Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 48

A haircut in Siberia with Rakija

Some Gremlins got into last week's online blog, causing just the sort of problems Gremlins do with electronic devices. 

Hopefully this week, after a lot of bright sunshine, they will all have melted away!

The bright sunny early winter days have meant that a lot of progress has been made on the building front. 

The concrete step formwork was removed on Sunday and I did a tidy up of the small pieces of foam insulation, which had started to blow around in the Bura wind. 

Everything went into the recycling bins on Monday, but after the builders had a very busy day on Monday, I had another big bag full of Styrofoam and insulation offcuts, to take for recycling.

Monday was all about patching holes in the old cottage walls, washing walls with an industrial pressure washer and getting everything ready for putting the final coats of weatherproofing screed onto the walls. 

However, that is not going to happen until next week. 

Two specialist in the art of getting mortar to stick to walls are in Bosnia until early next week, so rather than rush the job, I agreed to wait until the right people are here to make it go well.

​This has allowed me some time to do some of the jobs I need to do. Starting with a deep clean of the inside of the loft, followed by filling of the small holes which have been left between where the ceiling plasterboard joins the walls. 

I have ordered a Back and Decker TLD 100 Thermal Leak detector, but it has not arrived yet from the UK.

This is one of these new pieces of technology, which just a few years ago would have been prohibitively expensive - if available to the public at all. A spin off from military equipment, it detects changes in temperature and using digital technology gives temperature readings as well as indicating with a coloured laser where the hot or cold air blast is coming from. 

It beats holding a lit candle up to windows, doors and wainscots to see where the air movement is coming in.

In a very old property like mine, there will always be draughts and leaks, but this will help identify them and once identified, they can be plugged. 

In the Mediterranean climate, insulation gives double value. It keeps buildings warm in winter, but also cool in summer. I am "over insulating" if such a thing is possible. 

In the northern and southern latitudes, insulation and triple glazing are completely normal. Here it is really only applied to new buildings, with the old ways of very thick, solid walls and small windows used to minimise heat loss in the old buildings. 

Filling in the visible cracks is one thing, but the machine will identify any less obvious leaks.

After scraping the wooden floor to lift splodges of plaster and cement, I gave it a good mopping to remove the dust, then left the doors and windows open to allow it to dry. 

I spotted a couple of places where filling has been missed and went round with an expandable foam gun for the big gaps and a silicone filler for the small ones. With that, the loft is almost ready to fill - and I have lots of boxes to fill it with! I really need the storage space.

I am waiting for a full length double glazed door to be manufactured for the garden entrance to the loft. 

But as everywhere, bespoke window manufacture takes time, so I decided to make a temporary wooden door, so I can secure the loft and make it weatherproof.

Some of the original stone supports for the loft entrance which was there needed to be cut back, but the builder said that he was concerned that the type of stone which had been used would shatter if a heavy breaking hammer was used.

So I decided to cut the stone with a Stihl saw first, but I needed a 22 cm specialist blade for my saw before I could start.

​I had already made an appointment with my hairdresser for Thursday morning, and decided I would do an equipment shop at the same time. I set off for Stari Grad just before 8am, and as I came down the long slope from Dol, I could see that the whole of Stari Grad Plain was bathed in a layer of fog.

There was the usual winter temperature inversion, where I live was in relatively warm air, whereas the plain, which is where the cold air sinks to, holds it in and a layer of fog forms.

​Fog is the same as cloud - just water droplets suspended in the air. 

Cloud is above ground, fog is close to or touching the ground, or water. 

It is formed when the temperature and relative humidity are at or about the same temperature. Because of the effect of the warm Adriatic sea, which surrounds the island of Hvar, and a moist ground on the Plain, the result is fog. 

But as soon as the sun gains height in the sky, it quickly evaporates away.

My hairdresser runs her business from a salon in her home, which is at the cold end of Stari Grad. So cold, that the area is actually called Siberia - Šiberija.

On this morning, the lanes of the old town are completely deserted. Dew is present everywhere and the air feels noticeably cold.

When I reached the hairdressers, I was greeted with "Dobro jutro. Zima, zima!" - Good morning, It's Cold, Cold!" 

I agreed, and I was ushered into the warm kitchen by her mother, to await the hairdresser's return. I was asked if I would like a glass of Rakija, to keep out the cold. 

Although not yet 9am, I said yes, but was a little taken aback, when a liqueur glass was produced and then filled to overflowing.

I should say at this point, that I am not a great fan of Rakija. You can make Rakija out of any fruit, it is basically a fruit brandy - a liquid which is distilled and can be anywhere between 40% and 60% proof. 

If the volumetric alcohol content is less than 20%, people say it is not worth drinking!

Here on the island, the most common Rakija is made with the remains of the grapes. After the process of crushing the grapes and collecting the juice, which makes wine, you are left with the fruit and skins. This is allowed to ferment, in a separate container to make Rakija. 

Everyone does it at home, and they all taste different. My neighbours often put Myrtle berries in, which adds an interesting flavour, but any number of herbs can be added. 

You can make Rakija from olives, lemons and in northern Croatia, plums are a favourite ingredient. Each Croatian region has its own version.

When visiting someone's home , it is custom to be offered a glass, often accompanies by some melt-in-the-mouth wafer thin slices of Proscuitto and home made bread. 

I find some of my neighbours Rakija a little strong - the sort of tipple which grips you by the throat and squeezes, hard.

What I do like, and which is also generally offered as an alternative is Prošek, a sweet wine liqueur.

I took a sip of the Rakija I had been offered. Now I am not sure if it was just having come in from a cold street outside, or the warmth of the kitchen, but it was nice - very, very nice. 

It certainly excited the taste buds, but rather than gripping you by the throat, this chestnut coloured liquid slid ever so easily across my pallet and down my throat.

There is a tradition in some places that you down the glass of beverage you have been given in one go. 

I don't, rather sipping it to enjoy the flavours of sun drenched fields, musky soils and herbs. I finished the glass and had a haircut, then went outside. 

I could immediately feel the 'effects' of the Rakija, and called in at a little bakery for an apple strudel, as so much home made Rakija on top of a light breakfast is not good!

Once back home with all the materials and tools I needed, I set about cutting the stones.

This created vast quantities of white dust - all across the newly mopped floor, and outside. When the builders arrived, they said I looked like a snowman - something I hadn't appreciated until I looked in the mirror before showering. I had been using a face mask, ear defenders and eye protection, but everything else looked like a well powdered wig. What didn't get washed in the shower went in the laundry basket.  Meanwhile the builders were applying render to the old walls.

Friday came and I cut the first piece of timber for the door, as a trial cut. 

Putting it across the base and then checking with a level showed that the two cutouts I had made for the door frame were uneven, but getting into a right angle corner with a circular cutting disk is difficult.

​I thought about using some packing wedges, but decided, following the way I have always been taught, that "if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well", that I should use a small breaking hammer and chisel to level the two sides.

​With this done, I cut the two metre verticals and then the various horizontal pieces.

A check of the base horizontal and it is now level.

Moving to the inside of the utility room, I easily removed the old wooden window frame, and then cut a fillet so that I have a step riser of 18 cm. 

With this fixed in place, I cut the first of two open stringers for either side.

​But the more I looked at it, the less satisfied I was with what I had made. 

Because the walls are out of shape, I could see daylight round the side of the fillet and the first wooden tread I had cut. Although it was 70cm long, it needs to be longer and the stringers need to be longer so they are fixed to the beams as well as the walls.

With the light starting to fade, I cut some more stringers, then put the tools away for the day. First job on Saturday - which actually took all morning - was to cut and shape a new fillet board and the first tread of the step, then fix the stringers to the walls on either side of the doorway.

​This was problematic, because the walls are held together with lime mortar and the assistance of gravity. 

As you can see on the left of the photograph above, as soon as I put the long fixing screw into the wall plug, the mortar disintegrated. 

It took a lot of careful drilling and a couple of extra holes, before I had the stringers securely fixed in place.

Next came the cutting of lap joints in the uprights, followed by routing out a rebait for some glass to put in the window below the step tread.

I found it easier to bring the tools up into the loft to work, than take the wood down to the workshop and then spend a lot of time going up and down adjusting the cut and the fit of the pieces.

As daylight was starting to fade on Saturday, I screwed the various pieces of the door frame together and then put the tools away. 

The frame fits where it touches.

Which isn't everywhere, because there is a mix of old and new walls. 

First job next week will be to fix the frame in place, and then fill the gaps with expanding foam. A quick check and the frame is completely square and vertical, which after all, is what I wanted.

​So at the end of another week, I already have a list of jobs to do​ starting tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, with the scaffolding still in place for the builders access, it continues to be a felines playground, where they can run and chase to their hearts content.

With the arrival of winter, the nights are noticeably cooler, but in the sun during the day it is still warm. 

Butterflies can still be seen, and this week I have seen one of our Hummingbird Hawk Moths. They find somewhere dry and dark to hibernate in for the winter, but emerge on warm days to forage for nectar. 

I noticed this week a video on the BBC, reporting that some of the same moths have been found in Northern Ireland this year. 

Much like the tiny hummingbirds found in North America, these little moths also travel very long distances.