Thursday, 29 June 2017

Greece is The Word - Exploring Kérkyra

We'd heard good things about Corfu's public transport system so, with a bus stop a few minutes walk from our apartment, we decided to visit Kérkyra (Corfu Town), the island's capital. The timetable came with a warning, Buses may be late depending on traffic, so we weren't unduly worried when the bus trundled down the hill 30 minutes later than expected. Luckily for us there was a conveniently situated olive tree next to the stop, providing some welcome shade from the heat which, at 9am, was already nudging 35° C.

We took Natassa, our landlady's advice, and asked the driver for a copy of the return timetable before we got off the bus, also requesting he point out the departure point for the bus back as the signposts were mostly in Greek.

Using the street map from the vintage Corfu guidebook we'd bought from Baddesley Clinton's secondhand bookshop a couple of weeks previously, we navigated our way to the Esplanade and treated ourselves to an iced coffee, served with a glass of water, from one of the smart cafés overlooking Kérkyra harbour.

We gazed longingly at the view of neighbouring Albania across the shimmering, clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea. If we'd had longer we'd have taken a ferry and stayed there for a few of days. Albania is said to be beautiful and, as yet, untouched by mass tourism .

Overlooking the Esplanade were the Paleó Froúrio (Old Fort) and Néo Froúrio (New Fort), which are rather misleadingly named as there's less than a hundred years between them, one being built by the Byzantines in the mid-twelfth century and the other by the Venetian occupiers. Admission to the forts and their museums was 6€ each so, to save cash, we opted for a multiple pass to the museums in and around Kérkyra instead (14€).

According to our vintage guidebook, the Neoclassical shrine of St George, built by the British in the 1840s and badly bombed in WW2 was closed to visitors, a disharmonious eyesore. Fortunately things have moved on and the shrine has since been fully restored with walls lined with opulent Orthodox icons, magnificent painted ceilings and cool marble tiled floors. 

Time for a leisurely stroll around one of shady green spaces dotted around Kérkyra, this is Bosketto Durrell a public park dedicated to the writers, Lawrence & Gerald. We loved how, over the years, visitors had rubbed the brother's noses for luck, wearing away the bronze.

The next hour was spent admiring what is said to be the finest collection of Asiatic art in the world at the Museum of Asian Art set within the grandly restored State Rooms of the Palace of St Michael and St George. No photos were allowed sadly but what a collection! Hand painted 18th century silk kimonos, courtesan's masks, Samurai armour and swords, 12th Century Indian erotic art, tribal jewellery, Ming dynasty ceramics, Afghani temple treasures, Khmer Buddha heads, opium pipes, ginger jars and Japanese rice screens.

A passionate collector of Asian art, Gregorios Manos was born in Corfu and rose to become a diplomat. In 1919 when he was Greek Ambassador to Austria, he offered his large collection to the state, on the condition that he could retire on a pension and spend the rest of his days as curator of the museum. Sadly it took until 1927 for any agreement to be reached and Manos died in poverty a year later, reputedly all spent out after a lifetime of collecting. 

The water surrounding Kérkyra harbour is so clean you can swim in it.  

Corfu is the most colonised island in the Mediterranean with the Corinthians, Romans, Byzantines, British and French all having taken over. The most influential architecturally has to have been the Venetians, whose graceful legacy makes Kérkyra so alluring.

Corfu is closer to Italy than it is to Athens you can tell. Meandering the maze of narrow streets that cluster higgledy-piggledy between the old and new forts is a joy. It's pointless trying to follow a map, the fun is getting lost and exploring interesting side streets. Washing hangs drying above your head suspended on lines strung between buildings, scooters buzz down the cobbles beeping for you to jump out of the way and baskets are glimpsed, descending from windows way up high, waiting to be filled with the goods from tradesmen in the street below.

In Greece lunch is usually taken between 2 - 3pm so, after a morning spent exploring, we decided to follow the locals and eat on the Listón, the elegant terrace of shady cafés bordering the Esplanade and reminiscent of Paris's Rue de Rivoli, hardly surprising as the area was designed and built by a Frenchman.

The locals have been eating at Aegli, Kérkyra's oldest restaurant for decades (although nobody seems quite sure just how long). For around 25€ we devoured wonderful Greek salads washed down with ice cold Mythos beer. Parisian chic minus the Parisian price tag.

We could have spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the shade, watching the world go by, distracted only slightly by rumbles of conversation as office workers exchanged gossip over lunch and the clank of cutlery as waiters hastily laid tables in readiness for the next wave of diners.

But we had a bus to catch and, with just enough time for a bit more sightseeing, we admired the pristine pink and white Orthodox cathedral in the Town Square (built in 1577 but as good as new). 

We strolled along the cobbled, tree lined streets past the elegant town hall in Guilford Square making our way to the bus depot.

Buses from Paleokastrítsa to Kérkyra Town run eight times a day, take 45 minutes and cost 2.5€ each way. The last bus back is at around 8pm.

Vintage 1970 gingham & cotton maxi by Uninhibited (Charity shop) worn with retro sunglasses, Swedish clogs and a straw basket embellished with pom poms (obviously!)

See you soon!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

All Greek To Me - Beautiful Paleokastrítsa

I know what you're thinking...what on earth is she doing writing a blog post hours after getting back from Greece? Trust me, after this morning's 1.30 am start, a taxi, a plane, two trains and another taxi I'd like nothing more than to snooze in front of the telly in my pants, drink tea and get reacquainted with the cats but there's a brigade of workmen up cherry pickers, scaffolding and ladders, chipping away at the exterior of the house, so I'm doing my best to stay awake.

Anyway, on to Corfu and our first European Summer holiday in over a decade. 

Linking to Patti & the Gang for Visible Monday

After hours of research we chose Paleokastrítsa in the northwest of the island, described by many as the most beautiful spot on Corfu and by some, in the whole of Europe.  One of the first to fall for its charms was Sir Frederick Adam, British High Commissioner to the Ionian islands in the early 19th century. Paleokastrítsa's appeal lay in her deep wooded slopes, blue sea and bathing beaches but the problem was the relative inaccessibility so Sir Frederick had a road built to the village, with the ostensible purpose of erecting a military convalescent home there. It was never built but Sir Frederick found it a lot easier to take his regular picnics in Paleokastrítsa.

Be warned, if you're not physically fit then Paleokastrítsa might not be the place for you. The streets are very steep and there's lots of - often rather rickety - steps involved. 

Identified as the Homeric city of Scheria, where Odysseus was washed ashore and escorted by Nausicaa to the palace of her father, Alcinous, King of the Phaeacians. You'll find references to these tales in the names of the bars and tavernas all over the village.

During the peak months of July & August, Paleokastrítsa is unsurprisingly heaving with tourists but for our mid-June visit it was perfect. Busy with trippers during the day but never overwhelming or claustrophobic and by night laid back and low key with just enough tavernas to ensure a buzz. 

 The three and a half hour flights cost £80 return with Ryanair from Birmingham airport. We opted to pay an extra £15 for 15 kg of hold baggage so we could take sun cream. I did consider only taking hand luggage and buying our sun protection locally when we landed but, on further investigation, it would have cost us over 50 quid (we pay £5.50 a bottle for it at home, Greece ain't cheap!)

Here's where we stayed, one of the ten studio apartments at Natassa & Spiros, costing £180 for the week. In a quiet spot surrounded by olive groves, with all mod cons (including A/C, which we both hate and refuse to use - preferring an open window and plenty of insect repellent) plus a balcony with a mountain view.  

Off for dinner via the olive grove

We didn't cook but took full advantage of the fridge (and the nearby supermarket) by breakfasting on fresh fruit and Greek yogurt every morning and downing an ice cold Mythos (or Alpha or Hellas) beer after our evening shower with a night cap of Albatross white rum, cola and a wedge from lemon foraged from the groves overhanging the pathways.

Paleokastrítsa harbour

Although undeniably pretty, the main town beaches with their rows of sunbeds and parasols for hire, amplified music, water sports and cocktail bars just aren't our thing.

Walking past the tourist hot spots and investigating some rickety steps led us to discover this quiet little cove where we'd spread our blanket and, for hours at a time, we'd be alone with nothing but the sound of the Ionian Sea gently lapping the bleached shingle and the chirp of the cicadas.

 By 2pm the area beneath the steps are in shade and perfectly timed for our picnic of rustic bread, tangy feta cheese, spicy olives and misshapen locally grown tomatoes as big as tennis balls picked up from the supermarket on the way to the beach. 

Much as I love sea swimming the waters around Corfu were icy. The locals told us to come back in September when the Ionian Sea is as warm as a bath. 

In fact September and October seem like the ideal time to visit. The sea's warm, the heat's less intense and the roads are safer and quieter as the bulk of the tourists have gone.

 Overlooking Paleokastrítsa on a rocky bluff high above the village is the Byzantine Theotókou Monastery, believed to have been established in the thirteenth century. 

Open daily from 7am - 1pm and 3pm - 8pm (but best around sunset when most of the day trippers have left) it's a wonderfully peaceful way to spend an hour or two, petting the many cats that seek sanctuary there and drooling over the velvet embroidered Orthodox priest's jackets and bejewelled head dresses in the on site museum.

Admission is free but donations are welcomed (and help keep the cats in fresh fish). 

 It is requested that visitors dress modestly (I never travel without my shawl) although there's a stock of particularly hideous granny skirts, voluminous trousers and smock tops scantily clad tourists of all sexes are forced to wear if they turn up half naked.

Brace yourselves, there's loads more to share (the food, a road trip, Corfu's capital city and what we wore) but in the meantime I'll leave you with a video of La Grotta, possibly the bar with the best view in all of Corfu.

In the meantime the workers have just knocked off so I can finally strip off the sun dress I've been wearing since the early hours, have a bath and phone for a pizza.

 See you soon!

Monday, 19 June 2017

So Many Dresses...Such A Tiny Luggage Allowance

For a woman with a wardrobe stuffed with backless, slash fronted, halterneck, gloriously impractical dresses it's a crying shame I was born in a country where we can count the number of gloriously hot days suitable for wearing them on the fingers of one hand.

Vintage 1970s Bernshaw maxi (pressie from Curtise), African tribal choker (inherited from Mum), 1970s sunglasses (50p, Age UK), Massive hoop earrings (50p, Sari stall, Walsall market)

When the perfect opportunity for wearing strappy summery dresses comes along (a week in Greece) we've only got a piffling 15 kg luggage allowance between us (which is why our return flights are less than £80 each). We could pay for more but we're out and out cheapskates. What with the sun cream & mossie repellent, toiletries, the beach blanket, a few choice pieces from my bastard massive jewellery collection and our flip flops that leaves around 3 kg each for our clothes. Five cotton dresses, a couple of bikinis, two pairs of knickers (that's only because some of my dresses are a bit on the see thru' side), a rayon wrap, a shawl and that's my lot. 

Our packed bag weighs in at 12 kg...phew! 

Which means that there's lots of dresses that can't come, such as this '70s Bernshaw number*. Happily, since Saturday, the UK's been enjoying temperatures of 30 degrees meaning that not only have I made a good start on my tan but I get to flounce around the lawn in skimpy clothes swigging cans of pre-mixed G&T and generally getting into the holiday spirit.

*I think I usually wear it with heels hence the reason why it's pooling around my bare feet (unless I've shrunk).

We haven't been completely lazy. As usual, whenever I go on holiday I have to clean the house from top to bottom (trust me, that's not a regular event) and donate a shed load of stuff to the charity shop (mostly paperbacks, I read like a maniac when the sun's out). In addition, the decorators start work tomorrow so we've had to shift all the plants from the front of the house and move them elsewhere (easier said than done in our tree-filled wilderness). Luckily I'm not a high maintenance woman so getting myself holiday ready consists slapping some colour on my roots, painting my nails and shaving my legs in the bath later. 

Keeping the boys in food (and cat litter) is a full-time job. Jon's been on a lettuce run for Jacob so often this weekend the checkout lady in Lidl is beginning to think that he's stalking her. 

Linking to Patti & The Gang for Visible Monday.

Kalinychta (as they say in Corfu!)