March 12, 2023. 49°F/9°C
We’re in the lands of Homer’s Odyssey, which has me really excited. Greek mythology was a favourite subject of mine way back in high school. The Greek name for Corfu, Kerkyra, comes from the daughter of the river-god Asopos, a nymph that Poseidon fell in love with. This is where Odysseus was rescued by the race of sailors that Asopos and Kerkyra created.
Of course, he was stranded here in the first place when Poseidon petrified his vessel, the Argo, as punishment for Odysseus having blinded the Cyclops, who was Poseidon’s son. (Later in our itinerary we’ll get to Sicily, where the Cyclops “incident” happened)
To top it all off, we’re in between the Ionian and Aegean Seas, where the Argo sailed.
The Ionian is named after the nymph Io, whom Zeus loved. When Zeus’ wife Hera could not break up her husband’s love affair any other way, she cast Io into the sea, which now carries the nymph’s name.
The Aegean takes its name from the mythical Greek King Aegeus, who supposedly drowned himself in the sea when he believed his son Theseus had been killed trying to vanquish the Minotaur.
Honestly, the most exciting part of the day, for me, was seeing the rock that legend says is the petrified Argo.
Who’d have thought we’d be in single digit (Celsius) temperatures on our world cruise, whose itinerary originally followed the summer? We’ve been extremely lucky with sunny days – and were again today – but the Mediterranean has been much cooler than expected now that we’ve arrived a month earlier than planned.
From our spot in port today on Corfu, we could look across at the snow-capped mountains of Albania. Lovely, but snow. Sheesh.
For our excursion today we toured (or in some cases just drove through) a number of small Greek villages on Corfu: Paleokastritsa with its monastery, Lakones, Acharavi (where we had lunch), Barbati, Ipsos, Dassia, Gouvia, and Kontokali, as well as Corfu’s Old Town area.
Since we had clear blue skies, we were hoping for a great view of the island of Corfu and its surrounding clear aquamarine waters from our vantage point of Mount Pantokrator, and we were not disappointed.
The monastery was interesting too, in that it was very different from the Greek Orthodox style to which we’ve become accustomed: the ornate gold domes and bell towers that typify most of the basilicas on mainland Greece and in North America. Here on Corfu the church exteriors are quite plain, but the interiors are filled with icons, candles, and lavish religious imagery.
Ted was a bit disappointed that the Monk in the chapel declined to be photographed. I couldn’t help but think that the appearance of most of the bearded Greek Orthodox clerics we saw fell into two categories: Rasputin, and Santa Claus.
Our drive around the northern part of the island took us along twisting roadways clearly not meant for tour buses. At one point, we were within about a foot of people’s homes on BOTH sides of the bus. George was a masterful driver, although I have to wonder whether his eyes flew wide behind his sunglasses when a speeding truck only just missed us coming around a blind curve from the opposite direction.
The views of the sea, shore, and islands was spectacular, but in my opinion Corfu’s developed areas bordered on ugly. Unlike most UNESCO world heritage sites we’ve visited, which have been lovingly maintained, the building facades here are badly stained and have been left to crumble, as have most of the streets. I may have been spoiled by Malta, where both private and EU funds are being used for ongoing restoration of the heritage sites. Our guide told us that the prevalent style – tall houses and narrow alleyways – reflect the 400+ years of Venetian rule from 1386 to 1797.
A couple of exceptions were the lovely green central square with its grassed cricket pitch, and city hall (below) which was a former Venetian loggia and had some interesting architectural features – especially the faces which either scare enemies away, or protect those in the building, depending on which perspective you choose.
The rural areas through which we drove (which may not be representative of the whole island) were not in the least picturesque, seeming unkempt, and randomly dotted with (mostly) uninviting cafés and convenience stores. Perhaps the tourist resort areas are pretty, but we didn’t visit them, and I personally found it difficult to find much charm. It must be there though, because the island was the preferred vacation spot of centuries of European royalty, and is still popular with tourists looking for relaxing beach vacations.
I guess it simply wasn’t what I expected from watching The Durrells in Corfu on PBS Masterpiece Theatre. Sun-dappled, yes. Somewhere high on my “return to” list, no.
Ted says I’m being overly harsh, but even he found few things worth photographing other than the natural beauty – like the glorious sunset as we left Corfu to head to our next port of call in Kotor, Montenegro.
Not every port can be a new favourite. Still, I’m glad to have visited, if only for the fact it rekindled my interest in Greek mythology. (If you’re interested in a somewhat cheeky female perspective on Odysseus travels, I’d highly recommend the novel A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes.)