Have Bag, Will Travel
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“Other countries may offer you discoveries in manners or lore or landscape; Greece offers you something more – the discovery of yourself” – Lawrence Durrell – ‘Prospero’s Cell’
We had chosen to stay at the village of Kalami, north of Corfu Town where the English author Lawrence Durrell once lived so I thought it appropriate preparation for the holiday to read some of his work and also that of his brother Gerald ( ‘My Family and Other Animals’) and also Henry Miller who wrote about his stay on the island in 1939 in ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’.
They had nothing but good things to say about this place and at this moment as I stepped out of the room if someone had tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to pay a bit extra for this view I would gladly have done so. Laid out in front of me was the silvery blush of olive trees, a cornflower blue sea, the smoky lifeless hills of Albania set against a chorus of cicadas chattering in the twisted branches of the black olive trees and the cracking of seed pods in the early morning heat of the sun, red and ochre tiled roofs like the colour of the soil, soaring ragged cypress trees, stony white pebbled beaches.
If I were an artist I would have immediately got out my easel and palette, if I was a poet I would have reached for my pencil and notebook. It was breathtaking, it was wonderful, I was glad to be here again. It gets my vote in a poll of best holiday views ever!
Would the Durrell’s recognise this even after eighty years or so? Yes I think they would, even though it is a holiday resort it is nicely understated, no commercialism, no silly beach attractions, good traditional tavernas and views of ravishing unspoilt beauty. Lawrence himself might even recognise the White House although it has been restored of course because during the Second-World-War the Germans saw fit to bomb it for some totally pointless reason.
The children didn’t notice any of this as they made their way to the sea past grand villas with rusting iron balconies, peeling stucco and creaking fading plaster once certainly crimson but now bleached and faded to pastel pink by the relentless and unforgiving summer weather. It reminded of an observation from Durrell – ‘Corfu is All Venetian Blue and Gold – and utterly spoiled by the Sun’.
Through the narrow alleyways dainty butterflies were dancing, swallows were swooping in and out and nervous crickets were jumping as we alarmed them with our noisy approach until we walked through a taverna with green check tablecloths and onto a white pebble beach with a gentian blue sea and a daffodil yellow sun scattering diamond dust on the dazzling surface of the water.
On the beach our feet crunched through fine shingle and clattered over polished pebbles as we walked past people sunbathing and whose length of stay could be assessed by the extent of their suntan. We walked past people displaying various shades of bronze depending on how long they had been here lounging in the sun. From deathly white (arrived yesterday) and then like walking through a Dulux paint chart through the full colour spectrum to tango orange (been here for quite some while).
Now, I’m not much of a beach person I have to confess but with three small children to amuse I had reconciled myself to the prospect of long days of hard work but here was a place to be by the seashore listening to the sound of the sea frolicking at the water’s edge, teasing the shingle and constantly rearranging the pebbles and although I wasn’t absolutely looking forward to spending more time on a beach in a single day than I would normally do in a fortnight as I looked out over the picturesque bay I thought that it really might not be that bad after all.
Boats were gently swaying in the whispering breeze and resting on a multi coloured sea which was butter milk cream over the wave polished stones, vivid blue over the butterscotch sand and imperial purple over the swaying weed and all I needed was a Mythos to make this moment perfect so when everyone was settled I made my way to a nearby beach bar and made the essential purchase that would make the moment absolutely wonderful!
As I suspected it was a long stay at the beach as the children made friends and played in the water and at the shoreline but that provided an opportunity for a late lunch of Greek specialities consisting of deep fried courgettes, spinach pie and taramasalata and a another Mythos as the sunbeams danced on the water and the rasping shrill song of the agitated cicadas reached a mid afternoon crescendo.
After everyone had tired of the beach we collected our belongings and took the short walk back to the apartments stopping for a while on the way to do more swimming but this time in the hotel complex pool and after an hour or so we returned to the room.
From the balcony the view was, if possible, even more magnificent, the green sweeping hills, the sea in its multi coloured splendour and the bleached beach, a crescent of sparkling shingle, decorated with white umbrellas like scallop shells each sheltering a pale creature who had come here in search of the sun but now retreating from its remorseless intensity. I surveyed the screensaver view over and over again and even after only a few hours of being here I was happy to declare it to be one of the best places that I have ever chosen to stay.
There were to be no sunset pictures here though because our view was to the east and eventually the sun began to slide away behind Mount Pantokrator to the west which at over nine-hundred metres is the highest mountain on the island and gradually the day slipped through twilight and dusk. 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.
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.
My end of day assessment was that everything had gone very well indeed and then as I prepared for bed I saw the sunburn for the first time – I had spent far longer than normal on the beach and in the sea and despite the factor fifty sun protection parts of my body were turning a shade of crimson only normally associated with a nuclear accident – I was in for an uncomfortable night!
Corfu: ”this brilliant little speck of an island in the Ionian” Lawrence Durrell – ‘Prospero’s Cell’
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.
We were allocated seven seats on the plane, six altogether and one a row behind. Kim thought she was being clever by bagging the solitary seat so she could stay away from the children and read her book in peace but I had to laugh when someone turned up and claimed the seat next to her with a small baby in her arms! Luckily the flight passed by without incident.
The landing and arrival were just as I remembered them as the plane approached Cofu, shaped like a ballerinas balancing leg and over Pontikonisi Island, the home of the monastery of Pantokrator. Then over the ‘chessboard fields’ of the Venetian salt marshes before landing on the freshly ploughed runway which gave everyone on board a rough welcome to the island and through the window I could see the same hopelessly inadequate buff coloured and tired airport terminal as the plane came to a gentle stop as the engines slowed from a high pitched whine to a gentle hum.
Passport control was surprisingly chaotic with an unusual diligence not normally a feature of Greek border control and the line shuffled forward agonisingly slowly as the official at the desk took his time checking passports and ID until a second man came along, opened a gate and ushered us all through with only the customary glance at the documents that I am more familiar with in Greece and then, reunited with our luggage, we found the transfer coach ready to take us to Kalami.
At first the driver made slow progress through the growling traffic of the outskirts of the busy town with boxcrete apartment blocks with peeling facades, sagging washing lines and precarious balconies all decorated with satellite dishes and television aerials but eventually he nudged his way through the traffic and we were on the scenic coastal road that took us through Gouvia, Dassia and Ipsos and towards the mountainous north of the island where the road climbed in extravagant sweeping hairpin bends up one side of the coastal mountains and then dramatically down the other side.
It was late evening by now and the journey seemed to take forever, not helped by having to make a twenty minute detour to drop just two people off at a swanky hotel before having to double back to the main road to complete the journey. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been a problem but I was beginning to panic that as the minutes ticked by that the hotel shop might be closed and I would be unable to purchase essential supplies like milk for the children and (more importantly) Mythos for me!
I really shouldn’t have worried because we arrived a few minutes before ten o’clock and as we checked in the receptionist assured me that the shop was going to stay open for some time yet so we settled into our rooms and returned to the street to make our essential purchases.
Having been here before I knew what to expect – the rooms were basic with furniture held together with blu-tack and string, dodgy plumbing and only very basic facilities but this was more than compensated for by the magnificent view from the balcony which overlooked the crescent bay, shaped like a Saracen’s sword, pine fringed with limestone layer cake rocks, boats lolling in the languid water and the White House ‘set like a dice on a rock already venerable with the scars of wind and water’ of Lawrence Durrell.
Back in the land of ancient gods I felt immediately home and opened a bottle of Mythos to reassure myself that they hadn’t changed the brewing recipe and then we all wandered down to the seafront to our favourite beach side taverna, Thomas’ Place, where we plundered the menu for Greek specialities and began the holiday as we meant to continue before climbing back to our rooms and taking a last look at the night time vista before retiring to bed and looking forward to the next day.
During the night we experienced the downside of having a cheap and rustic studio apartment – it was incredibly loud! The air conditioning chattered like a cicada, the fridge kept switching on and off with an ancient motor mechanism that sounded like a battering ram and every so often the shower head in the bathroom filled with water and discharged with a splash into the tray. This was bad enough but worst of all were the beds, Kim’s croaked like a frog every time she turned over and mine quacked like a duck every time I moved and eventually after a disturbed night we were very glad that it was morning and we could start the holiday.