Category Archives: Greece

Thursday Doors, The Greek Island of Kimolos

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Narrow cobbled streets, whitewashed houses with paintwork cracked and splintered by the sun.  With less than a thousand residents across the entire island there isn’t a great deal of local activity to observe. In the tight, sinuous streets paving stones have been edged in white and decorated with flowers, hearts, sailboats and slogans: “My Kimolos, my paradise”. Lovely.

At the top the tall cathedral seemed somehow too grand and too big and completely out of scale with the tiny streets and boxy houses. The streets are ramshackle and without order or planning as they wound their way to the centre and the sixteenth century Kastro, much of which isdilapidated and in ruins with heaps of rubble from collapsed and mostly abandoned houses.

Inside, some people were clinging on to occupation of houses with only very basic facilities that would certainly be declared unfit in the United Kingdom.

The Kastro is an important historical monument and there are plans to restore the buildings and some early work has begun but it is likely to take a very long time because current funding from the Greek Government and the European Union is totally inadequate which leaves the project financially beyond restorative reach.

As surely as a sunflower drops its head and dies if anyone wants to see these old doors they had better go soon because they will soon be replaced with plastic and will have gone the way of the old Greek ferries, the unreliable bus services and the dusty corner shops that sell things people no longer need.

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A Look Back at 2019

After a slow start to the year we finally got started in…

April

12 Cornwall

Once a year I generally take a holiday in the UK with my daughter and grandchildren.  In previous years I have been to East Anglia, Yorkshire and Wales but on account of the distance never to Cornwall in the extreme South West.  An Australian motorist would no doubt consider four hundred miles to be a drive to the mini-market to get a loaf of bread but in England this is generally considered to be a long way and an arduous journey that requires rather a lot of meticulous planning

May

Valencia Spain

I like Valencia and this was my second visit, it is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and just ahead of Bilbao and Malaga and after we had got our bearings we set off to explore the heart of the old city and started first at a tapas bar in the “Plaza de la Vergen” in a gloriously sunny spot overlooking the east door of the Cathedral.

June

Berlin Spies

I had considered visiting Berlin several times over the last ten years, there are nearly always cheap flights available but for some reason I have never made it there.  I had often come very close to booking flights but then somewhere more appealing has nicked in ahead of the German capital at the last minute and I have made alternative plans.  Berlin would always have to wait.

This time I had no excuse not to go because I was invited to a gentlemen’s weekend away (ok, a stag party) so together with my brother Richard a party of boys several years younger than me, I left East Midlands Airport early one morning and two hours later was drinking beer at Schoenefeld Flughafen.

Madrid Postcard

According to official statistics, after London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona, Madrid is the fifth most visited city in Europe (in that order) but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Compared to London, Paris and Rome it only achieved capital status relatively recently, and there is no iconic building to define it, no Eiffel Tower, no Colosseum and no Westminster Abbey and no famous cathedral or castle either so I was curious about what we were likely to see.  Hemingway liked it so I was sure that I would too.

July

Skipsea Cornfield

School holidays mean visiting grandchildren so to save the house and garden from being trashed I booked a few days away in a holiday home (caravan) in a part of Yorkshire that I have so far never felt inclined to visit.  Tucked away in the south east of the county is a stretch of coastline between the city of Hull and the town of Bridlington and this was our destination.  A holiday park at Skipsea Sands

September

Algarve Postcard Map 3

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourites and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

In 2017 we travelled through Northern Portugal using the trains but this time we planned to go South where the railway network is difficult or practically non-existent, so this time we were driving.  Our plan was to visit the Algarve region and visit the towns and beaches of the south and west and then head inland to the historic towns of Beja, Evora, Estremoz and Elvas and also to spend a few days in Extremadura in Spain.

October

Corfu Map

I have been to the Greek Island of Corfu several times, I have stayed at the village of Kalami several times but this didn’t stop me going again and we travelled on this occasion with our good friends Mike and Margaret.

I first visited Corfu thirty-five years previously and spent a couple of days driving around the island and secretively I had a plan to do so again this time and see what changes there have been over the years.

December

Berlin Hoff Hause

I visited Berlin six months ago and came away disappointed.  After a short period of reflection I came to the conclusion that this was an unfair assessment, I was on a stag party weekend and it is difficult to fully appreciate a city when you only see it through the bottom of a beer glass.  This time I liked it a whole lot better – I was right to go back.

All in all, a very good year!

Corfu and the Achilleion Palace

Achilleion 04

In the afternoon we visited the Achilleion at Gastouri, squeezed in between Perama and Benitses.  It is a museum now but was once a summer Palace built in 1890 by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria who was a curious woman obsessed with the classical Homeric hero Achilles and with all things beautiful (including herself by all accounts).

The Palace with the neoclassical Greek statues that surround it is a monument to platonic romanticism and escapism and is filled with paintings and statues of the tragic hero Achilles, both in the main hall and in the gardens, depicting heroic struggles scenes of the Trojan War.

The dazzling white Palace has a wedding cake like appearance and the beautiful Imperial gardens on the hill look over the surrounding green hill crests and valleys and the azure blue Ionian Sea.

I had visited before of course and this was the Palace in 1984…

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The centre piece of the gardens is a marble statue on a high pedestal of the mortally wounded Achilles stripped of body armour and heroic bravado and wearing only a simple cloth and an elaborate Greek hoplite helmet.  This statue was fashioned by German sculptor Ernst Gustav Herter and the hero is  without rank or status and seems notably human though tragic as he is forever trying despairingly to pull the poisoned arrow shot by Paris from his unfortunate heel.

His classically depicted face is full of pain and he gazes skyward as if to seek help from Olympus.

Achilles Heel

In Greek mythology when Achilles was a baby it was foretold that he would die young. To prevent this his mother Thetis took him to the River Styx which was said to offer powers of invulnerability and dipped his whole body into the water, however, as Thetis held Achilles by the heel, his heel was not washed over by the water of the magical river and was therefore tragically vulnerable.  I have always thought of this to be rather careless.

Dying Achilles

Oddly today there was no arrow on the statue, it seems to have been removed, maybe stolen or perhaps for preservation and repairs, it was certainly there in 1984…

Achilles 1984

and in the souvenir tile that I bought several years later, on the island of Santorini if I remember correctly…

Achilles

In contrast to the painful death of Achilles at the great staircase in the main hall is a giant painting of the triumphant warrior full of pride.  Dressed in full royal military regalia and erect on his racing chariot he pulls the lifeless body of Hector of Troy in front of the stunned crowd watching helplessly from inside the walls of the City.

The Achilleion must have been an idyllic holiday home but in 1898 at the age of sixty the Empress was assassinated when she was stabbed by an anarchist whilst walking in a park in Geneva, Switzerland.  After her death the palace was sold to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II who also liked to take summer holidays on Corfu and later, after World-War One it was acquired by the Greek State who converted it into a museum.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria

It is a beautiful place with grand sweeping gardens befitting royal ownership and we enjoyed the visit and even went back later to see the sunset from the Kaiser’s chair which is an area at the highest point in the gardens where Wilhelm would go in the evening to enjoy the end of the day.

On the way out we passed Kaiser’s Bridge which is just two stumps of brickwork now but was originally built for the Kaiser so that he could leave his yacht and walk to his palace without crossing the road. How self-indulgent was that?  The road can hardly have been busy or dangerous in 1900!

Two stumps of brickwork now because in 1942 it was ironically blown up by the occupying German troops because it was too low for their tanks to pass below.

Kaiser's Bridge

And so we returned to Kalami and our short holiday was over, we packed our bags and cleaned the apartment, I always like to clean an apartment in case we get a bad reputation as untidy guests and then inevitably we returned to the same beach side taverna for a final meal.  It had been a very good week, beaches, sunshine, long walks, a boat ride and a lot of history.  Corfu remains one of my favourite places in Greece and all of Europe.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Corfu and the Village of Benitses

“Marvellous things happen to one in Greece – marvellous good things which can happen to one nowhere else on earth”, Henry Miller – The Colossus of Maroussi

Benitses Postcard

We continued our tour around the island by driving south of Corfu Town to some of the early holiday destinations on the island.

We quickly left the rugged mountainous of the north east where the bare granite slopes of Mount Pantokrator rise steeply before plunging dramatically into the sea to where, although only a few miles away, the flat and sandy south east where tall cypresses march in columns down green fertile slopes to the shore.

In 1984 I stayed in the village of Perama at a modern hotel complex called the Aelos Beach Hotel which was only a short distance from the main town.    The hotel was an unattractive concrete structure with a main building with restaurant, bar and shops and the accommodation was in a string of bedroom blocks that were located amongst pretty bougainvillea shrubs in the large hotel gardens.  We drove past it today and it is now a modern beach resort, very up-market and most likely beyond my budget.

Lots of visitors get drawn to Perama now because this is where the Durrell family lived in the 1930s.

The Durrells

We didn’t stop because we were heading for the next village of Benitses.

In the 1980s Corfu was expanding rapidly as a tourist destination and was acquiring an uneviable reputation as a party island and magnet for unruly British tourists on boozy Club 18-30 holidays.   They were drawn in the main to the hedonistic town of Benitses which was well known for heavy drinking, beach parties, wild behaviour and street fighting.  There was a story at the time that even the island police were frightened to go in there after dark but I am not sure if this was really true.

In 1984 we drove straight through, not daring to stop but at ten o’clock in the morning it was still recovering from the night before and didn’t live up to its dangerous reputation at all, no dead bodies or burnt out cars and we went through entirely without incident on our way to the north of the island.

Benitses 01

Over the next twenty years or so the locals who lived in the village grew tired of its  reputation and ill-disciplined guests and made a determined effort to throw off its bad ill-repute.  Benitses set about reinventing itself with the addition of a swanky marina, up-market hotels and a string of classy bars and tavernas.  The rowdy youngsters were carefully redirected to Kavos in the the far south of the island where they were kept as far away as possible from families and the mostly well behaved.

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Kavos must have been delighted because in a 2017 survey it was in the top ten of European destinations that are spoiled by boozy Brits.  The others (in no particular order) were Ayia Napa in Cyprus; Red Sea resorts in Bulgaria; Magaluf, Barcelona and Benidorm in Spain; Malia in Crete, Riga in Latvia and Hvar in Croatia.  Such surveys make me ashamed to be British.

In 1984 I confess that we contributed to this a little bit and this I my Mum after way too much local retsina wine and most likely a glass or two of ouzo as well…

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I am happy to report that things are quite different today in Benitses and we had no fear of parking the car and taking a stroll along the waterfront next to the marina and the thin shingle beach before stopping for mid-morning coffee.

And that could have been it, we were ready to leave and move on but we spotted a half-hidden sign pointing to the old village so we decided to explore a little.

Benitses it turns out has a long and interesting history stretching all the way back to the Roman occupation two thousand years ago and we took the narrow path that climbed into a lush green valley with interesting buildings and intriguing lanes and as far as the village church basking in the sunshine at the very centre.

Some scholars suggest that Corfu is the setting for the William Shakespeare play The Tempest.  He did, after all, go missing for a long time and presumed travelling in Italy and the Adriatic so this is not completely unlikely and the path took us through an olive grove with gnarled black trunks twisting away like Chubby Checker and each with a knotted witch hiding in the branches and all rather like walking through Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Can you spot the white faced witch…

Benitses 08

I was glad that we had stopped off in Benitses and had found it so delightful and hospitable, it is always good to have previous prejudices and misunderstandings corrected. I am no longer going to tell stories about fighting and boozing in the streets of Benitses but rather about charming flower fringed streets, local people pleased to welcome us and an enchanting and polite seaside resort and village.

We left Benitses and made the short journey to the nearby Achilleion Palace.

Click on an image to view the Gallery…

Textures of Corfu, Blistered Paint

Corfu Door Texture

 

Thursday Doors – Blue Doors of Greece

Man Painting Blue Door Mykonos Greece

My favourite doors are in the Cyclades where, next to the white that we all associate with the islands, the prevailing colour is blue and this colour combination has become a trademark of the islands.

It turns out that this isn’t just because it is a favourite of the people who live there or that the local hardware store simply overstocked and sold it off cheap in a clearance sale, the widespread use emanates from an ancient belief that the sky-blue shade of turquoise has the power to keep evil away.  It is believed that the radiation of the colour composes a sort of invisible shield, which prevents the approach of bad spirits.

Read the full story…

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

The Durrells of Corfu

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In my opening Corfu post I mentioned that I had prepared for the visit by reading Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ which forms a sort of Corfiot trilogy alongside brother Laurence’s ‘Prospero’s Cell’ and Henry Miller’s ‘The Colossus of Marousi’  all written about many of the same places, and often the same people, but from very different perspectives.

Read the full story here…