September 22, 2008

End of an era for Olympic. But please don't strike before I've flown, OK?

Olympicplanes A long running Greek saga is beginning to draw to a close, as the Government and the EU have finally agreed on a plan for what to do with national carrier Olympic Airways. It was in 1994 that the EU first began complaining that the Greek government was distorting the market for air travel with illegal subsidies to the company.

By the end of next year the intention is to split Olympic into three companies, so that flights, maintenance and ground staff are no longer one big state-owned monopoly.

The numbers involved are staggering. According to last week's Athens News, the European Commission says that since it last ruled against Olympic receiving €724m is illegal state aid in 2005, Olympic has received a further €850m from the Government. And even with all that taxpayers money, the company can still not turn a profit - it is expecting to post a €400m loss this year.

The replacement company will not take on all of Olympic's 4,600 staff. Some will have to take early retirement, and the rest who do not join the new airline are to be given other public sector jobs. What price a meritocracy eh? Oh, €1.2 billion it seems, which will be the cost of the re-staffing plan, which seems to include giving ex-staff €500 monthly bonuses to make up for their income loss.

The staff, unions and opposition have reacted the only way they seem to know in Greece - which is to ignore any economic reality, and insist that if only the Government restructured the management and pumped in more money, then Europe's last totally state-owned airline would be able to compete in the modern transport marketplace. According to ERT "Opposition parties described the Olympic Airways issue as a sell off of public wealth to investors". Olympic is €2.7 billion in debt.

Riot police had to intervene to prevent disgruntled staff gate-crashing the Transport Minister's Press Conference, and they have already staged a sit-in at a company office in Athens.

My worry now is that I've got six over-priced Olympic flights booked to and from Crete in the space of the next few weeks, and it seems almost inevitable that there will be strikes...

August 13, 2008

Trying to recreate our fantastic voyage - FAIL

Greek culture is keen on recreating legendary voyages. We have our own replica Minoan ship in Chania, and a few weeks back a multi-national EU crew rowed a replica of Jason's Argonaut carrying boat to Italy. We tried a bit of a recreation of our own, and decided to get the ferry from Piraeus to Chania at the end of our Athens trip.

Just over two years ago we made the same voyage. That time we weren't sure what to expect on the ferry, had never visited Crete, and had no idea whether we would be able to find a house or make a home there. But what we did have was a couple of backpacks full of stuff, and a lovely, lovely ice cold beer by the side of the ship before we set sail.



This time around, we were much better prepared for what to expect from ANEK lines. We got the complimentary bus that takes you from just about the door of the Metro to the ANEK ticket office - even though it is only ten minutes walk.

Then we headed off to get our ice cold beer...only to find that the quayside bar has been converted into a Starbucks!



February 08, 2008

New bus ticket machine at Plateia 1866

We'd known for some time that the 'posh' side of town had automated bus ticket dispensing machines. Our usual stop at Plateia 1866 completely relied on an old wooden kiosk though. Buying tickets from there is where we first got our primitive grasp of counting in Greek.

But when we got to the square last week there was a huge commotion going on at the bus stop - we were getting our own automatic machine.


I shall look forward to standing in a long queue behind bamboozled tourists during the summer...


December 03, 2007

Empty flight home

Hello. It has been a couple of months since we posted anything on 'A lemon tree of our own'. We were both very busy when we were back in London, and needed a chance to re-charge our blogging batteries - but we've been back home in Crete for a month now.

On our last day in the UK we had a major surprise day out. For our wedding anniversary I told Claire to be ready with her bags for the airport at 9am on the day before we flew, and then took her to Cambridge for the day. We went on a ghost walk of my own devising (which you can read about here and here) and then I took her to see Idlewild at the Cambridge Junction. I managed to keep it a surprise until we were literally queuing to get in, and she saw a poster and started hyper-ventilating "Oh my god are we going to see Idlewild!".

The downside of it all was that it meant getting a coach from Cambridge City Centre at 3am in the morning to catch our flight to Heraklion. If that wasn't bad enough, whilst we were waiting I got a phone call from the nightwatchman at the hotel where we had been staying, asking me to come back and either pay or show my receipt to prove I had paid. Given that we had paid for a full night's stay and had only had the room for a couple of hours, I was less than impressed.

20071201_emptyairport The flight itself was so strange that it felt like we might have stayed in bed and still been dreaming. We got to Stansted just before 4, and were checked in and through security in about 10 minutes. I could get used to travelling at that time in the morning! Waiting in departures we had twiddle our thumbs until Starbucks opened to get a coffee, and then we made our way to our departure gate. Where we sat with the entire compliment of our flight - all 8 of us.

Now, I had a pretty empty flight back to Crete at the start of September, but nothing prepared us for this. Including the flight-deck, we must have had a one-to-one ration with the crew on the plane. It was XL's last outbound flight of the summer, and presumably it only runs in order to be in Heraklion to pick up people who had spent the October half-term break there.

We weren't complaining though. Although I did feel a bit silly about having asked for an aisle sit when we checked in. With just 8 passengers, we ended up with entire rows each, and being moved to next to the over-wing exits so we could get extra legroom.

I dread to think what it meant for our individual carbon footprint!

A lemon tree of our own

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