Archive for the ‘Op Keo’ Category

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Trapped!

January 12, 2010

When we first started this blog its purpose was twofold : to keep family and friends updated on our progress and to detail our 3 week long trip to Cyprus.  For an explanation of exactly why we decided to drive rather than fly to our new life feel free to jump right back to the start of the blog here.  Anyone wanting to see more information on the trip will find the “Op Keo” category in the categories list on the right hand side of the blog useful.

So, in summary, we decided to drive from London to Cyprus. The trip required two ferries, from Italy to Greece and then from Greece to Cyprus.  Looking back through some blog notes it is clear that we alluded to some trouble with the first of the ferries but didn’t go into detail.  A therapist might suggest that it’s taken us this long to come to terms with the events of that segment of the trip ;-)


So, having docked in Patras the plan was to load the car, depart the ship, find the hotel and then sleep.

There appeared to have been relatively few cars on the ferry. Dozens and dozens of articulated lorries, but only a handful of cars. There had been some unloading in Corfu and Igounmenitsa but the vehicle decks were still fairly full. The lorry drivers appeared to be regulars on this route and needed little advice, which was just as well as the crew were relaxed about giving out instructions. In fact, they didn’t really bother.

Once we arrived in Patras we were keen to leave and, based on experience over the last couple of days, were not expecting much guidance from the crew so we decided to make our own way to the car deck. We’d made a note of which deck we were parked on (the lowest one, naturally) and we’d spotted the lifts. We picked up the bags – much easier with two – and headed lift-wards. Only one small hitch – the lift button for our deck needed a key to be operated; strangely the only deck that this was true for. While we were considering this and deciding what to do an engineer joined us in the lift and saw our predicament. He produced a handy key, unlocked the lift and allowed us to select our car deck.

Yes, with the benefit of hindsight (and tipped off by the blog title no doubt) those are alarm bells that you can hear ringing in your mind as you read ;-)

So, oblivious to the imminent danger we headed down to the lowest of the car decks, having waved goodbye to the helpful engineer as he got out a couple of decks above. Once on the deck we commented on the heat and then went looking for the car. The deck was relatively empty with just a handful of cars, all in the same general area. Our car was blocked in on all sides.

With other cars on all sides there was little point in being with the car so we considered returning to the upper decks, and the fresh air and cooler temperatures, for a while. With that in mind we headed back to the lift. Yes, the key operated lift for which we had no key. Obviously the lift was inaccessible to us so we headed to the stairwell only to discover that the whilst we could ascend the stairs the doors to the upper decks were locked. By this point we were mildly troubled but not yet overly concerned. We headed back down to our car deck and double checked both the lift and the other stairwells to satisfy ourselves that neither was of use.

Since neither was accessible we waited … and waited … and waited while the temperature went up … and up … and up. Periodically one of us wandered off to explore the car deck, in reality more for something to do and to stay off the feeling of doom rather than with any optimism that an escape route might be hiding from us.

As we waiting we could hear the occasional noise from the higher decks and over time they became louder and more frequent. With the benefit of plenty of thinking time we figured out that the lower decks each had a collapsible vehicle ramp which could be withdrawn back to the roof of the deck once loading was complete. Since the ramp had been in place when the car had been loaded this hadn’t been apparent. Now, as the ramp was collapsed we could just see the outline of where it was flat-packed and held in place above us. The rationale of a collapsing ramp was also clear, it allowed more vehicles to be placed on each deck.

However, while our powers of deduction helped to pass the time they did nothing to get us out. We were forced to wait while each and every deck above us was cleared before the ramp to our deck could be deployed. All in temperatures that started as rather warm and climbed to unpleasantly hot.

When the ramp was lowered, some two hours after we first accessed the deck, the crew were fairly horrified to see us there. They were also baffled to find us lying on the car deck under an air duct. Whilst they might have thought that the duct provided little airflow we knew, through extensive investigation, that the air temperature just underneath it was a mere 40º C (104º F) rather than the significantly higher temperatures elsewhere on the deck.

The moral of this story, as much as there is one, is that if a kindly engineer with a key offers to give you access to a restricted floor think carefully before you accept. In our case it resulted in a deeply unpleasant couple hours in uncomfortable heat with no water, food or means of entertainment or escape. Our real fear during this time was that, with us absent, the crew would not open the deck to release our car and that we’d eventually be found when the ferry was emptied in Venice, some two days later.

In the end we drove off the ferry in the early hours of the morning very hot, tired and highly fragranced. As a final insult while the car had been trapped a scented traveling candle in a tin had melted. As it hadn’t been flat the wax leaked all over the contents of the bag of toiletries it was contained in. For days afterwards we were forced to pick tiny pieces of wax from other items that were in the same bag. Worse still the smell permeated the car and our belongings. Still today, some three years on, that smell transports us back to the car deck of that ferry.

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The new house

September 29, 2009

So, the new house.  It’s in a village about half way between Larnaca and Limassol, up in the hills slightly.  Despite being just 20 minutes to the sea, the extra height means that the temperatures are a little cooler and the humidity is a little lower.  Combined with the peacefulness of a small village it is a rather different lifestyle to the bustle of Aradippou with its population of 10,000 people.

The house itself is an old cottage which has been added to a number of times.  Best estimates are that it is a little over 200 years old.  The previous owner bought an additional piece of land which allowed him to create a small private walled garden and, more importantly, reverse the aspects of the house.  It also allowed direct access to a small road around the edge of the village.  However, the change, still, causes some confusion for us …

“When you said you’d put the thing outside the back door did you mean the old back door or the new back door?”

The old front door (now at the back of the house) opens onto a donkey track which leads into the centre of the village. So, to save our sanity we happily refer to it as the donkey track or pomegranate door in recognition of the tree which grows right outside the door.

As well as walling in the garden the previous owner, Mad Alex, partially renovated the property.  We believe he was responsible for adding the upstairs floor but we could never actually get him to admit that, probably because the title deeds are so shockingly out of date that they bear little relationship to the house.  On the, ever growing, to-do list is yet more bureaucracy as we try and get the current deeds updated.  At present they suggest that we own a ruined room and a tree.

Some days that has felt worryingly close to the truth.

When we first viewed the house Mad Alex suggested it needed “a little re-plastering, and a coat of paint“.  This in a house that had birds nesting in the upstairs room, 22 kittens born to the local tribe of feral cats he had adopted and a single electrical socket in the kitchen.

Clearly we and he had differing opinions of what makes a property habitable and as he disappeared into the sunset with his cardboard boxes of cats we brought in the builders.

20 weeks later we have;

  • New windows and doors
  • A downstairs bathroom turned into a utility room and a cloakroom
  • The entire existing kitchen ripped out
  • Downstairs re-wired entirely
  • An external staircase removed
  • Downstairs re-tiled throughout
  • Upstairs & downstairs re-plumbed
  • New shower room created
  • Floor in the en-suite bathroom lowered by 4 inches
  • Upstairs concrete slab floors removed, re-tiled throughout

The builders are long gone but the house is still a work in progress.  Decorating the entire house from scratch and building our first ever kitchen was work we aimed to do.

The most pressing job on the list at the moment is getting the kitchen to a properly usable state.  The units are built, most of the countertops are cut and ready to be fitted.  Space has been cut for the sink and the hob, but things have been held up by a quest for the right tap.

Most Cyprus taps don’t have enough depth to penetrate the non-Cypriot countertop we’ve bought.  Most non-Cypriot taps available here don’t have the third feed that we need for the (periodic) mains supply.  However, three taps on we may have a winner.  If so, we can finally have running water in the kitchen and stop BBQing in the garden – some 10 weeks after we first moved in!

In the meantime, some kitchen progress photos.

Kitchen part way through the re-wiring

Kitchen part way through the re-wiring

Kitchen, from the same angle, part way through the build

Kitchen, from the same angle, part way through the build

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Catching up at last

September 24, 2009

A wedding … one transatlantic crossing by sea … one house purchase … one mad and deluded vendor … 20 weeks of builders onsite … one legal battle with Cypriot bureaucracy … one lawyer’s  suggestion to sue the Government in the European Courts … one sneaky workaround to get round said bureaucracy … two minor operations … one set of demolished external stairs … lots of fruit trees … several hammered thumbs whilst building a kitchen … an awful lot of paint, and filler, and sanding, and non-square walls … some visitors … some temporary electrics … a few rats … some fresher air and cooler evenings

So, we’re back after a break of almost 15 months.  The intention had always been to keep the blog going but circumstances have kept us rather busy of late.  Of course, there’s nothing quite like being accosted, in the toilets of a hotel during a wedding reception, by a total stranger saying …

I know who you are, I used to read your blog!

… to bring on the guilt of letting things slip.

We have now moved, to a property which we first saw and made an offer on in Spring ’08.  It took until December for us to get vacant possession and then until July ’09 before it was fit to inhabit.  Considering the previous (see deluded, above) owner said it needed nothing more than a little light replastering and a coat of paint that may give an indication of some of the challenges that have kept us busy over the last year or so ago.

Technically the blog should be renamed …

‘VillageUpInTheHillsAbout30MinsDriveFromLarnaca-Tales

… but that seems rather wordy so, for the time being we’ll stick with AradippouTales even though we’ve left Aradippou behind us.

Welcome back :-)

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Legal, at last!

July 23, 2008

After two years, two months and one day the car finally has legal, legitimate Cypriot number plates.

Those of you with long memories may recall that we bought a new, VAT-free, car in England a month before we left. The VAT-free status was permitted as we intended to remove the car from the country within two months. The payback was that we would, ultimately, need to pay VAT in Cyprus once the car was registered.

Meanwhile the car was a corner-stone of Op Keo, our ‘leaving England’ plan. Our intention was to spend three weeks driving to Cyprus and stopping at all of the places in Europe that we’d always wanted to see. We did just that and had an absolutely wonderful time – well, apart from the night that we accidentally booked into a German Sanatorium.

Anyway, once we arrived in Cyprus our carefully crafted plan for importing the car fell apart. Arriving on hot and sunny Friday afternoon our case was considered to be too complex and the car was impounded, The following Monday we were allowed to remove it from Limassol and place it in a bonded warehouse in Larnaca to begin the official import process.

To assist we employed a local agent with the intention that she, rather than us, would travel to Nicosia on a periodic basis to progress our claim. Over the course of the last two years she has liaised with officials, produced copies of documents and apparently argued our case.

In truth we have to wonder if she has been a help or a hindrance. Yes, her language skills and knowledge of the process have been helpful, but in reality her ability to follow-up on any actions have been sadly lacking. Today, when we finally took delivery of the new number plates we discovered that she applied for them in late May and has been driving around with them in her car since then.

Nevertheless, the process is now done. The car is legal, she has shiny new plates and (all being well) we need never deal with the importation department in Nicosia ever again. In the final analysis we probably didn’t save a huge amount of money. The VAT we paid was at 15% rather than at 17.5% but we paid some registration fees and a (very small) amount of money to the agent. But, buying in England gave us a wonderful new car to allow us to drive here and fulfill that dream.

On that note, just one anecdote to give a flavour of the way things work here.

After the car had been moved to the bonded warehouse in Larnaca we were required to attend the local customs office to complete paperwork and, hopefully, give us temporary rights to drive the car. One of the office assistants at the bonded warehouse was tasked with accompanying us to the customs office to oversee the process. It occurred to her that once she had dealt with us she had another case, in another direction, to deal with and that it would therefore make sense to take two cars. Apart from her car the only other available vehicle was our impounded car.

“Ahhh, you should follow me in your car. But make sure you don’t park near to the office windows as we don’t want the import officer to see the car. After all, it is supposed to be in the warehouse still! ”

Life may be simpler now that the car is legal :-)

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Alien Bureaucracy, Part #3

July 30, 2007

So, on day two of this adventure we spent the morning checking through files for additional paperwork and then rushing round town on errands.

First stop, the bank for a statement. Nicosia wanted evidence that we had funds here and apparently the information we provided last year would no longer do. The first time we were asked for bank statements we provided photocopied, well, bank statements only to be told they weren’t acceptable. After a fairly tortuous conversation we discovered that when officials ask for a bank statement what they actually mean is a statement from the bank. Bank statement … statement from bank … really, you have to wonder how we could be so stupid as to confuse the two ;-)

Just so you know a statement from the bank is actually a letter detailing the balance of all accounts held at the close of business on the day in question. Over the last year we’ve had to ask for about a dozen or so, each time queueing at the bak counter to request the statement and then being redirected behind the counter, to the staff-only side, to an available admin person who types up the statement. During the 10 or 15 minutes it takes to produce we get a great chance to peak at the behind the scenes operation … the cash drawers stuffed with thousands or tens of thousands of pounds … the individual staff safes, each with the key in the lock so it doesn’t get misplaced and so on. Safe to say that banking Cypriot style is a little different from UK retail banking!

Once we had our latest bank statement sorry, statement from the bank we set off for the insurance company to renew our medical insurance. The Nicosia folks spotted that it was about to expire so asked for evidence that we were still covered. We believe that our medical insurance is so comprehensive that it would just about cover us for a broken leg, maybe two but not much beyond that. It is cheap, but essentially useless, but Nicosia insist that we must have it. We seriously considered a more extensive, and expensive, policy but were told that it would not be acceptable.

Why? Well, only the cheap and pointless policy includes Repatriation of Mortal Remains as one of the benefits. Cyprus is running out of cemetery space and there are no cremation facilities on the island. Should we come to any harm the government would rather like our bodies to be returned the UK so they can find space for us. Shipping dead bodies is rather expensive so to make sure it happens we need the useless policy to ensure we have cover.

So, with evidence of our insurance and with a nice letter from the bank and a bunch of other stuff we jumped in the car and headed back to Nicosia. Only 45 minutes this time as we knew exactly where to go – passed the Spanish Embassy, hang a left at the Circus Performers …

… only to find that it was closed. It seemed we had missed the essential notice (in 10 point font) stating that they didn’t actually open for that sole afternoon in July and August. Somehow the 45 minute drive back home seemed to take longer.

Day 3 of this saga dawned bright and sunny (no surprise there then) but sadly we were a little less sunny being weary of the drive to Nicosia and yet more obstacles and delays. However we set out determined to give it our best shot.

Up the motorway, passed the Spanish embassy, left at the Circus Performers and into the office by 9:05am only to find 35 people already there. Do they wait outside for opening hours?? Left hand queue, right next to the 10 point font “no afternoons in July & August” sign and a patient forty minutes to get to the front of the queue. The same woman from Day 1 took our paperwork, told us to take a seat and then disappeared into the back office.

Just two hours later we were summoned back to the counter to answer a minor query and then half an hour after that we were able to sign for our yellow (used to be pink) slips. Success at last.

Now, where did we put the car file?

Link to Alien Bureaucracy, Part #1
Link to Alien Bureaucracy, Part #2

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Alien Bureaucracy, Part #2

July 30, 2007

Our first stop in Nicosia was the Aliens Immigration office. We found the place with no trouble and headed inside. There we were met with a waiting room packed to the hilt with people. As we looked around for a reception desk or similar we were struck by two things. Firstly we were the only Caucasian faces in the room. There were people from the Algeria and Morocco and the Indian sub-continent but not a soul from Northern Europe. Considering just the number of British on the island that seemed slightly odd. The second oddity was a large handwritten notice stating this the office dealt only with Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Housemaids. Yes, housemaids. If you have a half-decent explanation for that one please share!

A little searching found a second, smaller, handwritten notice stating that all other folks needed to go to a different address; #11 Something Street in Nicosia. We made a note of the address, and headed back to the car and our local street map. Having found the address we headed off across Nicosia on leg 2 of our adventure.

Eastbound across Nicosia … avoiding the roundabout exit which would take us into the UN buffer zone and get us arrested … round the industrial area … quick wave at Customs House who hold the file on the car … through a small shopping street and into a residential area.

The street in question was also residential, surely a strange place for an Immigration office? Medium sized detached houses, children’s toys in the gardens, granny watching over the garden fence, empty plot where #11 should be. Just to be sure we drove up and down the street three times. Granny was both intrigued and baffled but there was no question that #11 didn’t have a government office and probably hadn’t had for ten years or more, if ever.

With few other options we headed back to the original building to see if there was anyone who could throw light on things. The old tried and tested method of wandering into random offices and asking for help worked wonders. A lovely young lady chuckled at our confusion and explained that we didn’t need the “Immigration Office, you need the Migration Office as you are from Europe!“. A quick mark on our map and we were on our way again, searching for the Ministry of Interior.

After three circuits of the embassy district we found the place. For reference, should you ever need to know, the Migration Office for Europeans is just to the right of the Aliens Immigration office for Circus Performers (Note: we really, really have to start carrying a camera. Even after a year hear we are still amazed at some of the things we seed). We headed inside and picked a queue to join. In an office 20 foot square there were four; one running from front left to back left, one from front right to back right, one from left to right and one from right to left. It’s possible that you can see the downsides of such a set-up, even without knowing that there were almost forty people in the four queues and another half dozed seated at the back of the room.

After 15 minutes of queuing we got to the front. Having explained our problem – pink slips are lovely but we’d really, really like yellow ones please – the women pulled up our details. “Sorry, they are not ready. But, if you will wait I will see what I can do” said she and disappeared into a back office with our details. An hour later she reappeared with a list of additional documentation they wanted to see so we headed back home for another round of paper chasing and the like with the plan to return the following afternoon, the only day of the week when they open for an afternoon session.

Link to Alien Bureaucracy, Part #1
Link to Alien Bureaucracy, Part #3

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Alien Bureaucracy, Part #1

July 30, 2007

Us aliens are in danger of being worn out by the Cypriot bureaucracy.

When we arrived last year we were required to register as aliens, technically “unnaturalized foreign resident of a country“. The process requires the production of information and documents and payment of a fee in return for a temporary resident’s permit, known locally as a ‘pink slip’. The pink slip is valid until the government decline your resident’s application and deport you from the island, or agree that you can stay for the next five years or so. At that stage the pink slip gets replaced with a permanent resident permit aka the ‘yellow slip’.

The colour references add interest to the process, as apparently just before we arrived they swapped over the colour of the temp and the perm documents. Occasionally we still hear conversations along the lines of “my pink slip, the temporary one, the one that used to be yellow. I’m still waiting for my yellow slip, you know, the one that used to be …“. Confused yet? Welcome to government bureaucracy at its best.

Last September we got our pink (used to be yellow) temporary residence permits. As yet there’s been no sign of the yellow slip, but then it’s not been a year yet so maybe we’re being impatient, and possibly English. That wouldn’t be a problem but for the small matter of the car.

The abridged version, to date, is that we bought a new Honda CRV just before we left England and drove it here to Cyprus. Because we were removing it from the UK immediately we got the car at a duty free price, but knew that we’d have to pay duty or VAT or both when we arrived here. We arrived, by ferry, one a Friday afternoon about an hour before the official knocking-off time. About 1pm in case you want to feel depressed about your working day! The officials looked at our paperwork and decided that they didn’t really understand our strange logbook (different issue for duty-free cars) or the fact that our new car had a little over 2,000 miles on the clock.

So, they debated how to handle our unusual case and decided it wasn’t practical in the time available before going-home time. Instead they impounded the car. The following week we were able to, for a fee or two, rescue the car and transfer it to a bonded warehouse in Larnaca where it stayed until we were issued with a temporary import licence. The licence was renewable, for a period up to six months, while they considered our case and we were issued with our permanent resident’s permits, those pesky yellow slips.

So herein lies the problem. Until we get our yellow slips we have a problem with the car. The car people are getting increasingly reluctant to extend our temporary import licence. In fact they went as far as threatening to impound the car and prosecute us for non-compliance with, well, something bureaucratic. Apparently that was an error caused by one part of the car department not knowing that the other part existed or something similar. They phoned to apologise for the error but we are starting to feel that the noose is tightening and if can’t hurry along the yellow slip we really may have a problem with the car.

So, in desperation we headed to Nicosia last week to talk to the Aliens Immigration people to see if there was any way to hurry this along.

If you haven’t yet had an overload of bureaucracy this week then make yourself a cup of coffee and come straight back ;-)

Link to Alien Bureaucracy, Part #2
Link to Alien Bureaucracy, Part #3