Postcards from Corfu Town

Postcards from Corfu Town

Knickers in the Wind

Our final night in Corfu (or Kerkyra as the Greeks call it) is a slow meander through Corfu Old Town, a labyrinth of lanes and alleyways stuffed with churches and intriguing doorways, and shadowed by row upon row of crusty Venetian-era tenements – all tatty shutters and knickers flapping in the breeze. Down on the street, tourist tat competes with luxury labels, artisans with artists, tavernas with silver service. There’s a real buzz and we’re lapping it up. It’s the second UNESCO World Heritage Site of our mini grand tour and it’s gorgeous.

A Sticky Wicket

We’re ending the evening watching trendy young things doing what trendy young things do everywhere – chatting, flirting, larking about and having fun. We’re observing the crowd from the back row of a swish bar in the Liston, an elegant Parisian-style arcade built at the turn of the nineteenth century when the French were top dogs. The building overlooks a cricket pitch laid out after the British booted out the French. And surprisingly, the crease still resounds to leather on willow even today.

The Liston Exterior

Waiting for our late lift back to Elleana’s gaff, we chatted with Josie and George from Bradford. They’ve been visiting Corfu on and off for decades and despite being a little long in the tooth, they still gad about the island on a quad bike, Josie wrapped round her man, wind blowing through her purple rinse. While I’m slightly concerned about the serious risk of death or disability at every turn, I rather admire their pluck.

So that was Corfu – seven heavenly days, two countries, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and enough devil’s brew to sink a frigate. We shall return.

 

 

Postcards from Albania

Postcards from Albania

When in Greece go to Albania

It’s only three miles from Corfu at its closest point so it would be rude not to. We sailed the hydrofoil from Corfu Town and here we are sipping a cappuccino at a smart restaurant in Sarandë, a port and resort on the Albanian Riviera – yes, they’ve got a riviera. We’re on a coach trip with a herd of Saga louts – Brits and Germans mainly. We had neither the wit nor the inclination to organise the tour independently. Albanian’s call their country Republika e Shqipërisë. No, I can’t pronounce it either so let’s just stick with Albania.

Sarande

The Trojan Connection

Our first excursion is to the ancient city of Butrint – Roman Buthrotum back in the day and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After years in Turkey, I tend to be a bit blasé about old cities – Turkey’s got ‘em by the quarry-load. But I have to admit the site is pretty impressive with its Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman remains. And the setting on the edge of a lagoon is magical. According to Greek mythology, the city was founded by exiles from Troy. A fanciful tale? Maybe not.

We’ve meandered through a mozzie-infested thicket and over long-buried streets to various ruins in various stages of ruination, including a Byzantine basilica – reputedly the largest in the world after Hagia Sophia in old Constantinople. While imposing, I didn’t think it was that big but what do I know?

Butrint

As we rambled, I Googled ‘Butrint’ and happened across the UK Butrint Foundation. Guess where it’s based? Yep, Norwich. Small world.

Pushy Fraulein

We’re back in Sarandë for lunch. Many of our fellow passengers would push their firstborn under a bus to get to the buffet first. It’s like feeding time at the zoo. I had to neck an Albanian beer to get over the shock of an ancient Teuton with fat ankles, bum bag and curly perm elbowing me out of the way to get her grubby hands on the köfte.

Eye Spy

Our afternoon excursion sped us through the Butrint National Park to the Blue Eye, a spring that bubbles forth from a deep pool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen waters so clear or iridescent. The images here are for real – no filters required.

Ooh, Aah, Kosovar

We have an hour or so to kill before our hydrofoil back to Corfu Town. Liam’s sniffed out a swish harbourside bar, with prices to match. I’m sipping Kosovar wine. I didn’t know they made wine in Kosovo. Sarandë is a handsome town – more modern than I was expecting but then I don’t really know what I was expecting. Actually, I’ve never visited an ex-‘Communist’ state before. I’ve been to yer actual Commie country – when I took the train 1,500 or so miles from London to Moscow during Brezhnev’s reign. And then there was Romania when Ceaușescu was on the throne. Both experiences were broadening but those eras are long gone. Albania is beautiful but it’s developing fast. There are mouths to feed and aspirations to fulfil. I just hope they don’t lose too much in the mad rush to be just like everyone else.

Here Endeth the Lesson

I’m guessing not many people know much about Albania. I certainly didn’t. But I know a little more now, courtesy of our guide, a splendid young man who speaks great English, and great German too by the sound of it. Throughout the day, he’s been giving us a potted history in bite-size episodes. He even mentioned the German occupation during the Second World War, something  I thought he might have skipped to avoid offence. It was done in such a matter-of-fact way, I’m sure no one was offended. Our young guide is looking to the future, not dwelling on the past. I’m rather taken with him (not in that way – get your minds out of the gutter). He ended the lesson by saying simply,

Don’t judge Albania by what you’ve heard. Judge Albania by what you see – good and bad.

He got a round of applause – and a tip.

Coming soon – Postcards from Corfu Town.

Laundry line

 

Postcards from Corfu

Postcards from Corfu

The A Gays

We chose simple and we got sublime. Our billet is a modest studio (A1 for the A Gays) overlooking a sparkling pool.

The Little Terrace

All we have to do is drag our tired old carcasses the few yards from bed to lounger – perfect for the R&R we crave. Most days we laze about dipping and sipping, reading and dozing. We deliberately booked the week after schools went back – to avoid over-wrought brats who scream and splash. We hadn’t wagered on the toddlers, though. We’re being diverted by the neurotic antics of four nervous grown-ups dancing round Lola, a tiny tot wearing a kamikaze-style sun hat and what looks like a suicide belt. Lola’s only word is ‘NO!’ and she repeats it a lot.

Elleana the Great

Our landlady is a magnificent Corfiot matriarch called Elleana – not one to cross, we think. Liam has charmed her with warm talk and a few well-practised words in Greek. It’s done the trick. She keeps a well-stocked bar which we’re eager to drain. Corfiot wine is surprisingly quaffable given it’s stored out the back in three-litre plastic bottles.

Elleana’s gaff is protected by a shaggy guard dog. He likes to call round for a sniff, frisk and lick. We’re not sure of the make or sex but we call it ‘Hector’.

The dog

Wasps around the honey pot

The vine harvest has brought the last hurrah of the season for squadrons of wasps. Puny by comparison to their angrier British cousins, they’re more annoying than menacing and are only really interested in sipping from the glass Liam keeps topped up by my side. I’m happy to share. Several have drowned during the mid-afternoon Bacchanalia. A leathered Brummie reclining at the far end of the pool keeps insect spray to hand. Every so often we hear ‘pssssst’, ‘pssssst’, pssssst’ then she returns to her chick lit. We call her ‘Ms Raid’. The wasps may be irritating but the mozzies are less voracious than expected. Either that or our four years in Turkey have turned our blood to poison.

The Youngest Gays in the Village

The resort is serene and spartan – just a few tavernas and pizza parlours – and most of our fellow visitors look like they’ve been pickled. It’s a novel experience being (almost) the youngest gays in the village. The locals are friendly and obliging, if a little frayed after a long hot summer. Liam was nearly laid low by an upturned beer crate. Fixed to the pavement with duck tape, it was there to cover a big hole.

Jack on the Road

Overheard

As many know, I’m a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) eavesdropper. Here’s a few random throwaway lines picked up on the radar as we gadded about:

What’s the wever tomorrer?

‘ow do I know? Do I look like a weather cock?

She’s very end of season, that one.

No, Joan, I don’t ‘ave a pair a woolly knickers.

For maximum effect, such quotes are best recited with a northern accent.

It’s all Greek to me

Sunsets are spent playing cards and Scrabble accompanied by the hard stuff. As the light gradually dims, we resort to mini-torches to read the letters. Liam tries to cheat with Greek and thinks I won’t catch on in the dark.

Wine that glows in the dark

 

Déjà vu

Our soporific Ionian idyll delivers unexpected familiarity. Closing my eyes, I’m transported back in time to another land of barking dogs, crowing cocks, randy crickets, loose cattle, manic drivers, ripe drains, pine-clad hills, goats, potholes, bugs and a nightly spectacle of glorious sunsets.

In the end, who could tell the difference between a grandma riding a donkey in Greece, Bulgaria or trotting through a Turkish village?

Turkey Street, Chapter 13, Blesséd are the Meek

As I observed in a book I once wrote. Ok, headscarves, hassle and the call to prayer are missing and they don’t play cricket in Bodrum but you get my general drift.

Coming soon… Postcards from Albania.

Albania

 

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

While we’re away in sunny Corfu chomping on the mutton, slapping on the sunscreen, gassing the bugs and gagging on the retsina (despite sage advice to go easy on the hard stuff from Annie at Back to Bodrum), here are a few snaps to remind us of home sweet home. It’s not been a bad summer, all things considered. By the way, Liam cheats at Scrabble.

In the Footsteps of the Durrells

In the Footsteps of the Durrells

We’re off on our hols to sunny Greece. Seven heavenly days round a cool pool in Corfu. We’re flying out from Norwich’s very own international airstrip – small but perfectly formed, a doddle to get to and a doddle to get through. We’re not expecting the full Durrell-esque experience – no crumbling Venetian mansion overlooking the shimmering Ionian Sea and awash with exotic fauna for us. But we have bagged the next best thing for our bargain-bucket budget – a little place slightly off the beaten track. It might come with challenging plumbing but also boasts a set of five star reviews on Trip Advisor for its unpretentious, no-fuss comfort. We intend to do absolutely nothing but sleep, drink, read, drink, eat, drink, oh, and play Scrabble. We’ve packed a couple of torches and a keg of insect repellent. Happy days.

Make mine a double on ice and shove a brolly in it. Yamas!

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Once more round the sun and it’s that time again to look back at the top of the pansy crop. For some reason, matters medical and mortality caught the imagination this year. On a happier note, stepping back in time to renew old acquaintances and bear witness to vows ’til death they do part also proved popular. So ladies and gents, I give you…

A Manifesto for Life | Back to Bodrum | Perking the Pansies | It’s All Double Dutch to Me | Victoria  Wood, RIP | Scarred for Life | Postcards from Gran Canaria | See the Tree, How Big It’s Grown  | A Pain in the Arse | David Bowie, Starman

And then there were the year’s three most popular images. Really, have you no shame?

 

 

 

See the Tree, How Big it’s Grown

See the Tree, How Big it’s Grown

When Liam and I first pitched our yurt in Anatolia, we bought an olive sapling in John’s memory and put it in a patio pot. It did remarkably well and bore fruit in the first year – a lean harvest but a harvest nonetheless. After we decided to wade back to Blighty, I asked Annie of Back to Bodrum fame if she would take care of John’s little twig in her Bodrum garden.  Annie went one better and offered a sunny spot in the olive grove of her fabulous country pile.

From Little Acorns…

Four years on and the wedding of the year presented the perfect opportunity to check on John’s tree. Little more than a twig when it was transplanted to Annie’s field, it now stands tall as a strapping sapling, framed in chicken wire to protect it from nibbling cattle.

The first snap is courtesy of Elaine Akalin.

Thank you, Teo, for planting it. You did all the sweaty work while all I did was pat it down like the Queen at an opening. And thank you, Annie, for taking such good care of it.  I’m not religious at all but a part of me hopes Teo and John popped a cork and shared a bottle on the big day.