29 January 2010

A Boot full of fruit

Visiting a beautiful villa for sale near Kassiopi earlier in the week Sarah and I cheered ourselves up on a rather raw January day by helping the villa owner to collect Kumquat fruit from one of the trees in the garden. Sarah's welly boot, very suitably decorated with a fruity design served as the perfect receptacle for the bounty we gathered. The villa will shortly be featured on our websites - perfectly located with its own private access to a small beach, keep a look out for Villa Sapphira.

26 January 2010

End of an era

Just a little over a year ago I posted on the blog that we were selling English Imports due to pressure of work. Two full-time jobs were taking their toll and we had decided - with great difficulty - to let one of them go. During the year we had a few enquiries, but none of them came to anything, and we made a decision to move to more up-market premises. In many ways it was a relief to keep going. We have spent so many happy hours working in the shop and travelling to the UK on buying trips, that it was really hard to give it up.

12 months later, and we really have decided to sell or close. The work involved is enormous and in a recession a small business needs to be owner-managed in order to keep its head above water. The expenses of staff and insurance are huge and we had to choose between English Imports and our Estate Agency. The latter won.

In a situation probably possible only in Greece, it turns out that it will actually cost us less to close down than to sell the business to someone else. Still, we have had quite a healthy interest, so watch this space!

In the meantime, we are having a huge 50% sale, so if you are in Corfu please call in to grab yourself a bargain or two.

20 January 2010

Weekend away

With the new motorway (Egnatia Odos) from Igoumenitsa to Thessaloniki completed, a weekend in Greece's second city is now within easy driving distance. The weather forecast promised a calm crossing to Igoumenitsa (very important for me) and so we set sail at 9.30 am from Corfu on Friday. The ferry arrived at Igoumenitsa at 11 am, and we headed off straight away, arriving in the city centre at 2.30 pm. In our usual organised fashion, we had left the route map to IKEA behind, and so drove right along the main sea front road through the city, and stopped outside IKEA at 3.15pm - just in time for lunch!

Having been economical with our lunch, we decided that we could be extravagant with an hotel, and chose to stay in the 5 star Hotel Nikopolis, within sight of IKEA and very luxurious. It's a shame we didn't think to take our swimming gear as the hotel boasts a very nice spa and swimming pool, but we will know for next time.

So, Saturday was spent shopping, and on Sunday we ventured into the city to join the locals in their Sunday morning volta along the sea front and around the famous "White Tower"(above). Leaving at lunchtime, we were home in Corfu by 6 pm, the car loaded to the top.

19 January 2010


Shops in Corfu are well into the first week of massive sales, with bargains available of up to 70% as retailers struggle to make up losses experienced over the less than spectacular Christmas period.

Certain properties could also be classified as "SALE BARGAINS" and here is one of them:

Garden House, in the pretty hill village of Makrades, north-west Corfu, has just been reduced from its original asking price of 105,000 euros to only 75,000 euros.

Starting out in life as a stone barn, the house is partly renovated - its thick stone walls have been plastered white, and it is now awaiting completion to its new owner's specification. The quality of the work so far is extremely high as the British owner intended to live in the house himself, but has been unable to live his own particular dream.

Car access is just about possible - for an intrepid driver with a talent for judging the distance between his wing mirrors and the nearest olive tree. But it is only the last short section of road that is narrow. The house stands in a good sized plot of land with views over olive groves to the sea and sunset in the north west.

The house is being designed to include one large room downstairs and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, though the new owner might like to add a sideways extension for which there is ample space.

Makrades is a particularly attractive hill village, with the traditional layout of most north-western villages in Corfu. There is a parking area next to the main church, a small square with sub-post office and coffee bar, and a maze of winding alleyways leading from this central point upwards and outwards in three directions. Garden House is within easy walking distance of the central parking area, shop and church.

17 January 2010

Trouble in Paradise

I suppose it had to happen at some point but we had hoped that it wouldn't be just yet. There have been several break-ins during the last month in various parts of the island, causing us to be a little less confident about leaving our doors unlocked and cars with the key in the ignition.

Presumably a result of the economic crisis, it is still a great shame that we can no longer be completely relaxed about security. Even when it comes to burglary, however, Corfu is a bit low-key. Stolen items listed were a frozen turkey and a leg of pork from the deep-freeze.

Times are hard, though, and jobs - always few and far between in the winter months - are rumoured to be a bit thin on the ground for the coming summer season as well. It is definitely the right moment for someone to re-invent Corfu as - well, how about an off-shore financial centre, so that we can attract some serious business to the island? Apparently this is how Malta keeps afloat, why not Corfu?

10 January 2010

English Chippie

I've just tucked in to a delicious fish and chip supper from the new chippie in Ipsos.

"Jossy's Fish and Chip Bar" is in the middle of Ipsos (before the AB Supermarket when heading north) next door to Sakis' grill room (another favourite!).

Our cod and chips were freshly cooked to order, and very good indeed. At six euros each, the meal was great value for money and a real taste of home, a welcome change after all the festive food we have been eating.

9 January 2010

He made it!

This time the Gods were smiling on us, and the journey back to the UK went without a hitch, with not even a small delay on the Easyjet flight from Athens to Gatwick. Meanwhile we continue to be amazed at the pictures we see of the snowy wonderland Britain has turned into, and to be secretly glad that we don't have to dig our cars out of their garages. Today the temperatures once again hit the high teens (19C at lunchtime in Corfu town) and we have no need of either central heating or the wood-burner. With economic doom and gloom all around at least we are saving money on heating bills and it's windy again so the washing dries quickly and easily outside.

Sales start next week and English Imports will be having a stock clearance of the clothing we no longer sell - lots of huge bargains from mid week. There are also some bargain properties around so watch this space for more information coming soon.

8 January 2010

Oh No. Not Again!

Snow in the week before Christmas led to the cancellation of son number three's flight from Gatwick to Corfu and a scramble to find an alternative means of getting him home for Christmas. Now it seems as if we may have a similar scenario for his return journey with Gatwick airport in chaos yet again because of icy conditions. The Athens to London Easyjet flight was cancelled both yesterday and today and Tom is due to travel tomorrow. Already the list of cancellations on our computer is nearing the bottom of the screen, and of course he will have to fly to Athens before he knows whether or not he will be able to continue onwards to London, so he will be neither here at home, nor there at University if he does get stranded. All fingers and toes crossed a million times, but the weather forecast has just announced the coldest night in the UK for 30 years, with temperatures nearing those of the South Pole. So hard for us to imagine, as we swat unseasonal flies and even the odd wasp. Our outside temperature today was 18C and the garden is showing green shoots and buds.

Your guide to the Greek economy

This is part of a blog regarding the economic situation in Greece. I have picked out some of her points from the complete article which seem to sum up how we feel about the way some people are treating the news of the ‘downturn in the Greek economy’.

‘The very first thing that happened when I set my dainty foot on the main floor of the office where I work in London last week is that all the analysts wanted to know what the deal was with Greece. Is Greece the next Dubai? How soon do I think Greece would default on her debt? What are the odds of Greece abandoning the Euro and the EU? And now you guys have riots on the streets too because of the economy! Tell us, what has happened to make the Greek economy so bad?

And I was standing there thinking - Let's straighten out a few things here. Greece's economy isn't that bad, because it's never been that good, and to understand why, let's take a quick refreshing dip into her past.

For a country to have a strong and stable economy it needs a strong and stable past. Once Greece's glory day party was over, all she was left with was an unmade bed and the West promising to call.

in the 1800s the Greeks waged a bitter and bloody battle for their freedom and won it in a totally David vs Goliath kinda way. They'd barely had a chance to crack open the ouzo when World War I busted in to break up their party.

World War I ends, and Greece ends up pretty much bankrupt having sided with the Allies. The Allies think "Jolly wot wot, let's give Greece Smyrna as a reward". They let Greece invade Smyrna, the Greek army runs wild, and the Turks brutally retaliate while the Allies wonder what's for pudding. As a consequence of the immediate tragedy and the League of Nations' ridiculous solution in 1923 of forcibly moving all Christians from Turkey to Greece and vice versa, 1.5 million refugees pour into an already ruined country.

So that's Greece in the 1920s, absolutely at her wits end and being saddled with more people. Soon follows World War II, a civil war, a military dictatorship and it isn't until the 1970s that any kind of democtratic stability returns to Greece.

Now, how exactly do you build a world-class economy in the space of 35 years? The answer is you don't. You can't. It's like taking a starving orphan and saying "Next week, I want you to look like Mr Universe."

So back to what my colleagues asked me:

1) Is Greece going to default on her debt?

Not a chance. We're in the EU. Why would we want to go the way of Iceland? Though part of me thinks we should do it just to piss off Europe.

2) Is Greece the next Dubai?

You mean a ridiculously oil-rich country with more money than taste? Again, no way. And this is for a number of reasons. First, Greece hasn't enjoyed anywhere close to Dubai's boom to be in danger of a bust. Second, Greece has next to nothing in common with Dubai as a society, and that is very important to factor in.

A friend of mine earlier this year wrote an article on how well Greece was weathering the credit crunch compared to her neighbours. This has a lot to do with the social set-up. Greece didn't suffer the wave of bank crackdowns and reposessions that the UK did. In Greece, it's unthinkable for someone to let their child or friend lose their house because they fall behind on payments. People will pitch in to save you losing your house, because home ownership is extremely important to the Greeks. Never underestimate the Mama Factor! Mama will sell everything she owns if it means saving her child's house. Are you listening, analysts in London? Next to Greece, write MAMA FACTOR in big red letters and put a circle around it.

If it's known that you are financially comfortable and let your child or friend lose their house, you will never be able to show your face in public again.

3) What are the odds of Greece abandoning the EU or the Euro?

Minus 2000. Neither of the above will happen. Greece totally lucked out by getting into the EU and will not jump ship. It's ridiculous to even suggest this. Same goes for the Euro. Sure, life is a lot harder for people here since the Euro, but if Greece still had the Drachma when the credit crunch hit, with the way interest levels went haywire Greece would have been totally screwed with a cherry on top.

The Greeks are crazy, but not that crazy.

Why then, is the economy in such a hideous state? Because pretty much everyone avoids following the law. You have more chance of getting a Greek woman to tell you her natural hair colour than you do of your average Greek paying their taxes. They just don't like doing it, because all Greeks distrust the government, and if you look back at their history it's not surprising why.

Still, these shouldn't be excuses, and maybe this crisis is exactly what Greece needs to get our ass into gear. I've always believed in Greece and her potential. It's an amazing country with amazing potential, especially the new generation. Greece deserves progress, change and reform, but this has to come from within, and it's a very messy situation to untangle. Undoing so much corruption will take a very long time. The public sector, where everyone gets paid to do nothing, needs to be shrunken or made electronic, as does the system for paying taxes.

Also, declaring self-employed earnings needs to be simpler. I know people who tell me they tried to get their earnings legalised and taxes paid, but it became such an impossible maze of stamps and paperwork that they gave up and went back to flying below the radar.

So, dear analysts in the West, relax. All you need to do with Greece is wait and see. I know a lot of your bonds went bust because of the downgrade, but sit tight and you'll see things will look brighter in the summer. And lastly, those economy-related riots all the news channels in the UK were showing actually have nothing to do with the economy. Those riots were pretty much unrelated. Think of it as our equivalent of a street party.

We thought it summed the situation up pretty well, especially when we have enquiries regularly for people worrying on the one hand about the Greek economy in terms of their investment, and on the other saying they are considering investing in Northern Cyprus (no secure land registry), Bulgaria (massive overbuilding, so current investment potential nil, rather like most of Spain)!

7 January 2010

Epiphany - Ta Fota

Christmas lasts for a wonderfully long time in Greece, finally coming to a close with the celebration of Epiphany today, on January 6th. he third traditional carol has now been sung by the children of every town and village (the first being on Christmas Eve, and the second on New Year's Eve) and we will begin to think about taking down our decorations and looking for the first signs of Spring.

Although the temperature rose to over 15C it was a wild, windy day that threatened rain, but managed to stay dry. For the first time in years we didn't actually go to church or watch the cross being thrown into the sea and rescued by one of the young men of the parish. We were hosting a family lunch and decided to follow the proceedings on television instead. With a choice of watching the ceremony in Piraeus or Constantinople (as the Greeks still prefer to call Istanbul), we picked Piraeus, where a section of the port is "fenced" in with naval vessels and the cross - always attached to a chain or rope for complete safety - was thrown into the murky depths. What a surprise to see that the cross floated! Used to the Corfiot ceremony where the cross falls deeply into the sea, it took us a while to realize that the waters of the commercial port of Piraeus would not be a healthy place for the swimmers to linger too long, let alone dive below the surface, so the ceremony has been altered to fit its environment!