Archive for the ‘Cost of Living’ Category

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Firewood

February 26, 2012

Things rarely happen quickly in Cyprus.  Things need to be considered, discussed over coffee with friends, debated, get tied up in bureaucracy and then be dunked back in coffee again.  Usually.

Then occasionally that whole process gets thrown out and instead speed is of the essence. It doesn’t happen often, just often enough to catch us out, which it did yesterday.

Next to our little cottage is an abandoned single story house.  Beyond that is a field containing fruit trees, including the lovely fruit cocktail tree that produces both oranges and lemons.  In that same field, close to the abandoned house, is an old and tall tree.  When we first bought this house the tall tree was half dead; the side nearest to us was clearly dead, the side away from us was still growing.  Over the last two years whatever disease it has took hold and the entire tree died.

The dead tree, as seen from upstairs

During this winter, which has been longer and colder and wetter and windier than most, we’ve looked at the tree a little more often.  As strong winds have raced up and down the valley the tree has been creaking a little more and frankly we’ve been concerned.  Our best estimate was that the tree was about 100 feet tall but it was nothing more than a guess.  From time to time we’d sit outside with a cup of coffee and look at the tree, and the distance to the house and speculate: if the winds were very bad and the tree came down, which way would it fall?  And, if it came our way would it reach the house?  Would the lovely new roof of two summers ago break the tree or would the tree break the new roof?

A few weeks ago we had a run of poor weather and gale-force winds through the night.  3am is a stinky time to be trying to calculate the likelihood of a tree crashing through your roof, it makes for a poor night’s rest.

A day or two after the weather calmed down we wandered round to the field to take another look at the tree and bumped into the mukhtar.  ‘Are you concerned about the tree?‘ he asked.  When said we were and he nodded and said he would see what could be done.  Which takes us back to the start: in Cyprus things rarely happen quickly so we assumed that it would take months for anything to happen.

Which is why we were surprised when a cherry picker turned up yesterday morning followed by a truck full of men with chainsaws.  Don’t be deceived by the sky below: yes, it is beautiful and blue but the day was fresh with a cold wind blowing.

A handy cherry-picker

It took most of the morning (and much discussion, debating, coffee and cigarettes) but the tree came down.  Taking the top off was particularly fraught but it fell away from the houses and hurt nothing other than an inconveniently placed prickly pear.  The front door of the abandoned house didn’t fare so well: one of the wheels of the cherry-picker needed to be where the door stood so it was knocked down and then nailed back into place later.

In the midst of the tree

Which one next?

Almost done

After a leisurely lunch the chainsaw boys reappeared and it became clear why this job had been done so promptly.  This long cold and wet winter has meant that all of us in the mountain villages have had to burn significantly more firewood than normal.  There’s still no sign of the weather improving, in fact it’s due to take a turn for the worse next week with more strong winds and temperatures colder than the north of England.

Fueled by copious amounts of coffee the chainsaw boys got to work breaking down the tree into usable lengths.  Truck after truck pulled up outside to be loaded with as much wood as they could carry.

Firewood

The fires will be burning well in this part of the hills tonight and we can sleep easy once more.

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Travel flash sales

June 13, 2011

One of the advantages of living here and no longer working is that we are free to travel as and when we wish.  One of the disadvantages of our life here is that our travel budget is nowhere as large as it used to be.  When we switched from that high-stress corporate lifestyle to a laid-back and mellower existence here in Cyprus we also gave up about 90% of our income.

That said we do get away from time to time and have had some fantastic trips in the last few years including three transatlantic crossing on our old friend, Windstar’s Wind Surf.

Instead of deciding what we would like to do or see and where we might go we keep our eyes peeled for offers and opportunities that might suit.  Being able to travel at little notice or off-season or via an indirect route means that we may be able to take advantages of offers that others may not.

As part of that we are signed up to receive emails from many of the major airlines as well as a number of travel companies.  Including in that list of companies are a growing number of Flash Sale or Invitation Only travel groups. These have been growing in number and popularity in recent years and suit our circumstances well.  The advantage is a well-priced deal, below list price; the disadvantage is that the sales aren’t open for long, typically seven days or less.

For those who are able and willing to keep an eye open for deals, and decide and book quickly, there are bargains to be had.  Later this year we have a few days planned in Athens; last year we spent a week cruising out of Venice and along the Dalmation coast.  In both cases the final prices we paid were significantly below list or brochure price.  It’s worth noting that in the cruise industry virtually no one pays brochure price, in almost all cases they are  considered to be nothing more than a starting point for discounts.  In the case of our trip last year that discount ended up being about 75%, not a figure to be sneezed at.

So what’s in it for the travel providers?  One of Voyage Prive’s Marketing people answered that question recently saying:

Hotels come to private sales sites like Voyage Prive for the following reasons: 
(a) To sell distressed inventory – when occupancy rates are low, limited time sales on those sites will provide them with incremental revenue.
(b) To access a premium base of customers – private sales sites tend to claim a high-end, quality member base.
(c) For marketing purposes – in the case of higher-end properties, private sales sites are a powerful marketing tool and a suitable sales platform: with customized and classy hotel presentations, expert presentations and insights, their focus is more on quality than quantity (vs Expedia, for example)
Hope that helps ;)

When we first started AradippouTales we detailed some of our road-trip as we drove from our home in London down to Venice then on to Athens and finally to Cyprus.  Our last weekend in England was spent in a lovely hotel called Nutfield Priory and we blogged about it in one of our very early entries here.  The reference to Brad Pitt was serious; on a previous visit to the hotel we bumped into him while he was in staying at the hotel and, accidentally, fell into conversation with him in the hotel library.  He was polite and charming and perfectly happy to chat for a while.

The hotel is part of the Hand Picked hotel group and offers for other hotels in the group appear on SecretEscapes, a UK flash sale site, from time to time.  Whilst browsing through their current and upcoming offers we couldn’t help but notice that there’s a sale starting for Nutfield Priory later this week.  Until the sale is live there’s no way of knowing how good the offer might be but at present there’s a deal running for Norton House, a sister hotel based up in Edinburgh.  A quick comparison of the rates available on the flash sale versus the hotel’s own website suggest that there are discounts of between 20% – 30% to be had.  It’s reasonable to assume that the sale for Nutfield Priory will be comparable.   Anyone wanting to take a peek at the deal, or sign up for future offers at SecretEscapes, can do so here.

Now, back to trying to convince Ian that a couple of days at Evanson Ma’In Hot Springs in Jordan is a good idea right now.  Jetsetter have a great deal on; what do you think my chances are?

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Taxi drivers demand higher bus fares

June 1, 2011

There are some local news stories that benefit from some additional reporting, and others that just don’t.  Welcome to the slightly mad logic of Cypriot taxi drivers.

FAMAGUSTA taxi drivers yesterday demanded publicly-run buses raise their fares and reduce their frequency of operation, among others things, to save themselves from going bust, irrespective of what was best for the consumer.

The taxi drivers blocked the Ayia Triada roundabout, in Protaras, for five minutes to protest the “dire financial situation they have been in for years”.

And they warned of “stronger measures” if their demands were not met.

Union representative Kyriacos Moustakas, said the taxi sector’s problems were chronic, adding that the operation of buses further worsened the bad financial conditions of taxi drivers in the area.

He said that the new bus system, “the frequency and cheap fares, became the reason taxi drivers were unable to earn a day’s wage.”

The full story is here at the Cyprus Mail.

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Cyprus Cost of Living #5

July 10, 2010

The Guardian recently had an article in their Life & Style section about the spice saffron.  Their tagline for the piece was “It’s hard to produce and more costly than gold“.

These things are undoubtably true: each stem of saffron started life as a stigma on a crocus.  Each bulb flowers only once each year, producing just two or three stigma which must then be harvested by hand.  The writer of the article was provided, by Harrods, with a sample:  2g of saffron produced by over 400 flowers and costing £25 (at the time of writing about 30€ or $37).

Saffron’s usage, and cultivation, goes back an incredibly long way:

For as long as there have been people, people have known about saffron. A dye from its stigmas colours 50,000-year-old cave paintings in what is now Iraq. Ancient frescoes on the Greek island of Santorini depict a goddess watching – or perhaps blessing – a woman picking saffron, presumably for medicine. No one knows how old this painting is: a volcano buried it in around 1500BC, and the work could have been hundreds of years old even then.

Now here’s the oddity: saffron, and many other herbs and spices, are surprisingly inexpensive in Cyprus.  That’s not to say that it’s possible to buy premium grade saffron cheaply but it is certainly cheaper than the UK.

At the time of writing Carrefour are selling 30g of Syrian saffron for 3€; that is about 7% of the price of the saffron sold by Harrods.

For anyone coming on holiday to Cyprus it would be a great shame not to reserve a corner of the suitcase for a supply of herbs and spices bought from any of the supermarkets.  In the space it would take to re-pack a novel it should be possible to re-stock the kitchen stocks of herbs and spices for a year.

Saffron, peppercorns, coriander, mustard seeds and crushed chillis are all great buys here.

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Cyprus Cost of Living #4

June 24, 2010

*** Warning … Not for vegetarians … Warning ***

We knew when we moved here that we’d have to adjust some of our normal ways of shopping.  Things that we used to consider as economical would, undoubtably, become more expensive when we moved to Cyprus and vice versa.  Grocery shopping is one area where this is particularly obvious.

Were we to eat grilled pork chops, salad and jacket potatoes every night then grocery shopping would be both cheap and simple.  Pork is, by far, the most economical meat to buy and is available in more cuts than are normally seen in UK supermarkets and butchers.

Did you want pork chops or fillet or lounza or souvla or souvlaki or shoulder or nondescript cubed pork or ribs or bacon or belly pork?

In contrast lamb is hardly ever seen.  We once tried to buy some lamb mince (ground hamburger) from the butcher who provided our first ever Cypriot rib of beef but he wouldn’t sell it to us.  No, it would be too expensive, he said. He would happily sell minced beef or pork or turkey or chicken, but not lamb.  In part he was right; all of his meat is cut to order and when a customer wants mince he cuts a piece of meat from the carcass and minces it there and then.  That has the advantage that the mince can be customised for the customer.  Making hamburgers?  Then you’ll need a cut with slightly more fat to keep the burgers moist as the cook.

With the lamb he would need to cut and weigh and price the lamb before mincing it.  By the time the usable meat was removed from the bone then the relative cost would be high he explained.  Rather than disagree we bought something else instead and ever since have used a mix of beef and pork  in place of minced lamb.

So, plenty of pork, not so much lamb.  And beef?  Well there’s plenty to buy but, steaks in particular, seem be closely related to shoe-leather.  Nice to look at but tough, tough, tough meat.  It seems not to matter where the beef comes from as the imported French beef is just as bad as the local meat.  That suggests, and those in the restaurant trade have said similar, that it is the length of time the meat is matured for that is the issue.  We’ve tried to get around this a number of ways by marinading meat for great lengths of time or buying it well before it needs eating to give it a chance to mature a little extra and lose some of the toughness.

All of this has been in vain so we pretty much stopped buying steaks.  There are plenty of other things we can eat so why go through this angst for a meal that won’t actually be that good despite our best efforts.  The final straw was a pair of fillet steaks bought from the meat counter of a decent supermarket for a special anniversary meal.  We winced at the cost: 32€/kilo and even then the meat was mediocre at best.

So, having sworn off beef steak we were in Larnaca running some errands and decided to pop into an English-run store specialising in fish, all of which is frozen before being shipped to Cyprus.  We don’t eat a huge amount of fish and that’s something we’re trying to change.  Actually having some fish in the freezer seems a good first step.

What we hadn’t realised was that the owner has branched out into other frozen goods.  As we were nosing around the freezers for fish he mentioned in passing that he had some fillet steak which was on special offer.  Did we want some before the price went up?  The price was nice, very nice.  The catch?  This meat is intended for the restaurant trade and therefore is packaged appropriately.  This wasn’t some fillet, this was an entire fillet.  A little under 2kg and frozen solid.

After some debating we decided to take a risk on being able to separate it into more useable portions and bought one.

About 2kg of prime fillet steak

Half an hour with a hacksaw (and a nice new blade just for this purpose) and the fillet was cut into 6 pieces, each large enough for two respectable steaks.

One hacksaw later ...

We put five of the six meals in the freezer and allowed the final one to defrost for dinner that night.  As a first test it was a simple cooking process: seasoned on all sides, seared in a griddle pan for a couple of minutes on each side, allowed to rest for 10 minutes, sliced across the grain and served over a mix of peppers, onions and mushrooms.

It was superb; the meat was tender enough to eat with a spoon.

At last steak is back on the menu.  And the price?  A very respectable 15€ a kilo.

There are bargains here but they often take some effort to find.

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Cyprus Cost of Living #3

April 16, 2010

The phone and internet bill is due once more.

Actually, it feels like there is always a phone & internet bill due; billing is monthly in arrears and is meant to be paid manually, so in the store 30 minutes drive away or at an ATM which is also 30 minutes drive away.  In the previous house our bill came in three parts, in three envelopes so a massive 36 phone bills every year.  Happily we now get a consolidated bill so just a dozen a year.

Our connection is with Cyta who, until fairly recently, pretty much had the market sewn up.  The four month process to get a phone line installed in the house in Aradippou doesn’t bear re-counting, suffice to say that it generated a number of grey hairs all round.  When we moved to the hills we rather expected that we would have to do without a broadband connection.  The bigger village further up the valley has broadband but the lower village is so small we didn’t expect it here.  A discussion with Cyta however confirmed that broadband was available.  Later, whilst talking with one of the engineers it became clear why.

Ahhh, I know your village.  When broadband was first rolled out one of the Ministers had a house there that he used on weekends.  He needed a broadband connection so it was installed there before most other places!

Such is life here.  This time it worked in our favour so we just smiled and said no more.

So, there is broadband but in comparison to the UK it is both slow and expensive.  To have a connection via Cyta we have to have a phone line through them, even though we no longer use a land line.  Mobile, or cell, phone packages are so cheap here that we use those pretty much exclusively.  So we are paying for a phone line that we don’t want or need.

All told the monthly bill comes to a little over 50€ (£45, $65 at the time of writing) for a 1 Meg connection.  600€ per annum seems an awful lot for what is a pretty slow connection.

For a while we’ve been talking about whether there’s a solution and in the last month there’s been talk of a couple of other providers who either offer better packages for similar money or would allow us to drop the land line and save on the cost there.  One isn’t available in our village but another looks like it might be suitable.  Ignoring upfront costs it looks like we could double the connection speed whilst reducing the costs by somewhere between 20-30% per month.  That has to be a saving worth having.

The company are inundated with new applications at the moment so it will make sense to wait for a month or two until things settle down.  Then the battle to extricate ourselves from Cyta, as well as try to reclaim the deposit we were required to leave with them when we first opened our account.  From memory it was £100CYP, so 171€ and this a deposit that is only requested for non-Cypriots.

For an island where internet usage is still relatively rare, less than 20% of the population have computers and less than 15% of households have internet access, it’s not surprising that the market isn’t as developed as elsewhere.  It is an example however of one of those areas where costs are unexpectedly high.

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Cyprus Cost of Living #2

March 26, 2010

We were due in town for an appointment this morning; an early appointment.

Despite many years as corporate wage slaves we have adapted, far too easily, to a gentler life here so early starts hit hard.  Apologies to those readers who have morning commutes.  We’re out of practice, ok?

We were in town before 8am, having left home not much after 7am, only to discover that the plans of the guy we were meeting had changed.  Could we re-schedule for 11am and he’d try to see us then?  Hmmm no choice on our part really, it was a “take it or leave it” sort of offer.  So, we headed off to run some errands and tried again at 11am.  “Sorry, something else has come up.  Try 1pm.”  In the end we got 10 minutes with him a little after 1 o’clock.  Had we known that’d happen the day would have been very different, but no matter.

Meanwhile having been in the centre of town in time for the first, delayed, appointment we had time to kill.  But we also had a list of errands that could be done should such a thing happen.  When the meeting was shifted back to 1pm we dug deeper into the list and knocked off a whole host of other small jobs.

We go into the weekend with a fridge full of fruit and veg, an empty postbox, a tour of famous local church under our belts, a first catch-up with a friend post-surgery, our once-a-year long and lazy Starbucks coffee fix satiated and a clean car.

We also took the chance to drop into a sportswear store in town and do the annual stocking up on trainers – runners or sneakers to our North American readers.

Long experience has shown that, for both of us, Reebok are the best choice.  The fit is good for us both and there are enough styles to be able to find sturdy enough soles to cope with the off-track walking that we do regularly.  The rough ground and vegetation that we typically walk over and through, known colloquially as bondu, can be fierce on both clothing and footwear.  Having a good thick running or walking shoe goes some way to offsetting that.

But buying running shoes?  Well, that’s somewhere near the bottom 10% of enjoyable jobs during the year.  It’s a necessary, and usually, expensive evil.  Who’d do that by choice?

But today we were round the corner from one of the more useful stores and we had time to kill and, frankly, the job was so overdue that existing trainers were starting to look rather tired.  So, we headed inside and started searching.

45 minutes later we walked out with two brand new pairs of Reeboks each.  Total cost?  125€ ($165, £110) at current exchange rates.  In the UK we’d expect to spend really quite a bit more than than; perhaps two or three pairs of trainers for that price.  To get four pairs seemed a bargain.

Once more, some things are much more expensive than the UK.  With some careful shopping some things are not, and perhaps not always the expected things.