Six of us (Jim Harakas, Linda Triant, Peter and Evelyn Pappas, and Connie and me) decided a few months prior to the Sicily/Amalfi Coast group trip that I organized that we would like to extend the trip for one additional week and go to the Greek island of Corfù. (The Greeks have called it Kerkyra ever since the 8th century BC.) We chose this island because of its unique characteristics based on a multi-dimensional history, we had never been there, and that it was not that far from Italy. Located at the northern end of the Ionian Sea off the west coast of the Greek mainland, we ventured on our own — with a lot of prior research. Connie found a “package” deal that included air from Naples and return, hotel accommodations, and a rental car.
29 September 2017
We transferred from our “one-night stand” hotel to the airport at 10, compliments of Collette, and then sat around the airport, worried because our flight listing did not appear on the boards nor was there a gate that stated “Aegean Air.” So Jim and I checked where we thought Aegean Air ticket desk would be (it shared with at least one other airline, Turkish Air). Imagine my surprise when I ran into Len and Emily Slott from our parish in Grand Rapids who were leaving Naples after three weeks in Italy.
Our 3PM flight was not direct from Naples to Corfù, but rather first to Athens, then to Corfù. That meant a additional three-hour wait in the Athens terminal in the lower level where I knew that we would have to load on a bus to get to the aircraft.
Waiting in Athens airport for flight to Corfu
We got to Corfu after dark, picked out our rental car, and then had difficulty getting to our hotel. Luckily, a very kind couple had us follow their car through narrow streets to the side of Mayor Mon Repos Palace Art Hotel. Look on map below for “Anemomilos” (which means ‘windmill’) as our hotel is adjacent to that land projection.Connie had selected this hotel, which is just south of Corfu City (Kerkyra in Greek) and just north of Paleopoli (the old city), an ideal location.
On 30 September, I got an email in Italian that the hotel in Naples for the night of 6 October that I had contracted for seven months earlier, was no longer available because it was having “structural issues.” But the day was sunny and our view of the Ionian Sea and the Greek mainland in the distance gave us the indication that we would have a very good week.
Our first goal was to explore the Old Fort at Cape Sideros, but it was closed for repairs (to open “any day now”). So we walked into Old Town, checking out the various stores and the historic St. Spyridon Church (built in 1590).
St. Spyridon outer wall
Because the streets are not very wide and most are just for pedestrians, the street signs
Corfu City “Old Town”
are either non-existent or difficult to find. The bell tower of St. Spyridon, erected in 1620, is an easily identifiable landmark to get bearings. Unfortunately, there are some beggars speaking Arabic with their hands out. As I write this, we are watching “The Durrells in Corfu” on PBS and Connie and I can recognize some of the landmarks in Corfu Town.
St. Spyridon Bell Tower at night
Spianaka, just before entering Old Town, is the second largest square in Europe! The buildings that face the square were built by the Venetians. Now part of it is a giant parking lot (3€ for unlimited time) and a series of small al fresco restaurants are on the grassy portion
After lunch, we got back in our car and headed north along the coast, getting a view of the New Fortress (built between 1576 and 1645) then headed west,
“New” Fortress in Corfu Town
skirting Mount Giatri to the western coast at Palaeokastritsa to get some great vista shots of the Ionian Sea coast and the color of the water there at Agios Spyridon Bay. (The word “agios” means “holy” in Greek.) Then back to Corfu Town by a slightly different route.
As our hotel is just across the road from the coast, there are several restaurants to choose from. A nice meal and the end of a great day. One of the Greek traditions is to not
Palaeokastritsa looking west across Liapadon Bay
drink without eating something; the offerings (called “mezédes”) are similar to Spanish tapas and here is part of the menu from one of the nearby restaurants.
Interesting translation of Mezedes
On 1 October, we headed to the north end of Corfu driving along the coast where we could see both the Greek mainland and also Albania. The 20,000-person town of Sarandë still has Greek residents. It was the former Greek town of Agios Saranta [the word “saranda” means 40 and the town was dedicated to the 40 Martyrs who were killed by the Romans in 320AD.]
The Albanian city of Sarandë near Kassiope
On our way north, we traveled through little towns like Kommeno – cut, Dassia – forest, Ipson – height, Pyrgi – towers, Nissaki – little island, Kerasia – cherry tree, and a whole lot of villages named after saints. We stopped for lunch in Kassiope. Our waiter had lived in western Massachusetts but disliked the hustle of America so returned to the quiet of Kassiope. With the backdrop of Mount Pantokratoras behind and the beach and castle in front of us, as we walked around on the smooth cut granite that made up the pavement, we loved the short time we spent there.
Resort town of Kassiope, main street
Jim walked down the stony beach at Kanoni (cannon) and swam.
Beach at Kanoni
Jim walked down the stony beach at Kanoni (cannon) and swam. We returned to our hotel on a road down the center of the island between Mount Pantokratoras and Mount Troumbetta (“Trumpet”) and experienced a very short rainstorm. Our hotel has a great veranda and tables where we played board games and sampled drinks before dinner each afternoon.
The Veranda at Mon Repos Palace Art Hotel
On 2 October, as Corfu Town has officially been designated a Kastropolis (Castle City) by the Greek government and also a UNESCO World Heritage site, we went to Palaio Frourio (Old Castle) that was built primarily by the Venetians and covers the rise between the Gulf of Kerkyra and Garitsa Bay.
View of Garitsa Bay from Fortress. (Straight out is a windmill and the big white building to the right is our hotel)
The western tower had been fortified by the Byzantines in the 12th century and was
Close -up of the strange-looking yacht in Garitsa Bay
part of the city walls that had been used to stave off three Ottoman sieges (1537, 1571, and 1716). Climbing to the top, we got great vistas of the entire city and the port areas.
From Fortress, vista of Corfu Town (grey structure is New Fortress overlooking New Port, buildings on other side of grassy park is Spianada, red triangle is bell tower of St. Spyridon church)
Many of the buildings within the moat and walls were built by the British. The Hellenic Music Research Laboratories of Ionian University are located in the British Barracks. Description of Old Fortress If this looks familiar to you, this was the location of a James Bond movie (For Your Eyes Only) in which the Mercedes of the evil adversary of Bond, Emile Locque, gets pushed off a cliff by Bond. We then walked to the downtown and explored some more. Returning to our hotel, the one-way streets took us by the New Castle on the other side of Corfu Town, and although we went by a few times, we did not enter.
3 October was a walking day. Mon Repos (the name taken by our hotel) is the palace where Prince Philip Mountbatten was born in 1921.
The palace grounds are quite extensive with meandering paths. We found the remains of
a small Doric temple beyond the main house (the house was not open when we were
Front and Rear views of Mon Repos Palace
This was built as a summer residence for the British High Commissioner of the United States of the Ionian Islands, Frederick Adam and his second wife, Diamantina Palatino between 1828-31. Why was there a British High Commissioner? Following the Napoleonic Wars, the islands, in typical 18th and 19th century fashion, were given to the winning Great Britain. The archipelago was ceded to the Greek government in 1864 under the Treaty of London. Both views were clearly visible in the TV series “The Durrells in Corfu” that was seen on PBS in the fall of 2017.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria (who was called “Sissi,” and if you were listening when Luciana talked about her, she also was in Palermo) stayed in the palace in 1863 and in 1864, the villa was granted to King George I of the Hellenes as a summer residence and he named it ‘Mon Repos.’ The royal Greek family used it as a summer residence until King Constantine II fled the country in 1967. It was restored in the 1990s to be used as a museum.
We then drove to Kanoni, named for the cannons at the entrance to the lagoon. Because of the one-way streets, we had to do some back-tracking but eventually got there.
It is near the main runway of the airport and we could see the planes from some of the 48 international airlines that fly in come in for a landing.
Ioannis Kapodistrias International Airport
We had to walk down around 200 steps to get to sea level and walked on a causeway to a small Russian monastery (Ekklisía Panagías and Vlacherna Monastery that was built in 1685.
Vlacherna Monastery/Ekklísia Panagías
Mouse Island (Pontikonisi). In the far distance is Achillio and the Bridge of the Kaiser.
We then boarded a small boat for the five-minute “cruise” to Mouse Island. It was on this island where Odysseus (Ulysses) was shipwrecked. The small hill housed the Pantokrator chapel built in the 13th century. Dinner was in Old Town again.
On 4 October, Connie and I went into town to check out St. Michael and St. George Palace I found this to be a fantastic experience. Please click on the URL to read more about the Order of St Michael and St George. Description of Palace of Saints Michael and George
The Asian art collection was fantastic! Mostly donated by the former Greek Ambassador to Austria in the late 19th century and the Greek Ambassador to Japan after World War II, with other pieces added, it included Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and South Asian art pieces. These were paintings, sculptures, decorative pieces, scrolls, chinaware, and other art objects. To display them, the curators had created false walls in front of the interior building walls with intentional gaps so that the visitors could see the great European oil paintings, tapestries, and ornate plaster on the walls and ceilings.
Interior view of several of the magnificent halls of the Sts. Michael & George Palace
The dome and oculus of the Rotunda in Sts. Michael & George Palace
The walls and inlaid floor of the Rotunda in Sts. Michael & George Palace
The colonnade and porch of Sts. Michael & George Palace (St. Spyridon spire visible)
We then walked into Old Town and found a small but spotless zaharopleisteon and we each ate an interesting bar made of sesame, raisins, and some other unknown material and shared a beer. We then returned to the hotel on the #2 bus.
That exertion was enough for me to take a nap and then swim laps in the small hotel pool. (why don’t they heat the pool, even a bit?)
For dinner, we drove back into Old Town, parking in the big lot for 3€, then found the restaurant that Maria, one of the hotel servers, had recommended.
The group decided that 5 October would be another “down” day. So I started at the pool, increasing the number of laps from yesterday. After about 30 seconds, my body was numb enough from the cold that I really didn’t feel the water temperature. As there were not drawers in our hotel room, and we were basically living out of our suitcases, it didn’t take long to pack.
For dinner, we drove back into Old Town to find the other restaurant that Maria had recommended. On the way back to the hotel, we were treated to a full moon over the bay.
6 October was the start of our travel back home. I am going to miss making Greek coffee
every morning with swirling the briki with finely ground coffee, some water, and a teaspoon of sugar in the pan of hot sand until the liquid frothed. After paying our bar bill (the ouzo every afternoon at Cocktail Time had a price), Jim brought the car closer and we loaded all the suitcases in. Just as we had done the night we arrived, Connie sat on my lap on the way to the airport. Then Jim and I took the Mercedes back to the Budget Rental and we got out without any additional charges. Our flights were the reverse of what we had coming in: Corfu to Athens, short wait, then Athens to Naples. We were to call the new hotel (City Hotel in Casoria) but it took the luggage so long to appear on the carousel, that the drivers came to the airport and then left again after calling Jim (he had the duty international phone). So we called again, went to the designated pickup point, and the two transfer cars came. We loaded into them and went to the hotel.
As our flight on 7 October was scheduled for 6:35AM the next morning, and we knew that it would take about 30 minutes to get from the hotel to the airport, we wanted to eat an early dinner. The desk clerk said that no restaurant in the area opened before 7PM and suggested that we order pizza delivered to the hotel, so it came right at 6:45 and we played tile rummy, ate pizza, and drank beer. (I had some pictures of our evening, but they were not very complementary as everyone looked bleary-eyed and we were all yawning.)
Very early on 7 October, Connie went to the lobby and came back to the room with what she said was the best coffee of the entire trip. I went down and there was this coffee machine that was about 2 ½ feet long with lots of dials and the night clerk made a cup for me, using freshly ground coffee. It took about 20 seconds and I seconded Connie’s opinion.
Our flight from Naples to Paris went by the western coast of Italy, so I could distinguish the Gorgon’s Teeth islands (including Pianosa made famous in Catch 22). Here is a picture of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and on the border between Italy and France.
Mont Blanc from 30,000 feet
When we landed at Charles deGaulle airport in Paris, it seemed that there were 10 or more flights that had disgorged their passengers, all funneled into six windows for passport control. But we got onto the plane in time and flew to Detroit without incident. That is where we said goodbye to Peter and Evelyn, who were going on to Milwaukee. Our Detroit to Grand Rapids flight was delayed because the Captain announced that much of the luggage had been mistakenly placed on another flight, so it had to be located, taken off that aircraft, brought to our plane, and loaded on.
The wait was over an hour, so we got to Grand Rapids late. Luckily Marc was keeping track of our flight so he was waiting for the four of us.
I have already laid out the next trip, beginning on 22 October 2018, that will take in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos for 20 glorious days.