31 March 2010

Out and about in North Corfu

Out on the road today, looking at houses and land for sale in the north of the island. It was warm and sunny until the sun periodically went behind a cloud when it was quite chilly. We made a short leisure stop at a garden centre in Acharavi to pick up a few flowering plants to brighten our respective gardens in the run-up to Easter and met Alithea Johns of Skopos Design selecting plants for her clients. She and her husband, Marcus Warren, run a successful landscape gardening and architecture business from their Kassiopi base.

Another stop was at the British butcher's shop in New Perithia. Darryl Bill has been open for two months, and although we have driven past a couple of times, it was the first time we had shopped there. Joining the plants in the boot of the car went three bags of ribs and sausages. Darryl can provide pork with crackling, beef for roasting and all sorts of interesting English cuts that we cannot find elsewhere in Corfu.

We did quite a lot of work as well (and I'm not going to mention the coffee stop in Kassiopi!) Watch the website for an old stone house for renovation in the hills above Nissaki , a small apartment complex with pool near Kassiopi and an old manor house in Arkadades big enough for conversion to a small hotel.

28 March 2010

Down the rabbit hole (with apologies to Alice)

We spent a few days in Athens last week. Having rusticated in our olive grove for over a year, what a treat it was to experience city life again. There are disadvantages, of course. You need to hang on tight to bags and briefcases whilst walking through the busy streets, as I learnt to my cost last time we visited the capital. Once again we marveled at the public transport system throughout the city. It is amazingly cheap, efficient and spotlessly clean.

Descending into the metro or underground really does take you into a sort of Wonderland, where Greece becomes a model of how to do things properly. Every surface shines, and despite the fact that there are no rubbish bins there is no rubbish anywhere - not even a discarded ticket. Strangely, the minute you arrive back on the surface there are rubbish bins and rubbish on the ground everywhere you look. What sort of magic makes people behave totally differently above and below ground? On the metro no-one smokes, no one eats or drinks, there is no graffiti - it is exactly like going into a different world.

You can't help wondering that, since it is possible to create a public transport system of such breathtaking efficiency, it must equally be possible to have similar excellence in schools and universities, in town halls and public buildings. What is the secret of the underground success?

26 March 2010

Corfu is definitely not a small island!

On Monday we had programmed what seemed like a simple day, just showing a few properties in the Gouvia and Barbati area which should only have taken half a day at most.

However, we collected the clients at their hotel in Corfu Town (The Arcadian which they highly recommend) to find that they wanted to do 'the legal stuff' first. Off we went to the notary which would normally take half an hour or so - it took over an hour of course.

We finally left in convoy heading north, to Gouvia, to Barbati, more properties in Barbati, even more properties in Barbati, down to the beach, back to one of the properties, at which point it was decided to go south, so off we went. Rush hour of course, Corfu style, so it took a bit longer than usual and it was mid afternoon by the time we arrived in St. Georges. No coffee, no lunch just a bottle of water, but we had a look at the houses and then went to look at the beach which was looking wonderful in the afternoon sunshine. We waited for someone to come and open up another property, had a look around and finally decided to have a coffee before we headed back to Town.

We stopped at Kaffee Sas by the beach and asked Miriam if they could do coffees. What did we end up with - ouzo, wine, horta, grilled octopus, spinach, salads, fried cheese, baked cheese, chips, all fresh, all excellent - in fact everything except coffee! For those who do not live in Corfu, to find coffee is many places outside Corfu Town before May is quite unusual, but to find wonderful food, late afternoon on a weekday, is almost unheard of. By the time we got back to Corfu Town, dropped off the clients and went home, it was just before 8.00 pm. A complete day of driving - who says Corfu is a small island?

PS. Kaffee Sas is open 365 days of the year in Agios Giorgos South, and on a sunny spring day there are not many better places to enjoy the a good meal in the fresh sea air and sunshine, whilst looking at the very nice sea view.

18 March 2010

Exciting life being an estate agent!

At the moment the weather is gorgeous, those clear spring days signalling the beginning of spring and just perfect for photos. Consequently we are catching up on looking at all the bits of land we have been avoiding whilst it was raining non-stop and yesterday's project was various bits of land on the west coast.

It began well. We were late and missed the seller by about one minute - he had gone back to the village and the area has no phone signal. Finally, after two trips up and down different mountain roads, we found a signal, called him and made our way to his village. Usually we follow the sellers in our own car but he said it was better to take his truck. Indeed it was! We went along a dirt track, sank into the mud, drove along the edge of a precipice and emerged at two pieces of land with amazing views down to Agios Gordis and along the coast as far as Pelekas.

After what seemed like a twenty point turn (I closed my eyes) above the cliff, off we went again, past two more plots - again very nice and with amazing views - his villa virtually on the sea, and down towards another piece of land. This was not really a road or even a track but more like steep rocky steps. Despite our gasps, he drove down anyway and we emerged at his vegetable garden - right on the edge of the beach!

The end result was one plot of 8,000 square metres with stunning views. One plot of 3,000 square metres with stunning views. One plot of 1,200 square metres with stunning views. One plot of 10,000 square metres with stunning views. And a wonderful villa with stunning views. Generally speaking a good day!

15 March 2010

Day off

When a good friend of mine had a birthday last week, I decided to treat her to a day at the Spa in Acharavi - which meant of course that I had to go too to keep her company!

Arriving in the mid-morning, we donned our swimwear and headed straight for the 25 metre salt water swimming pool. Heated to a very comfortable temperature, we swam ten lengths, and then, feelilng virtuous, flopped into the bubbling jacuzzi.

Then we decided to try the various steam rooms, starting the wrong way around in the hottest of the three (we should have read the leaflet first!) Each steam room has a different aroma and temperature, and all of them are thoroughly relaxing. There are also two saunas, but I'm personally not keen on sauna so we skipped those.

I had booked us both for a massage, so we tripped off upstairs for half an hour of sheer bliss, then back downstairs to eat the sandwiches we'd brought with us. The spa has a snack bar which offers coffee, tea and crisp-type snacks, but they are happy for you to take your own lunch and place it in their fridge.

After some more relaxing on the loungers with our magazines, we then swam off our lunch and steamed for a while more.

All this cost 44 euros each - 34 euros for the massage and 10 euros for the entry to the pool/steam rooms etc. If you don't want to have any treatments (and there are loads of different ones available) the price is 19 euros for entry to all the other facilities. There is also a fully equipped gym for those feeling more energetic.

The Ivi Spa is on the outskirts of Acharavi inside the St George's Bay Country Club. (Telephone 26630 63987 / 63203.)

Needless to say, at the end of this wonderfully relaxing day, I was totally exhausted!

14 March 2010

Have we disappeared off the face of the earth?

Just in case anyone has been trying to contact Corfuhomefinders or Corfu Premier Property these last few weeks, we have been experiencing communication failure on all sides. First of all our main phone line - due to be connected in Dassia - is somewhere in the limbo that is ruled over by OTE (Greek Telephone Company). Our internet connection has also been dodgy all last week - necessitating a new modem, a new router, and a new something else I have never heard of. As if all this isn't enough, Sarah's home computer has gone kaput (though this is now fixed, as of yesterday thanks to the services of Mr. Computer Wonder Boy, the one person every computer-dependent business cannot live without).

Anyone needing to speak to us on the phone can always use 26610 93557 - there'll be someone there most mornings between 9.00 and 2.00.

9 March 2010

The Germans may be coming, but Gaddafi's already here

We had a great time on Friday discussing the changes that would take place if Germany did indeed buy Corfu. I won't say that we ended the morning thinking that it would be a good thing, but.we certainly pinpointed a few benefits that a German administration would no doubt bring to our beloved island. The trouble is that the things that make us love Greece most would definitely not survive a German takeover, and the advantages of splendidly smooth roads and an efficient civil service would simply not compensate.

Take today as an example. First off, a trip to replace the broken glass in a photograph frame. Calling at a local ironmongers cum all purpose store, the appropriately sized piece of glass was measured, cut, wrapped and handed over. "How much do we owe?" "Oh, nothing" said the lady behind the counter. "It's Women's Day - I won't charge you". No amount of persuasion that times are hard, and she should probably be charging double had any effect! So - one free bit of glass! On to the Opel garage to investigate a red warning light on the dashboard. An inspection under the bonnet followed and an "Oh yes, there's a wire here that needs re-connecting" Ten minutes later, as good as new, and the mechanic absolutely refused to take any payment.

Somehow I don't think that anything remotely similar would have happened if Germany (or any other country for that matter) was in charge, and unfortunately no-one could have stopped our heavy dose of "Gaddafi" - red rain straight from the desert - that was our other "treat" today, coating all our cars, windows, shutters and terraces with muddy dust.

8 March 2010

Give Corfu to Germany

This is an article from the Guardian on the subject, but perhaps we should consider the advantages!. There has long been an opinion that Corfu pays all its revenues to central government in Athens, with no return investment in infrastructure such as roads, hospitals etc. So just maybe the potholes would get mended, the hospital would be finished (and opened!), the rubbish would be disposed of, we would not have so many power and water cuts, pavements would be levelled, beaches cleaned, street lighting would not just exist, it would work, traffic lights would work, and so on. On the other hand, part of Corfu's appeal has long been its 'charming chaos' so perhaps we wouldn't want to be German after all.

"We give you cash, you give us Corfu … and the Acropolis too". Bild is Germany's equivalent to the Sun, and it covered a proposal to salvage the creaking eurozone with Wapping-style tact. Unsurprisingly, cash-for-Corfu has gone down in Athens like "Up Yours Delors" did in Brussels. Even before the story broke, the overdrawn government was muttering that Berlin should say thanks for the Greek gold it stole during the war, and the very idea of surrendering Hellenic heritage in return for mere money was always likely to drive this proud nation into the sort of rage associated with losing one's marbles. But just pause and coolly consider the original suggestion of the German Euro-MP who suggested that if Athens's largesse necessitates a bailout for the continent's currency, then the Greeks might consider what they can offer in return in terms of "assets, such as uninhabited islands". Would such an exchange necessarily be such a bad thing? If Greece obtained a measure of solvency, while the Germans laid their hands on a happy sliver of history, then most economists would declare a clear gain from trade. And why not extend the approach? Instead of grandstanding with Argentina over the Falklands, Gordon Brown might exchange them for funds to fill the gaping hole in his books. And if France fancies the Channel Islands, would it be unthinkable to have the discussion? In straitened times, wider diplomacy must factor in islands, and not simply presume that each is entire of itself.


7 March 2010

Corfu Bus stops - uniquely positioned for maximum effect

Has anyone else noticed that the bus stops here in Corfu have been positioned by someone whose sole desire is to totally stop the traffic?

On my way to meet Susan and Sarah yesterday for multiple property viewings, I took the scenic route north, through Agia Deka. In the middle of the village I met the bus. I say 'I met the bus' because although about 50 metres from where the bus stopped was a large space to pull in off the road, the bus actually stops EXACTLY on the very narrow corner, completely blocking the road in both directions. I waited a moment, then a couple of people and the village priest emerged slowly from the kafenion on the corner and got on the bus. Then I understood, this bus stop enables people to sit and enjoy their coffee whilst they wait for the bus, and they can then go straight from coffee shop to bus with no risk of getting wet.

I mentioned this to Susan and Sarah when we met, then later in the morning, coming out of the village of Sinarades, as we went to turn left we met another bus. Again, literally met the bus, as it stopped completely cross the road, blocking traffic in both directions whilst passengers disembarked. Then it turned into the village to continue its journey. If it had turned first, it would not have blocked the road at all. I have already noticed that in Moraitika the bus stops are carefully positioned to block the entrance to the new roundabout and in Perama, opposite Mouse Island, the bus stop is on a blind corner. Who organises this - if the Germans take Corfu, no doubt this is one of the changes that will be made!

5 March 2010

Time to Learn German!

Found on the internet today, the following article with an unusual solution to Greece's financial difficulties.

Broke Greece 'should sell islands'

Bankruptcy-threatened Greece should sell some of its islands to raise money, according to German MPs.

Two politicians, both allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel, suggest Greece should sell assets rather than rely on hand-outs from the European Community.

'The Greek state must sell stakes in companies and also assets such as, for example, unpopulated islands,' said Frank Schaeffler, financial expert of Germany’s Free Democratic Party.

'Those in insolvency have to sell everything they have to pay their creditors,' said Schlarmann, a senior member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Party. 'Greece owns buildings, companies and uninhabited islands, which could all be used for debt redemption.'

Greek deputy foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas responded by saying that such suggestions were 'not appropriate at this time.'

The story, in today's edition of top-selling German newspaper Bild, ran under the heading 'Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks! And sell the Acropolis too!'.

The Bild editorial went further than the politicians by suggesting that the Greeks should sell some of their major tourism destinations. 'We give you cash, you give us Corfu,' it said.

Opinion polls in the country show that Germans are overwhelmingly against taxpayers bailing out the cash-strapped state.

Greece has around 6,000 islands off its coast, according to the National Tourism Office, but only 227 are inhabited.


4 March 2010

Career Change

It's taken me a long time, but I think I have finally found my vocation. Enough of boring old property and luxury villas, I'm going to be a dumper-truck driver.

Hard times

We've all been a bit subdued of late due to the financial crisis. The News is full of doom and gloom and it does tend to colour the way we go about our daily lives. On the one hand we want to stand up for Greece and its right to be part of the Euro zone and on the other we simply cannot justify the way that the country has been run, probably ever since Greece first joined the Common Market, as it was then known.

The present government is hell-bent on blaming the previous government, but it is obvious that the rot set in many years ago with EU subsidies being handed out as "gifts" in return for political allegiance. Tax evasion is a way of life for most Greeks, so I suppose you could say that they/we deserve everything that is now about to happen. It's going to be tough, I think. VAT is increasing by 2% and there will be taxes on everyday essentials as well as luxury goods. As usual it will be those who can least afford it who will suffer. If you are rich it doesn't really affect you if your supermarket bill is 200 Euros higher every month, but if you are on a pension of 600 Euros it most definitely makes the difference between managing and not managing.

I suppose it's easy for me - sitting in front of my computer screen - thinking that I could do it better, but why haven't they found a way to tax the doctors, lawyers, engineers and businessmen (not all of them) who declare annual incomes of less than the average street cleaner?

Apparently the Greek state owns significant parcels of real estate. How about selling some of the prime plots and buildings? What about fining anybody found smoking in the supposedly non-smoking bars and restaurants throughout the country? A huge earner, this one, and it would at least be extracting cash from law-breakers rather than the man in the street who is simply trying to make ends meet.

Whichever way you look at it, it looks as if hard times are ahead. We are lucky at least that sunshine and beaches and poetry and music are free - and surely someone will think up a brilliant solution before too long.

2 March 2010

Definitely the end of an era

Last week we finally closed English Imports, the shop which Susan and I have had for nearly fifteen years. Lots of good memories, some bad (mostly relating to the wonderful Greek bureaucracy and taxation system which tried several times to hammer us into the ground and finally succeeded) and hundreds of friends made over the years. We still expect to see a lot of them through our Corfuhomefinders activities but it just won't be the same.

It is all fairly life changing, not least because we have now moved to our office in Dassia, opposite the Corfu Chandris, and IT IS NOT CORFU TOWN. I particularly have been a 'Townie' for years, and my car still keeps on wanting to head straight into the centre. I know that almost everything we need is available around the outskirts of Town and it is wonderful not to have to search (and pay) for parking and to be able to drive wherever I want to go, and the office has far more space than we had in Town, but somehow it is just not the same!

We haven't given up entirely on our 'shopping' side - that would be too much of a culture shock. We will still be offering linens, furnishings and furniture as wholesalers, via specific orders, we just won't be doing all the little bits and pieces, so perhaps it won't feel so much like a lifestyle change. Anyway, many many thanks to all our customers (so many of whom became friends)and our ladies, Lorraine and Wendy, who kept us going for so long - all welcome to stop and say hello at our Corfuhomefinders office in Dassia.