ll Nick's Croatian Adventure! 

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Sun 15 Aug

Well, my biggest news is that we're buying a house! I decided to go for the place in Funtana, as it was easy - the papers were clean, the house has been renovated so I don't need to organise builders and the only thing left to do is the kitchen. Funtana has nice views from 2 terraces and a small patio out the front and is in walking distance of a small marina and the sea. It's about halfway along the Istrian coast, between Porec and Vrsar, 2 towns with attractive old town centres. We've just heard that RyanAir will be flying to Pula next year and it's only about an hour to the airport there, so should be easy to get to. The house itself is at the end of a terrace, has an open-plan kitchen area and living room downstairs with part of the old stone walls showing, as well as a downstairs loo (which in my opinion should have had a shower in it but..). Upstairs on the first floor is a double bed-room with a terrace. There is a bathroom on this floor. In what would have been the roof area, which the builders have raised, is another bedroom, somewhat smaller and a large terrace, which has unimpeded views over the marina and the surrounding countryside. The buying process was all over very quickly. I made an offer which they refused, I then made another offer which they rejected and so I ended up paying the full price, 130,000 Euros. We then trooped off to the lawyers, who confirmed that the papers were clean (there were 2 neighbouring houses developed and sold by the same guy, so the lawyer had already organised clean papers) and we agreed on the terms of payment. 10% down and the balance within a month. The lawyer drew up the contract and we then had to go to the notary public to get the signatures witnessed and I had to go to the bank to empty my account! Fortunately we had the right amount on the account, otherwise it might have been a bit messy. We now have to transfer the balance from the UK to our local Euro account and we can then complete. So in theory I should be able to move in in about a week's time. I'll then have my hands full with getting furniture for the place and organising a kitchen. I'm reasonably excited but trying to keep a lid on it! Alison is coming out soon to help me decide what kitchen she wants ( I mean we want...!)

One of the things that I've been thinking about doing here is setting up in business to furnish houses for all the foreigners that are buying here. So, having to furnish our own place will be a good trial run. I don't think it would be very capital intensive - just a website with pictures and prices on it and the cost of either hiring or buying a van. The idea was given to me by a British estate agent who is working out here. He's been trying unsuccessfully to get some locals interested in the idea but they don't seem to have picked up on it yet. Certainly housing and related services seems to be the way to make a living here. More on that in due course.

I had a couple of friends out from London for a few days recently,. It was great to see them and to have the opportunity to talk complete nonsense with other people who are on the same wave-length. We spent some time on the beach, wandered round Porec and Rovinj and went up into the hills for a day. We went to Groznjan which I've not been to before. I really liked Groznjan, in fact is probably now my favourite place in Istria. It's another hill-town, with fantastic views over to Mount Ucka and down to the Mirna valley. It's like a smaller version of Motovun and doesn't have a lower town. It is famous as a musical haunt. There are several  music schools in the town and we heard several people practising, which made a pleasant change from the usual diet of Croatian pop and folk. The government had a policy in the 60s for encouraging musicians and artists to move there, to help prevent de-populisation and now it is a kind of mini-Glyndebourne, with concerts and festivals throughout the summer. The streets are all cobbled and it is pretty much impossible to drive in the town. It has been gentrified, but still has a lot of charm and character. For some reason the hill towns are never that busy so are a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of the coast. I would expect them to be full of Japanese tour buses, but they still seem undiscovered. We also went to some of the other inland towns which were all pretty much deserted. There are loads of ruins and derelict houses in the towns, but the ones that are derelict are probably never going to be sold because of the problems with tracing the owners who may well have fled after the war or something. Daf suggested that the government should try to free up the property market by imposing a deadline for owners to come forward, then nationalising the property and offering it for sale under certain conditions - i.e. that it must be renovated within the original footprint and can't be sold on  within a certain time. It might well bring a lot more money into the economy, although most of the property would only be occupied in the summer months. Better that though, than a ghost town all year round. It's a pity in a way that the marauding hordes don't venture out beyond the coast, but it does mean that for those that want to visit the places are still accessible and very pleasant

Talking of marauding hordes, we are now in the peak tourist season. The Italians have arrived for Ferragosto and the place is packed. My landlady and all her neighbours are fully booked now and the coast road into and out of Porec is heavily congested. There are tailbacks up to 3 miles just to get into Porec. Funnily enough though there is always space on the beaches. I've taken to going via the inland routes to avoid the coast road. It's a longer route, but I hate being stuck in traffic - I'd rather enjoy the scenery inland. I do of course have my bike and can use that to get into and out of Porec. I even rode it to my tennis lesson the other day - typically though it took me twice as long as I'd anticipated. I think I'm finally beginning to get the hang of tennis - not that Dave and Daf would agree after our fiasco of a mis-match the other day, but I'm finally beginning to get away from trying to play squash on a tennis court! So that might be useful for the future. At some point I'm going to have to hang up my footy boots and find something else to do to keep fit. And given that tennis is quite a sociable thing to do it seems to fit the bill on all accounts. I also quite fancy taking up Bocce, the local equivalent of boules - I mean, how difficult can it be? If the French can do it... I've also seen a version recently where they just chuck stones...

I've now got some visiting cards made up for my exploratory trips into the countryside (also known as cold-calling!). Darinka, my landlady has just put a bit of a downer on that, pointing out that they've printed my croatian number wrongly! I'm going to have to tippex out the offending digit on all 200 cards. I only noticed the obvious mistake, that they spelt my surname Koney! I mentioned previously that I've started recently calling in at country villages and asking if the locals know anyone that wants to sell. It may not lead to anything but it gives me something to do, it gets me off the beach and helps me to speak Croatian, so all in all it's a reasonable way of spending my time I think. I recently went to see a great house, through an agent, in the north of Istria, near the Slovenian border, in a small village, Baredine, (see the link on the properties page). It's a big house, some 240m2, detached, at the beginning of a small village with enough land around it for a garden and pool. It's about  100 years old and is structurally very sound. From the one side there are great views over the surrounding hillside, looking out over Groznjan, Motovun and the Ucka mountain. From the front of the house there are views down to the coast. It is set in a kind of courtyard with a row of houses to the side and the front. I went back to see it the next day with Roger, my builder friend and he thought it was a good buy. We took a ladder with us and climbed up in to the house to have a better look (probably breaking and entering, but this is Croatia where things are a bit more relaxed). Inside, the stone walls are in very good condition, and there are a lot of beams and other materials that could be salvaged and re-used. Downstairs in the barn is an old Istrian horse-drawn carriage. The owner was asking for 70,000 euros which seemed way under-valued. Obviously I was getting very excited at this point and fantasising about where we would locate the pool and how well we would get on with the neighbours.

One of them happened to be there and we got chatting, as you do in the villages here. He put a slight dampener on things by saying that he thought the owner had bought from the local commune and therefore wouldn't be able to sell for a certain number of years. He invited us for a glass of wine in his konoba. He makes it himself and has a couple of big barrels on the go. It was surprisingly palatable, better than a lot of the bottled stuff they sell. I definitely find that I prefer the local home-made stuff to anything that is available in the shops - with the exception of Dingac, which is excellent but generally very expensive, about 10 a bottle. He was very chatty and told us how he used to work as the sales manager of a factory in Zadar, making equipment for the textile industry. As seems to be the case here though, he lost his job when the factory was sold, for a pittance, during the war. It seems that the Croatians have gone the Russian rou(let)te for selling companies, under-valuing them and selling them to cronies who asset strip. Our would-be neighbour is now working as a security guard and has bought another house in the village which he is hoping to renovate and sell on. We tried to find out if he was interested in selling now, at the right price, but somehow things got a bit confused in the translation so that I'm not sure whether he wants to sell or not. He did mention that someone else in the lower village was interested in selling though, which could be useful to know.

Roger actually featured in an item on Croatian television about foreigners who have bought old Istrian stone houses. They did an interview with him at his beautiful home in the Istrian interior (a bit Hello magazine that!). They also featured a  German estate agent who mentioned how high the demand was. The program was broadcast on Thursday night and typically when I rang the estate agent on Friday about my new dream home she told me that the owner, having seen the item on the news had decided to up the price to 100,000! Talk about rampant inflation. Admittedly it was under-priced before, but why oh why did the news item have to be on that evening? The same thing happened to us last year. We got back from Istria having decided to buy here and within a week there was an item on the BBC news about how Croatia was the latest property hot-spot which has spurred a surge of interest from the UK. I sometimes think that someone up there has got it in for me... The agent also mentioned that there were some issues with the local commune, so our would be neighbour was not far off the mark. One to keep an eye on.

Time for me to get this uploaded to the web and then it's on with the my trunks and off to the beach I think. Well it is Sunday after all...

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Last modified: 10/17/04