Corfu Extension for the Lucky Dozen

Corfu Extension for the Lucky Dozen

In 2017, after my group trip to Sicily and the Amalfi Coast (working with Collette once again), six of the original group went to Corfu. I figured that as it is on the west side (Ionian Sea) of Greece, that it would be easy to get to. We had a great time for a week, exploring, enjoying some needed down time, eating well, and practicing our Greek.

As I was assembling information on the Greece trip, I thought that Corfu would be great ending to the this trip. I worked with Excursions Greece (Stella Soutsou was my main contact) and my travel agent, Lynne Erikson at Dolphin Vacations, to arrange the optional four-night extension. This included the round-trip flight from Athens — at the conclusion of the Collette tour following the path of St Paul — to Corfu and return, hotel accommodations, and an orientation tour with guide of only a small part of this fantastic island that included admission to Achilleion Palace. The remainder of the time, the group members were on their own as we began the process of depressurizing from the very busy Collette tour.

Corfu map2

 Saturday, 14 September

Today, the smaller group of 12 who elected to extend an additional four nights on the Ionian island of Corfu all traveled together from our Athens hotel to the Venizelos airport, accompanied by Kerri. Now, instead of American Airlines, we went to the Olympic Air desk. (This is a regional Greek carrier that is part of Aegean Air so sometimes there is some confusion.) I went to the desk and got my boarding pass, with the others following me. Then an officious-acting employee said that everyone had to use the kiosk. At that point, we said our “good-byes” to Kerri as she had to return to the hotel to pick up another group to take to the airport. I assisted others at the kiosk and we got checked in and then walked to the other end of the airport to catch our domestic flight to Corfu. Because Olympic Air is a regional airline, the standard jetways are not used and usually smaller aircraft (ours was an A320, so it was larger than most inter-island flights I have taken in Greece).

Fifty minutes after take-off, we had crossed central and northern Greece and landed on the single north-south runway at the Corfu airport (Aerolimenas Kerkiras Ioannis Kapodistria).  Connie and I had experienced this airport two years ago, both flying in and eating at a restaurant overlooking this 2400 meter long runway and knew that the approach is over water and begins at the water’s edge, and the north end is close to a highway, giving a certain pucker status to any landing.

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Corfu Airport runway

 Click here for why airport has that name as well as  Background and History of Corfu

If I had elected to have a regular transfer for the 12 of us, the cost would have been quite expensive. I knew that our hotel was only several miles from the airport terminal and told my lucky dozen to use taxicabs, putting three in each cab. The taxi fare was only €15 (although one couple got it down to €10!). I had selected our hotel, Divani Corfu Palace, for several reasons. Besides the good recommendation that I researched, I knew that it was on Bus Route #2 that would take us into Corfu Town easily, it had very nice rooms, the included breakfasts were supposed to be very good, it was close to the airport, and it had a huge swimming pool. As we got there early, most of the rooms were not ready for us, so most of us ate lunch. I got the room numbers for those who had not checked in so that the lunch bill could be put on the room charge. John T found a mini-mart just about 300 meters toward Corfu Town and we unpacked. The in-room safe used the room key for access, which I found to be interesting.

Most of us ate the very nice buffet dinner around 8PM.

Sunday, 15 September

I had told the Lucky Dozen that we would meet in the lounge at 9AM with our guide. I had made the arrangements for the day excursion through Excursions Greece (who also made the flight arrangements from Athens and return as well as the hotel reservations). Our very pleasant guide, Maria Voulgaris, was ready for us before 9, so I had a chance to talk to her and determine the sequence of places we would visit that day. We loaded into a black Mercedes van with just enough seats.

As the hotel is on the Kanoni Peninsula and our first stop was the Achilleion Palace, we had to backtrack north towards Corfu Town and then go north of the airport to get on Highway 25 (EO Kerkiras-Achillou), through Souleika and Gastouri to get to the Palace. Maria described the history of the palace.Achilleion Palace History

The small group of six who visited Corfu for a week after the Sicily/Amalfi Coast trip in 2017 missed this great venue, part of the reason why I included it as a requirement for the Lucky Dozen. I took about 70 pictures of the Palace and want to share some of them for those who did not the opportunity to be with us.

Here is the first view we had of the building.

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View of Achilleion Palace

As I mentioned in the Achilleion Palace History short article, this palace was built by the Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria-Hungary. She designed the placement of many of the artifacts, including statues of Greek mythological figures. Here is a bronze of Hermes (Mercury to Romans), the most clever of the Olympian gods and messenger. He ruled over wealth, good fortune, commerce, fertility, and thievery.

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Mercury statue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Sisi was vain and prided her long hair, she was probably anorexic with a 19 ½ inch waist. Here is a statue of her in the garden.

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Empress Elisabeth

 

 

 

 

Once we entered at the ground level, the wall sconces, the elaborate furniture, the ceiling paintings were all superb. Probably the most famous mural was  Achilles with the body of Hector that overlooks the elaborate stairway. According to Homer’s The Iliad, Hector was a one-man killing machine who almost single-handedly won the war for the Trojans and with Apollo’s help, killed Patroclus, Achilles’ best friend and stole his armor (that belonged to Achilles). In single combat, Achilles killed Hector and then ignominiously dragged his body around the walls of Troy.

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Achilles dragging Hector around Troy

We went to the third floor, saw the ballroom and then exited from there to the elaborate gardens where we took a group picture.

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The Fabled Lucky Dozen in Palace Gardens

Sisi had Ernst Gustav Herter carve this statue of Achilles suffering his fatal wound (in his heel, of course) placed in the garden. You can see the third floor of the palace in the background as well as the carefully groomed cedar trees and the palm trees. Note that the columns are Ionic, as Corfu is in the Ionian Sea.

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Two views of Achilleion Palace Gardens with dying Achilles

When the palace was purchased by Kaiser Wilhelm II after Sisi’s assassination, he made the palace more modern and added a statue of Achilles in his prime, also in the garden.

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Achilles in his prime

Spend four minutes looking at the Youtube video imbedded in the following URL:

We then boarded our van again and headed downtown. Maria dropped us off at the Spianada to search out what we wanted to see. This square is the largest in the Balkans and one of the largest in Europe. (go to Spianada for more info on Spianada and environs).

The patron saint of Corfu is Saint Spyridon. The church, built in the 1580s,  that is dedicated to him has a very prominent belfry that is visible from everywhere in the Town and I have used it as

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St Spyridon Bell Tower

a marker to get my bearings when I am on an un-named street and need to get somewhere else.

Saint Spyridon (Αγιος Σπιριδον) was a bishop and lived from 270-348. He is called “The Wonderworker” as he healed the sick and participated in the sessions of the First Ecumenical Council (Nicaea) in 325. He was beaten by the Roman guards after he was jailed and his wounds were so severe that he lost the use of one eye. He was then consigned to labor in mines until he died. His body now rests in the church named for him. He supposedly saved the island from the plague on several occasions, a Turkish invasion in 1716, and a famine in 1553 when he whipped up a storm at sea, forcing a ship carrying wheat to seek safety at the port of Corfu.

He is sometimes called the “Walking Saint” as his silk slippers need to be replaced frequently because he walks around performing miracles. (His coffin has a removable bottom so that the faithful can replace his slippers on his feast day. Other celebrations occur on Palm Sunday (when he saved Corfu from the first plague), on Holy Saturday (when he saved Corfu from a famine), 11 August (in commemoration of the defeat of the Turks), and the first Sunday in November (celebrating the end of the second plague).

Many Corfiot males are named Spyridon in his honor.

We were prevented from photographing inside the church, but I found a picture of the great ceiling painting.

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Interior of St Spyridon church

Our group then found the Rex Café where we lunched and the owner treated us to great desserts. I could not resist taking a picture of a woman across the street from the café. 8507D76A-6127-48E8-B3FF-D11B1BA460D7_1_105_c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The penultimate destination was Kanoni. If you look at the map of Corfu, see the little peninsula near our hotel and south of Corfu Town. Kanoni means cannon and there is a cannon there. Although I inspected it, I could not find a date or a national origin marking. There, I took the iconic picture that is probably on every promo shot of Corfu. The long causeway leads to a very small island with a Russian monastery, Vlacherna, built in the 17th century. Right next to it is a small gift shop that sells religious articles. On the causeway are several small boats that function as ferries to take passengers on a five-minute trip to the small island about 500 meters away called Pontikonissi (Mouse Island). According to legend, this small rocky island is the ship of Ulysses that was stoned by the god Poseidon. Another small church is at the peak of the small hill. When we were there in 2017, several of our group climbed the hill to inspect that 13th century church of Pandokrater.

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View of Vlacherna and Pontikonissi from Kanoni

Maria then drove us back to our hotel. I gave the group some suggestions of things to do on their own. As the four-night extension was a chance to “power down” after the very busy schedule of the Collette tour, the time remaining on Corfu was “free time.” Here are some of the suggestions of things to see:

  • The Archeology Museum
  • Wander around Corfu Town to find interesting shops, cafés, ζαχαροπλαστεια (shops that sell fantastic sweet goods at very tempting prices)
  • The Old Fortress. Besides the fortifications, if one went to the top, get great vista of Corfu Town.

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    View of Corfu Town, Spianada, New Fort, and New Port from Old Fort
  • Go to the other side of Corfu to see some great swimming beaches and some interesting vistas.

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    One of the 12 great swimming beaches on Corfu
  • The Palace of Saints George and Michael. Connie and I spent a very pleasant half day there in 2017. The Asian art collection was put together by a former Ambassador to China and covers a unique architecture, visible through gaps in the temporary walls used to display the art. From the rear of this palace is a view of the island of Vidos and the Old Port.
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    Palace of Saints Michael & George Interior

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    View of Old Port and Vidos Island from Palace
  • Mon Repos Palace. It was closed in 2017 when we walked there from our hotel. It appears in the TV series “The Durrells in Corfu.” Prince Philip of England was born here.

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    Mon Repos Palace

Places I did not mention but are worthy of further inspection were:

  • Cape Drastis on the northwest coast of Corfu, a truly magical place
  • Mount Pantokrator (= lord of all). We passed by it 2017, but unfortunately, it was the only time we had rain, so did not have the chance to climb it or drive to the summit; because it gives a panorama of the entire island.
  • Several other castles, some dating to the 13th century.
  • Paleokastritsa which is a small village on the northwest coast with a great vista.

Monday, 16 September

Free time! No alarm clock (but I was up at 6 so I didn’t miss breakfast). This is a great spread over two different buffet areas. And to top it off, there was a small heated sand arrangement to make authentic Greek coffee. The dining room manager, Theophilos (his name means friend of God) showed me how to do it. Then John became the expert and taught others the technique.

Several of us experienced waiting for the #2 bus to go downtown. The others were going to do some necessary glasses repair shopping and Connie and I wanted to the Archeology Museum, that was closed for renovation when we were here in 2017. The bus was extremely crowded and got even more crowded at the next several stops, so that was a real adventure. We got off the right stop and after a few false starts, found the Museum.

The entry was 6€ and we found that almost the entire museum was dedicated to the Temple of Artemis. The ruins of this temple are in the Mon Repos area and when we were here in 2017, as it was close to our hotel, we tried to figure out what it was as we could find no apparent signs nearby, other than this one. 1E728DC8-80F8-4B19-83D7-2F3930A87E50_1_105_c

The collection is amazing, including the entire pediment of this ancient temple. 848F5865-A2DE-47EE-A17A-F883E2926CFE_1_105_c

It is in Archaic style, built in 580BC in the current suburb of Garitsa. It was the first Doric temple built of stone and was one of the largest temples of its time. The metope (the rectangular architectural element between each pair of triglyphs was decorated with reliefs and some of them had images of Achilles but the pediment features Gorgons. (The most famous one was Medusa of the snake hair and the other two were Stheno {Strength} and Euryale {wide-leaping}).

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Medusa as a Gorgon in Temple of Artemis Pediment

 

 

 

 

Then Connie and I walked through Corfu Town (if you must know, we actually got lost and got all the way to New Port, then had to wend our way back to Spianada Square to get to the bus stop for the #2 bus). We did use the St. Spyridon bell tower as our reference point. We had thought of returning to the Palace of Saints George and Michael to see the new art exhibit but did not. Because Corfu Town was walled, the medieval section has streets so narrow that one can touch the walls on both sides! We found some interesting stores and very narrow streets along the way. 83173B3E-7D40-40AE-AA91-431C37C5DD3B_1_105_c

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Narrow Corfu Town Streets

We returned to the hotel and I took the plunge – literally – into the pool. I could swear that the hotel staff had dumped a lot of ice cubes in the water, but after the initial shock – and probably some amount of numbing, I swam several laps of the very long pool.  The extra beers helped immensely!2F81F5D1-FFF2-4E14-9FBE-6F7F696E419B_1_105_c

 

 

 

 

 

For dinner, we walked with Ruthie to Kanoni. It was further than I thought so we built up a good appetite for the excellent meal that we had. We watched a “pirate” ship sail between the shore and Pontikonissi,988A97F7-F5E2-4F7F-A3BE-6C9FF1812883_1_105_ctook the required photographs,BB8D50ED-CC55-46FC-8F7A-86AF1CC018BD_1_105_c then took the bus back to the hotel in time to get some great sunset shots, looking over the bayou and the airport runway (the long, dark rectangle with the little lights).

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Corfu Airport Runway between bayou and open water

Tuesday, 17 September

Most of the group got together and rode in two taxis to Old Port (that is on the north of Corfu Town near the New Fort) to board a small “kaiki” with the destination of the nearby island of Vidos. Located just about 1200 meters from the quay, the ferry left the coast on the hour and on the half-hour from the island. We were ready to board but a large group of Slavs hurried from a small café and overloaded the boat. We decided that it was the better rationale to wait for the next boat as the captain said that it would only be a “few minutes.” It was almost an hour before the boat returned and we boarded for the short 10-minute trip to Vidos. We walked along a stone path counter-clockwise as it climbed away from the sea. We stopped at a Serbian Mausoleum of gratitude.

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Serb Mausoleum on Vidos Island

This was built by the Serbs and Russians in the 1930s. See the attached for more information on this Serb Mausoleum on Corfu

Here is the grave marker labeled “Blue Graveyard” that overlooks the bay.

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The Serb poet Milutiu Bojic (1892-1917) wrote the following Ode to a Blue Tomb

We found a delightful little restaurant for a light lunch and then waited f6DAE6677-EB1F-4FFC-8DEC-E2BB7D0DE1BD_1_105_c and then waited a a few minutes for the ferry to return. We boarded it and about halfway back when someone asked one of the men to sing a song.

 

 

 

It was a poignant tune with many verses and soon many of the other Serbs joined in.   The boat returned to the Old Port in Corfu. From there, it was a fun job finding a cab to return to the hotel. We could see the cruise ships docked in New Port (that is just less than kilometer from Old Port). A large part of Corfu’s revenue comes from these cruise ships.

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Corfu’s New Port and cruise ships

As this was our final full day, we spent the remainder of the day relaxing by the pool and tried to finish all the beer that we had bought, did the majority of the packing, and then went to the dining room to share a pizza.

I put a wake-up call for 4AM and set my alarm clock as well as the taxis were supposed to arrive at 5AM. I also arranged to have some food delivered to the rooms as there was going to be no breakfast service for that ungodly hour.

Wednesday, 18 September

I figured 3 or 4 in each cab, considering that it was not just our bodies but also a bag to be checked for each person and hand luggage. Two of the cabs left with only two aboard because I did not control it. We went with the Tanners and Carole was a bit upset because the Mercedes E-type did not really have enough room for four suitcases, so the driver used a bungee cord and the trunk was wide open. Luckily, it was very early and we were not that far from the airport.

The flight to Athens went easily and then we had to find the American Airlines desk for the Athens-Chicago flight. I already knew that we would be flying on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, but was surprised that my seat was in the very last row. No one sat with a spouse and I sat directly behind Connie. Neither Connie’s seat mate nor mine wanted to change seats. As usual, we had to go through the idiotic process of claiming our bags at O’Hare after clearing customs, then putting them back on for the flight from O’Hare to Grand Rapids. We returned to our home around 11PM.