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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”…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.
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.
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…
And a picture from 2019…
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…
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…
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.
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.
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“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.
“The sea’s curious workmanship: bottle green glass sucked smooth and porous by the waves: wood stripped and cleaned and bark swollen with salt…gnawed and rubbed: amber: bone: the sea” Lawrence Durrell – Propero’s Cell
So, it was an unexpectedly early start that day and so began a routine of a balcony breakfast followed by a morning at the beach where we played for a while, then walked for a while searching for driftwood and other suitable model boat building materials washed up by the sea and then rested for a while listening to the occasional drone of an outboard motor, the flapping of pedalo paddle wheels and the gentle plop or rowing boat oars spearing the limpid sea until it was time to take shelter in the taverna and order a bottle of Mythos.
January always seems to be a good time to go away if you ask me and this year I found some cheap Ryanair flights at only £50 return to Wroclaw, the fourth largest city in Poland and as we had previously been to Krakow and enjoyed it there we quickly the decision was quickly made to visit the historic capital of Lower Silesia.
We enjoyed a wonderful weekend in this charming Polish city and enjoyed it so much that we have made arrangements to go to Warsaw early in 2015.
Twelve months previously in March 2013 we had travelled to the small town of Sigüenza about one hundred kilometres north east of Madrid on the road to Zaragoza and Barcelona and we liked it so much we decided to return for a second visit.
One of the reasons was to see the Semana Santa for a second time. This is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are large floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion.
There is a pub quiz question that comes up regularly and which I always get wrong, which is ‘what is the nearest country to the United Kingdom’ and the answer of course is Southern Ireland or Eire but I always forget about the border with Northern Ireland and blurt out ‘France, it must be France’. Not surprising then that until now I have never visited the country.
2014 has been a big year for me as I reached the birthday milestone of sixty years and I was planning something special to celebrate the occasion and then some friends asked if we would like to visit Ireland with them and that seemed special enough so we set about making travel plans.
In 2004 I celebrated my fiftieth birthday with family on the Greek island of Santorini. On the final night I treated everyone to a birthday celebration meal in a taverna and drank far too much Mythos Beer, Ouzo, and Metaxa Brandy and rashly declared that we would do the same thing in ten years time when I would be sixty. I went to bed and promptly forgot all about it.
My children didn’t forget. As 2014 got ever close they kept reminding me about the offer that I had made that night and so eventually I had no option but to deliver on the promise. Sadly the Boss Bar in Santorini closed down sometime between 2004 and 2006 and so I needed to find a suitable alternative and decided upon the village of Kalami on the island of Corfu which we had enjoyed a couple of years previously.
The end of the Summer usually means the Greek Islands for our travels but this year we were breaking with tradition and although close by to the Dodecanese we were visiting mainland Turkey instead.
At the end of the holiday I drew up a balance sheet of our visit to Turkey. I had enjoyed the antiquity and the ruins, the temples and the ancient cities; the long walks along the coast; the friendly people; Bodrum; our excellent apartment courtesy of our friends Steve and Kath and the weather. On the other side of the balance sheet was the dogs, the litter and IMX Travel but overall I declared the holiday a resounding success and look forward to returning to Turkey as soon as the travel itinerary allows.
At the end of the year we travelled with friends to Hungary and its capital city Budapest. We had been before in 2007 but only for a couple of days which wasn’t nearly enough time to see the sights of this magnificent city so had no objections to going back for a second time.
Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as well as any other city I have visited.
2014 has not been our most prolific travelling year – that was in 2007 when we managed to get away somewhere twelve times, once every month. Airline tickets were cheaper then and we didn’t have grandchildren so I doubt we will doing that again soon.
Just six overseas trips this year and oddly, although I often say that I won’t go to the same place twice this year half of our travels were to places that we had enjoyed previously – Sigüenza, Corfu and Budapest and I think we will try and avoid repeat visits in the future if we can.
So now the serious business of planning for 2015 really begins. We will start with a city trip to Warsaw in February and then see where the rest of the year takes us…