looking back on lockdown…

looking back on lockdown…

Like the rest of the world, we’ve been living the Covid-19 lockdown, here in Istria, since March 17th. This was the day the country offically started staying at home, although we were feeling the effects before this date. Being so close to northern Italy, we were directly impacted pretty early on. We often travel to Trieste to do supermarket shopping, but when things started getting very serious in Italy, we stopped doing this. We were due to fly to Berlin in early March, but again, we decided against going, especially as the flights were from Treviso. And it’s just as well we didn’t go, as lockdown in Italy came in fully during the time we would have been away, meaning we could potentially have been stranded in Treviso.

From mid-March, schools, bars, restaurants, hairdressers, sporting facilities, theatres etc and shops deemed to be “non-essential”, closed. Everything literally stopped overnight. Supermarkets were still open, but we cut down on the trips out to them. Before restrictions became even tighter, we did a couple of “big shops” – but, it was immediately clear that people here, were taking things very, very seriously. Social distancing was absolutely respected, many people were already wearing masks, numbers allowed in to the supermarket were limited, and hand sanistisers and gloves were all readily available. Staff were all wearing masks and gloves, and the till area was wiped down after every customer. While all of this was happening in Istria, we watched aghast, at the slow response by the government in the UK, and listened to friends and family telling us that it mostly seemed to be like “business as normal”.

Things happened very quickly in Croatia, as the government responded with speed. By Monday 23rd May, travel restrictions had been introduced. To travel outside of your own municipality you needed a permit – this was quite a simple process and our neighbour helped us with the translation side of things and the permit was emailed back quickly. But, you had to state exact day of travel and purpose and ensure that you took the permit with you as police roadblocks were in place. By the following week, this had become even stricter as only one member of the household was allowed to travel. It was decided that I wouldn’t be that person, as unchecked, my shopping would have consisted of “treats” only 😉 This continued for two weeks, with the local administrative body doing the permits, but as lockdown continued, by mid-April, we had to apply for e-permits which were handled by a higher authority. Again, it was a relatively easy process, but it was becoming very clear that the situation was extremely serious.

So, how’s Lockdown Life been in Istria?

In many ways, not a great deal has changed for us personally. Over the last seven or so weeks, we’ve only left the house to go to the supermarket and to have the cars MOTd. Unlike in the UK, there’s no deferring these annual tests and we had to do both cars last week. We were a bit wary at the thought of being out & about, but as we’ve come to realise, people follow the rules here. There’s no flouting and everything is done by the book. So, it wasn’t anywhere near as risky as we feared – social distancing once outside of the car, one car at a time, hand sanitisers, perspex barriers. And, to be honest, it was nice to be out of the houseand actually see other human beings!

Our house is in a small village, up in the hills in northern Istria. Most of the properties are owned by people who live abroad, so until March/April time, we don’t tend to see a lot of people. Most restaurants around here, don’t re-open until late March/early April, so we live a pretty self-sufficient life anyway, meaning that lockdown hasn’t been a total shock. We’re in regular touch with family and friends and we’ve kept our website design clients, so always have contact with people. Now that we have fixed line broadband, we’ve also got UK TV, so can keep up to date and keep abreast of what’s going on.

We’re lucky that we’ve been able to use lockdown time very productively. Prior to being largely confined to home, we’d decided to sell our house, because we’d found another renovation project and via a website we designed, we’d tentatively started to market it. We’d put in a couple of low(ish) offers, which were rejected, to get the ball rolling on the other property and had a further viewing. It’s all obviously now on hold, but we’re using this time, to get the website completely finished, get the house on external property abroad websites and focus on the last bits and pieces in the house, ready for when we can get going again.

We also completed, just the week before lockdown, on the little property and additional land behind the main house, which will be included in the house sale. As our builder can’t come round to make it safe, we’re chugging along doing what we can to tidy it up. New boundaries have also been established and lodged at the Land Registry, so we’re making plans to fence off the whole house, front and back, to give us more privacy.

Lots of smaller jobs, which have been on a long list, for a long time, are being ticked off. Painting jobs are being tackled. A bit of decoupage has been going on, transforming a couple of doors and some shelving…

The window sills in the new kitchen have finally been tiled and grouted – a job which was always put off as it inevitably involved the tile cutter, but both windows have been done and they do look great. I also managed to get my “window shelf” – something I’ve been hankering after for while, since spotting something on Pinterest. This was much resisted by the shelf-putter-upper because he said we then wouldn’t be able to open the window. Yes, we would – the shelf could just sit on blocks and be lifted off when we wanted to open the window. He now likes the potential of an indoor herb garden…

We’ve also rediscovered our kitchen and are now much more likely to ensure that what we buy, we use. I’ve become less likely to discard fruit and veg which maybe doesn’t look as fresh it did when we bought it, and meals are being cooked from scratch. Bread is being baked & we have vegetables and herbs planted up.

Even though we are lucky enough to still be working from home, we do feel that we have more time to be doing more things for *us*. We’re catching up on films, and series we’ve been meaning to watch but never seem to have got round to. It’s taken us until now to get the brilliance of Peaky Blinders and I’m a bit bereft that we’re onto the last series – but rather than binge watching now, we’re restricting ourselves to two episodes on a Saturday evening. Which is how we know it’s a Saturday.

Earlier this week, we received the news that Istria County has been officially declared Coronavirus free, as no new cases had been reported for the previous 16 days. However, the relaxation of regulations is still measured and controlled. From Monday 11th May, bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open IF they have outdoor terraces and if social distancing measures can still be maintained. We definitely won’t be rushing off to a local bar or a restaurant, but we are heartened that things like this can start to happen. We are horrified by what we see happening in the UK – and just wish we could transport all family and friends to Istria where it is safe.

So, for us personally, lockdown has been a time for planning and preparing. We know that even though we are in a different country, and a country we are still getting used to, we are very lucky to be here. And, hopefully, one day soon – although goodness knows when that will be – we’ll be able to welcome family and friends to our little slice of paradise, again.







lockdown larder : coconut and lentil dahl…

lockdown larder : coconut and lentil dahl…

We’re currently in proper lockdown here in Istria. As of last week, a permit has to be applied for if you want to travel to a different municipality. Borders are closed so we can’t – and at the moment, definitely don’t want to – hop across to Italy to stock up on our favourite parmesan and proscuitto and so we’re driving over to Umag, on the coast, to shop at Lidl and Spar. Although obtaining a permit is relatively easy – we have residency here and so just need to email the appropriate office – we’re much happier not being out and about, preferring to live a much more self-sufficient lifestyle, at the moment. Rather than multiple weekly trips to a supermarket, we’ve decided that once a week, at most – less, if we can be very organised – is the best way forward. This also means we are finally getting to the back of our kitchen cupboards and rationalising the many packets and tins and bags of foodstuff we’ve accumulated. Rice, pasta, pulses – all there, and because a lot of it is at the back, and we can’t see it, more of the same stuff has been bought over time. So, now seems to be the right time, to actually start using it.

Coconut & Lentil Dahl

With a glut of tins of lentils, it was decided that a dahl was on the cards. I found this recipe from Deliciously Ella and liked it because a) most of the ingredients were available and b) a bit of coconut flavour is always welcome. It also looked easy -peasy – which it was – and appealed to my liking of chuck-everything-in-the-one-pot kind of cooking.

  • 400g green lentils, washed and drained
  • 2x 400g cans coconut milk
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes, optional

In the end, I only used one tin of coconut milk, because I used a jar of passata instead of chopped tomatoes and so there was quite a lot of excess liquid to cook off. I also used more of the spices, than in the recipe – probably double the quantities as we like our food to be flavoursome and spicy. The onions, when first sauteed in oilve oil, were also quite heavily seasoned with black pepper from the grinder.

It really is the easiest thing to make – taking the recipe from Deliciously Ella (linked to above), I did adapt things slightly. I added a packet of black puy lentils to give it a bit more texture, and with hindsight, I maybe used too much passata, so that the final colour was more orangey than the usual yellowy-mustard colour of dahl. The chopped tomatoes, as suggested in the original recipe, would probably be better if you didn’t want it to be over-tomatoey. Last night’s was served with roasted new potatoes, which were cooked in a mixture of olive oil, spicy paprika and chilli flakes. We also had some cooling natural yoghurt on the side, although our herbs haven’t been planted up yet, and so sadly, no coriander as a garnish. That’s our next project – an old IKEA CD cabinet, which has been sprayed anthracite, and which is about to be planted up with herb seeds. Perfect compartments to keep them organised.

Because there is so much left over, it’s going to be the base of tonight’s dinner. In the fridge, there is a lovely Italian chorizo which will be fried off with a bit more spice and added to the dahl – and this time, I’m going to add a fair few sprinkles of turmeric to try and achieve that yellow colour. Nice to see the kitchen cupboard staples actually finally being used…