The Bella Venezia Hotel occupies an old building surrounded by modern ones. It apparently survived bombing and destruction in 1943, alone among its neighbours including the original hotel, and became the hotel in 1985.
It fronts onto N. Zambeli street and has a courtyard garden around two sides, where breakfast is served in the morning and drinks at more or less any time after that. Our room is on the second (and top) floor in one corner. We have a view one way onto an apartment block with rusting balcony rails that stands higher than the hotel and the other way over the rooftops to the west. The windows are high in the room, such that Diana can only see upwards, unless she stands on something.
It has interesting plumbing. A sign over the toilet rolls says “Please use bin for waste paper.” English custom and practice, not to mention middle class sensibilities, lead one to interpret that as meaning don’t put any other things such as tissues down the toilet. However, if that was meant, why not put the sign where you’d see it if you were about to do that, rather over the toilet rolls where you wouldn’t? This is where our careful preparatory reading paid off. An early episode in Gerald Durrell’s “My family and other animals” (set in Corfu) has Margot using toilet paper from a convenient box by the side, to the alarm of the family, and her own mortification as she discovers this is the “used” box…
We still couldn’t quite believe it, but Diana checked, woman to woman, with the hotel receptionist, who confirmed our misgivings. What I tell you three times is true.
After breakfast we headed for Guilford street (not quite the Surrey city), which we’d crossed yesterday and thought looked interesting. We aimed for the start of the street, but went too far and had to loop back, but no matter – we’re not on a tight schedule, as I may have remarked already. Guilford was another narrow, paved street (so we were on car alert of course) containing lots of small shops and lots more restaurants, including a bakery and pie shop recommended by our guide book, which we noted for later.
Guilford opens into a square with even more restaurants, plus the Catholic cathedral and the Municipal Art Gallery. The cathedral was quite small as cathedrals go, but of course the prevailing religion is Greek Orthodox (my spellchecker nearly gave me “Orthodontist” there – a beguiling concept for a religion) so this isn’t really surprising. The art gallery had a show of recent local Corfiot artists and a couple of the pictures stood out. One, entitled “Red”, was especially hard to interpret. Was it a horde of Crusader knights storming ashore in a sea of blood, St George pennants flying? If so, who was the dark skinned young person in a white t-shirt trying to hold up a red and white striped police tape against them?
We found the local bus station in San Rocco Square, and the ticket machines that showed an all-day ticket costs only €5. We headed off to find the long distance bus station, taking a back-street route alongside the New Venetian Fortress because it looked more interesting. As we were hesitating, looking down twenty feet on a road not marked as distinct on our map, an elderly man appeared up some steps carrying three bags of fruit and veg. He asked if we needed help, telling us how to get to the New Port and to the Old Town. Before long we found out he was an artist and had five children, one of whom was a sculptor. He hauled out his Samsung tablet to show us photos of his work, his daughter and her work, which was actually very impressive. He was pleased we were British, because so was his wife. We talked a little about Ellie and Tris. After about thirty minutes he went on his way and we continued to the end of the road, from which we could see down into the coach station, but not actually get to it. The end of the road is meant literally, as the only way to continue was down some narrow unofficial steps made of old bricks, breeze blocks, stone and concrete.
The old gent had been shopping in the market, so we did a u-turn on the lower road to find it, giving up on the port for the time being. Some of the stalls were closed already, but there were enough open to see what was going on. We could have bought fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, herbs, and I don’t know what. Our idea was to walk through the market and then find a restaurant, but we never made it. Once again we were trapped by an enthusiastic waiter.
Diana and the waiter
“Would you like small snack?” he asked. Small snack was exactly what we wanted, and a beer and an orange juice, which they freshly squeezed on the spot. The small snack arrived – bread, tomato salad, mixed plate of prawns, tzatziki and potato salad. Excellent, just what we were after, and we tucked in. Then he produced a plate of hot whitebait and calamari. “That will be enough,” we said hurriedly. It was actually very good. He offered coffee on the house, so we had that as well.
My desire to get to the hotel without looking at the map failed, but we found Guilford again and took a small alley, which led us to the Anglican church. Our old gent had mentioned this when we said we were staying at the Bella Venezia. “Only 50 metres away. My wife went there.” The gate was open, but the door locked.
After a siesta of sorts, we went down to the hotel garden and on impulse, since it was past five o’clock and sort of approaching sundown, decided to have cocktails. I had a phase of making them at home a few years ago, and do a mean martini (mainly because I’m too cheap to keep olives in the house), but this is the first time we’ve had cocktails when out together. Sad, isn’t it?