Slow Weekend

The other weekend was a slow weekend. Not, you understand, because we weren’t doing anything. Rather, because the quite-a-lot that we were doing could only be done slowly.

Diana and I had a weekend away in Oxford. The primary reason for going was the 42nd annual Orieladelphians dinner. Ordinarily I would go up to Oxford on my own. The dinner was founded a long time ago – 42 years, would you believe – with a fixed membership of the chaps, before any of us had wives, and it remains rigidly a dinner for the chaps, though there are only nine of us now.

But the dinner this year fell nicely to help younger daughter Tris move into a new flat with her friend Emily, so Diana came with me and we booked a double room in college and extended our stay by two nights through to the Monday. Since there were two of us travelling, it was cheaper to go by car than train, which I would normally do – to avoid driving home with a hangover, and possibly still over the limit.

Also, it was slightly easier, in the car, to take assorted crockery and cutlery, three chairs and a table, for the new flat.

breakfast-shock

So we set off at a reasonable time on the Friday morning, heading east on the avoid-Bodmin route. We have nothing against Bodmin as such, but for the last year and a bit there have been road widening works on the A30 there, the immediate effect of which is to narrow the road and cause traffic jams. So we have been going via Camelford, the road through which couldn’t get any narrower and still be called a road.

We planned to use the M5 and M4, but we noticed on the satnav that there were several traffic hold ups on the M5 south of Bristol. Last time I saw that, on my way up to Herefordshire to visit Mum, the delays cost me an hour or more. And on our way home from Herefordshire, the traffic was at a standstill in both directions for several hours due to a woman on bridge. That time we pulled in for an early lunch and waited for the blockage to be resolved, which it was while we ate. Twitter actually came in handy, seeing the Avon and Somerset Police tweeting that they had reopened the M5, and twenty minutes later tweeting that they were trying to get people back in their cars to get moving again!

So I was suspicious of hold-ups on the M5 and took an alternative route via Honiton, Shepton Mallet and Bath. This took about an extra hour. But it was pretty and scenic and all that, plus it was easy to get on an alternative route if there were more hold-ups.

In Oxford, we went first to Tris and Emily’s new flat, which Diana had visited once already. This was good, because the road, Roger Dudman Way, goes alongside the railway line, through what looks like a railway works area, and not at all like a residential road. The road also goes over vicious speed bumps, which Diana hadn’t really taken any notice of on foot, before reaching the university accommodation in which they have their new flat. It took me a few trips over the speed bumps to find the speed at which (most of the time) the car wouldn’t bump and ground. The road is marked with a 10 mph limit, so I reasoned initially that maybe 5 mph would do it. Not slow enough. The right speed turned out to be 2 mph, just enough to lift the wheels over the bump.

There are maybe three car parking spaces at the accommodation blocks, which have just over 400 flats. The spaces are reserved for disabled drivers, so Emily has one, but we pulled in front of her car on double yellow lines, disregarding a notice saying “authorised vehicles only”.

Well, we weren’t parking, we were unloading, which we did, grabbing a reviving cup of tea as we did so, and having done so, we headed for the Seacourt park-and-ride to leave the car while spending the night in Oxford.

After checking in at Oriel Lodge, and being assigned our room, I began to change for dinner and Diana headed back to Tris and Emily’s for a revival of the Double Six Club. Double Six was something that Diana started when the children were small. Each of them chose a course for the meal so that they could have something special at the same time as Daddy did off in Oxford. This time they chose a takeaway from Chutneys, the Indian restaurant in St Michael’s Street.

Meanwhile, back in Oriel, the Orieladelphians Dinner (the 42nd – did I mention that?) was excellent. Thomas, this year’s President, had ordered great food and left the choice of wine to Asefay Abera, the SCR butler, which proved a good move. I remember there being a great discussion about Brexit which ended without concluding, you might say, with no one changing their mind. We had the usual toasts – it occurs to me now that I missed an opportunity to propose a toast to “Life, the Universe and Everything” on this 42nd occasion…

After dinner we moved into the small SCR for (further) drinks, taking care to bring the port and red wine decanters with us on account of not wanting to rush into the brandy too soon. And after brandy we moved, separately, and none too rapidly, to our respective rooms.

Breakfast was served in Hall from 8-9 am. Six of us made it: Thomas, Christopher, Peter, Paul, Mary, Ashley (and Rosie) and me (and Diana). Ranulph has developed the habit of leaving early, before breakfast, for reasons never properly explained. Steve generally misses breakfast. Neil is often at breakfast, but not this year. Diana and I, not having to check out like the rest, collected a few things from our room, such as rainproof coats and the suitcase I had brought my clothes in, now emptied, and headed for the 400 bus to the Seacourt park-and-ride. The bus route winds round and through the building site that is to be the new Westgate Centre, including a long stretch of one-way road now restricted to buses and taxis. The buses and taxis go both ways along this road – not at the same time; that would be silly. The planners have thought of that. The road is controlled by traffic lights, so there can be quite long waits at a red light before the bus can move along again.

We drove back down the Botley Road, slowly, amongst the Saturday morning traffic, and I decided to take Walton Street rather than St Giles to reach Tris’s old place on Woodstock Road. It looks more direct on the map. It is also slower, with speed bumps, and road narrowing – though after Roger Dudman Way, the speed bumps seemed pretty innocuous. Tris was already there, having taken a much shorter pedestrian route from her new flat.

We parked the car and went up to her room, taking with us the empty suitcase and numerous plastic and cardboard boxes for putting things in to move. It’s just the one room, but there was a lot of stuff in there, every cupboard, drawer, shelf, desk and – it seemed – square inch of carpet holding something. We filled the boxes etc and loaded up the boot; I forget whether it was three or four times down and up the lift.

Then it was back to Roger Dudman Way, over the speed bumps with a near fully laden car and into the yellow-lined space in front of Emily’s car. We unloaded and then Diana and I went to park the car somewhere legal while we had lunch. The place Diana had spotted beforehand was Walton Well Road car park, which meant a slow trip back along Walton Street, then down Walton Well Road, past the end of Southmoor Road where Thomas and I had lived in our third year at Oriel, and over the little bridge.

The car park was full of potholes which in the morning rain had filled with water, but there were a couple of spaces left free by people walking their dogs in Port Meadow, and it was cheap for three hours parking. The best thing about it was the foot and cycle path from the car park directly into the far end of Roger Dudman Way, very close to the flat. Which was good, because by now it was chucking it down.

Lunch was left over curries and rice from Chutneys – very pleasant. Then it was back to Woodstock Road and another round of packing and loading and transporting and unpacking. This time we left the car where it was while we had a cup of tea, before venturing out for dinner. We were aiming for “Pomegranates” on Cowley Road, a Lebanese restaurant. We took Emily’s disabled parking card, which didn’t enable us to park in the disabled spaces, because they were full, but did give us free parking. Pomegranates was full, also, so we booked for the following night and found Jin Jin, a Chinese restaurant, which we had been to with Ellie when it was the Oxford Thai. It turned out to be excellent, in both taste and price.

We dropped Emily and Tris off at their flat – more slow driving – and left the car at Seacourt again, getting a late 400 bus back to the High Street and Oriel.

High Table Breakfast Shock Horror!

Breakfast in Oriel on Sunday is 9-10 am, which in theory gave us longer in bed, but in practice it meant that we were in just after it started rather than a bit before it ended. The Hall was emptier than on Saturday, at first, at least.

Diana remarked that everyone observed the hierarchy in Hall, never using high table for breakfast. Then a couple of young people sat down at high table. Then some more young women came in and sat there, and some more, and a couple of older women, until the table was full. Almost at the end, a young woman came in wearing a flimsy bridal veil, the universal symbol of the bride-to-be on her hen party – a fact confirmed by the bottle of lurid blue alcopop that was thrust at her across the table by one of her friends.

A hen party. On high table.
oriel-breakfast-hen-party

Sunday echoed Saturday. Move another load of Tris’ stuff. Park in Walton Well Road. Lunch. Beginning to master Roger Dudman’s speed bumps.

The final load was a bit different. We had to move Tris’ desk, which meant taking it apart with an Allen key and carrying the top, legs and cross pieces separately down to the car. Then a last check round the room, moving the bed, finding a few more things buried under it, removing the last of the bluetack off the walls and hoovering round so it looked presentable. Then we were off in the car, while Tris took her bike through the Walton Well Road short cut.

When we got to Pomegranates for dinner, we found that booking had not really been necessary; the tables were mostly empty.

After dinner and dropping Tris and Emily off, we returned to Seacourt and discovered (after paying for parking) that the last 400 bus had left at 7.30pm. We thought about driving back into the vicinity of Oriel, but then Diana said there ought to be other buses, so we walked to the Botley Road and found that there were indeed other buses, which would also accept my return ticket, and after fifteen minutes or so, one came.

On Monday morning, there were no breakfast shenanigans, though Asefay was standing on duty in the entrance to Hall. I said hello. A little later he came to where we were sitting and said hello properly. “I didn’t recognise you at first,” he said. I guess that was the absence of DJ and bow tie, which I tend not to wear at breakfast. We checked out, returned to our car and set off for home, via Botley Road Waitrose where we bought some sandwiches for lunch.

All was going well until we were approaching Bridgwater on the M5. Then a couple of blue flashing lights went past us, one on the hard shoulder, the satnav indicated heavy traffic and we saw the vehicles ahead slowing up. Diana (driving) took an executive decision to move into the left hand lane. We came to a halt a bit before a junction, but then kept moving sufficiently to come off at the junction. Other traffic was doing the same, almost all of it keeping right to join the A38. The left lane was clear, so we took that, onto a narrow country lane that seemed to join on to the motorway by accident. The road curved back and under the M5, I mean right under it, was a wide, possibly unofficial, layby. We found we were right by the Bridgwater Canal, with a swing bridge just back along the road and thus a way on to the towpath and, possibly, a nice place to have our sandwiches.

We crossed the bridge and saw a built up mooring outside a pub, so we sat and dangled our feet over the water for our picnic. It would have been very noisy with motorway traffic, if the motorway traffic weren’t stationary.

We finished our sandwiches and went in to the pub for coffee. By this time, the traffic was beginning to move again, so after coffee (and use of the loos) we rejoined the M5 and were on our way. Taking it slow had paid off. The delay, it seemed, had been caused by cows, released from an overturned animal transporter.

The rest of our journey home was uneventful.

The following weekend, elder daughter Ellie came down to Cornwall, not staying with us but with friends at a holiday cottage in Tintagel. She had no problems on the M5 coming down, but on her way home was much delayed on the M5 near Bristol.

You just have to take life slower in the West Country, especially when trying to leave it.

Corfu – After Action Review

It’s probably best to read the Corfu blog postings in chronological order, for which you’ll need to scroll right down.

What did we learn or get out of our visit to Corfu? Lots of things.

1. The best value water comes from the little grocery shops out of the main tourist roads.

2. It is possible to learn how to read Greek. This does not mean understanding all the words, but deciphering the Greek alphabet to read the street names is possible. A physics degree helps.

3. For the first week, I drank beer with meals and Diana a soft drink. Corfu Beer company does four varieties: pilsner, IPA, red, dark, and they are all worth drinking. But then we discovered the restaurants all do a half litre carafe of local house wine, whether it’s on the wine list or not, and that was a tidy amount for us to share, for just about the price of a beer and an orange juice.

4. Don’t forget insect repellent and your favourite anti-histamine tablets, because the insects are invisible and ferocious. The local pharmacies are helpful, but might not have what you want (in my case, I sorely missed Piriton tablets).

5. A €5 all-day bus ticket can get you to a lot of places within 20 or 30 miles of Corfu Town.

6. The Achilleion Palace is just about worth a visit, but don’t knock yourself out.

7. Corfu coach drivers have miraculous superpowers that enable them to get round hairpin bends and through village streets that are clearly too narrow.

8. The best food we had was in a small cafe in the food market (magnificent whitebait) and a small – so small it didn’t have space inside to make desserts – pavement cafe outside the catholic cathedral (great souvlaki). About €20 (£15) for two including drinks. And you could get a lunch of pies and filled pittas for under €10 at our favourite bakery.

9. Shared use roads work. All the roads in the centre of Corfu Old Town are paved and all are used equally by pedestrians, cycles, motorcycles and cars. We never heard any impatient honking at slow-moving pedestrians, and pedestrians never stood long in the way of motor vehicles. I felt safer on the shared use roads than on the pedestrian crossings on the major roads round the outside. You just got to be tolerant and show respect.

Corfu – Last Days

Day 15 was the last full day of our holiday, and we spent it doing not very much. We bought a take away lunch at our favourite little bakery and ate it in a small park close to the Old Fort. We had been in the park before, on our first day, but coming through the middle gates this time, we saw a brass plaque, written in English, and dedicated to Lawrence and Gerrald Durrell.

We headed into the Old Town shopping streets and bought a few items to take home, mainly related to baklava and kumquats. We went to the little grocery store on Guilford where we had become well known for buying a single bottle of water each day for the last week. The lady was just closing up for the afternoon (taking a break before reopening for the evening until around ten) but paused and reached inside for a bottle of water as she saw us approaching. “We also want to buy some biscuits,” we said, which was even more bother since she had to turn the lights on in the shop especially.

Water was essential to have around. Dehydration was a peril. We found kiosks around the esplanade which sold 1.5 litres for €1, but then discovered the little shop, which charged 70 cents, and so took our custom there. It also had the advantage of being on Guilford, so we passed it most days anyway. But the cheapest bottled water we found was in Paleokastrita (Day 7), only 50 cents.

We lazed around in the hotel, counted the amount of cash money Euros we still had and decided to go for dinner to a restaurant that we knew took credit cards. Back in the hotel, we packed some things in our suitcases and went to bed.

The next morning we had our final breakfast at the Bella Venezia, said goodbye to Spiros who at breakfast and on Reception had always been very friendly and helpful, booked a taxi, finished packing and settled Diana’s coffee and cocktails bill. (Okay, okay – my beer and cocktails too.)

The trip home was uneventful. The taxi took us to the airport in good time to check in, and we were through security and passport control very rapidly. Diana spent an inordinate amount of the remaining hour and half before our flight queuing for coffee, but it was good coffee. The flight was on time, I even had a couple of inches extra legroom in my seat, and the drive home no problem. We took the opportunity to view the A30 road works outside Bodmin to see how they were getting on. And then we were home, buying milk from Tesco to have a cup of tea.

We’d missed a proper cup of tea…

Corfu Day 14 – Georgia on my Mind

The sea trip is back on! Cancelled on Sunday (day 11), the cruise to Parga and Paxos was running today and we transferred our ticket to it.

We managed to be down for breakfast at 7.30, and weren’t the first there. We got to the Aktaion cafe in good time and the pick up coach (a vehicle for carrying lots of people, not a sleazy scumbag) arrived promptly with a Sarris Cruises sign clearly in the window. It’s not a long trip to the port from where we are, but just a bit too far to walk comfortably. The coach route was the one we’d taken on our first day’s walk – nice to see it from a different angle – and then on as far again. There was some paperwork to fill in, a slip of paper with name, gender, age and space for other remarks, presumably so they could identify the bodies if the ship sank. We were given a red plastic boarding card and told not to lose it as it was essential for getting back on the ship, the Georgia, after our stops.

We found seats in the sun on the rear deck and waited for the boat to depart. When it did so, and turned south, we had seats in the shade, with a nippy breeze around us. Diana went for a walk and found some empty chairs in front of the bridge, accessible only by going down to the lower deck, under the bridge and back up again. The seats were sawn-off deckchairs only a couple of inches off the ground; anything higher would have blocked the captain’s view. But the position and the sun were terrific.

It was about two and a half hours on a calm sea to our first stop, the mainland town of Parga, where we had about two hours to pass. Parga seems very much a resort. The sea front is all restaurants and as we walked to one end the number of closed restaurants increased.

Diana at the restaurant

Diana at the restaurant

At the end of the seafront we found a balcony restaurant with some nice shade for a coffee and a toastie. We then walked back, past the Georgia, and found some narrow side streets with shops and – especially – shade. The sun was high by now, and very hot.

The shops were selling tourist stuff, Parga towels, t-shirts, light dresses (too light for England, said Diana), hats, scarves, fridge magnets, objects made from shells. I particularly liked the catapults, study wooden objects with powerful looking elastic. But Diana said water pistols were better for cats and we didn’t have any nephews the right age any more.

Parga

Parga

We reached the end of the sea front, where the cliffs rose sheer and had ruined stone walls on the top and sat in a relatively shady spot for a while, before going back to the Georgia a bit early to nab a front seat again.

The purpose of the boarding cards became clear. A man collected them in and we could see he was counting them. Three yards further on another man handed out out blue boarding cards ready for our next stop, Paxos. A simple way of counting people on and not leaving anyone behind.

Paxos was an hour away. As we set off, we could see Paxos and just south of it the smaller Anti Paxos. As a former physicist, I reckon it’s downright dangerous to put Paxos and Anti Paxos so close. If they ever collided, well, total annihilation…!

Georgia’s mooring was just inside the entrance to the harbour at the principal town of Gaios, which gave us a half mile walk to the town, following the harbour round past successively smaller boats. The smaller you were, it seemed, the closer to town you were allowed to get. What seemed a closed off, sheltered harbour proved to have an exit. The long ‘headland’ was an island. The buildings were more spread out than in Parga, restaurants were clustered round squares, though here, too, many were closed. It seemed that most of the people walking around were off the Georgia.

IMG_1119

The Georgia

Coming home, I didn’t want to sit at the front. The low seats weren’t good for my back. So we sat at the back with good views to the side, but in the full sun with no cooling breeze. We went forrard and sat on a ledge right in the prow for a while, then retreated inside where there was air conditioning for the rest of the voyage.

Several coaches were waiting to collect people. We found one that had a notice saying “Aktaion” and got on. Familiar as we were with bus and coach routes by now, as the coach reached the road next to our hotel, we asked to get off early, which the driver seemed happy to do.

It was a good day out, but spending time in a couple of resorts reinforces our view that we like to have streets to walk and places to see on our holidays, not just swimming pools and bars. Being based in the Old Town was a good idea.

Corfu Day 13 – A Grand Day Out, part deux*

Today we thought we’d go to Mon Repos, a grand house and estate which is now owned by the Greek state and used as a museum, and which we’d passed by on the Island Tour on Day 7. We got there on the No. 2 bus, using day tickets for €5 each so we could stop off at other places as well.

We nearly missed the stop at Mon Repos, but someone else was getting off there and I spotted the sign on the gates just in time. The man in the ticket office said it was all free. “Even the museum?” we asked. “All free. All free.”

At the house we found lots of vehicles and red and white tape across the paths and signs saying “Please keep quiet. Filming The Durrells.” A film crew had taken it over and we couldn’t get in. So that was why it was all free. Presumably the film was based on our reference tome “My Family and Other Animals” and its companion volumes, but we weren’t certain. The English woman we spoke to from the crew had the book with her, but hadn’t read it yet.

But we were there now, so we looked around the estate, finding ruins of antiquity with name boards but no information. We found our way down to the sea shore and a swimming pier, on which several browned bodies were making themselves browner in the sun. We changed into our swimsuits – yes, we had thought to bring them – and waded out. The water was shallow for a long way, but we floated around for a while, watching the scenery, before getting out and eating lunch. Yes, we had thought to bring one.

We caught the No.2 bus at the same place we had got off and continued on to Kanoni. Our Island Tour had made a whistle stop there, but we stayed for a while drinking beer and iced lemon tea, staring at the scenery, watching a small ferry shuttle out and back to Mouse Island. Why does Mouse Island keep its ferry, but Vidos doesn’t, chizz chizz? (Maybe because it only takes a couple of minutes for the ferry to get there?)

Our seats in the cafe also gave us a good view down on the jets coming in to land at the airport. You can see them approaching for a couple of minutes and by the time they come alongside, they are lower than the cafes. To be honest, if they weren’t lower at that point, they’d be landing in the Old Town…

VIDEO: Coming in to land

We caught the bus back into town, seasoned bus travellers now, confidently staying on it when it arrived back at San Rocco Square bus station. We knew it would be moving almost immediately, and taking the route out to Kanoni again, past the end of Zambeli street, and our hotel.

*I was wanting to put this in Greek, but WordPress didn’t like the characters meaning ‘two’.

Corfu Day 12 – A Grand Day Out

Today we thought we’d go to Mon Repos, a grand house and estate which is now owned by the Greek state and used as a museum, and which we’d passed by on the Island Tour on Day 7. We could get there on the No. 2 bus, and if we got day tickets for €5 each we could stop off at other places as well.

So we looked up Mon Repos on a famous search engine and discovered that the museum is closed on Mondays.

So we went to Faliraki again, this time taking our swimsuits and towels for a swim in the bay before lunch.

Diana, at Faliraki

Diana, at Faliraki

Corfu Day 11 – When the Wind Blows

Today was the day we had been looking forward to and dreading. We’d booked a sea excursion to Parga on the mainland and Paxos, a small island to the south, which seemed really nice. The dreading part was the start time: 8.30 am.

8.30? 8.30? What kind of time is that? We’d barely been making it into breakfast before it closed, and here we’d be banging on the door almost before it opened.

But the day before, we’d had a phone call from the tour company to say the trip was cancelled due to predicted bad weather. The forecast was for thunder storms and high winds. So some time after breakfast we walked to the sea front to see how bad the sea was.

If we had been wanting waves crashing on the shore, we were disappointed. It did seem a little choppier than normal out in the bay, but there was a decided absence of crashingness against the sea wall.

At the other end of the Esplanade there was a cricket match going on. This is marked on the map as a cricket ground, but it was good to see it being used as such. A “Lord’s Taverners” flag was flying. Just as we found a place to sit and watch (or in Diana’s case, to sit) the match ended and they all shook hands and walked off. So we had lunch

Cricket on the Town Green

Cricket on the Town Green

After lunch, we decided it was worth another €6 to visit the Japanese exhibition we’d passed by on Day 5, since we were pretty adjacent to it. There was porcelain to see, but in contrast to the Chinese display, there was also a lot about warfare, with samurai swords, armour, asymmetric bows, etc. As we came out, another match was underway, but before I could get more than a couple of photos, that match ended too. Keener on the bar than the cricket, that lot.

By the evening, weather forecasts (I’m using two different ones) were confidently predicting no more rain until our departure day, on Friday, so we went out to dinner confidently without rain gear. We returned to a back street cafe and had the mixed grill, which arrived on a huge plate containing two chops, a burger, a large sausage, a flattened chicken breast and a pile of chips – each. Good job we had a small salad to go with it.

We decided to go back to the hotel for coffee and metaxa, which turned out to be a prescient choice (returning to the hotel, that is, not having metaxa). The weather, pleasing itself and spurning forecasters’ expectations, threw a downpour a couple of minutes after we’d got in.

Corfu Day 10 – We’re busy doing nothing

I’ve just realised there’s another function of the text autosuggest/correct on my iPad.

It’s very useful for adding in apostrophes in words such as don’t. It’s great for capitalising I. It’s very handy that it remembers words like Paleokastrita after the second or third time you use them in a document. It’s not bad at all at spotting real spelling mistakes, except that I never look at the correction in time and it gives me the wrong one. It’s bloody infuriating when you’ve carefully typed a specific word and it changes it. We all know those.

No, the new function is a cliché spotter. I was busy typing the title of this piece and had got as far as the space after “doing” when it suggested the whole next word “nothing” before I’d typed a single letter. This clearly indicates that the sooner it gives you the word you were going to type, the more likely it is that you were going to type a cliché.

Rain was forecast for today and the indoor part of the breakfast restaurant was full, but that was fine with us. We like outdoors. The wind blew and autumn leaves swirled on the ground, green, brown and gold mixed prettily with fallen purple petals. After breakfast we sat around at the hotel. I caught up with the blog, which was running a couple of days behind. (I realise that writing in the blog about writing the blog is getting a bit meta, but this is Greece. This is where they invented meta.)

We decided that the threat of rain had eased and walked through town to the market for a second visit to the little cafe there. The waiter shook our hands like long lost friends [cliché alert] and cleared a table under the canopy for us. He brought us some taramasalata and pickled peppers, a shrimp dish and some whitebait. Delicious.

As we paid the bill, the heavens opened [cliché alert] so we sat a while waiting for it to stop, watching tables and chairs being brought under cover, before wandering back to the hotel, where we stayed until supper, reading and writing some more. Then we went to the nearest restaurant for dinner, maybe fifty yards away, a nice Italian place where dinner was enlivened by an argument in the kitchen. It sounded great – wish we could have understood it.

Our first week was fairly full of walking places and seeing things and doing stuff, and if we’d had just a week we’d have felt it was a good holiday. With another few days to go, we are getting heavily into doing nothing…

Corfu Day 9 – Unsinkable

We were intending to take the ferry to Vidos Island today. We found the boat, it said VIDOS on it – in Greek, but we don’t mind that now.

No one was on the boat so we sat down on the benches clearly there for the purpose of waiting. A young man came over from the adjacent bar and explained in halting but entirely adequate English (much better than our Greek, in any event) that the ferry was no longer running. There were too few people now and the season was over. Since the fare each way is only €1, you can understand the economics, but it was still disappointing. We had our swimming stuff and everything.

So we sat on a bench in the shade of a tree, drank some water from our bottle, and contemplated what to do. Diana had the bright idea of lunching at the Corfu Palace Hotel and having our swim in the pool there. But it was still a bit early for lunch (we seem to have moved to Greek lunchtimes). The New Fortress loomed above us, and as we hadn’t found the way in, despite walking round it on all sides, we decided to make a determined effort this time.

There is an obvious entrance, but a forbidding sign and a couple of men in Navy uniforms make it clear that this bit of the fortress is still a military establishment. Diana spotted the New Fortress tourist sign and this led us to some steps, which we had avoided in a previous walk as having too much upness about them when we were tired and wanting down, or at the very least level. But this time, we went for it.

At the top of the steps was a gate and a hut for selling tickets, which displayed a notice saying “Entrance is free”. What there was to see in the New Fortress was essentially the fortress. There were no exhibits and the only information board had been put there by the cafe. But you could wander around looking at the walls – very high, very thick – and the slots for shooting out of.

We followed a sign saying “To the top” up some wide stairs and had a look at the various empty rooms with their very thick walls. Then there were some very narrow stairs which took us onto the roof, where we found emplacements for cannons, but no cannons as such. Most of the cannon would have pointed inland rather than out to sea. I guess they expected the Old Fort to handle invading ships.

The New Fortress looking very fortressy

The New Fortress looking very fortressy

We bought a couple of drinks in the cafe and headed for the Corfu Palace, stopping off at our hotel to use the loo, fortuitously as it happened, because we had left the Do Not Disturb sign up and they hadn’t disturbed. We apologised as we went out, but the receptionist had already realised when we came in and got someone on the case. “No problem,” he said. “The staff are still here.” That is customer service.

The Corfu Palace Hotel is about a five minute walk from ours. It is a modern, international hotel looking over the bay, with a spa and a casino and a restaurant with a swimming pool. What is an international hotel going to be good at, I thought? International food, such as a club sandwich. So we ordered a couple of club sandwiches which turned out to be (a) very big with lots of chips, and (b) very ordinary. What was international was the price.

A few people were lying on loungers around the pool, one or two taking a dip. We stripped off to swim suits and went in. The water was initially cool, but a pleasing contrast to the hot sun. Diana was first to notice that the water was salt. The increase in personal buoyancy was amazing. It was hard to go from a swimming position to standing up; my legs just didn’t want to go down. On the other hand, I could just float there, practically unable to sink – a novel experience.

In the evening we went to a tiny little pavement restaurant by the Catholic cathedral. We had passed by it most days on our walks, and it always seemed busy. All the tables were occupied, so they brought out another one for us. That is also customer service.

The menu was limited, being mainly grilled meats. The clue was in the restaurant name: Pane & Souvlaki. So souvlaki was what we had, and excellent it was. Chatting to the waiter, when he explained that they were a small restaurant and didn’t have space inside to do puddings, we found out that in high season they spread out twice as far over the pavement (which explains why they had an extra table instantly available). And it was cheap. The best meal at the cheapest price we’ve yet had here – I reckon we’ll be back.

Corfu Day 8 – On the Waterfront

After the rigours of the island tour yesterday, we kept it a bit low key today. Our main target was the Byzantine Museum. This is clearly marked on the map with a big ‘museum’ symbol, but regular readers will not be surprised to hear that the location nonetheless remained uncertain.

It appeared to be in the maze of streets set back from the sea front, east of the Old Port, so as we got into the approximate area, we dived down a likely street and tried to head in the right general direction. As always, this involved coming to apparent dead ends, finding an alley roughly at right angles and hoping to find another alley roughly at right angles the other way to get us back on track.

Eventually, after an interesting meander past people’s front doors, avoiding their washing strung from posts, we emerged into a comparatively open area with a lot of steps on the right leading down to the main road along the sea front, and the Byzantine Museum entrance on the left. On the main road was a large brown sign saying “Byzantine Museum”…

Bell tower of the Byzantine Museum

Bell tower of the Byzantine Museum

Entry cost a stupendous €2 each and we walked around a corridor called the exonarthex looking at religious paintings dating from the 15th century onwards. I was struck by the three pictures of St George slaying the dragon, in all of which the dragon is noticeably smaller than St George’s horse. I’d always imagined the dragon as much larger (though not up to filmic Smaug proportions) and it makes St George’s feat in slaying it seem that much less heroic.

The exonarthex ran round three sides of the building, with a nave in the middle. This was a church, actually a basilica, that really was a museum – what more could I ask for? (See Day 5.) There was lots more bling in the nave. Stairs at the back of the exonarthex led up to a gallery, which we had learned from Angela yesterday was originally for the women, who were not allowed into the nave. Diana reckoned it would be a good place for young women to check out the young men below.

We then had a long and leisurely lunch at Faliraki. This a small, low-lying area on the water’s edge outside the old city walls. It is so low lying that as a large cruise liner and a high speed hydrofoil went by in the bay, the lady on the next table warned us to pick our bags off the floor. The waves from the wash crashed over the outer walkway and into the sea wall a foot higher, not quite wetting our feet. But you could see how it might.

The exit from Faliraki through the city walls

The exit from Faliraki through the city walls

It was very peaceful, watching the water, the boats, the occasional swimmers, and we ticked off another Greek food speciality – mezze and ouzo.