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wobblelikejelly |Photos of the year

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It is to my eternal regret that I don’t get enough photos printed – it’s obvious that photos look better in tangible form. In the absence of real photos, a gallery of my favourite photos from 2014 will suffice for now. It’s been a good year, with plenty to see and do. Enjoy!

Brussels is easily one of my favourite cities and having been there four times, it is somewhere I feel very comfortable in. If someone who hasn’t bothered to visit Brussels tells you it’s boring, just come to me and I’ll bore you senseless with Brussels love. Grand Place at night looks like nothing else, and with new lighting installed, everything looks more sensational than ever.

Grand Place

Norwich is somewhere I raved about back in February and rightly so. It is quite simply a great city in its own right. It is remote enough from other big cities to have to bow to anyone and it’s all the better for it. I was especially “omgomgomgomg” about the John Lewis building and my trip seemed to focus on the architectural gems of Norwich. Go!

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This year I went to Paris for the third time, but every visit feels different from the last. This time the weather treated us to a carefree April trip full of rests in parks and a daily mojito. I fell in love all over again and our trip up Tour Montparnasse gave us the added bonus of not being able to see it ruin the skyline.

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Liverpool, what a swell place! As I left Liverpool after a fantastic day of sight-seeing, I regretted deeply that I never went to university there. I doubt I’d have ever left. The cathedral was an absolute highlight for me and I’m keen on going back and just gazing lovingly at it.

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Bosnia and Croatia made up my summer holiday destinations this year, and despite being mistaken for a drugs traffiker (I’m usually mistaken for Harry Potter) sitting on a coach which was vaguely on fire for 8 hours, almost throwing up every time I went near the harbour in Split, I loved it all. Mostar and Sarajevo hugely appealed to me, even if the cities made me think seriously about the evil that humans can do to one another. Croatia had gems in the form of Zadar and Plitvice Lakes, with Zagreb offering a vibrant capital city experience.

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Sarajevo Town Hall

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Mostar

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Beautiful Mostar

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Zadar’s superb waterfront

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Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes

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Zagreb

 

If you were to sum up the holidays I have been going on on the past few years, you will keep coming back to Spain and Scandinavia – and rightly so! God damn, I love them both so much. This year I went with my friend Rokos to Andalucia and saw some sensational places, from the gobsmackingly gorgeous Ronda to the incomparable Alhambra in Granada. Cordoba had the Mezquita and a charming city to boot and Seville was just a knockout place for food, drink, sights and the shock of 35c weather in late October.

Seville

Seville

Ronda

Ronda

Cordoba

Cordoba

Seville - Alcazar

Seville – Alcazar

Alhambra - Granada

Alhambra – Granada

Alhambra - Granada

Alhambra – Granada

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Zagreb

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P1230693Zagreb is an intriguing holiday destination which maybe suffers from some sort of unjust curse. So, in the interests of research, go and ask 10 people what the capital of Croatia is and see if they answer correctly. My money is that they’ll look blankly, scratch their heads for a while and say it’s Split, it’s by the sea or “god, I dunno, I’m not wonderwoman” and storm off into the night. It’s a bit like trying to differentiate between Slovakia and Slovenia’s capitals, but fear not as I’ve a handy way of knowing the difference between the two. Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava is boring and Slovenia’s, Ljubljana is really pretty but you can’t spell it.

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Kino Europa bar

To put Zagreb’s tourism draw into perspective, Zagreb had 2.3 million passengers in 2013 for a city of 700,000 people. Dubrovnik airport had 1.4 passengers in 2013 for a city of under 50,000 people. And yet, Zagreb is a real delight of a city to visit. It might lack the stunning city walls of Dubrovnik or the beautiful (though when I was there, smelly) waterfront of Split but it has a spirit and vibrancy I found lacking elsewhere, though surely this is because real people live there, people who inhabit the city and aren’t all Brits abroad. It was in Zagreb that I found a bar with a great terrace, The Beertija, that sold a huge variety of beers, but sadly not the Bosniak beer I was after which was even advertised outside. In my head, when the waiter suggested I try a “really nice Croatian beer” I archly replied, “if you can find a nice Croatian beer, I’ll happily have it”. My internal chuckles turned sour when he returned with a really nice Croatian beer. To finish our evening, we had a drink at the bar of Kino Europa, something akin to a Picturehouse in the UK. Definitely worth a trip to see if any decent arthouse films are playing.

P1230689Zagreb feels different to the rest of Croatia in that a number of trendy London-style places appear to be popping up all over the place. Inevitably, they’re full of the cool kids and we found ourselves roaming the city for a suitable place for dinner. Lari and Penati was completely booked up and the crowd was, in Lonely Planetese, a bunch of 20-something hipsters looking for the coolest spot in town. It was a shame it was full as it did look excellent. After a while, we happened upon Mundoaka Streetfood which succeeded in being warm, welcoming and on the right side of hipster. I opted for the pork, heavily doused in soy sauce and bursting with flavour while my fellow traveler Ryan opted for the chicken with a harissa sauce. His meal won hands down and if I mentioned that Croatian food hadn’t made much of a mark before, this time it really impressed. Olive oil in test tubes is a cute touch, as well as being practical.

P1230683Zagreb is a city for walking, with a series of parks dotted around the streets making it a green and open place to be. The outdoor cafe culture is superb, and even if you’ve just had your 15th coffee of the day and the caffeine in your system could power a village, every cafe seems inviting…it would be far too easy and pleasant to while the day away going from sight to cafe to sight to park. The botanical gardens are free and offer shade from the sun and a place to snooze. An excellent breakfast is to be had at KavaTava on Britanski trg (the most Zagrebian of all Zagreb sqaures, apparently) where I had weiner, fried eggs and salad. The pancakes and puddings looked awesome but I had to save myself for ice-cream later on. We found good ice cream at Vincek where I had a peculiar mixture of Snickers and rum punch scoops.

P1230702In the upper town, there’s a Museum of Broken relationships which is as funny as it is poignant; all the items on display are sent in by members of the public and while some are petty – a toaster being taken so the guilty lover can’t make toast – some are heartbreaking like a mother’s suicide letter. A walk around this area brings you to St Mark’s Church with the best roof in all the country; the coat of arms of Zagreb and other national symbols.

For a couple of days in a relaxed and buzzing city, Zagreb’s got it all. As a bonus, it’s not far by coach from Plitvice Lakes. Next time someone tells you that Dubrovnik is “simply a must”, think about heading to the north of Croatia where there’s plenty of fun to be had.

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Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes national park

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After a “beach day” in Zadar, where the weather was grey, the beach was a heap of rocks and the water was not in any way inviting, we fled to Plitvice Lakes. Partway through the journey to the coach station the weather went all apocalyptic and at the moment it’d be ideal for our driver to concentrate on not killing us, he decided to spend ages trying to find out the Kuna to Euro exchange rate, which I already knew. Luckily he didn’t kill us and proved himself to be awesome by parking his car in a bay at the coach station so we didn’t get soaked. En route to Plitvice, our coach stopped at the traditional money pit (the coach toilets never, ever worked so people used the pit stop loos and ended up spending money) and this one was full of stuffed animals which made me feel queasy. Eww.

As we approached Plitvice, the scenery became progressively more like a painting but I was so tried from a wild night watching Ab Fab on YouTube I couldn’t help falling asleep every few minutes so went through a cycle of going “wow, I need to get my camera outzzzzz” and knocking my head against the window, my party trick when asleep on transport.

Arriving at Bellevue Hotel, a few minutes walk from where the coach dropped us off, I was struck by how this hotel clearly modelled itself on The Overlook in The Shining. For one of Croatia’s biggest attractions, the hotel was eerily empty and it became clear that the complex of hotels and restaurants in Plitvice Lakes was in a 1970s, communist timewarp. So far, so good.

Then the rains came again – with a ferocity that made leaving the hotel completely impossible. It felt like that episode of Father Ted, where they look at the brochure of their location, find there is a road and a tree stump to look so resort to turning the kettle on and off endlessly.

Eventually, we took the plunge amid thunderstorms which sounded like jet fighters overhead and set out. And it was intensely beautiful. After a few hours in which being drenched became bearable and walking inches from waterfalls actually warmed us up, the weather lifted and we were gifted glimpses of sunlight. The change of weather transformed the landscape once again. Plitvice ranks alongside my evening with the midnight sun in Sweden, Jordan’s Wadi Rum and Petra and the train journey between Oslo and Bergen as the most beatiful places I’ve ever been.

Clock on the images to increase their size.

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Zadar

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Quite simply, Zadar is a delight of a city. Within moments of leaving our great apartment, Villa Lipa, we saw a beautiful sunset which leads me to fact of the day… Alfred Hitchcock off of the movies thought Zadar sunsets to be amongst the most beautiful he’d ever seen. Having seen the midnight sun in Lapland I’d have to disagree, but it was a stunning sunset all the same. After admiring the sun and the water, we took the ferry boat across the water to the old town and headed straight for the two pieces of public art that make Zadar stand out.

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The sea organ uses a series of pipes under the steps by the sea and water flows into it, generating a soothing sound. The second piece is the greeting to the sun which uses very whizzy technology but in simple terms it uses solar panels to create a stunning  light show in the evening.

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The old city itself is charming, scattering Roman ruins among a smart clutch of modern buildings and beautiful churches. Zadar felt more like the real Croatia, it didn’t seem to be loaded with day trippers and people were enjoying the balmy evening. We headed to Fosa for food as I was craving fish (but also fearful of shells, heads and tentacles) and to my delight the gratinated fish of the day was fillet of sea bass. And it was sensational. Croatia had not impressed me with good up to this point, I suspected someone had decided that if all flavours were turned down, all tourists could enjoy it. Fosa had ignored this and if it wasn’t for the racist Aussie sitting on the table next to us, it would have been a perfect meal.

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To finish our night off, we wandered the alleys of Zadar, finding it to be the most prosperous-feeling city we’d been to and the most livable. Back at our brilliant apartment, we sat outside on the terrace until the mosquito attacks became unbearable.

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Split, featuring words!

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As someone who prides themselves on going to more obscure holiday destinations than most, Croatia, with its stunning coast and effervescent waters doesn’t seem terribly daring. So far on this trip , Dubrovnik was glorious but overrun with tourists, Mostar was touristy in a few central streets and Sarajevo ticked all the boxes for me. Split, as alluded to last time was  beautiful but also a tad dull. It’s hard to criticise though as Split doesn’t oversell itself. The location is superb, the food is generally good and Diolclectians palace is one of a kind.

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Entering Split at the main bus station from Sarajevo was a joyful and emotional moment. During the hellish 8 hour journey, ws spent about 2 hours or more subjected to acrid fumes coming from the engine as it slowly bus surely smoked from the *some sort of machinery* making us all very faint and suggestible to the advances of our amorous drivers.

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Seeing the glittering sea and bidding farewell to the hateful bus made me feel very warm towards Split for about 10 minutes until the egregious wealth on display made me feel a bit like singing songs from the old days of socialism. Only, I don’t know any. The endless yachts along the harbour were gaudy as can be and I longed to see an old woman who had lived her life in Split carry groceries back from the market. The tourist miracle of Croatia makes this ordinary sight seem almost a miracle in itself.

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For our first afternoon we are at the superb Galija for pizza,  just outside of the old town. We were so content with the ffood, ambience and terrace looking out onto the street that we stayed for a few beers, enjoying the weather. After this we nosed around the palace, watched real pretend Romans do dress up to huge crowds before we checked out bars further down the coast. The unfortunate thing about the coastal bars away from the central walk is that they’re all owned by the same company and are all decked out similarly. It’s like an episode of Scooby Doo backgrounds and they’re all full.

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The next day saw us get up around midday and attempt to get breakfast. One place, Bepa!, did all day breakfasts and it was all style and no substance. They handed out iPads for ordering, but failed to put a teabag in the tea, gave us everything in disposable form with hilarious paper forks and Lee’s chicken came armed with gristle. our omelette, tasty as it was, was really toast with scrambled egg and ham on top. It felt like a food place run by a committee of young people in tight tops. After this we headed back into the palace and found a real gem of a bar, Marcvs Marvlvs, on Papaliceva. It’s a library/bar and when you get your bill, it comes inside a book. It works because it’s the opposite of most bars in Split. In total, I went there three times and only when it attempted an Irish night in aid of Calcutta (you just put on a Guinness t-shirt and put on Irish fm), did I suspect it might have already jumped the shark.

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In terms of beaches, Split isn’t gifted with them from what I could gather… Or we went to the wrong one just outside Marjan park. Here, the beach was completely rammed to the point that people were lying on beach towels on the car park floor and when a slice of “beach” was available it was akin to a construction sites, so rocky it was.

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Overall, Split was a mixture of brilliant and not so brilliant. I’m a fussy bugger so Sarajevo is the type of place that’ll grab my interest because it doesn’t immediately grab you with beauty like Split does. My next adventure is to Zadar, with the unique sea organ. I’ve a good feeling about that city.

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Splictures! (Pictures from Split

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Split: it’s as beautiful as you had heard, it occasionally smells by the waterfront of dead animals and it’s a bit on the boring side. But it’s cheaper than Dubrovnik, more lively and there are some superb bars and eateries. Let’s all enjoy some pictures!

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And finally… Two out of fourteen channels had Mystic Meg banging on about spooky things, accompanied with a goblet of Mystic juice and images of confused looking ladies popping up on the screen.

More to come, including a rather scathing attack on the most boring meaty treat I’ve ever had to eat.

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Dubrovnik!

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Here I am in Dubrovnik with two close friends, we’ve given the city the alarm that we’re here and it best “watch out”, what with us being on our lolidays and all is calm… too calm perhaps. A Saturday night down at Lapad Bay was roughly as lively as a mortuary in full swing. Where were all the people? Apparently, according to a TV channel we watched dedicated to the beautiful main street in the old town, they were all there. There they were, enjoying the beauty and splendour of the old town, paying old town prices.

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Silly us, booking an apartment out of town! But actually, Orka Apartments is a fine place to stay if in Dubrovnik. 10 minutes from town via bus (£1.50 for a single is a true swindle but…) near to many shops and restaurants as well as being a lovely place to stay, it covers most bases.

The old town is as beautiful as people say, but is surprisingly tiny and somehow lacking in character. If I were to divine from Dubrovnik what a Croat is, I’d be stumped. Even though we stayed at a family home, there were few opportunities to mingle with locals, probably because so many people are tourists. The frontages of the old town seem standardised and very little seems spontaneous. One standout attraction is the War Photo limited exhibition which featured utterly harrowing images from the Syrian War and in the permanent collection, images from the Yugoslavian war. The images, some of which I found hard to view without almost breaking down in tears, were beautifully shot but reminded me of how endlessly pointless wars can be. The misery suffered by civilians is untold but astonishingly, the people manage to carry on with trying to make a life worth living. It was quite easily one of the most thoughtfully put together exhibitions I’ve ever experienced. As harrowing as it was, it was essential viewing.

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Lokrum Island was an antidote to all the sadness of the War Photos. It’s a sizeable island and a nature reserve to boot. We spent an afternoon wandering through Olive trees, trying to get splashed by the sea off the very jagged rocks and climbing forever to see the Royal Fort with grandstand views over the coast and city.

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Back in the city we went to walk the city walls, but at £10 it seemed steep so we decided to wander about some more until dinner at Taj Mahal, a Bosnian restaurant. Here, we hit the motherload of delicious veal, the tastiest marinated courgettes known to man and plenty of local red wine for a good price. If in Dubrovnik, find Taj Mahal at any cost. Mmm.

In the mid 90s my Dad saw Dubrovnik being shelled, and we saw videos on YouTube of this happening; it was a brutal assault that seemed unnecessarily cruel. The fabric of the old city was being destroyed one shell at a time out of human hatred. And on that note, it’s time to head to Mostar where more barbaric acts were carried out. Happy holidays!

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