28 May 2008

Village House or Villa?

This week, as we have been driving around looking at properties, we have been struck by the blurring of the lines defining properties. In the past if you said ‘village house for sale’ it usually meant a small house, either just renovated or needing serious work, and if you said ‘villa for sale’ it meant large property in a secluded position. No longer!

We have been considering at least three properties which seem to bridge the gap. In Skripero the wonderful Designer House is a stunning, absolutely classic property, immaculately designed and fitted but located in a village with all the advantages and amenities of village life.

The Gallery House in the north-east of the island is indeed technically in a tiny village but it has the modern aspects of a villa, plus stunning sea views from an attractive deck, parking and good access to Aharavi – virtually a villa with atmosphere and character.

One of the most recent properties to come into our portfolio is the amazing Boukari Bay View House. In the traditional village of Xlomos just above the south-east coast. This was two village houses which have been converted into one large house spread over two floors (with the possibility of a master bedroom suite in the loft) with classic ‘bodzo’ balcony and terraces all with panoramic views along the coast and down to the beautiful bay of Boukari (made famous for its fish restaurant by Rick Stein during his tour of the Mediterranean). The house has a terraced garden, with pergolas and a sense of privacy extremely rare in a village setting. The owners have kept the spirit of the classic village house, combined with contemporary kitchen and central heating.

For so long the word villa has implied ‘luxury house in secluded setting’ but many people would love to have the character and atmosphere of a traditional village but still have a high quality property. Increasingly now this is perfectly possible.

23 May 2008

Sorry, Your Call Cannot Be Taken

Mobile phones, love them or hate them, are part of our daily lives nowadays. Despite being almost the last of my friends to get one, mine is always with me, religiously charged up every night and I feel totally lost without it. Very occasionally I will forget it in the car or lose it under the seat but generally speaking, although I say it myself, I am pretty good at picking up and returning calls.

Yesterday I went for a walk around loved-one's villas while the visitors were out, to dead-head a few flowers and check that everything was looking the way it should. Dog on lead, I had no pockets in my trousers and handed my mobile to said loved-one to keep in his shirt pocket.

I was happily inspecting the geraniums when a few choice swear words came from the other side of the garden. Hearing the pump in the cesspit working, and knowing that there was nobody in the house to cause it to do so, he had opened up the lid, leant over and my phone fell from his pocket into the stinky depths. My new, super-dooper phone with functions which I don't even understand was at the bottom of the cesspit.

Later on Susan phoned Vodaphone for me to ask them to put a divert from my phone to hers until I could get into town and organise another one. They weren't able to do this without the actual phone inf ront of them, but were most insistent that they should put a block on outgoing calls incase anybody found it. This was even after they had been informed of its whereabouts!

Let's just say that loved-one was well and truly in the sh**.

22 May 2008

Treasure Hunt?

Sometimes looking at houses for sale is more like following a trail of clues. Yesterday we were in the village of Pelekas where we had an appointment to view a house for sale in the old part of the village. At the last minute its owner phoned to say he was strimming his fields and couldn't meet us in the village - "But never mind I will tell you how to find my house". Well, what with his rather indistinct pronunciation and the quality of the mobile phone signal, we were left with less that precise instructions as to the whereabouts of his house.

Parking on the side of the road we set off up a narrow alleyway to find his two storey house, "It's open, you won't need a key". According to the instructions the house was situated about 70 metres from the main road opposite ..."mumble, mumble, mumble". OK, we said to Diana, who had been on one end of the mobile - opposite what? "I couldn't really understand his Greek", came the reply - "Something like fournaro, but I'm not sure".

So off we set, up an alleyway looking for a two storey house that didn't need a key and was opposite ... something! After about 100m we were ready to give up when all of a sudden a huge stone chimney loomed splendidly ahead of us seemingly growing out of the ivy. Could that be our "something"? Must be "fourno" (oven) we reckoned and since there was a two storey house opposite, we chanced our luck and took photos and wrote a description.

As usual in a Corfiot village, the presence of strangers attracted some attention and a face appeared at a neighbouring window - looking at us! Sarah took the opportunity of acquiring some local knowledge and sought information about the vast chimney. "What is that, what does it do?" We were then treated to a concise description of a chimney - starting with "There is a lot of heat at the bottom and the smoke rises and comes out the top!" We had thought it must be some giant smoke-house (think herrings, sausages, etc) and the local gentleman obviously amused his mates over an ouzo later that day with the tale of the foreign women who didn't know what a fireplace was! Incidentally, the unknown "something" word was "fougaro" an old Italian word for chimney. And our photos were of the right house!

21 May 2008

Mountainside Meeting

Today we went looking at land and houses for sale in various parts of the island and took this photo of a chance meeting with walkers following the Corfu Trail (the footpath that runs from the south to the north of the island).

The picture shows the walkers, a local land-owner and a shepherd exchanging news and views.

18 May 2008

Safe to Cross - Or is it?

With the arrival of the summer season comes a new indication of 'tourist friendly' innovations - the pedestrian crossing.

I am not sure about other regions of the island, but in my southern area I have counted at least six bright yellow pedestrian crossings under construction at suitable points all along the main road, giving access to the beach, to supermarkets and restaurants.

There is only one problem with this. Unlike places such as the USA where drivers seem to anticipate when you are about to step on a crossing and wait for you to do so, Corfiot drivers have no appreciation of the finer points of allowing pedestrians to take precedence in crossing the roads in front of them.

I have a feeling that far from making the roads safer, we will be encouraging visitors to step out on the crossing, safe in the knowledge that drivers will stop - but they probably won't. Of course a sign prior to the crossing to warn drivers to stop for pedestrians might help - but that is probably another government department and as we well know, no two government departments work together.

So fingers crossed that most visitors have a knowledge of the local style of driving and think very carefully before they step out on those smart new crossings.

Musical Triumph

On Friday 9th May the final of the competition Eurovision Young Musicians 2008 took place in front of an audience of tens of thousands in the City Hall Square in Vienna. There were seven finalists, short-listed from sixteen European contestants aged 19 and under, and the winner was Dionysios Grammenos from Corfu!

Dionysios was born in Corfu in 1989. He took his first clarinet lessons at the age of eight at the Corfu Philharmonic. He is currently studying at the Athens Conservatory with professor Spyros Mourikis and will graduate next year.

What a wonderful achievement for our small island. Many congratulations to him.

Currency Exchange

Earlier this week we received the following email from one of the currency exchange companies we regularly deal with. It may be of interest to those planning to buy property in the near future.

As you are probably aware Sterling has been in somewhat of a freefall over the past 8 months and with the UK economy still suffering from the well publicised credit crisis this unfortunately looks set to continue.

Yesterday the Bank of England released their quarterly inflation report and the news from the central bank did not show any positive signs for the UK in fact quite the opposite. Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, stated that the outlook for the UK economy has "deteriorated markedly" and "the weakening in sterling's value could be prolonged". To combat the slowdown in the UK economy the central bank are preparing to cut rates again, possibly as soon as next month, so King's prediction of a weaker pound looks likely to occur sooner rather than later.

Therefore, if you or anyone you know have any upcoming currency requirements then please do not hesitate to contact me as I would be happy to discuss the options open to you including securing your exchange rate now up to an agreed date in the future with only an 11% deposit to protect yourself from any further drops in the market.

In the meantime I hope you are well and I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Kind regards,
Colm Gilhooly Desk Manager Foreign Currency Direct plc
0800 328 5884 / +44 1494 725353

17 May 2008

It's All In A Name

At a rather official meeting today listening to the participants, it struck me how strangely some Greek men's names sound to our English ears. The presiding lawyer today was being addressed by his colleagues by his first name "Philly". My mind wandered to other "odd" male Christian names. Our very butch lorry driver is known as "Lilly", a local chemist as "Fanny", our landlord as "Vicky" - I wonder if my fellow-bloggers can think of any others?

More About Birds

I was under the impression that they stopped hunting for birds this year. All the birds seem to have flight paths (like aeroplanes) and one of them is directly over my house. So I hear lots and lots of birds, which is very nice in the spring and summer. However in the winter when the hunters sit in front of my house in their cars with a cigarette in their mouth shooting bullets over my house at five in the morning, it's not so nice. Most of the time I call them all sorts of names, threaten them, phone the police (once they asked me what kind of gun it was!) This year however it was extremely quiet, so I thought I made a point the last few years and finally won. But then I found out that the law has changed. So yes birds you can all come back now. Be careful though as not all these sporting hunters listen to the new laws.

14 May 2008

A Corfiot Recipe - Artichoke Stew

8 small artichokes or 4 large ones. 2 lemons. Quarter pint olive oil. 1 onion, finely chopped. 4 large carrots. 14 very small whole onions. 4 large potatoes. 1 tsp flour. 1 bunch fresh dill, chopped or 1 tbsp dried dill. Salt and fresh ground pepper.

Trim the artichokes, cutting off the stem, the tough outer leaves, and the tops of the other leaves. Scrub them, rub then with lemon, and put them into well-salted water to keep them from turning black. Put the olive oil in a very large, fireproof casserole or pan and sauté the chopped onion in it while you prepare the other vegetables. Scrape the carrots and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Peel the whole small onions. Peel the potatoes and cut them into about 6 pieces each. Add all the vegetables except the artichokes to the hot oil and turn them over for a few minutes until the potatoes begin to turn golden. Add the flour and dill and stir very well. Take the pan off the heat and arrange the artichokes in it, fitting the onions and pieces of carrot and potato around them. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon, add some salt and pepper and add enough hot water to just cover the vegetables. Put on a tight fitting lid, and stew at 200 centigrade for 50 -90 minutes, depending on the size of the artichokes. The water should be simmering gently. Serve very hot. The liquid becomes a delicious sauce, just a bit thickened by the potatoes.

Greece's Ageing Population

Greece’s population is steadily getting older with one in three Greeks expected to be over the age of 65 by 2050, according to data released yesterday.

Figures from the National Statistics Service (NSS) show that people aged 65 or older would account for 31.5 percent of the total, up from 18.5 percent in 2006, and the population will shrink to 10.7 million from 11.17 million in 2006.

The NSS said life expectancy had risen to 77.1 years for males, from 75 years in 1995, and to 82 years for females. But the natural rate of population growth in the period 1995 to 2004 has been negative. The birthrate fell to its lowest levels in 2001, when there were 9.3 births per 1,000 people. But the fertility rate also increased slightly to 1.41 in 2006 (from 1.34 in 2005 and 1.32 in 1995). This is a theoretical rate calculated from the number of children born per woman of childbearing age.

Greece’s population, almost 11.2 million in 2006, has been increasing mainly due to immigration.

12 May 2008

Ton Myroforon

One of the churches in the village of Spartilas is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the second Sunday after Easter (ton Myroforon) is a major cause for celebration. On this day the Orthodox Church celebrate the anonymous myrrh-bearing women arriving at Christ's tomb early on the morning of the third day after his death to anoint his body. However, they found the tomb empty. An angel announced to them that Chist had risen and asked them to inform his disciples. Later on, Christ appears to these women and bids them to rejoice and today the Church celebrates the fearless dedication of these humble women. When everybody else (including Christ's disciples) were hiding and dispirited, these women did not hesitate to do what their love for their Master dictated. And although they had never been included in the inner circle of trusted disciples, it was to them that the Resurrection was first announced by the angel and by Christ himself.

At the end of the normal church service, the bells ring out and the procession forms up in the village street. At the very front is the large cross from the church, closely followed by the little girls from the primary school and younger tots, in pretty white dresses carrying baskets of flowers. Their proud Mums totter alongside encouragingly in their high heels. After them in these days of equality come the young boys, smart in their white shirts and blue trousers. Then are the village maidens, colourful in their silk robes and bearing bouquets of roses and lilies. The brass band of Ano Korakiana keep up a steady drumbeat and then break into a cheerful tune in front of the crowds lining the sides of the road.

The village choir follows, singing appropriate hymns and psalms, and then finally the Icon from the church preceded by several priests (Papas) in their finery. All the villagers follow behind, chattering and enjoying the sunshine and the spectacle.

This year the day was cloudy, which as a Mum with a little one in the parade I would have been glad of. Most years the day is glorious sunshine, and the slow march down to the church at the bottom of the village is long and very tiring, particularly on the way back up! We always feel sorry for the band carrying their instruments wearing those thick buttoned up uniforms.

Once back in the village, they go past the main village church (St Spiridon) onto the next one which is dedicated to St Elijah. Here some prayers are said, the choir sings another chorus, and they all turn round and go back again to the centre of the village. Once outside the church, all the girls throw their flowers infront of the Icon, as it is taken back into its place in the church.

For me, this is one of the nicest traditions of the village, and I love to see all the people who have moved away come back to join in. The people we see on a day to day basis as builders, butchers, carpenters take on a totally different role as Icon bearers, traffic directors and bell ringers, and all in their Sunday best.

In the evening the village hosts a fiesta at the church of the Virgin Mary, where the Spartilas football team organise a live band playing traditional music for everyone to dance. It's great to see old ladies dancing with young lads; they all know the steps and join in together. Can you ever imagine that happening in the UK? Lambs are roasted on spits, and bought by the kilo with a hunk of bread. All the proceeds go towards the football club and a great time is had by all. It's a great day and opportunity to see a whole village celebrating - put it into your diary for next year!

Musings of an Estate Agent

We have somewhere in the region of 400 properties for sale on the island, but during the past week we have been busy showing the same few houses to various different clients. On Friday three of us were out on the road with clients criss-crossing and exchanging keys and sharing opinions and comments, both positive and negative. Different types of would-be buyers, huge variations in location, but the same four or five properties!

The same sort of coincidence has been known to occur with houses that have been languishing unloved and unviewed for months when for no apparent reason we receive two offers within a few days.

In the past few months we have also received sight-unseen offers on several houses, two of these accompanied by unsolicited deposits to secure the deal. It's actually one of the scariest parts of the job - showing the house they have committed to buy to clients who have never seen it before! I hasten to add that in such cases we always send reams of photos and extremely honest descriptions of the property and the location.

It all makes life interesting, I suppose.

Don't you just love the beginning of summer in Corfu?

Welcome to the beginning of the season in Corfu. People might think it means we can take time to relax with a glass of wine. Wrong! Wearing my other 'family business' hat, we have some villas and apartment properties which we let through the summer and this is the time of year when I have to join in to help get them ready.

So, the villa in Halikouna opened on 5th May. We spent weeks getting it ready. It looked wonderful but why is it that everything that worked when we closed the house in October doesnt work now, including phone, TV, DVD etc. Then the clients, never having been here before, arrived on a glorious sunny day. So far so good. However, the next day it was raining and to make matters worse there was a general power cut for a large part of the day. The day after that the washing machine decided to stop working. Still I think they are enjoying their holiday in sunny, wet, no power but very pretty Corfu!

So that one is out of the way and hopefully will now be trouble free for the rest of the season. (Yes, and pigs might fly!) Next comes the St. George villa - new this year and although I think I have bought everything to equip it, there is always something missing and I shall spend the two days before the clients arrive shuttling to and from the shops buying the last few bits and pieces. No doubt everything that works today - washing machines, dishwashers etc. - will decide to break down the day they arrive.

Moving on to the apartments - mammoth job employing two people all winter, fixing taps, loos, painting, planting, cleaning, and me - washing bedspreads I don't trust to the laundry, with one minor problem - can't use the industrial washing machine as there is no water pressure because they are filling the swimming pool, so I start counting knives and forks to find that, as usual, some apartments have ten and others have none. How can so much stuff move from one apartment to another as if by magic? Work entails about a hundred trips up and down stairs, including re-allocation of toasters, working out which coffee machines heat and which don't, attacking limescale on taps with a toothbrush, trying to match cushions, bedspreads and rugs - they all matched last year, this year they don't.

I had everything worked out to virtually the last second. A client was arriving from Italy on a ferry at 08.30, so I arranged to meet him at 09.30 - only he arrived at 06.30 so I changed it to 08.30. I arranged to take cleaning ladies to a villa at 08.00 - but they didnt turn up until 08.30. I had a meeting with a client at 11.00 to look at two specific properties, but due to a complete lack of shared languages it turned out he wanted to see four properties in totally different areas, meaning that I drove nearly 150km in total and I am still not entirely sure that he saw everything he wanted to see. Add to that the fact that I was then nearly two hours late getting back to collect my cleaning ladies, so they are not speaking to me - and the day was just perfect! Seems whatever you do at this time of year you just can't win.

Still, no doubt after next week we will be able to sit back, everything will run smoothly and we can relax in our hot tub once in a while. (Somehow I don't think so!)

10 May 2008

New Bird on the Block

Is it just me, or are there more birds around than usual this year? We certainly have one newcomer with a beautiful voice that I have never heard before providing one more pleasure in these beautiful pre-summer days that we are experiencing in Corfu just now. The birdsong combined with the weather (you need a cardy when the sun goes behind a cloud) remind me so much of England on one of its better summer days. I just wish the dawn chorus wasn't - well, at dawn!

I too had noticed more birdsong this year but thought it was just my imagination! There seem to be generally more birds, making a lot more noise and fuss than usual. I wish this blog had sound so that I could add the "song" of the bird I keep hearing. It's not much of a song, more of a clatter, and I have never yet seen the bird that sends up such a racket, but I imagine it to be something fairly large.

Could the increase in birds be something to do with the olive trees not being sprayed anymore, so more insects for the birds to eat? Shouldn't that then follow that there will be more other wildlife like snakes, tortoises and hedgehogs, but I can't say I have noticed more of those on my twice daily dog-walks.

6 May 2008

A Few More Firsts

We've had the first swallow, the first orchid, even the first torpedo, so now I'm going to add a few more.

Last week I started my first hay-fever of the year. There is one particularly nasty little weed growing everywhere which really upsets me. I looked it up in my wild flower book, never expecting to find anything so horrible in there, but there is is, "Pellitory-of-the-Wall", a very grand name for a very insignificant looking plant. Jasmine also makes me sneeze a lot, so I am not able to have it near my house.

Over the weekend, I had my first frappé of the summer in the Nautilus bar at Garitsa, during that airport run. Very nice it was too, good and strong and not "nero-bloutz" (too watery) as my ex used to call the frappés which he says I used to make him. This one hit the spot and was served with a glass of water as it should be.

Then, alas, last night brought the first mosquito of the year which attacked me for what seemed like most of the night. I was unprepared, hadn't plugged anything into the electric socket or covered myself in repellent. I finally caught it at 6am, full of my blood! My son is never bothered by mosquitos, and he has eaten Marmite pretty much every day of his life. Along with various other things, the extra vitamin B in Marmite is supposed to put them off. An easy one to try.

4 May 2008

Leaving On A Jet Plane

One of the things I love best about living in Corfu is going to the airport. Yesterday I was there seeing my loved-one off, and knew no fewer than seven other people in the same check-in queue, either leaving themselves or sadly seeing off their own relatives. Then I went round to arrivals, and there also was a bunch of friends, acquaintances and ex-clients, all meeting people off the incoming flight.

We had remarked on driving up to the airport how great it is to be able to drop off and pick up people right outside the terminal building and even better that you can still get right into the arrivals hall to help with getting luggage off the carousel. When my children were smaller we used to sit right by the windows to watch Grandma and Grampy's plane land, and then to try to spot them walking down the steps. If they are honest, they still like doing that, and so do I!

I don't suppose it will be long before security measures here put a stop to all of this fun and we have to stand and wait outside the barrier and not be allowed to pull up outside the doors.

When picking up new arrivals from the airport we often like to go to the Nautilus cafe at the end of Garitsa Bay for an ouzo with meze or a nice cold beer. It's a lovely setting, looking out to sea and across to the fort, and relaxes visitors after their journey before the drive on to their accomodation. If you get a table near the water, you can feed the fish!

2 May 2008

May Day

It seems we are a bit old-fashioned in Greece, and actually celebrate May Day on the 1st May, whereas in Britain "for the convenience of the general public" the celebrations have been moved to the first Monday of the month which has now been designated a Bank Holiday. I wonder how long it will be before Christmas Day is similarly moved and renamed - in the interests of keeping things "convenient"!

I'm sure most Greeks believe the system here to be extremely convenient. If this last week is anything to go by, very little work has actually been done between Easter Monday at the beginning of the week, May Day today (which is a public holiday) and now only one more day before the weekend. Quite a few of our phone calls have been met with "out-of-office" answer phone messages. Another reason we love being here!

The main tradition here on May Day is the making (and sometimes buying) of a flower garland for the front door of your house - to celebrate the start of summer and to bring good luck for the coming year.

Above is a photo of ours - made with flowers from the garden and roadside. Another occasion for the greeting "Hronia Polla" - literally "Many Years" or more accurately "Many Happy Returns".

May Day in Corfu. What a gorgeous day, just as 1st May should be. I spent the day doing last minute preparations to villas in readiness for their first arrivals, so only had a brief walk round the garden to pick some flowers or "cut the May" as they say in Greek. My daughter and I giggled at our ineptitude at assembling the traditional garland (stefani), and as usual wonder how on earth the Corfiot housewives all manage to make theirs so professional looking when ours always threatens to fall apart as soon as we hang it up.

Later on I drove along the coast to Barbati and was happy to see our first tourists sporting shorts and T-shirts, and a few swimming in the sea at Ipsos. Further along the beach were the local older men, sitting in the shade, still in their winter sweaters and jackets, obviously following the Greek version of the English saying "Ne'er cast a clout till May be out", but up to date enough to appreciate the scantily clad foreign girls.

1 May 2008

Corfu At Its Best

Recently when deciding on a change of theme for our website we thought it would be nice to feature something which portrayed the spirit of Corfu in a different way from the usual scenic photos which are so well known. Frankie Cranfield came to mind.

Frankie was hitchhiking around Europe almost 30 years ago and ended up in Corfu. In her words it was 'love at first sight'. She was enchanted by the Venetian architecture and the 'clarity of light and deep rich shadows' so basically, like many of us, she ended up staying here, where she began to paint everything from traditional houses to plant pots and fishing boats.

She worked for Corfu Villas as a chef whilst I was also working for them and in fact, one of her first commissions was a picture, given to me by all the CV staff as a birthday present, of the little bay at Kaminaki, complete with a little old man sitting at the bottom of the massive tree which dominated the beach area. She continued to paint constantly and has had prints marketed by The Art Group and Ikea, which in turn led to more commissions for individual villa paintings and she now sells both originals and prints.

Marriage and motherhood prompted a break and having settled in the Lake District (which she describes as a wet and windy version of Corfu) she thought her 'Corfu period' might be over. Wrong! She has re-awakened her affection for the island saying that 'there is so much to discover, the more you look, the more is revealed' - so hopefully there will be many more Corfu watercolours to follow.

In fact, we like her work so much that we will be acting as her local representatives, with samples of her work, with information on both originals and prints, available to view in our offices in Corfu Town and Dassia.