Archive for September, 2013

A Croatian Highlight

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Before we went to Croatia, Gill sent me a link for a must-see tourist attraction in Split’s city centre – Froggyland. A museum/world wonder, Froggyland comprises a collection of over 500 frogs on which a man named Ferenc Mere performed taxidermy and then positioned in scenes representing human activities. As stated on the Froggyland website:

This collection is truly a unique and exceptional example of the art of taxidermy which, together with its technical value, has the artistic value as well, and which intrigues and attracts people and leaves no one indifferent.

I can wholeheartedly agree that I wasn’t left indifferent when Gill was kind, thoughtful and wonderful enough to take me to Froggyland on my birthday. I was overwhelmed.

Welcome to Froggyland.

Welcome to Froggyland.

The whole Froggyland experience is very special – as we arrived we were greeted by a good-looking blonde girl who welcomed us inside and walked us up a flight of carpeted stairs. Half way up, we were invited to touch the lucky frog, whose painted nose was wearing away from eager tourists’ hands.

He sure looks lucky.

He sure looks lucky.

At the top of the stair was a doorway surrounded by a band of fairy lights and thick, red velvet curtains. It looked like the entrance to either a 1970s bingo hall or a brothel. We were then asked to pay the entrance fee, which Gill generously covered, and then instructed to look closely at each of the 21 display cases as the best parts were in the details. How right she was.

Where exactly are we going?

Where exactly are we going?

Who knew stuffed frogs could be so interesting? I have always been a lover of frogs and it was so nice to see them having so much fun in such a wide variety of situations. They were drinking at the pub, playing tennis, undertaking household chores, and even performing in a circus – think of a human activity and there was a frog doing it. The museum describes the scenes as representations of our ancestors, so from these frogs I learnt that in most daily activities there was always someone smoking a pipe and someone was drunk.

Amazing circus skills.

Amazing circus skills.

Two issues that Ferenc would have had to tackle when creating these scenes were the fact that frogs do not have necks and therefore, when standing on their back legs, they tend to stare at the sky. This makes for a very amusing game of tennis. Secondly, a frog’s gender is difficult to determine as boy frogs and girl frogs all look the same and, in my mind, all appear to be male. There were a few scenes where one would jump to the conclusion that the person performing the task should be a woman (e.g. sewing, knitting and any other womanly chore from the 1900s), however the frog didn’t necessarily appear to look like a lady. I would perhaps suggest to Ferenc that more effort into representing the gender of the female frogs (perhaps a skirt or a feminine hat) would add to the displays.

Frogs playing tennis.

Frogs playing tennis.

It was pleasing to see that Gill and I hadn’t been the only visitors to Froggyland that day and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Split. Not only is the wood panelled, green carpeted, bingo room airconditioned, the displays are highly entertaining and educational. You will learn a lot from our amphibian friends.

Croatia

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

A long time ago, I went to Croatia. At least it feels like a long time ago – I have since returned to the reality of life, work and responsibilities and all notions of relaxation that I gained on my travels have disappeared. I have been particularly busy on my return to Manchester and haven’t had time to write about my time away. I am slowly putting my photographs up on my Flickr site so you can eventually see photographic evidence of my trip. Just keep checking back for more updates. I like to keep you in suspense.

Croatia – country of fancy boats, blue water, and red roof tiles

Croatia – country of fancy boats, blue water, and red roof tiles

The biggest highlight of the trip was being able to spend an extended period of time with my best friend, Gill. We haven’t lived in the same city for years and so being able to hang out and eat food together was an absolute luxury.

Croatia was both all that I hoped it to be and full of little surprises. I had imagined it to be a combination of Italy and Greece and found the Italian influences a lot stronger than expected. This was particularly evident in the food with a lot of pizzas, pasta and risotto on the menus. Seafood was the main player food wise and I consumed more seabass in a week than I had in the entirety of my life.

On our first night in Croatia, Gill and I ate two seabass each. It was unintentional but delicious.

On our first night in Croatia, Gill and I ate two seabass each. It was unintentional but delicious.

There was also plenty of ice cream around, however the quality was no where near that of Italian gelato. It seems ice cream supply is ruled by two main companies that add ridiculously over the top flavours to vanilla ice cream. This fact, however, did not stop us from averaging two ice creams a day. Ice cream is good for us – it contains calcium.

This Hello Kitty ice cream did not taste like cat.

This Hello Kitty ice cream did not taste like cat.

The beaches weren’t quite as spectacular as those I swam at in Crete but that’s just me being picky. I always find it remarkable to discover that ocean water really can be the bright aqua blue that you see in photographs in tourist magazines. It had been over a year since I had last swam in the ocean so the sensation of submerging into water was wonderful.

I had this cove to myself on my last morning in Croatia.

I had this cove to myself on my last morning in Croatia.

I don’t think I will ever accept stone-covered beaches. They just hurt. You can’t sit on them, you can’t stand on them, and they make you look like a stumbling idiot getting in and out of the water. Rock beaches aren’t that much better as you have to clamber over spiky rocks and then try not to slip on the green algae that coats the rocks closer to the water. Where is the romance? The locals and the tourists were certainly making use of every spare spot of sun-baking space. As Gill and I hunted for shade and coated our whitest-of-white skin in ten layers of 50+ sunscreen, we watched as everyone else turned into crispy bacon lying for hours in the direct sun.

Beautiful but painful.

Beautiful but painful.

We stayed in three towns during our trip – Split, Zadar and Trogir. All had booming tourist trades with restaurant menus translated into five different languages and endless shops selling postcards, white and navy striped clothing, and magnets. While I am aware that I am a tourist myself and therefore part of the problem, it saddens me how beautiful old cities are destroyed by tourism. Nothing is left untouched and every monument you enter has a shop at the exit selling miniature snow-dome versions of what you just saw. While the majority of the Croatians we met were very friendly and welcoming, there were many instances where it was obvious that the fact that we were just another set of tourists was a great annoyance to them. I wish it was possible to travel and visit new places without having to participate in the tourism industry but it is becoming increasingly more difficult. We weren’t even travelling during peak tourist season. I wonder how it feels to have grown up in one of these cities and to have seen your home town transformed into Disneyland. You don’t have much choice but to join in and make the most of the lucrative benefits of rich tourists.

Some particularly amusing translation. I had the goldfish – it was surprisingly large.

Some particularly amusing translation. I had the goldfish – it was surprisingly large.

One particularly interesting thing we noticed was that most tourists in Croatia were either German, French or another nationality that we couldn’t quite recognise. There weren’t many anglophones which was a HUGE relief as we couldn’t understand the annoying things they were saying. Gone was the cringe factor I usually feel while standing in a line to climb a tower and l overhear the conversations of fellow English speakers. Instead we just had to deal with grumpy fat germans and backpacking French teenagers. Easy.

Gill and I decided that for our next Croatian adventure we would rent a car and explore more of the inland areas. The country has some fascinating landscapes that deserve exploration and a car would remove the need to join evil bus tour groups and we could see some of the unspoiled and non-tourist areas.

Round Two

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Perhaps it is my current sleep-deprived state, the fact that I just spent a week eating a LOT of ice cream and feel the need to burn it off, or maybe my friend Becky is just really good at guilt tripping me. Who knows. Whatever the reason, I have just agreed to once again kill myself by running a ridiculously long way. On April 6 of next year, I am going to do the Greater Manchester Marathon. The views won’t be quite the same as running through Paris and it will most likely rain, but at least this year Becky will be joining me. In fact, she signed up first and insisted I follow her lead. Crazy woman.

And so the training recommences. Step one: Fix my legs. They are still sore from the Paris marathon as I don’t think I recovered properly. Silly me. I think a trip to a physio is required.

So everyone feel free to book your tickets to Manchester to cheer the two of us on. I wouldn’t have been able to make the distance if my friends hadn’t supported me last time. I’m a bit nervous that I will go in with too much “I’ve done this before” confidence. I need to return to my state of extreme disbelief in my ability to run 42.19 kilometres. Actually this time I will be running 26 miles and 385 yards. That sounds shorter.