Life as an International Wine Expert takes Joe around the world and often serves up a little more adventure than just a warm Chablis. This amusing Talk chronicles some of the often hair raising predicaments in which Joe finds himself. Joe will teach you about the world that runs alongside wine appreciation.
So, I was with a few lovely people at the start of a tour of the Croatian wine district of Istria. It was after midnight in Rovinj and a relatively balmy 16 degrees at the beginning of March.
We had just tasted a lot of interesting Malvasias, some exquisite white truffle oil and met a woman called Dragana.
It was a good 30 to 40 minutes around the bay on foot back to our fancy new hotel, so I suggested a walk, seeing that the weather was so calm and pleasant. I felt sure in such a pretty harbour town that we would be able to find a couple of nice bars and a couple cold beers to settle us on the way home, so the plan was set. I was accompanied by Niamh Shields, food blogger and cook extraordinaire. Sure enough we found a couple of waterside bars to refresh the palate on the route back, and it felt like we had been walking for way longer that the half hour that we had predicted, although I suspect, considering our relative state of relaxation, that we were neither walking very fast or in a particularly straight line. Eventually the familiar shape of a large, well-appointed white hotel loomed large up the steep hill side in front of the glistening bay.
Thank god, I thought. I was ready for bed and looking forward to what the next day had in store for all of us, and was just pleased to see the hotel by this point. I suggested to Niamh that we could walk up the rear entrance to the hotel, saving us a tedious and tiring further 15 minutes of hill climbing before we would have arrived at the grand front entrance. Niamh agreed and we shuffled through the bushes, goods loading-bays and sunloungers until we arrived at a rather dense, high bush-fence. “This is it Niamh”, I said. The hotel pool should be just behind here. We were both spat out of the other side, rather inelegantly, by the hedge, to find ourselves confronted, sure enough, by a gorgeous, massive swimming pool.
Something gripped me. Not a security guard (as it was past 1.30am by now), but the crazy notion that this may be the only chance I get to say that I had had a swim at the hotel when I returned to Blighty, thereby ticking Box One of the list of most effective wine trip gloats. Niamh saw the crazy, glazed look in my eyes and said, “No you’re fecking not, you stupid feckin’ eeedjit.” My brain translated this into “Go on then, you loveable eccentric”, and I stripped off. Down to a pair of old docker boots and a pair of rather loud yellow chequed boxers. It was cold enough for nothing dangerous or publically obscene to happen, but not too cold to stop me so……
Pitter patter pitter patter grunt! Leap! Splashhhh!
A dive of low difficulty tariff, but worth at least 5.8 for style and grace.
2 seconds went by.
Then my head appeared, and I said…..
“Fff. Fff. Ccc. Ccc. Fffuuu.. Cuu. Fu… Jesus!”
Niamh, my reluctant spectator, pointed out the obvious. “You know that they probably haven’t cleaned or heated that pool since last September, don’t cha?”
I climbed out of the pool like a very large but nimble red squirrel climbing up a wellingtonia on Brownsea Island.
“Now can we go inside, ya mad drunken eedjit?” asked Niamh. I was very glad that she was almost as drunk as me, because she didn’t object too much when I suggested that I had done all the hard work, was probably acclimatised to the chill, and that I wanted to go back in.
Her response to this was to cross her arms and to expel air through her teeth in a lip flapping fashion, while pointing up to all the suite balconies above us, where a mix of German, Croat, and Italian protestations could be heard, from several people in dressing gowns. Mostly men. (Shit. I thought. The hotel looked quite empty when we checked in several hours ago. My bad.) Nonetheless, I turned round on the canter, like a show-jumping horse taking another crack at the double fence, then broke into gallop and gave it everything I had.
There was a moment right at the top of the launch where I was a perfect sphere of masculinity. I piked, straightened and pointed. In like a dagger I went, and glid straight to the bottom of the pool without so much as a handful of surface froth.
2 seconds went by.
Then my head appeared, and I said…..
“Fff. Fff. Ccc. Ccc. Fffuuu.. Cuu. Fu.. Jesus!”
“Right.” said Niamh. “That’s enough. Let’s get out of here before ‘that lot’ call the security.”
By this time I had more spectators than the Olympic swimming team, so decided to exit discreetly through the back door into the foyer, dripping wet, with all my clothes and my boots in my hands and make a dash for the lifts.
As we entered, I noticed the significant hubbub of wedding goers, all smoking, and drinking gins and tonics. The murmur rapidly died down to a shocked silence. There were rows upon rows of eyes staring at me.
Fuck. Where did these people come from? There’s had to be a hundred of them. I was basically naked, wet, and less than completely steady on my sodden feet on the acres of marble between me and the lifts. I was strangely unfazed by all of this, as I had had a dream like this before many times as a child, and had long since got over the embarrassment. Quite nice to know that it wasn’t deep seated insecurity about my physical appearance, but simply an accurate case of déjà vu.
So I turned to find Niamh. She looked a little less comfortable with the situation than me, and she suddenly bolted for the lift buttons. I sauntered over behind her as nonchalantly as I could, slip-slopping in my bare feet, leaving a precariously slippery trail behind me, like the Silver Surfer. This, I thought, was the least of my worries.
After what felt like five minutes, the doors opened, more slowly than dawn breaking, to reveal two very well-heeled couples and their pile of Louis Vuitton valises, no doubt on their way up to their suite from their parked Bentley in the basement. A walked in with Niamh, and gave them a smiling welcoming nod. No need to make their first impression of this hotel a hostile one. After all, this clearly wasn’t the hotel’s fault. Eventually we reached floor 3.
“Ah. This is my stop. Goodnight. Have a lovely stay.” Shit! What was I doing? I was clearly over-compensating. I mean I didn’t work there. Obviously. More worrying was that I was embarrassed about what I had just said, and seemingly not about absolutely everything else.
I was next to room 301. All had sea rooms, and they appeared to be sequentially ordered up one side of the corridor to room 335. My room. About 100 metres down. Past four twenty-something Croatian trustafarians having a smoke in the floor lobby half way down. I sucked in my sizeable gut, and walked past, clothes in hand, and just said “Evening ladies” as I walked past.
They burst out laughing. Why wouldn’t they?
They craned their necks out of their seats to watch me walk the last forty or so yards to room 335. I took my room keycard out of my jeans, and breathed a massive sigh of relief. I swiped it at the lock on the door. The lock. On the door. This is a door with a lock. I am holding a credit card. F###, I thought.
I am in the wrong hotel.
I sauntered back past my giggling groupies, and pressed the button for the lift. I didn’t occur to me at this point that I should have put my clothes back on, no matter how wet I was, because three of the girls were pointing at my moobs.
The lift doors opened.
Five more potential friends faced me out of the lift. At this point I had decided to whistle The Girl from Ipanema, by Astrud Gilberto. Clearly no one in the lift had seen The Blues Brothers.
As the doors opened, we were confronted by at least five of those yellow and black hazard placards and one really pissed off janitor. With a mop.
I flip-flopped across the newly dry marble floor, to be confronted by a beautiful petite blonde receptionist, bent double, crying with laughter (Apparently she saw the whole thing unfold, even on the CCTV.) Also standing there was Trevor Long, our tour guide, former band manager, legendary raconteur, and Croatian wine importer.
“Trev! How on earth did you fucking find me?!”
“Mate, I used to manage the Stranglers. We used to find Hugh Cornwell in cupboards…….