Have Bag, Will Travel
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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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Although the broken toe continued to swell the pain was kept tolerable because the Mythos cure worked fine once administered in sufficient quantities appropriate to a major foot injury and by the end of the day I had almost forgotten about it.
The next morning the redness had turned to bruising – black, scarlet, yellow and purple spreading across my foot like red wine spilt on a white tablecloth but apart from a little discomfort when walking the damage did not seem too serious and it didn’t restrict my holiday activities in any way although people around the swimming pool did stare at it and avoided me as though I had some form of contagious disease and worried about me walking barefoot around the pool.
Oddly there was still no pain and I could only attribute this to the fact that there was still a considerable quantity of after dinner ouzo circulating in the blood stream. In fact Kim complained more about a jelly fish sting to the back of her leg than I did about my foot.
It was a good job that the injury didn’t prevent me from getting around because a day later we went on the second visit to Corfu town, again by speed boat taxi and again the return journey provided a potential disaster.
To begin with there was no hint of a problem and the water taxi eased out of the harbour and once in open water the skipper opened the throttle, the bow lifted its head out of the sea and began to carve a path through the surface of the water leaving a trail of white water in its wake and we settled back to enjoy the twenty minute return journey to Kalami but just as we approached mid distance it was evident that there was a problem
The boat suddenly began to lose power and the skipper looked concerned and then there was a shower of sparks and smoke, a death rattle from the propeller and the boat dipped its previously proud bow down into the water and we were suddenly quite still and completely motionless. This was obviously something quite serious and the skipper apologised and explained that there was a problem with the propeller shaft and although he had got a replacement back in Kalami he hadn’t been able to get around to fixing it quite yet because he had been so busy. This was an interesting piece of information but not a great deal of comfort to us, stranded as we were in the middle of the sea.
I remember that when I was younger if my car ever broke down that I would lift the bonnet and wiggle a few wires in the hope that this would provide a solution and the skipper went through exactly this sort of procedure and just as it was when I tried to fix my car he was equally unsuccessful in mending the boat and so we continued to drift while he apologised several more times and made some urgent mobile phone calls to someone somewhere back on the island.
Having been so recently accustomed to the roar of the engine and the slapping of the water against the hull it was now spookily quiet except for the nervous conversations taking place around the boat. We were becalmed and floating gently in the general direction of the lavender grey hills of Albania, probably one of the most inhospitable countries in Western Europe. No passport, no papers and no credible excuse for being washed up on the beach in a hostile environment. I imagined the approaching boat being picked up on radar and the Albanian military being put on full alert to intercept and arrest us.
Eventually the skipper made contact with a colleague and a collective sigh of relief circulated around the boat as he explained that shortly we would be rescued. After a few minutes a high powered speed boat arrived and the first of us had to make a tricky transfer from one boat to the other while they bobbed about like corks on the water as we carefully passed the children from one to the other.
Once aboard the boats separated and the rescue boat sped back at top speed bouncing over the surface and sending continuous spray into our faces as the wind whistled around our ears and clawed at our clothes. This boat was a lot faster than the taxi and a whole lot more fun as well and once back safely on dry land we had a dramatic story to tell to those who had not accompanied us on the trip and then they rest of the day dropped quickly back into normal holiday routine.
And so a week that started slowly with endless days of sunshine spent on an idyllic blue flag beach suddenly gathered pace in the final two days and they seemed to slip through our fingers with astonishing speed that we couldn’t decelerate until it was almost time to pack and return home and this was my opportunity to reflect and assess…
Some more of my boat journeys recorded in the journal:
“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 much preferable option than taking the long tedious journey by bus all around the bay because even though it was rather expensive (€19 each but children free) 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 that punctuate the horseshoe bay and then we passed the monstrous cruise ships in the harbour and shortly after that disembarked at a small jetty quite close to the old fortress.
No one can really accuse Corfu town of being picturesque (that’s just my opinion) and it is an odd mix of busy streets and unappealing modern buildings and this is because sadly a lot of the town was destroyed in the Second-World-War when the Luftwaffe bombed Corfu as they grasped control from the Italians following Italy’s surrender to the Allies. No one has gotten around to restoring the place to its former glory and sadly it is doubtful that they ever will. Time marches on!
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 and stands on the broad part of a peninsula at the end of which the old Venetian citadel is cut off by a natural gully with a seawater moat. To begin with we walked in the opposite direction along Arseniou, the old coastal road with the sea on one side and the elegant buildings on the other.
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 and Corfu Town boasts the stateliest of Neoclassical buildings a legacy of the nineteenth century British Protectorate of the Ionian islands.
During two short spells of Napoleonic occupation, the French left their mark as well. This influence is best seen in the town’s arcaded Liston, a recreation of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris and a sun-drenched venue for sipping coffee and people-watching. It runs alongside the town’s huge grassy open space, the Spianada and before all of this, the Venetians bequeathed all of the Ionian islands a distinctive landscape of Italianate buildings.
The overall impression is that of a cosmopolitan and Italianate city so we picked out our photo opportunities carefully concentrating on the stylish mansions courtesy of the Venetians, the large public buildings and parks left there by the British and the esplanade thanks to the French and all looking faded, sun damaged and dilapidated but all splendidly elegant.
Eventually we found a café that we liked and stopped for ice cream and a drink before continuing our walk through the cobblestone streets and up and down the steep steps which sucked us towards the very centre. Having been developed within the confines of the fortifications the old town is a warren of narrow streets, which, as we walked through them were often hard work as they followed the gentle irregularities of the ground and corkscrewed through narrow alleys.
Emerging from the shady streets back into the sunshine we passed the Esplanade, once the exclusive place for nobles and important residents and the cricket pitch, which looked lush and green and rather out of place. It is a quirky legacy of fifty years of British rule from 1814 to 1864 and where matches are still played today on a pitch with a precariously short boundary if you have parked your car near by and if Ian Botham or Viv Richards were batting!
I don’t suppose many people would expect to find cricket being played in Greece but it was introduced in Corfu in April 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 despite being banned for a year in 2008 for cheating.
(For information there are ten full members of the International Cricket Council (ICC), fifty-two Associate Members including USA, Canada and Gibraltar and fifty-nine Affiliate Members including Greece).
To complete our visit we visited first the old Fortress to the east of the town and then the new Fortress built in 1813 during the Napoleonic wars and enjoying panoramic views of the town and the sea from the very top of the battlements.
I liked Corfu town, it is untidy and noisy but it has a friendly and familiar feel, rather like an old pair of shoes or a favourite holiday tee shirt that is both reliable and comfortable. Four hours wandering around the town had passed surprisingly quickly and soon it was time to run the gauntlet of the pesky waiters trying to draw customers into the restaurants and return to the harbour for the return journey.
These men are masters of persuasion and can intercept people who have no immediate plans to stop for a drink or food and have them sitting down with a menu card in their hand in the bat of an eye lid and before they can fully understand what has happened to them.
The best man I ever saw at this was on the Greek island of Kalymnos. I watched him working the pavement because he was a genius. He had an infectious smile that he probably practised to perfection every morning in a mirror and he had the ability to make people stop and sit at a table and order drinks as though he could manipulate their minds and thoughts. He stood back in the shadows waiting for his opportunity and then with a predatory sixth sense and a perfect awareness of potential customers as they passed by he stepped forward and pounced and was almost always successful. It was a pleasure to watch him work and when we left I told him so and congratulated him on his skills.