free damp canvas marquee sized tent, and when the gentlemen within noticed two ladies arrive, they were keen to offer their assistance. We kept going to the back corner of the tent which in hindsight wasn't the best plan. Still, it seemed like a good idea at the time. We started a conversation with our neighbour...again, I say this. He struck it up with us. And didn't stop talking for the whole trip but he was very sweet, later buying me a drink.
We laid out our beds so that we wouldn't have to do it later and in the dark. We put on extra layers as we were thoroughly chilled from the afternoon sweaty walk, and went in search of a loo, hot food and drink. The square was bustling with activity; klapa singers were on the stage, the BBQ-ed fish was smoking, and the beer was exceedingly cheap. We made like Dalmatians and nabbed chairs on our mini front row Riva, to watch the world have fun. The party was really getting going...One of the lovely chaps we'd walked with earlier was kind enough to go round with me and introduce me to a load of people, translate songs, and have a dance. The music was getting louder and walking boots were now dancing shoes. The atmosphere was thick with cigarette and cooking smoke, and there was something magical brewing. But responsibility beckoned and I headed for the tent to sleep.
I smiled at the two happy campers sitting outside, and nodded dobra večer. They enthusiastically invited me to sit down and poured me a home-made apple rakija, then popped a pot of Turkish coffee on the fire. Apparently I was now part of the family, and the conversation continued after a Germanic-Croatian fashion. One of the chaps had been in Germany as a guest worker and had vocabulary. I merely have the grammar! As the party grew, the dancing started, and the singing spread around the group. The strumming of a guitar started, a gentle voice hummed love songs and I was lost in the romance of the moment. The rain started to drift down and we headed for the trees. The thunder and lightning offered an extra thrill to the occasion, and then the rain stopped toying with us. We were soaked.
You know those annoying people on campsites who wake people up in the middle of the night with parties?
It was us. We headed into the tent and carried on with the drinking and music. To be fair, the torrential rain had already done the damage, and people were grabbing stuff to save it from being drenched. This included duvets in the far corner of the tent. Oh yes. My bed was now doubling as a wetroom, and the snails were enjoying my yoga mat. Still, there was rakija and music so who cared?By 5.30am crashing out with the wildlife seemed like a good idea. By now the music from another area of the site had finished and a certain amount of quiet had fallen. Flicking off the puž, fighting with a pauk, I was thankful for the many layers, and the chivalry of one of the gentlemen. He had offered his sleeping bag and thrown it over me...I curled up and dozed to the memories of an incredible day.
To be continued...

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Food glorious food

Part of the reason I came to this part of the world was food related. How could it not be? The freshness of the produce is legendary, and being a fairly saintly* type, I'm very happy to consume as much greenery as you put in front of me. Broccoli, cauliflower, name a vegetable, I'll eat it. And fresh fruit smoothies, oh my...

Which is why I find myself demolishing more cake here than I've ever had before. There is a private joke regarding certain friends who post more pictures of their food on social media than I've had hot dinners, but in actual fact I'm not that bothered about my own photos of lunch. Unless I've really made an effort.

Or in this case, if my landlady has been slaving over a hot oven in her tiny place and her cakes deserve wider attention. I immediately asked for the recipe for these nutty delights because I know some cake fiends will want to try these because they are rather good.

This is how you make Croatian Grandma's Cake. Or Ivana's Cake.

Take a cup of sugar, a sachet of vanilla sugar (lidl ftw) and whisk until creamy with two eggs. Add a cup of self raising flour, two cups of mixed whizzed up nuts, zest of a lemon, a cup of sunflower oil, grated chocolate or cocoa, and a cup of milk. Mix it all together and pour into a greased tray. Bake at 150 degrees for 45 minutes. Dust with icing sugar and cut into massive slabs, to serve with coffee - or tea. Or gin. Whatever you like.

As a balance to this cake, tonight I shall be attempting blitva s krumpirom. I've already boiled my potatoes and prepared the blitva (chard or spinach). So I shall simply fry garlic in lots of olive oil, and then add the cooled veggies to stirfry. I like my potatoes quite soft in this so I have saved some potato cooking water to make it nice and moist. Moist... Season well with salt and pepper, but not as much salt as is generally added. I'm fussy like that, and I shall be trying it with a dash of chilli because I'm an English heathen.

I will be having this with some pre roasted chicken or something. Cant think why I'm having to run miles...

*Saintly in the sense I eat ridiculously healthily under normal circumstances. I'm not sure I could be generally described as saintly to be honest.