καλή μέρα, χαιρετισμός – hello!
Last week I was on the greek island Corfu. It’s the most northern island of Greece. I fled from the cold and wet weather in middle Europe to the sunny south with my middle son. We were there for a week enjoying the sun and the fantastic landscapes.
While the people are very friendly and the landscapes beautiful, the state of the streets outside Corfu-town is mostly terrible (while using a mild word as a definition for them). We have had a rental car during our stay and used it to explore different parts of the island. Although the car comes with insurance, neither the tires nor the under-floor are included (an aren’t includable). Thus, pay very much attention to the streets in front of you and look very carefully to each different colored spot in the street, it might be a deep road-hole.
The island is about 60 km long (north to south) and about 9 km broad at the largest point (in the north). It has about 585 km² and about 100.000 inhabitants. You have to drive many, many serpentines up and down the hills and often a speed of 20 – 30 kmh seem to be extremely fast. But, the locals will always want to drive faster than you do, disregarding the speed limits beside the streets, and even passing you in narrow curves or other places with bad sight. You’ll also meet coaches full of tourists, many motor-scooter with locals as well as tourists and also many quad bikes. For navigating on Corfu I used the map given to me for free at the car rental station and my mobile navigation device, I usually use in my car at home. I came with maps for all 42 European countries and I already used it for different countries. So, I took it with me to Corfu. Unfortunately, many streets on Corfu outside the bigger towns don’t have names. So, we often have had to choose our destination by using the “select from map” function of the device. It all worked fine!
My expectation was to visit a mediterranean island with some hills and beautiful beaches. OK, I knew, I won’t find sandy beaches, but gravel instead. But, most of the beaches are so tiny, a few beach towels were enough to cover the whole beach 😦 And, you’ll find ‘natural’ beaches. Read: dirty with sea weed, plastic bottles, beer and soda cans and so on. Usually not a place where you want to stay. Not all beaches are in the same bad condition. Some got more dirty than others. And, if sea weed really is dirt … – decide on you own. As long as it isn’t too much, it’s OK. It natural. No-one hast to sweep the beach for me. On the other hand, the water itself if perfectly clear that you can watch to the ground to see fishes inside and it sparkles in the sun. Many hotels have pools, often filled with sea water, but without a heating. Only the sun heats up the water inside the pools.
Most of the tiny towns (villages) along the coast were built at a time, when they did not have any tourists. Thus, these towns aren’t prepared for them. Often the only street crossing the town seems to go over the citizens balconies. The houses are built directly next to the street and often the street is not broader then the car you’re sitting in (don’t expect to find a sidewalk). You find pretty houses in good shape very next to houses in bad shape or even ruins of given up houses. A complete chaos! And many, many houses have signs saying “for sale”. Some of the villages at the coast even seem to have been converted into tourist villages. Stores, tavernas and hotels one beside the other. And … directly attached to the street.
Nearly the same in the old-town of Corfu-town: hundreds of small, very small and tiny shops of all shades. All stuffed with hundreds of products: clothes, hats, bags, sandals, ouzo, ikons, ….. I guess, a woman can spend days watching all these shops carefully. They are open until late night, but some already close at 2 p.m. In the afternoon there are less pedestrians in the streets.
On the other hand, in the western part of the island you can find a lake, and a small piece of land between the lake and the see. Here you can find a nice natural sandy beach. Beside 3 beach bars and a kite club you can enjoy a day on the beach. But, it’s hard to come to that place because of the very bad streets – more an earth road, than a street. No hotel is nearby.
If you’re interested in sightseeing places, like old churches, monasteries and so on, you have to be well prepared, because the local signs seem to be only a vague tip, than giving directions. What a pity!
Churches and monasteries are usually closed, because of the fear of ikon theft. Ikons are these special kind of painting of religious important people and they are common in the orthodox church (Greek orthodox as well as in Russian orthodox church). So, you can only see the churches from outside. Or you have to be lucky enough, to arrive, when the Pope (the priest in orthodox church) is in or any other ‘official’ is available to show you around. Unfortunately, even when finding an open church, taking photographs inside is often strictly prohibited. 😦 Also, because of the fear of theft of ikons and other decorations often made of gold and silver.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to talk bad about Corfu. It’s a nice island with friendly people, as I wrote above. You know, I usually choose a typical photo for illustrating my ‘I’m back….’ post. But, this time it was kind of hard to choose a proper one. Which one should I pick – which one could represent the trip: sun, warmth, turquoise ocean, friendly people, good restaurants, beautiful landscapes, steep hills (up to 1,000m over the sea), serpentines, hundreds of scrawny cats, dozens of dogs laying lazy on the streets and giving room only hesitantly, very bad streets in the countryside, very old olive trees, vineyards, breathtaking views, restaurants with names like ‘panorama’, ‘Eden’, ‘Paradis’, ‘Belleveu’ or ‘Belvedere’ …
When walking around, you’ll notice a “free Wi-Fi” at nearly every taverna, ice salon, pub and restaurant. Ask for the code. That’s the way, I was able to check my email every now and than or answer comments here in my blog. The connection quality is not always good. Even our very good hotel offered only a very small bandwidth of around 500 Byte/second (not KB/s!). That’s way too small for surfing the internet, reading blog in the evening or preparing the next day’s trip by researching the necessary information.
I decided to pick a typical postcard motive: the Vlacherna Monastery and the tiny island Pontikonisi behind it. Both are in the bay below the quarter Kanoni of Kérkyra (Corfu town). I picked this image, because there were so many churches, chapels and monasteries around. We have had the idea, there are as many churches as the island has inhabitants. In the old-town of Corfu-town you can find a church in nearly every other street and in the countryside you’ll pass one every very few kilometers or at least a sign pointing in a direction, where you can find one (some of them are quite old – founded many centuries ago). The quarter Kanoni is part of Kérkyra, the island capital, where we have had our hotel. The island behind the monastery also carries an orthodox church. Thus, I think, it fits perfectly.
In Kanoni you can find taxi boats waiting at the runway from the strand to the monastery to bring you over to the other island. All in all, this location is a tourist magnet. Many busses full of tourists come here every day. My tip, come here in the early morning, i.e. 9:00h, just before the busses arrive and as long as both subjects are laying in the sun – remember, it’s the east coast! Depending on your plan, you only need about 15 – 30 minutes for your visit. But, if your plan includes a visit of the other island, you should calculate some more time.
You don’t need to learn Greek before traveling here. English is OK. In my opinion, most of the tourists on Corfu came from an english speaking country (probably the UK). Next often I heard German and Italian. Every day we saw huge cruise ships leaving Corfu harbor in the afternoon or early evening sailing south, in the direction of the greek mainlands. When we passed the harbour, three of these huge city like hotel ships were laying on the pier.
Finally a special tip: try kumquats. Kumquat are a tiny kind of citrus fruits. They are cooked for marmalade, distilled to an orange-colored liquor, candied, candied for coating with chocolate or simply boiled down. An interesting experience for your taste.
I hope, you weren’t bored by this really long post and didn’t fall asleep. 🙂