2012: January to June; Progress at last

June 2012
No progress on the house during the early part of the month, but Vasko is finishing off a major reconstruction of an old stone palace in Perast for a Russian client, which is scheduled to be handed over by 17 June. Work started in early January and the Russian had previously thought it would take at least a year – not with Vasko who seems to work 24 hours, 7 days a week. We get the final plans from Elisabeth in the middle of June so Vasko can start on the rest of the details – statics, electrical, water &c – which are needed to get building permission. He is aiming to make a start on construction once the summer moratorium on building ends in the middle of August. The moratorium is an annual ban during the peak tourist season; it’s too hot anyway.

We set off for our annual visit to UK a week after this excitement, hoping that Vasko will have something to show us on our return in early July.

May 2012
The month starts off with the find of a baby tortoise in the garden, whom we name Ludwig. Sadly he has obviously suffered severe trauma due to the grass being cut by a strimmer, and has a damaged foreleg and right eye. He dies later in the day. Interestingly he must have been born in the same clutch of eggs as Karl, as they are almost identical sizes and weights (18g, 4cm long, 3.5cm wide & 2.3cm high). Karl emerged some weeks ago from his hibernation and tucks in to his daily supply of fresh lettuce. Anke plants some clover in ‘Karlsplatz’ which allows him to eat fresh clover as well – one of his favourite foods along with tomato.

The Ilic family’s slava takes place as normal on the 6th. We decide to give it a miss this year and spend a lovely day driving and sightseeing via Trebinje to the Arboretum at Trsteno, just north of Dubrovnik. It is a lovely mild sunny day, and we return home late after a pleasant dinner in Cavtat. The following day is spent getting the house back to normal, in terms of putting back our furniture, computers &c, all of which had to be moved out to make room for the slava.

Also on the 7th, James gets a call from Paul Lüftung, the ventilation firm we have been in contact with about equipment for the house. This is followed by a quotation, very reasonable price. James has further questions, as Paul’s quote does not include cooling. He has another long phone call with them about 2 weeks later, when it becomes clear that we don’t need a ventilation system in our part of the world. This is supported the next day by Elisabeth, who has just got the results of the PHPP (PassivHaus-Projektierung-Paket) calculations. Significantly, as we are in a Mediterranean climate, we do not need the 25cm of insulation which is more or less standard in Central Europe, but can achieve the same energy results with only 12cm, and double glazing not triple. All good news for costs!

Later in the week of the slava, we go to Herceg Novi to meet the Mediterranean Garden Society members who are on a tour of Montenegro. Some extremely erudite and expert people and so a very interesting evening.

May is normally a pleasantly warm dry month. Not this year, with frequent rain and generally cool. We get even colder and wetter by travelling to northern Germany at the end of the month for a family gathering – rain most days and about 20°C colder than Risan.

April 2012
We spend Easter (Catholic) in Assisi, mainly to see Brother Tom before he returns to UK at the end of his tour of duty as Chaplain to the Anglican community there. Raining and generally wet, but a joy to be in such a beautiful town. The congregation is so welcoming too. We stay in a delightful hotel (Albergo dei Viaggiatori) close to the main square.

Mixed progress on the house. Vasko comes up with some proposals. A major one is raising the whole building by one level, so that the cellar is no longer semi-underground but fully at ground level. This avoids excavating material for the cellar, so saves costs. He also proposes putting the parking on the south-west corner, immediately off the road, instead of accessing from the north-west corner. His argument is that the slope on the original position will be too steep, that we need a wall on the south-west side anyway, and it saves building another one on the north-west side. From our point of view, while we have the top floor higher, it also means we have to climb up more stairs!

James is asked by the government’s Office for Sustainable Development to present some ideas on the Green Economy at a 2-day conference on 24th & 25th. This takes place in a luxury hotel in Kolasin, about an hour and half up-country from Podgorica. Very interesting. While there we visit a lovely exhibition of photographs by Miroslav Jeremic of mountain flowers to honour the botanist and environmentalist Danijel Vincek who established the Dulovine botanic garden near Kolasin. On the way back we try to take the inland road across to Savnik and then Niksic, but get stopped by snow still blocking the road at about 1000m up the pass towards Savnik – clearly no-one had been further since the snow had fallen.

March 2012
Much of March is taken up with Green Building Council matters. After our regular Board meeting on 1st, we are heavily into organising a seminar in Podgorica on Friday 16th. James presents the Passive House concept, naturally with particular mention of our own house. All the other speakers are Montenegrin. We had planned for about 60 to 70 attendees. In the event, over 120 turn up (and stay), so it is highly successful. Then at the end of the month, we have the annual Assembly meeting (AGM) with a meeting of the newly elected Board, which again means James preparing all the paperwork.

Movement continues on the house front. Elisabeth and her assistant Oliver produce a revised design to meet the UTUs and local architectural preferences. This concerns mainly the roof, which is now a simple two-sided sloping roof, facing south and north. They manage to satisfy most of our wishes in the required space as well, amazingly.

Among all these activities, Anke finds time to make about 5kg of delicious marmalade using up the last of the season’s oranges from the trees around the stone house, including some grapefruit we were given. On the plot we find that the vine which had been removed last year has re-sprouted from its deep roots. We are thrilled about this, as Vasko tells us we can make use of ‘Le Beton’ and reshape it, so the vines can stay. We still have some of the grape jam made two years ago – eaten sparingly as it is seriously delicious.

February 2012
Billie gives us a translation of the UTUs. Slight confusion over the requirement for the top floor where it states: ‘Potkrovna etaza podrazumijeva visinu nadzitka od 1.20m.’ [translated as ‘Loft space assumes height above the wall of 1.20m.’ ]. We are not clear if this is telling us we must have an attic top floor – ie the roof slope being the ceiling to a wall 1.2m high, or just a minimum requirement, allowing us to have a full-height top floor. Billie introduces us to a most useful contact, Vasko, who is a degree engineer with a wife who is an architect. He advises us to get Elisabeth to draw up a design which we take to the municipality and discuss with the planners. There was a change in the law about a year ago, and now all building projects have to have a qualified engineer (ie degree) in charge – which is why Billie introduced us to Vasko. He fulfils several criteria for us, primarily being local, so that there will be knowledge transfer to local people. Also his wife went on a study tour in 2009 organised by the Austrian Development Agency to Steiermark to look at energy efficient wooden buildings. Elisabeth’s house in Graz was one of the buildings they all saw.

February is also the month when we have our Burns Supper, later than the traditional time around Robert Burns’ birthday of 25 January, as back at the end of November we choose a day when grandson Alec can come out to pipe for us. That is Friday 17th, just at the end of his half-term. Sadly with his GCSEs in the summer, at the start of January a family decision is taken that he must stay and study to catch up on preparation. Our other main organiser, Robin, manages to find a substitute, Graham Neil. The evening itself goes well, although numbers are well down on previous years. One reason is the country-wide state of emergency introduced after extremely heavy snow 10 days before – only essential vehicles are allowed on the streets in Podgorica (buses, taxis, no private cars) which erases our guest list. We decide with Robin that the effort is not worth the result, so this is the last one we will organise.

The following week we fly up to Belgrade for a Green Building Council expo and conference. Snow still on the ground there, and near zero temperatures. Conference excellently organised by our Serbian GBC counterparts (a 3-day event), and we also manage to catch up with friends there, so all-in-all a useful excursion. A serendipity is our meeting with representatives of Knauf, the insulation people, with whom Anke makes a pitch for help with the insulation for our house.

January 2012
As normal the first half of the month is a wash-out for anything to do with business. All government offices shut on 31 December for New Year, and Orthodox Christmas is on 7 January.

Anke decides that we should introduce the Scottish custom of ‘first-footing’ our neighbours. In Scotland, this is actually done in the wee small hours immediately after midnight introduces the New Year. As we need an interpreter, we persuade Goran’s mother, Antonija, to go around with us during the afternoon of the 1st. As is proper, we take something to eat (Anke made Dundee cake especially) and something to drink (whisky of course). Normally we should also take something for the house, but we feel that is too complicated, so modify the custom for local conditions! Unsurprisingly, we are well received, especially the whisky!

Our landlord Goran, as in previous years, prepares a whole lamb on the day before Badnjak (Christmas Eve) which is then roasted on a spit over an open wood fire for about 6 hours during Badnjak. As we are non-Orthodox, we are allowed to have some hot that evening – delicious. The family and other friends who came to ‘assist’ – ie chat and drink rakija – have to eat fish on Badnjak, and cold lamb on Christmas Day (Božić). Goran kindly invites us to join him for dinner on Christmas Day, so we get to eat cold lamb as well!

Domestic activities include Anke using up the kiwis to make 3kg jam.

We get the UTUs (Urbanistički Tehnički Uslovi = urbanistic technical requirements)! Although they are signed off on 10 January, we do not get them until the 31st, as Billie, who organised the application for us, is out of the country on holiday until the beginning of that week (when schools restart after the break).

© all text and photographs, except where individually credited to other sources: James Collins