Archive for the ‘Finances’ Category

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Flawed logic

December 8, 2011

Life here is rarely dull (although we do occasionally drop off the radar from time to time!) but there are times when the Cypriot logic defies belief.  This is often the case when politicians are involved.  This week has seen two glorious examples so far.

Exhibit #1

Yesterday Standard & Poors threatened to downgrade the entire Eurozone.  Cyprus is already sitting on a rating that is little above junk status.  This should be a concern and yet the president is untroubled.  It will not matter, he says, that no one reputable will lend us money; we’ll just borrow some more from the Russians!

Indebted and beholden to the Russians, again.  Fantastic gameplan.  Obviously borrowing another couple of billion euro from them is a much, much better than actually doing something about the economic crisis.

Exhibit #2

In other news drilling and exploration of the new gas field, Block 12, continues.  Some folks are excited at the prospect of the untold wealth to come; others are sanguine about anything of use being found at all.  Some have wondered just where and how the spoils, estimated at $450bn this week, might be brought ashore if anything is found.  It seems we needn’t worry on that score, there is a plan.  Sadly the plan centres on piping the oil and gas ashore next to the Vasilikon power station.

You may have heard of the power station: it made the news in the summer when 90 or so containers of munitions, stored at the main naval base and next door to the power station, exploded.  13 people, including the head of the Navy, were killed, dozens were injured and over 50% of the electricity capacity of the island was destroyed.  You’d think they could find somewhere better, wouldn’t you?

This image shows two satellite images of the Vasilikon station. The left half is before the explosion, the right is after.

For the full ‘before vs after’ image see 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 #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.

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Cyprus Cost of Living #1

March 3, 2010

We’ve finally had a calculation for our 2009 rates.

For UK readers, this is the equivalent to the council tax and water rates.  For other readers this is our contribution to communal village costs, village improvements, water consumption and the cost of our twice weekly refuse collection.

For 2009 the total bill is 170€, or 14€ a month.

At today’s exchange rates that is about $230 or £155.  For the entire of 2009.

Sadly, we are being charged an 11€ penalty for failing to pay the bill before the end of the the year.  That we didn’t actually receive a bill is a moot point and, considering the total charge, it seems rather churlish to complain about the penalty.  According to village gossip the penalty is fixed; so, if we choose not to pay the rates for another 6 months the penalty will still be 11€.

In the previous house our water was metered.  Here, is seems, it is included in the village costs.  Maybe we should get a swimming pool?

There are some things that are significantly more expensive here than in England.

This, clearly, is not one of them.