Tag Archives: Corfu Town
Outside and around the church there were old fashioned stores selling various cheap cards or slightly more expensive pieces of pressed aluminium each with a picture of a part of the body.
The explanation is that if you have a bad knee then you buy a leg picture, a poorly arm an elbow picture, a hangover a brain picture and so on and then you take this to the Church and ask for a cure and then leave it there securely fastened in bunches to railings and picture frames so that God or Jesus or whoever doesn’t just forget about it seconds after you have gone.
In return for this service it is the custom to light a candle and leave it flickering at the door. Six foot candles were burning away with such intensity it might have been what it was like to be caught in the middle of the Great Fire of London. It all looked rather dangerous to me but there were men on hand whose job it was to extinguish the flames as soon as the worshipper that had left it there was an appropriate distance away down the street and then whisk the unburned portion away for immediate recycling and to cut down and sell later to another pilgrim!
Emerging from the shady streets back into the sunshine we passed the Esplanade, once the exclusive place for nobles and important residents and then the cricket pitch, which looked lush and green and rather out of place in this dry dusty town and is a quirky legacy of fifty years of British rule from 1814 to 1864 and where matches are still played today.
I don’t suppose many people would expect to find cricket being played in Greece but it was introduced to Corfu in 1823 when a match was played between the British Navy and the local Army garrison. The Hellenic Cricket Federation was founded a hundred and seventy years later in 1996 when Greece became a member of the European Cricket Council and an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council. There are now twenty-one cricket clubs in Greece, thirteen of which are based in Corfu and Greece competes annually in the European Cricket Championship.
Never mind Captain Cook or Clive of India or Cecil Rhodes, it seems to me that Cricket is probably the most important legacy of the British Empire. Currently 104 of 193 World Countries have some sort of affiliation to the International Cricket Council. For some reason that I cannot explain there are 211 football countries (?) affiliated to FIFA. There are about twenty countries that play the pointless game of US
I certainly wouldn’t park my car that close to the boundary especially in a T20 match…
Close to the harbour we completed our visit to Corfu town with a look inside the old fortress where we wandered around the lower levels where, to be honest there wasn’t a lot to see because seventy- five years ago the German army destroyed most of it to celebrate the end of their occupation of the island.
So then we tackled the long climb to the top where there were some impressive views of the town, the island and the sea but the weather was beginning to change and from out of nowhere a strong wind whipped up the dust and started to rattle the pavement furniture so we left, crossed the canal moat and head once more to the centre of the town where we passed a memorial to the two thousand Jews of Corfu who were deported from the island during the Nazi occupation.
Everywhere in Europe from Iberia to the Baltic to the Balkans we stumble across these sad stories. In June 1944 the Corfiot Jews were told to present themselves the next morning at the old Fort. When they heard the ultimatum, some escaped to the countryside but most did as they had been told. There, the Nazis forced them to hand over their possessions and subsequently they were led to the prison inside the Fortress.
The incarceration at the jail of the castle, under horrible conditions and without rudimentary amenities lasted for some time until finally they were transported to concentration camps in Eastern Europe.
Out of the two thousand that were forced to leave Corfu only one hundred and twenty eventually returned. Let me say that again. Out of the two thousand that were forced to leave Corfu only one hundred and twenty eventually returned. I love Europe, I love being a European but when it comes to war and genocide, Europe has a lot to answer for.
It is facts like these that can make me feel temporarily uncomfortable as we nonchalantly drift through history in sandals and shorts enjoying our holidays and our travels, stopping for a coffee or a beer or a cocktail but then occasionally uncovering unpleasant pieces of information that serve to remind that times were not always so good. Let us hope that we learn from history this time because we haven’t been so good at that previously.
Back now in the cramped shopping streets and back alleys the Kim and Margaret did some souvenir and gift shopping and then to the other side of the town to the New Fortress.
There was a long climb to the entrance and seeing a pay kiosk I was prepared for another entrance fee but bizarrely there was no one there to collect money and a sign in the window saying free admission between nine in the morning and five in the afternoon. It didn’t explain what the arrangements were if you wanted to visit outside of these hours!
A photograph taken in 1984…
The New Fortress was built by the Venetians to compliment the older one and it was completed by the British during the Protectorate period. The British liked building fortresses in other people’s countries and also constructed some elaborate sea defences but rather like the Germans in 1944 they blew these up when they left when Corfu was handed over to the new Greek State in 1863.
It was a long hot walk but it was worth the effort for the views from the top of the battlements and from the flat roof of the old barracks and on balance (and I am not just saying this because it was free entrance) I think the New Fortress was more interesting to visit than the Old.
So we made our way back to the jetty and sat and waited in a friendly taverna under wildly flapping parasols for the speed boat and the return journey. The wind continued to get stronger and a concerned owner came outside several times to examine his umbrellas which seemed to be going through some sort of pre take off routine. The sea was getting rougher and I began to get nervous about the ride back.
The boat arrived and it looked rather flimsy bobbing about in the water as the hissing wind whipped up meringue peaks on the waves whilst overhead in the sky a fleet of steel grey battleships chased away the flotilla of dainty white sailing boats that scattered towards Albania but clearly the skipper was happy to make the journey and we set off back to Kalami.
I was confident in his nautical abilities of course but I also hoped that Saint Spyridon was watching over us because amongst all his other responsibilities he is also the patron saint of sailors, protecting them from shipwrecks and helping them to safe harbour during storms.
Another picture from 1984…
“Corfu is spectacularly beautiful. The mountain spine that runs down the centre means its core is still rugged and wild. The lower slopes are clad with olive groves and cypresses leaning towards the sea. There are white beaches and clear blue water.” – Nancy Hines, daughter of Nancy Durrell
We visited Corfu town a couple of times this week, both times by speedboat and both trips ended with a potential disaster.
On the first occasion the skipper of the boat collected us from the harbour for the return journey to Kalami but the journey in a glass bottom boat was to include a short leisure stop for a swim in a secluded spot and a visit to some caves which allegedly could only be reached from the sea.
I rather like going into caves so I was quite looking forward to this but as we approached I knew instinctively that I was going to be disappointed.
It wasn’t so much a cave in the sense of the Blue Grotto on Capri or the Drogarati Caves on the island of Kefalonia it was nothing more than a hole in the limestone cliffs carved out by sea erosion but going no further under the cliffs than just a few metres or so.
At the small horseshoe bay with a white pebble beach shelving steeply into clear water and where the reflection of the cypress trees growing on the very edge of the limestone cliffs turned the water from blue to green the skipper invited us to jump into the water.
After a day in the dusty streets and the heat of Corfu town I was ready for a swim and like an Olympic athlete from the ten metre diving platform I lunged from the boat and like a kingfisher speared the water as though I was a stiletto dagger splintering the water like glass and sending silver shards splintering like a kaleidoscope.
Well that’s how it seemed to me but I am prepared to concede that for anyone watching it was all rather less elegant than I imagined. The water was soft and warm and I fell through a shoal of small fish scattering them in all directions and then I stopped falling and started to rise swiftly up through a chain mail of bubbles and surfaced in an explosion of white foam.
The swimming here was good, the water was soft and salty, deep and cool and and so clear that from the surface I could see my shadow stalking me along the sea bed. The skipper encouraged us to swim to the cave entrance that was sucking at the sea like a chain smoker and I have no explanation for why I did it because I knew that there was nothing to see in there. Kim wisely refused but while splashing about in the sea was stung by a jellyfish.
Inside, there was no cavernous chamber with magnificent stalactites, no curiously back-lit coloured water, no interesting marine life to speak about just a dark space accessed through a saw edged rock entrance and then a sea bed littered with sharp rocks.
And this is where I had my accident.
As I was approaching the edge of the water a sudden wave coursed through the entrance and made me stumble and my right foot slid between two rocks and a felt a stabbing pain in my little toe. I knew it was serious so turned around immediately and swam for the exit of the cave so that I could carry out an examination of the damage. There was a lot of blood from a cut on the joint but worst of all was that the toe seemed to have adopted an angle that I am not normally familiar with in the normal arrangement of my toes. I grabbed at it and there was a sort of popping sound as it returned to its normal position and there was a savage pain that reached as far as my knee. The water was quite cold so I think that helped numb the pain so I stayed there as long as I could but eventually there was nothing I could do but return to the boat.
Hopping like a frog and with blood splashing onto the deck this behaviour soon alerted the attention of the skipper who produced a first aid kit and invited me to pick over the contents for some emergency assistance. I found some cotton wool and wipes and after I had dried the toe, some sticking plaster to apply to the wound. The skipper poured me a glass of razor blade white wine and with my pain thoughts swiftly transferred from my foot to my throat the stabbing sensation started slowly to ease away but for a while I worried that the rest of my holiday may well be ruined.
With my foot throbbing like a bass drum beat the boat now returned to Kalami, stopping (it seemed to me) unnecessarily several times at more equally unimpressive caves searching for sea life but eventually we came across somewhere that I found interesting.
A short way out of Kalami we came to a cove where many years ago an icon of St Arsenius was allegedly washed ashore after a storm. A fisherman found it and built a small shrine set amongst curiously carved white rocks where once a year a service is held and the congregation approaches by boat.
That isn’t the interesting bit – but this is: In the 1930s this cove became Lawrence and Nancy Durrell’s “private bathing pool”. Where they spent leisurely days, dropping cherries into the water which lay “like drops of blood on the sandy floor two fathoms below” and Nancy “like an otter” would bring them up in her teeth.
For obvious reasons I didn’t enjoy the swim to the cave but I was intrigued to come across this hidden location as I had read Durrell’s account of their sunbathing and swimming in his book about his time on the island, ‘Prospero’s Cell’.
Back at the beach I assessed the damage to the toe and was alarmed to find it swelling and turning to a crimson several shades redder than my sunburn. I bathed it in the sea, did some sympathy fishing and being unsuccessful in this decided that I probably needed some sort of anaesthetic so I found a table at the adjacent bar and ordered a Mythos beer.
Nancy Durrell, wife of Lawrence
After four hours or so walking around Corfu Town we were ready to go back to Kalami so we strolled to the harbour and waited for the boat. As we sat and looked out to sea the small day trip tourist boats reminded me of a previous boating experience in Corfu.
Towards the end of a holiday in 1984 we went on a day trip which turned out to be one of the highlights of the week, a full day on a Greek boat with a Corfiot skipper and plenty of alcohol.
This was George’s boat and at mid morning we joined about thirty other holiday makers when we arrived at the concrete quayside opposite the hotel and were welcomed on board by George himself, a man with a big smile and a flamboyant sense of humour who worked hard to get us all to enjoy ourselves before casting off and steering the brightly coloured boat with the steady rhythm of its chugging diesel engine away from Corfu and out into the Ionian Sea.
As soon as George had completed the tricky bits and negotiated his way out of the harbour the fun began when the wine was opened and passed around and drunk from plastic cups and he began an amusing narrative and a stream of jokes, which were corny to begin with but got ruder as the day progressed.
Eventually someone had to be the first to use the on deck toilet which was located within a sort of canvas modesty tent and this was the moment George was waiting for because as soon as they were inside he scooped up a bucket of sea water and then to everyone’s amusement (except the young girl in the loo) he poured it through the open top and drenched her. Her shrieks could probably be heard on the mainland and the whole boat was in fits of laughter.
After this there was no stopping George and his next party trick was to scoop up more water and then discharge this over unsuspecting people minding their own business and sunbathing on pedalos bobbing gently on the water. HELLOOO! he shouted just as he emptied the bucket load all over them. Some thought it was funny but some, it has to be said, didn’t share the joke. Everyone on board found this hilarious and encouraged George to repeat it over and again at every opportunity.
George took us first to a remote beach that was inaccessible from the land and he dropped anchor and invited us to jump from the prow of the boat into the warm crystal clear water below and we stayed there for a while swimming and diving and then sitting on deck in the sunshine drinking more wine. After the swimming break we set off again for a stop at a small village for a barbeque lunch of fish and salad and yet more local wine. It wasn’t the best wine I’ve ever tasted but it was ok in an emergency and sitting by the water with a cool breeze rippling the sea and the table cloths it was delightful and we could easily have stayed much longer than the time allocated and before we were really ready we had to set off on the journey back with more wine, more japes and a thoroughly good time.
I’ve googled and checked and thirty years later George’s boat is still running:
Some more of my boat journeys recorded in the journal: