30 June 2010

One mans hovel is another mans DIY dream

In this week's Sunday Times is an example of a property description from a Bournemouth estate agent.

'Untamed bushes, mould inside the windows, large room pretending to be a kitchen. To say its not looked after would be an understatement. If you're either brave, or unfortunate enough to want to view this property, please send me an email'.

I have to say it, sometimes I want to write just that, especially when we are invited to view plots of land that are actually jungle that wouldn't be out of place in South American rainforests.

Somehow we never do, and it must be because basically beauty really is in the eye of the beholder and a superficially hideous/derelict property can often offer a wealth of opportunity to the right person. Mind you, I am quite often tempted to write 'Pile of stones for sale', but even then that pile of stones can have its own appeal, so perhaps its better left unsaid!

29 June 2010

Lets hope this might actually do Corfu some good as well

A report on the travel professionals website Travelmole came up with the silver lining to the England football disaster today, so maybe some of those bookings might come the way of Corfu...

'England crashing out of the World Cup yesterday was bad news for football fans but great news for the UK travel industry.

Operators are expecting a surge in bookings this week now that England supporters will no longer be glued to their TV screens.

Within an hour of England’s defeat to Germany, lowcostholidays.com reported a sudden surge in web traffic, around 40% increase compared to the previous week.

Matt Hall, head of product, said: “We knew that many customers were waiting to see how far England progressed before they committed to a holiday in the sun and the huge disappointment of England’s defeat meant that they didn’t waste any time."


25 June 2010

Ftanei Pia - Enough is Enough

The first rain, last Sunday, was very welcome for those of us with gardens, but we are now into our fifth day of seriously cool weather and want to get back on the beach. The temperature has dropped almost 20 degrees from its high last week of 38C and I am typing this wearing a T-shirt and TWO long-sleeved tops. It's the end of June, for heaven's sake! The weather never used to be a topic of conversation in Greece. There used to be rules - sun from May to November with just an odd storm or two to jolly things along a bit. So what is going on here? Aren't the financial problems and attendant strikes enough for us to deal with? Is it some sort of biblical test of our metal?

22 June 2010

Global warming?

Can anyone remember such a lot of rain and thunderstorms in the middle of June? Apart from those of us with gardens to water every day, not many people will be happy with the very unseasonal weather we have had over the weekend.

Diana and I were out showing a villa in the Kassiopi area yesterday and we were almost unable to show it as the normally smooth gravel road had been washed away. We managed to reach the villa, and by the time we had our look around the local council bulldozer was out re-smoothing the road. We saw him again later on near to San Stefanos where the road there had obviously also been washed away. Well done Kassiopi council.

Down in San Stefanos for a very quick look around we were unfortunately stranded in the Eucalyptus taverna and had to stay for lunch until the storm subsided and we could make it back to the car. What a pity! It's a good job we also happened to be feeling a bit peckish.

The ducks were swimming in the middle of the road, and of course none of us had a camera with us.

Beware of Nova if you have a business - any business

I said to the man at Nova (Greek Sky TV equivalent) 'If this wasn't Greece I would think it was a joke', and he told me off for 'disrespecting Greece', which made me point out that he was disrespecting me by calling me a liar but he didn't seem to appreciate the point.

My husband watches TV when he collapses at night after something like a 14 hour day in summer, and we live behind a mountain so we need satellite TV. The other day it was cut off for no apparent reason. Five phone calls later I was told 'You have a snack bar in your name' to which I replied, 'It closed 15 years ago and anyway what does that have to do with a satellite TV subscription?

When I said 'Sorry, no snack bar,' they said 'Yes but you have a hotel.' Well, yes we do have apartments, but they don't have TVs and never have. I said very carefully 'We are in the tourist business like most of Corfu, does that mean we cannot have Nova in our house?' Apparently now you have to PROVE that you are using NOVA in your house and not commercially. This involves a special declaration, stamped by the police and faxed to Nova in Athens. My husband took the phone at this point, was very rude, and put the phone down.

Purely in the interests of domestic peace I called back to see if the situation could be sorted out. I spoke to a supervisor and pointed out as nicely as I could that NOVAhas been rooted in our living room for the last 15 years and I can't see why I should have to prove it. I offered them a mobile photo of the box in all its glory in our living room but apparently that is not enough. This was the point where I was accused of 'disrespecting Greece'.

I pointed out that it is not exactly customer friendly to accuse your faithful customers of fraud, with no basis except that they are in the tourist business, and that the correct procedure would be to have called or written to us, asking for a declaration that the usage was domestic, and THEN, if they did not receive a satisfactory response to take some action. Three phone calls later, they grudgingly reinstated the signal UNTIL TUESDAY MIDDAY WHEN YOU MUST SEND US THE PROOF!

I so much wanted to tell them what they could do with their TV channels, but at present there is no choice. Just wait until there is an alternative and we will vote with our feet so fast.

21 June 2010

In praise of local businesses

When people come to Corfu to buy a property or build/renovate they invariably ask if we know people who can carry out various works for them. Often, when we make recommendations based on the area where the clients are located and obtain a price guide, they say that they have found cheaper prices on various websites, or they have been told of someone 'who is cheaper'. All of which is fine - until there is a problem.

Swimming pools are a classic. The internet is full of tempting prices and the information will tell you that they have 'local agents'. The problem is the local agent might be at the opposite end of the island, might only have done one pool for them, and he might not have the clout to chase them up if things are not delivered on time! End result, delays and often payment to get someone to finish the job on time.

Personal experience these last few days has renewed my faith in using local help. On Wednesday, at about 9pm, I had a call from guests in a villa to say the dishwasher and washing machine were not working, there was water all over the floor, and they wewre getting electric shocks from the washing machine. By 10pm the plumber had come to see if the problem was an earlier water cut. He left and I realised the power was fluctuating wildly. At 10.30pm the electrician came and changed a major wire in the fuse box. All Ok - or so we thought. Next day the client said that the Wi-Fi wasn't working but he wasnt bothered, so I decided to check the next day, Friday, which was changeover day.

When I checked I found that the internet router was dead. Also dead was the jacuzzi. The electrician came again and pronounced the need for a new part which would have to come from England. After further thought he worked out a way to fix it without the UK part and arranged to buy the part in Corfu Town on Saturday morning.

In the meantime I went to Corfu Town regarding the Wi-Fi router. Germanos found the fault which was the charger, but didnt have one. They sent me to Multirama, who sent me to Expert where the guys spent ages making up a special charger for me which solved the problem. In the meantime on Friday afternoon new guests arrived to find that three air-conditioning units were dead! Back came the electrician who said that new parts were needed from Athens where of course the supplier had closed for weekend. On Saturday morning he came back bearing the part for the jacuzzi, and a replacement air-con unit, and the information that the parts for the other two would be here on Tuesday morning. Meanwhile the plumber had dropped by to see if we had discovered further water problems and needed his help.

The thought of having to find and bring people from some distance to give this standard of service is too horrendous to contemplate. When you use local help maybe the parts are not the cheapest you can find, but the benefit of having someone on tap is incalculable. (Also of course, if they do something wrong you can easily find them and harangue them until it is fixed!)

15 June 2010

Were travellers more hardy in the past then they are now?

This week two groups of Scandinavian tourists left our apartments three days early 'because they saw a rat'. We live in very green Corfu and our apartments are deep in the olive groves with fruit trees, grass, flowers and an elderly Greek lady not far away keeps chickens. So yes, occasionally a rat dares to venture out of the olive grove and into our gardens and when spotted is speedily dealt with. We would have to live in a sanitised concrete jungle for it not to happen.

I remember when I first came to Corfu I worked for one of the most upmarket villa companies and some clients used to tell me with great amusement that every evening at around 6pm the same (presumably) rat emerged and ran along the power cable joining the house, or that some less fortunate rat was found swimming in the pool - but it was amusement, not horror. The current clients found it 'horrifying, disgusting, etc. etc'. and were obviously not amused when my husband offered to sit on their balcony with a gun and take pot shots at the rat should he dare to show his face.

Then last night I heard a scrabbling in my kitchen cupboard which got progressively louder and when I mentioned to husband that maybe he should take a look (I am brave at a distance but not close up) he said, 'Oh yes, there is a mouse, he will go through the dishwasher pipe hole'. And he did, so basically no harm done. The pipe hole is now a lot smaller so hopefully he won't come back in, but it was just one of those things that happen in a rural environmnent - isn't that one of the reasons people come to Corfu, and keep coming back time and again?

14 June 2010

In my mother's footsteps

A visit to the Nomarchia recently reminded me of my mother's insistence on walking up and down her carpeted stairs on one side or the other and never in the middle "to make sure the carpet wore out evenly" - working on the premise that visitors would always use the middle of the staircase. How many times, I wonder, have I caught myself doing exactly this as I walk up the stairs wherever I happen to be? I thought that the marble/tiled/stone steps of Greek homes had cured me of this tendency, but obviously (see the attached photo) I will have to mend my ways. Even marble is susceptible to years of footfalls following the same tracks up and down the steps. If you see someone walking exactly in the middle of these steps, or brushing the wall at the side it will be me!

5 June 2010

Never mind the bollards, here is another bargain property

After all the recent 'bollards' (and it certainly is, you can't help but wonder how municipal brains work, if indeed they do) back to property, and another amazing reduction!

This is a great little property, now needing a little work to bring it up to its full potential, but its location in the highly sought after village of Tritsi high above the north east coast makes it highly attractive, especially now that it is reduced to only 85,000 euros. North-east coast property prices are generally among the highest on the island, so this attractive traditional village house is a true 'find'.

Bollard Mania - number two

Why bother with these ones? They block off an otherwise usable part of the road and are just going to get in the way as cars try to drive round them.

3 June 2010

Bollard Mania

This photo shows part of the car park near the central bus station. I cannot think of a single logical reason for these bollards, unless someone has plans for an obstacle course.