29 January 2009

There are lemons and there are LEMONS!

Actually, not lemons in this case, but citrons - a fruit largely appreciated for its peel, which is candied or used as a "spoon sweet" in the Mediterranean.

We found our citrons today on a tree in the garden of Woodland Villa near the village of Choroepiskopi in the central north of the island. The trees thrive in a frost-free climate, but they are not a common sight in Corfu. The ordinary-sized lemon came from the supermarket!

25 January 2009

Stepping outside

I love it here. I have to say I do understand why all the Canadian 'silverbirds' (not sure if that is correct, supposed to be a nice way of saying pensioners) choose to come and spend their winters here. This morning I started an email to Susan and we were marooned in the hotel lobby (about the size of Corfu airport, with ponds, parrots etc.) due to torrential Corfu style rain. Settled down with a lemon tea and about 10 minutes later it stopped, the sun came out and that was it for the day. Temperature about 29 degrees, so off to the beach.

Having said that, boy, are there some downsides. We wanted to have a look at real estate here. Just a quick scan in an agents window, maybe a quick chat. We left the protection of the hotel, past the security guards and crossed the road. All the shopkeepers grab you, literally grab you, and shriek at you until they work out what language you speak (we are having a certain amount of fun with 'Greek' as our answer to French, Spanish, English?) and you quite genuinely have to fight them off - they use a handshake as an opportunity not to let go!

The staff in the hotel are very friendly but even the hotel has a sideline in 'holiday clubs' for which "you DEFINITELY do not have to pay anything and if you want to take advantage of our special rates/rooms etc. We just want you to come for a short time and listen to our presentation and collect your 'free' t shirt". We had actually begun to scuttle out of the room at the word 'presentation' so we did manage to escape. Apparently you pay a sum of money in return for which you get priority bookings, rates, etc. in all their hotels worldwide, but they don't tell you that, just keep saying you do not have to pay ANYTHING!

Everyone here is selling something and you really can't walk down the street without being harassed every step of the way. Jamaica was reasonably bad and generally in the Caribbean, and Thailand if I remember rightly, there are vendors in the villages and on the beaches, but this is something else! Spiros actually spent a few moments explaining to one shopowner that the more we get hassled the less inclined we are to buy and that in general, the British are of this opinion. But I think his words definitely fell on stony ground.

When we used to go to Hania and Rethymnon in Crete, many of the restaurants line the harbour and have people standing outside with menus trying to drag punters in. I used to think this was bad enough, but now these people look like angels by comparison with what we found here. Sorry to make comparisons with Greece - but generally speaking we do not do that to visitors to 'our' country. Some of the shopkeepers might be a little enthusiastic in the promotion of their wares but as far as I know they never cross the line so that visitors decide not to bother to leave their hotel again because they just get hassled too much.

A winter walk

A miserable overcast day today, trying to rain all day long. Rather than sit inside by the fire, my son and I decided to take the dog for a walk up to the monastery near where we live.

Dedicated to the Prophet Ilias, it is on top of a hill between Kato and Ano Korakiana. You can get a nice view of it from the Agios Markos to Ano Korakiana road, to your left when heading in the Ano Korakiana direction. There is a sign to the monastery from the Kato to Ano Korakiana road, and then you have to keep your eyes open for a galvanised gateway infront of the path which leads up the hill.

Not being particularly fit(!) it took me ten minutes to walk up the path to the top, from where there is a lovely all round view towards Ipsos and the sea beyond, the villages of Ano Korakiana and Agios Markos, and further north west towards Paleocastritsa. Today wasn't the best of days for views, as there was a lot of low cloud, but the monastery itself is well worth the walk, being very impressive and atmospheric.

We scrambled around, rang the bell which hangs outside and tried to imagine what life was like for the monks who lived there. Inside is fairly intact and thankfully not vandalised, and apparently there is a service held every year on Saint Ilias day, 20th July.


With apologies for the 'Gringlish' above, but Corfu really has lived up to its reputation as a hot-bed of rumour and gossip!

Our shop manageress, Loraine (she really does spell it with one "r"), came in bristling with indignation - and when Loraine bristles, boy does she bristle! Apparently she no longer works for us - according to the latest rumour doing the rounds, she has left the shop never to return! As far as we can ascertain the only basis for this hot, and totally inaccurate, gossip, is that she had two mornings off earlier in the week!

I always used to say that Corfu was like a small English town with the sea all around it - and wasn't I right?

23 January 2009

All Inclusive - the reality

The ‘economy drive’ seemed like a good idea last week when I booked it. I chose the hotel because it is on one of the beaches widely renowned as ‘best in the Caribbean’, and I did know that this is ‘hotel land’ and I figured ‘how bad can it be?’ Now it has turned into all the things I knew I always hated about all inclusives.

The beach is FABULOUS - miles and miles of white soft sand, and beautiful blue sea, so the objective is fulfilled at least from one point of view. But these hotels seem to be all about the food and drink, and nothing else. This one has one massive scrum buffet, plus five or six ‘a la carte’ restaurants including Argentinian and Japanese. All you see are people rushing around with plates filled with every type of food imaginable and when they leave the tables, the plates left behind are still filled with enough food to provide them with dinner all over again. And no one has a drink in just one hand, they have one in each hand.

Breakfast finishes at 10 am, lunch begins at 12 and finishes at 3, dinner begins at 6 and finishes at 10. In between there is a ‘Mac’ snack bar, just in case anyone gets peckish. The rest of the time you spend walking the miles of pathways from the rooms to the beach and to the restaurants – there isn’t time to do anything else. And of course, having said that, there isn’t anything to do except go on excursions offered by your tour company. The minute you step outside the hotel you are pounced on by salesmen of everything from cigars to paintings, plus a limited range of the kind of souvenirs you find everywhere. Still, they are the only kind of local enterprise so you have to admire them.

In the tour operator’s local information guide you are told not to rent a car because there are potholes in the road (remind you of anywhere?) and it is much safer to go with a guided tour – all of which seem to cost an amazing amount of money - i.e. $100+ per person minimum.

Funny that, I bought a Lonely Planet guidebook which is usually quick to say if they consider anything to be potentially dangerous and they say ‘the best way to see the island is by renting a car’! If you go with your tour operator just a couple of times the ‘cheap’ holiday suddenly is not quite so cheap, unless you really plan to spend your whole time in the hotel resort, and I suppose a lot of people do just that.

I bought 12 books with me and today I finished last Sunday’s papers. I am beginning to worry I will run out of things to read and then what will I do? The bulk of clients are Spanish speaking (apart from the Russians who are here in their hundreds) so papers etc. are in Spanish – I guess a quick course in Spanish is on the cards (in fact they do Spanish lessons by the pool each morning, before morning aerobics).

It is all so different from the way tourism works in Greece, where our tourists are visitors who become a part of everyday life virtually the minute they arrive and who, if they finally buy a property in Corfu, become an immediate part of the community in which they live. I guess we will leave here knowing nothing more about daily life than I read in the Lonely Planet guide, which seems such a pity, although it makes me appreciate even more the way our visitors join us and get to know the people in the villages, the bars and the restaurants they visit. They take a little bit of Corfu with them when they leave (which of course is why so many come back and buy their homes from us!)

22 January 2009

And today's blog comes from…

...The Dominican Republic.

What can I say? We always start to feel in need of the sun at this time of year, to set us up for the frantic preparations for the next Corfu season, and also because during the season we hardly ever actually get to the beach – more like a frantic rush on a Sunday, down to Santa Barbara, quick swim, 30 minutes on the beach, and then back to work. This, in contrast, is all about the beach, and on the basis of best beach, cheapest holiday it had to be Dom Rep.

The flight from London was vile. Well, nine hours on a charter flight was never going to be good, just bearable. I was fairly depressed when I saw six large planes in line at the arrivals building, but the airport was a surprise, thatched buildings, lots of luggage conveyors and a quick passage through This island has four airports to service its two million tourists a year - I think we have one million and one airport, so if we ever get the new Lefkimmi airport things will be slightly more balanced.

I knew absolutely nothing about the Dom Rep, except that it is the cheapest tourist destination in the Caribbean and the fastest growing. Also that it is very poor and there is virtually no local tourism infrastructure of restaurants, shops etc. It appears that big hotels saw the value of the beach and realised that in order to bring tourism they had to provide all the facilities themselves. As the taxi took us along the main road we saw signs of major new road building, power plants, factories, and tourism service businesses. Then, guess what, the next sign I saw was for an estate agency who have a franchise in Corfu and then the second sign was for another estate agency with an office in Corfu. I began to wonder if I would see DomRephomefinders and DomReppremierproperty – but not so far.

Wherever you go there is no escape it seems, but I have to confess I have to go and have a look at the estate agency I have been told is ‘just down the road’ and see what the property sale situation is in this particular island. I know the property for sale in the rest of the Caribbean is generally in a different league, so I wonder what it is like here.

Where to go on holiday when you live in Corfu?

It is not that easy to decide where to spend holidays when you live on an island with tempting beaches around every corner. From the moment that I first moved to Greece (I was in Athens for three years) I have felt as if I was on holiday at the end of every single working day. Being childless in those days, we used to pop to the nearest taverna and sit outside in the balmy evening warmth and I was instantly transported from "real life" to holidays.

For many years after we moved to Corfu we didn't actually have the traditional one or two-week break - mostly because I worked in the summer and husband in the winter, so there was no time, apart from Christmas, when we actually had the possibility to take time off together. We certainly didn't suffer in any way - every weekend, and quite often during the week as well, we would pack the kids into the car and go for a quick swim at one of the nearest beaches. Lovely Corfu provides sand when you need to build castles and dams, rocky pools for shell-seeking and octopus catching, and a myriad of swimming pools when nothing else will do but jumping into deep water again and again and again. The age of the child determined the choice of beach, and we didn't find it a chore to go where they wanted, especially since there were so many different ones to choose from.

We at Corfuhomefinders all have our own favourite sort of holiday. Diana prefers winter sun and usually jets off to somewhere glamorous sounding at the end of a long aeroplane journey. Family in Britain usually calls Sarah and me to visit old haunts back in the UK. My absolute holiday of choice would be a city break - for me that is what we don't have in Corfu - and we have a list of destinations ready to visit when time and money allow. Helga actually likes staying put - and who can blame her?

19 January 2009

Wined and dined by my "sympethera"

We are celebrating today. Its a special "round-numbered" birthday of a family member and I found myself getting my tongue in a twist whilst telling Loraine, from the office, that we are being wined and dined by our son-in-law's mother, who is English and on holiday in Corfu to celebrate the occasion. How much easier is the Greek equivalent description of the relationship "sympethera". It also covers the awkwardness at the beginning of such relationships. You don't have to fumble over whether it is appropriate to use Christian names right at the start - but automatically use the title. How odd it would be to say any of the following: "Good morning son-in-law's mother" or "daughter's husband's mother" or even "Marcus' mother". Jane and I would simply call ourselves "sympethera", and it also somehow makes you feel like family, and therefore a bit more special, than the simple use of the Christian name.

Of course (this is Greece, after all) it isn't so straightforward with other relationships. My sister-in-law (husband's sister), for instance is my "kouniada" but I am her "nifi" or bride. If I had a brother, his wife, equally my sister-in-law, would be my "nifi" not "kouniada"! This is to do with hierarchy in the family - any sons in a family bring their wives home to the patriarchal home and the title is thus established "nifi or bride of the family".

This bringing of the wife home by the male members of the family is exactly the opposite of the English tradition, where the daughter is far more likely to bring her husband to her family home than vice-versa. The old saying "Your son's your son till he finds him a wife, but your daughter's your daughter for the whole of her life" just doesn't quite work in Greece.

18 January 2009

Winter? What winter?

It's Sunday morning, 11.30 a.m. on January 18th and the in-the-shade temperature outside is 16 degrees! The sun is shining and there are little wispy white clouds all across the sky. Sorry, everybody not in Corfu, but this reminds me of August in Yorkshire!

Those of us who do live here are very well aware that Corfu is not heaven-on-earth, that there are many aspects of life here that could do with radical improvement/change/abolition, but as long as we don't lose the ability to appreciate the good things that we are handed on a plate, then there is hope for us all!

15 January 2009

Bargain property of the week

Another reduction in price. The owners of this house really want to sell and have reduced the price by 100,000 euros, probably qualifying this house as bargain of the year!

It has an edge of village location, large garden, open views, and although presently divided into two apartments, would very easily convert to a good-sized family house with three to four bedrooms. Now priced at 190,000 euros.

Where do they get these prices from?

Sometimes we suffer moments of despair. Whilst some owners are beginning to realize that, if a house has not sold for several years, it might be sensible to lower the asking price - at least if they really do want to sell - others seem to be living on another planet.

Today we went to view a property for sale. I won't go into any further detail to avoid embarrassment to the owner, but suffice it to say that it was a perfectly pleasant house in excellent condition set in a large garden in a good location (apart from the electricity pylon close by). So far so good. Unfortunately the owner wants us to market it at a price that would buy a town house in Knightsbridge. What to do? We think we will avoid putting it on our website in order to discourage local excitement at the "value" of their similar properties!

13 January 2009

Could there be signs of a financial improvement?

According to the television news, on Friday the pound sterling showed its biggest percentage increase EVER against the euro. In current terms of course this doesn't mean much, as it staggered up just a couple of points - but at least it is a hopeful sign for those of us still inexorably linked to pound/euro exchanges.

We were discussing the other day how much this means in 'real terms' since as we know, if you have an income in sterling and have to have it sent for everday living in euros, the loss seems massive. Similarly if you are sending sterling to purchase a property here in Greece, you are having to send considerably more.

Then you move on to 'silver linings'. Your money can stretch a little further here, partly because there are less overheads - no council tax, no separate TV licence - and of course there is less to buy. Here, fortunately, we are not a 'live to shop' society, we buy what we need and are not constantly bombarded with incentives to buy, buy, buy. The most we seem to get is a 'buy one get one free' washing up liquid in the supermarket,

Then of course we go back to 'quality of life' which sometimes, in torrential rain here in winter, is a little hard to glorify, but generally speaking I am reminded of the 'ex pats' I saw on TV a couple of weeks ago, who live in Spain and who were being interviewed about the financial constraints of pound/euro. After a few minutes of explaining how much worse off they were and how dreadful the situation was, they were asked if they would have to consider returning to the U.K. 'Good heavens, no' was the immediate answer - 'Why would we want to do that when we have all this?' as they were sitting on their balconies watching the sun sink down into the sea. I think many of us agree with that!
(Photo by Marcus Gondolo-Gordon of Island Magazine)

10 January 2009

English Imports/Corfu Homestore

So many people have asked us if we are closing the shop (previously English Imports, now Corfu Homestore) that it seemed a good idea to put the record straight.

Yes, the shop is for sale. We have been working for nearly 15 years now, beginning with children's clothing and duvets, covers, sheets and Christmas stuff, in a tiny shop in Guilford Street, and then moving into our current larger premises near Bank of Cyprus, just off San Rocco Square. After the move we expanded into ladies' clothing, essential foodstuffs, gifts, home accessories, china - in fact as people said, 'Why dont you bring so and so?", we went and looked for it, and brought it.

Over the years we have spent hours on the road in England searching out warehouses that did 'stock' designer goods (many many years before all the so called 'designer stock' shops now so prevalent here) so much so that we are now extremely familiar with warehouses and factories from Swindon to Bolton via Leicester and goodness knows where else! We spent what seems like days stuck in traffic jams in Stoke-on-Trent on our way to vast china warehouses, where we had to wear gloves and scarves to root through all their china bargains as it was so cold - and dusty!

We must have stayed in practically every Travelodge/Travel Inn/Holiday Inn Express in the north of England as well as a few 'time warp' gems on our way either north or south. (We have particularly fond memories of the Station Hotel at Stoke-on-Trent, which for some reason had a huge carefully cut out hole in the bathroom window, making bathing an invigorating experience!) What a joy it was when we found a super bargain in a really nice hotel, at the end of a 14 hour day.

However, a few years ago our other businesses - Corfuhomefinders and Corfu Premier Property started to take up more of our time. Whilst the shop and the estate agencies do in many ways complement each other, they both need time and attention and, regretfully, there are not enough hours in the day!

After much discussion, we have decided to sell the shop. We have had many years of what has actually been a great experience, and if we had not got so involved with the property business we would probably have carried on for ever, but the estate agency is threatening to take over, and something has to go, so reluctantly we have put the shop business on the market.

We see it as a brilliant opportunity for someone who is looking for a complete lifestyle change and wants to set up business here, but also wants to maintain ties with the UK. Over the years we have had enormous fun travelling back to the UK several times each year and arranging transport for our personally chosen stock back to Corfu. The business is completely flexible (a new owner could sell almost anything they choose) as we have a background of contacts and suppliers from practically every field of retail, and even a UK Limited Company of our own through which we do the buying in Britain. Now is the ideal time for buying goods in the UK with the near parity of pound and euro, and the drop in oil prices has meant that transport costs have fallen back to a reasonable level.

Although we have always been located in Corfu Town, and would be prepared to vacate the present premises which we rent, the potential retail areas have expanded vastly over the last few years and a new owner really could choose where they wanted to be based - anywhere on the island. We can give loads of advice on location and help both in the UK and Corfu until you get started. There are also two part-time members of staff who could stay on if necessary to give a new owner some time to get used to the business.

If anyone would like more information just email us on info@corfupremierproperty.com.

9 January 2009

Best laid plans

Today was supoosed to be one of those well organised days. We were going to head south to meet Diana and her husband, have a look at the new houses they are building and then head off together for a fish lunch at the taverna at Petriti which Diana has been telling us all about. Phoning to confirm our meeting arrangements, it was obvious that this was not going to happen as the Aegean flight which her daughter was catching back to Athens and then on to London had been cancelled. So the whole day changed and we found ourselves along the north east coast instead, at Thomas' Taverna in Kalami.

This winter, Thomas (editor of "My Kerkyra" magazine) has started opening on Sunday lunchtimes, and he has a nice warm seating area right down on the beach where you can watch the boats passing by, or in our case a great big black sea bird diving for fish. We are fairly sure it was a cormorant, but checking in our bird book later it could have been a shag. The weather was terrible with lots of storm clouds over the coast of Albania, but as our lunch progressed, it improved and the sun finally came out. We ate well, choosing "tsigarelli" (wild greens cooked in tomato and red pepper), baked green peppers stuffed with feta, and then both of us chose a seafood maincourse, mine a risotto and my partner's a pasta dish. A carafe of red wine later and we were ready to walk along the now sunny beach and take a nice photo for this blog.

Returning to the car to pick up the camera and don walking boots rather than heels (me not him), we were feeling suitably mellow, only to find a completely flat rear tyre! Good job I had my man with me, as I have never been one of those capable women who can do that kind of thing.

So we didn't get our fish lunch at Petriti or our walk along the beach, but we did have a very nice lunch indeed, and will be returning there again.

8 January 2009

Corfu at its absolute, bright and shiny best!

What a wonderful day we enjoyed yesterday - January 6th - for the celebrations for "Fota" or Epiphany. Despite the Greek weather forecast telling us that "the whole of Greece" was celebrating in freezing temperatures with rain and snow, Corfu once again proved itself to be the exception that proved the rule, and our temperatures rose to 15 degrees and probably a lot more in the sun!

One thing I found really interesting about the religious part of the proceedings was how many men were at the church - and nearly all of them clutching a bottle, cup or other receptacle to take home some of the blessed water from the font. I had to ask husband what people actually do with the water when they get it home. Apparently it can be drunk, sprinkled over wounds/injuries, rooms, houses - and generally used for anything where a bit of extra help is required!

High-heeled law enforcers

Corfu Town traffic police were out in full force at the celebration of "Ta Fota", ready to apprehend serious offenders and tow away illegally parked cars.

I just couldn't help wondering how this very glamourous Police Officer could manage to stay on her feet all day, let alone give chase to any villains.


Many people will probably already know, but in addition to the Gatwick Easyjet flights, there will now be flights from both Bristol and Manchester, running from May. This can only be good news, in a year when everyone seems determined to bring only bad news to us poor countries in the eurozone.

Holiday companies are pushing their clients to Egypt, Bulgaria and Turkey; Thomson TV actually has a programme called 'Escape the Euro'; and UK television keeps reminding the British public how expensive everything will be for them now.

However, historically people go where they want to go. The Caribbean has always been disproportionately expensive but people who love it there still go. If you love Greece you are hardly likely to consider a baking desert in Egypt as a suitable alternative - or a crowded Bulgarian beach as comparable with a secluded Corfu bay.

People will no doubt be more careful with their money, but travel surveys in the UK recently show that people rate their holiday as one of the last things they would sacrifice and we hope that they will continue to visit Corfu and enjoy the welcome they receive here, as they always have in the past.

1 January 2009

Olive Picking

We too have collected some big fat olives from our very own trees, and have prepared them for eating during 2009. Over the Christmas holidays, one of our sons decided to collect some for himself and take them back to London for the month-long period of preparation (soaking in water, which must be changed every day). Some of them were marked with the familiar little black spot which means there is probably a Dacus grub inside, so in the interests of research they cut the olives open to investigate and lo, indeed, there was a white maggoty looking grub. After that they cut open some of the other olives that didn't have any outward signs, and every single one had a grub inside! Needless to say, the attraction of eating olives - ever again - has lessened considerably!

Now that the olive trees in Corfu are no longer sprayed from the air (thank goodness), there is a much higher incidence of the Dacus. Early olives are not normally affected, but it is worth bearing in mind that from December onwards, the grubs may be inside your otherwise perfect-looking shiny black olives.

I also found another use for olives this year. I picked some of the biggest, threaded them, sprayed them gold and used them to decorate a tiny cypress tree!

Welcome to 2009

Sincerely wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year.

In our family the winter months are more than top-heavy with celebrations. Starting with one son's birthday on 14th December, we move on to Christmas, which is then followed by our wedding anniversary on the 30th, New Year's Eve, another son's birthday today (1st January), daughter's birthday on 9th January, and then a get-your-breath back gap before the next son's birthday on 23rd February. So whilst most people are beginning to relax, we are still buying and wrapping presents. Today's gifts were all wrapped in newspaper at the special request of our eco-friendly son, who had also asked for second-hand presents, if at all possible!

The fact that two of the birthdays fall at Christmas time made it comparatively easy for us to ensure that our sons were born in the United Kingdom. Strange to think that in those days, although Greece was part of the European Union, British nationality could not be guaranteed to a child born outside the United Kingdom. In 1980, when our third child was expected, the only way to make sure of British nationality for a child of dual nationality parentage was for that child to be born on British soil. Since we already had two children who were born whilst we were living in the UK, it seemed only right to do the same by number three, so we spent a happy two months in Yorkshire over Christmas 1980.

When number four was expected, again at Christmas time, we again felt a responsibility to give the same guarantee of British nationality to him or her. By this time we had been living in Greece for about 10 years, and I felt slightly guilty about using the facilities of the National Health system even though I was still registered with a GP, who assured me that it was perfectly all right so to do. Anyway, we decided to keep the whole birth low-key, and spend as little time as possible in hospital and return to Corfu as soon as possible after the birth. Baby, however, had other plans for us, and with masterly timing allowed us to complete our New Year's Eve celebrations before coming into the world in a blaze of publicity as the first 1989 baby to be born in Airedale General Hospital!