christmas : 2022

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…

Although it’s still technically Christmas, it’s also the start of Project23 for us. Things are hopefully going to be taking a very different direction, but first, the house is going back on the market. As much as we love here, it was never going to be our forever home and so we are pushing ahead with a new plan, which only came about when the Printworks plan fell through, leaving us a bit devastated. But that feeling has changed and we are now super charged about what may be coming up. But first, house maintenance and a bit of exciting renovation, mixed in with some festive sparkle…







moving on…

moving on…

The phrase “End of an Era” has been used a lot over recent days, and although not on quite the same scale, it’s also the end of a bit of an era for us. In December 2020, we finally signed a pre-contract on the purchase of a very unusual building in Oprtalj, which had been up for sale for a long time. Constructed on one level, this expansive industrial, concrete building filled us with excitement, as we could see its immense potential for open plan living. We had already put our renovated Istrian stone house on the market, as the negotiations were carried out with the seller. We firmly believed that our house would sell quite quickly as it was fairly priced, based on its age, condition, location and the fact we had taken into account we do not have a pool. However, what we didn’t take into account was the impact of the global pandemic.

The pre-contract was excellent, as far as we were concerned. It was for eighteen months – more than enough time, we thought, to sell our home. A monthly rental was negotiated and it was agreed that these payments (and the deposit) would reduce the agreed sale price. We were also given permission to begin works on the property, whilst we were still under the pre-contract. All seemed very hunky-dory and we went as far as to engage the services of an architect who would help us to realise our vision. But, a global pandemic doesn’t make the selling of a house – however beautiful and desirable you think it is – very easy, as people were largely no longer travelling. And if they were, a house purchase probably wasn’t too high on their agenda. This would have been the prefect time to start on the structural work on the new property, but without the injection of cash from the proceeds of the sale of our home, we were a bit limited as to what we could do. With hindsight, it’s a good thing that the only things we did actually do, were the demolition of the internal partition walls. Otherwise, we’d be very much out of pocket.

Things started to pick up regarding our house, in summer 2021 as viewings started. We were selling it ourselves, via Right Move Overseas and our own website, as well as via our social media channels, but it became increasingly more difficult to manage the viewings. It was difficult showing people around, and trying to be dispassionate, as viewers made judgments about our home. So, we appointed a real estate agency in April 2022 and interest went through the roof, culminating in an offer being accepted and legal documents drawn up. But, sometimes things don’t go as you expect them to and people often turn out to be flakey at best. Seriously unhinged, at worst. And this particular one decided to pull out just as the contract was about to be signed and the deposit paid. We were furious and devastated in equal measure, having felt that finally Lady Luck was on our side. But, a couple of weeks later, we’ve calmed down and have realised that what happened, was likely for the best.

Looking at it now, objectively and without the desire to get everything over the line, we think that in the long term this buyer would have been a potential nightmare, so we’re probably well rid. Had our sale gone ahead, we’d potentially have been looking to store our furniture and rent, as work was carried out on The Printworks. And, this would have been over the winter, as she wanted to move here full time, and as soon as possible. The other complication is that the original pre-contract expired at the beginning of May, but thankfully the summer has meant that things have progressed very slowly as annual holidays are taken VERY seriously here. We have kept up the rent payments, in good faith, but have now decided that the time has come to end things. The signs are telling us, very strongly and loudly, that the property isn’t right for us at the moment, so we’ve been clearing it out, ready to hand back the keys.

We’ve also taken out house off the market. Not forever. It’s going back on, hopefully in Spring 2023. By which time, Plan B should have been executed, meaning we can still realise a big part of our dream…

For now though, we’re looking forward to an autumn and winter of interior and exterior planning, plenty of demolition and rebuilding and a lovely house to be cosy and warm in, instead of the prospect of renting somewhere we don’t really like. Onwards and upwards!