29 July 2010

Name that Baby - eventually

The christening recently of my second grand-daughter who was given her name in rather a hurry on the day after her birth due to the necessity to apply for some UK paperwork, reminded me of the huge cultural difference in the naming of babies that exists between Britain and Greece.

Not for the Greeks the buying of Baby Name books, trawling the internet for favourite celeb names, top ten boys/girls names, etc. Traditionally, here in Greece, the naming of the newborn infant is the responsibility of the Godparent who occasionally takes this role extremely seriously and will not even tell the parents of his decision until the baptism itself. Luckily (imagine the potential horrors!) this tradition is dying out, but it is very unusual for a baby to be named until several months after its birth. This results in a number of little ones bearing the "name" Beba (girl) or Bebis (boy) sometimes for over a year. I know of one lady in her 60s who is known as Bebeka to this day - whether her family had got used to her temporary name, or preferred it to the choice of the Godparent, I do not know.

28 July 2010

A tale of two tavernas

Recently we have dined out at two very different tavernas both of them new to us. The first is in Garitsa Bay, slightly set back from the sea in a popular area with local Greeks. A "tsipouradiko" specializing in traditional mezes or starters as well as a small selection of main courses, it was full to bursting, with the waiters carrying out new tables to cater for the number of customers sitting out under the tall eucalyptus trees. Lovely, and hardly a non-Greek voice to be heard.

The second taverna is located between Barbati and Glyfa, and we were tempted in both by the menu board advertising sardines on the grill and by the wonderful view of the full moon over the sea. An absolutely top location, with a beautifully lit swimming pool right on the sea, and on a Sunday night in late July at the height of the tourist season there were only five people, apart from us, enjoying the atmosphere.

26 July 2010

Museum of Asiatic Art

Corfu's Museum of Asiatic Art is unique in Greece and one of the most important of its kind in Europe. It contains some eleven thousand exhibits spanning the eleventh century BC to the twentieth century AD from a variety of Asian countries The greater part of the collection, more than ten thousand objects, come from China and Japan, while the rest come from Tibet, Korea, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia.

The museum is housed in the Palace of Saints Michael and George, an imposing three-storied building and a fine example of neoclassical architecture, located at the northern end of the Spianada in Corfu Town. The display rooms occupy the ground and first floors, and are largely under refurbishment. The Palace State rooms, namely the Senate Room on the ground floor, and the Rotunda, Throne Room and Dining Room on the first floor, all of which contain historical heirlooms and furniture from the period of the Ionian Senate, are open to the public. The west wing's first floor, which houses the Japanese collection, is also accessible, as are the temporary exhibition rooms on the ground floor. Soon seven rooms containing Chinese artefacts on the east wing's first floor will also be accessible. The museum's exhibits are displayed not only as mere works of art, but in such a way as to illustrate both the similarities and differences of each country and period's art. The museum also houses specialized conservation laboratories for paper, wood, pottery and metal, offices, storerooms, a photographic archive, a profuse library and a modern lecture hall.

The museum's collections have grown through private donations. The most significant of these, which constituted the museum's core, was the private collection of the diplomat Grigorios Manos, who served as Greek ambassador to France and Austria at the end of the nineteenth century. Manos was an enthusiastic collector of Asian artefacts mostly from China and Japan, but also Korea, Thailand, Cambodia and Tibet. He spent his entire fortune at auctions and amassed an enormous collection of ten thousand five hundred objects, which he subsequently donated to the Greek state. The collection was moved to Corfu in 1924 and the collector himself undertook the classification of the artefacts. The museum was officially founded as the 'Museum of Chinese and Japanese Art' in 1926 and was inaugurated in 1927. Manos was appointed its first curator for life, but died destitute a year later inside the museum. After his death the museum remained closed for a short time and historian Spiros Theotokis was appointed temporary curator.

The museum was later enriched with new collections bequeathed by two Greek diplomats, Iordanis Siniosoglou (1952) and Petros Almanachos (1969). After ambassador N. Chatzivasileiou donated a large part of his collection in 1974, the museum was renamed 'Museum of Asiatic Art' to include the artefacts of other Asian countries. In 1979, Christos Chiotakis, a merchant who spent many years in Holland, donated his collection of sixteenth-eighteen centuries Chinese export porcelain to the Corfu museum on condition that it was presented in a special room.

20 July 2010

And More Praise!

Easyjet, this time. Generally speaking I am a big Easyjet fan. The flexibility of being able to change your flight for a small charge, and the regular service in and out of Corfu in the summer, and Athens in the winter, has made our lives as a dual-national, split-location family much easier and more pleasant.

On Friday last week I waved goodbye to two of our sons - one on the morning Easyjet and one on the evening (why didn't they get their act together and travel on the same one - don't ask!). Arriving at the airport on both occasions the queues were out the doors and along the pavements, across onto the newly covered lawn area and snaking confusingly through the departure lounge. However, the Easyjet check-in queue was only a few people long and they were off into the duty free area within 10 minutes at the most. Remembering the battles of previous years with holiday reps insisting that we join the back of their two-bus-load long queue, I remind myself yet again of the benefits of Easyjet versus charter flights, at least at the Corfu end.


An all too rare moment on the beach last week was interrupted by the 'dring-dring' of my mobile hidden in my straw basket under a layer of towel, sarong, hat and book. Daughter, home alone with two babies, reported a passing lorry, squeezing along the narrow lane in front of their house had driven too close to the power cable and in a flash of sparks and a loud bang, disconnected all power, including telephone and water pump. Already quite late - 7.00 p.m. - she was worried that she would be left without light, water and air-con until the following day and to cap it all her mobile phone was low on battery.

A quick call to the "Faults" number listed in the phone book resulted in the reconnection of the broken power lines within a couple of hours! Service indeed, so all praise to the local electricity board for coming to the rescue so speedily.

16 July 2010

Perfectly put

I saw this yesterday on the website of a top villa company and thought that even people letting top of the range villas want their clients to really understand Greece 'warts and all' - instead of the bland descriptions put into most holiday brochures. Good for them.

'Greece is not a country of seamless five star luxury or smooth, silent service as one finds in the Far East – and the islands are close to Nature, both in the good sense, i.e. sea, birds, starry skies, full moon over calm water, donkeys, fishes jumping at dawn, vines, tomatoes, figs, bare-feet, breezes, and weather-beaten farmers, and in the less good sense, i.e. mosquitos, barking dogs, heat, wind, crowing cockerels, flies, storms, power-cuts and cancelled ferries, and the fact that the weather-beaten farmer is also the only one who can get in touch with the plumber who is his son-in-law. The lifestyle in summer on a Greek island, except perhaps on Mykonos, is not St Tropez. To compensate for that, the sea, the light, the atmosphere, the beauty are we think, incomparable at least in Europe, and the relaxed friendliness of the Greeks captivates more people than the slight air of chaos and improvisation annoys. State of the art infrastructure and a high functioning bureaucracy are not Greece’s claims to fame, although living in less than perfect order does mean that Greeks are inventive, spontaneous, and full of common sense and quick-fix abilities'.


11 July 2010

Sanity at last regarding Greek strikes

At last, an sane voice in amongst all the coverage of 'Unrest in Greece' type reporting. Sunvil are one of the original tour operators to Greece and it is very cheering to see some press which is actually low key and favourable. After all no one leaps up and down in London and worries about the tourists when the Tube goes on strike. Everyone just re-arranges, moans, and lives with it. As do we here.

'Sunvil says customers unaffected by Greek strikes

Greece operator Sunvil says today’s Greek strikes are nothing new and that the impact on its customers is small.

The operator’s operations director Chris Wright said that outside of the main cities “life goes on as normal” and that holidaymakers are unaffected by many of the ramifications of the strikes, such as refuse collection or banks being shut.

He said: “At Sunvil we have been dealing with strikes in Greece for as long as I can remember. Yes, there are a few more this year but the impact on our customers is very small.”

He added: “The ferry strikes can of course cause problems especially for independent travellers but, as a tour operator, we are able to rearrange itineraries giving customers a night extra in one island before leaving on the first available boat when the strike is lifted.

“Most of our transfers are operated by privately chartered boats specifically for our passengers and these aren't affected by the strike. On certain islands there are also private sea taxis still operating.”

Wright reports “little disruption” with Sunvil customer flights. Today, two flew from the UK to Samos, one delayed by an hour and one by two and a half hours'.


9 July 2010

How many more nails in the coffin does Greece need?

From one of yesterday's travel sites:

'Travellers to Greece can expect chaos today as a general strike will mean no planes can enter Greek airspace, no public transport will operate and no ferries will run.

In industrial action that is supported by everyone from doctors, lawyers and bank workers to dockers, railways workers and council litter pickers, Athens is expected to grind to a halt as strikers protest against the government’s pension cutting and new austerity measures.

This is the sixth time this year strikers have hit the city and called a halt to transport in the capital Athens.

Olympic Airlines and Aegean domestic and international flights will be severely affected with 34 flights grounded and 45 rescheduled, according to press agency AFP.'

Very strange that, since my departing villa clients left on their 06.30 ferry and my arriving villa clients arrived on time on their 13.30 ferry and my friend left for her cruise on a flight! The beaches are gorgeous, all the tavernas and bars are looking their best, the hotels are trying their hardest and apparently all to no avail, since the militant population in Athens continue to hog the headlines. However, although this may be one of the factors adding to the general slump in tourism, the people considering buying property in Corfu seem to be able to see through all this fuss, look at the situation objectively and not be deterred. We have always said that these people, and their extended families, have been the backbone of 'residential tourism' in Corfu, and represent a stable income unaffected by the vagaries of the mass tourism industry. Thank heavens for that, both professionally and personally.

7 July 2010

Maybe I am not so sure about being here

The other day I was glorying in how lovely it was here, however now comes the other side of Corfu, particularly if you are in business. My other hat, with husband, is holiday villas and apartments. The villas are going very well - nice guests, plenty of bookings etc, basically a pleasurable experience all round.

The apartments are a different matter. They have been let on contract to the largest tour operator on the island for more than 15 years for the princely sum of 8.50 euros per bed per night - and with us providing a swimming pool, maids, linen etc. After making enquiries, received a very short call this morning from someone's secretary to say that we would not be offered 'co-operation' for 2011, i.e. no contract. Basically it's a blow, although not unexpected, because despite offering no profit (and how could it at that price?) it was cash flow and kept the buildings going, plus providing employment for three staff.

However, when I came home, the more we discussed it, the more of a relief it became. The company paid us 8.50 euros per night per person, so 120 euros per week total income. The clients pay to the company a minimum of 800 euros per week's holiday PER PERSON. The 12 year old robot reps spend their time lecturing us on how 'we must provide what the clients want', but don't know where the apartments are. On that income how could we possibly provide value for money to the guests?

The tour operator has a published 'Code of Conduct' which states 'Our behaviour towards our business partners is professional, transparent, respectful and fair'. Excuse me while I laugh. Somehow their behaviour seems to be anything but that. More than fifteen years of what is laughingly called 'co-operation' and they have trouble even making a courteous phone call. (Actually the last few years have been more like 'Here is the contract, take it or leave it' and later on they will claim a bad season and reduce it anyway!)

This is not to say that all the companies are the same. Several of the larger ones certainly are, but the specialist ones I think, are better, and at least their staff have some idea of what they are doing. Many are local and looking at the bigger picture of what is also good for Corfu, whereas the ones I am talking about could be working anywhere and their bosses care only about 'units at the right price', when it should be 'apartments and villas where our guests will enjoy their holidays'. Times have changed seriously in that respect. Long live personal service although I suspect it will only survive in the individual villa market. No wonder our tourism is suffering. Isn't it a shame?

Doesn't this make you want to rush to buy

I just saw this in an article on potential 'Property Investment Hotspots' promoting Albania.

'Literally thousands of new apartments are being built to anticipate rising demand, built as either holiday homes or as rental investment opportunities. Many of the apartment blocks lack external visual appeal, an Albanian way to produce apartments which don’t advertise wealth and thus deter thieves. Most of the new developments have sea views and some are being constructed on the sea front. Some are worried that the town may end up looking like a concrete jungle, but demand is high as currently holiday accommodation is in shorter supply than the number of tourists wanting to stay there.

As there is such a wide range of developments to choose from those with something extra to offer, such as a swimming pool or private beach, would appear to be the best choice for both rental and re-sale opportunities. If Albania does become a member of the EU it is likely that any investments will soar in value and Saranda could well be the hot spot to invest in as the country makes strides to improve and to promote international tourism.'

Isn't this a somewhat backhanded way of promoting investment?

5 July 2010

And here they are!

The long awaited hatching of the eggs took place about a fortnight ago, but the goslings and their mother have been (and still are) very camera shy.

Now I remember why we are here

Recently all the news seems to be miserable - slump in tourism, unemployment, higher VAT etc. and occasionally I begin to wonder what happened to the joy of living here. Then last night I was reminded.

We set off out for dinner on Saturday night and when we got to our first choice, Ilias' above the beach in Prasoudi, we found a christening rowdily in progress with locals thoroughly enjoying a night out - not a long face in sight. We decided the chances of eating within a reasonable time were slim, so we went down to Agios Giorgios to another favourite, San Carlos on the beach. Driving along the beach road we saw movement - people in the bars and restaurants and San Carlos bustling. People eating, relaxing in the bar and walking along the beach.

As I took this photo it reminded me of the years when we used to drive to Vitalades as it got dark, order our meal, swim and then go up to the restaurant to eat. Or Sunday lunches in Boukari where we would go to Karides restaurant (Rick Stein etc. etc), order our meal, take our Sunday papers down to the beach, swim, go back to the restaurant, have a glass of wine, go in the kitchen and make our own salad, and eventually have a wonderful meal of fresh fish.

These days we don't seem to manage to do those things quite as much, but the delight when we do is still there. And not just for us; these are some of the reasons that so many people choose to move to live here, or spend so much of their free time here that they might as well live here! Economics may not be fantastic, tourism not brilliant this year, petrol silly price, but somehow it doesn't really matter a lot of the time.

1 July 2010

While here in Corfu life goes on as normal

Just in case you missed the news coverage, here is Greece shooting itself in the foot yet again. With images of violence on the TV it is so frustrating when here in Corfu everything is as always and the island is enjoying a wonderful beginning to the summer, albeit with far less tourists than usual.

'Tourists have once again been stranded in Greece because of strikes at its main ferry port.

Dock workers in Piraeus have stopped travellers boarding ferries to the Greek islands in the latest strike action against proposed cost-cutting reforms for the country.

According to BBC reports, thousands of people have also been protesting in Athens, leading to some scuffles with police.

The Greek tourist industry said the protests are causing irreparable damage to Greek tourism, which generates almost 20% of national income.

Although last week’s strikes were declared illegal, the Greek Government has failed to act on the court order.'

The government failed to act on the court order - well there's a surprise!