Episode 221 – Corfu Odyssey

March 12, 2023. 49°F/9°C

#myvikingstory

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.

The old city of Corfu as seen from our ship at sunrise.

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.

The exterior of the small monastery.
Some of the icons inside the monastery.
A few of the vestments on display in the monastery’s one-room museum.

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 British palace, dating to the time of British rule in the 1800’s.The stone would originally have been much lighter in colour.
The city’s fort, seen at the top through a hole sized for a cannon muzzle.

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.)

14 comments

  1. Thanks for tour. We recall seeing the plaque honoring the Durrells. I’d known the racy novels by the eldest but learned of Gerry’s animal conservation life and then purchased his book, which was the foundation of the television series. (Such a mental disconnect to now see the middle gun-obsessed son as a budding veterinarian!)

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  2. “The Peleponiad”, Margaret Atwood is excellent. Part of the Canongate (I think) series of myths retold by modern authors.
    I’ve loved the myths and Greek drama since I studied them at university.

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  3. I’ve been following your adventures daily and look forward to every one. As you take tours in the ports, would you add the name of the tour and if it is an included or extra? It would be helpful for us dreaming and planning!

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  4. Sorry to hear that Corfu was disappointing — I am also influenced by the Durrell view of it, both from the books and the TV series and did fear it wouldn’t measure up. I hope Mr. Petrillo is right and that the season matters, though we’ll be there in October at the tail end on our little cruise in 2023. Another interesting take on the Greek stories: “The Song of Achilles: A Novel” by Madeleine Miller. She also wrote “Circe”. I’ll save that to read on our cruise!

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  5. We loved Corfu. The scenery was excellent. I believe the problem you had was that we were there in the off-season. Niagara on the Lake would look shabby in March. The small village near the monastery was deserted. In a few months, it will be jammed. Downtown was empty on the morning but jammed in the afternoon. Every seat in every outdoor cafe was filled. Timing is a big factor.

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  6. A lovely morning read to share with you, my friend. And you know I always love your Greek mythology stories – and the emotion that radiates across the table. The passion oozes in this recounting of your day in Corfu.

    I know you are both having a most wonderful time. Happy Sunday morning to you both.
    XOXO

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