24 February 2009

Statistics


I have to admit it, I am a sucker for statistics. It's me who is always looking at how many website viewings there have been, how many new visitors etc. and so of course I can't resist looking at newspaper articles based on studies and statistics.

There was a nice one in the Telegraph yesterday, aimed at showing readers how much cheaper it is to go to the USA than holiday in Europe, with Florida villas renting at 600 pounds per week, as opposed to 1,400 pounds in Greece and 1,800 in Spain.

This is of course very interesting, provided you don't make a mistake in your 'on-line visa' application and manage to get yourself banned from entering the USA for ever. (No joke this, a mistake on the part of a visa clerk in the Athens US Embassy means that my daughter is interrogated for three hours by Immigration every time she goes to the USA on a business trip!)

Anyway, the point of this comparison was that when I looked more closely I realised that of the traditional European holiday destinations - Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Turkey and Portugal - Greece emerges quite favourably. (Turkey wins the prize of course, not being tied to the euro, but even they cannot be considered 'cheap' any more.) All this whilst we are being told that visitor projections are 'down by 60%' etc. If this is the case where is everyone going? Only this summer will tell, so let's keep our finders crossed.
Diana

20 February 2009

Cost of living and quality of life


I see there are long discussions on all the local forums about the increasing cost of living here. Sad but true, that even in an ideal economic situation it would have been unrealistic of us to assume that Greece could stand out as a 'Eurozone' country and still keep the low prices we have always enjoyed. And in the current climate of course everyone is in an even worse situation.

I was in England recently, doing the normal shopping and paying the everyday bills exactly as we all do here, and even though I do think supermarkets in the UK can be considerably cheaper (Greek supermarkets do not seem to have grasped the value of 'loss leaders' on basic foodstuffs as the larger supermarket chains have in the UK) the general cost of just 'existing' in England can still strike me with horror. Council tax (113 pounds a month per household member in an unremarkable, standard London flat), electricity bills of 300+ pounds, water bills of 200 a time, plus gas bills of 200+. The flat is occupied by my two kids who were not energy-conscious (they are now they have seen the bills!) but who are hardly ever there! My bills here in Corfu fortunately bear no resemblance to those.

A statistic I saw yesterday says that burglaries in the UK are up 4% since last year and petty theft is expected to rise in conjunction with continuing or growing problems of unemployment etc. Add to that the grim weather, even though we have not had the best of winters this year here in Corfu, and you can totally understand why people want to move here from northern Europe.

We are not the cheapest, our winter weather isn't always the best, there are a few 'infrastructure' problems, the roads leave a bit to be desired, etc. etc. but overall, I think we have to be grateful that living here, or having a second home here, beats living and working in the UK, and probably most of the rest of northern Europe (can't be sure, haven't lived permanently anywhere else, but I suspect I am right, unless there is another Paradise around the corner!). If we only valued where we live on the cost of living - where would we live?
Diana

19 February 2009

Looking ahead


Back to property and discussions we were having in the office this morning about cost of living, expenses etc, tourism this year - you know, all the usual topics but all in the space of a couple of hours.

I was reading the Telegraph which had an analysis in its property section of how the traditional second home areas have particularly suffered recently, saying that several agencies are now reporting an increase in interest because homes in holiday areas are a letting investment giving a good return and people in the UK now have their savings on deposit at around 0.5%, so if they buy a property, particularly at a reduced price, and let it, they will get a better return, plus enjoying their second home, in spite of the recession. Seems like common sense don't you think?

On the subject of tourism, conversations generally seem to reflect a downturn, which is not a surprise. But the prediction is that the market has shifted to primarily that of 'late bookings' and I have to say that when we were at Gatwick a couple of weeks ago someone was doing a survey of when travellers had booked their holidays and a surprising number said '5 days ago' or even '2 days ago'.

In a recession it is hardly surprising that people prefer to wait and see how their own personal affairs progress before comitting large sums of money to holidays, months in advance. Also of coure, as we know traditionally if you book late you can often make a massive saving. The only problem will be that there could easily be a shortage of flights as tour operators have to take the decision some time in advance whether or not to fly certain flight programmes, and this could well mean a much smaller selection of flights and/or holidays available at the last minute - which also means the tour operators can keep their prices up!!

These items inter-relate for us here in Corfu, since so many of us are directly or indirectly connected with incoming tourism, but I think it shows us the need to be flexible - the markets in both fields might not proceed in the way that we are used to, but it doesn't necessarily mean that all is a total disaster - or at least I hope not!
Diana

17 February 2009

The bronze tower of Dassia




At last the mystery of the strange bronze tower on the main road at Dassia has been explained. With a poster on it telling us to protect the environment, and a very smart paved area surrounding it, there has been a lot of speculation regarding its purpose. Someone reported seeing lots of pipework being installed underground, and the village of Spartilas was talking about rabbits. This later turned out to be badly spoken English and was in fact "rubbish".

I met the vice Mayor of the Municipality of Faiakon today, and now have it on very good authority that it is in fact a new invention to help reduce the volume of our rubbish. Even more exciting, on Wednesday 18 February at 11am, there is an official opening ceremony when there will be a demonstration of how it operates.

Apparently, there is a door which opens electronically when you approach it and a voice welcomes you to use its facility. You can then throw in your bag of household rubbish and the door closes. When there is enough rubbish in this holding area, it is shot up to the top of the tower, where it is squeezed and compacted. Any excess fluids run to the bottom of the tower and into the pipes below, which in turn feed into the biological waste plant at the camping site next door. Once the tower is nearly full of compacted dried up rubbish, it automatically notifies the local waste disposal team who will come and collect it. The tower then self cleans and is ready for the next load. Made in Larissa, it is designed to hold thirty-five loads from the big rubbish bins.

What a brilliant idea - let's hope it works!
Sarah

16 February 2009

How times change


I know we often say this, but this morning being Sunday we thought we would have some breakfast at home and I asked Spiros if he wanted toast, bagel or muffin? With that, is a choice of cream cheese or butter.

Also, last night we had decided to cook on our outside grill, Greek style, but it was so cold that we couldn't face the thought of standing outside even in front of a warm gas grill, so I decided to put the chicken in the oven and added to it some chinese duck rolls and sticky ribs from the freezer.

Then we started laughing as we discussed how times have changed. When I first came here the bread was fabulous the day it was baked then turned into rock, so to slice it to toast it was a major operation. That is if you even had a toaster. The 'butter' - if you could find it to buy - was a lump of yellow, cheesy smelling substance. The grill of course was a 'real' one, requiring twigs, charcoal, much attention, no wind and loads of patience. Also I wouldn't even have dreamed of being able to dive into the freezer for the 'sticky ribs' - I would have had to spend hours trying to explain to the butcher what I wanted, re-butcher them when I got home, try to make an approximation of a BBQ sauce, then stand for ages over said 'real' grill. Think I prefer it now!

Having said all that, today we went to one of our favourite restaurants in Strinilas for Sunday lunch (on the basis that if the weather stays good, we will soon have to begin working on Sundays to get the villas ready and this might be the last chance this season). The food was as good as ever, but there was an item on the menu which was unfamiliar. We usually have lamb or goat 'in a pot' sort of pot roasted, but also on the menu today was 'zig something' - I didn't get the word - and when I asked what it was my husband said 'lamb, only older and bigger', which conjured up a very strange picture. Last time they also had 'patsa podi' loosely translated as 'foot stew'. I hope those places never change!
Diana

14 February 2009

Beachcombing




As you can see from the precarious angle of these beach huts, Barbati beach has been badly hit by the recent strong storms.

I love to walk on the beach after a storm to see what has been washed up and collect wood for my fire. Some of the driftwood has wonderful unusual shapes and I don't want to burn it, so the pile in the garden is growing - maybe one day I will find something creative to do with it.
Sarah

12 February 2009

Corfu breakfast




Decisions, decisions...

Last week Susan very kindly gave me a jar of her home-made orange and citron marmalade - the very same citrons that she wrote about on this blog. I still haven't decided what to do with my "nogged" fruit yet.

When I arrived home from the office on Friday, another kind friend had popped by with a jar of her home-made marmalade, this time made from oranges, lemons, grapefruit and more of those famous citrons.

Susan obviously spent last weekend in the kitchen because on Monday she produced another jar of marmalade, this time just citron.

This morning I picked up a lovely fresh crusty loaf from my local shop and instead of using the jar of marmalade (orange) which I had already started, I decided to try one of the three new ones... but which one? Too much of a decision on a rainy Thursday morning, so I had a slice of bread with a different preserve on each. I still can't decide which one I like best, so will probably do the same again tomorrow.
Sarah

White Corfu




Now I have seen it all. I spend two weeks in wonderful sunshine on the beach in The Dominican Republic and from there it seems to be downhill all the way. Snow, slush and ice in London, then back here to rain and, as you can see from the photo, snow as well!
Diana

10 February 2009

Corfu Recycling





Corfu Recycling was founded in 2001 and is based at Temploni in the centre of Corfu. Its business is the recycling of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. It gathers, separates and processes over 9,000 tons of metals per year and works in close cooperation with a network of recycling companies throughout Greece. Corfu Recycling has quickly expanded and now has 14 employees. The range of goods reycled is almost endless, but includes vehicles, household appliances, PCs and batteries. They have a large network of suppliers who gather all kinds of metal waste from around the island and take it to them for recycling. But of course you can also bring your own metal waste to the factory for recycling, to get rid of it AND get paid for it.

Back to work


Enough of sitting on the beach, time to get back to real life and whilst The Dominican Republic is fascinating, I definitely found my thoughts straying back to business and the coming season, and was pretty much ready to come home to Corfu and start work again.

Having said that, there was a problem just getting back to Europe – we selected a flight day which just happened to be the day that the UK staggered to a halt in the snow. Delayed flight, no information from tour operator, finally arrived at Gatwick to be told the runways were iced up and we would circle for a bit while they were cleared.

Then the stands weren’t cleared, then the doors were iced up and there would be a delay in getting the luggage off, but we finally collected all our bits and dressed in our ‘medium’ weight clothing - i.e. OK for most places but not the UK in minus 5 - we went down to wait for the Gatwick Express. As voices kept announcing its imminent arrival, it began to snow again and after about an hour and a half another Gatwick-Victoria train arrived, stuffed to the gills, with the rail staff saying there was definitely no room for more passengers. Along with about 200 other freezing passengers, we squeezed on and arrived at Victoria an hour later, ready to pay our fares, only to be waved through the gates by the staff who seemed to be relieved just to have successfully got a trainload of passengers safely to Victoria! Very nice of Southern Trains I thought, since they could have made a fortune that day!

First conversation when back in the UK was with a fellow villa owner whose Tour Operator has dropped one of his houses altogether and wants a major price reduction on the other one. Already had a call from one of our Tour Operators looking for a ‘major reduction across the board’ on our apartments. Looks like a challenging season to come. On the plus side with the advent of Easyjet from Manchester and Bristol the door is gradually opening wider for ‘short breaks’ - and the euro has staggered up the odd couple of points.

Whilst away I did read a survey which found that although the top 9 out of 10 holiday destinations were outside the Eurozone, Spain had crept back in at no. 10, and Greece had begun to move back up the list. Seems that some of our non-euro neighbours are not as cheap as everyone thinks, which was a point re-enforced by some relatives of ours who had been to Turkey and found smaller items like coffees equally or more expensive than at home in Greece. Also for the first time for months, in the UK house prices rose in January – not by a lot, but at least they did rise rather than stay in freefall.

So perhaps, whilst things may not be exactly looking up, we are all coming to terms with the economic situation as it is and going on as far as possible with our plans – buying, selling building etc. Again, I thank my lucky stars that we are not Dom. Rep (or Bulgarian or Spanish) agents or developers with hundred of ‘units’ to sell and ‘off plan buyers’ dropping out all around us. Thank heavens for small ‘niche’ markets like Corfu!
Diana

8 February 2009

From the sublime to the ridiculous




The view from our window when we got back to London from The Dominican Republic.
Diana

Lost in the plot - a tale of two Spiros




The weather has been wet for the past couple of weeks. Not cold in the slightest, but greyish and rather dismal, so we have had to abandon most of our plans for visiting plots of land and houses for sale - there's not much point in a photograph of gloomy skies trying to advertise the joys of living in Corfu!

I had been having phone calls on a regular basis from "Spiros" with land for sale - so that when my husband answered the telephone the other day and took a message from "Spiros" I thought I knew who I was meeting and which bit of land I was going to look at.

However, as husband recounted the conversation which began with the caller introducing himself as "Spiros" and husband replying "Which Spiros of the many in Corfu?" and being given some pointers as to which Spiros indeed was trying to make contact, it gradually dawned on me that the Spiros in question was not the one I had thought I was going to meet. I'm sure that the original phone contact was with a Spiros from Kassiopi, but I have absolutely no idea at what point during the many phone calls that Spiros No.1 became Spiros No.2. (If there is a Spiros from Kassiopi reading this blog, please do phone again, because I have just been to see someone else's plot of land!)

As this is the second time I have got my Spiros' mixed up, this is going to take some living down.

Which leads me to the next part of the tale. We managed to dodge the raindrops on Friday morning and drove with Spiros No.2 to his land somewhere between Skripero and Paleokastritsa. I've written before about how difficult it is to locate plots of land. This time, being with the owner, we found the plot but almost got lost in it!

I wonder how many estate agents would have scrambled through the undergrowth as Sarah and I did? At one point Sarah grabbed the camera and took the attached photo as evidence of what we get up to on an ordinary working day. We had, at this point, already been pushing our way through brambles, climbing slopes and counting Spiros' olive trees for almost half an hour. If you have seen "The Blair Witch Project" you will instantly be able to imagine the atmsophere. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Sarah hasn't seen it, so I suffered alone. (This has to be the most scary film of all time).

If anyone wants to buy in the region of 30,000 square metres of (almost) unexplored, off-the-beaten-track Corfiot olive grove, please do get in touch with Corfuhomefinders. A snip at 250,000 euros! Not all of it is overgrown - honestly.
Susan

5 February 2009

New Doc on the Block!


We are very pleased that Doctor Alexandros Tsopelas, from "The British Surgery" in Dassia, has now opened a surgery right in the centre of Corfu town. Trained in the UK, and a member of the Royal College of Physicians, Doctor Alex is a GP who also specialises in diabetes, dermatology, acupuncture and clinical hypnosis - and he speaks perfect English.

He can be found on the third floor of 39 Alexandros Avenue (near to San Rocco Square), telephone 26610 24096 or 6945 791120.
Sarah

1 February 2009

Car boot sales


Every Sunday morning there is a "car boot" sale at La Veranda restaurant in Dassia. In fact it's more of a table top sale, but that doesn't have the same exciting ring as "car boot". All sorts of goodies are on sale, ranging from second hand books, household items, children's clothes and toys, and home made pies and pasties.

Another similar sale takes place at CJ's bar in Ipsos, but this is every other Sunday morning and by my reckoning the next one will be Sunday 1st February. Again, there are plenty of bargains to be had!
Sarah

Welcome to property sales - Dominican style?




Walking along the beach the other day, we paused to look at a block of apartments just being built (more on building methods in a minute) and couldn't help but admire the 3rd floor penthouse and thinking it would make quite a nice little winter retreat.

Immediately a gentleman appeared, shook hands and said, 'Do you want to buy one'. When we asked how much our chosen apartment would cost, he said, "$180,000 and you only have to give me 25% deposit now and the bank will give me the rest and you pay later". Nice arrangement, so Spiros asked him how much interest on the bank loan. "12%, very good" he said, "and you pay it over 20 years. Just give me the 25% deposit."

To make matters entirely clear, we repeated, "We can have that frontline beach apartment for $180,000?" "Yes," he said, "one just like it, and while it is being built (the one we were looking at was finished) we give you 'free' holiday club membership, you get special deals on your holidays here while you wait for your apartment. You just have to go over there, arrange to go to our presentation, collect your 'free' t-shirt and bottle of rum etc. etc."

Co-incidentally the day before we were out in the car, missed a turning for our hotel and ended up at the back of this particular development - where there must have been about 500 apartments currenty under construction and only about 6 are actually beachfront, so I have a feeling that our 'one just like it' would have been one of those being built in the narrow rows stretching back from the beach, with delightful views of the block next door!

We also learned yesterday that even if you buy a place 'near the beach' you won't necessarily have beach access. The hotels can't stop you walking along their beach but they close all the road entrances with security guards and one hotel joins another with no space in between. On the 30km stretch of beach where our hotel is located we asked the Avis agent where else we could drive to go through to another section of the beach. He pointed out only TWO places where 'the public' can go onto the beach - on a 30km stretch of beach! Consequently you might buy a property near the beach, or even with sea view, and still have to drive a considerable distance to a public beach access point.

We also sat and watched the builders. All apartments are constructed with one 'breeze block' (no insulation) concrete box style, then a wooden roof.
The builders spent a considerable time resting, then the breeze blocks were pulled up to the second floor one at a time on a rope. Heaven knows how long it takes to build at that rate, and it would be a bit sad to think that your fabulous beachfront property was in reality just a single brick construction, concrete box.

As we left, Leonardo, the salesman on the beach, asked what we did for a a living and we said "We develop and sell property." "Oh, just like me!" he said. I hope not.
Diana

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!
Susan

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.
Diana

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.
Sarah

Gossip-opolis


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?
Susan