Plummeting temperatures and a week of small panics

Week three of our restoration project in Istria

Week three of our Istrian house restoration project sees temperatures tumble and my confidence falter, as my translator Miran disappears … and things don’t seem to be going quite to plan.



Week three did not start well. First, I was unable to reach Miran by phone to set up a progress meeting – panic! I knew he was waiting for a knee operation for a football injury, but didn’t know when. My worry was he’d gone into hospital and not told me. How would I cope without my translator?

Kovaci worksite with no-one aroundThen, when I went to the house to see what was happening, I found it locked and the site empty. Had my builders deserted me? (As builders can do anywhere, there’s always the fear they’ve gone off to another project somewhere else!) The only new sign of activity was a huge pile of sand, a cement mixer and a JCB out front. 

Common sense, and a text from Miran later that day, reassured me. He was still around (until Thursday) and would be available for a meeting tomorrow. And there was no-one there, simply because the crew had just finished for the day. I took a deep breath to calm myself and took advantage of the otherwise wasted trip to take some pictures: at least it was convenient not having a truck in the way.

Toni pouring concrete for the floor at Kovaci, IstriaAccompanied by an icy Siberian wind (we were catching the edge of the huge freeze over Eastern Europe), I was delighted to see everyone back on-site the next morning.

All the plumbing is now in downstairs and I arrived to find them pouring concrete for the floor. I was surprised, as I would have thought it was too cold for concreting (it was about -8 ºC outside). It seemed they only needed a small adjustment to their normal process – the addition of hot charcoal from a brazier to the water pipe to stop it freezing!


Freezing discussions

Mixing concrete in sub-zero temperatures in Kovaci, IstriaBefore the project started, we had agreed a price with Miro for the bulk of the work. But, because everything happened so quickly, a lot of small details and costs still needed to be tied down. Things like carpenter costs, for the kitchen and a built-in wardrobe, and electrician costs for outside lighting. How much for a self-filling water system for the pool? How much to restore the barn? (We might not be able to afford it now, but we needed to know for the future). And finally, how much for the wood sink surrounds? (Yes the debate on bathroom sinks runs on.) I’d been wanting to tie these costs down all last week, with no success. Today, I was determined to get some progress.

Huddled round a brazier, I worked through my list with Miran. Perhaps it was me, perhaps it was the cold, but we seemed to have communication problems today. We were both very relieved when I finally suggested putting my questions in writing. Relieved, Miran returned to the cement mixer and I hurried home to the warmth, hoping he’d understand my e-mail.

The too tall wall at Kovaci, IstriaInstead of going to the house on Wednesday, I went for a meeting with the local council to discuss a shared wall (a long story, see “Please can we demolish your eye-sore?”)

Afterwards, I’d been looking forward to taking my friend Snježana, who came as my translator, to see the house. But…

… daft as it sounds, I left home late and after collecting her, didn’t have time to stop and fill up with petrol ahead of our meeting. We arrived with a very empty tank, so afterwards, instead of going the short distance to the house, we headed back to Porec. Driving on vapour, I was mightily relieved to make it to the petrol station – a really close call. Snježana might not have seen the house, but at least she got home! Oh well, next time.


My translator disappears

Shed with 'mesnica' signThursday morning I had a text from Miran confirming he’d just had his knee operation and I suddenly felt very alone. I knew this moment was coming, but will I be able to cope without my on-site translator? How long will he be gone? Will he even be back before the end of our project?

With ever colder temperatures (we eventually hit -11 ºC) and a nasty wind, I didn’t fancy venturing outside today, so stayed home. I’ll see how I get on without Miran tomorrow.


Abandoned again?

Half height wall forming kitchen bar in Kovaci, IstriaNobody seemed around when I went up on Friday, but there’d been plenty of progress. Toni’s been busy with his JCB – a big hole has appeared, which I expect will become the septic tank. (Mains drainage has yet to arrive in much of Istria, although we are promised it for next year – another tale for another day). Some jester has found an old butcher’s sign ‘mesnica’ and put it up over the shed door. It suits it.

New stone stair steps at Kovaci, IstriaInside, there’s now a low wall at the edge of the kitchen (hopefully in the right place and at the right height). I couldn’t check it as, yet again, I’d forgotten to bring a tape measure! I was then delighted to see the small window near the door has re-emerged. Miro had looked sceptical last week when I asked about it – but I knew he’d find a way in the end. It’s going to look great.

Going upstairs – we now have a proper bottom step (at last!), so the climb isn’t as precipitous as before – I met Vlado (the plumber) on the top floor. All the plumbing’s now in for the family bathroom, he said, and he’s well on the way with the ensuite.

Piping for the attic ensuit, in Kovaci, IstriaMild panic attack, by me (not Vlado) about the sink location. “I know the bathroom’s being tucked under the roof, but does the sink need to be this close to the door?” I asked. “If I put it where you drew it, guys won’t have room to stand up,” replied Vlado,hunching under the eaves to show me. “You’re short, you’d fit. I’m taller, I wouldn’t.” “OK,” I conceded doubtfully. “I just hope there’s room to open the door.” “There will be!” he reassured me, going back to his pipes.

Hope he’s right and not just trying to get rid of me. (He wasn’t. They later had to be moved to fit the door).


Why have we got scaffolding?

Scaffolding holding up ceiling & downstairs loo in Kovaci, IstriaIn my hyper-sensitive state, I wasn’t reassured the following morning to see scaffolding inside the house, holding up the ground-floor ceiling. Had something terrible gone wrong?

“Don’t panic,” said Toni. “We’ve just poured the concrete in the bathroom upstairs. We don’t want to run any risks of it crashing down, so we’re supporting the floor until it dries.” A relief!

Concrete floor in family bathroomLooking around I saw we’d now got a downstairs loo under the stairs – well the walls for one, at least. It looks terribly small: I just hope it will be big enough.

Deciding I was getting paranoid about everything, I quit and headed home. “Next week”, I vowed, “I’ll relax and be more positive. Miro knows what he’s doing and he’s not panicking. If the expert’s happy, I should be too”. Shouldn’t I?

Next week


Also see

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