christmas : 2022

Well, that’s almost a Christmas wrap. We’ve spent the last few days hunkered down, with the wood-burners on, lights twinkling, candles flickering and eating all manner of luxurious food at the most inappropriate times of the day. Chocolates for breakfast, with a tot of Baileys is perfectly acceptable at this time of year, I think. We’ve also not seen very much out of our windows because a thick Christmas fog has been clinging on for days. Very atmospheric, but we’re now starting to crave a bit of blue sky.

Like the last two years, we’ve spent our Christmas, at home, in Istria, rather than travelling back to the UK. In 2020, travel restrictions were in place so that was a definite no-go. Last year, although things had eased slightly, we still felt it was too much of a risk travelling across multiple countries, staying in different hotels and then when in the UK, still being largely on the move and then doing it all again on the way back. This year, we decided to stay put because again of rising Covid rates and not really wanting to expose ourselves, and family and friends, to any infection we could have picked up en route. But, added to this in 2022, we’ve had to also assess the situation with strikes in the UK, a country which feels is currently grinding to a halt. Border force staff out on strike on key dates – so whether we drove or flew, we’d inevitably have been affected, and then highways staff on strike, meaning that once we arrived and were on the road, car journeys would have been a nightmare. We salute the strikers and everything they are attempting to achieve and had we travelled would have reminded ourselves constantly of this, but I think with hindsight, given the length of the journey, we’d have been too frazzled to have actually enjoyed any time with family and friends. However, there have been two other considerations and this is where things have become a bit more complicated this particular Christmas.

Our passports expire in August 2023 so we need to renew them pretty quickly. We had considered doing it when back in the UK by just going to the passport office in Liverpool. But – and it’s a big but – if timings didn’t work and we couldn’t make it back for ferries etc, or if the passport office staff went on strike, this would have added another layer of stress. Plus – and it’s another biggie – Croatia is set to join the Schengen zone on Jan 1st. In itself, this is the most brilliant, fantastic news, for us. But not if we’d be middle travel. On the way out, pre Xmas, Croatia would still have been OUTSIDE the Schengen zone, meaning our UK passorts – because of f*ckin’ Brexit – would have to be stamped as we entered Slovenia. This isn’t usually a problem, as we tend to cross the border to go to the supermarket in Slovenia or Italy and and return within the day, or if staying over, within a few days. We definitely never exceed the 90 days which – even though we have Croatian residency – we’re now stymied by, because we are currently UK citizens/passport holders. But, joining Schengen will eradicate all of this as long as we stay within the zone. No more stamping of passports when we travel in Europe. (Until we return to the UK – which probably means in the near future we’ll fly as that will be easier than trying to navigate French borders, with a UK passport and Croatian residency. It’s very complicated, currently, and so with all things considered, we decided that staying put until we were 100% sure of the situation, on all fronts, was the best idea). However, if we were returning AFTER Jan 1st, we’d have to ensure that when we exited Slovenia, we’d still have to have our passports stamped, to tally with the stamp we got on the way out. Because if we didn’t, further down the line, we could have problems if it was seen that we’d out-stayed the 90 days. Which we would have done because we live in Croatia. See how complicated it all has been?

So, our third Christmas has been spent in Istria, but because we do get to see family and friends via Zoom and Facetime, and keep in regular touch with calls, we still feel we get to spend quality festive time with them. And, because of where we are currently, we also get to enjoy a Hygge kind of Christmas. Because when your house is at the top of a very high hill, surrounded by forests and swathed in thick fog, it’s the perfect place to get all Scandi over the festive season.

In the spring and summer, our house is light and bright and airy, as windows are always open, the front door is open and sunlight streams in. But in the winter, it takes on a different personality, as the days are shorter and darkness falls much earlier. I’m an absolute sucker for candles – the more the merrier – and especially of the scented variety, so most rooms will usually have at least a few tealights. Pillar candles are also a bit of a favourite, and for some reason, they are very inexpensive out here, so these are burned most of the time.

Although it’s not freezing by any stretch of the imagination, there is a chill in the air when the wood burners aren’t lit, so the excess of faux furry throws also come into their own over the winter, and there’s nothing more luxurious than covering yourself in one, and snuggling down on the sofa. It’s what Christmas is all about…

We made sure, before Xmas, that we stocked up the fridge and that the wine rack was full, because there was no way we were going out – anywhere – after Christmas Eve. And that’s just what we’ve done. We’ve locked the door, pulled over the big navy velvet winter curtain, drawn down the blinds, lit the candles and over indulged in delicious food. Even though we’re up in the Istrian hills, we’re still very close to all amenities and so can get most of whatever we need from big supermarkets nearby. But, since discovering British Cornershop, we’ve also been able to get hold of those little luxuries which have so alluded us – Cadbury’s chocolate, M&S crumpets, chocolate yule logs, salt and vinegar crisps – and so our Xmas cupboard has had the addition of some much missed treats. As well as a traditional Xmas lunch, we’ve had Baileys for breakfast. Smoked salmon and poached eggs for brunch. Cheese platters – with delicious local wines – in the evening. We’ve made bread too, as we’re definitely not heading out to a supermarket, just yet – but this is the easiest bread recipe, ever. Baked and ready to eat in less than an hour. Everything you want but can’t justify usually – especially, as it seems currently, day after day. Still, we’ll soon return to normal and so we’re making the most of festivities in the fog.

It’s still not over. We’re in those strange days between Christmas and New Year, when you’re never sure what day it is, but the house still feels like Xmas. The decorations are still around. You’re still eating a tube of Pringles (salt & vinegar) in one sitting. Mulled wine at 2pm is a good idea. You’re catching up on all of that TV you’ve missed.

But, as lovely as these days are, that just roll into the next one, we do still need a bit of normality. A day when we’re not eating from the moment we get up and day when we do actually get out from under the throws and off the sofa. And that day is today…

Published on 28th December 2022