The Treaty, the Bishop, the house and a wood pile

My expat life in Istria

This week was a momentous week for Croatia as a whole, Istria in particular … and us too. Croatia finally signed the EU accession treaty on Friday and on Saturday, Istria got a new Bishop. All this happened unnoticed by us, as our house hunting took an unexpected turn. P also finished his wood chopping marathon.


Monday 5 December

Depressing start to the week – it looks as though we can’t afford the house in Kaštelir after all :(. After a promising verbal quote, Damir’s calculated renovation price arrived and was a lot higher than hoped, making it too expensive. This hit me hard. We’ve now been looking for a year and I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll be able to find something we like, in our budget.

Before I gave up, though, I had one last card to play – ‘Miro’. Miro’s a great builder: he built our Little House and has done a lot of work for us. I hadn’t called him until now because I’d wanted an ‘old-building’ specialist who spoke English. I wasn’t sure if  Miro had the experience needed for a restoration project and, speaking no English, communicating with my pigeon-Croatian was going to be a challenge. Luckily for me, Azra knows Miro well (she introduced us to him originally). She called and was pleased to report old buildings were no problem: he’d come and see the house with us on Wednesday 

Finished writing last week’s My Life then had a Facebook ‘Friending’ frenzy, finding all P’s relatives – none of mine are on Facebook. Not sure if this was really fair on them – are they really interested in Istria? We’ll find out! As much as it feelslike imposing on people, I keep telling myself I have to blow the ‘Live Istria’ trumpet, or no-one will ever discover it.

Baggy & Tally curled up on the laundry pilesEnded the day with the ironing (oh joy of joys). While I ironed, P wrote a fantastic letter to go with our Christmas cards, proving yet again, that he writes so much better than me (‘better than IP). I may hate the ironing, but Baggy and Tally love the laundry!


Tuesday 6 December

Woke to heavy grey clouds, so decided to start early in the garden to beat the rain. Made the wrong choice: it was cold and windy while I was out. But when P came in from chopping, an hour later, the sun was shining and he said he’d been too warm – grrr.

Baggy climbs out of kitchen drawerWorked on Live Istria writing and posting. Then ended the day (and nearly my sanity) screaming at Facebook. Won’t go into the details (wasted enough time on Facebook already and my blood pressure couldn’t take it), except to say that it’s simple enough justfor ‘private’ pages, but setting up a promotional page for a website is a nightmare – and that’s when you follow their own guidelines! Facebook… aggh!!!!

Went shopping in the afternoon. Only mention it because Baggy was fascinated by me putting the shopping away and decided to join in.


Wednesday 7 December

Nice sunny morning in the garden: finally finished trimming the santolinas – one of those ‘small’ back-breaking jobs, that end up taking an impossibly long time. Glad it’s done 🙂 

Finalised a piece about September’s grape harvest. It was strange writing about the blistering heat as we transition from Autumn to Winter. Live Istria’s keeping me so busy, I’m getting less time to write than I’d hoped and some stories keep getting pushed back. I’d thought about abandoning the tale, but it’s a good one and P said “Go on, we could all do with a dose of sunshine.” So I did and I hope you enjoy it.

Nicky outside the barn at Kastelir, it comes with the houseThen off to see the house with Miro – make or break time. If Miro’s quote was too high, it would be back on the hunting trail in January. I was very nervous:   it is such a great property and I really wanted this to work. What I needed today was just a ballpark figure, so we’d know if it was worth making an offer, but knew this was unrealistic: he’d never given me one before. Usually Miro wants a detailed list of works and a few days, so I was stunned when I got a rough quote on the spot – and doubly stunned at the price. It was great! Even allowing for overruns, it was definitely affordable. This changed things completely :)!  

Back home, we discussed it. P ran spreadsheets and it looked good. “I guess that means we can make an offer and see if this house price really is negotiable,” I said. “I guess it does,” said P. “Shall I?” I asked. “Go on then,” he said. So I did – we’ll hear tomorrow.

Went to bed with bated breath, and crossed fingers and toes.


Thursday 8 December

Gardened this morning with my phone close to hand and didn’t have long to wait. Our price offer on the house was met by a counter-offer: still too high for our budget … but close enough that it was worth pursuing. “Owner wants to meet to negotiate,” said Azra. “How much can you give for deposit?”

This was all moving too fast – to really know what room we had to negotiate, we still needed to talk to the neighbour about an over-looking window (and make sure we all got on); confirm we could get a tourist classification for renting; and a more detailed quote from Miro for the restoration work – which needed detailed specifications and measurements. “No problem,” said Azra. “We can organise all that for tomorrow.” She rang off, to set up a series of meetings for me and her, leaving me thinking “But I had other plans for tomorrow!” Oh well, that’s how business happens in Croatia. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

To relax and calm my nerves, I spent the afternoon posting and writing for Live Istria. (Sorry? Did she say ‘calm’ and ‘relax’ about Live Istria? – P)


Friday 9 December

Extremely busy day: I could write pages, but I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say, we visited the Tourist Classification and Cadastral offices; wrote a detailed building-work list; went and measured everything in the house; and met with Miro, the neighbours and the owner. Drank medica with everyone. Went home exhausted.

The day passed in a blur but, by the end of it, we had ticked every box. We could get a tourist classification; had lovely, generous neighbours and got Miro’s detailed quote – somewhat higher but a lot more accurate. All that was left was the final price negotiations. It was too late (and we’d all had too much to drink…) to finalise things tonight. We agreed to meet again tomorrow at 1 pm, in the sober light of day and hopefully close the deal.

As a small aside, it was also a significant day for Croatia: they signed the EU accession treaty and are now official members of the EU. They can’t vote or in fact do anything, but they’re allowed to attend and observe meetings – I guess Phil and his chopped wood pilethat’s so they can learn how to misbehave when they become full members in July 2013.

 (And she didn’t even mention the most important event of the day – after two months, I finished chopping my 10 m³ of wood … well all except the big logs that need a chain saw – P)


Saturday 10 December

P spent the morning going over Miro’s quote to ensure nothing was missed and work out how much room we had on the price. I trimmed lavender and tried not to think about the meeting ahead.

It’s nerve-racking buying a house. Even if it’s only a rental property, not your future home, it’s a lot of money to commit. So, yes, I was dead nervous in our meeting this afternoon. But thankfully we agreed a price (huge relief!) and then sealed the deal with coffee – no deal of any kind in Croatia is regarded as complete without a drink together :).

Sitting with our coffees, we discovered it was also a very important day in Porec: a new bishop was being invested in its 6th Century Basilica, at a service attended by priests from all over the world. Porec has always been an important Roman Catholic centre: at one time it was the only place outside the Vatican which could ordain priests, so getting a new bishop was big news. Possibly more important than us buying a house (only possibly).


Sunday 11 December

Making a deal for the house was a great early Christmas present … which made me realise Christmas was rapidly approaching and I’d done precious little. Last chance on-line shopping dates were creeping up fast and nothing had been bought or even decided upon – panic!

Spent the day in a mad, on-line, shopping frenzy. We’re flying back this year, so won’t have room in our cases for presents. Being able to order things on-line and have them delivered for when we arrive is a godsend. I’m sure this is true for you, wherever you live. But for us, living in rural Istria, with friends and relatives in the UK, it’s doubly so, as it means we don’t have to spend time shopping in an already over-packed Christmas schedule. All hail the internet – I love you (at times).

Got almost everyone’s presents sorted, but not ordered. Decided to leave purchasing to a less fuzzy, Monday-brain. Finally got to flop in front of the fire at about 4 pm, as P made a Sunday pot-roast, and reflect on an what a hectic, but amazing week we’d had.


The tale continues with Houses, postings and kiwis in the run-up to our Christmas trip

Read this tale in the right order – from the start in July


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