Friday, 21 August 2009

Sailing Croatia: Dubrovnik - Mljet

The Croatian coastline is lined with more than 1000 islands. Strangely enough, I didn't see 1000 Island Salad Dressing anywhere, but that would be too obvious, ne c'est pas? Of these 1000 islands, only 20 or so are popular with tourists....the rest are tiny and largely uninhabitable (unless you're a contestant on Survivor - hey, Survivor Croatia! I'm e-mailing that one to Jeff).

Anyway, Mljet - and I must include a sidebar here: Eastern European spellings are dof in the extreme. Basically, they accidentally forgot to put vowels in, well...OH, THEIR WHOLE COLLECTION OF LANGUAGES, but you say the words as if the vowel was there. So Mljet is Mil-yet. Easy, yes? I know, I threw my hands up in surrender many times as well. Where was I? Oh yes - Mljet is the southern-most of the larger islands, dubbed thus by the trusty Lonely Planet guide book: "the most seductive island in the Adriatic". Perhaps the author of so sweeping a comment was caught up in a torrid romance at the time of writing, the strength of which robbed him of his senses. Mljet was voted far and away the most pointless stop on our trip.

To be fair, the whole damn island is a National Park, so if you don't hire bicycles and cycle around it, you are restricted to about a kilometre of harbour front with a few restaurants and bars, none of which make cocktails. Seriaaas. No cocktails on the waterfront. It's like no sunshine in summer - completely at odds with natural law. We were quite keen to cycle around the park and swim in the two big lakes, but after we only docked at 5pm and found the entrance to be 90 Kuna a head, excluding bicycle hire, we decided it was fairly pointless. Instead, we hit up a local pizzeria for some amazing pizza and some extremely awesome camel piss wine. Our refined saffa taste buds were by now getting used to the idea of ordering cheap local wine in half or full litres instead of bottles. It was a third of the price, and as the bottled wines weren't that great anyway, it made more sense - especially after the third glass when your taste buds went pleasantly numb, and it could really have been camel piss for all you knew.

So nothing much happened in Mljet. We had dinner, took some drinks down to the "beach" (concrete slab on the other side of the harbour, complete with empty kiddies tidal pool) and took silly photos of each other. Mljet, however, was where we found out about The Smelly Fish Incident.

HippieChick is a lovely girl, but definitely not the best of cabinmates. She could usually be found out and about til all hours of the morning, blithely letting herself in and out of the cabin in a state of inebriation to fetch unidentified objects, attempting to bring her squeeze from HMS Cockfest back to the room for a cuddle (and here met an icy refusal from Tee, not once but 3 times) and generally disturbing the calm seas for her patient cabinmate, Tee. But even Tee had enough with this particular incident. HippieChick, being a hippie, is able to live on a very frugal budget. She also had a month and half of travelling in front of her when she first arrived in Croatia, so going out for dinner every night was not an option. She would often go back to her room and eat something she had bought at port that afternoon for dinner, while the rest of us sampled local cuisine.

On one of the first couple of days we were given fish for lunch. Very nice, spiced fish, served whole with wobbly little fish eyes staring accusingly out at you from the silver platter. Not everyone was a fish fan, and there were quite a few untouched fish left over. HippieChick saw an opportunity, and slipped one into her handbag, for later snackage. It must be said at this point that the fish was only wrapped in a napkin, and the rooms have no refrigeration facilities. It was also around this time that HippieChick got sick - a little gift from Tee who had started the trip recovering from a nasty cold. Thus, she couldn't smell anything. Tee however was on the mend, and could smell everything.

Later that evening, Tee commented on the slightly fishy smell in the room. That night they slept with the windows and door open, hoping that the room just needed some airing. The next morning it wasn't any better. We spent the day up top the roof in 35 degree heat, and Tee came down late that afternoon to the overpowering stench of rotting fish in her cabin. She searched high and low - in the bin, in HippieChick's luggage, under the bed - but to no avail. The aroma lingered on. That night the room was almost unbearable to sleep in, but HippieChick, blissfully unaware with her stuffy nose, slept like a baby while Tee tossed and turned, pillow hugged tightly to nostrils. It was only the next day - nearly a full 48 hours later - that HippieChick dug in her handbag to get something and discovered the rotten fish. Mortified, she told Britney and swore her to silence. Britney, who is about as good at keeping secrets as Perez Hilton, promptly told Tee and the rest of us, and for the remainder of the trip, HippieChick was shredded mercilessly and every fish joke in the book was worn out repeatedly. She was not amused.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Sailing Croatia: Trstenik - Dubrovnik

The morning kicked off with an early swim and an earnest discussion about what had happened the previous night. It was established that our group had incurred the following injuries:

HippieChick - blue and purple bruises on her arms and legs from being held down, and an especially attractive swollen nose from being elbowed, all by Crazy K
Crazy K - Carpet burn on her shoulder from being dragged across the deck by HippieChick
Lopz - swollen left index fingertip with suspicious looking red dot in the centre. Many theories were put forth before Crazy K conceded she may well have bitten said fingertip in drunken frenzy (neither of us can actually remember)
Britney - sprained ankle from everybody doing the brand new dance now
Jem - bruises along his thigh from coming short after jumping from the roof of the boat and landing like a tard in the water

There were also more than a few raging hangovers that had to be calmed with ice cold cokes and cold showers. We'd already learned not to drink the warm camel piss, sorry coffee, on the boat.

We arrived in Dubrovnik at 1pm. The city has been described as "heaven on earth" and the "jewel of the Adriatic". As far as cities go, it is uniquely beautiful and certainly a standout among the European cities I've seen (I'm still a beach girl at heart though). It was by far our biggest touristy day, with much sightseeing and wondering aimlessy around quaint alleyways. One of the highlights was walking along the top of the 2km stretch of old walls that surround the city - it gave us incredible views across the whole of Dubrovnik. Another was our visit to Buza Bar (immediately dubbed Boozer Bar by all board), an outdoor cafe bar perched high upon the rocks of a cliff face, with the towering city walls in the background and a drop down into the azure ocean in front. Absolutely sublime.

We took it quite easy that night, mindful of giving ourselves some much needed rest after the previous night's mayhem, and setting the tone for the rest of the holiday. We ended our day's tour with a picnic on the beach - one of only 3 or 4 sandy beaches in Croatia (I know, go figure right? You come all the way from the stony beaches of England, which is quite understandable given that England is shit, to the stony beaches of the Adriatic. What have the Europeans done with all the sand???).

Not all of us planned to have a restful, non-intoxicated holiday though (Boat bbq excepted). There were many revellers on our boat who power napped during the early evenings so they could party the night away in whatever port we were docked. Croatians are clearly a party loving people - they start late and end late, and they have bars and clubs aplenty to suit all entertainment needs. G-Days and Crazy K were definitely more partygoers than take-a-chillers. Perhaps it is our advancing age, but by midnight each night we were all exhausted and quite excited about the prospect of hitting the sack.

G-Days and Crazy K, on the other hand, could often be heard cackling away in their cabin at 2am, so much so that Eyes and Scarf, whose cabin shared a wall with theirs, often had to bang out morse code for "Shut the fuck up!" to get some dos. They went to bed late and woke up late, and it was with great amusement the next morning that we all waited for last night's Crazy K story, which involved such things as begging free beer from HMS Cockfest (and biting people when they didn't give it to her), talking to God (she doesn't really remember why and is not even sure she believes in God, but at one stage she was dead set on spending some quality time with Him up on the roof) and crying - floods and floods of tears. She is a very high-spirited, fun-loving girl with no off switch whatsoever, and her highs are as skyhigh as her lows are bottomless pits. No, she is not manic depressive (I don't think)...maybe just a little hyperactive. And an endless and constantly surprising source of entertainment for us, which she knows and enjoys to the max.

However, nothing Crazy K did on the trip matched HippieChick and The Smelly Fish Incident.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sailing Croatia: Hvar - Trstenik

The next day we woke up nice and early to the stench of diesel fumes choking us out of our sleep, and made like prison escapees to the top deck of the boat for some serious tanning. Let me explain: there are 3 levels of accommodation: above deck en suite, below deck en suite (which is not so much below deck as inside the bottom deck), and the cheapass BELOW deck, as in you have to go down some break-neck steep stairs to get there, and there is not even one toilet to be smelt (these are communal and outside above deck). Shoes and I and Jem and Britney had rooms BELOW deck, and every morning when the engine started at 6am or some other ridiculous time, we slowly suffocated in our sleep until our internal body alarms woke us up shrieking "SOS!! Impending Death Alert!!" and we bailed out in the nick of time.

Despite the fact that our accommodations were less than pleasant when the boat was moving, we got the best deal at night. While the others sweated it out in the 28 degree heat and shoved pillows over their heads in an effort to block out the racket from the revellers on the surrounding boats, we burrowed into our narrow bunk beds in pitch darkness, with the aircon in the passage keeping us pleasantly cool as we slept, blissfully unaware of the shenanigans going on above deck. So yes, we were the cheapskates, but we ended up getting better value for money than those who opted for the more "luxurious" rooms.

We sailed for anything from 5 - 8 hours a day, usually stopping at our destination between 2 and 5 in the afternoon. We arrived in Trstenik at 2pm, to a scorching temperature of 37 degrees. We had all signed up for the optional Boat BBQ that night, as we'd been told Trstenik was a very small village with only one restaurant. Turns out this was just a blatant marketing ploy, as the village billed as "Croatia's most unspolied wine producer" actually had 3 or 4 cute little restaurants along the water, all with ridiculously cheap prices. Our 100 Kuna per head braai (about £12) was certainly a rip-off we would not repeat. However, since pretty much everyone on our fleet of 7 ships had fallen for the same ploy, we were all in the same boat - literally and figuratively.

What do you get when you put a group of 200 young people on a boat with crap food and nothing else to do but drink large quantities of alcohol? Why, you get the sailing version of a university fraternity, of course. One of the boats we travelled with was made up almost entirely of 21 year old Australian boys. It all kicked off at the BBQ, when we looked over at their boat and saw nothing but testerone waiting for a slut to happen. G-Days immediately dubbed it the HMS Cockfest, a name which not only spread through the rest of our travelling group but arrived at the Cocks themselves, who began wearing the label with a greatly misplaced sense of pride.

For example:

Shoes: Mate, do you know what everyone is calling you?
Cock (beaming from ear to ear): Yeah mate, we're the HMS Cockfest!!! We're all cocks!!! Oi! Where's my fucking pint?

As the liquor flowed, the mayhem began. HippieChick, being single and interested in a holiday hook-up, made every effort to get herself over to HMS Cockfest, hoping to find a cock who was maybe not as cocky as the rest (well, in certain aspects anyway). Jem, her ever-protective older brother, was literally cock-blocking her at every turn. So instead of multiple orgies, someone plugged their iPod into the sound system, and about 50 drunken sailors began dancing and stomping and doing-the-locomotion around the deck of the boat. It wasn't long before the casualties ensued. Britney, mid particularly exuberant dance move, fell over and sprained her ankle (she swears it was the pushing and shoving from the over-enthusiatic locomotion train). Crazy K got quite out of control and tried to raul everyone, teeth and fists flying. HippieChick, obviously needing an outlet for the aggression over Jem's constant cock-blocking, decided to take her on, and the two of them ended up in a knock-down, tap-out round of UFC, which had people less familiar with my friends' brand of crazy looking on in utter amazement - and fear, if I'm honest. I was unsteady enough on my feet to accidentally tip the contents of my bacardi and coke right over Eyes' head as I attemped to climb the ladder to the top deck - something which would have had Health and Safety in a shitting panic had there been such a thing in Croatia.

Everyone was mad as a box of frogs and having the time of their lives. The true extent of our fun, however, was only revealed the next morning when more than a few of us awoke with injuries that would hamper us for the rest of our trip.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Sailing Croatia: Split to Hvar

I've been promising for a few weeks now to dish the dirt on my trip to Croatia. I'll tell you where we went and what we saw, but with a holiday like this, it really is the people that make the trip. So I won't bore you with long-winded accounts of tourist attractions and travel tips, but instead I'll take you on a journey of the good, the bad and the very very smelly. After all, this is not a travel blog - it's my slightly crazy, rarely dull and ever entertaining life, and if you're reading this blog right now, I would hope that is the reason you keep coming back!

Split - Hvar

We departed for Split, Croatia at the ungodly hour of 3:30am on Saturday morning. Most of the trip there is a blur.....I remember it being cold when we left the house and I remember G-Days attempting to break the land speed record on the way to the airport, so that we had frequent "EEEEEEEEERRRGGGGHHHHH" moments as he slammed on breaks to avoid getting papped by the cameras (speeding cameras obviously - I haven't become an overnight celebrity....yet). The one good thing about speed traps in the UK is that they are very visible. You don't find cops hiding behind bushes with camo vans and black paint on their faces in an effort to catch you unawares and pressure you into a R200 bribe. The policy here is that if people know the cameras are there, they won't speed. And you know what? IT WORKS!!! Amazing! People actually have common sense!! Ironic really, since Health and Safety still have to remind you to cook your turkey all the way through at Christmas time, but perhaps they were deemed too anal for Traffic Control.

When we got to Split airport, the first thing I noticed was that all the Croatian policewomen looked like models. It was like National Career Shadow Week where all the supermodels had hopped off the catwalk to try their hand at baton swinging in a bid to expand their futures. And then I saw the policemen. I now know that Croatian men can be very good looking, but at that point, I thought they were all extras from The Hills Have Eyes. Inbred hillbillies does not even begin to cover the squint-eyed 300 pound meatheads that man passport control. Luckily we got through without incident, despite G-Days' girlfriend Crazy K shouting at the top of her voice in the queue about terrorism and fake passports (she really has no filter, that one).

Split itself is a bit of an eyesore, and so humid that we melted into puddles of non-crease cotton the minute we stepped off the bus. We dumped our baggage on board the boat that was to be our home for the next 8 days - The Tvrdi, which means "hard" - before setting out to meet Eyes and Scarf. There were 9 of us altogether, but as HippieChick was a single traveller she had to share a room with a random, a lovely Aussie girl called Tee, who ended up rounding out our group to 10 for the duration of the cruise.

As you can imagine, there was great excitement for the first couple of hours. The weather was a bit shite - very hot and muggy but with a sky full of misty white cloud and no discernible sun. Even so, we were not deterred from our celebrations. We quickly learnt the honesty bar system, whereby you order a drink (or help yourself if the crew were in the back) and tick it off under your cabin number on the drinks list. Before long, we were up at the front of the boat, cameras snapping and pint glasses clinking. And then the unthinkable happened - the winds came up, the waves turned into ravenous venus flytraps and the boat began to roll like Mischa Barton's eyes on a night out. In the beginning a couple of people felt a bit queasy, and those of us - me and HippieChick in particular, who thought we were born with tails instead of legs - scoffed with mirth. It was a different story 3 hours later. About half the boat's passenger were curled up in balls on their beds, sweat dotting their upper lips as they fought the urge to feed the fish. The rest were still above deck, lying prostrated in deck chairs or flat on the deck, as still as possible so as not to upset the delicate equilibrium they'd achieved in that position. There were more than a few growls of retching echoing above the roar of the waves. I was sat huddled on the bottom deck with a highly unstable Shoes, who in a moment of abject weakness, literally begged me not to leave him to fetch a top despite the fact that I was freezing to death in a skimpy bikini, while the driving rain blasted across our bodies. We could not have picked a more unpleasant start to the holiday. After about an hour of fighting tooth and nail with his insides, Shoes gave in and projectile vomited through his mouth and nose, while I sat outside shivering and hoping for hypothermia to take me to a peaceful end.

By the time we stopped on anchor for a swim, everyone was sporting attractive shades of green and white, and more than a few had upchucked the mushroom soup we'd had for lunch. The swim seemed to revive everyone, but there was some mutiny in the ranks as grumbles of "This is so NOT what I signed up for" and "It's fucking Croatia in July and it's like the Perfect Storm out there, WTF!" were heard around the boat.

Suffice it to say that by the time we docked in Hvar around 6pm, you have never seen a bunch of people more pleased to set foot on dry land. Hvar is the longest island in the Adriatic, and has fantastic nightlife along the water. We walked up to the old castle ruins, and then went for dinner and drinks on the docks. It was a fairly early night for all of us after the eventful day, but as it turns out, we needed the sleep, for the next couple of days were about to go completely pear-shaped.

Note: I'll add some pics later from my pc at home.

Friday, 7 August 2009

My Life in Technicolour

I am so unbelievably happy right now I have to share my news with you....

After 4 years of desperately struggling in London to get the career I want, 4 years of rejection and redundancy and repeating the same old role over and over again in what seemed like a new company every 3 months, I have finally got my dream job and it starts right now!!!

A month ago my boss announced his resignation. As a PA, when your boss resigns, you automatically freak out for obvious reasons. To cut a long story short, I was eventually told I would be safe and now that the new Head of my team has officially taken over, I sat down with her this morning to discuss my future with my team.

What I'd scarcely dared to hope might happen has actually happened, and I am officially the Cross Media Team Trade Marketing Co-ordinator working across all client marketing and events for my whole company!! I couldn't have asked for a better job if I'd dreamed it up myself, and I'm so happy I'm actually crying a little bit (cunningly disguised as tears from "yawning" so my team don't think I'm a freak).

I promise the Croatia stories are still coming...have had some trouble catching up with all my work after gallivanting across the globe! But for today, I'm just going to sit here and relish every moment of how awesome I feel right now.

Have a fantastic weekend everyone, and I hope at least one thing happens to you today to make you smile as much as me!