A Koroškan Christmas

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The car thermometer read -7c as I arrived at Breg house at around 9pm, just two days before Christmas day, 2016. A thick, crystal frost covered the inside of the windows downstairs, the temperature being just a few degrees warmer than on the other side of the glass. It was going to be a big test for the house: five people, freezing temperatures and water shortages, for one whole week. How would it fare?

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I sat directly in front of the new, red wood burner, transfixed on the building fire, the only source of heat upstairs. I wore several layers and could see my breath condensing in the cold air of the room. By the time I retired to my bed on that first night, I had managed to raise the temperature inside the lounge to a comparatively barmy 10c. No such luxury for my bedroom, which was at just 5c.

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Due to water problems (which I initially had been led to believe was due to a local drought but turned out to be something much simpler to fix) – there was no water in the house when I arrived, so I had to use Stefka’s homemade schnapps to wash my hands!

It was a back to basics Christmas; daily tasks centred around life’s most essential requirements: warmth, water and food. Sawing wood, filling log baskets and keeping the fire alive was a ongoing task. And due to a temporary water shortage, we had to fill containers from a stainless steel wine tank that friend and local legend Rajko had lent me and had filled by the fire brigade. This sat in the garden and gave us a temporary supply before it eventually froze over, by which time my natural spring supply had started to kick in.

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It was a very cold and dry spell of weather for Mezica, dropping as low as -10c for several nights. This created crystalline, frozen forests, and sharp air. We took walks up and down from the house, spying a gams (chamois) twice; visited the frozen lake of pirkdorfersee, and went cross country skiing.

The house fared well. Though the downstairs corridor never rose above freezing, (being unheated and largely glass walled) the bedrooms (each heated by an electric oil filled radiator) were perfectly comfortable, and the lounge and kitchen were kept cosy by the newly installed stove (nicknamed ‘the post box’ by my brothers, due to it resembling the colour and, to some extent, shape of the British Pillar boxes.)

It was a Christmas with a difference; no roast turkey (no oven), no crackers, no tv, and a limited supply of presents (luggage restrictions) but it was great to have some genuine quality time with the family, and just enjoy the simple things: fire, food, conversation and homemade, Slovenian snaps. A happy Christmas.

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