When I last left off, I was drinking wine in caves in Sirens Valley, Hungary with Norwegian girl cousin. She booked a week-long flight and hotel package for us to Corfu, an island in the Ionian Sea near the coast of Albania.
In Greek mythology, Poseidon, the god of the sea, fell in love with a beautiful nymph named Korkyra and abducted her to an unnamed island. He named the island after her and Korkyra evolved to Kerkyra, in Ancient Greek, and Corfu, in English.
Corfu is shaped like a scythe. It is about 40 miles long, and ranges from 2.5 miles to 20 miles wide. A little over 100,000 people live on the island. We stayed in self-serve villas with small kitchenettes in Agio Georgios, on the northern half of the island. No ATMs. No internet. No shops. Or if there was, we didn't find it and had to trek to Corfu Town for those amenities. There were a few restaurants and grocery stores, and they were mostly cash only.
What we got were long stretches of beach and lots of sun.
There's a public bus that runs each morning from Agios Georgios to Corfu Town. The island isn't large but the windy, hilly, narrow roads made it a 1 hour trip. The bus makes a return trip once in the late afternoon. Miss the bus and it was a $60 Euro taxi ride back.
Corfu successfully held off the Turks, so you'll find Italian, French, and British influences instead. For instance, the Liston, which borders the western side of the Esplanade, was built in 1807 by the French, who modeled it after the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The name comes from the "list" of noble families who used to be the only ones allowed to walk there. Cafes are scattered all along the edges. A cricket field in the Esplanade shows the British influence.
The red dome is the bell tower of the church of Agios Spyridon, built in 1590 to house the mummified body of the beloved saint. Saint Spyridon, a shepherd from Cyprus, died in 350. When the Arabs took over Cyprus, his body was exhumed, and found to be perfectly preserved. His remains were taken to Constantinople. And then in 1453, smuggled out wrapped in straw and strapped to a mule, to escape Turkish occupation.
Spyridon is credited with saving Corfu four times -- expelling the plague (Twice!), from famine, and helping the island fight off the Turks in 1716 (Apparently his spirit appeared before the Turks with a lighted torch, causing them to panic.).
And no, I didn't go inside the church because frankly, the Berlitz Corfu Pocket Travel Guide description scared me. "On certain days the casket is opened, and on special feast days the saint is paraded upright through town. His shrunken face can be seen through a glass panel and his slippered feet are exposed for the faithful to kiss."
In Venetian times, the area between the new and old forts was surrounded by city walls. Since Corfiotes weren't allowed to live outside the walls, the only way to build was upward. I loved glancing up and seeing flower pots and laundry hanging from balconies.
My cousin and I stumbled upon this pretty courtyard and just had to stop for a few minutes to sit and do nothing.
Quick. Can you spot the Greek flag?
When the Roman Empire split in the Fourth Century, the Byzantium half took over administrative control of Corfu, but couldn't provide security. Vandals raided the island in 445. In 562, Ostrogoths destroyed the capital. After fighting back the Slavs in 933, the Corfiotes built the old fortress to guard the eastern sea approach.
In 1537, Corfu was attacked by Ottomans. While the fortress withstood the attack, the Turks looted the island and carried off half the island's population, about 20,000 Corfiotes, whom they pressed into slavery. The new fortress was built in 1576, after another Turkish siege, to guard the northwestern sea approach.
On the waterfront, we saw a group of people gathered waiting for a boat to Vidos Island. It was only a $1 euro trip so we decided to go along to see what was there. It was the perfect vantage point for an overall view of Corfu Town. Can you see the old fortress below?
And the spire of the church of Saint Spyridon?
And the new fortress?
A panoramic view of Corfu Town.
Vidos Island is a bird sanctuary today, but it served as the base for Ottoman attacks in 1537 and 1716. The fortifications were destroyed when the British left in 1864. It then became a prison and served as a refugee camp for about 150,000 Serbian soldiers during WWI. About 30,000 of them died of the flu and other diseases.
We did a quick circuit, hopped back on the boat to return to Corfu Town, and wandered around some more.
Then we took the harrowing bus ride back to our sleepy side of town.
And dined in a restaurant overlooking the sea and sunset. It was here that I discovered the simple pleasure of Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts.
Pebbles and sea glass I gathered along the beach. The glass glittered like emeralds in the sun. I love how worn the glass was from the tumble of the rocks and waves. What do you collect as souvenirs?
There are just too many things to see and do in Corfu. I experienced just a tiny fraction of it, so I highly encourage you to buy a good guidebook and do some research before going.
The narrow, steep, windy roads are difficult to navigate, the villages are spread out, so I suggest renting a car for the duration of your trip. We rented a scooter and then were way too scared to take it very far. The public bus is also a cheap option, just make sure you don't miss it!
The height of the tourist season is during the summer. In September, most of the tourists are gone and the island returns to normal.
Corfu's location, only 1.8 miles from the Albanian coast, makes it possible for day trips to the Butrint ruins and Saranda, Albania. Also, check into combined day trips to Gaios, Paxos Island and Parga on the mainland.
And if you stay in Agios Georgios and see umbrella rental signs from Yianni and Yen, tell Yen I said, "Hi!" One night while we were dining, we saw another Asian woman. She turned out to be a Vietnamese-Australian who married a Greek. She was so excited to see us! She said she only knew one other Vietnamese woman on Corfu, and sometimes really missed being able to speak Vietnamese and eat the food. How random is that?
You can read all Europe posts with the tag Series: Europe, but I suggest reading this particular trip in this order:"Meet-Cute" Stockholm - Sweden
Helsinki - Finland: A Two-Night Cruise and One Day
Sigtuna - Sweden: More Rune Stones Than Any Other Town
Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) - Sweden: Beowulf and Burial Mounds
Uppsala - Sweden: Birthplace of Celsius
Tallinn - Estonia: A Two-Night Cruise and One Day
Eger and Sirens Valley - Hungary: Floral? Fruity? Woody Notes? What Notes?
Agios Georgios, Corfu Town, and Vidos Island, Corfu - Greece
Glass Bottom Boat, Corfu - Greece
Gaios, Paxos Island - Greece
Parga - Greece
Autostitch of Parga - Greece
Paleokastritsa, Corfu - Greece
Butrint and Saranda - Albania
1 year ago today, Baechu Kimchi (Korean Pickled Napa Cabbage).