Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Great Escape

Those that know me well know I have a great dislike of birthdays, there are a myriad of reasons and after some thought I’ve decided against listing them here and now. Why, well it’s being covered before with those that I wish to share these with but more importantly I’m sitting in a legendary bar and that’s never a good place to shed a few tears as I think about the reasons why.

For many years the actual date of my birthday had been treated as something of an official secret, I didn’t like the attention and more importantly I was shying away from one terrifying thing. Disappointment. You see I’d always ended up doing what somebody else wanted and somehow that never quite felt right. This might sound terribly ungrateful but it’s not meant to be.

I’ve been asked often recently what I planned to do for my birthday, some even going as far as talking about my fiftieth. I didn’t know, well I do have an inkling of what I would like to do for my fiftieth though that will require a certain amount of financial commitment which might not be possible given other things that are going on. What I did know was that I didn’t want to end up drunk in a restaurant somewhere knowing that the next morning I had work to do.

I needed a plan.

My first thought was Paris or maybe Versailles. So I checked out various AirBnB spots, fiddled with Eurostar times and… decided that I really didn’t fancy Paris alone and as I intended to be away for the whole of the Wednesday and that being a work day it would mean I would find it difficult to meet up with various people I know in the area. And I still didn’t fancy Paris alone.

Then I considered Split, it was certainly a possibility though the downside there was that a) I really wanted to sleep in a bed, b) Missy should be preparing to move out of her little piece of paradise  and c) I can’t remember what C was. These Bellinis are really rather good here.

Hmm, tricky. So I cast my mind back to the February/March Contrary road-trip, we’d covered a lot of ground and there had to be somewhere I fancied visiting, somewhere that I thought I could explore, think, eat, sleep and occasionally have a sip of something. Plus It had to feel okay to be travelling alone. I ran down the list crossing out various spots: too grey, too full of leaning towers, too difficult to get from the airport, the list ran on. And then I remembered Venice. If I remembered rightly I walked, I giggled as I got my shoes and tights wet in the rising waters, I was serenaded by a passing gondolier, I blushed and I was soaked in the rain the next morning. And I stayed in a hotel where every room was a baroque inspired tarts boudoir.

Perfect.

Now I blame my new flatmate for all of this as he was feeding my winez at the time. But that does help you ignore any little nagging about whether this is a good idea and instead it is transformed in to being a GREAT idea. I checked flights, okay, doable, and I could get them to what worked out at about £81 return. Hotel… Well first I did consider AirBnB but I could find nothing that even came slightly close to the convenience of the place I stayed in March with Clarissa. Or as tarty. So I checked the hotel. It was available from Tuesday to Thursday. Hmm. How about getting up at dawn to watch the sun rise over my fiftieth year? Okay, try Monday to Thursday. Still available. Great. How about Sunday to… Nope, no hope, Monday to Thursday it was, I lined up the browsers and clicked okay three times: hotel, airline, airline.

*squeeeeeels*

Okay so this was a bit irresponsible but I was doing my own thing. Which is good. Very good.

With that done I knuckled down to get my work decks cleared, after all this was a bit last minute and I wouldn’t have much time to catch up.

As a preamble on the day before I unexpectedly had my friend Stef visit so for the first time since I’ve moved to the new place I could go and sit in the residents garden with a bottle of nicely chilled fizz and a bag of Minstrels. Classy me. As I suspected the garden was nicely shielded from the stiff breeze that’s often rattling between the buildings and the only thing that lead us to scurry indoors was the rain that decided to make it’s presence felt.

It reminded my that as a result of checking the weather and knowing my rain coat was lacking in waterproofing I’d gone mad and bought a new coat, a decision I wouldn’t come to regret! Indoors I managed to singularly not pack and instead we sat and nattered whilst also ignoring the chaos in the kitchen caused by a morning making pease pudding. I was definitely aiming for a chilled day.

The next morning I woke bleary eyed and realised I had still not managed to pack. Go me! It takes serious effort to be this hopeless. On the bright side I’d at least made a very detailed list to ensure I actually packed what I needed, more to the point that I would avoid making a repeat of the out-in-out-in-out-in-out escapade of my last trip and Monty was helping. So packing was easy I even managed to not empty the entire contents of the bag all over the floor as I went to weigh the bag

7kg. Get in!

And that included the iBastard, heels, two dresses, two tops and all the other paraphernalia. By the time I added a guidebook and my handbag which had the portable charger, a small camera, Monty, sweets and everything else I was just over 10kg. Now the trouble was that Monarch - with whom I would fly out - said that the weight limit was 10kg in total. Hmm. I would keep an eye on the people in front and if it looked like they were also weighing handbags I’d decant the battery and camera in to my coat pocket to bring my under the weight. Silly rule. Of course first I had to check that I could actually put things in my coat pockets!

With all that done I was ready. Or I would be once I’d painted my nails. By some miracle I managed to leave five minutes early. Me. Early! I even knew the train times and hence which train operating company and therefore which ticket I needed to avoid a repeat of my last effort at being confused going through London Bridge. I was determined to not be beaten this time…

Did I mention I’d also re-used the ridiculous little plastic bag and also knew everything fitted so as to avoid a repeat of my inability to close the clip thing. Goodness I was organised. Everything went well, I was travelling off-peak, I didn’t queue for a ticket, sauntered on to the *right* platform and calmly waited. All was going so well. Finally they called the platform and I cooly wandered over and… Used my bloody Oyster to go through the barriers. It’s a Pavlovian thing that people living in London do, you see a little yellow circle and you have to use your Oyster. When I get the train to and from Norfolk I explicitly hold the ticket in my hand to avoid Oysteritis. But I’ve not done that in a while as I currently have the Contrary Clio.

So yes... Beep. Oh, that was easy…. Yes, then I realised, gah. I’d have to go back through. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t need to go through I just needed to tap back out and if I’m charged I’ll argue the toss with TFL when I get back, seriously, how far can you go in 8 seconds?

That blooper aside I boarded the train, stowed my bag and sat ready for the relatively quick journey. As I had a few minutes I decided now was a good time to call the hotel again. I’d been trying before I left as I needed to know how to get in owing to their reception closing fifteen minutes after my plane was due to land. I’d called six times already. It occurred to me that maybe they were having lunch so by the time I got to London Bridge. It might be over…

The phone answered. And then hung up. Oh. I called again. Same. Maybe they were dealing with somebody, having been there before I knew how tiny staffed they were… I waited five minutes. Called. Hung up. Oh bugger. I wrote them an email explaining that I called and I really needed instructions and to say I’d try again at the airport…

…but it wasn’t necessary. By the time I got there I saw I had and email to say that they had a problem with the phone system and explained what the procedure was. Phew. I realised I was feeling a little anxious about this so it was a huge relief. 

Having already checked in online - twitch - I went straight to security and beep-beep-beep. Hmm, I was wearing almost exactly the same as last time that had metal, i.e. Jawbone, pearl studs and pearl necklace, so not much. But a different bra. There was a report recently that M&S bras set of airport scanners and I wondered if this was one that did, after all I went through exactly the same scanner. So it was shoes off for me and then in to the full body scanner before finally a lady officer checked around my bra band. I didn’t giggle. Or make any flippant comments. But oh my they were screaming to get out.

Finally through it was off to find some lunch, I needed something filling as I expected to get in quite late. The options are relatively limited so I went for dirty chicken at that Nandos place, a venue that normally only Jack can drag me in to. Of course travelling alone meant I had to play “can you watch my bag please” with the elderly couple that arrived at the same time as me. A game I then played with a solo travelling chap who sat next to me. Anyway, I can recommend their butterfly chicken, at least I think that’s what it was called, it was beautifully done and no bones to faff about with. Oh and the pink that they recommended to go with peri-peri, very lovely.

Food eaten and the boarding times engrained in my conscious I headed to the bar for another drink or two and to write. All very civilised. I even managed to leave at the right point at heard the call for people on my flight to go to the gate. I really was on a roll.

The chap at the gate smiled, checked my papers, lifted the bag once, decided it was way under, and stuck on a little approved thing. Woo Hoo. Honestly I don’t know why I worry about these things. I sat near the exit to the aeroplane and waited quietly. I’d decided that as I had to book a seat to do online check-in I might as well get one at the front so once the infirm or with children went through I was next, walked quickly on, deposited my bag in the thingie, sat and promptly closed my eyes. It was so much easier being at the front.

The flight was gloriously empty which I know isn’t great for the airline but it made for a very pleasant flight. Sadly I had to forego my usual tradition of Champagne on a flight and had to do with Prosecco, gosh life is hard sometimes. As we taxied to a halt it was clear that my belief in the Met Office was rewarded, not only did I have a brolly but I had the new raincoat I mentioned earlier. Judging by the grumbles I heard a few rows behind me it was not a universal decision. 

We stopped, I gathered my bags, there was a knock on the door and I was off. Not quite scalded cat but quite sprightly. I whizzed through immigration, bought a return ticket for the water bus, giggled about it having the word ARSE on it and then set off following the directions I’d been given to find the pier. I was very quick. I imagine some people were still leaving the plane. For a while it felt like I was actually walking all the way to Venice but finally I found the stop and heeding a comment I read about not accidentally taking a water taxi and being stung I walked to the right pier, handed my ticket, stowed luggage, sat down and… We set off! If I’d been in line to hand over my passport I would have been waiting.
Now I did have a moment of wondering whether this was wise, okay the upside was that I would be kicked off at San Marco just a few minutes walk from my hotel, the downside though was it was much slower than the shuttle bus. But I didn’t have to walk all the way through Venice. Which I’ll admit can be a tiny bit disorientating. Never mind all that, I got to see Venice from the water. And a few of the other islands. Would I do it again on another visit? Hell yes. I was in no hurry and whilst it was about 90 minutes I got to see things I would never seen if I’d been on a bus with wheels. A water
tour where I disembarked really close to my destination.

I loved it.

At San Marco I was off like a shot, two reasons, 1) I knew the way having been here only two months earlier with Clarissa and it was oh so familiar, 2) I *really* needed to spend a penny. By now the rain really meant it so I scuttled the short distance along the Riva, across the big square, down the road, over a bridge, turn right, then let and I was there. A good decision methinks. I rang the buzzer as instructed, spoke with the owner, was let in and there sure enough were my keys and a letter explaining where I would be. Utterly perfect. And only the second floor so not far to walk.

If I ever come back here I’m going to request this room. In fact if you ever go to Al Gazzettino stay in room 212. It’s wonderful. Whilst the size of the bathroom is smaller than the room I shared with Clarissa, the bedroom itself is far larger, but - and this is the important bit - it has a balcony. Plus a huuuuuuuge couch to lounge on. On the road-trip the theme was that every day would start with Missy looking out of the window. It was my turn, but nobody to take the picture.

Stuff dropped I went out in search of provisions, I didn’t want to eat per se, but I did at least want nibbles, water and some fizz. I knew of a place nearby so I popped there, got the essentials headed home in the rain, kicked my shoes off and began to write. But not before taking pictures of lunatics taking a romantic night gondola ride.

In the rain.


Once the fizz was done I pulled the shutters to, closed the windows and settled down for - as it turned out - a good nights sleep.

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.

Anyway.

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.

Waiting...
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…

Waited.

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.
Flying!

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


I’ll be back in July.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Bacon

Day four and I'm still in Split...

So having got in at oh-deary-me o’clock what the hell was I doing awake so early. Let’s face it if you’ve read the previous instalment you’ll know I was in bed perilously late though with my virtue inevitably intact. I’m good like that.

As the partying one was not going to surface for some time I pulled yesterday’s dress on over my nightie and padded outside with a cup of tea to write. What was clear was that the weather was massively different to the day before, we are talking angry skys and a distinct cooling, but still rather lovely. I even managed to write quite a bit, that simple joy of reliving moments is an incredible thing, sadly though the realities of day-to-day life often cause an unintended writing break.

I guess the irony of this is that I’m writing about writing about something a month after it happened from the departure lounge of Gatwick airport as I am heading east once more, though this time to Venice. You’ll probably be able to read about that in six months time once I’ve caught up. Or maybe July when I know I will be next travelling…

Anyway, ignoring the moreish nibbles - which I can’t - and the pink wine - ditto - it was a pleasant couple of hours of writing and contemplating until eventually the creature from the duvet emerged banking in to the sunlight.

I made her tea.

As we sat pondering the gloomy weather we realised we needed one thing. Bacon. Trouble is it’s a little harder to come by here, or at least in the form that we are used to. We decided we needed a foraging expedition to find bacon. After all how hard could this be, people love bacon!

Yeah, right. 

We’d noticed the day before that you could get ruddy great lumps of porky pig that looked vaguely like bacon but unsliced so we knew we had a fall back if needed. It is from such simple thoughts that great plans are born. We would head out, hit the local little supermarket and… As it turned head somewhere else. No bacon. So we went to the place that sold so much stuff aimed at visitors, they were *bound* to have some we reasoned.

It turns out one can’t really reason after dancing until 4am.

So no bacon. Which meant we bought a lump. It might have been that we could have got the people behind the counter to slice it for us but given that I’ve barely progressed to five words and Missy was still dancing in her head it was unlikely we’d make ourselves understood without risking being arrested for miming the Texas Bacon Slicer Massacre.

Oh, that wasn’t a thing. Apparently.

We could improvise, how hard would this be? Fortunately we like bacon thick and unevenly cut. No we do, it’s great. So after hardly any giggling the psychopathic one with the knife managed to assemble something that vaguely looked like slices. Needless to say once fried nothing else mattered. It was epic.

Finally sated it was time to shower and dress properly. I don’t normally go wandering off to the supermarket with a nightie vaguely covered by a crumbled cotton dress. We decided to was back around to the beach we’d been swimming from to sea weather the sea would be cooperative and hence we’d be able to go for a swim. It was not to be.

The sea was decidedly cross. wonderful to see but really not the sort of thing to go plodging in safely. This meant the only thing for it was to sit quietly and enjoy a coffee as we watched the waves crash on the beach. It was cool, fresh and quite simply idyllic.

I’ve no idea how long we sat there but in time we wandered back to Chez Clare and the prospect of a light supper before catching up with the sleep we didn’t have the night before. After all, in the morning…

…We were going to church



Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Dancing with tears in my eyes

Day three in Split...

*yawn*

Which idiot decided this was a good idea? The plan today had been set as visit the market, have breakfast, go for a walk around the coast heading South to see how far we could get, nap, swim, cook and finally go out for a little dancing.

What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out… Nothing! Dull I know. As we are a little rubbish at leaving the house on time owing to endless nattering we decided to omit the usual shower and head straight to the market, after all we were then going for a long walk on a hot day which would negate any vague cleanliness. It was worth getting up early just to see the town so alive with locals bustling around the get their fish - Catholicism being the predominant religion - and vegetables. We were only really visiting the fish market to get a feel for it, but at the veg market we actually wanted to buy something, basil plants so Clare could grow them and eventually make pesto. I was happy just wandering along seeing the sights though it perhaps wasn’t smart having gone out on an empty stomach as it meant I kept smelling things delicious to eat. Never a good thing.

Plants bought it was time to head home for a little something to eat before we marched South along the coast. We elected to take the swimming things just in case we found a suitable place to dip and once ready we set off back towards the Riva and hugged the coast for the next three miles or so.

What a scorcher.

I was glad that I’d been sensible enough to cover up, in fact I was even more glad that I kept a couple of size 18 white cotton shirts from pre-diet as they gave the perfect loose cover though they weren’t exactly what you might call flattering and next to the shapely one I felt decidedly elephantine. Not that this would ever change but I was unsettlingly aware of it. After about three miles we found a suitable place to stop for coffee, water and to water the waves lap on the shore. Unsurprisingly as this was very much out of season it was not as easy as you might think, the free shoots of activity were showing as various business owners lethargically got their premises ready for the coming assault of sun seekers but at this time of year it was predominantly locals and the odd lunatic brit. Let’s face it I am quite odd.

Still the view from the Barracuda Caffe Bar was quite agreeable and other than a chap to our right reading the local rag it was pleasantly peaceful. We consulted maps and briefly considered wandering still further along the coast to Stobreč but in the end decided to be vaguely sensible as a nap would be good in preparation of drinks and dancing later that evening. Wandering back the most suitable looking place for a dip turned out to be simply not that suitable as nowhere to change! There were changing rooms but the ominous looking padlocks indicated that maybe we were a little too early in the year. Oh well.

We decided that unless something better came along we would head back to where we had swum the day before. After a nap. See, sensible!

According to Google Maps the nap was best part of three hours, or at least that’s how long we were in Chez Clare and that was mostly snoozing. So at just after 5pm we emerged, swimming costumes on and scampered round the coast for a dip. We’d also brought bags as we decided it might be worth trying out the supermarket we’d noticed the day before. So the plan: saunter, squeal, swim, shop, cook, eat, drink, dance.

Perfect.

What we didn’t expect was that the waiter the twinkly one was twinkling at the night before would also be on the beach with a friend. If nothing else this guaranteed that the water baby would go in without too many squeals…

Well maybe not.

But it was lovely, refreshing and certainly washed the sleep out of the eyes. Rather shockingly she didn’t swim too close to the boys…  Wonders will never cease to amaze. Anyway, we stayed in for a suitable amount of time before eventually heading for dry land and the walk back. The supermarket was an interesting one, a huge range and clearly aimed at feeding visitors rather than perhaps locals as plenty of international brands. And it was certainly a lot quieter than the Lidl on the other side of the hill. If nothing else it would be handy for getting the things that you couldn’t get elsewhere. But one of those things wasn’t Yorkshire Tea. But with food and wine bought we trudged back to shower, cook, eat and natter.

As Clare cooked I sat and looked to see what flights looked like to Dubrovnik as it was likely that the next time I would come back it would be when she moved to Šipan. The best days as it turns out were Wednesday to Wednesday and I casually asked whether she’d like a visitor for the week of her birthday in July… I’m sure my ears will stop ringing from the squeeeeees eventually. That decided I booked, twitched at the time I would have to be at Gatwick and had another sip of wine.

Actually it turned out this wasn’t so bad. Whilst it’s a 05:35 flight and I have to be there at, say 03:35 because I now live where I do I just need to catch a night bus from Limehouse Station, head to Blackfriars and catch the Thameslink train down to Gatwick. No taxi worries and a bargain at the cost of a bus ticket and a train journey. Although it does mean I have to be a bit organised!

Oh.

Anyway. That’s for later and there is a follow-up tale to this which I’ll save for another blog post. We ate, we drank, we giggled. There was a pattern forming here. We also waited for Clare’s lovely friend Ives who was going to join us for the evening. Eventually. It was reasonably late when she arrived and we left Clare’s poor Austrian friend waiting in the bar I imagine shaking his head in disgust at the lack of precise timing on our parts.

You may recall that I mentioned things were fairly quiet it being off season? Certainly the bar we went in to the night before was empty with barely a couple of handfuls of people. Not so with To Je To Caffe Bar. It turns out this is thee place to go at the moment in Split, happening central and it was packed. And the Karaoke had started. As usual there was a stream of admiring gentlemen saying hello to Missy and I did my wallflower thing as I was feeling slightly uncomfortable as I was pretty sober and surrounded by people I didn’t know plus it was difficult to have actual conversation without shouting. Cue rabbit in headlights.

Fortunately the rounds were cheap though in hipsteresque jam jars, admittedly the atmosphere was nicer than what you might find in Shoreditch. Of course that might just be me. Talking of atmosphere…

*coughs*

Quite a lot actually, jeez Croatians can smoke! It’s been a long time since I was last in a really smokey place and it took some getting used to, though later in the evening it did become a little more of a problem. Anyway. Drinks were drunk and the hour grew late so it was time to move on to the next place.

For a dance.

Clare had shown me the place the day before, I think, then it was a scruffy looking locked door looking suitably innocuous. Now though it was… Different.

And very, very, very eighties. I mean not just the music, but the atmosphere, decor and general hidden awayness. It reminded my actually of a small club on South Shields sea front, I can’t remember exactly what it was called. During the day it had exactly the same hidden look yet at night it appeared as a gasping grubby butterfly from its nicotine and beer soaked chrysalis, a place for sweaty bodies to rub against each other and outrageous dancing. Perfect.

It really took me back.

Anyway, we danced, Clare got attention and I got hot. Not in a good way. This became a bit of a problem, at one point it got so hot I became a bit sweaty and this mixed with the smoke to produce a heady acidic mix guaranteed to hurt eyes. Which was where the mix went. There was nothing for it, I had to stand there like a chimp delicately trying to dry the area and wait for tears to rinse out the pain. I would have gone to the loo if a) I had any idea of where it was and b) I thought I could actually get to it though the solid mass of bodies or c) get back again.

At around 2pm the music changed, not slow music, no, Croatian music, a totally different feel and this lead to a change in the attitudes of the local men. Ah yes, the local men. I’m fairly tall but there I was a midget, did I mention this place was attached to the rugby club? I was in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges of blokes. All I can say is it was fortunate that there was a group of maybe ten young - defined as anyone under thirty - girls who took some of the attention flak.

By maybe 2:30 it was becoming a meat market. The persistence of some of them was impressive, mostly Missy could put them off with a not interested, one though wouldn’t take no for an answer and we had to half pull the lesbian card to try to get it through his booze addled brain. And it kept getting worse. By the time we got to around 4am and even I was getting felt up by passing drunks it was time to go. The trouble was we were missing someone. I felt we should go looking but the sensible one pointed out it was unlikely we’d find her here and as she was very much a local she would be fine, it was after all out of season so this was predominantly locals.

We escaped through a hidden door in to the club reception bypassing the problem of pushing our way through a heaving throng and fell out in to the cool night giggling at the bonkersness of it all. Utterly crazy. Inevitably we fell in to conversation with a chap who had earlier made a play for Missy, it transpired that he was a professor of French at her university and that he and everything was, and I quote, fucked. We asked why, it turned out his brother had got married the day before and presumably he had gone out to drown his sorrows at his lost sibling. Fortunately we managed to lose him as he stopped to engage with some shouty lads…

…Only for us to meet a maritime student who was also studying at madame’s university. She really does have the gift for attracting people to talk. We parted ways and we wandered on to the Riva where we sat and watched the twinkling lights and a boatman putter out of the harbour in the dark… His day just beginning as ours ended.


It was time to sleep.

Monday, 16 May 2016

You're never alone with music

It's a sign of how much I've mellowed that I didn't bounce out of bed for more culture on Friday morning. To be honest I woke up feeling content just to be in my own beautiful place, with the sun shining in. I put the radio on and after a tussle with the smart tv, found my favourite Otvoreni radio for serious dancing tunes. All in all, it took a while to get going...

I finally and unwillingly ventured out to the central shopping mall to see what could be obtained underwear-wise. My host had already made the mistake of assuming I'm the average Balkan woman with a shopping fetish and was surprised when I said I really couldn't stand these places. However I hadn't seen anywhere remotely helpful in the old town. I supposed I could have asked for something with a beaten copper bottom...

Three pairs of tiny lace undies later, I was feeling more uncomfortable in a normal comfortable way.

It inevitably started to rain on the way back. What's a traveller to do? I'd walked past a lovely riverside restaurant a few times now on my way home and so I took advantage of the weather, time, indolence, and hunger. I've been a bit stupid food-wise in Sarajevo. But it's the same story whenever I go away - I don't mind eating alone when I'm in a certain comfortable zone. So yes, I went to pastry-sweets-and-meat central, and have actually lost weight.

My lunch at the Dva Riba was a lovely veal escalope with a tasty salad and really hot fresh fries. Nothing special but until the pizza slice at 3am, it was my only meal of the day. And that was normal for my time here. For someone who comfort eats to excess, perhaps solo city breaks in places that make me nervous are the way forward if I want to drop a size. Anyway the lovely waiter brought me a chocolate cake to have with my Bosnian coffee. Mmm sugar cubes!

I'd also been messaging my Sarajevo contact for this evening's entertainment. When I knew I was coming to this city a few weeks ago, I had joined the Young Sarajevo group on Facebook and asked for ideas about what to do there. One chap posted that classical crossover duo 2cellos were appearing and it was going to be huge! So we had exchanged a few messages, and given he was a student, tickets were reasonable and I didn't want to go alone, I'd invited him along. Anyway bless him, as he had access to a printer, I'd asked him to print not only the tickets for the evening, but also my bus ticket home!

I ambled home sleepily and did what any lazy bum would do after a late lunch. I went for a pre concert, pre beer nap as I had no idea what to expect that evening. We had arranged to meet in the Celtic Bar - so from a London theme to an Irish style one in two days? Glad that I was getting the full Sarajevo experience and the view of they have of the English and Irish!

After not managing to oversleep and making myself vaguely concert ready (sparkly Zagreb casino earrings and hefty walking boots), we finally met and had a good natter over beers. We covered everything from stereotypes (Turks - haha!), travelling, life in Sarajevo, study, going out... Then it was time for the main event.

The outside of the venue is distinctly rough and ready. We had no idea what to expect but we queued
up and entered. It's actually a sports - basketball - venue so was much smaller than I expected. But once the lighting pyrotechnics began and the atmosphere thickened with smoke, it took on an incredible feeling. Thousands of people letting their hair down, singing and drinking - Bosnians and hedonism are natural bedfellows it seems. I like them a lot.

2cellos (and a drummer) were very good and if they can bring classical music up to date and engage all ages, then I salute them. They are very rock star and seeing a cello played whilst the musician was lying on the floor, well, frankly it's sexy. The next music event involving cellos will be most dull. But for me the magic remains within the enthusiastic response of the crowd. Hvala Sarajevo!

This noisy and hedonistic theme was continued, as we decided 10.30 was far too early to retire. First of all we tried what looked liked a carpark but I am assured it's one of the best clubs in town but it was too quiet. So we headed back into the centre of town and climbed some steps up to the entrance of another grafittied concrete brutalist building. Club 'Mash' was packed out with a live punk-rock band playing and so we joined the party, carrying on with the beers. At a certain point the crowd thinned - I wonder where everyone went? - and we moved closer to the musical action to dance, whilst admiring the pianist's action. They were all seriously good. Free drinks arrived (normal) and many hours later when the band had done its final encore, we bumbled off for hot slices of pizza. Parting for the evening, we made no plans but this was Sarajevo, anything could happen!


Sunday, 15 May 2016

There are no mistakes in history...

I left you with a glass of Turkish tea in a Han deep within the old part of town. These places were designed for weary travellers and their horses to stay, and as Destination Sarajevo explains Kolobara Han, Sarajevo’s first inn, was a caravanserai built in the second half of the 15th century by the city’s founder, Isa Bey Ishaković. It is a green sheltered paradise with a fountain, and a quiet spot away from the hubbub of shops. I was happy to spend time there just soaking up the atmosphere, and wonder what the two ladies were making on the next table along - something crafty and delicate by the looks of it.

I meandered back through town, taking in the copper works and tiny streets, picking up milk on the way, feeling quite damp and alone. But as experience has taught me, there is nothing like a good night's sleep, a natter with a friend, and a plan for the following day to make you feel better whilst travelling. So after a small altercation with my laptop which was protesting about something, I settled down with a milky hot chocolate, a stunning view of the city lights, and my first and only early night here!

The next morning I threw my plan in the bin and instead went wandering along the river to see what I stumbled across. First stop was the Latin Bridge, just metres away from the assassination; in the murky gloom it's easy to imagine dark deeds and it was a somber moment as I stood on the bridge next to a missing monument. Despite the rain, I didn't feel the urge to visit the museum - Dan Carling's hardcore history of the First World War is pretty much all you need to know about this incendiary moment in time and his dramatic retelling is fresh in my mind. 

I carried on until I reached the fairy tale Vijećnica - city hall. I had no idea if it was open so was cautious in entering. 5km later, I was alone in a mind bogglingly beautiful space, full of colour, light and drama. The staircase had me wanting full ballgown, and the council chamber, full on regalia. Then you realise the significance of this place and, suddenly I wanted to fade to black and white, and  mourn. An entire archive was lost here...the national library lost 90% of its material. That is when the first tears of the day appeared, the screen said;

There are no mistakes in history. The whole of history is a mistake.

This incredibly simple statement sums up precisely what I've been struggling comprehend in my history classes. From the earliest time this region has sat on a metaphorical and ideological fault line, with regular tumultuous earthquakes occurring. It must seem to the population that no sooner had they found prosperity and stability, they were at the mercy of some new world catastrophic mistake.

The modern history exhibition on the lower ground floor of the city hall is brilliant. Like a burek, it coils through the story of Sarajevo since 1914; from Franz Ferdinand and his love match, through the World Wars, socialism and the rebuilding of the economy, then sports, Olympics, leisure and societies, and finally the last war and the re-rebuilding which is taking place. This very building only re-opened 6 months ago; the regeneration is extremely slow but determined.

From images of cultural devastation to the bright space of the well preserved Gazi Husref Bey's library and museum. I had enjoyed a lunch of cevapi, salad and flatbread from Mrkva along the way. Nothing was lost from these archives, and the atmosphere is that of prosperity and wealth. When I was there a large conference was taking place and they didn't look too concerned about having men only panels... The museum downstairs was opened especially for me and I enjoyed the 19th century framed calligraphy, embroidery and the time pieces. Some of the fragments of masonry were very beautiful; it was a light peaceful place to regain equilibrium.

My wandering feet took me back through town and the weather was definitely looking ugly. It hadn't been great anyway but the showers were now getting longer and harder. One thing I really wanted to see was the Despić house museum; not because I knew who they were but I love seeing how people used to live. There is something curiously and eerily dolls house-like about wandering around domestic houses with preserved furniture, wallpaper, and set tables...especially when you're the only one in there. They were a well to do Serbian family interested in theatre and the arts; I wonder if the trams rumbling past outside were welcomed by the family?

By this point I'd had enough and was ready to burst wth information and feelings. I needed a beer in a completely familiar environment. Retracing my steps I found the pub with a red London telephone box outside. It was lucky I chose to make my move then as the heavens opened, and I was happy to sit there for the rest of the afternoon, to write and to drink!

Three hours later I felt much better. Even the weather agreed, and for the first time since my arrival the sun came out! Feeling mildly guilty about my afternoon in the pub, I remembered that were was music in the town hall and headed back there, but sadly I was an hour early so I set off for a walk to see if I could find a panoramic view of the city. My invaluable guide said the best nearest spot was Vidikovac - sadly the cable car was yet another victim of the war so I walked up. And up. Past endless cemeteries. Met some angry looking dogs, so ran up for a bit. Collapsed to soak up the sun and admire the colours, then just kept going up. What a place. What a view.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook I was due to meet some actual real life people later that evening, and now I was thoroughly hot and sweaty. Heading home I had a serious attack of not wanting to go out, but pulled myself together with a warm shower, a glass of wine, and some music. I was an hour late in the end but happily so was my contact. Ha! He welcomed me and introduced me to the group. They were mostly Bosnians who had spent time in Germany and so often gathered to speak German and just network over coffee. They delighted in my 'proper' English accent and we talked about life in Sarajevo (hard!), opportunities (few!) and pop concerts (rare!). As the party drew to a close, Mirza and I went for a stroll around town and then had a quick ticketless tram ride, which was a giggle - like most people I meet, he was curious as to why I'm travelling alone and why I'm single. I don't know, if I wasn't alone, I wouldn't be doing crazy things like meeting strangers and having interesting conversations on late night trams.

Finally getting in at 12ish, it was the end of a long and interesting day. Then I remembered, I had no clean knickers for the rest of my stay.

Friday, 13 May 2016

More journeys

The day started with a squeeee! I mean I'm usually happy when I wake up but this morning had a more than unusually exciting start. You can stop sniggering at the back - my thrill was innocent. As I was coming out of the gate to head to Split's main bus station, I bumped into Milo who was off to work. He offered me a ride on his scooter down the road, so hopping on, the poor man had a middle aged woman giggling all the way. Made my morning anyway! 

And it had only just begun. The reason for the early start was a trip to a new capital - Sarajevo. I've not been international since Ancona; Zagreb and islands don't count apparently. The thing about travelling is the endowment of optimism that it brings. Even seven hours on a bus with chronic period pain leaves me fairly undaunted, after all, what can you do? Armed with bus wifi, glorious scenery and a very curious destination, what would await me?

The journey passed by uneventfully by anyone's standards. Very few people were travelling and it was leisurely. Some parts of the road were familiar - the route went through Jabuka where I'd been invited to be a Roman Queen of Football during a first communion party lunch. I don't know, it's a long story and there was honeyed wine involved. I started to get excited around the Croatian-Bosnian border crossing. I've mentioned before about my fascination with crossings. There is something profound about them, especially when they are on land and, in this case, leaving the EU. What can I say I'm an island woman!? 

The second pit stop was in a curious place. The first place - Livno - had a loo and a cold bracing wind but still felt quite Dalmatian. However that strange 'over the mountain' moment had occurred and we were definitely in a different country. Bugojno was where it was. Here I didn't need to go but would have killed for a coffee. Turns out I am as daft as I look - I had no Bosnian cash. So I stretched my legs by taking a walk round the place, and was immediately accosted by a gentleman. For five minutes, what is it with service stations?! He was looking for a nice gentle woman to marry apparently. Some could say he was barking up he wrong tree. 

After more stunning scenery and some seriously medieval farming techniques, it curiously started to feel more reminiscent of home. Mosques were sharing squares with churches; and the damp weather was closing in. It could have been east London on a normal weekday afternoon. Clearly in diversity there is familiarity, and even the language is becoming easier to read, whereas the Arabic at home is more foreign to me! My head is still spinning though and until Thursday evening, had not yet been brought to a standstill by a real conversation. 

With about two hours to go it was all change. For some reasons at Kaćuni we all got off and moved to a new bus. The was also a useful loo - resigned to no coffee - and we continued on. The countryside was resolutely green and cultivated. This was like no city suburb I've ever seen! Even as we reached a motorway, it was still kitchen gardens all the way. Until we hit new Sarajevo and it became beautifully grim; the light had been eaten up by the hungry functional grey. 

The pock marked bus station is incredible. And frankly I'm dreading going back there! Which I have to do at some point as I have no ticket home; one way was all Split bus station would sell me...what are they saying? Clutching everything I scuttled from the station, into the drizzle, and followed the map into town. By the time I found my apartment I was utterly blown away by this place; the monumental architecture, the misty mountains, the river, and those ancient  rattling squealing trams. 

With that I disappeared into my perfect haven of a top floor apartment! As I unpacked I realised the pile of clean underwear was still in Split. Adult supervision once again lacking, but how I found myself knickerless in Sarajevo is the name of my book. My day hadn't yet ended but the meat and rice, and sweet Turkish tea in the Han is definitely part of the next day's more exotic story. Such is the mystery of Sarajevo...

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Plans and other fiction

It's been a while since I wrote anything so waiting at an airport for an hour is a perfect opportunity to put pen to paper, as it were. A few weeks ago I arranged with my friend Lou- you may remember her from such larks as Zagreb Visit the First - to once again test the patience of the poor people of Zagreb. Tickets and accomodation arranged, and the week before the visit, I leisurely wrote an email to a historian from Split. 

Now I wasn't expecting an immediate response from the man because Split history has been rediscovered all over the place over last few weeks. In fact it's caused a bit of a stir; mediaeval walls in town, and Greek remains on the Riva. The latter is being turned into a taxi rank and archeologists have been looking at the other foundations. Let's say it's been controversial. 

I got a lovely message back saying I was welcome to come to his 8am lecture at a local hotel and then to join his architectural students to look at the newly restored Roman remains of the Palace. This Saturday. The Saturday I'd be in Zagreb with Lou. 

Oh. 

I pondered over this and agonisingly decided that history of Split was irresistible. I messaged her and told her all about it, and thank goodness she knows me well - history is obviously a bit of an obsession. We simply arranged to have a sunny coffee in Split before she went on to Zagreb. What could be nicer? 

After a couple of beers and 10 mins before she had to be in a taxi to the airport, we had a brainwave - some mean type might suggest it was 'alcohol related'. Why didn't I come to Zagreb for a night, just for the ride? I mean, the flights were paid for, all I had to do was get back to Split for Saturday. We looked at one another, and in true cartoon style, I left a Clare-shaped blur in the seat and sprinted up the hill to home. 

I was in shorts, sunglasses...you know, dressed for the Riva. I grabbed trousers, other shoes, scruffy jumper, passport, makeup bag (which I promptly forgot), phone battery, hairbrush (spare was already in handbag) and a pair of knickers off the washing line as I ran past. The place was already upside down as there had been a sunglasses related emergency earlier. So frankly this second whirlwind hadn't helped the state of the place. As I write this, I'm already dreading getting in. 

Still, I legged it back to the taxi rank at Sv Frane (jedan dva jeden dva as my helpful butcher yelled as I ran past) and scrambled into the waiting car. I clearly cause nothing but entertainment for my good neighbours of Varoš. 

We passed an uneventful trip to the tiny airport. I munched my emergency burek and giggled with Louise about the apartment with a hot tub. I'd never flown from Split and I was aghast at the beauty of my city in the setting sun - my forest hill looks vast from above and I was happy to remember the brisk bright jog from the morning. A morning where the day had calmly spread out before me, the most exciting thing being buying sunglasses and turning pink as I researched klapa from whichever cafe I decided to write at. As we decided our Zagreb 'plan' of action, we thought about my return trip. 

I'd need a ticket if I was flying back. And it would need to be a flight because I couldn't get the bus which takes about 5 hours. Air Croatia said there was an early Saturday flight to Split which gets in at 7.20. This meant that I could also attend her friend's gig on the Friday night. Perfect. I booked it for the princely sum of £35. 

Who doesn't love getting up at 4am after a midnight finish? 

So we arrived in Zagreb relatively late and met our patient host on a dark unknown street, in front of a grafittied iron door. He warmly welcomed us and showed us to a stunning apartment on the top floor. Lou's baggage had already given the airport bus driver a hernia but this young man grabbed it and carried it up the several flights of stairs. Crikey. Knowing that finding food after 1030 here is a challenge, he hurriedly explained everything and we were spectacularly inattentive - I mean, how hard can a state of the art steam jacuzzi bath be to work?

He walked us happily into town - us for food, him to get a tram home - and chatting merrily, with blyth disregard for where we were going arrived at the main square where we said goodbye. The first place was closing, the second option was a fast food pizza slice...we then struck lucky with Trattoria Leonardo which served excellent food til midnight. Excellent. I was famished! That burek had been gobbled up a long time ago! Pizza and beer was probably not a good late night option but, then neither were snap travel decisions - as I realised I had pretty much nothing with me. At all. 

We rolled in a pizza shaped direction home. So far so good, until the familiar streets become less so and much, much quieter. I squeeeeed as I saw the national bank of Croatian (some artist had turned the fountain outside blood red during President Bush's visit a few years ago) but Lou is used to this kind of unhelpful behaviour. We've gone the wrong way a few streets back; giggling over our host who'd distracted us earlier, we consulted the map. No problem, five minutes later we arrived at our snug home, and decided that hot tub larks were probably best postponed. Before passing out in my sea themed room, I had a small altercation with the heating coming on and off *switch OFF* done. 

I woke up to bright sunshine and a fervent desire to shake my past self. Closing the shutters would have been helpful! Clad in my bedspread (no pjs)  I had words with the coffee machine and rapidly became fast friends. Although the more cultural attractions of Zagreb called me, we decide we couldn't leave without flying the bath - after all it had been the deciding factor of the trip. A last minute change of plan on her part meant we were only staying here one night. It was now or never. After a final look at the instruction booklet, trial and error soon had a bath of water, a room of steam, and two naked ladies. 

We mourned the lack of champagne to complete our rock and roll lifestyle. As well as the absence of some essential oil to enhance the steam. 

Wobbly bits well and truly wobbled, a slightly scalded hand (she needed to see where the steam was coming from), and with no farting - not from me anyway - we completed our toilette. I've never been so clean and relaxed! Breakfast called and we needed to move into our new place sooner rather than later. We strolled into town and into our favourite spot. 

The sweet Mario at Gajbica remembered us! And we scoffed his tasty bacon mushroom egg special and marvellous fruit juice concoctions. Lou also bought some healthy cake for her singer friend who we'd we seeing later on. Ah yes. The gig. So, I asked, what was the thing with the gig, where was it? We hadn't really worried about it; there was no dress code, it was her best friend, at a casino...

A casino?

Images of Las Vegas, or London's finest  popped into my head. I had on my finest grey hiking and cycling jeans, sensible warm green jumper, and no make up; this was mildly troubling. I felt undressed for breakfast, never mind an evening out. First things first - accomodation. We went back to the apartment to collect belongings, and met up with our cute host and another feat of strength involving the suitcase. Waving cheerio and vidimo se, we went off with Lou's wayward suitcase to find a tram. 

Rattling through the city on one of the more old fashioned trams is a brilliant way to travel. Not so convenient to clamber up several steps with baggage, but the driver was patient. We arrived at the next place and met our new hostess. We had a natter, chuckled about our language learning, booked my early taxi to the airport, and admired our new flat. The terrace outside was pleasant and relaxing would have been nice. I looked in the mirror; some mad scruffy woman looked back and laughed at me. 

We scampered out to see what we could get in the way of suitable clothing. Make up - check; a smart cream Italian openknit sweater - check. Lou had tried on a frock but nothing was working so with rising panic, we decided more information was required. Doing what any normal English girls would do, we had a beer and checked out the venue online. 

Feathers. Teeeny frocks. Sequins. 

We started to laugh hysterically again. Where on earth did one buy feathers from in Zagreb? Sensibly Lou messaged them about dress code. I mean, my new top was lovely but were my jeans ok!? As a reassuringly prompt exchange took place, where they explained cocktail dresses would be preferable, as long as you weren't in flip flops, you'd be let in. We stopped panicking and went to buy glitzy  jewellery.

We ambled home via a rather good local restaurant and ate too much. It's always hard for Lou to leave Croatia and her good friends here so we were quieter than usual. But we perked up as we went to try on new make up (wrong shade) new jewellry (dear god), hair (recalcitrant) and surveyed the results. We looked good - if we'd been going to a pub or ordinary gig venue we would have rocked the joint. On arrival at the cheesiest casino you can imagine, we perhaps felt out of place. 

Two ladies. Cake. A casino virgin (me). The cake wasn't allowed in as it didn't have a passport. I envied it. 

But then we met her friends and they were truly lovely. We were glad to be there and all discomfort fled. The evening passed without a hitch as we played spot the super model, assessed the plastic surgery, and generally took the piss. There will be a lot of photos of two random English ladies sat at the front table with the stars of the show! I regretted that my favourite black lace frock was in Split like Cinderella but I was happy to feel comfortable in my own unbotoxed skin. Lou's friends did the necessary photos, tv interviews, and casino bits. I didn't envy this naturally angelic looking lady with the beautiful voice. All she wanted to do was to be at home with her baby. Such is the reality of showbiz glitz. 

Their set was wonderful and worth the trip, and sadly I had to leave early as I had to be up at stupid o clock. But I would have loved to hear more of a perfect guitar/voice combo of two people who work in perfect loving harmony. All the running around, giggling over pushing boobs into unsuitable frocks, insane amount of taxis, and lack of museums - their music was worth it to face the hot tub and dance!