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.

Corfu Day 7 – Day Tripper

The pick up time for our one day coach trip round the island was 10.30. The pick up place was the Aktaion cafe.

But then it wasn’t the Aktaion. We got a fax (they still have faxes!) saying it was along from the Aktaion at the statue of Kapodistrias. We knew where the statue was, but “along from” could mean anything. Several roads come together at the statue. We picked a spot; four other people picked a different spot. We conferred and decided to cover both and make sure the coach waited so we all got on. Numerous coaches came and went, and eventually one arrived and tooted its horn. We hurriedly crossed the road – yes, the others were right.

Our guide for the day introduced herself as Angela and we got on the coach. The only two seats together were near the back, across the aisle from each other. I took the one next to the biggest guy on the bus, because I am a gentleman. Also, I couldn’t sit straight on any seat on the coach, bar two or three, due to length of leg, so sitting sideways was all the same to me, big guy or not.

Kevin not looking at Mouse Island

Kevin not looking at Mouse Island

The coach headed for the windmill (see Day 6’s posting), then inland a bit to the south of the peninsula, passing “Mon Repos”, birthplace of Prince Phillip, and coming to halt ten minutes later at a view point overlooking the airport and Mouse Island. This seemed a bit soon for a halt, but I hadn’t realised two things: (i) Mouse Island is a noted beauty spot; (ii) some people had already been travelling for three hours. The coach had started picking up at Sidari in the far north east and continued picking up all round the coast. We six in Corfu Town were the last.

The coach came back up the peninsula, then turned south for Achillion Palace, full of statues and pictures of Achilles. We had been thinking about going there anyway, on the City Bus. This visit gave us all we needed, so there would be no need for a return trip. The road past the palace is one way, being narrow and full of coaches taking tourists in. We thought it was narrow at the time. We hadn’t seen “narrow” yet…

Achilles

Achilles

The coach took us west across the middle of the island. The south is too far for northern residents to travel on a one day coach trip, and anyway consists entirely of resorts full of young people, who even when drunk are not that entertaining. At least, that’s what we were told.

Angela pointed out the village of Pelekas, apparently beloved of Kaiser Wilhelm II prior to the unpleasantness of 1914-18, but we wouldn’t be going there because the roads were too narrow. We nodded understandingly. But we still hadn’t seen “narrow” yet.

We followed the main road north and into the small town of Paleokastritsa. This was our lunch stop, with an option of a short boat trip to some caves. We opted for a walk across the beach and a slow lunch in a taverna set a bit back, which no one else found. We spotted an inlet which looked similarly isolated and took the road round to where we guessed it would be. Steps led down onto a small beach called Amrelaki, deserted except for one guy. A sign offered motor boats for hire, and the business was doing spectacularly well that day, as no motorboats could be seen.

At this point I spotted that the guy had taken off his clothes for a swim, and appeared to have forgotten his swimming trunks. We decided discretion was called for and left.

The coach had taken the boat trippers to another beach for their boat, and the pick up point for the rest of us was now the pavement opposite some shops, with a nice shady wall to sit on. Our next stop was only a mile away, on top of a hill, the Monastery Theotokus. There was a traffic light in the village controlling who went up or down what turned out to be a narrow road. We still hadn’t really seen “narrow”, though. The monastery had an Orthodox Church, of course, with icons and church bling. It also had an olive mill. This is like an olive press, but bigger, with two vertical millstones about a metre in diameter in a stone bowl even bigger (if it wasn’t bigger, the millstones wouldn’t fit, would they?).

Looking down on Paleokastritsa

Looking down on Paleokastritsa

From the monastery we drove for about half an hour round hairpin bends and Angela announced that we now had a good view down on Paleokastritsa. We drove for another half hour round more hairpin bends and Angela announced that again we had a good view down on Paleokastritsa. Were we ever going to get away from Paleokastritsa? Then Angela announced a final rest stop at Lakones. Make sure you have a good wee was the subtext of what she said.

But first we had to get through Lakones. As the road narrowed, we stopped at a traffic light. When it turned green, the coach edged forward. In Lakones we got on intimate terms with the walls of buildings on both sides of the coach. If the road had been straight, it would have been hard enough, but there were bends, and parked cars, and occasionally cars parked on bends. But George the driver got us through – what a star. I suspect he had a Tardis simulator, or some other relativistic device to shrink the bus without us noticing. I will never again complain about the traffic lights in Camelford. “Narrow street? That’s not narrow, let me tell you about narrow,” I shall say in the Bridge on Wool…

It occurred to me to wonder, after we got through Lakones, how small the roads to Pelekas must be, if George couldn’t get us there. Donkey tracks, do you think?

From now on it was dropping people off, from Sidari, round to Roda and Kassiopi, down to Kalami, where we had a brief halt to photograph the nearest point of the Albanian coast and what was purported to be one of the villas rented by Gerald Durrell’s family. Then Ipsos and Dassia, and then there were just the Corfu Town six left and it was dark outside. The coach came in along the New Port and turned into town on roads I recognised, before letting us off at Kapodistrias.

At the end of it, having seen some of the notable sites and the resorts and hotels to the North, we were glad to be based in Corfu Town.