Sigh, what can I say? Corfu is everything I imagined it to be...
It's considered Greece's biggest and most lush island.
A short historical view...
My little gem in the Adriatic sea, Κέρκυρα (Kerkyra) as the Greeks write it, Corfu, is located in the most Northwestern tip of the country, facing both Albania and Italy. Although the naked eye cannot see Italy, the Venetians once controlled the island for over 400 years. One can see the resemblance of Italian-esque architecture in its capital city, Corfu town.
Likewise, the English held a more recent presence as they were the last to colonize the place. They still serve the Ginger beer which Brits love and the island hosts a healthy expat community of English retirees. They were also the first to authorize a public health system, a modern road network, an aqueduct for the town's water supply and many other social initiatives.
The French had an interesting rule over the Corfiot people. They brought the first public university in 1808, called the Ionian Academy, a model Institute of Sciences and Arts. The Greek language was also officially recognized under French rule.
I'm emphasizing this part of history because Corfu is quite different compared to the rest of Greece. It's a messy mix of concocted cultures that influence its own culture today, from the food to the architecture. And interestingly, there was never a single invasion of the Ottoman forces on Corfu soil. Although the Corfu people under the Venetian rule built a few fortresses to lookout for the Turks, like Angelokastro fortress, which I will write about next post, the Ottomans never made it to the island. In fact, Corfu held an important role during the Greek independence over the Ottoman empire. It was a strategic point for Greeks to gather and store supplies and eventually they took back the rest of mainland Greece from the Turks and overthrew their 300 year rule. The Corfu people today still show a fiery sense of independence, like when I asked our airbnb host about the history or even when our Greek taxi driver told us proudly about his ancestors' victory in the revolution.
In any case, now sitting back in the grayest country on Earth, it's time to take advantage of being inside this colorless world and recollect the thoughts and memories of Corfu. Where do I begin? I had my journal with me, but of course, didn't write as much as I wanted. I was too busy having fun or lacking the writer's discipline :P However, there are enough notes and substance, plus loads of content like videos and pictures I'm dying to share with you.
Taking a step back, this is my view on Greece...
Greece has always had a special place in my heart.
If you know me personally, you wouldn't be surprised to know that I'm a true Greekophile or that I have Greek roots, considering my Greek last name. When I was the tender age of 10, my parents took me to Greece for the first time and it left an indelible mark on my life. It blew me away as a kid and every time I go back, I can't help but think of it as a 2nd home.
Politically, Greece is a catastrophy and although I cannot fully relate/identify with the difficulties that the Greek people face, from the EU crisis, a broken political/governmental system, to the refugee crisis on the islands, I'm blessed to have some Greek roots (cousins) and friends who've shared their homes with me and opened up their hearts to show me their culture so that I can see, head on, what they endure. Judging a country based off the news alone is not enough to truly grasp what exactly is going on there. In order to understand a culture or country's state of affairs, let alone empathize with another human being, you must be there, listen and try to see a day in the life in their shoes.
It was my 6th time visiting Greece. After hearing multiple recommendations over the years about Corfu, I knew we'd have to bite the bullet and go. This is what I loved about Corfu: the weather, the food/tavernas, the people and locals, nature (mountain villages and beaches), diving, sailing, mythology/history and the relaxed vibes overall. That is it in a nutshell. We stayed in an Airbnb here, which we highly recommend, very inexpensive and everything you'll need in the area called Palaiokastritsa.
Legend of Odysseus's Footsteps in Palaiokastritsa
According to the locals, Palaiokastritsa is actually an area solely used for tourism in warmer months. In the winter only fishermen frequent the shores. However, in the summer it's filled with tavernas, bars, boat rentals, scooters, diving centers, accommodations, and most importantly, divine beaches and mountain trails going up to the neighboring villages and plenty of neat pit stops along the back roads with locals selling their homemade wine and olive oil.
The Greek classic, Homer's epic, "The Odyssey" is a tale about Odysseus, who has washed ashore, half naked and nearly drowned losing all his men, because Poseidon's titan and cyclopes son, Polyphemus, took vengeance on him.
Odysseus blinded the titan during a grandiose and clever escape by calling himself, "nobody" as his secret name so that when he and his men got Polyphemus drunk and stabbed him in the eyes, the other titan gods didn't know that Polyphemus was calling out the wrong name, hence "nobody". Odysseus escaped Polyphemus's cave by strapping himself under a sheep's belly, avoiding the blind graze of the monster's fingertips as the sheep left the cave. He escapes with grace on a raft. But foolishly after, Odysseus calls out his real name, the ultimate hubris, in which Polyphemus casts a vicious storm causing Odysseus to be left astray on the legendary shores of Scheria, what's today known as, Corfu.
It was one of the most excruciating, painful passages I read when Odysseus nearly died at sea. Finally, when he was washed ashore, Princess Nausicaa, daughter of the King Alkinoos, saw him and took pity. Although her maidens were frightened by Odysseus's naked, disheveled presence, she gave him a chance by the wishes of Goddess Athena. Further, Athena helped Odysseus by hiding him under an invisible cloak as he walked through the unwelcoming, xenophobic Phaeacian town where he reached the castle and down on his knees begged the royal King and Queen for help. They finally budged and assisted him through a fleet heading towards Ithaca...
Quick Wrap Up: Day 1 in Palaiokastritsa, Where we went..
So day 1 in Palaiokastritsa was all about exploring the local area.. We went to a few beaches, Akrotiri beach to start, however, I wouldnt recommend it for diving due to the overly-saturated amount of boat rentals flooding the area. There is no marine life underwater. Essentially the noises that the boats create is way too loud for fish and to stay in that area. I'm sure in the winter, it could be different. However, it could also be over-fished in that particular shore. This beach is a nice place to start. It is packed with families, a nice bar/restaurant and boats rental stands where you can learn how to sail in your own private boat and explore the local area by sea, which I will write about in another blog post soon..
But we found our liking in a quieter beach called Ambelaki
Situated on the right hand side of the Monastery and tucked away behind a hill, Ambelaki is hidden from most tourists. For beach chairs, you need to pay a fee of 5 euros sometimes 6 for the day, but there is a fresh water shower and also you can rent private boats at the boat tour stand in the center. It is ideal for those who want to read, swim and chill. In terms of diving or snorkeling, you have to wade out further from the coast. You might discover an eel, as Marcio told me he found a baby one!
For eating, go to "the Greek Way" taverna. Great staff, food and you get a private view of this- Look Below...
So overall, we had a good start on our first day on the island, exactly two weeks ago as I write this. Man. Wait until you see more, I'm gonna blow your mind away with more content to come. Until later, stay tuned for more!