Sunday, December 14, 2014

NRJ Music Awards 2014

Once upon a time, the annual NRJ Music Awards used to take place every January in conjunction with the MIDEM festival in Cannes. But these days the awards take place in mid-December so let's check out the results of this year's competition which took place last night at the Palais des Festivals.

The show was presented by Nikos Aliagas, who previously presented Star Academy (those were the days!) and he now presents the French version of The Voice.

Best French female artist - Tal
Best French male artist - M Pokora
Best French newcomer - Kendji Girac
Best French group - Daft Punk
Best French song - Color Gitano - Kendji Girac
Best French video clip - Mme Pavoshko - Black M

Best international female artist - Sia
Best international male artist - Pharrell Williams
Best international newcomer - Ariana Grande
Best international group - One Direction
Best international song - Chandelier - Sia

Special awards - Stromae and Lenny Kravitz


The big winner on the night was Kendji Girac.  Since winning the 3rd series of the French version of "The Voice", he has become a big star.  (Unlike winners of The Voice UK, who seem to immediately sink without trace!) Yet again this year I've been out of the loop with French music, so I had a listen to some clips of his album on iTunes.  He cleverly blends Flamenco and Latin influences with a more contemporary and commercial style with very pleasant results.  It's a refreshing change from all the stale dance music and acoustic bores polluting the charts these days, so I'm very happy to see him doing so well.  

It was a record-breaking 11th NRJ Music Award for Matt Pokora, who has now won more of these awards than any other artist, overtaking Mylène Farmer who previously won the most NRJ awards. 

While we're on the subject of Mylène, in recent years we've come to expect either a new album or DVD release around this time of the year, but there's nothing, zilch, nada this year.  Although as with all things Mylène, in the absence of news, the rumour machine will fire up.  It is rumoured that Mylène will not be working with Laurent Boutonnat on her next album but is allegedly collaborating with Matt Bellamy of Muse.  An intriguing collaboration, but whether it will come true, and indeed how the fandom will react, well we will just have to wait and see. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Trogir Diaries: Day 7 - Saturday 20th September 2014: thunder and lightning holding hands

The storm after the calm.

It's been a terrible, rain-soaked summer on the Dalmatian coast, which lasted up to the week before our holiday.  We have been lucky enough to get through the week with the most perfect weather, but as forecast, the rain finally came this morning.  It started with showers just after 7.00am, and by 9.30am it had turned into a torrential storm. I'm having a Vukasin Brajic moment here. Thunder and lightning holding hands.  What is particularly astonishing is that there is a football match going on amid all this horrible weather.  The local footie team is obviously made of much stronger stuff than your average Premiership prima donnas.

The rain continues until just after 12.00 noon, by which time we're on Trogir seafront which is slowly recovering from the onslaught of this morning's storm.



After the rain storm passes, the mist is hanging low over the mountains.

 
After our final lunch in Trogir (sob!) there's more souvenir shopping to be done in the maze-like streets of the town.  There is some really nice jewellery to be had - some of it very expensive indeed - but there are some bargains if you look for them.  Couple of bracelets bought today = job done. Back today to Delicium Nostrum, a lovely little shop selling local specialities.  Earlier in the week I'd spotted a nice toiletries set which included one of those natural sponges which you always see on holiday in Greece and Turkey, so I made a point of returning to this shop to purchase the set today. 
 
Talking of those sponges, they pop up regularly in shop doorways in Trogir and always remind me of giant garlic bulbs wrapped in netting!
 
 
Today I also buy a nice purple patterned bag which is a must-have as purple is of course my favourite colour.  After all that shopping it's time for a thirst-quenching Orangina at a pavement café.


Back at the hotel I've finally plucked up the courage to try the bottle of Cockta which I bought in the supermarket yesterday.  Wikipedia tells us that Cockta originated in Slovenia but was later licensed for sale across the countries of the former Yugoslavia.  The best way I can describe it is that it looks like cola and tastes like liquid lemon sherbet.  And the name always provides endless hours of amusement for those of us partial to a bit of innuendo from time to time :)


Back out in the evening to one of the Riva's more highly rated restaurants for our final dinner in Trogir....


....accompanied of course by another Croatian wine, this time it's a Plavac. Note the bizarre percentage (13.7%) which seems to be common to a number of Croatian wines we've tried over the week. 


Over the course of our week in Trogir we've been admiring some very nice yachts moored on the Riva.  Here's one I spotted on our last night. 


Trogir is a very "nautical" town and you are always reminded of this, whether it's all the seafaring clothing and souvenirs in the shops, or the numerous vessels big and small which travel up and down this part of the beautiful Adriatic coast. 

Although I finally fulfilled that dream of going to Croatia, I still think that it would be terrific to go on a cruise down the Adriatic coast at some time in the future.  I guess that's still one of my unfulfilled travelling ambitions.   Apart from that though, I could see us returning to Trogir in the future. It's a magical little place which stole my heart, and was the right place at the right time, finally bringing some peace into what has been a rather turbulent year for both of us.  For now though, there's just time for one last drink at Caffe Trogir.  It may be Saturday night, but the place is surprisingly quiet and there are no bands playing on the square tonight.  We need to get back early tonight, as we have an early departure tomorrow. 


Sunday 21st September - homeward bound

I won't bother posting about our onward travel arrangements and return to Glasgow, apart from saying that everything ran very smoothly indeed.  The proximity of Split Airport to Trogir is a massive selling point for this holiday.  Split Airport itself is compact and manageable, although it does have a "low-cost airline" feel to it, and I don't know how it would cope with high demand during the summer months.

Almost three months on from our holiday, I miss Trogir more than I had expected to.  I am reminded of the place every day when I switch on my computer at work and see a picture of the island, the coast and the surrounding mountain ranges.  It is such a special little place and I really hope to return there some day.  My friend is going there on holiday in 2015 and I hope she enjoys it as much as we did this year.  Trogir is probably Croatia's best-kept secret, and it is waiting to be discovered.  I'm so happy that we discovered it in 2014 for our wonderful summer holiday. 

Where to next?  I genuinely haven't a clue about our spring and summer destinations for 2015, but Copenhagen and Trogir will be very hard acts to follow!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Trogir Diaries: Day 6 - Friday 19th September 2014: the morning after

We wake to the news of the referendum result: 55% voted no, 45% voted yes.  So I'm in a somewhat gloomy mood on hearing the news.  One of my first thoughts is "how am I going to explain this result to that lovely girl in the hotel who's been cheerleading for Scottish independence since we arrived here"?  But she's not on today and that explanation will have to wait till tomorrow. 

In the meantime we have a holiday to be going on with, and after our journey to Split, we're Trogir-based today and I've got some serious shopping to do. 


We'd briefly explored the market back on Monday but today it was time to discover it in more detail.  All those little huts on the side of the canal (pictured above) may not look much but there's more to Trogir market than what you initially think.  There's all the usual souvenirs, clothing, jewellery and handbag stalls, and then the covered food area where you can find some local cheese and ham...


...and you want olive oil?  In this market you can find more olive oil than anyone will ever need.  And when you're finished, pick up a football top!


What I particularly like about European towns and resorts is the way that supermarkets don't play such a massive role in people's daily lives the way that they do in this country.  Trogir may be a very small town, but the market is packed full of enough goodies for your weekly shop.  And if you don't fancy food shopping in the market then there's always the nearby Tommy and Konzum supermarkets.

After our tour of the market on what's becoming a very hot day, it's time for lunch.  We're back on the Riva at yet another of their never-ending row of restaurants.  Following lunch, it's back through the gate and into the old town centre. 


Eventually we end up back at the main square where we usually while away most of our late evenings in Trogir.  But today we're just in time for a klapa quartet doing a little mini-concert on the square.  And I've decided that I'm ever so slightly in love with the guy who is second from left!!


As I mentioned in a previous post, the square was one of the locations in the video for Klapa s Mora's "Mizerija" and today I sat on that wall.  Which overlooks Caffe Trogir, our late-evening hangout.


After a stop-off at our favourite little park beside the sea, it's back to the hotel to get ready for another evening meal.  Friday night in Trogir is busy as expected and this time we're at a more traditional restaurant in town.  Faithful travelling companion's trying out the pasticada whilst I'm just on the pasta.


Tonight's dinner is accompanied by another bottle of local wine, this time a Dingac (red wine).  Every restaurant we've been to so far has an extensive list of Croatian wines, so needless to say we've had to try a few of them in the interests of research over the past week. 


Dinner eventually over and it's Caffe Trogir time again!  Friday night's main attraction is the return of the country-rock band, and it's Blue Lagoon time :)


Just as on every other night this week, Friday night in Trogir is a good-natured fun-loving experience (only with added people as it's Friday night of course!).  The weather is warm enough to spend morning until late evening out of doors, which is one of the best things about a holiday in September. 

This has been a brilliant holiday, at a much slower pace than we've been accustomed to over the years.  Tomorrow's our last full day in Trogir, and it's going to be yet another relaxing one.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Trogir Diaries: Day 5 - Thursday 18th September 2014: to split or not to split?

A momentous day.  It's the day of the Scottish independence referendum (for which we've both postal-voted in advance) and the big decision is to split or not to split from the UK.

Rather appropriate then that today's agenda consists of a trip along the Dalmatian coastline to its biggest city - Split!

Today is a DIY excursion and we're travelling on the Bura Line ferry which leaves at 11.15am.  No pre-booking required, just turn up and go.  However, as there's only a limited number of ferries every day, this one fills up very quickly so make sure you get there early.  It's a leisurely boat trip between Trogir and Split, stopping off on the way at a little town called Slatine.  You won't be surprised to learn that it's a most scenic arrival into Split - this part of the world is just one great big photo opportunity. 



There is also a cruise ship in town today, the Ocean Princess.


Following our arrival we head straight for lunch, in the vicinity of the Diocletian's Palace and in close proximity to a famous little narrow street called "Let Me Pass" Street, named for the fact that only one person can get through at a time...


The Diocletian's Palace, which is virtually Split's city centre, is its main attraction.  There are lots of walking tours



A big assignment today: finding a CD store.  Having done research beforehand, I've mapped the way to the small Croatia Records shop on yet another picturesque, historical square - Narodni Trg (pictured above).  I purchase a couple of this summer's compilation albums:



If Trogir is a miniature maze, then Split takes it to a whole new level.  It could probably take weeks to find your way round the place, and we're only here for a few hours, so we're not venturing too far away from the city's centre.  Time for some souvenir shopping before heading back to the Riva for a quick afternoon coffee.


The ferry for Trogir leaves at 4.00pm, when it's time to say goodbye to Split.



Split was of course the main competition for Trogir as our holiday destination. I'm glad that we picked Trogir, but during our trip today it occurred to me that Split has all the appealing characteristics which would make for a potential future city break destination

Return boat trip done and dusted, it's back to the hotel via some of the town's less crowded streets, to get ready for another evening meal at one of the many restaurants on the Trogir Riva, before settling into what has become a nightly tradition on this holiday: late-night refreshments on the main square.  Bravo Band are back again tonight and it's an entertaining end to the evening.  We are now reaching that point of the holiday where a little bit of sadness is creeping in, with the realisation that we have only two more full days before going home.  All the more reason to enjoy them to the full!

Lisa Ajax is Sweden's new Idol

(picture courtesy of www.sydsvenskan.se)

The 10th series of Swedish Idol ended on Friday night with Lisa Ajax beating Mollie Lindén in the final.  I tried and failed to watch the live stream, with added (and irritating/unnecessary) English language live commentary which if I remember correctly, was introduced last year.  Lisa is the youngest ever Idol winner in Sweden and succeeds last year's winner, Swedish Premiership footballer Kevin Walker.

For various reasons, give or take the odd clip I've completely missed this series of Idol, so I'm not qualified to comment on whether the 16 year old deserved to win or not: at the beginning of the contest I thought Matilda Gratte was a cert to win so didn't have a clue how it would all end following her shock departure.

(picture courtesy of Chic.se)

One very obvious thing about Idol in 2014 was that it was all about the girls: with few strong male contestants it was no surprise that it would be an all-female final between Lisa and Mollie, pictured above.

Something has changed from previous years: the winner no longer gets a recording contract with the rush-released covers album: instead there will be a tour and the release of an EP including the winner's song "Unbelievable" which was co-written by former Fame Factory and Melodifestivalen contestant Jimmy Jansson.  For me, there's nothing particularly spectacular (or indeed unbelievable-lievable-lievable!) about the mid-tempo ballad, however Lisa's voice certainly has a maturity beyond her years.  I can't see a long career for her though: I'm guessing that she'll be pitched as a similar type of artist to the hugely popular Zara Larsson, but I can't really see Lisa emulating her success.  Good luck to her though.

There will be an 11th series next year: no doubt, as usual we can expect a lot of speculation from the Swedish tabloids about whether the judging line-up of Anders Bagge, Laila Bagge and Alexander Bard will return.

Here's a Christmas tradition you've "goat" to see


I love finding out about the various Christmas traditions across Europe.  One of these is the Gävlebocken - the Gävle goat - which is a very famous attraction in Sweden.  It's a giant version of the the traditional Swedish 'yule goat', made of straw, and it's erected every year in the Swedish town. Sadly it's become a target for arson over the years and it's even treated with a flame-retardant substance to stop it going up in flames. Here's hoping that it survives until Christmas :) You can find more information on Wikipedia about the history of the Gävle goat.  Check out the live webcam at http://www.visitgavle.se/sv/gavlebocken

The goat also has its very own Twitter account!  Follow it at https://twitter.com/Gavlebocken

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Trogir Diaries: Day 4 - Wednesday 17th September 2014

After yesterday's epic day, we've decided not to book any more lengthy day trips on this holiday. Prior to the holiday I had fancied doing to Hvar for the day, but that one's also a bit of a marathon. Maybe next time - and I can confidently say this because I've fallen so much in love with this part of the world that all being well, a return visit would definitely be on the cards.

We kick off the day exploring the other side of the small but perfectly formed island.  Firstly we check out the local football ground....



It's not quite the Croatian premiership is it? :) However it has some very impressive surroundings, including the Fortress Kamerlengo, which dominates one side of the Riva.

There are posters all over town advertising Cockta, which would appear to be a popular soft drink in this part of the world.  Later in the week I would finally pluck up the courage to try this delicacy, but in the meantime, here's the poster.


It's not long till lunchtime, which means yet another pizza at one of the Riva's many restaurants.  Today we have slowed the pace right down after our epic journey yesterday, so there's lots of relaxed strolling around Trogir's maze of streets.  We later head across the bridge to Ciovo again for a quick recce to check out where the Bura Line ferry for Split leaves from.  And a very nice view over to Trogir...


Back to the hotel to try on my new Croatian national team football top (OK it's just a T-shirt in the style of a Croatian national team top, but hey..) and what better way to end one of the most relaxing days ever by doing what we don't usually do on holiday - have dinner in the hotel's own restaurant.  It's a very agreeable experience too, but the night doesn't end there.



After another walk around Trogir by night, we end up at - where else but - the main square.  Tonight's entertainment is provided by a country/rock band.  They're not the Bravo Band of course, but they're still rather good. 

So here ends another day in Trogir.  Nothing particularly exciting or different about today, but that's what made it special.  I've particularly enjoyed slowing down the pace on this holiday.  Tomorrow's going to be busier though, as we're on our way to a must-see destination. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Trogir Diaries: Day 3 - Tuesday 16th September 2014 - Epic journey to Bosnia!

It takes a special adventure on holiday to get you out of your hotel and on to a bus at 6.00 am.  But today's destination is not just an excursion, but a trip to another country and one with a very turbulent recent recent history.  For today we go to Bosnia-Herzegovina - Mostar to be precise.

But firstly, our journey takes in yet another wow-factor - this holiday is full of them! - and we stop off at Makarska, with the dramatic backdrop of the Biokovo mountain range....


....and a scenic journey along the Dalmatian coast, which is like a Croatian equivalent of travelling on the corniche between France and Monaco.  Breathtaking cliff roads, beautiful views of the Adriatic and its islands. As we head for BiH, we pass through the lake district...


...but what we hadn't expected was the lengthy border control process.  For what we, or any of those numerous coach parties , did not anticipate was the lengthy delay at border control between Croatia and Bosnia - which lasted an hour and a half.  Beginning to wonder if we will ever reach Mostar.  I'm still not sure why there's so much red tape - whether it's to do with Croatia's recent EU membership or some other reason?

So, after a 7 hour epic journey which we thought would never end, we are finally heading into Mostar.  This is our first sighting of the bridge, from the window of the coach.  And this is what makes it all worthwhile....


The weather feels hotter today as we are inland.  We are here for just over 3 hours so we exit the walking tour in favour of the biggest lunch portion we've had in years. Chicken Bosnian style....that bread was fab too!!


The Turkish influence here is very strong and so is the coffee! We love our coffee of course, so we're not complaining.


After lunch we independently explore Mostar, including the Turkish house and the mosque.



The Stari Most - the old bridge, Mostar's main attraction and symbol of a city where, the tour guide told us, different races/nationalities managed to co-exist peacefully before the war, was famously bombed in 1993 (ironically by the Croats) and later rebuilt.  The one thing I will say about the Stari Most is that it is very high, and very, very slippy to walk across, even on a hot, dry day. Wouldn't like to try it on a rainy day!



For anyone who's ever been on holiday to any Turkish holiday resort, the goods and souvenirs sold in many of the shops in old Mostar will look very familiar indeed.  Evil eyes, scarves, coffee pots, lanterns, brightly decorated pottery - it's all here.  How about this for a tourism slogan: "Mostar - Turkey without the hassle!!"  No? No.  OK then. Moving on...

Strolling around a packed Mostar, I wonder if tourism could be the thing which might just turn the country's fortunes around? I know the country has a long long way to go, and there doesn't really seem to have any tourism infrastructure in place, but the potential is there.  Unfortunately it's only a flying visit, but it's enough to get a taste of a unique little city.  I would recommend that anyone going to Croatia on holiday takes this day trip, as it really made that epic coach journey worthwhile.

Heading back to Trogir takes us from daytime to night-time, via a Dalmatian sunset...


We arrive back in Trogir around 9.30pm, but manage to salvage what's left of the evening and end up at our usual haunt on the square.  On the way we hear some music, and a very familiar sound.  Could it be - surely not - no wait - it is....the Bravo Band!!

Whilst researching and checking out YouTube vids of Trogir prior to the holiday, we came across some clips of this group and they quickly became cult favourites at EuropeCrazy HQ.  I became rather obsessed by their versions of "Scream and Shout" and "Gangnam Style" but they have probably moved on from those by now.  They play a mix of current/recent pop hits, with an emphasis on Latino hits including Shakira songs, mixed with popular oldies. They are a very versatile trio indeed, and now they are managing to slightly revive these two (by now very tired) travellers.

Tomorrow we'll spend the day in Trogir - no more travelling for us, well not until Thursday anyway....

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Trogir Diaries:Day 2 - Monday 15th September 2014


Waking up to our first full day in Trogir, it's the simple things which bring the most joy.  The sight of the mountains from our hotel room window.  The idea that you can eat breakfast on the hotel terrace in September, when doing the same thing at home would probably involve thermals.  Blue skies and beautiful sunshine, without unbearable heat.  Life is good.

The Riva is Trogir's promenade, lining one side of the island all the way from the Kamerlengo Fortress at one side, to the busy Ciovo bridge at the other end.  In-between there's a long line of restaurants, (some pictured above) and many of which we will experience for lunch and dinner before the week's out.

One major must-do tip if you're going to Trogir: wear some very comfy, cushioned footwear as on almost every street you are presented with the Croatian equivalent of the 'Paris-Roubaix'!!


Today's mission is to investigate day trips and excursions available from Trogir.  We'd researched this in advance and one particular one jumped out: a full-day excursion to the famous town of Mostar in Bosnia.  With it being September though, there was less variety of excursions available due to the drop in tourist numbers.  However there is still a decent selection - Krka Waterfalls/Plitvice lakes for nature lovers, and numerous canoeing/kayaking opportunities for the more adventurous, and lots of different island-hopping options. 

Luckily, Mostar was still on the agenda.  It's a good job we checked it out today, as the trip leaves tomorrow!  Happily booked for our Bosnian adventure, it's time to check out some more views of Trogir from Ciovo and the bridge.



I mentioned the main square last night, where we rounded off the evening.  Here's what it looks like during the day. 


Time for a little Eurovision reference now: Trogir is the town where the video for Klapa s Mora's "Mizerija" was filmed.  Some scenes were filmed in the main square.  Later on in the week I would even sit on the same wall where Klapa s Mora sat :)  #starstruck

There are some little delights to be found down the little maze of streets in this town.  This is one of them: a much-photographed gem.


We've had a lovely relaxing day exploring Trogir.  The canal at the back of the island maybe doesn't get the same love as the Riva, but it has a nice park and lots of little boats on the canal.


It also boasts a very impressive footbridge which takes you over to the very busy main road which you cross to get to the Tommy supermarket.  Where we buy soft drinks and bottled water.  Rock on!


We have a very early rise - as in middle-of-the-night - for our trip to Mostar tomorrow.  So it's early dinner and early night tonight, but still time to fit in some Croatian white wine...


Early to bed - Mostar tomorrow!  Just one more thing - I can finally get a mobile phone network.  What a relief!