Monday, 25 May 2020

The Jazz, Blues and Rock and Roll of the 30s to 60s all celebrated at this great little museum

 For a taste of the golden heyday of British trad jazz, blues and rock and roll you must visit the tiny but fascinating Eel Pie Island Museum in Twickenham, London. The museum celebrates the history of this small island in the Thames and especially the legendary Eelpiland Club which was located in The Island Hotel. The Club was at the forefront of the music explosion  between the 1950s and 70s when musicians, known and unknown, performed there at their weekly gigs.

 This was a fantastic time for British music and the list of performers at Eelpiland is comprehensive and spectacular, the roll call taking up almost a whole wall of the museum. The club provided a springboard  for such groups as the Rolling Stones, who performed there 24 times, earning just 50 pounds to share for their 9th gig.  Ironically, on the 55th anniversary of that gig the Rolling Stones performed to a sold out Twickenham Stadium.  You can only imagine what that would have earned them. Others to get a start at the club include Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Paul Jones, The Who and David Bowie (then known by his real name, Davie Jones). There were many others.

Sadly heydays are heydays and eventually the club was forced to shut in 1969 due to expensive safety requirements.  Hippies moved in to squat in the hotel and started to tear the building down to use as firewood.  Eventually this led to the whole place burning down in 1971 so the famous hotel and club are no more.

Luckily all is not lost. It is fortunate that the museum is crammed full of memorabilia from the island's glory days, painstakingly collected by curator Michele Whitby,  - photos, receipts, contracts, instruments, even Aker Bilk's trade mark bowler hat and clarinet. The volunteer staff are welcoming and knowledgeable and will offer a free tea or coffee and invite you to choose some music from their vinyl record collection to play while you wander around.

The instruments that make up a skiffle band

But the museum is not only about the music scene on the island.  It also acknowledges its history as a centre of boat building. There were originally several boat builders on the island. Horace Walpole described Twickenham as a "seaport in miniature".  Sadly a major fire in 1996 wiped out many of the boatyards and today only two remain. 

 The island now has 50 homes and approximately 120 residents. It has also always been a haven for artists and craft workers and still is.  It is a lovely, quirky, bucolic place only accessible by boat or the footbridge from Twickenham. I suggest you go there for a stroll after, of course, spending plenty of time at the Eel Pie Island Museum.

Left: Quirkiness on Eel Pie Island
Celebrating the island's boatyard history

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.  There were a few other people there also and it was such a pleasure to hear them reminiscing and exclaiming over familiar names on the roll call. I particularly like small museums with enthusiastic staff and this music was the music of my youth, nostalgia plus, so what's not to like?

Eel Pie Island Museum
1-3 Richmond Rd, Twickenham, London
Open: Thursday to Sunday 12pm TO 6pm ( push the bell for admission)
Admission: 3 Pounds Adult - under 16 free if with adult

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

How to Enjoy Travel in the time of the Great Covid19 Lock down

Hello, fellow travel fanatics.  How's it going?  Are you bored yet? Frustrated yet? Or are you enjoying the peace, quiet  and tranquility of this enforced lock down?

Den Gamle By, Aarhus, Denmark

Personally I am quite enjoying it although the thing I miss most is interaction with friends.  Having said that, with two weeks of glorious weather, long solitary walks have been a delight and my family have been marvelous face timing me each day. What would we do without the phone and the internet?

Havana, Cuba
As an addicted traveler, as I suspect many of my readers are, it is clear that there won't be any international travel for quite some time. As far as I am concerned I am very grateful for the amount of travel I have done and appreciate the fact that I have been more fortunate than many who never get the same opportunities. Too often no sooner do we enthusiastic travelers get back from a trip than we are planning the next one. 

China 1993

So Here's my question. How often and for how long do we reflect on
past trips?  Usually there is a period after a trip when we ponder it, talk about it, rejoice in it, browse our photos and relive our experiences but how often do we think back to trips prior to the last one?  Yes, I realise that travel broadens the mind and that we gain knowledge and understanding from every country we visit but I am talking about reliving the pleasures, the sights, the sounds, the food etc that browsing our photo albums awaken.

I've got mine out
While we are locked in how about getting out our albums and having a really good browse, let's become  armchair travelers, maybe cook recipes from whatever country we are browsing, put on some of their music, relive the rich experiences we have been fortunate enough to have. Become virtual travelers in the comfort of our own homes.  Of course if you want to arm chair travel you can scroll through my previous posts on this blog where you will find a myriad of destinations and recipes from many different countries. And then when this terrible virus has run its course lets all start traveling again, be it just to the next city or overseas, to help  rebuild the decimated tourism industry and get people back into their jobs.  Stay strong and keep well everyone.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Croatian Cuisine and a delicious recipe to try

In my home country of New Zealand I have never come across a restaurant specialising in Croatian food.  I have to say there may well be some it's just that I have never seen them.  That's a pity because Croatian food is a delicious mix of flavours, both satisfying and nutritious. The cuisine of Croatia has been strongly influenced by its surrounding neighbours.  As a result mainland Croatia has adapted its recipes and flavours from Turkish, Hungarian and Austrian cuisine while coastal Croatia has adopted the Mediterranean style of cooking.  If you like eating, and let's face it, who doesn't?, Croatia is a great country to visit for a culinary adventure where you can work your way through the different regions enjoying the variety of recipes and flavours.

Mainland  dishes contain ingredients such as lard, spices, black pepper, paprika and garlic while Goulash, a Hungarian dish, is popular all over Croatia. Coastal Croatian cooking, on the other hand,  places a strong emphasis on olive oil, rosemary, sage, oregano, olives and lemon. Pastas and risottos are also popular everywhere in the country. A black risotto made from the ink of cuttlefish is a unique dish worth trying.

These light and fluffy pastries were a gift from our land
 lady in Supetar. 
Just the thing to have with coffee
Main meats are pork, lamb and chicken and, as a country with a long coastline and a large fishing industry, seafood is always on the menu. Croatia is also a country of coffee drinkers so coffee houses are everywhere and the rich brew is usually accompanied by light, crisp pastries. I thoroughly enjoyed the food in Croatia.  I love seafood, coffee and the Mediterranean style of eating but I also enjoy the tasty, satisfying and comforting Turkish, Hungarian style of eating too. What's not to like?

Here is a recipe you can try.   I made this last week and absolutely loved it.  It is delicious!  Give it a go.


My Paprikas Chicken
1kg chicken pieces
2 large onions finely chopped
10 grams lard
3 teaspoons ground smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon of chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
200 mls white wine
200 mls water
50grams sour cream

Melt the lard in a pot
Add the chopped onions and fry until just soft and transparent
Chop the chicken into mouth sized pieces and saute until white
Add wine and simmer for 5 minutes
Add paprika and chilli, salt, pepper and caraway seeds
Add water and simmer very gently for approx 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the water evaporates too much, add more but be careful, you don't want it too runny.
Add sour cream and cook for 3 to 5 minutes

The sauce is very tasty and very runny. Serve with either mashed potatoes or noodles. Good eating! or, as they say in Croatia, Dobar tek!

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Bol and Zlatni Rat - Croatia's Most Popular Beach

Fourteen times a day, during the high season, the car ferry arrives at Supetar from Split. Cars and foot passengers pour off and disperse all over the island of Brac with a great many heading up over the hills and across the island to the popular coastal village of Bol and its famous beach, Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn).  We decided that we just had to go and see what was drawing the crowds, especially as we had been told that Zlatni Rat was the most beautiful beach on the Adriatic. Fortunately for us we arrived at the bus station early securing seats on the bus.  Within minutes of a ferry arriving the queue for the bus grew and grew so that at departure a number of people were left behind.  HINT: If you are busing to Bol get to the bus station well ahead of your departure.

It is 39 Kilometres from the north coast town of Supetar to the south coast town of Bol, a very scenic trip through some small villages, with occasional orchards and vineyards scattered among the rocky,  but surprisingly green, countryside.  Don't expect to see much in the way of farm animals, you will be disappointed, there weren't many. Before meandering its way down to the village the road comes out high above Bol with spectacular views out over the ocean and down to the coast.

Dating back to Roman times Bol is the oldest coastal village on Brac. It is charming with narrow stone streets and wide, shady piazzas. A wander through the town takes you to the 11th century church of Saints Ivan and Tudor and to the 12th century Bishops Residence.  You can also see the remains of Roman Baths and Graves, the 15th century Summer palace and the 15th century chapel of Our Lady of Grace where you can view Tintoretto's Madonna and Child with Saints, behind the altar. It is a busy town, crammed with tourists in summer, the shore humming with cafes, bars and numerous small cruise boats coming and going.

We sat on the waters edge, soaking up the atmosphere, before moving to a cafe for cool drinks and then taking a leisurely wander through town.

Above and below: Bol

 Zlatni Rat is located 2 kilometres from the village along a promenade lined with pine trees, sculptures and gardens.  With two children in tow, and because it was a very hot day, we chose to get there aboard one of the the small boats, enjoying an attractive and relaxing trip along the coast.

Zlatni Rat is an unusual beach. Shaped like an arrow head it changes shape from time to time depending on the winds and the currents.  It is pebbly, as are all the beaches on Brac. Popular with yachties and wind and kite surfers the water is crystal clear and although cooler than the beaches on the north coast still very pleasant for swimming. Mountains sweep down to the coast here and the beach is backed by groves of pines fragranced with the scent of rosemary and thyme and,  ahem, hot chips. Unfortunately there are a number of fast food outlets scattered among the pines rather spoiling the ambiance but, I guess, a necessary evil when you have large crowds spending a day at the beach. I paddled in the sea and went for a wander through the pines while my family enjoyed a swim and a snack before we took the return boat to Bol.

Above and below: Zlatni Rat

So, what did I think of Zlatni Rat? Well I did not  particularly enjoy sitting cheek by jowl with hundreds of other people and to be honest I was a bit underwhelmed, but, hey, I come from New Zealand where we have hundreds of kilometres of golden sand beaches, often almost deserted, so I am pretty hard to impress when it comes to beaches. Maybe I'm not the best person to ask. And who am I to knock the many thousands of people who flock to Zlatni Rat? I'm glad I went there but had enjoyed the small beach we swam at  in Supetar more.  

Right: Stina wine cellar, Bol

Above and below: two of the pretty villages we passed through on the bus trip

Back at Bol we visited the wine cellar of Stina Wines and enjoyed a glass of Croatian wine beside the harbour's edge. Very pleasant, as was the bus trip home taking a different route and passing through some lovely villages along the way. To sum up, Bol is well worth a visit.  It is a lovely, historic village and while you are there you should also visit Zlatni Rat, because, why not? and you may just love it.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Olive Oil Museum, Skrip, Brac, Croatia - A must!

My whole family loves olives and olive oil, that luscious, grassy, peppery, viscous liquid which makes nearly everything taste better. It was, therefore, a no brainer that we should take the short 9k trip from Supetar to the village of Skrip to visit the Olive Oil Museum. There is no bus service to Skrip but the taxi service is cheap. It takes only 10 minutes through lush countryside where the trees have been bent by the famous winter winds that sweep the island. (Note: We took the taxi driver's phone number and he returned for us when we called.)

Skrip is a tiny, sleepy, picturesque, village (pop 173), perched on a hill overlooking a deep valley. It is the oldest settlement on the island. Sleepy indeed, we didn't see a soul about as we drove between ancient stone houses to the museum. Not a fan of crowds I was loving it already.

The museum was originally a wine producing factory founded by the Krstulovc family in 1864. It was handed down through the generations and kept producing wine right up until 1963 when the cost of new technology became prohibitive. In 2013 Kruno Cukrov, the grandson of the founder, restored the mill, installed new technology and began producing oil again, opening up the old mill as a museum.

Left: The Olive Museum
Above: My son sharing a joke with our lovely guide
Below: Inside the museum

What a warm welcome awaited us! There was a small group of tourists already having a tour but that didn't matter, we were given complimentary myrtle liqueur, soft drinks for the children, olive oil and bread and led up to the atmospheric loft to enjoy them while we awaited our turn for a tour. It is a tiny museum, interesting, nevertheless.  I enjoyed hearing about the history of the building and the oil making process and the children were delighted to be invited to turn the old fashioned press.  A novelty for a minute or two, a daunting thought to spend hours doing it.  Apart from olive oil the museum shop sells many delicious products produced by the family.  How could we resist? Happy with our purchases of oil, liqueur and jam we set off for a walk around the village promising to return for lunch.

Above and below: The original mill equipment

Although small this village packs a punch history wise. The Illyrian town walls date back to 1400BC.  The Romans lived here using slaves to carve out large blocks of the beautiful white stone the island is famous for to be shipped to Split for the building of Diocletian's Palace.  Incidentally, the white stone from Brac was also used for the building of the White House, home of American Presidents, although I'm pretty certain no slaves were involved then. :-)  A  Roman mausoleum lies in the base of the 16th century Radojkovic Tower which was built for defense and now houses an excellent museum displaying artifacts and crafts from throughout the town's history.

The 16th century tower and barracks now houses the Skrip museum. St Helena's spire in the background
The Cerinic Castle tower and the window
The children were enthralled by an old woman who was calling to us from a glassless window high in the wall of the 16th century Cerinic Castle.  She was inviting us in but when we went through the gate to the castle she had gone and the only way she could have got up to that window was by a ladder, there was no floor. Were we imagining it? Was she real? We'll never know the mystery of the castle in Skrip.

The 18th century church of St Helena overlooks the village and the village square.  Legend has it that Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, was born here. With the Angelus bell ringing midday we strolled the few and narrow streets. An old woman sitting in a door way beckoned us to join her for lunch. That would have been fun but we had already promised the museum.

We wandered the grave yard, once again seeing the familiar surnames of people we know in New Zealand. Near the cemetery is a look out with a stunning view over the valley where you can look down on large olive plantations.

It was time for lunch so we headed back to the museum. The owners were delighted and surprised to see us and welcomed us like old friends.  Lunch was served in the loft, the original owners' home, and it was wonderful - bread, olive oil, olives, tappenade, fig and melon jams, cheeses, dried figs and wine, so much that we couldn't eat it all.  Delicious and cheap and authentically Croatian.  I was in heaven.  This is what I had come to Croatia for, to be sitting in an old stone attic, under the watchful gaze of ancestors photos and religious paintings, eating local food, and enjoying amazing warmth and hospitality. We lingered, happily soaking up the atmosphere and reluctant to leave.

Happiness is sharing a Croatian lunch in an olive mill
You get a glimpse of the loose stone roof, an unusual feature and a dying art
I loved the fact that we saw very few people the whole day - no seething crowds of tourists jostling each other, no souvenir shops or mass produced trinkets, just genuine history and authenticity.  For me this was the best day of our whole trip to Brac and a memory I will always treasure.

Note: As we waited for our return taxi an old woman approached us selling embroidered sachets of lavender.  We declined to buy any partly because we didn't need them and partly because I would not be allowed to take them into New Zealand due to strict bio security laws. Later My son and I deeply regretted not buying them and we still feel badly about it. Many people in these small villages scratch out a living and we could easily have bought some and left them at our accommodation. We didn't think it through, hopefully we have learnt from it.