Day 1 - About Town

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June 9th 2010
Published: June 9th 2010
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Easyjet arrive at 10:45 local time and on clearing customs I'm met by Anna of Aperghi Travel. She takes me to my hotel Konstantinoupolis. Here I book in and deposit my case as my room will not be ready till 12:00. Anna runs through some papers with me and hands me some revised instructions for day 6 as the route previously used through the Ropa Valley has been ashphelted (sp). She advises what time Chris will pick me up tomorrow to start the Trail. Its time to go about Town.
The Konstantinoupolis is situated near the old port opposite the Spilia (this used to be a parking area but is now an area being reconstructed with the aid of an EU grant). For those familiar with Corfu Town it is easier to say teh Hotel is above The Black Cat bar/taverna. The Hotel was built in 1862 during the time of the British Protectorate. It became an Hotel in 1878 and apart from closure from 1993 to 1997 when it was restored keeping the original features and then re-opened under new management has been open for business ever since. Whilst described as 2* it is more than comfortable and it has character. The Staff are very friendly, breakfast usual continental stuff but also a small hot selection as well. It has internet but its in the office and apparently very slow. There are some nice old paintings/pictures about as well as furniture and crockery. The lounge area is small but comfortable. Nice views over old port towards Vidos Island.
It was a nice sunny day and about 22C so I set off to sightsee. Now I've been to Corfu Town several times so I vaguely know my way around and have visited some of the sights. Since 2007 it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There is plenty to see and do in this small town with a distinctly Venitian look; 2 fortresses, at least 6 museums, many old buildings and and churches and narrow shopping lanes. Great restaurants, bars and a lively nightlife.
Today my first stop was at the British Cemetary; why you may ask. Opened in 1814 as a place where British residents were interred. This cemetary is also famous for its flora; the grounds are well tended by George Psailas who has a tremendous knowledge of the place and history having been born in the house on the grounds, inherited his job from his father and has worked in charge since 1944. The finest specimens to be found are orchids; Greece has some 50 varities, Corfu about 38 and as many as 30 can be seen in the cemetary flowering from late February to early June. Unfortunately for me there had been heavy storms the previous week and they had finished off the flowers for this year. There are many other species of flowers for all year round spashes of colour from Cacti in the summer to cyclamens and snowdrops in the autumn/winter. Another reason for a visit is it is the easiest place on Corfu to see a wild tortoise; now protected and exports are banned buy the EU. The type is Testudo Hermani - a Herman tortoise; once very common here in UK. I managed to find several out and about including a young one (maybe a year or 2 old) about the size of my digital camera. Photos currently being sorted so they will appear when I revisit Corfu Town on my last day. Tortoises can be found elsewhere on the Island, mainly on the northern slopes of Pantokrator around the Acharavi area if you have the time to go in search of them.
From the British Cemetary I walked past the Prison and up to Paleopolis; stopping on the way at a small bar for an Amstel; this came served with a small portion of beef in a nice sauce. This bar was covered wall to wall in photos mostly from the 1950s, very interesting. This is an area that is also an archaeologic site surrounded still by many ancient walls, where you can see the ruins of the ancient Corfu Town (Corfu is also known as Kerkyra). There is no entrance fee to the sites; which include the Temple of Artemis, Roman Baths (200AD) and the early 5th Centuary Basilica. In this area is also Mon Repos estate (free on Sunday). This is the area surrounding the house of Mon Repos (built in 1830 to house the British Minister Adams) which was once the home of the Greek Royal family and where Prince Philip was born. The grounds are extensive and have many very old trees including a fine Eucalyptas (sp). In addition to the house, now containing a collection of items from Paleopolis, there are also other ancient ruins in the grounds; the Doric Kardaki Temple amongst them. This area is popular with locals as well out for a walk in the shade from the sun. There are other sites in the area to see as you will hear on my last day but I now returned towards town via Garitsa Bay. This is a massive bay popular for the locals to walk along and has many restaurants along its side, all of which were full of locals on a Sunday. The bay is good for fishing, swimming, watersports and because you have a fine view all along it is home to one leg of the world powerboat racing championships. At the far end you have a great view across the Bay to the New Fort and to its left Corfu Town.
I stopped at one of the many Restaurants in Town where I had Moussaka (tip here; always visit a place advertising it as home made which it will be; otherwise its like the frozen supermarket stuff we get here). For those who don't know Moussaka is made with minced beef, aubergines, tomatoes, onion, red wine, garlic, parsley, olive oil & cinnamon plus bechamel sauce (milk, egg yolks, flour, butter, a hard greek cheese like Kephalatyri, nutmeg and salt/pepper). Ingredients can vary depending to the family recipe. This was accompanied by bread, a Mythos (greek beer) and an Ouzo (this is best served neat with ice; a good resaurant/bar will always give you a glass of water separate so you can sip that if needed after each sip of ouzo). Time now to return to my Hotel and freshen up.
Evening and time to stroll to the Liston. This is a famous area in town that fronts the Spianada or square (the largest square in all of Greece). The Liston is a building that has many arches along its front with lamps above them. Built by the French in 1807 it is a copy of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. This area is very popular with tourists and locals and has many bars with seats both in the Liston and under canvas on the edge of the green. One end of the green you see the Palace of St Michael and St George built 1820 by George Whitmore; the only Georgion example in the Mediterranean area. Later used by the Greek Royal family it is now a museum of Asian Arts. Opposite is the Old Fort (well worth a visit - and climb to the top for the superb ariel view over Corfu Town). Between on the green is a cricket pitch! Cricket has been played on Corfu since the British were there (1814-1864) and in fact was played there before in Australia! Some matches are still played here but mostly now on a newer pitch near Gouvia. I sat in the Liston Bar area by the green having a Corfu Beer or two, locals in family groups were drinking iced coffee mostly, chatting, their young children playing on the green; teenagers cricket or football, younger ones with balls or other toys. All smartly dressed. A real buzz about the place; the added noise was the sky above the town being filled by thousands of swifts. Flying and buzzing everywhere you looked, constantly chirping. Amazing site and sound that the locals just take for granted each spring. As a visitor you will sit watching/listening to them for ages. This buzz of noise; birds and chatter was to be a contrast to the long periods of near silence (apart from bird/insect life and my footsteps) that would accomany me in the days to come. An hour or two later time to move on and as I cut through the town I stopped at the church of St Spyridon. It shelters the body of St Spyriodon who is the patron saint of Corfu and one of the great saints of Grek Orthodoxy. The church was built is 1589; the chapel houses the silver casket with his remains; this is paraded around town several times a year on certain festival days. The bell tower can be seen across the town and resembles that of the church of St George in Venice. The church contains a golden shrine to St Spyridon, has wonderful icons on the dome. No photos allowed inside. I didn't pop in as being Sunday a service was on but I lit a candle outside in the hope of good weather and safe walking in the days ahead. The importance of St Spyridon in Corfiot life can be discovered by the fact that the most common name for a boy is Spiros; every family has several in it and it is said wherever you stand in a town or village if you call out Spiros you are guaranteed to be answered by not one but several men or boys.
Stop of at a snack bar for supper of Royal Ionion beer and a Greek Salad, with toast. Greek salad is basically tomato, cucumber, onion, peppers and olives, with a slab of feta cheese on top sprinkled with oregano. The salad is drizzled in equal quantities of olive oil and vinegar. Again you will get different versions but to have lettuce is not traditional. Buy water for tomorrows walk and back to hotel to prepare rucksack for walk; pack bag and read my 1st days walking notes. Early night. Tomorrow..........I hit the trail


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