Saturday, 30 May 2009

So you may say - forget the city I'm heading for the Greek islands

Fine and probably a quieter and richer way of life - though this is especially enticing if you are not looking for permanent employment or do not insist on islands such as Mykonos or Corfu where house prices and rentals are extremely high - if not to say unaffordable. Smaller islands are cheaper but there are a number of trade-offs. The winter can be isolated and the summer may see your island home overrun with tourists. I am not saying you are looking for the life of a hermit but form my own experience certain islands do have a noisy reputation in the summer months, often on account of the low prices of airliens such as easyjet coupled with the cheap alcohol prices in Greece. Although it is not my mission in this blog to sell you any island, my personal choice would be the island of Syros in the Cyclades. You will find it on the map below just to the left (west) of Mykonos.

Why Syros would be my personal choice? The main reason is that Syros is the municipal capital of the Southern Agean and as such this gives it a number of advantages. The capital, for example, Ermoupoli has a university. The island is not overrun with tourists in the summer and it is not deserted in the winter as its economy is not entirely dependent on tourism. Added to this the connections by boat to Athens are good and short and there is also a daily air connection to Athens airport. To me that is an ideal mix. The capital itself is full of old world charm and the atmosphere is relaxed and the people friendly. There are also good daily connection to nearby Paxos and Mykonos which you can see on the horizon from the port of Ermouploi. The following link is for those interested in finding out more about holidays and living on Syros.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The eternal issue - traffic chaos in Athens and Greece

An eternal matter of debate and discussion is the traffic chaos in the cities, particularly in Athens and Thessaloniki although since the construction of the Athens subway prior to the Olympic Games 2004, the situation has improved somewhat. Suffice it to say in the center of Athens there is a system whereby car registration plates ending in an even number are allowed one day and on alternative days cars with plates ending in an odd number are permitted. That is a fair indication of the congestion. Indeed I have been told by Athenians that on a bad day it can take two and a half to three hours to cross the city. In Thessaloniki the situation is on a more minor scale but rush hour can be extremely frustrating. However, like Athens, the long promised subway is under construction and this should alleviate the chaos somewhat in a few years.

Then the whole issue of parking is another one. Thessaloniki, also on account of its geographical position (shaped like a horseshoe around the Thermaikos gulf) has major difficulties. The city simply has inadequate public parking. This mixed with narrow streets, a blind eye to double parking, parking at bus stops, parking on every pavement, causes real frustration for many - the mother with the stroller, the handicapped in wheelchairs - a total disaster. And if and when you are unfortunate enough to get a ticket the matter is an even bigger disaster. The police also unscrew your registration plates and you cannot drive your car for - I think - 40 days even when paying the fine.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

On a funnier note - the art of translation

I just clicked on one of those google ads offering property on the island of Thassos - just off the coast of the northern city of Kavalla.. I must admit it is a beautiful and quiet place to relax.
However, when I came across the English version of the website I visited looking for property, thsi is what I found:
"Our restaurant

Our restaurant is one of the best of the village, with a great tradition in fresh fishes and in tasty Greek meals.
For the preparation of the meals we use only pure and fresh ingredients.
The olive-oil from our olive-lands is their basic ingredient while from this year on, our great garden gives us abundant vegetables und salads.
We prepare and offer traditional Greek meals such as giouvetsi, mousaka, kokkinisto and every kind of roast meals.
About fishes, you can eat, besides the traditional fishes such as sardines, mackerels, octopuses, also lobsters, gurnards, carps, gold-fishes and every kind of fishes living in our waters.
Our tsipouro is the best, it is our production, and its taste will remain unforgettable to you.

All these are found by the sea with a view at the Athos Mountain and at the sea.

We are waiting for you."

And with a translation like that, I am afraid you will be waiting quite a while - at least for me.

Not helping the reputations of Brits in Greece - at all

Off topic but worth reporting. British tourists in Crete 17 men between the ages of 18 and 60 were arrested and "faced charges of causing a scandal through provocative acts" They were found, all dressed as runs, parading through the tourist resort of Malia exposing their bottoms to passers by.

The only reason they got off with one night in prison was that nobody turned up as a witness! Rather surprising when you consider the power of the orthodox church in Greece.

Monday, 25 May 2009

But it is not all doom and gloom in Greece

Having written about the cost of living and sounding pessimistic, it would be wrong to say that it is impossible to find a bargain property in Greece. My experience is that you will not find this through estate agents or the Internet - at least I haven't and I have done a lot of searching for somewhere small for myself outside the city.

My answer is you simply have to come to Greece and look around. If you are seriously thinking of living here then you are probably doing so because you have visited or do visit Greece and have fallen in love with the country.A close friend of mine here in Thessaloniki did just that. She fulfilled her dream of a little house in a village not so far away from the city where she could spend week-ends both summer and winter. How did she manage it?
She simply took walks around a number of villages she liked and asked the locals if anything was up for sale. Bingo! For Euro 50 000 which is about $70 000, she purchased an old stone house on the village street which did not need much renovation. But, as I said, you won't find these in the estate agent's window or on the Internet. Unless of course money is no object and a villa on the island of Mykonos for $4,5 million is not going to put you out of pocket!


Greece - A reliable cost of living survey

Mercer, a major international consulting company, publishes annually a cost of living survey for the top 50 cities in the world. The survey shows the cost of living in Greece for 2008. It is shown that Athens occupies 25th position along with Amsterdam and Sao Paulo with an index of 97.0 (where 100 is the cost of living for New York). But even more interesting is the comparison with the previous year (2007) where Athens had an index of 90.76 and was rated 29th on the Mercer survey.

It is interesting to note that the Mercer survey on the cost of living rates Athens higher than Barcelona, Berlin, Stockholm and even Luxembourg.For more detailed information on living costs in Greece visit the website of a US citizen who moved to Greece. It contains an amazing amount of useful information on Greece. Now many of you may start getting the impression that I am out to stop people from considering relocating to Greece. That is not the case since I am a foreigner who has lived here for many years. I just wish to do what I said in my first posting on this blog, to dispel false expectations. Know the facts and then make the decision.

The cost of living in Greece

A very fundamental issue for everyone thinking to relocate to another country is the cost of living. This index is usually a ratio of various services, foodstuffs, electricity, house rental, etc. But you need to know how expensive live is going to be before considering relocating anywhere.Some will counter this argument by saying you can live cheap anywhere but if relocating to another country means you have to scrap by in a life of misery it does not sound like the best idea in the world to me.

Things have changed a lot in Greece in the 14 years I have been here. But the old idea of the 70's and 80's when the $ in particular would let you live like a king has changed big time. Greece is as expensive (some would say more so) that many other European countries. This is true in terms of food, electricity, housing, pretty much across the board. Indeed proof of this is the fact that many Greek Americans who have returned to Greece and living off their US pensions are finding things much tougher than a few years ago - the causes are obvious. A weak dollar vis-a-vis the Euro and inflation.

One factor I do not understand is that now when the housing market is in ruins in most of Europe, the Greek property market seems relatively unaffected. Here in Thessaloniki, for example, an upmarket appartment on the sea front admittedly will certainly not sell for less that Euro 750K to one million. Any property you would want to live in will cost in the 200K-300K bracket. This applies not just to the urban market - seaside holiday homes are in pretty much the same price range.


Saturday, 23 May 2009

And now it's back to you and your reasons for relocating to Greece

But back to the topic which is you and your intention to relocate to Greece. This can of course have many different reasons and those reasons will also greatly influence how you experience this country.

First scenario. It is for work reasons - the company you worked for has decided to transfer you to Greece. If that is the case then the chances are you are moving to either Athens or Thessaloniki. The major advantage in this scenario is that you are moving to somewhere with a good existing infrastructure in terms of English, German, French speaking schools for the children. Secondly you are probably on a salary which is far above the average Greek wage (Euro 680 - 700). And in all likelihood your company will be there to help you with settling in, finding accommodation, etc. etc. That is really a best case scenario.

Second scenario, you are fed up with the rat race somewhere else and have decided to move here and look for work. This is where things get very difficult. Before deciding definitely on this, a word of warning or a few questions you should ask yourself.
(1) Do I speak Greek?
(2) Have I checked on immigration status if I am not an EU citizen?
(3) Can I cope with the very different salary (lower) I will be earning in Greece?

Employment prospects in Greece are currently dismal - even for a Greek. So be warned.

Friday, 22 May 2009

My unexpected introduction to Ellada

February, 1993, a cold Monday morning in a grey Berlin - and a day which was to change the rest of my life. Got to work on the underground and arrived to find the whole office in uproar. "We're moving to Saloniki" was the morning greeting from my colleague. "Haven't you read the Sunday paper? They decided at the European Summit over the week-end - Kohl would do anything to get the European Central Bank."

I stopped in my steps. "The Director has called a meeting at 10 a.m. It's not his fault - the whole thing was kept confidential and he only learned it from the newspapers like us."

"And where, may I ask, is Saloniki?" was my response. "Greece, somewhere in Greece".

We searched frantically for a map of Europe, not sure whether to laugh or cry. And so my story begins.......

And for those of you like me who does not know where (Thes)saloniki is:

Well - welcome to your new home

So you are either toying with the idea of selling up and moving to Greece or you have already taken your decision, for whatever reason.

I have lived as a foreigner in Greece for 14 years so I feel I knwo at least a little about the country, the changes to expect, the right expectations and the false expectations.