We clash with the tourist season

Week twenty-one of our restoration project in Istria

Work drags on and we’re now moving into the early tourist season. Noisy workmen and sleepy tourists don’t mix well, as I soon find out. Outside, everything’s so nearly finished: flowerbeds, paving and pergolas are almost done, and I finally see the barn’s stained flooring. And, as for the kitchens and furniture – do they arrive as promised?

 

Red floors

Rather red barn staircase in Kovaci, IstriaLast week ended with a little rain, but Monday’s again dry and sunny, and I finally get to see the upstairs floor in the barn. Looking at the stairs, I’m a bit nervous as they seem rather red. ‘Hopefully it’ll be better upstairs,’ I think with fingers crossed. It isn’t and my heart sinks. I try convincing myself it looks better than plain pine but, honestly, I’m not sure. Oh well, it’s my own fault. I ought to have had more than just a quick discussion about the colour with Toni before he started: it’s far too late to make a scene and hopefully the colour will grow on me – colours usually do. 

I haven’t the heart to say anything to Toni, he’s worked so hard on it. It would be like kicking a puppy! (That’s the problem with developing too good a working relationship with your builders: you end up empathising with them).

Paving work has also ground to a halt: they’ve run out of stone and are awaiting the next delivery (builders never seem to order quite enough first time – P). With time on his hands, I arrive to find Miro putting up the banister to the top floor. He’s also put up the old ‘2’ sign on the front wall (it was attached to the house when we bought it and I wanted to reuse it as a link with the past). Amir’s also cleaning up the grouting today, but the pace of work has definitely slowed. Most industrious is Miro’s dog Siska, who’s back today, guarding beer bottles.

Siska bravely guarding her beer bottle collection in Kovaci, IstriaTeuta promised my kitchens and remaining furniture for this week, but when I call she still can’t give me any date. “The Tax people say it’ll be this week,” she says. But is that for the inspection, the release of stock or them fitting the kitchen? She can’t say. “It’ll be soon,” she tries reassuring me, but I think she’s being overly optimistic.

Wednesday brings definite progress: the flowerbed in the parking area is now well under way and work has started on the pergola in front of the house. It’s all coming together – if only the remaining paving and kitchens would arrive!

 

We cause a racket

Thursday’s a public holiday, so I switch off my alarm and plan a lazier day: a bit of gardening, a bit of writing, nothing too stressful. If the builders are taking the day off, so am I.

It’s not to be. The phone rings, just after I’ve got up. It’s Karlo, Fiore’s son, complaining about the noise. It’s the first holiday weekend of the season, both their apartments are full and their guests were woken at 7:30 by an awful racket. “But they’re not working,” I protest, wondering if work was going on at the Italians’ place instead. “Yes they are,” says Karlo. “They’re doing metal work.”

The pergolas that caused the problem in Kovaci, IstriaAs they were working on the pergolas yesterday, this sounds all too plausible. But Miro had told me there would be no-one on-site today – it’s how I found out about the holiday – so did he know what was going on? “I’ll get back to you,” I say, ringing off to call Toni. He knows nothing about it and calls Miro. Ten minutes later, I have my answer, “Yes, the pergola guys are on site, but they started work at 9:00, not 7:30.”

I don’t care when they started. I have a PR disaster on my hands. Fiore and Lili have been very good about the noise, until now. They haven’t complained at all and they aren’t complaining today for themselves, but for their guests who have come away for some peace and quiet. I feel awful. So, instead of lounging around the house, I jump in the car with peace offerings and drive straight to Kovaci. (What peace offering do you take to a sommelier who makes and sells his own wine? “A packet of biscuits isn’t enough,” says P, so I also grab a bottle of rosé (something Fiore doesn’t sell). “Why don’t you buy a bottle of Fiore’s wine and give that to his guests? That way everyone gets a little something,” is P’s parting suggestion. Not sure what’s best to do, I take everything and decide I’ll ask Lili’s opinion when I get there.

First I go to the site. Sure enough, guys are working on pergolas – and I must admit, they’re looking magnificent. “You will be finished today, won’t you?” I confirm with the big boss. “Yes, we’ll be finished today.”

Armed with that good news, a bottle of wine and a packet of biscuits, I take a deep breath and venture into Fiore’s domain. How angry are they? What sort of reception will I receive? I’m very nervous, but it’s essential to apologise and make peace.  

No-one’s around, so I nervously walk up the stairs to Fiore and Lili’s apartment, to find everyone – Fiore, Lili and all their guests – sitting on the terrace, drinking coffee and rakija. No chance now to ask Lili’s advice, so I quickly improvise. The wine is much appreciated by the adults and the biscuits by the children – it seems I got something right this morning!

Amir loading the noisy cement mixer in Kovaci, IstriaI stay for a coffee (Lili makes the best coffee in the world!) and a chat – in a mixture of English, German and Croatian. Leaving, I discuss the work with Lili. As the noisy metal work will be finished today, the only noise should be from the cement mixer, which she says should be OK.

It wasn’t. Call from Karlo the following morning. Guests were again woken at 7:30, this time by the cement mixer. I feel awful for them: it’s so embarrassing, but I can’t face going up and saying sorry again – what would be the point? I agree to call Miro and see if I can arrange a later start for tomorrow, so their guests will have a quieter start to their last day. Fingers crossed.

 

Another peace offering

Saturday and no call from Karlo this morning – phew!

As bad as I feel for Fiore’s guests, I also feel for Miro – he’s only trying to get a job done and get my property ready for me as quickly as possible. So, today was his turn for a peace offering – a six-pack of beer, something I know all builders appreciate.

The last of the paving is laid in Kovaci, Istria. But the sky looks like rain.“We started at 9:30,” he says, as I come through the gate. That’s a relief! I hand over the beers with my thanks and go to find Toni. With everything racing to completion, I want to discuss finishing dates, but he’s not around. Only Miro and Amir are on-site, slogging away at the paving. (Yes, the final load of paving arrived this morning.)

They’ve also plastered the battered breeze-block wall behind the flower-bed. I just hope the wall behind the plaster stays upright – it really looked on its last legs: Miro’s sure it’s about to collapse!

Going up to the house, I find the pergolas complete, just the netting which provides the shade missing. They might have caused a lot of disruption and heartache, but look great and match perfectly with the bars now in place in the hay-loft window.

I finally track Toni down at his half-finished house in Gedici, where he and Siska are relaxing … and communing with a tortoise! It’s a surreal tableau. “We’ll be finished next week,” promises Toni. I just hope it’s true. We’re  so nearly there, but this project just keeps dragging on.

 

My furniture?

And what about the missing furniture? Surprise, surprise, it’s still not turned up. “The Tax Office says they’ll finish their inspection ‘soon’,” says Teuta. I marvel at her optimism. I’m far more pessimistic and suspect we’re both being spun a line, but who knows?

Driving home I vow to be positive. “Next week will be significant,” I say out loud to myself. “The building work will be finished, the furniture will arrive. We might be running late, but we will get Kovaci ready in time for some holiday lettings this summer – won’t we?”

 

Also see

Restoration diary:

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