Tag Archives: Corfu

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…

006

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.

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Textures of Corfu, Blistered Paint

Corfu Door Texture

 

Textures of Corfu, Olive Tree

Corfu Texture Tree

 

Thursday Doors, The Greek Island of Corfu

In Corfu town we walked past grand villas with rusting iron balconies, peeling stucco and creaking fading plaster once certainly crimson but now bleached and faded pink by the relentless and unforgiving summer weather and I was reminded of an observation from Lawrence Durrell – ‘Corfu is All Venetian Blue and Gold – and utterly spoiled by the Sun’.

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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).

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Textures of Corfu – Driftwood

Corfu Boat Building Project

Textures of Corfu – Stone Lion

Corfu Statue Texture

 

Boat Ride to Corfu Town

Corfu Town 05

The architecture of the town is Venetian; the houses above the old port are built up elegantly into slim tiers with narrow alleys and colonnades running between them; red, yellow, pink, umber – a jumble of pastel shades which the moonlight transforms into a dazzling white city…” – Lawrence Durrell –“Prospero’s Cell”.

Travelling to Corfu town by speed boat seemed a good option rather than taking the long tedious journey by car all around the bay because even though it was rather expensive (€23 each) it only took twenty minutes.

The boat bounced over the gentle waves and we looked unsuccessfully for dolphins as the direct route to Corfu town bypassed all of the holiday resorts and modern concrete hotels that punctuate the horseshoe bay below Mount Pantokrator and then passed below the monstrous cruise ships  in the harbour which seemed almost as tall as the mountain and shortly after that we disembarked at a small jetty quite close to the old fortress.

The old town of Corfu with its pastel-hued, multi-storey Venetian styled shuttered buildings, peaceful squares and graceful arcades was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.

Corfu Town 07

History has left the Ionian isles with a fascinating cultural legacy, the result of Corinthian, Byzantine, Venetian, French and British influences that extend from architecture to cuisine, English breakfasts, lunchtime pasta and fine French evening dining.

Corfu Town boasts the stateliest of Neoclassical buildings, legacy of the nineteenth century British Protectorate of the Ionian islands. Earlier during two short spells of Napoleonic occupation the French left their mark. This influence is best seen in the arcaded Liston, a tribute to Rue de Rivoli in Paris and a sun-drenched venue for sipping coffee and people-watching.  Before all this, the Venetians bequeathed all of the Ionian islands a distinctive landscape of Italianate buildings, silver-leafed olive trees and grape-heavy vines.

Margaret and Kim explore the old town…

Corfu Town 01a

Finally we arrived at the focal point of the city, the tall, red domed church of Agios Spyridon where lies the mummified body of the patron saint of the island, Saint Spyridon himself, and inside tourists jostled with Corfiots to push their way into a tiny side chapel to visit his heavily embossed silver tomb where “…he lies in hibernating stillness in his richly wrought casket, whose outer shell of silver is permanently clouded by the breath of the faithful who stoop to kiss it” (Lawrence Durrell).

We passed through the heavy doors into an alternative world of black robed beardy priests, local worshippers and travelling pilgrims all lining up to kiss the lavish icons of their favourite Saint.

spyridon

I don’t know for sure if this was a special day in Corfu for Saint Spyridon but I suspect it might have been because inside the place was so busy it resembled the first day of the Oxford Street January sales and people were pushing and shoving and waiting in a long line for their turn to visit the silver casket and to make a request for a miracle cure or for the winning lottery numbers.  And the queue wasn’t moving very quickly because having stood in line for so long the pilgrims had plenty of time to draw up an expanding list of requests and having finally made it to the front no one was inclined to rush the experience of an audience with the preserved corpse and everyone seemed to stand around for eternity kissing the icons and the casket and saying personal prayers.

All of this icon kissing means quite a lot of unwanted spit and saliva of course so to deal with this cleaning ladies with spray cleaners and dusters circulated constantly to wipe away the slobber and the germs on a continuous and never ending polishing circuit of the church.

After almost two thousand years the preserved relics are not in great shape and the right hand is missing altogether because that is in Rome, so the mummified skin and bone is covered in a sort of embroidered carpet, I assume so that it doesn’t scare the children half to death!

Spyridon is a very important to Corfu who at various times is said to have saved the island from foreign invaders and from outbreaks of deadly disease and because he does his best to try and deliver on the requests of the visitors to his tomb.  He is so important to Corfiots that apparently Spiros is even today the most common boys name on the island.

Saint Syridos Siver Coffin

This is my favourite story – it is said that at night when everyone is gone and the town is empty he rises from the silver sarcophagus and walks the streets of Corfu granting people’s wishes.  Every year he wears out a perfectly good pair of shoes and every year he has to be fitted up for a new pair. This is a true story.  Really!

Sadly there really wasn’t time to stand in the line of people and shuffle slowly to the chapel containing the relics and I couldn’t really think of anything to ask for anyway, except perhaps could Leicester City win the Premier League again this year, so choking on incense and elbowing our way past genuine pilgrims who wanted to discuss their ailments we made our way to the door and back out into the sunlit street.

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Textures of Corfu, The Boat Mooring Pier

Kalami 002

 

Around the Island of Corfu

Kalami Bay Corfu White House

”…the little bay lies in a trance, drugged with its own extraordinary perfection – a conspiracy of light, air, blue sea and cypresses” – Lawrence Durrell

I have been to the Greek Island of Corfu several times, I have stayed at the village of Kalami (above) 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.

From the picturesque Kalami Bay we headed first to the north of the island to the fishing village of Kassiopi where we stopped for breakfast by the waterside.  We were following in the footsteps of visitors more famous.  I am not just talking about the Durrell’s of Corfu because according to legend, the Ancient Greek hero Odysseus stopped here for a while, the Roman Emperor Tiberius built a villa nearby and the King of England Richard the Lionheart dropped in on his way home from the Third Crusade shortly before he was captured and held to ransom.

Previous Visitors

In 1984 I had stopped for lunch in Kassiopi and by using the castle as a point of reference I am almost certain that I found the very taverna.  More shops and bars of course but the harbour was the same and the Byzantine castle still stood standing proud above the village.

Kassiopi 1984

After a Greek breakfast we walked along a cliff top path with good views across the sea to nearby smoky Albania.  Below us boats were gently swaying in the whispering breeze and gently resting on a multi coloured sea which was butter milk cream over the wave polished stones, vivid blue over the caramel sand and imperial purple over the swaying weed.

I liked Kassiopi in 1984 and I liked it again today.

A postcard from 1984…

Kassiopi

And a picture from 2019…

Kassiopi 02

From Kassiopi we drove west now along the north coast of the island until we arrived at the village of Roda.  Before the tourist boom I am told that this was a sleepy little place with a cluster of showily brilliant cottages surrounding a tranquil village square but it is quite different today as British pubs and bars compete for business and tattooed holidaymakers decorate the rather untidy beach.

I couldn’t remember Roda especially well and I am not that surprised because to be brutal there is not much to recommend it unless you want an all day English breakfast or a pint of Guinness in the Irish Bar so we didn’t stay too long but continued our drive to Sidari.

A postcard of Roda from 1984…

Roda Beach Postcard

Sidari is famous for its erosion sculptured red sandstone cliffs and I remembered these well enough but even so these looked rather different today from the picture in the postcard below and I couldn’t find this arch anywhere so can only assume that over the intervening years it has been swept away by the sea.

In 1984 Sidari was a quiet, almost remote place, with a dusty main street with only a handful of tavernas and shops off the main road but today it is one of the liveliest places on the island and a favourite with youngsters.

A postcard from 1984…

Sidari

We walked along a beach adorned with white umbrellas like upturned scallop shells each sheltering a pale creature from another land in the north who had come here in search of the sun but now retreating from its remorseless intensity. Someone should have told them to check the weather forecast before renting a sunbed today because rain was on the way.

All along the beach there are tavernas and bars all looking for customers and the good thing about competition is that this drives the prices down so we picked one out and had a very good value beer and a gyros and finished eating just as we felt the first spots of rain.

Rain in Albania

The drive back in the downpour was something of a challenge on a difficult potholed road surface but thankfully I wasn’t in the driving seat and Mike skilfully negotiated the conditions and got us back safely just as the rain was easing and blue skies were starting to reappear.

As the rain cleared the view from the balcony was magnificent, the green sweeping hills, the sea in its multi coloured splendour and the bleached beach, a crescent of sparkling shingle.  We watched as the day visitors packed their belongings and left as darkness descended, the raucous chant of the cicadas was replaced by the spooky whistles of the Scops Owls and the twinkling lights of the sea front tavernas began to illuminate the edge of the beach inviting diners to drop by like candles attracting moths.

We selected a taverna and chose several plates of Greek traditional dishes and sat by the water’s edge next to the sea, lit up now by a copper moon, a bottomless ink black and silent but for the sound of the occasional wave caressing the polished pebbles.

As I looked across to the White House I imagined Lawrence Durrell sitting on his balcony and enjoying exactly the same view while searching for literary inspiration and discovering himself.

larry1

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