Welcome to this part of the blog. Once a month I’ll be sharing an interview with a fellow SALT. What’s SALT I hear you ask? Well it’s someone that’s seeking or found a Simple Alternative Lifestyle Transformation. They’ve salted the situation, they’ve added flavour to their lives…they’ve…ok enough of the jokes…
I hope you enjoyed our last SALT interview. This week, allow me to introduce a family who swapped tea and cake for a move to Corfu…
What are your names, ages?
I’m Teresa (49) married to Barry (a little older than me) and our son, Matthew (13)
What country did you move from, where do you live now and when did it happen?
We moved from the small Downland village of Wilmington, Sussex, UK. I owned and ran a traditional Tearoom and gardens, cake wholesale and supply business alongside outside catering and event management. We moved to Corfu in 2014.
What made you want to change your lifestyle? Was there a catalyst? Was it something you’d been thinking for a while?
After what seemed a lifetime of living to work, hardly having a moment to enjoy the beautiful place that we lived in, and finding it almost impossible to find time for friends or family, let alone each other, we began thinking. With Matthew fast approaching school age, we came to the conclusion that something needed to change.
We began to look seriously at where we wanted to be, what we wanted to do and most importantly, at that time, what sort of childhood we wanted for Matthew.
Why did you choose the country/area/location that you live in now?
Barry has had a lifelong love affair with Greece and her islands. Although throughout our time together we’d travelled widely, it wasn’t until 2011 that I stepped foot onto Greek soil for the first time. I was instantly captivated.
Corfu is not only stunningly beautiful and blessed with some of the most gorgeous beaches you are ever likely to set eyes on, Kerkyra, as she locally known, has a vibrancy that infiltrates your soul, drawing you back to her time and time again. Greece is famed for its hospitality and Corfiots seem to have received an extra helping. Their welcome at the end of a busy summer season was the warmest I personally have ever received. Finally, I understood my husband’s infatuation as I too slipped under her spell.
What was your old life like? Give us an idea of a typical day.
Our life in the UK seemed to be an endless story of chasing our tails, always running and never quite getting there.
Most days I would start baking around 6.30am, although much earlier during the summer months. Generally, I worked alone for the first couple of hours which gave me time to get the first cakes in the ovens, plan the day’s baking schedule and check the morning deliveries. Barry would prepare Matthew’s breakfast, get him up and dressed, before taking him to preschool. He would then make any deliveries and do the shopping before returning to get the tearooms ready for the day. We would then work together until Matthew needed collecting. I used to do all my own accounting and for many years the PAYE and payroll too. So, having settled Matthew, I would complete the day’s accounts.
I would then stay with Matthew whilst Barry carried on working until the tearoom shut for the day. Although we always ate together in the evening, it was often a rushed meal as I usually went back to work after dinner. Often, I wouldn’t finally finish until 11pm, by which time both Matthew and Barry were in bed. During the height of the season or when there were festivals or events, it was not unheard of for me to work up to18 hour a day.
“…it was not unheard of for me to work up to18 hour a day.”
We tried to take 1 day off a week and, wherever possible, would get out and about together. Unfortunately, over time, this became more and more difficult. On many occasions it would just be one of us with Matthew…. hardly the ideal family life.
If I am honest, we had become a victim of our own success. My ethos was to cook everything from scratch, using only the best ingredients locally sourced and free range where possible. Many of the recipes I used were family ones that had been handed down through the generations — all this before the Great British Bake Off had made cakes and afternoon tea fashionable again. I started the cake wholesale and supply business to get our name out there and it just snowballed.
What was the reaction from friends and family? Was it positive or negative? Did other peoples opinions make you question your decision?
As expected, our friends, family and customers had very mixed responses to our decision. Our idea to sell up and move lock, stock and barrel (including cats and garden sculptures) to an island in the Ionian Sea seemed quite extreme.
Many thought that we were just plain bonkers for even considering it, especially as Greece was in the middle of it’s protracted financial crisis. One acquaintance felt the need to inform a rather full room that he was concerned that we hadn’t realised that Corfu was actually Greek!
Generally, those closest to us totally understood and fully supported our wish for a different kind of life. They are still very much part of our lives today, one of the blessings of social media.
What is your new life like?
Our current life couldn’t be further removed from the one we waved goodbye to over 6 years ago.
Before, our life involved busy roads, long working hours and snatched precious family time. We swapped it for: winding country lanes, time to exhale and draw breath and long lazy days stretching into balmy summer evenings.
It was important to fully integrate ourselves into the local community here, rather than live our life as if it was an extended holiday. So, to that end, and because of the speed of our final move (having waited over 2 years to sell our home and business, when it finally happened, we had just 6 weeks to pack up and move) we rented a house at first and enrolled Matthew in the local school.
With hindsight, this was actually the best thing we could have done. Many of Matthew’s classmates have turned into firm friends, and luckily for us, their parents ours.
“We have also, for the first time, had the opportunity to try things that either we wouldn’t have dreamed of or didn’t have the time for.”
Embracing life here has been an absolute joy. Greece is an Orthodox Christian country, where religion plays an important part in daily life. Greece does Easter well, but Corfu is renowned as having the largest celebrations. As well as Easter, there are summer panayeries (Saints Days.) Even the smallest village celebrates with music, dancing and, of course, eating souvlakis and lamb cooked on the spit.
There’s never a lack of traditions and celebrations. At the start of every school year, the children are blessed by the local priest. This goes for the epiphany too, plus virtually every group or organisation has a ‘cutting’ of the Vasilopita (New Year’s cake.) Name days are celebrated more widely than birthdays; people are expected to prepare a ‘table’ for anyone that might call to wish them Xponia Polla (Many years).
We have also, for the first time, had the opportunity to try things that either we wouldn’t have dreamed of or didn’t have the time for. Matthew and I joined a Panto group, and I started karate lessons, which I absolutely love. We’ve also taken painting lessons and been in the carnival processions. The most surprising opportunity was when Barry and I got the chance to be extras in the third series of ITV’s The Durrells. Without a doubt, each activity has widened our circle of friends and broadened our horizons.
“The most surprising opportunity was when Barry and I got the chance to be extras in the third series of ITV’s The Durrells.”
I should also mention that we bought a plot of land and built our own stone house; it’s our own little piece of paradise. This is something we would’t have contemplated if we’d bought as soon as we arrived.
Now we are in the throes of building a garden that is not only organic, but also a Xeriscape. Living on a small hill with well-drained soil has given me the opportunity to indulge my passion for herbs, especially lavender. Our aim is to be as self-sufficient as possible with our fruit and vegetables. We are lucky enough to own 17 very old olive trees that produce almost perfect grade olive oil and we have started planting other fruiting trees too. Growing up on a farm, I am truly relishing being able to get back to the land.
What challenges have you faced?
As with any move to a foreign country that does not have English as its first language, learning the local lingo is always going to be a challenge. Lessons were one of the first things we arranged after we arrived. Matthew, being at school, is now almost fluent…well he’s fluent in 13 year old Greek! I am still having twice weekly lessons and can hold quite a decent conversation, read and write, albeit slowly.
Barry, never having been a natural linguist, gets by, and at least has us. To be honest, Greek has to be one of the hardest languages to master, especially from English because the root and structure of it is very different. Corfu, being a holiday destination, does give you the ability to get by in English, but as we wanted to fully integrate into society here, it has been important for at least one of us to persevere.
Just as with anything in life, we have been thrown the occasional curve ball. The UK Brexit vote had an almost immediate effect on our finances. Not only is Barry’s pension paid in the UK, but at the time, the bulk of the capital from the sale of our property and business was also in the UK. With the exchange rates plummeting, we were faced with the prospect of giving up on our dream and new life, or adjusting the original plans to fit into a thinner wallet.
We unanimously agreed on the later. I took sewing lessons and have become very adept at upcycling second hand furniture. Barry dusted off his school boy carpentry skills and began creating things. He built a desk out of some leftover wood and a resized sheet of toughen glass, and began utilising any pallets he could get his hands on for other house or garden needs. Looking back, it is probably why our house feels so special to us; every room has at least one thing we’ve upcycled, made or salvaged.
“Just as with anything in life, we have been thrown the occasional curve ball.”
However, the biggest challenge we faced was one that none of us could have foreseen. Just as our house was beginning to take shape, Barry started to feel tired quite a lot of the time, even walking upstairs left him exhausted. As his father had suffered from emphysema, we made an appointment with a doctor just to be on the safe side.
He immediately referred us to a cardiologist who we saw the following day. Within half an hour, it became apparent that Barry was actually seriously ill and after a manic 48 hours, which included a mad dash to the mainland (Corfu hospital does not have a fully functioning cardiology unit) he was fitted with a stent as his main artery was almost completely blocked. It took Barry a good 6 months to a year to fully recover, and even now he has to watch how much heavy work he does in the garden.
The support we received from everyone here was amazing, from the doctors in the hospitals, to our friends and acquaintances. If we ever had any doubts about our move to Greece, they were well and truly vanquished by the whole experience.
What are your favourite things about your new life?
The return to seasonal living is an absolute joy. Spring, with its abundance of colour washed wildflowers that drench the air with an intoxicating perfume. Summer, where time seems to almost standstill accompanied by the constant percussion of cicadas and its afternoon siestas. Autumn, possibly the shortest of all the seasons, where the sea is perfect for swimming. And lastly winter, which arrives quietly, and blusters up to a crescendo of monsoon like rain that literally cascades like a waterfall down the old streets of Corfu Town.
Barry relishes the slower pace of life and time to just be without external pressures. For Matthew, the amazing views and beautiful beaches really strike a chord. But the absolute favourite thing that we all agree on is the friendships we have been blessed with.
Is there anything you would do differently in hindsight?
The only thing that we would have done differently is move much earlier.
Do you see this as a permanent move?
Totally, coming to Corfu has always felt like coming home.
What would your advice be to others considering a change of lifestyle.
Trust your instincts, take that risk, live your life in the way you want to live, but research, research, research. Having made the decision to move, we came back time and time again during different seasons, and stayed in different places before we finally moved.
Embrace the differences, the Greek system is very bureaucratic. Even opening a simple bank account or buying a mobile phone contract requires much form filling. Setting aside a whole morning to do a simple task means not putting yourselves under pressure, as well as giving you time to form useful contacts and even make an unexpected friend.
Also, try and learn at least a little of the local language. It will repay you in bucket loads. Learning to take yourself less seriously helps too; laughter is the quickest way to make new friends.
“Learning to take yourself less seriously helps too; laughter is the quickest way to make new friends.”
Be prepared for the unexpected. No two days are ever the same. No matter how much you plan, something always comes up out of the blue and turns all your well thought out ideas on their head.
Consider your finances, life on the islands is very seasonal, so if you are planning to work, you need to be prepared for winter months without an income. Year round employment is difficult to find in the wake of the financial crisis. Although living costs are lower than the UK, the islands are more expensive to live on than mainland Greece.
Is there a way that people can follow your journey further?
We’ve been asked this many times, and to be honest, we had intended to write at least a monthly blog of our experiences. However we’ve been so busy enjoying our new life and its experiences, that we’ve not quite got round to starting one yet……maybe next winter!
It’s me, Mrs SN. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Teresa, I know I did. Their new life sounds idyllic, and I’m a little jealous that they got to film with the cast of the Durrells!
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