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Have Bag, Will Travel
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When it comes to taking pictures I like doors, statues, balconies and washing lines, Kim on the other hand likes people pictures so I thought I might share a few of them with you.
This one was taken whilst on an early morning walk on the Greek island of Rhodes…
We woke early and went to the Street of the Knights because this is one of the best preserved/restored medieval streets in Europe and we wanted to get there before the crowds. As soon as the cruise ships arrive and discharge their guests onto the quayside hundreds of people make straight for this place and it immediately loses its atmosphere and its charm.
The man in the picture had set the tables and was waiting for the tourists to arrive.
The approach to the harbour town was probably the most spectacular of all the islands that we have visited flanked on both sides by colourful neoclassical houses in a riot of complimentary pastel shades, contrasting wooden shutters, decorative iron balconies and red tiled roofs.
Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.
On 30 July 2010 I was on the Greek Island of Symi close to Rhodes…
On arrival in Symi there was no one to meet us, no notes pinned to the door of the room or instructions giving any sort of advice at all on what to do and the phone was not being answered.
It was eleven o’clock and extremely hot and all we could do was sit on the sun terrace, sweat and wait. Luckily I had a couple of tins of Mythos in the bag so I had to drink them quickly before they heated up in the midday sun and after an hour or so and I had almost recovered from the ordeal of the climb I went all the way back down the steps to get some more and to buy some food for lunch.
Getting back up the steps returned me to my previous state of sweat streaked exhaustion and what I really needed was a cool blast of air conditioning but still the phone remained unanswered and still no one came.
A French guest came and went and told us that usually someone came by at about two o’clock so this meant that we would have an hour or so to wait so we made some lunch and drank some more Mythos and competed with each other for the shade of the wooden pergola.
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From the harbour we walked further up the Kali Strata towards the upper town of Ano Symi passing on the way dozens of abandoned once grand mansions that were built over a hundred years ago when Symi’s sponge fishing and ship building industries were both thriving but which fell into decline in the first half of the twentieth century when both suffered serious economic failure.
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Other houses were damaged during the Second-World-War during the German occupation and empty shells stand adjacent to some, like the Pantheon, that have been restored. Rules on restoration are very strict and this together with difficulties of access for modern vehicles (the only viable means of transporting building materials is by expensive donkey train) means that the cost of a restoration is often prohibitive and for this reason the whole process of regeneration is likely to take some considerable time.
We walked through arches and buttresses, past turrets and balconies and occasionally here and there a little oasis of green amongst the dusty streets and then interesting narrow roads and every one with a surprise around each crooked turn.
In the late afternoon we walked to the top of the town and climbed to the top of the restored clock tower next to Sulliman’s Mosque for some good views of the town and the harbour. There was an entrance charge of €5 but that turned out to be good value because the price included a drink in the roof top bar terrace where we sat and enjoyed the views.
The weather-beaten taxi boats left the harbour every thirty minutes so we arrived in good time for the ten minute crossing and sat waiting in the sunshine on the open deck of the boat for it to begin the short crossing to what is little more than a stranded mountain top, a giant grey peak pitted with fissures and caves and thrusting magnificently out of the sea.
All along the lazy harbour there was a ribbon of tiny shops and tavernas. This was a unique and improbable sort of place where the shops left local souvenirs out on shelves with an honesty box to pay for purchases. It was like stepping back in time, a sort of cheesecloth and denim 1960s hippy commune that progress had forgotten to release and left it behind in a nostalgic time warp that everyone here seemed happy about.
The shops offered hand-made souvenirs made from driftwood and sea debris, wood, sticks and shells and the dusty shelves displayed herbs and spices and hand-made soaps and cosmetics. The tavernas were stirring into life and one displayed a recommendation from an English newspaper from twenty years ago.
It was wonderful and we walked along the seafront as far as we could before the path petered out into stones and dust and then we returned through the sleepy back alleys to wait for the return crossing at a harbour side taverna where we agreed that if we were to return to Kalymnos sometime then this would be a good place to isolate ourselves for a couple of days.
“If I could give a child a gift, I’d give him my childhood.” – Gerald Durrell
Every now and again, and I am not sure why, the story of the Durrell family living in 1930s Corfu gets remade into a television series. There is a new one right now on the BBC in the UK.
I had visited Corfu almost thirty-five years ago but although on that occasion I toured the island from north to south and from east to west I came as a holidaymaker rather than a traveller and I saw everything but didn’t see anything.
This third visit to Kalami continued to nudge my memory and from what I can remember it hasn’t really changed a great deal at all – the Venetian elegance of Corfu town, the lush green vegetation of the interior, the twisting roads, the soaring mountains, the views that so enchanted Edward Lear and Henry Miller, the limestone ribbed bays where we spent our lazy days were all very much as I remembered them now and suddenly it didn’t really matter that I hadn’t paid attention to these details all those years ago because now my head and my camera were full to overflowing with all these unchanged images.
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 quite different perspectives.
Previously I had stayed south of Corfu town in the resort of Perama where it turns out that Gerald Durrell lived with most of his family (his mother, brother and sister). I say most of his family because although his book, ‘My Family and Other Animals’ (and the TV series) would have the reader believe that he lived there with all his family it turns out that he didn’t live with older brother Lawrence at all.
Lawrence and his wife Nancy lived some distance away in Kalami in the White House and curiously Gerald doesn’t even mention her once in any of his Corfu books possibly because they were written twenty years after the event and Lawrence and Nancy were long since separated and divorced.
The White House claims an association with younger brother Gerald but it seems he never lived there at all. In fact it is entirely possible that he never even visited the place because Perama is over forty kilometres away and eighty years ago there were no asphalt roads or cars or even public transport that would have made an afternoon visit comfortably possible.
Gerald it seems was prone to extreme exaggeration and although his books are entertaining they miss the truth by a mile. Actually I tired of them. I enjoyed the first but the second was written when Gerald was in his fifties and had clearly lost touch with his childhood and with reality and I gave it up half way through. He said himself that he didn’t enjoy writing them and only did so to make money to finance his naturalist expeditions and this I am afraid is blindingly obvious.
Gerald never mentions either that is mother Louisa was hopelessly addicted to the gin bottle.
I much preferred the work of Lawrence with his sublime descriptions of life in Corfu (and equally curiously he doesn’t ever mention the other members of his family who lived here at the same time), a diary of vivid memories that for me at least bring the place to life. How wonderful it must have been to live in this place all that time ago and experience a life of bohemian indulgence.
Sadly the truth turns out to be that Lawrence was a misogynist, a bully and an abuser and the idyllic life he describes may only have been spasmodic or one sided. Henry Miller refers at one point to ‘black eyes for breakfast’. I find it a shame that a man who could write such elegant prose should also have such a darker, unpleasant side.
As for Henry Miller – I found the ‘Colossus of Maroussi’ rather self-indulgent and heavy going but whilst I have abandoned Gerald Durrell I will return to Miller.
I have one last comparison to make. For ten years I have been in the habit of visiting the Cyclades Islands, specks of volcanic rock in the space between mainland Greece and Turkey and have gleefully declared them my favourites but now that I have been reunited with the Ionian Islands I have to reassess this opinion. In ‘Prospero’s Cell’ Lawrence Durrell describes the sighting of a Cretan boat in the bay of Kalami and this seems to me to sum up perfectly the difference:
“The whole Aegean was written in her lines…. She had strayed out of the world of dazzling white windmills and grey, uncultured rock; out of the bareness and dazzle of the Aegean into our seventeenth-century Venetian richness. She had strayed from the world of Platonic forms into the world of decoration.”
No words of mine could improve on that wonderful comparison of the harsh, barren Cyclades and the soft, abundant Ionian. So which do I prefer – impossible now to say, perhaps it may even be neither but the Dodecanese instead which is where I am bound for next.
I first went to the Greek island of Kos in 1983 and I liked it so much that I went back again in 1989. This time I went with my brother and we stayed in the party resort of Kardamena.
We had a budget priced apartment on the edge of the town and we made friends with a single parent family of dad and two sons. During the course of the week we hired pedalos and bicycles and also a flame red Suzuki Jeep for a day.
We didn’t go far and limited ourselves to driving across the island to the island capital. The journey was not by the most direct route and took about an hour through all the coastal villages and then through the unexpectedly green plains lying in the shadow of the soaring mountain peaks with the main crops being grapes, almonds, figs, olives, and tomatoes along with wheat and corn and although the harvest was long since past there were still fields of straw like a golden sea of waving champagne next to exhausted black stunted vines and golden melons the size of footballs ripening in the sun.
Kos is much changed now, I last went there in 2012, the seafront was rather shabby, the harbour full of working fishing boats, the civic buildings in need of some repair and the ancient monuments rather run down and decrepit. We spent an afternoon wandering around the town (it is a city now) and then we made our way back across the interior back to Kardamena.
On the first morning we woke early and went to the Street of the Knights because this is one of the best preserved/restored medieval streets in Europe and we wanted to get there before the crowds.
As soon as the cruise ships arrive and discharge their guests onto the quayside hundreds of people make straight for this place and it immediately loses its atmosphere and its charm. At eight o’clock in the morning however there was no one about except the odd delivery man and it was possible to soak up Mussolini’s fascist interpretation of the medieval street.