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Published: July 14th 2019
We feel that we‘re getting to know our hotel neighbours quite well. We’re quite surprised at how much we’ve been able to deduce about them just by listening to the noises that come into our room from their bathroom via the window in the light well. ”Listening” is probably not quite the right word; “not being able to avoid hearing” is probably a better description. We know that they prefer baths to showers, and on this basis we decided yesterday that they were probably English. The conversation we hear through the window this morning confirms this to be correct. They don’t sound like they’ve eaten any dodgy food while they’ve been here, at least not yet. I wonder what they're saying about us.
We found out when we were in Crete that the locals are called Cretans, so we decide to have a friendly wager on what people from Corfu are called. Issy opts for Corfumites, while I go for Corfucians. The ever reliable Wikipedia tells us that the answer is Corfiotes. Issy is declared the winner on the basis that she got four of the last five letters right, while I only got two, so she wins bragging rights
until the next competition. Bragging rights are very important in the Sheehan household.
We get on the local bus for the half hour ride across the island to Corfu Town. We decide that to get the best out of the day we probably should read up a bit about the history of the island. It is referred to in scripts from as early as 1300 BC, and everybody who's anybody from around Europe and the Mediterranean seems to have had a go at ruling it over the years. A succession of Ancients Greeks were followed by the Romans, and from medieval times until the seventeenth century it was one of the most heavily fortified places in Europe, as the European States used its fortifications to ward off the marauding Ottomans. It was besieged by the Ottomans four times between 1537 and 1716 but they were never able to break down the city’s defences. Issy reminds me that the Ottomans also lost out when they tried to besiege her beloved homeland of Malta. The Ottomans clearly sucked at sieging. The Venetians ruled the island from 1401 until 1797 when the French under Napoleon took over. It then became a British
protectorate from 1815 until 1864 when it finally became part of Greece.
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was apparently born here in Corfu.
We wander through the maze of alleyways in the old part of the town down to the Spianada, which is a large square and park area between the town and the waterfront. The old buildings look more Italian than traditional Greek to our untrained eyes. The main building fronting the Spianada is called the Liston, which is apparently a Venetian word. It looks like something straight out of Paris, and we read that it was indeed built by the French in 1807 when they were here under Napoleon. A large part of the Spianada looks suspiciously like a cricket ground. We walk across a bridge into the Old Fortress of Corfu. We read that this was built largely by the Venetians, replacing earlier fortifications from the Byzantine period; some of the buildings in it are also British. We walk up the hill in the middle of the fortress where we get stunning panoramic views over the town and across the strait to nearby Albania. The Fortress’s powder magazine was apparently struck by lightning in
1718 and the resultant explosion blew up most of the fortress as well as half the town, and hundreds of people were killed.
There is indeed a cricket ground in the Spianada. It seems that whilst cricket is a total mystery to most Greeks, the Corfiotes love their cricket. The game was introduced by the British, and local teams started forming here shortly after they left. Corfu is the headquarters of the Hellenic Cricket Federation, which makes it the only Greek sports federation not headquartered in Athens. On the basis of cricket here in Corfu, Greece is now an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council.
We eat lunch lying on the grass in the Spianada before continuing on along the waterfront. I walk up some steep steps into the Byzantine Museum of Antivouniotissa. This is a display of heirlooms and icons in cloisters around a church which is believed to have been built near the end of the fifteenth century. Issy’s leaving nothing to chance. The church might have been around for more than five hundred years but in her mind that’s no guarantee that the roof won’t fall in today, so she stays well clear down
by the water.
We catch a taxi out to the airport where we collect our hire car and drive it back to Paleokastritsa. Issy soaks in a bath while I go for a slightly chilly dip from the beach at the bottom of the cliff next to the hotel. Issy says that on the basis of the sounds she was trying to block out during her bath she now knows that the occupants of the room next door are a male and a female. This is a bit too much information.
We liked the restaurant we ate at last night, so we decide to go there again. It seems that Saturday night is Greek dancing night. The good tables at the restaurant are in the open with views overlooking the harbour. We didn’t book so we’re relegated to the last available table, which is under cover. The ceiling we’re sitting under looks like it belongs in a cave; it’s been sprayed with concrete to look vaguely like stalactites. The reason for this is not all that obvious. The people on the next table are sitting in the open, and as we munch on our entrees they ask us
if we would mind moving our table a bit further inside, as it seems that it is now raining. The good tables suddenly aren’t looking so good any more. Lots of table moving is happening, but there’s only so much room under cover; the only people who aren’t now sitting under cover are the ones who had the very best tables; they’re still sitting out in the rain, now with towels draped over their heads as they try in vain to stay dry.
Two men and a lady in traditional Greek dress emerge from the back of the restaurant and start strutting their stuff. It all starts fairly benignly, but it seems that this is only the prelude. One of the men sprays the floor with kerosene and then sets it alight. Flames lick the ceiling, so at least we now know why it’s been sprayed with concrete. We spoke to an English couple and with a young baby at the bus stop this morning. The mother and baby are sitting right next to the now flaming dance floor. Mum’s looking more than a bit concerned. Grilled baby is looking like a distinct possibility, so they beat a hasty
retreat. We are all handed the obligatory plates to throw onto the flaming floor. The whole thing now looks like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. Other people are now joining the dance. Issy says that we must appear to be deep in conversation to avoid being dragged into the carnage. The show ends. No one appears to have died. It’s a miracle.
We head off back towards the hotel through lightning, thunder and torrential rain. The road is doing its best impression of a river. We can’t get any wetter. The concierge wishes us a good evening, but I’m not sure he means it; we’ve just dripped all over his previously pristine floor.
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