The last week has been colored by horrible weather reports and surprisingly good weather.
According to every weather app available for Android phones it should have been raining the entire week we spent on Korfu. Luckily, things did not pan out the way the online meteorologists prophesized. We managed to get through the week with only one full day of rain. Most of the days started out with clouds or slight rain, but during the day the sun came out and made the island sparkle in greens and blues.
According to the locals on Korfu – or Kerkyra as the greeks calls it – is competing with Ireland for the title of “Greenest Island in Europe”. No matter where you go you will be in lush green wilderness or gardens, spattered with different colors of wild flowers. We spent our days chasing the sun and the sights on the island in a small rental car. Cars are almost a must on this island, as the busses seem to come as they please and only travel between the larger villages. We chose the provider with the best insurance policy possible as the Greeks drive like mad men. A small car is to prefer when you drive on Korfu, we got to experience that first hand. As we were ascending a hill with a 30% slope we met a huge truck barreling down the same hill. Luckily we managed to squeeze in to someone’s narrow driveway to let the truck pass. If you ever need a car that can fit two humans and their traveling gear, and you also need to be able to put that car in your pocket, I can recommend a Volkswagen UP!
No matter what route you follow, main- or side roads, you will run in to areas where two cars can barely pass. Quite often actually. Small cars are also easier to park, and when you are in Greece you should park like Greeks, anywhere the car fits. It is kinda like cats- if it fits, it sits. And the UP! fit most places on the island.
North by North-West
We spent our first days traveling north and west on the island. We were looking for anywhere we could soak up some sun before traveling back to the freezing temperatures of northern Europe. There are heaps of small bays and secret getaways around the north-east coast, and if you get out of your car to stroll along the roads you often come across small paths leading down to a beach or a rocky outpost. These are small fortresses of solitude, free from tourists and sounds of traffic.
Korfu has a long history and many sights that bear witness of that. There are a bunch of fortresses, castles, ruins, museums, archeological sites, and other attractions worth a visit. The Achilleon is a perfect example. Built by the empress of Austria between 1889 and 1891, it has served as the imperial family’s residence, as well as a casino for the rich and powerful. It is a magnificent building with marble columns, oil paintings and sculptures to add to its grandeur. Today it functions as a museum.
If you decide to travel along the small inland roads on Korfu you better be prepared to get lost. We bought a travel book and a decent map before we arrived on the island, but I have never been as lost as I was during this holiday. Regardless of a great map and a great navigator – Wendy – we could not seem to find the quickest or shortest route to any destination we decided on. But that did not really bother us as there are worse places to get lost. Getting lost on Korfu only gives you the opportunity to see all the cozy little villages and bays you would not get to see otherwise. And the island is only so large that if you do mess up, there is ALWAYS a sign pointing you towards the capitol.
Small side note; Do not trust the signs. Sometimes they point towards where you want to go, only to change direction at the next intersection. Sometimes the signs are only posted in Greek. Sometimes the signs only occur at one of the side-roads of an intersection. And other times the sign is just missing. If you are determined to not get lost I guess a navigation system is the safest bet – although I would not completely trust those either in Greece.
Zen – The Stalker
In addition to the cultural sights of the island, the island I also filled with street cats and dogs that stroll around without a leash. If you are not too concerned about hygiene and disease – or if you have had all possible shots – most of the animals are very comfortable with being fed and pet. Many will actually walk straight up to you and sit next to you on whatever you sit on. Now, do not be a fool and pet an animal you do not know, unless you and the animal feel comfortable about it. It is kinda like a date; Take it slow and give yourselves some time to develop a trusting relationship, then you can enjoy cuddles together. If you move too fast you might end up with something short and exciting that results in bite- and claw marks.
At the beach in Dassia, close to where we stayed, we met Zen. Zen is a dog that resembles a brown Labrador, except from his legs which are oddly short. Wendy wanted to rename him Odin (we have been watching Vikings lately), but we kept to his name that we found on the tag on his collar. He must be the strangest dog I have met. We were strolling along the beach when we met him. As soon as he saw us he started acting as if we were taking him for a walk, walking where we walked, sitting down where we sat. We passed a local tavern where the waiter explained that Zen was the beach dog, and that he spent his days strolling up and down the beach together with the tourists. He has a collar and a home, but the beach is his domain. Zen kept following us, and it all turned quite stalkerish. He stayed close, but not close enough to touch. He kept an eye on us, but we got no response if we called him. And when we were going home, he would not leave us alone. At one point it got so bad that we actually tried to outrun him. Yes, two humans trying to outrun and hide from the dog who is stalking them. To end his obsessive behavior, we had to come up with a plan to fool the little bugger. Wendy decided to lure him down an alley with an exit at the other end. In the meanwhile, I went and got the car. I am not proud of the next part of our plan, but it had to be done. As Zen was busy peeing on something, I rushed in and Wendy jumped into the car, then we rushed off, leaving the confused dog heading for some other hoomans. A surge of guilt crept over the both of us, but the guilt quickly resided when we saw him tailing a new mark. Guess we were not all that special after all.
Bad planning makes great memories
What we did not know when we booked our trip was that it was the Dutch May holiday and the Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations at the same time. As we were to fly out from Schiphol after visiting family our tickets were a lot pricier than if we had flown from Norway due to the holiday. When we landed we were informed that most of the shops would be closed for five out of the seven days we had on the island, all due to Easter and labor day perfectly landing on the same week. The only options for any shopping would be the over-priced tourist markets in the capitol, or the minimarket who sells beer and chips to the tourists. Lucky for us, we were more interested in seeing the island than shopping cheap leather and local kumquat liquor.
The main celebrations took place in the private homes of the Greeks, but we joined in on the public processions in the capitol on the Saturday after good Friday. The streets were packed with people. So packed that we did not really get to see the bones of the patron saint of Korfu. I tried to hold the camera high enough to catch some picture at least, but that only gave me the patron shiny head of some middle aged Greek guy. No luck there.
The processions in Korfu city holds a special place in Greek culture, and a lot of main land Greeks had taken the ferry to the island to get in on the festivities. We also met a whole bunch of Irish and British cars and tourists, most likely Orthodox who took the trip for the celebrations.
The procession in Korfu ends with a rather different ritual. The throwing of ceramic pots. When the main parade is over you can see red ceramic carafes and pots in almost every window surrounding the churches squares. The carafes and pots are filled with water, and when the bells ring at eleven they all throw them from the window and down to the excited crowds. My trusted camera-woman did not expect it to be as loud as it was, so most of the pictures became quite blurry or non-existent as she dove for cover. When all the ceramics have been thrown the crowds gather to pick up some pieces for god fortune. That we DID get a picture of.
It was quite the experience to hear the sound of falling pots travel through the city until it reached the square where we stood. If you ever travel to Greece during their Easter Celebrations I urge you to attend their celebration, it is something special.
All holiday’ed up
Our last days were spent driving the southern part of the island – which were pretty much dead due to the lack of tourists – and relaxing with our books. The weather worsened the last two days, which resulted in massages at one of the islands spas and a trip to Korfu city for some Easter lamb and shopping.
We also planned to go looking for some reptiles, but the cold weather put a stop to that. All I managed to catch in my lens were the blue-throated keeled lizard (Algyroides nigropunctatus), and not even that picture turned out any good. I did however spot a few cool birds, yet again, when I did not have my camera at hand…
Now we are packing our bags before we have to head to the bus to the airport tomorrow morning. We are flying Back to the Netherlands for a few days before we return to work and everyday life in Norway.
There are some things I will miss about Greece. The food, the winding roads to hidden beaches, the people, and Mittens. Mittens greeted us on our very first morning by joining us for breakfast. She would later join us for pretty much every meal or drink consumed at the hotel. Mittens is expecting a litter of kittens and is most likely due any day now – Oh, did I mention that Mittens is a cat? We have dubbed her our holiday-cat, and she is a precious one.
Even if we did not get all the sun and warmth we hoped for, we had a great holiday. Loads of memories and stories for family and friends are coming home with us.
If you ever consider traveling to the Greek islands I can assure you that will not regret choosing Korfu, especially if you enjoy some hiking and spending time in nature.