Saturday, 13 September 2014

Croatia: Chapter 7 - Homeward bound

Arriving back in Split we felt something new: familiarity. Having moved about so much you would only just get used to one place before you left but as we were here just over a week before we had the rare delight of already knowing where everything was.

We went back to the same hostel as before and heaved the cases up the same 3 flights of stairs probably taking less care than we did last time! We were even in the same room but had different beds this time. We spent some time relaxing and getting ready to go out. We met some more travelers and I remembered how self conscious I was at sharing a room with people I didn't know before but from the look on the boy's face who was on the bunk opposite mine, he probably got an eye full at one point.

Having saved a fair bit of money from not going out the night before and since it was our last night, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner in a place that TripAdvisor was raving about. It took us a while to find it as it was in the part of town we hadn't explored much but eventually we found it hidden away in a side street of bars and restaurants. We weren't the only ones who had this place in mind and we had to be put on a waiting list. We went and had a drink in their sister bar nextdoor but 30 mins later we were seated. I had a delicious steak and Ami said her risotto was great too. However 300g (10.5 oz) of steak beat me and we decided to skip dessert.

At this point the wind was getting up and there was the odd speck of rain so since we were both fairly scarred from the storm yesterday we decided to head back promptly. Thankfully this time the weather didn't come to much.

The next morning looked sadly overcast but we packed up and headed back to the beach we found last time. We nearly had it to ourselves this time and Ami determinedly went for a swim but I abstained and finished reading Stephen Fry.

We headed back to the hostel to pick up the cases which we had left in a rather spooky store room on the ground floor. I stayed with the bags while Ami went upstairs to use the loo and change. I had nipped into the store room to change out of the bikini but I heared people coming in and out of the doors near where we had left our cases so half changed I waited with them till Ami got back.

Being back in jeans and a normal top felt quite odd after our week of leg freedom and non-under-wired comfort. I never think of jeans as being constraining but they definitely felt claustrophobic.

We got the shuttle back and checking in easily. This is where I made the mistaken logic of thinking if we went through security now then we wouldn't be worried about time and there would be something to eat on the other side while we were waiting for the plane. Wrong! The only things on the other side of security were an odd duty free section of perfumes and chocolate and a bar with exactly 2 types of sandwich both equally unappetizing looking. We bought some sandwiches and I was convinced what mine was made of wasn't fit for consumption but the duty free had some boxes of biscuits and the same type of jam filled haribo that had amused us on the flight out so I wasn't totally without food.

The flight was quick and easy and we arrived 25 mins early due to a tail wind. Baggage reclaim was simple but it became apparent that my suitcase must have been treated roughly or squished as the extendable handle now wasn't extendable. It was however there so better than nothing! We headed off to the station to see when the trains were. True to my usual style I had decided I would wing the train times on the way back and had an open return ticket. Ami had been sensible and guaranteed herself a seat on a specific train. However on this occasion luck favoured the unprepared and due to our early arrival and a delay to the train there was one going north due in 3 minutes! We had a very quick goodbye and I rushed off to jump on the train. Having touched down at 8.05pm I got back to my flat in Manchester at just gone 11pm. Poor Ami was forced to wait for her booked train and didn't get back to her place in London till 2am! Both of us had work the next morning so bed straight away for both.

My whole trip

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my little adventure in Croatia. I wonder how many miles I covered? 882 miles (1420km) according to a quick distance calculator! Work is now far too boring and coming home to the same place feels odd but its nice to have a place of my own again without half a dozen strangers in with me. So as I finish the last of the giant bag of haribo I can reflect on how amazing it's been to be traveling again though and just the 10 days away have made me realise how much I miss it. I must firm up plans to go see other places. I have friends all across the world from school and previous travels that I have been meaning to visit so I may double my efforts to save some travel money. I'd much rather have memories than things anyway although my shoe collection says otherwise!


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Croatia: Chapter 6 - Hvar

While reading this post please remember that I am now perfectly fine and back in one piece (that's mainly aimed at you, Mother). Also sorry there are very few photos for this post, it will become apparent why I wasn't in a photographically inclined mood.

Back on the bus in Dubrovnik it started to drizzle as we left the station and gradually got worse as the day went on. What also got worse was how I was feeling. I usually have purely headache related hangovers but this one was making me feel bad all over especially my stomach. I tried to sleep on the bus but as we were going up the winding roads on the coast, each turn made my stomach lurch and sleeping wasn't going to happen.

On and on the journey went and this 4 hour coach felt like it was taking much longer than the 12 hour one we had taken last time. With the bathroom out of order I had a plastic bag on hand just in case which is virtually unheard of for me (both to be that organised and to be feeling that nauseous).

We arrived in Split and I was very happy to be in the outside air but this was short lived as it was now chucking it down and very overcast. Ami and I walked up the road from the station and within 20 steps were soaked through. I bought an umbrella purely to be able to see rather than to prevent getting wet since it was too late for that. With the wind picking up Ami left me cowering under my umbrella with the luggage and went to see if the boats were going out to Hvar still.

Hvar is one of the larger islands off the coast of Croatia and is known to be a favorite destination of the young and privileged to take daddy's yacht and blow off some steam. We had heard about this one club which was nearby on its own private island and ferry boats took people across each night to party by the sea and under the stars. It sounded great and everyone we met so far had said it was amazing. Given that my birthday was in 5 days time it was going to be my birthday night out and we were both excited for it even before we flew out!

Back in the rain I am feeling worse and worse. I can feel my blood pressure dropping and I focused on one point to stop myself from closing my eyes and disappearing. It was becoming increasingly apparent that this couldn't be just a hangover. Thankfully ami scuttled back, wearing her hoodie like a cape, with two tickets to the last boat going out to Hvar. We had a little bit of time so we ducked into a pizza place and had a slice to try and help me feel better. It didn't.

The time came to go back into the rain and find the boat. At this point the lightening started. My lightheadedness made it difficult to get my suitcase up the gangplank and into the boat but eventually we were in and sitting down. Thankful that we made it I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. It would take about 75 mins to get to Hvar and as this was the last boat it was packed. The storm was now well and truly taking hold and the ferry pitched it seemingly every direction. Each time we hit a really big wave the entire population of passengers would make the same noise in synchrony, a phenomenon only seen here and at firework displays.

Suddenly the pizza wasn't happy any more and I staggered to the bathrooms. They were all taken so I stood with my knees bent trying to counter the sudden drop or rise of the floor as the waves hit in a sort of peculiar Cossack dance. 5 minutes later sans pizza I returned to my seat feeling slightly better. This was short lived and my emergency plastic bag was also used. I didn't notice but Ami has told me about the expressions of the passengers around us were a strange mix of simultaneous disgust, sympathy and resignation that they might soon befall the same fate.This was when we realised the bag we thought was water tight wasn't. In a quick use of our travel documents folder I toddled off to the bathroom again and poor Ami found some tissue for the seat.

At this point I was completely zoned out. I hazily remember the following but Ami has filled in the gaps. Soon we arrived at Hvar where the storm was showing no signs of waning. I had my backpack and the umbrella and bimbled off the boat. How Ami got both suitcases off the boat I have no idea! We were now on a stone harbor in the pouring rain and the dark apart from when lightening struck the the place lit up like Christmas. I remember trying really hard not to lose Ami but sometimes she seemed to vanish and I would have to stop and look for her. Not sure how I could have missed her dragging two large pink and purple suitcases but I wasn't with it at all.

We found a taxi rank with zero taxis (a running theme for Croatia) but soon (maybe not soon, I remember soon) two appeared and we shared with another couple of girls as there weren't nearly enough to take everyone out the rain. We had booked an apartment for this night and were shown to our suite. I was clearly still away with the fairies. Ami asked about a Dr on the island and we were told there wasn't one, only the hospital on the mainland and no boats would be going out in this weather. They did suggest that it was probably a virus and I needed sleep and water. I desperately needed some clean clothes but this was when I realised I couldn't find the key to the suitcase on my padlock. I could remember locking it and putting the key on my bed next to my purse but I couldn't remember putting the little silver key in my purse. Damn. Sick, trapped and now with no luggage.

Ami went back to reception to see if they had bolt cutters to get the padlock off my suitcase and I contemplated my condition. Don't ask me why but I suddenly remembered a panflet I was given in freshers week that came with the story of the fresher who thought she had a hangover but it was meningitis and she dies. Slightly freaking out I went to get a glass and tried to remember the rest of the panflet. Checking yourself for rashes is hard when it feels like you're thinking through your own recent vomit. It's also harder when you are covered in fresh bruises from a combination of lugging a suitcase, finding a pole in a bar, and general clumsiness. With a small questionable bruise on my rib cage I connected to the wifi and googled. According to the NHS symptoms are: 
  • a fever, with cold hands and feet - check but I had spent the afternoon in the rain
  • vomiting - check but I had been on a boat with a hangover
  • drowsiness and difficulty waking up - check but I hadn't slept much the night before
  • confusion and irritability - check 
  • severe muscle pain - first symptom missing!
  • pale, blotchy skin, and a distinctive rash (although not everyone will have this) - rash probably a bruise but still worrying
  • a severe headache - my head didn't feel great
  • stiff neck - not really
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia) - not especially 
  • convulsion or seizures - no
So with incomplete symptoms and alternative explanations for the ones I did have I decided I probably didn't have meningitus. It didn't really matter if I thought I had it or not since it wasn't possible to get to the mainland! 

Ami came back half way through my panic with news that they could cut my padlock off but not till the morning. Ami lent me some PJs and I went to sleep. 14 hours later I woke up (a good start) and felt a bit more like me. I was still a very wobbly me, but I was at least me which was a significant improvement on the previous night's fairy/delirious Deb.

Later, dressed head to ankle in Ami's things (I had my own shoes) we headed out to see what Hvar was like when it wasn't attempting to become Atlantis II. 

The view from our balcony
 Hvar was now dry and sunny so although we had missed our chance to visit the legendary club for many reasons, we could at least see the island a little. We explored the little shops in the town, Ami had a quick dip in the sea and we had a great lunch all of which stayed in my stomach! While wandering round we also spotted a beauty spa and we felt we needed a little pampering after the night we'd had! Two 30 minute massages later we were feeling much better. Adding to the good news, the hotel staff had managed to free my luggage and we even had time to have a drink and take in the view before going back to the boat to go back to the mainland. This time it was a much nicer journey for all concerned!

We're still not entirely sure what caused my little madness but probably a combination of some or all of the following; a virus, a hang over, not enough sleep, most likely sunstroke from the walls yesterday and most unlikely gremlins.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Croatia: Chapter 5 - Dubrovnik still

So I didn't get very far in yesterday's post did I? I also spelled Dubrovnik wrong. A fail on all counts really.
Still here

So anyway we woke up to a glorious sunny day which was a welcome change from the cooler temperatures of the north. We found places actually served breakfast here and then we caught the bus into the old town.

This place was unreal. I thought places like this existed purely in movies although in this case its more in Game of Thrones (so I'm told, haven't actually watched it, I tried once and didn't like the first episode and didn't feel like continuing). Its entirely made of white stone and use has polished it all to a slick shine. Tourists and locals were everywhere and it seemed like every building was either a church, a museum, a restaurant, or a souvenir shop (the latter seemed unworthy of their surroundings but their prevalence sadly suggested their success).

St Blaise
We ambled round and dipped into a pleasantly chilled church and found a lovely art gallery with some tempting pieces at repellent prices. Further along the great placa we found the cathedral of St Blaise the patron of Dubrovnik who kept popping up everywhere always holding a miniature version of the city in his arm, but couldn't look round properly due to it being a Sunday and the place was packed for a service. Nevertheless they had the doors swung wide open and you could stand and watch the space be used which was possibly better than just looking round.

Near to this there is the city museum in the Rectors Palace and with 75% student discount we couldn't refuse! It was a great museum not only about the cultural history of the city but also exhibitions on a musician family that lived there, a pharmacy exhibit, art, clothes, and weapons, you name it this place had it!

Next was a quick ice cream stop. I had some dark chocolate and some coconut. Ami strayed from vanilla and tried blueberry but decided not to be as adventurous next time and maintain her loyalty to vanilla. Fully fueled we headed towards the city walls. The walls are a near 2k loop around the old town and boast some of the best views I have ever seen. Another lovely student discount (70% are you taking notes UK?) we were up among the terracotta rooftops.

It was very hot still even though it was now 3pm and should have been cooling down but it was lovely to walk along especially the side that faced the sea and the little island of Lokrum that sits just off the coast. About half way round we could hear great live music being played and assumed we were near an expensive restaurant or a concert. Nope. We peeped over the edge of the wall only to find it was a band of street artists! We stood there for a few minutes listening to them play in the sunshine while they were completely unaware we were there. We even found some cannons which we assumed would go BUM as the ones in Zagreb apparently did. Did I mention that? Guess not; well in one of the murals on the wall of our hostel in Zagreb was a map of the town and it showed the cannon firing and going BUM. Yes I know I am a 24 year old educated woman, but when the word bum is involved I find it terribly funny! Probably too many Fry and Laurie re-runs or maybe its an inherent English trait as Ami joined me in shouting BUM at each cannon we encountered for the rest of the trip.

At the end of our walk we felt we deserved a drink and found a fancy looking restaurant overlooking the castle and had a drink feeling like lords of all we surveyed. This was shaping up to be an excellent day. I knew it would be; I was wearing my batman panties.

However the batpants were not done with us yet. Earlier on Ami had noticed a poster for the Symphony Orchestra but unfortunately they weren't playing that night and we were leaving in the morning. However later on I spotted the same poster with another next to it advertising a concert showcasing the best of the violin students at the music school associated with the orchestra, best of all they were playing that night! So after a quick freshen up and some much fancier clothes we were back in the city to have dinner before our evening concert. We found a lovely little wine and tapas bar and I surpassed myself in wine choice as it was genuinely delicious. Even the very surly (but rather gorgeous) sommelier seemed to cheer up upon opening this bottle. Dinner was fantastic too, we decided to take choice out of the matter and order both the meat and the fish tapas meal suggestions which came on a huge board and was very tasty.

On returning to the Palace, we found it had been transformed into a concert hall and the courtyard was now a stage. The performances were all excellent and came with suitable hair flicking and contortions from the violinists. They were filming the performance and I fear I noticed too late when a camera was on me and I wonder how long I had been too engrossed in the music to notice that I was being recorded? So I may be in some promotional video somewhere in Dubrovnik now. Ah I've found the programme: Masters of the Violin with 4 pieces from Franck, Lalo and Debussy.

The gorgeous piano in the Palace courtyard
To round off our evening we had asked the pretentious sommelier where would be good to go later in the evening and so found this place. On the first floor we got a table looking out of a large open window onto the square and ordered a bottle of fizz to sip in the night breeze. No sooner had we settled but a pair of topless break dancers started performing in the square; so now we had entertainment too!

Later we realised there was no where to dance in that bar and, as it was filling up with drunk tourists, we decided it was time to go somewhere else. A pub crawl victim pointed us towards a club which seemed to be in a battlement of the wall itself! In we went and it was surprisingly full of neon lights, bars, DJs, dancers, everything you could want from a club and nothing you would expect from a wall battlement! We had a great night here and after some confusion of where we actually lived (we got there eventually) we were back after our accidental but awesome night out!

The next day we woke up feeling less than brilliant but it was overcast and cooler so at least we didn't have the sunshine to deal with. We packed up again and headed back towards the bus station to get another bus to Split and then a boat out to the famous island of Hvar! However nothing went right that day....


Monday, 8 September 2014

Croatia: Chapter 4 - Dubrovnik

Good evening, it is I LeClerc!

So I was at the bus station in Zagreb wasn't I? Well so we could go round the city without them, we left our suitcases in the luggage office earlier that morning. However given our issues with the tram we were running rather late to get our bus at 12.

At 11.51 we got off the tram at the station. Ami bolted to the luggage office and I hastened (I had both handbags and enough food and drink for 2 for the next 10 hours) to find the bus and stop it from leaving without us. It was platform 403. I was at 101. Damn. Following the numbers up I got to 208 at 11.53 and it stopped! Panicking mildly I dithered. 11.54. In my dithering I spiraled round in frustration and noticed a bus going round the corner. Could there be more bus station round there?? There was! Pegging it along I found 403, explained I was waiting for someone else and got on the bus so I could make a fuss if they tried to leave. 11.56. I then worried if Ami would not be able to find the platform either but she must have spiral dithered (my signature move) as well as she arrived at 11.58. Phew.

About 3 hours in to our journey I was well engrossed in Stephen Fry's Moab is My Washpot while snacking on chocolate wafers the bus started making an odd noise. It pulled over to the side of the road but there was no hard shoulder so we had to continue again. The noise got louder. About 5 miles down the road we came across a stopping point. It was a random car park at the side of the road with nothing in it.

Ami was settled so I left her and went outside to see what was going on. Not a lot really. The bus drivers were looking at the front wheel so I presumed that was the issue. The younger one went and changed his crisp white shirt, got out some tools and attempted to unscrew the wheel. Nothing. At one point he was bouncing up and down on the lever and even his approximate 18 stone had no effect.

Best game series ever!
The other guy must have been phoning for help and soon another lurid pink bus arrived with even bigger drivers! I'm not sure why they have to be pink but this company was. So The Dainty Lady II came to our rescue and started to take the wheel off but it took all 4 drivers so I was reassured that one of the other wheels wasn't going to spontaneously fall off or anything; those suckers weren't going anywhere! During this unexpected non-bus time I made friends with an Aussie lad and got some tanning in accidentally as I noticed the backs of my legs were burning where I had been watching the wheel change for too long.

Anyway back on the bus and now near an hour behind schedule we got back to the road. The next few hours were largely uneventful. The food got eaten. The olives leaked. That was as exciting as the bus trip was. However just after dark we were stopped and everyone had to show their passports. This confused us a little bit but upon later examination of a map we realised that the bit of Croatia that has Dubrovnik in it isn't connected to the rest of Croatia! What's with that?! Anyway who I now assume were boarder control came on board and took away the Aussie boy with all his stuff. He reappeared about 15 mins later. Random check? Mafia drug lord who bribed the officers? Ninja assassin who left none to tell the tale? Who knows.

We arrived in Dubrovnic at goodness knows what time and set off to find our accommodation. We soon came across a hill and still mentally scared from biking up a mountain the day before we went back to the station and got a taxi. The taxi dropped us off seemingly nowhere. Not outside one of the houses but outside an ally with stairs disappearing away in both directions. He told us to go down the stairs. Slightly creeped out we stood on the pavement and found money. When I looked round there was a pale thin old woman silently standing right behind me. I honestly nearly screamed. She had long wispy grey hair and a long dress. I don't think she made eye contact but I VERY quickly moved out her way and she glided past.

With the woman/ghost gone we started down the stairs. We were very tired and it was very late. This is a bad combination when you have suitcases and have to go downstairs. Bang-bang, bang-bang, bang-bang, the poor locals heard our suitcases hit every single stone stair. About half way down a woman came out of her house and I thought she was going to shout at us. But instead she maternally inquired if we were looking for number 6 and when we answered that we were she phoned the lady we were staying with and showed us where it was.... back up the stairs!

Thankfully, the hostel owner came out and took one of our cases and between us we managed the other and finally made it to our room. She gave us some guide books and some home made lemonade and we gratefully went to sleep.

That feels like more than enough to have written today! I will talk about what we did actually in Dubrovnik tomorrow.

Night night

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Croatia: Chapter 3 - Zagreb

Hello Campers

After a good night out for my birthday yesterday I am surprisingly awake and perky this morning! Perhaps being ill and therefore home asleep all of the previous day builds up a surplice of sleep to cushion the blow of a night out followed by little and poor quality sleep? Either way I am glad of it. Thanks to everyone who came and sorry for being late (I may be older but apparently no more punctual).

Back to Croatia.

The questionable bus stop prevailed and a few hours later we were in the capitol city. Zagreb has trams everywhere so we took one to our accommodation. While on the tram there was no obvious way to pay and everyone we saw merely got on and sat down so we did the same. Later we were told you have to buy a ticket from a kiosk and they spot check but how were we meant to know that?

One of the walls
Our hostel was lovely and every wall was covered in a mural of some kind. I also don't think I've ever had such an enthusiastic explanation of a city! The lady behind the front desk animatedly explained the good places to visit, who several "dude on a horse" statues were (her words not mine) and the local tale of a wicked queen. Upon her recommendation we went to a local restaurant for lunch and ordered the "Zagreb Steak" which is confusingly not steak at all! What arrived at our table was a whole turkey breast that had been stuffed with ham and cheese then coated with breadcrumb and fried! It was a love child of a schnitzel and a kiev. We noted that the place had a microbrewery attached to it and wanted to try it. We also noted that they had those individual beer taps for your table. So in keeping with the ridiculous portion size of the Zagreb steak we had 3L of mictrobrew in our own tap to wash it down!
Concentrating hard

We probably arrived at the restaurant at about 3.30 intending to grab something moderately quick then go and explore the city. When we finished the beer a casual glance at the time told us we had been there 3 hours. Ooops.

We still pottered into town. Maybe pottered isn't quite the right verb. At one point Ami decided she was going to skip through the flowers so perhaps gambled is more appropriate? After ticking off some of the things to see from our list we found a little chic coffee and wine bar and had a lovely glass of locally produced white. It was odd to have the smell of coffee all around you while drinking wine but everywhere in Croatia seemed to sell coffee, anything other than coffee was not to be expected which left us perplexed on several occasions. Why do places open in the morning only serve coffee and not breakfast? Why will the bakery not sell coffee and the coffee house not sell cake? Is this an English thing to want coffee and food simultaneously? It was very frustrating.

That evening, or was it the next? Hang on. No I think it was that evening, we went for a few drinks. We found a lovely hipster cocktail bar and sat at the back playing cards for a while. We asked the waitress (because bars have waitresses that bring you your order and a bill rather than you going to the bar and paying upfront) where was good to go next for a dance and she sent us looking for another place. We wandered about for a while without finding it but on the way we found something very similar to archies in Manchester but with huge pizza slices instead of burgers. Despite it being bright and white and pink a quick slice of pizza renewed our search for this place.

We found it and was told it was empty which we thought was odd for 11.30. The bouncers said it probably wouldn't get busy till about 1am and the barman was even more pessimistic estimating 2am and even then not very busy. So with the club to ourselves we explored and found a pole tantalisingly separated from us behind a velvet rope. 2 minutes later we were playing about doing tricks having a great time in our private bar until we were told that was the VIP area and we couldn't be in there. Protestations at there not being any one else there to deprive were ignored and we moved to a more comfortable but boring place to sit.

At 12.30 we decided we didn't want to wait for it to get busy so left to get a taxi home. While explaining where we wanted to go to a taxi another woman got in it and the driver left saying he had called another taxi for us! So the second taxi comes that had been called for us and two lads jump in it and it drives away! There are no other taxis now and Ami got a little angry. It was hilarious. Do you remember how jigglypuff was when it got angry that everyone fell asleep at its song? It was just like that.

So jigglypuff and I started the walk home. Up until now I had not been attempting to navigate as when they were handing out senses of direction I must have not been paying attention. But after a while and having recognised nothing I started to question jiggly's judgement. After consulting a map and correcting course we managed to get back to bed.

The next morning, de-puffed, Ami and I rented bikes and intended to cycle to Medvedgrad castle that was 15km outside the city. Sounds easy right? They told us that it was up a slight hill but the views would be amazing and the restaurant was good at the top. Two of those were false. For the first hour we cycled along merrily enjoying the sunshine and the breeze until it started to get a little steep. Then it got steeper. Then it got ridiculously steep. Then we came across an unexpected hairpin in the road which made us realise we were on the wrong road! Our nice simple journey of "just go straight" was now a rather complicated mix of garbled instructions from a friendly local who took pity on the poor sweaty tourists.

We contemplated going back to where we went wrong but decided to press on not wanting to lose the hard work we used climbing up this far. So up we went... and up.... and up.... and up. The roads got so steep it was impossible to ride and we pushed the bikes. Do you know what feels like the heaviest thing in the world? A bike going up an incline. Many more bruises from hitting the peddles later we seemed to plateau in a little village. Thinking we were nearly there and spurred on with the thoughts of the food and the view we kept going. A little while later we met some local walkers who told us the castle was at least another 2k away! I was running on empty now and the last hour of climb was spent humming the alphabet just to have a rhythm to move my feet to.

Finally we got to the castle!! There was no one at the ticket office so we wandered in and found a peculiar man sitting on the wall who proclaimed himself to be the ticket man. We asked where the food was and rushed (as best we could with no energy left) to find it. What did we find? A vending machine. That was it. No restaurant, no cafe, not even a sad sandwich.

After our banquet of crisps, biscuits, chocolate and cola we explored the castle. Yes the view was amazing and we could see how far we had come! So our earlier information about the view, food and incline had a tiny bit of truth in it. Bits of the castle were rubble but other parts were intact like the well where the wicked queen drew water so as not to be poisoned by her subjects, a small chapel and a tower. At the chapel I startled a grasshopper who in turn startled Ami as he flew into her face. The tower had many floors however each passage to reach them was poorly lit and had little alcoves that could be hiding any number of scary things. So with imaginations fueled by exhaustion we decided not to risk the dark corridors.

We headed back out of the castle relieved to be out of sight to the caretaker/ticket man who had silently followed us round the site. He did not help dispel our fabricated phantoms and contributed to the overall eeriness of the place.

We were now late to return the bikes and still on a mountain. Walking up we had seen many people biking down the mountain in special streamlined helmets and Lycra suits however we had neither the skill not the helmets of these bikers so we gingerly started down the hill with the brakes protesting the whole way. This was terrifying! But in a different way to the spooky castle so at least we were mixing it up with fear genres?

We reached the little village again and decided it wasn't safe for us to continue like this and our only option was to find a taxi that could take 2 girls and 2 bikes. We found a taxi rank and one taxi pulled up. It was a tiny car suitable for the area's hills and he seemed more bemused than anything upon encountering us. He informed us there was nothing big enough to take the bikes in their entire fleet but he was trying to contact another company that had a minivan. Isn't that sweet?

Meanwhile I spotted a large old volvo with a taxi sign on it and jumped on it. Well not literally. The driver said he was already booked but he would be back in 10 minutes. I had as much faith in him returning as I did spontaneously sprouting wings and flying myself back. However I should not have been so quick to judge and he did indeed come back! The other taxi man even helped us maneuver the bikes in!

It's hard to look majestic with a pigeon on your head
We had been told to call the bike rental guy when we got back so he could come and pick the bikes up but as we were so late he was there waiting for us when our taxi swung round the corner and saw we had crammed his bikes into the back of an old volvo. Embarrassing.

A gloriously welcome shower later we were starving and went out and found possibly the best burger I have ever had, or maybe I was just that hungry!

The next morning we had some time to see some more of the city we missed spending too long drinking beer on the first day. We found the large cathedral, some gold figures and a cute market. After a little confusion on how to get back to the hostel (why doesn't the number 8 tram run if its on the map?!) we were back on the tram (with tickets this time) to the bus depot to start our long journey all the way to Dubrovnik.


Saturday, 6 September 2014

Croatia: Chapter 2 - Plitvice Lakes

Ahoy-hoy Readers,

Today is my birthday! I am edging my way out of my early 20s and have now hit the ambiguous mid 20s. I'll probably tell you about my day tomorrow after it's happened.... it would be hard to tell you about it before it happened as even when I plan things meticulously (which I haven't) things still change half way through.

Anyway, back to my holiday! I was on a bus heading north.

We had been warned that the lakes were colder and indeed they were by about 5-10 degrees! It's amazing how cold 18 feels when you spent 2 days in 25. We had told the bus driver that we wanted to little town near the lakes and he promised to shout it out for us. However when we were off the bus it appeared there was a little miscommunication and we were now at the entrance to the park which is about 17km away from... well anything really. However we weren't the only ones, we had met another pair of girls on the bus conveniently aiming for the same accommodation as us! Across the road there was a questionably open post office (bizarre location for a post office I thought but then I remembered my post depot is 45 mins walk away from me in Manchester so maybe it's just a post office thing to be in awkward locations?). To get there we had to heave the suitcases over a wooden overpass that was never intended to have suitcases on it and then through a mud tack, again unsuitable. Its as if they didn't expect to have 4 lost British girls with luggage using them?! The post office was amazingly open (one up on most of the post offices I've been to). However the man in there said there were no taxis in the area. Honestly we only went to Croatia not the moon, where doesn't have taxis?! Anyway we must have looked suitably pathetic because the guy running the post office took pity on us and said he would drive us there.

With no other options and thinking the 4 of us could take him if needed, we shoved the suitcases and ourselves into his car. A short while later we stopped but he told us not to get out. Feeling a little worried he disappeared into a house and came out a couple of minutes later. He explained that this was his house and he went to get directions to where we wanted to go. Hmm. Slightly more worried we carried on and thankfully actually arrived at our accommodation!!

The next day we set out to get the bus to the lakes. A bus came which was covered in images of the lakes and we eagerly jumped on, and were just as quickly turfed off again. We were told the bus didn't go to the lakes, but that begs the question why be covered in photos of them then? Back at the bus stop about 30 mins later another bus arrived and this one said it would take us. We weren't doing well for transport in this place, were we? In fairness it was a tiny little mountain town and most people day tripped to the lakes so they weren't used to tourists. In fact they were so not geared up for tourists that the only place we found to eat the previous night was something that I imagined a travel lodge in the 80s would have been like. We had seen this chain quite a bit as the buses stopped at them every 4 hours for bathroom and food breaks, each one was filled with taxidermy of bears with various levels of competency but constant maximum level of disturbing-ness.

Gosh I have rambled a lot and we're not even at the lakes yet are we? I need some tea. That's better.

Ok so now we are at the lakes, one hefty student discount later (loved the student discount in Croatia, it ranged from 40-70% off!) we were on a strange land train heading up to the upper lakes. We had enough time to do the whole park which we were told would take between 4 and 6 hours to do both the upper lakes and the lower lakes. When we got off at the top of the lakes it started to drizzle.

We started at St2, took the bus to St1 and walked to P2, took the ferry to P3 and walked to St1 and back on the bus to St2
I have a lot of photos that look like this
We walked for about 45 mins in the drizzle and then it turned into real rain. I'm not talking silly southern rain either, proper Manchester on a bad day rain! We cowered under some trees for a few minutes until the rain saturated the foliage and water was coming through the trees just as fast as it was coming through the air! You could tell which country people had come from as to how they dealt with this rain. This should not be taken as racism and is merely pure observational fact. The Asians had umbrellas and waited in corners for it to pass similarly to the Americans although these did not have umbrellas and scowled jealously at those who did. The mainland Europeans had plastic ponchos at the ready and were all wearing them spontaneously as if it was a natural force field that appeared around them, that or they had all come straight from sea world. The British were trudging through the train without umbrellas in our natural half hunch. Any other nationalities I think adopted the strategy of whichever was nearest.

However the downpour only lasted for about another half an hour and it brightened up into glorious sunshine! Much better views however all the wooden un-railed walkways were now slippery. Marvelous. Thankfully no one fell in and the rest of the park was beautiful! It wasn't just lakes and waterfalls, there were caves and woodland trails too! When we sat down to have our packed lunch we were spontaneously joined by blue tits and some type of woodland rodent (not sure which type but it was cute). Quickly eating on the ground was not an option as a shrew in your shorts sounded unpleasant. Squirrel in your socks? Rat in your hat? Hamster in your ham sandwich? Marmot in your marmite? Ha I like that one! Sorry rodent jokes aside, we had lunch and fed the wildlife, including some lovely fish that arrived.

A boat across to the lower lakes and we were looking at the tallest waterfalls in the whole park. They were fantastic to watch and the noise of the water crashing into itself and rocks on the way down was everywhere!

One short but very steep walk, one cold beer, one lost jacket (sad face) and one bus later we were back where we started and ready to go home and sleep!

A power rest later we were back using TripAdvisor and trying to find anywhere to eat that wasn't the blast from the past travel lodge. Success! There was a barbecue place a little walk out that was well worth it! I had the mixed grill with chips and salad and was impressed at how much of it I ate! Likewise Ami's family sized portion of spag bol received a beating! That night we fell into bed full of food and exhausted.

The next day we were back at the dubious bus stop waiting to be taken to the capitol city: Zagreb!


Friday, 5 September 2014

Croatia: Chapter 1 - Flying to Split

So I have been rather fortunate to have two summer holidays this summer! Did I blog about Portugal? I can't remember. Yes, I just checked, it was part of 4 Weeks of Trains from a bit back.

Anyway this time it was 10 days in lovely Croatia which I thought was within Europe so would have moderate priced flights, while still being moderately off the beaten track. Well most of the people I know seem to have had the same thought this year and everyone I told had either been themselves, were going soon, or had a relative/friend/colleague who had!

Be that as it may, my friend (Ami) and I booked flights and packed what seemed like light luggage (ha, my bruises now say otherwise). My Father was surprised when I told him the day before the flight that I would need a lift to the airport at 4.30am but he was reminded by my Mother that he knew this weeks ago. He was an excellent chauffeur and got me to the airport before it was properly light. One very easy check in later I was in the obligatory airport spoons having the traditional breakfast.

Deb was here!

All that was left of dinner
Arriving in Split, we were greeted with a welcome warm breeze and sunshine and one unnecessary taxi later (it was just round the corner but we didn't know that) we were at our accommodation for the next two nights. Well at least I thought we were. We discovered we were 2 floors below where we needed to be and so we lugged cumulatively about 170kg of weight up 2 flights of stairs. This is where the first batch of bruises came from.

We spent the rest of the day settling in and going to a little bay round the corner to get some sun. But for dinner we excitingly set out to a local restaurant following trusty TripAdvisor's suggestions. We had the fish platter for two and two large beers. The waiter rather condescendingly suggested we "could try to have two large beers" but I doubt he's been to England so didn't know any better. I did my best at filleting the bass and bream that arrived with our tuna and prawns and taught Ami how shell a prawn. An excellent first day!

Day 2 and we set out to the old town to have a look round. It is an odd sight as it's old ruins that are still completely being used. I wonder if they were unused and therefore fell to ruins and have been taken back up, or if they were continuously used and therefore there was a time when bits of it were just falling down?!
Splits ruins

Previous usage aside we went round many cute stalls selling the usual range of leather, glass and assorted souvenir things. Also a large amount of lavender which made the whole place smell much better than sweaty tourist!

Beach came with yellow submarine!
In the afternoon we walked across into the large park and found a lovely beach. I honestly don't remember enjoying a beach more! It was pebbles so no sand in bikini issues, it was small with no children, the sea was perfect and warm and I actually swam! Anyone who has been away with me knows my aversion to the sea which is solely founded on its temperature. Not an issue here. And to top it all off there was a beach-side bar with many bottles of cheap cold beer - perfect.

In the evening we did a pub crawl which started of dubiously in what looked like a rec room but soon moved to a harbor side cocktail bar with surprise entertainment in the form of 9ft men in black out suits and covered in lights! Scared me stupid when I turned round to see one behind me!! We also made friends with a bachelor party who were generous with drinks and a boy who everyone we subsequently met, also knew! I think this boy had met the entire population of Croatia and its islands! A couple of bars later and we were heading back to the hostel having had a great night.

The next morning, with a 6/10 on the Deb hangover scale, we set out for breakfast (which reduced it to a 4/10) and the bus to Plitvice Lakes....


New name.... again

Hiya Folks

So due to it being pointed out that my blog title sounds like a tribute to a largely naff but enjoyable movie, I have changed it. I am also having a lack of imagination the last month or so and haven't been able to come up with anything original, pertinent and permanent. Therefore my user name initials will do for now. Who knows I may like OGD after a few posts?

Having a quick google OGD means 4 things none of which are particularly repellent:

  • Open Government Data - something I should probably know about but don't
  • Oesophagogastroduodenoscopy - sounds unpleasant but a harmless diagnostic tool
  • Ogden-Hinckley Airport - no idea what that's like but wiki informs me its in Utah
  • The Organization and Guidance Department of the Workers' Party of Korea - again something I know squat about

For Rachy 
So let me know if you love it or hate it or have any good ideas for an alternative name. Some suggestions have already been rejected such as 'Brains, Trains and blogs-full-of-feels' (to mimic the "classic" Planes, Trains & Automobiles).

Much love