ll Nick's Croatian Adventure! 

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Fri 24 Sep

It's been a long time since I last wrote anything. Not really sure why that is as I've not been particularly busy or anything. I've been out and about a lot, but not with any great purpose. That might even be part of the reason - the fact that I don't have a set routine or anything at the moment.

I moved into Funtana on Sunday 12th September. Alison was with me and she was keen to move in as soon as we could - it makes sense for me to be here in the house, sorting it out and putting things in and up. We had to sleep on campbeds for the first few nights but then the bulk of the furniture arrived and I now have a bed, wardrobe, desk and chair in the bed room and beds in the spare room. In the lounge we have a couple of sofas, a dining table and chairs and of course the most important items, a tv and a dvd/cd/radio combination. It's had quite a lot of use since I bought it, I must say - I have the radio on most of  the time and try to listen as much as I can. I can hire DVDs from the local video shop (a pound a day, a steal) and it means that I can pause the film and note the vocabulary. My list of expletives has grown considerably. If only I could be bothered to learn what I'm writing down..! Unfortunately though not having conversation everyday at home has had an effect on my Croatian, as has the fact that I've had English speaking guests. I couldn't even remember the words for hot and cold the other day - very embarrassing.

We ended up spreading our net quite wide to get furniture and fittings. As I was in Italy anyway for a weekend I went to the new-home-owners delight, IKEA. I have to say that for all we knock it, it does provide a one-stop shop and although I think a lot of the stuff is tack, it's cheap and serves a purpose. Unfortunately though, as is their wont, they didn't have in stock the one thing I actually liked (as opposed to liked the price of). So that meant I had to go to Graz in Austria, some four hours  drive away. I have to admit that I'd always had a bit of a downer on Austria and Austrians ever since I tangled with some hippies on the beaches of Portugal many years ago, but people were very helpful and friendly. I couldn't understand half of what they were saying though, even if it is supposed to be German. There is a well-preserved old town (or maybe it has been re-constructed since the war?) and a castle on the hill with good views of the town and surrounding district. Going up towers for the view has definitely been one of the constants of my trip - I've been up more towers than Donald Trump recently. It was noticeable that the temperature was a lot chillier in Austria - the sun was warm but there was a definite nip to the air. I also had to partake of Graz hospitality as the car broke down and I had to get it fixed there. Fortunately though, there is a Saab dealer in the town itself and they managed to sort me out quickly, and again helpfully, in the morning.

You have to pass through Slovenia on the way to Austria. One of the strange things about Slovenia is their motorway toll booths. Rather than picking up a ticket and paying when you come off at one of the exits, you pay at the beginning of the stage, irrespective of how far you are travelling. You also have to pay every 50kms or so, which means that you have to keep stopping - not sure whose idea that was, but it certainly doesn't help to keep the traffic flowing. The motorways though are pretty good. They're pretty much brand new as well, and they haven't finished building yet so there is still a sizeable chunk of single lane traffic from the Slovenian border to Postojna where the caves are located. You pass a very impressive looking motorway bridge, with a span of several kms, which looks as though it is nearing completion. I ended up going back to Slovenia a couple of days later to buy stuff in Obi, the German owned equivalent of B&Q or some such - it's a lot cheaper than in Croatia even though the standard of living and the economy is a lot better in Slovenia.

One of the things I still don't understand about Croatia is how come everything is so expensive. Things aren't actually more expensive than the UK, but given that the average wage here is about 400 pcm, then buying an iron for 25 is actually quite a lot of money for people here, equivalent to paying say 100 in the UK. Some things are cheaper and quite good quality in Croatia, such as bedding and linen, but there seems to be a  distinct lack of domestically produced home wares - the majority of the stuff in the shops is either German or Italian, so it tends to be quite good quality, but with an appropriate price tag. Even Olive Oil is as expensive as in the UK, although they grow and produce the stuff themselves. They tell me that the local stuff is very good quality with a stong flavour, hence the price.

I still don't have a kitchen as such and so am using our camping stove, although the fridge and other white goods arrived a couple of days ago. So I've left them in their boxes but spread them around what will be the kitchen area to provide a rather more robust work surface than the incredibly useless plastic garden  table we bought for the patio. I even fixed up the sink but haven't actually plumbed it in yet as I need an adapter. The plumbing installations here seem to be quite practical - even I should be able to fix up the sink without too much hassle, just by screwing the hoses onto the mountings - no need for complicated pressure joints or soldering, the plumbing comes out of the wall and there is a handle on the end which opens the valve onto which you screw the mountings - simple. Bound to be a German standard. Hopefully the kitchen should be arriving next Thursday which will make life here rather more comfortable. Not that it's uncomfortable really - I seem to have settled in quite well. As we have two terraces I had hoped to be able to spend a lot more time out on them in the evening with a bottle of wine, admiring the great views over the marina. Unfortunately thought the weather has not been consistently good enough. It has been quite changeable recently. We've had some pretty hairy storms -  with pouring rain for hours on end and the Bura blowing up a gale. As I said, it was a good thing that I moved in as I've noticed that the front door is not storm-proof ; when it pours we get flooding (well puddles of water) down stairs so I need to get that sorted out. If I hadn't been living here I would not have known about it and so would have come out to a ruined floor probably... Not a nice thought. The nights are definitely chillier and I've had to buy some extra blankets - we seem to have more bedding here than at home now. After the Bura has blown though, the views are incredible. I could see the snow on the Alps the other day from here in Funtana. Everyone that comes here comments on the view. They also say how nice they think the house is, so I'm encouraged by that.

I've now met all the immediate neighbours as well as some of the other people from the village. In front of us is Marko, who sold us the house, with his Mum. I know it makes him sound like Ronnie Corbett, but he's actually a nice guy. To our immediate right is Werner and his family from somewhere in southern Germany. The family only use it as a holiday home, although given that they are self-employed I get the impression they get a lot of holiday! He's a bit of a techno-freak and has fixed me up with a telephone line as well as an ethernet connection to his server, which has saved me the expense and the bother of getting a telephone installed. We're also going to share the cost of an ISDN line, which will give us a phone line each and a 64/128k data stream depending on who else is using it at the time. Better than the current 36K limit which we have. The phone line reception is noticeably worse here than it was in Porec. There is a lot of hissing on the line (or maybe that's Alison grinding her teeth!).Unfortunately ADSL hasn't made it this far yet (although it has to Porec). We are down on the waiting list, and HT (the Croatian equivalent of BT) are "working as quickly as possible" on the upgrade. According to Werner though, given that they are 99% owned by Deutsche Telekom, this doesn't amount to much so I'm not holding my breath. I've also noticed that the mobile phone connection here to the UK is poor - with a lot of hissing on the line; although my GPRS signal seems to be pretty constant (in case anyone is thinking of bringing a laptop out here any time!).

Beyond Werner is an Italian family. Again it is only their holiday home so I haven't met the father yet, although I did meet the daughter last weekend. It was really warm here then and certainly hot enough to spend the day at the beach. The sea is still reasonably warm as well.

Baredine is plodding along in the background. The company has been formed and I am now waiting for a tax number before I can open a company account to  complete the purchase. This should happen early next week, after which we can complete. Then I need to sort out an architect and building team and decide whether we want to split it into two properties or consolidate into one. I am quite keen to add another floor as that will mean that we have better views over to the sea ( at the moment the best views are to the northeast, inland). Of course this means more expense but hopefully also means that it will be viable as two developments with shared grounde s at the back. I went up there again last week with some friends from the language course in Zadar and met the other neighbours. They were demolishing a sty in the garden at the time. It turns out the seller is his nephew and they were keeping their animal feed in the derelict part of the house. So now they will have to find somewhere else to house it. They also thought that one of my friends must be my wife, but decided she was too young! Charming!

On the tourist front, the season is pretty much officially over now. Funtana, which apparently is known for its restaurants and for the fact that its inhabitants are wealthy (fat chance!) - (when most of the hotels and restaurants were state run, there were a lot of privately owned restaurants in Funtana), is very quiet, although one restaurant in particular seems to do very well, having a full house whenever I've been past it. There is a lot of choice of restaurants here and I feel quite spoiled. I've cooked at home a couple of times and had my first dinner guests, my landlady and her family, but in the spirit of investigation have eaten out a fair bit as well so that I can make my recommendations.

Well that will do for now. When the kitchen has been installed I'll put some more pictures up on the web as I know that's what you guys like best.

Bok!

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Last modified: 10/17/04