30 November 2010

Corfu’s Gordon Ramsay

Spending a few days in Athens recently, my friend and I decided to look up Ettore Botrini, the chef from the celebrated Etrusco restaurant in Kato Korakiana.

He has become very well known in Greece hosting the Greek version (Efialtis stin Kouzina) of Gordon Ramsay’s popular TV show, “Kitchen Nightmare”, and is now quite a TV celebrity!

In Athens he is connected to a chain of pasta/pizza restaurants, called “Pasteria” and he is in the kitchen twice a week at a different location. We visited him last week in Kato Patisia, and followed his personal recommendation to try the pizza, which was wonderful. Joining us at our table (we felt very important!) he assured us that he will be back in the kitchen of Etrusco next summer, and is hoping to open another restaurant along the same lines as “Pasteria” here in Corfu.

27 November 2010

In praise of a bank (most unusual)

I know this is unusual but I felt I had to do a quick bit of praise for the customer service of the Bank of Cyprus. We have used the branch in Corfu Town for years and they are WONDERFUL. They are friendly, helpful, and nothing is too much trouble - something several other local banks should take note of.

Recently, since we moved out to our office in Dassia, I have been using internet banking more frequently and generally it all goes well. A couple of weeks ago I had not understood fully something which was in the Greek-only section of the site and had given an incorrect instruction. The next morning a lady from the bank called me, explained the problem and immediately sorted it out for me. A few minutes later she called back to say she had found another transfer from my account with the same problem and would I like her to sort that out for me. Then the other day I made a payment of only 50 euros to a newspaper in Athens. They had listed a strange ref. no and I had trouble getting it accepted, but finally it was. Next morning I had a call to say that the 50 euros had gone through twice and if I didn't mean to do that should she cancel it for me, which she did.

I can't recall any other Greek bank making a call to say that they had seen a potential problem for me and would I like assistance, or in fact, for many years, from a UK bank. Its not a big deal but it is very nice to know that your bank is actually looking out for you and not just trying to make money from you.

25 November 2010

An unusual opportunity for a spring break

We received this email recently from someone who has just completed a wonderful villa close to Corfu Town. If anyone feels like a nice little spring break, click on the link for further information.

"I wanted to get in touch on behalf of my client. They have just finished their very own luxury private villa called Villa Piedra just outside of Corfu Town. To celebrate the occasion they are offering the chance to stay free for 4 nights, a prize worth £2000. To enter is very simple, just follow this link:

Is this something that you and your readers would like? If so it would be great if you could promote it. Villa Piedra is stunning and I'm sure the winner would be delighted to experience all it has to offer."


24 November 2010

Late nights

Two nights of serious music-listening at the weekend has left me blurry eyed at the beginning of the working week. On Friday we were glued to two Leonard Cohen concerts, one after the other, viewed on UK television courtesy of our satellite dish. The trouble with watching British TV in Greece is that everything is shown two hours later, so we crawled up to bed somewhere around 1.00 a.m.

The following night we watched Στην Υγειά Μας on ET2. This week's programme concentrated on Mikis Theodorakis, who was himself a guest, and the wonderful songs were performed LATE into the following morning, with the programme ending at around 3.00 a.m.

This sort of music shows that there is another side to Greece - a side that shines brightly through the murk of political and financial scandal and reminds us all that we can be proud of Greece. Theodorakis himself became a legend during and after the 2nd World War and is considered to be one of the most significant composers of the twentieth century. His music, with its message of freedom and hope, was banned during the Military Junta of 1967-1974. The deep love he shows for Greece inspires strong emotion at his concerts worldwide. The following is a quotation I found on You Tube which I found particularly moving:

"Greece has created civilization in the higher sense of the word. I am an Italian professor of English literature (University of Naples) but I keep repeating this plain truth to my students. It may sound rethorical, but I feel obliget to thank you and hope thay you are proud for being born in the land of Sappho, Sophocles, Pericles, and HUNDREDS of similar geniuses. Long live Greece."

Maybe we will have to live on sunshine, music and scenery for the next few years, but I am sure we will manage!

19 November 2010

He's in the army now

Son number three, and the baby of the family, arrived at the Army camp near Athens today to start his national service. If we are talking about cultural differences between our two countries, this must be one of the biggest. National service in the UK ended in 1960, so there won't be very many people left who remember it and its effects. Much as I would prefer Tom to be job-hunting in London - and he certainly would prefer it! - I do wonder if the lack of yob-culture in Greece is directly connected to the fact that all young men, whatever their background and age and education, are required to serve their country in this way. The length of service has varied considerably over the years. When my husband was drafted, he was in the air force for 26 months. Our two elder sons served for 12 months each and Tom will be out after 9 months. There are rumours, however, that the period of service is due to increase again with the next intake - up to 14 months - apparently because there isn't enough cash around to support a larger regular army.

18 November 2010

I just love this idea - should we do it as well?

I was amused when I saw this on a Google alert about property. Aren't they lucky that they seem to have such 'beautiful and creative' properties? We always try to go in the other direction and really tell it like it is - a derelict ruin, really IS a derelict ruin, not a 'bijou cottage in need of some love and attention' - but it is quite difficult because of course one man's (or woman's) ruin is anothers 'dream home in the making'!

Agent sends staff on poetry course to boost sales

'Shall I compare thee (properties) to a summer's day?

An estate agency in Brighton in the south of England has sent his staff on a creative writing course which included poetry and haikus (Japanese-style 17-syllable verses) in an effort to boost sales.

A £495,000 two-bedroom seafront flat, was originally described as "spacious, high quality, and within short walking distance of local shops".

After taking on the poetry techniques the description was transformed into:

"The first thing you see is the sea meeting the sky; like old comrades they share a warm embrace. Coats of armour; the cornice lines up. Without feeling lonely, the room has an echo. Ornate surroundings, the fire begs a match."

Manager, David Beacon, 26, told the Daily Telegraph he believes poetic marketing will help his business stand out in a crowded market.

"The way estate agents write about properties can be quite boring and structured and formal," he said.

"But some of the properties are so beautiful and creative and the workshop taught us how we could convey that through our use of language.

"We are an agency who thinks outside the box and our clients like and respect that about us."

Paul Bonett, 57, the owner of the agency, said the company hoped to write poems and haikus for most of their listed properties.

"We are fed up of going down the old typical boring route which was just meaningless jargon that potential buyers could see through in an instant," he said.

"Boring old clichés like immaculate condition, delightful, compact and bijoux are hindering, not helping sales.

"As agents we need to expand our vocabulary and work that little bit harder for our clients."


16 November 2010

More weather!

What a mixed bag of weather this month! Last week we had one of the most spectacular electric storms I have ever experienced, with very strong winds at the same time. The damage was revealed in the morning, with lots of trees blown down resulting in loss of power for many of us for almost 24 hours.

Storm finished with, the clouds loomed grey and heavy for a couple of days, and sudden deluges of rain fell. This photo is taken right outside our office in Dassia, just after one of these torrential rainfalls. For the next two days, the island was blanketed in an eerie mist, with high humidity and a strange light.

Since then, the sun has come out and we have been basking in temperatures in the mid 20s. There have been plenty of people swimming in the sea, and Corfu is enjoying a second spring. Watch out though, it's due to change again in a day or two!

And back to this ...

23 degrees C today as we set off to take photos. Avlaki beach wondering where the tourists are as the sun shines brightly, last week's storm completely forgotten.

To This .... in the space of two days!

Playing "Pooh Sticks" in the rushing torrent outside the office during one of the worst storms Corfu has ever experienced. I think we missed the worst of it in our village, but even so the dramatic constant electric flashes of lightning throughout the night, violent gusts of wind, and the resultant up-rooted trees, broken branches, landslides, fallen rocks and swollen rivers were quite a contrast to the weekend of sunshine and temperatures in the early 20s.

From this ...

At the weekend it was summer and we all enjoyed it in the best possible way - at the beach!

15 November 2010

Winter Flights - Online Petition

An online petition has been launched to try to persuade EasyJet to fly to Corfu during the winter. It emphasises the attraction of Corfu as a winter break destination. To add your name to the petition click here.

Music Museum

A new museum has recently opened in Corfu Town. It is the first of its kind in Greece and honours Nikolaos Mantzaros who composed the Greek National Anthem and the Anthem of the Olympic Games. The museum shows the history of the Philarmonic Society of Corfu, founded in 1840, of which Mantzaros was the first director. Exhibits include old musical instruments, photographs, scores and rare early recordings. The museum is housed in Corfu Town on the first floor of the building of the Philarmonic Society at 10, Nikiforos Theotokis, and is open Monday-Saturday, 9.30-13.30.

6 November 2010

We Want This One!

Every so often, as we take new properties on our books, we fall in love! Because we all have differing tastes, and some of us are more practical than others, we don't always agree, and anyway it is all academic as we are not financially able to buy everything we like. However, when we visited this town centre apartment we were of one mind - we love it, we want it, we are off to buy lottery tickets! So, please somebody, come along and buy it first so that we can stop dreaming.

2 November 2010

Maybe we should advertise like this

I was back in London just for a few days last week and whilst walking down to my local Tesco I passed what used to be a derelict office building, and which is now well on the way to being a super-swish new block of apartments. Or rather, nothing so mundane - the poster describes the apartments as, 'Beautiful, intelligent - more than just a pretty facade'. Then, as I walked round the corner, I saw the next advertising board with 'Evocative, compelling' and I began to wonder what the flats were really going to be like and how can an apartment be 'intelligent' or 'compelling'.

The next day I was speaking to a local estate agent who said 'Oh yes, the Art House, two bedrooms, half a million!'. That is obviously what is compelling, the price. I should think they do need to be beautiful and intelligent to pay that much. Perhaps we should try that type of advertising jargon on some of our little village houses. At least it would be different.

Kalo mina

November dawned bright and sunny today - better weather than we have had since early October. Once I used to say that if September's weather was disappointing then October would be lovely - now I will have to adjust the prediction forward a month and say that since October was disappointing November is going to be good. Certainly looks that way, just a shame for all the tourists and holidaymakers who have gone back home.

Every telephone call today was prefixed with a long string of ritual essential greetings - "Kali Mera. Kali Evdomada. Kalo Mina." "Good Day. Good Week. Good Month". Greek is such a rich language when it comes to "wishes" and endearments and, make no mistake, these formalities are an essential part of the culture and woe betide any unsuspecting foreigner who omits to utter them before beginning the business of the day! I have lost count of the number of times I have had to explain that actually H or L or P is not really rude when she launches straight into the purpose of the phone call without the necessary good wishes. Today - being both the first day of the week and the first day of the month - necessitated all three, but "Kali Mera" is a daily requirement!

Photo taken from the road outside the supermarket in Ipsos where I had just completed my weekly shop.

1 November 2010

One of our properties featured in The Daily Mail

How nice to see one of our friends, and one of our properties featured in the Daily Mail this week.

Most expats retire to a gentle life in Corfu. Not Londoner Lulu Hynd. Fed up with the city, she sought a whole new life on the Greek island where she'd spent many happy holidays.

Smitten by the unspoilt landscape of this Ionian idyll, she swapped her job in classical music for one on a Greek magazine, sold her house in Brook Green, Hammersmith and moved to Corfu with her boyfriend.

Within three years, Lulu, 36, had designed and built the house of her dreams overlooking a quiet valley, in the centre of the island. she lived there in glorious isolation for three years (her boyfriend fled back to Britain before she broke ground).

She learnt to speak Greek, project-managed the build and completed her villa within eight months using Corfu Construction (corfuconstruction.com).

Now, however, feeling the effects of the recession, she's returned to a studio apartment in London (smaller than her bedroom in Corfu) and is 'reluctantly' selling up.

'It breaks my heart to sell, but life moves on,' says Lulu. 'When I lost my job out there, I was sitting in splendour at the top of my hill twiddling my thumbs.

'I also missed my Bridget Jones-type girlfriends. My best friend out there was a 75-year-old English psychiatrist, but I didn't have much in common with most of the other expats who had gone out there to put their feet up and have drinks parties. Plus I failed to find a man.'

The winters were especially lonely as many people shut up their second homes and return to Britain. Lulu's house is designed to suit both full or part-time use.

Its two floors are arranged to work independently, with a master bedroom and kitchen on each - so ideal for two families staying there, an owner with guests or a holiday let. Alternatively, the whole house could be let for £6,100 to £7,000 a month during the summer.

'The top floor is a kind of super-pad and I put in a separate hot water and heating system for downstairs so I can shut that down over the winter and save money,' says Lulu.

Upstairs, Lulu's former bedroom is a palatial 35 sq metres with dressing room, oversized marble bath and double showers. A verandah wraps around the living room, which overlooks olive groves, mountains and a ruined monastery. Downstairs there are three bedrooms. In one, Lulu installed a 2 ft high mini-shower for her dog Philos - a lucky mongrel she rescued from the street.

'It's to wash his muddy paws in winter,' she says. 'The Greek builders-found it hilarious as they don't even allow their dogs in the house.'

Lulu combined modern fittings with traditional Corfiot features, including a wooden ceiling and large open fireplace.

'Although the house is on a grand in scale, it's not flash. I've used natural finishes such as unpolished, rough marble.

'It's also a very romantic home. You can sunbathe or swim in the pool without any worry of neighbours because there really is no one else in the valley,' she says.

The bright lights of Ipsos and the cocktail parties of Kassiopi are reachable within half an hour - as well as the best beaches.

Kassiopi is part of the sophisticated north-east corner of the island, near where banker Nathaniel Rothschild's-villa hosts the party set every summer, and close to where David Cameron has holidayed.

Lulu's comments regarding winter in Corfu are especially relevant to many of our buyers who need to bear in mind the fact that island is so much quieter in winter than in summer when they are selecting the area in which they want to live. If they are moving to Corfu permanently, and it is something we always emphasise when showing clients around.

The article goes on to say that property prices in Greece are holding their own, despite the country's woeful economic situation (where of course now, Greece is certainly not alone!) as the prices of exceptionally good property are still well below those in other prestigious areas of Europe. This is what we have found this year; having expected a mediocre season at best, we have experienced exactly the opposite. Corfu lovers, appreciating the value of the island and looking for their ideal property, have kept us busy throughout a very hot summer (we won't mention the last few weeks of rain) and it seems that the demand for houses, villas and land in Corfu has not diminished at all.