Category Archives: Corfu

Corfu V

Our next adventure with Rocinante involved us taking the her over the hills of the middle of Corfu and up the east coast. After promising Sarah that there would be no boats or two wheeled hairpin turns, we buckled up to explore the northern end of the island.
The Eskimos have twenty seven different words for snow the Corfu Greeks should have many more words for green. There are the greens of the sea, the greens of the, valleys and the greens of the mountains. The steep hillsides are covered by CinemaScope Cypress trees that poke up into the humid air. Along side them are the pines of a darker hue, then there are the Eucalyptus, the Fig, the Oak and the Carab, all competing for space on the tight gradients. As a result, and despite the heat the air is fresh and clear. It was as though we were surrounded by oxygen factories, with a thousand green chimneys belching out tons of O2.

Descending from the hills we reached a long thin strip of road with bars and restaurants on one side and a long tape of scruffy beach on the other. Bathers shuffled uncomfortably under sunshades trying to get comfy on shingly patches of sand. Sarah asked if I wanted to stop. I dithered for a moment until we reached the end of town where we came upon a watering hole named Dirty Nellies. I clicked my tongue, dug my spurs into her metal, whereupon Rocinante bucked, panicked and took flight.
We reached Kassiopi at noon. Where Ipsos is a gaudy ingot of tat, Kassiopi is a smart little marina full of medium sized yachts and motor boats. We parked Rocinante and settled under a wide awning to refresh ourselves with coffee.
The younger crowd of Ipsos was replaced by an entirely different demographic. The profile of the holidaymaker in this tiny port was so different from the raucous young crowd of the previous resort that a Martian landing in Kassiopi might think some unseen hand had imposed a kind of English ethnic cleansing.
Kassiopi was full of English. But not just any random Brit. It was full of Middle class English families from London and the Home Counties. Wherever I looked, I could see identikit solicitor types and PR Execs sat around mumbling to each other.
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The chaps – Deck shoes, hooped jerseys, ray bans, tight jaw lines honed on the squash court. The Ladies – white linen trousers , Pastel striped shirts, pale boat shoes, massive designer handbags. I looked at the bags. Sarah cooed over names that meant nothing to me. I was about to embark upon an extended diatribe castigating these women for falling foul of some cynical marketing ploy when I was upbraided by my betrothed.
“Tom, you slagged off the chavs in the last place, who are on holiday just like you, now you’re having a go at these perfectly normal people. No one can win, you’re just a massive inverted snob!”
I examined the bottom of my cappuccino cup. Sarah stared out to sea. It was time to knot my hanky and head for the beach.

Round the corner up a one way road lined by strange Narnia-like lamp posts was a small shingle beach shaded by trees.
A charming deck chair attendant with an ochre face and long legs arranged our sun loungers along the back of the little cove.
This was surely one of the prettiest pebble beaches I had ever staggered along. The different sizes of pebble drained your energy as you slipped and skidded towards the Tiffany blue water.
We hopped and danced into the surf. As the sea bore me up, the smooth stones brushed my feet as I began to paddle in one of those aimless semi circles you do when you have neither the ability nor the inclination to set course for a specific destination. Stood in shoulder height water I considered the Albanian coastline on the near horizon. Grim brown blasted heaths loomed out of the mist. Whereas northern Corfu was apparently green and pleasant enough for Middle England, Albania’s topography looked as austere as its economy.
As gravity took over from the buoyancy of seawater I began dancing over the cold stones as they dug into my soles. I staggered back to my damp sandals, turning back to gaze at the horizon. The deck chair guy saw me considering his near neighbour. I mentioned the distance.
“Albania is closer than you think, isn’t it?” I said.
“Too close my friend.
“Do they try to sail over?”
“They don’t sail over here my friend.”
“Really! You would have thought they would at least try to come over here.”
“Oh they do. But they don’t sail, they swim.”
“They swim over ?
“Yes, then we catch them and send them back. Then the game starts all over again.”
I thought of the Berlin Wall, the TexMex border, Sangatte. And those Albanians trying to grab their own little bit of paradise.
Even with my rubbish paddling, if Corfu was the prize, I think even I would swallow my pride and attempt the crossing.
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Corfu IV

Some of the most beautiful beaches on the west coast of Corfu can only be accessed by boat. Tiny patches of yellow hidden at the bottom of towering grey and white cliffs, they offer peace and relaxation for those willing to seek them out.
We drove to Paleokastritsa, a pretty coastal resort and hub of the bays that we wanted to visit.
We needed to hire a boat and go exploring. It didn’t matter that the last time I captained a ship was thirty years ago, I hadn’t lost it I told myself, it’s just like riding a bike.
“Tom, before you go over to that beach hut and hire a boat, can you explain to me exactly what you captained all those years ago?
“A twin out board thirty foot power cruiser, she was a beauty. Two hundred horses, thirty knots top speed.
Sarah couldn’t failed to be impressed. The brown faced kid took my money and in no time we were on the jetty staring at an eight man power boat, the open sea ahead of us.
“Thees eyes the most powerful boat we av. It is eezee to spin so be careful. And do not drop the anchor in rocks because wee will av to come out to get you back to port.”
I laughed and shook my head. “That, will not be happening my friend.”
Out of the port we chugged. Past the yachts and dinghies we cruised, out into the deep royal blue sea. We were in a wide open inlet, on one side Corfu, on the other, the vast sea and beyond that, Italy. On the horizon lay little coves in a pretty semi circle, inviting to be visited, like tiny nirvanas of beauty.

I was at the wheel and all was well. I told everyone to hang on as I pushed the lever to put us up to near full speed. The spray hit the girls as I increased the power.
The prow lifted as we started to skim the waves. The wind got up and white gobs of surf started to soak us as I made for a beach. Sarah seemed to relax as we came towards our first destination.

I eased the power down and hit my first problem. How do you stop this bloody thing?
I looked over the side. There was no sand to be seen on the sea bed, all I could detect were rocks. We drifted nearer and nearer to some stern looking Germans, moored near the shore in a pocket battle ship. They glared over, clearly unhappy with our position.
We were going to hit them, no question. And from the brightly painted livery of his craft it was obvious that his ship wasn’t hired, it was his pride and joy.
The bathers on shore stated to look up as we floated nearer and nearer to the beach and the Germans.
The words from the hire guy rang I my ears.
“What ever you do sir do not beach the boat pleeze.”
There was no option, I had to slam on the anchors, literally. Over the side the three pronged iron claw flew, closely followed by the rope that burned my fingers as it slid over the side. I cursed myself for not paying more attention to Richard Dreyfus on board the Orca.
The anchor dragged some purchase off the sea bed and we stopped, uncomfortably close to the Graf Spee.
He smiled a cold smile as we bobbed into his personal boat space. Sarah examined my hand. The burn mark was nasty.
“Even I know to let go of the rope Tom, haven’t you seen Jaws?
“Please be quiet, I know what I am doing
“But those Germans in that boat don’t look happy. Come on, let’s move nearer to the shore. Pull up the anchor.
Just as I did exactly that the German boat bumped against mine. He pushed us away and flicked his hands in an entreaty for us to bugger off. He had a point, the was more than enough sea to go round after all.
I pulled at the rope. It went tight and we moved away. Then my arms came nearly out of my sockets as the boat came to a dead stop.
I might as well have been trying to pull Excalibur out of the stone. The rope was going nowhere and neither we we . We were stuck .
Disgusted, the Germans moved away. Now we bobbed around like the proverbial cork as Captain Pugwash, aka yours truly tugged and heaved at the blasted hemp.
Sarah had her head in her hands as the girls giggled and donned their snorkels. They flopped overboard to examine he problem.
After a few seconds the surfaced and breathlessly reported back to their captain.
“Tom, it’s really really deep! About twenty foot down.
“Yes but is it stuck?
“Oh god yeah it’s stuck under a massive boulder, you’ll never shift it!
This news seemed to delight them even more
“Are we shipwrecked mum? Awesome.
Sarah took her sunglasses off and rubbed the bridge of the nose.
“Tom, will you please stop tugging on that rope? You’re going to put you back out.
“I’ll ring the boat guys they come out and move us
“No! It’s embarrassing
“I’ve got an idea, why don’t I throw it into reverse ?
“Reverse? It’s not a Ford Mondeo, it’s a speed boat for god’s sake. Listen, you know this thirty foot boat you captained, where did you sail it .
“Taylor park”
“Taylor park boating lake?”
“Yeah.”
“But you said it was a thirty footer?”
“Equivalent scale, yes.”
“What you mean equivalent scale? Don’t tell me, it wasn’t a –
“A Model yes but it’s the same thing, you still have to know what you’re doing, haven’t you seen Hardy Kruger in Flight of the Phoenix?
“Tom you are so full of bull…”

And With that, our saviour arrived. A teenage Greek boy with what seemed like webbed feet swam up and asked if we were stuck?
“Yes!” We shouted in unison. He nodded, took two deep breaths and dissapeared into a scattering of bubbles.
Hannah stuck her head under to observe.
After twenty seconds he was still down there. She surfaced
“Wow, he’s gone right to the bottom!,

Eventually he emerged, his head thrown backwards so that his mouth was the first part of his body to surface, like a salmon snapping at a gadfly. As he took in a gasp of air and smiled at us, I thought of how his lungs must have been burning up. Even the thought of attempting such a dive panicked me, the pressure of the tons of sea water above squeezing my eardrums, the water turning from warm to icy cold.
But to this boy, showing off in front of us and his pals, that scrape with death was an everyday event. Plunging into the turquoise clear sea and free diving twenty feet was as normal to him as skateboarding under the multi story was to the kids in my hometown.

In any case, finally we were released from our unwelcome tethering . Checking for bathers around us, I clicked the engine into reverse and the outboard gurgled into life, churning up water into a fury of boiling white bubbles. In a desperate attempt to reassert my salty sea dog masculinity, I set my jaw to chisel mode and grim faced, pushed the lever up to set course for shore. The bow lifted and we bounced forward, the sea turning from the pale of the shore to the deep azure of the open sea.
Round the bay we sailed, laughing at the incongruous sight of a pen pusher from Liverpool guiding his family home after their epic odyssey.
We chugged into port, our faces stinging from the salty sea air. I had done it, I had brought us home safely. I slipped her into neutral, calmed her beating heart as I eased her into her berth. Our harbour master grinned and asked how it had been. I assured him that for an experienced sailor such as myself it was a walk in the park. Ignoring Sarah’s hissed aside that my walk in the park usually ended up at the boating lake, I shook his hand and bid him farewell.
It was time to drive over the mountains and go home. Emboldened by my mastery of the open seas, I decided to examine the capabilities of our jeep, who I had christened Rocinanti. I slotted the smaller of the two gear sticks forward, putting her undercarriage into four wheel drive.
Rocinante

“Tom, why are you fiddling with that little stick?
“Right Sarah, let’s see what this baby can do.”
Sarah, bedraggled by her nautical journey, appealed for calm. Not a bit of it, those hairpins where just screaming at Rocinanti’s tyres to squeal
But there was only one lady squealing as we snaked up the hills back to Agios Gordios.
“Tom, will you please slow down? You’re not clever. Tom! Look at the drop ? Please! And why are you singing that stupid song ?
http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CAsQtwIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DrXUQlmO-L8s%26autoplay%3D1&ei=shLnU_PqFoWR7Aa0xIGADg&usg=AFQjCNFWeWYbXyU_XaZyn8tHXoHpfbfOnw&sig2=3ZTkJ1YheQTQdffJ9tKKCw

Good job James wasn’t on board

http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=10&ved=0CDoQtwIwCQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D1PrhC_l7RPo%26autoplay%3D1&ei=oEfnU56tHqad0QW-5oHQBg&usg=AFQjCNGc1kZX44KAdg5noX084iXJem7mfw&sig2=2INhtIgfUi_NbbEZrStB-w

Corfu III

Yesterday we rented a car. By now used to the laissez faire attitude of the shop owners and restauranteurs, we were still taken aback by the auto rental guy, who took laid back to a new level of horizontal.
To hire a car, anywhere in the world, two things are vital. Number one a driving licence, number two, a credit card. Now even in Agios, the first is needed, but the second? Not only do you not need one, they don’t allow them. Cash only thank you. And payment? Well I can pay now or, if I would like I may pay upon my return, no problem. When do I need to return the car? Nine o’clock that night. Give or take an hour .

Can you imagine walking up to the Avis desk at Heathrow airport and asking if it’s ok if you pay for the car when ever you decide to pop back and if cash is ok? Exactly. We hired a little Suzuki open top jeep.
We set off, the only instruction from the car hire guy being to not drive on the beach, please. Wrestling with a gearbox possibly last seen in a tractor we crunched our way up into the mountains. The roads, as steep as they are narrow, snake up the pine covered hills past villas that alternate between luxurious and derelict.
Sarah like all loving partners with children was of the attitude that the enthusiastic driver to her left, sitting at controls the wrong way round would inevitably kill her and her children either by forgetting which side of the road to drive on or by skidding off at a hairpin bend and plunging down a ravine, just like an Italian Job Mini.
Of course that fear was a lot of nonsense. There was something much more terrifying in store .

After negotiating three wheel tractors, locals as indifferent to the traffic as the skinny cats and dogs prowling the roadside edges and bends as tight as a tuning fork, we emerged from the pine trees and in a flash of bright Mediterranean sunshine we were transported back in time to 1966.
Liapades, the village we found ourselves driving through was not to scale. It was as though a designer had built the roadside houses and shops for a race of people thirty percent smaller than humans are today. As we wound our way through the impossibly narrow streets, the whitewashed walls and faded pink doors seemed to shrink smaller and smaller. Constantly breaking and waiting for ancient old women on dusty mopeds to buzz past, we found ourselves in a Lilliputian piazza where our little jeep suddenly appeared massive. A restaurant and a bar dominated the tight little public space which was packed full of locals. The old and the young regarded us with complete indifference, probably used to seeing gormless tourists driving around their picture postcard hamlet.image
Eventually, we descended from the mountainside village, the cicadas heralding our arrival just outside Paleokastritsa.
.Our car hire friend had advised us to stop outside the village and drop into La Grotto, an entreaty which we duly complied with.
We parked on a little scrub of white gravelly dust and stepped out into the searing heat. Sarah tried to secure the hire car by folding the roof back and locking the boot. When she realised that the trunk was secured from intruders by button fasteners accessible to all apart from midgets, she gave up and we negotiated the steps down to La Grotta
A trendy cafe that just about clings to the sheer walls of the cliffside, its astronomical prices are more than justified by the achingly beautiful seascape.
But it’s not the view that entices a predominantly youthful crowd, rather it’s the natural plunge pool that draws in the customers. Whereas the beaches of Corfu have many hues of blue, the palette of the lagoon below La Grotta is predominantly green.
Apart from the jetty, ferrying bathers to different patches of otherwise inaccessible sand, the cafe has a diving board and a rope up to a tiny platform, some six meters above the sea. From this slippery rostrum, youths launched themselves gleefully into the abyss, trusting that the bicey depths held the requisite volumes of brine to cushion their leaps.
A cradle to youth, this venue is no place for those the wrong side of forty, so we climbed the near vertical pebble artery to the the road, some thirty meters above.
Now it was time to venture on an adventure of our own. Despite Sarah’s angst ridden protestations, we were about to put out a boat and set ourselves upon the high seas.
As dedicated landlubbers, we had some five minutes to gain our sea legs. A task that only the most optimistic would-be seafarer would embark upon.
But as we all know, faint heart n’er won fair lady…
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Corfu II

Along the ramshackle boardwalk that edges the beach at Agios are a haphazard collection of bars and restaurants. It is two in the afternoon at the peak of high-season and yet they are nearly all deserted. Unlike Spain, there are no waiters/hustlers prowling the apron of the eateries, cradling menus in the crook of their arm like new borns, casually trying to drag you in to chomp through their roast beef dinners in ninety degrees of heat.
Instead, the waiters of Agios stand serenely on their raised mezzanines and stare out to sea, as though permanently entranced by the white flecks of surf dancing just off the shore. If they catch your eye, they smile, nod and glance around at their covers, as if to say, “Hey, why not come up and have a drink ?”image

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Their countenance unchanged if you walk on by or climb their steps, my patronage not altering the fact that these people are in paradise. Me choosing to eat there or walking on by wont make the vista any more or less beautiful.
Yes, the natives want you to spend money but so do the waitresses in the multi national chains of mush we have to endure back in Blighty. The difference is that service staff in Britain are paid to be nice. They go on customer service courses. In Corfu you aren’t served by a waitress, you re served by the owner’s son, daughter, mother, or sister.
In Agios, you don’t walk into a restaurant, you walk into someone’s front room. The only difference just happens to be they have more tables than yours. And no roof.
Randomly, we climbed the stairs of a place called Thalassas. A wide patio of marble covered by a wooden gambrel so expansive the tables seem lost amongst the expanse of polished stone flooring.
A young man with a line of Roman numerals disappearing up his sleeve invited us to sit at one of the front tables that faced the sea.
After distributing the menus, with pen poised he asked us what we would like to drink.
What beer have you?
Our waiter without any trace of an attitude, ran through approximately twenty five brands. As though jamming a stick into a spinning wheel, I raised my finger at the word Mythos. He nodded. “Good choice.”
In short order, he returned with two schooners of yellow frosted beer. The froth was perfect, the first icy slug an almost spiritual experience. I glanced at the menu, then craned my neck for a blackboard.
“What is your speciality?”
He pointed at my menu with the end of his biro.
“Everything my friend, everything is special.”
With that endorsement, we plumped for the meze for two.
He nodded and disappeared. Eventually, we were joined by some other diners, a couple I think from Birmingham. I couldn’t be sure of the accent, because, apart from ordering they never spoke one word to each other. I reasoned this was the case because either they were struck dumb by the gorgeousness of the vista spread before them, or after however many number of decades together, they had run out of things to say.
Eventually, our plate arrived. On a long oval platter, a delicious variety of greek starters arrived. A cornucopia of delights was before us. Apart from the usual tomatoes, olives and cucumbers we enjoyed gyros chicken, chilli cheese dip, and my favourite, a courgette croquette.
After a few hours of idle chit chat and deep sighs, it was time to pay and wander off down the boardwalk. At twelve Euros a head, you wondered how they could make it pay. Maybe they can’t, but carry on anyway. There was a haze over the beach of oaky flumes as the wood ovens started to fire up for the evening.
Just as we were leaving, I saw the man from yesterday, the one pushing the wheel barrow. His barrow was full of logs. He pulled the barrow backwards up a slope to a restaurant where at the top, met the owner. They stood together and discussed the load of wood between them.
We walked up the beach a little further, stopped for a coffee, then after a half hour or so, decided to make our way back.
I passed the man with the wheelbarrow. The load was still in his barrow. The two men were still chatting. As I write this I’m sure by now the logs are in the ovens. Or maybe not….

Corfu

imageAgios Gordios is a tiny summer hamlet on the west coast of Corfu. As I write the sun has been temporarily screened by the merest whisp of spun sugar cloud. The pace of life in this minuscule patch of the island is so drowsy as to be almost in reverse. Everything is in slow motion: the desultory dog lazily chastised by his ancient master for trotting out in front of a scooter, the gentle tapping of the Illy machine as last nights dregs are shot into the stainless steel coffee bin. If I record a street scene using my iPhone’s new video slo mo feature, I wonder if i might actually tape what happened yesterday?

It is as though the world left Corfu behind and the island doesn’t seem in much of a hurry to catch up. The cars and trucks are from the nineties, the music is from eighties, and the plumbing is from the seventies.

Coming in from the airport last night, the battered Mercedes taxis cd played Phil Collins, the bar we had our first late night drink in played Gloria Gaynor and as I type this, On the Wings of Love is wafting over from the poolside bar. The busiest thing in Agios Gordios is the sea. Barrelling big white curls of surf slapped onto the flat yellow beach as I walked along the shoreline this morning, the Aegean was seemingly the only thing on the move. Every bar and cafe was fast asleep. The only person around was this gentleman, pushing a red wheelbarrow on some unknown errand.

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Everything is faded. Outside one of the cafés, a washed out sign for ice cream, a veteran of many summers, stands next to its brighter neighbour; a cheery advert for cheap beer, timestamped by a Brazil 2014 logo. My first drink of the night was in a small bar on the strip. The owner, a bear of a man called Mykos, told me that he finishes work at two and that he will welcome me for breakfast at eight. I asked him when he sleeps. ‘November,’ he said. The winter is when both Agios and Mykos hibernate.

He has a son on the books of an English Premiership team. Proudly he told me of how highly is is thought of and how maybe one day he might play for Greece. As Mykos described his boys achievements, his tired eyes misted up. I had been on Corfu less than two hours and already I had a friend.

Agios Gordios is gloriously tatty. The roads camber away into scruffy ditches with gravel the only clue as to where they might end and the hills begin. Everything only just works; the neon signs, the lighting, the air conditioning. It all functions but you get the feeling anything could stop working at any time. This is not true of the natives. They all work. Young and old and every age in between. Their pace is slow, but relentless, like the waves on the beach.

Apart from the eighties sound track, the other noise synonymous with Agios is the buzz of the scooters that hum up and down the only road running through the village. I was pleased to note that in compliance with EU directive 34334KP, every scooter rider wore the standard issue safety equipment comprising of flip flops, swimwear and sunglasses. Inside the hire-shop, the rows of helmets gathered dust. Agios Gordios, nestling on the edge of pine covered mountains has a down at heel charm that forces you to adapt to its soporific pace of life. There is so much more to tell, but as the bar plays Fleetwood Mac and the heat starts to shimmer off the terracotta roofs, I fear I may have to sign off and continue my report…. mañana

méchri áv̱rio