Wednesday, January 04, 2006

My place in the Sun

My short journey from Girona airport to the house on January 28th. 2005 was filled with quite reasonable expectations of an escape from cold and damp Britain. There was a lot of work to do on the house and there would be considerable disruption, we needed to have all the contractors working as a team to minimize delay and meet our spring deadline.

As the sun set over the mountains, the taxi driver cheerfully told me that on the past two days the temperature had climbed to 20 degrees C. Spring was on the way!

My first task was to drive to Olot and speak to the double glazing company about their pending installation work. Olot is higher than our house and set in a volcanic area surrounded by high terrain. The mountain air was fresh, cool and invigorating. As the sun began to set I started out on my journey home, the car thermometer was reading low. And then it snowed, and how it snowed. The cold mountain air swirled the snow flakes in the car headlamps, as features of the landscape disappeared into the blizzard then so did the road. A forty minute journey took twice as long in the treacherous weather.

The weather we had come to Spain to avoid was all around us. A Siberian winter was unfolding. The snow did not last long the air was freezing but devoid of moisture. The strong Traumontana winds blew for 45 of the first sixty days of 2005, the wind chill of all wind chills. Spring was no longer on the way! February was cold. So cold in fact that I heard of some expats who left Spain and returned home to face an English winter.

I had travelled out alone to arrange for central heating to be fitted prior to decorating and the later furniture shipment. We had spent several months researching the different systems, and wished to install a geo-exchange ground pump to extract energy from the ground of the large agricultural part of the finca. To this end, I had contacted the representatives of Spain on the international bodies responsible for the promotion of renewable energy for advice as well as several large scale commercial engineering organizations.

The rocky nature of the land meant that excavation or drilling was expensive. The companies which all had glossy web presentations, seemed to lack confidence in their own abilities when the specifics of the task were discussed. The heat pump was not viable.

Underfloor heating for a house of 316 m2 was also cost prohibitive, we had to settle for radiators.

The massive disruption caused during the installation had to be seen to be believed 9" of concrete had to be excavated to take the water pipes; and so in the end had to budget to re-tile the whole of the house as well.

One particularly cold afternoon the North African heating engineer ran out into the garden whooping with delight

"It's snowing! It's snowing never in my life have I seen snow" he called to me.

"Really! I returned only one week ago and already I've seen it twice" I replied with slightly less enthusiasm.

Now, as I pack my bags to return to the Spanish Costa Brava after a winter sunshine holiday I am watching nervously as the thermometer keeps falling; and reading of the record number of UK ski and snow board tourists arriving at Girona airport en-route to Andora.

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