Tuesday, 11 September 2012


Well, I apologise to all my readers who expected the usual day-by-day account of our travels in Dalmatia - but due to weird keyboard experiences and very difficult internet access, I just gave up. Now that we're back home I can summarise a bit for you.
Some observations.
The rock formations along the coast of Croatia look rather nice from a short distance - you can see the squidgy effects, the folding and sheering, the slumping and erosion. It makes the rocks look a bit like toffee, or some other malleable stuff. But the fact is, the closer you get, the harder and more unrelenting the material is. In fact, it is extremely hard, gritty, scratchy and painful if you get your skin (or your boat) anywhere near it.
Compared with our visit last year and a couple of times before that - admittedly in an area we had not been to before - I think the development rash is spreading along the beauteous coast... there are more houses, more apartments, more building projects, extensions to marinas, etc.    It is startling what a relief it is to find a stretch of coast without any houses on it. Some are in fact settled with ancient buildings - a little church, or a monastery, or maybe a farm building - but these have weathered and sunk into the landscape, and do not poke themselves forward with bright paint, smooth concrete, etc.
We visited two separate waterfall systems during the week - both worth visiting, if you have the chance. The first (as reported) was at Plitvice - up in the mountains and forests, where there is an absolutely extraordinary sequence of large lakes and smaller pools which seem to be held in place by enormous natural vertical dams. The water finds its way down either in cascades over these dams, or through sinkholes, or sometimes just by flowing over the ground over the roots of trees. The dams are forming in front of your eyes by the calcification of anything that crops up in the lakes - fallen trees, little animals, whatever. This rock-formation leads to that lovely marbley kind of stone called travertine - which is used in grand buildings like my beloved Bush House.
The other waterfalls were near Skradin on the R Krka (there's a name for you), and are more normal - that is to say, the angle of the river's descent is about 30 degrees, and the water tumbles down as you would expect. Both of the parks where these marvels are to be found are well run, with access by bus, boat, what-have-you. There are clean loos, cafes, etc. and I think it would be advisable to go a bit out of season if you can, as the numbers visiting are colossal.
The Croat language is hilarious - either the letters form into something reminding you of a funny English word such as 'slob' or 'slag', or alternatively the letters are arranged in totally unpronounceable sequences of zfjkvlnzjs with the addition of various accents and diacriticals, and I found myself just boggling at the whole thing.
It was a relief to find that voda = water, and pekari = bakery, and I just hope that these two words at least arrived in the Croatian language by a kind of English pidgin, perhaps thus: "I said, bring me a glass of WATER!"  "Ah, ladksfjsdl, skf, gjksl, VODA!"    And, "Can you tell me, where can I buy bread? I'm looking for a BAKERY!" "Ah, skjfhdkl, sk gng n slob PEKARI!"
There is no shortage of pointy, shiny, fast speedy boats knocking about down there, and we could only imagine what sort of people might be in them - Russians, for the most part, I imagine.
Yesterday we saw a very interesting little group.  We had arrived back at the marina in Split, and our skipper was refuelling (to leave the tank full of diesel to minimise the risk of condensations during the idle winter months). We had to wait for another boat to finish - this was an inflatable, but my! what a boat. Long, sleek, light.  There were five people on it, a grey-haired American guy, on the phone arranging for his bank card to be activated. He was serious, cool, quiet, quite alarming in some ways... powerful.  The others were two guys and two girls, all in their late 20s, mostly in camouflage gear, they looked purposeful too.    As they finished up with their fuelling and set off across the huge bay towards Hvar, they went tremendously fast - really faster than anything I've ever seen on the water. And their boat left  NO WAKE.   The fuelling guy told us, they were from the Norwegian Army.
So, what is the Norwegian Army doing in Croatia? That little crew, on their very fast rib, which leaves no wake..... on a Monday afternoon in September.  I love it.
Top pleasures of the week in no particular order - walking round Trogir - a World Heritage city - SO BEAUTIFUL - do go and see it - it's only a bus ride up from Split Airport.
Listening to Klappa Music here and there - it's a kind of random busking thing - a small group of harmonising singers, sometimes m and f, sometimes just m, standing in an echoey doorway and just sending out this marvellous music.... a cross between Portuguese fado and Welsh Male Voice Choir, or maybe something like Ladysmith.....  Really lovely.
Swimming with NOTHING ON in the sea - a completely liberating feeling - as a middle-aged woman I am so conscious of the need to be covered, in our society - being undressed is a sign of looseness, or shamefulness.  And yet, paradoxically, if you are naked you must be beautiful (young) and so being slack, or fat, or with vein-marks, or wobbly in any way - this makes you feel you cannot be naked - and I am caught both ways. But, to be on a boat in a remote place, and no-one looking - ah! the pleasure, of swimming, of feeling unconstrained..... it is wonderful.
We ate simply wonderful food.  The price of restaurants is amazingly low, the way the currencies are at the moment. For instance, we had a wonderful and memorable meal last night, 4 of us, with a litre of wine and bottles of water, and ample amounts of delicious fishes of various kinds, risotto, lasagne, salad and vegetables, and marvellous home-made breads, etc.... and it all came to £36.... that was in quite a luxy restaurant, by the sea (at the Ballet School, if you are interested, at the end of the Kastela Bay, which is west of Split).
The waters remain clear and sparkling. The people are friendly and getting on with their lives - we saw SO MANY young couples and families, and little children.  The churches are full. The streets are clean. Lots of people speak English, or will find someone who can.  It's a very nice place... 

Friday, 7 September 2012

The real deal

Writing on Friday night, reporting on Thursday and Friday as well.
Six hours voyage out of Preko - mostly with diesel but with some wonderful sailing when the wind co-operated (not dead on the nose). I slept for some of it, looked for dolphins, pondered on my sailing life as a human cushion (totally inactive as a crew member), and enjoying the beauty of the scene.
We saw a huge storm gathering over Italy, and brilliant planning ducked straight into Prvic - one of the sweetest, prettiest, most conveniently placed islands in the Adriatic.
We moored up without difficulty, walked along to Sepurine (swoony nice), and back again.
Met some Australians along the way who were on a swimming holiday - breast-stroking from island to island, with their luggage carted along for them, and B&B catering which they loved
Today (compressing the story due to annoying computer buggery), we went from to see the inland lakes and waterfalls at Skradin - via a kind of fjord - and eventually at a monastery on an island - v beautiful but with execrable art - one is left almost speechless.
Supper tonight ended with delicious rose-water flavoured brandy - not much to be said for the rest of the meal which was cheap but boring - not even worth sending back.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Food things

Fact: in Zagreb, I lost a filling (privately paid for just a few weeks ago, very expensive), while I was eating SCRAMBLED EGGS.
Fact: I have not sent a plate of food back to a restaurant kitchen for about 40 years - not my style - but in the last 3 days I have sent three dishes of food back. In Plitvice, my crisply grilled trout was accompanied by cold soggy chips - I sent it back, and the plate returned from the microwave, with hot soggy chips and dried soggy trout.  I refused to say how pleased I was, so they cooked me another one.
In Zadar, in a very nice resto near the Five Wells, where the others in my party had delicious food, my octopus salad was bland and a bit off - I did not eat it, the waiter enquired, so I told the truth..... only to be told that the chef said it was all fresh......
At lunch yesterday, I ordered sepia risotto and was brought shellfish - I sent it back, encouraged by the others (three complaints in a row).... the sepia, when it finally arrived, was wonderful.
The garden and field crops here have all suffered from drought and extreme heat this summer. Many people have no tomatoes (though the grapes and figs look pretty good). I think we will have riots based on expensive food prices this next year.... the harvests in America and Russia came to nothing. All the big revolutionary periods in history, I am told, were preceded by food shortages.
Today we are off south....

Night lightning

We had a wonderful thunderstorm during the night. I was SO pleased to be tucked up warm and dry in the boat. Andrew and I nipped out of bed and closed all the portholes etc., and then lay there watching the stupendous flashes above us, and listening to the rain lashing down on the deck.  There had been some heroic work during the latter part of the evening to get the guest cabin heads to work - and this was achieved! The problem was some sort of blocked inlet valve - but lordy! the relief! That if I needed a pee in the night I did not have to go out into that great storm, across the tiny little wet gangplank, in the dark, and then all round the whole marina to get to the public loos.  Blessings, blessings and eternal gratitude to the two Andrews who worked out what was wrong and how to fix it.
Actually, what with the rocking of the boat, and the storm, and the muggy air, it was not a great night's sleep, but who's complaining? Not me.
In the morning we sat here, rocking gently on our mooring, having a gentle breakfast, deciding not to go out of the port today - all the other mariners were deciding the same thing because of the forecasts....
We had lunch with some of the Cruising Association committee who had gathered here - what a hoot! Then we two went out with Andrew (host) in his rubber dinghy to visit the little monastery just 80m away in the bay - Gaveka??? - where there is a tiny monastery, and the grave of a hero called Ivo Masim who lived from 1927-1961 and was strangled in prison for opposing Tito...    So he was only about 34 when he died, and his statues around here show him looking like a bit of a rocker.  He is buried in a beautiful place.
We have just now done a goodly walk round to the western tip of the island  - lovely boat mooring all along, and children playing in the water, and tiny beaches, and palm trees, and occasional ice-cream cafes, and ruined houses, and new villas and apartments.... so calm and idyllic with the wide reach over to Zadar lit by this pearly putty-coloured light.
We had a drink at the Olive Island marina - ladies' loo approached through a very dark and dank passageway and then with a hard-to-find lightswitch at the very far end....  
And we walked back again through the little smallholdings, olive groves, vineyards, gardens... with families relaxing in the dusk. Here you can be simultaneously in a kind of medieval world with a 21st century gloss... the modern is not necessarily so attractive, in comparison.
It will be an early night for me. I am zonked.
However, for any readers who know about the Juice Plus+ Smiley you will be pleased to know we have hit the full smile three days running, with all this trekking about.  Ha!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

You know what its' like

I am seizing any chance to post - but this opportunity is only a little window....
We are now on the Lady Olivia, our friends' beautiful yacht, anchored in the marina at Preko on the island of Uglian, off Zadar, on the north Croatian coast.  It is unbelievably beautiful.
We had a smooth bus journey down from the forest fastnesses of Plitvice this morning, on a cheeky private coach service which arrived shortly before the scheduled bus - a bit quicker, a bit smaller, a bit whizzier.....   All good, apart from the passengers who insisted on having the curtains closed (to keep the intermittent sunshine out), but thus obscuring the spectacular views of our journey down from the heights.
Please, if you have a chance, make this journey. It's cheap, easy, and wonderful.
We got to Zadar, met up with our friends, rushed inside to shelter from a massive rainstorm which hit (thank GOD we were not on the boat at this time)... Had lunch, mooched, visited some churches and shops, bought a drain-scouring implement to help clear the heads on the visitors' cubicle (:-(   )    We went to see the famous sea-organ on the quay - invisible but creating magic soft noises as waves hit the pier... like a huge harmonica, and with little children lying on the white marble paving shouting back into the cavernous spaces beneath and hearing their calls magnified and echoing back. Delightful.
The ferry out to the island is like a mini version of the Dover-Calais but ro-ro, and quiet and smooth and magic.
We just walked round to the marina, and here we are.  All of them (3) can pee during the night without much trouble, our hosts in their heads and A over the side.  I, if needs be, must walk thousands of yards round to the marina toilets..... Poor me.  Tomorrow the guys will try to unblock the lav in the guest heads.
I will just add this.  This morning, before we left the hotel in Plitvice, we saw on CNN news a weather forecast with a HUGE storm over Italy - massive, with tornadoes.......   coming over Italy and heading for where we are.   Truly, a big hurricane shaped depression. I should have photographed the screen.   It is coming this way. I have mentioned it to our hosts, and they are looking at the maritime forecasts.... but, at this moment, on this idyllic boat on this idyllic evening, I am WORRIED.  I can't pee in the night, and I will be in a huge storm tomorrow.  
But, you know, it's ok.  I can do nothing about any of these things. The air is warm. The sea at present is glassy calm. The supper is cooking.   The view is spectacular.   Really, truly, stunningly beautiful. Ancient. Wild. Wide. Soft.  Hard.  Mysterious.  Fantastic.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Filling in some details

Why is queuing so tiring? Why does Easyjet not allow you to check in when you arrive? We got there early and ended up in a 70 minute queue which developed while we were waiting to be allowed to queue....  Grrrr.

Met friends from Faversham inside the 'Paradise' beyond the security scanners... first time that's ever happened.

Flight good - we are getting this down to a fine art... Buy your picnic from Boots in the airport, the sushi is a very good option btw.  No gluten, delicious, no mess. Sit near the back - quieter, and smaller queues for the loos, for some reason.

Zagreb - ah! This is Tintin land - I mean, the look of the place reminds me of the settings in Eastern Europe which I pored over as a child, following the amazing adventures of the young journalist as he chased spies and other villains.  Big Victorian facades, avenues, parks, etc.  Very helpful people who conferred about where we should stay... recommending the very excellent Hotel Centar, near the train station (we had arrived by bus from the airport). So we got a tram (Andrew in heaven), didn't pay because no shops open to sell us tickets.  Hotel very good and recommended. The breakfast next day was terrific.

Walked about - went into the Cathedral where they were in the middle of Mass - the place was packed out, lovely singing, lots of very devout people.   A drink, a meal, wandering around, getting our tram tickets at the station ready for morning departure.....  Excellent place.

The bus to Plitvice yesterday was quiet and comfortable - an hour through the suburbs and plains and then up into the hills...misty twisty.  They say there are bears and wolves up here...maybe not v visible from tourist hotels and pathways. The hotel here would not let us eat outside on the pretty terrace (is it subject to attack by bears?). 

We took the land-train up to the upper lakes - a huge Mercedes tractor-bus pulling two other carriages, but something was surely wrong, the gears were grinding away as if the brakes were on.    Then we walked down - miles and miles of wooden causeway around the dozens of crystal-clear lakes, this causeway is really an amazing structure - made me think of Flag Fen near Peterborough - but this one took two hours to walk.  Easy to stumble, and no hand-rails. How I love it with no health and safety features. It's like the old days. This is an amazing place, well worth the effort to get here, and everyone should do it.... the walk round the lake is not for anyone with poor eyesight or mobility. Actually, access for disabled here is pretty terrible.  We saw two families with buggies going the route - bonkers.


Internet access problems prompts v short posting. We like Zagreb - spacious parks, pretty bandstand, radiant cathedral, friendly atmosphere. The Hotel Centar is marvellous, cheap, clean, central, with excellent service and full breakfast.     A very nice old steam engine is on display outside the railway station.
We made it to the bus station this morning, a helpful old lady (local but lived last 45 years in  Australia) made sure we were on the right bus.
2 hours brought us to the National Park - where there are still bears and wolves. We checked into the functional and pretentious but practical Hotel Jezero - had to wait for room, couldn't have lunch on terrace, two different kinds of risotto - shellfish and mushroom - both had copious quantities of the SAME gravy poured on top, urgh...
BUT we strolled into the park, had a delicious ice cream, rode on the 'train'  up winding roads to the top of the lakes and then walked down MILES of wooden causeway-footpath to see lots of waterfalls and lakes (enough).
Supper back at the Jezero was - what? I sent mine back - haven't done that for 40 years - waiter v sweet but it was all pretty horrible.  V tired, off to sleep now.
Down to Zadar in the morning.

Saturday, 1 September 2012


We're off again in the morning to Croatia. Flying to Zagreb - and the plan is to take the bus down to Zadar, calling at the lakes in Plitvic en route. Then we're meeting up with our friends and taking a week to sail down to Split. 
We had an email from them last night - the weather has changed. Oh dear! Is it autumn already in the Adriatic too? The landscape here is looking distinctly ahead of itself - the way the light falls on the land, the trees just on the point of turning - the sort of look I associate with the end of September rather than the beginning.
So I hope we do manage to catch a bit of summery heat on the boat, and not too many storms. I am looking forward to swimming in the sea - maybe with no clothes on in quiet places, and staring at the finny fish in those clear pelucid waters. I doubt they will stare back at me.
As usual, a kind of pre-travel panic is starting to set in. I am so ill-prepared - just remembered to put some vital clothing through the wash this morning. We spent the last 3 days in Brighton, helping our son and his girl move into their new house. It's very pretty, Victorian, and will be a great place for them - but the previous owners managed to smash more or less every door in the place, and a considerable portion of the bannister rods.  So our visit was all about ripping up filthy old flooring, washing down walls, mending these doors, carting out rubbly stuff which emerged from under the vinyl, sweeping, making tea and meals, washing up with no hot water, all that sort of thing.  Really good - and tiring too.
One great thing is that their new house is just off the Lewes Road, where there are lots of shops selling ethnic food (are we allowed to say 'ethnic' still?) So, wonderful dates and baclava from the Turkish shop, fresh spices from Pakistan, fruits which you barely ever see anywhere else, hot Algerian bread and freshly cooked falafels, packs of the most amazing olives, a ffoodie paradise. Lucky young couple!
Anyway, here we are, packing and tidying the house, doing admin, checking maps, passports, etc.
Outside, the extraordinary Faversham Hop Festival is in full swing - bines on sale, stilt-walkers stalking the crowds, people drinking beer in copious quantities, loud loud music coming from platforms, Morris dancers clacking about, people with faces blacked up like sweeps, all having a jolly time.
It's pretty surreal when you come to think about it. 
So - now - off to make lists, water the potplants in the garden, empty the bins, that sort of thing.
I will do my best to keep you up to date with the blog as we go - not sure how often I can reach the internet.