Now when I go on holiday I do like to take a photo or two but even I was surprised when I downloaded them and found we had taken 1027!
Greece is a beautiful place and it is easy to get carried away with the snapping, especially now that everything is digital and there is no cost for processing.
Obviously, nobody is going to sit through that many pictures, even on a slideshow at five seconds per picture that is an hour and 25 minutes! So Helen and I went through them all last night with a view to reducing them to a number we thought people might stand. So here I present the 83 photos that best sum up our holiday. If you want to see them on a single page click here.
I love to visit new places and foreign climes but the process of achieving that can sometimes be a real pain and nothing brings you back down to earth after a great holiday than a three and a half hour flight delay.
We arrived at Corfu airport with plenty of time to spare. Thomson run a pretty efficient operation but it does involve multiple queues: into the airport itself, at the check-in desk, to put your suitcases to the hold belt and finally through security. Airside it was heaving simply due to the number of Thomson flights that come and go on a Friday.
And then the tannoy announcement that nobody wants to hear “we are sorry to inform passengers on the Gatwick flight that due to bad weather it has had to be diverted to another airport. We will update you in two hours.” In the end it was three hours before the plane could land, refuel and return.
Somewhat bizarrely the “bad weather” only affected two flights out of the tens that were flying in and out of Corfu that day and ironically the weather when we landed in Gatwick was immeasurably worse than that at Corfu that had prevented our flight from landing.
Still it was a good thing that no Thomson reps could make it through airside as I am sure that there would have been a lynching but it would have been nice to get some information.
Right, I’m off to whittle down the 1027 photos we took while away – no, seriously!
The last full day of our holiday and there were still some areas of the island that we were keen to explore, such as Achillion Palace where the casino scene from the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only was filmed.
I was surprised when we got there to find a large number of tourist coaches had beaten us to the place and it was heaving with German visitors.
It was a beautiful spot and the views from the nearby coffee shop over the bay below the palace were absolutely fantastic.
From Achillion we made our way to just south of Corfu Town where there is a small monastery in another idyllic position – Corfu just seems to be full of them. Being close to the only major town on the island and given that it was raining the last time we visited we thought that we might try and park close to town and walk in. Helen navigated us there beautifully and we were in the town within 10 minutes.
It’s an attractive place with its forts, little back streets and the brightly coloured buildings. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and taking photos but mostly feeling pretty pleased with ourselves that we had managed to navigate ourselves there through the poorly signposted outskirts and had found somewhere to park that was both conveniently located and was free! Little things…
Back at the hotel they were having a black & white themed night. This theme was also expected to extend to the guests who were to wear their finest “black and white” to the dinner in the restaurant – fortunately the theme didn’t extend to the food itself. Unfortunately we hadn’t know that the hotel was going to be running this event so I turned up in my blue polo shirt and jeans – Helen looked the part though.
After the rains of yesterday we had expected it to be wet again today so were pleased to see that it was dry when we got up and so we quickly got in the car and made our way to Palaiokastritsa.
When you book a hire car you typically select from a group and are shown an example that you might recognise, so “Group B” might be a Renault Clio or a Peugeot 206 etc. However, in my experience that is rarely what you get, you are much more likely to get something that is a cheap equivalent and so it was this time when we were allocated a Suzuki Alto. It’s not a bad car, the gear box is reasonably smooth, but it is obviously cheaply made full of great swathes of grey plastic and incredibly tinny. That said it has done well bombing up and down all the hills we have taken it over the last week which has been numerous and pretty twisty. I cannot imagine that the gear boxes last long in any hire car but here you hardly get past third and they get a real thrashing up the hills.
The great thing about Corfu is its size – you can easily drive from one end to the other in a day and that has enabled us to explore all sorts of places, mainly in the north as the south tends to be where the yoof hang out! It’s an odd experience driving here as none of the roads are that big and there are additional hazards to dodge such as the numerous stray cats and dogs and Greeks on scooters. People, particularly the British tourists, go mad over these strays, you would think that they hadn’t seen a cat before but go all doe-eyed over the things. I see them simply as a mobile obstacle to be avoided.
We had decided to take part in one of the organised activities this morning – a walk to a local bee producers. About a dozen people including ourselves turned up to be taken by the tour guide just a short distance to the factory where the owner was on hand to show us round and answer any questions we might have.
What neither he nor us had bargained for was the gentleman from Scotland who was an amateur beekeeper whose eyes must have lit up when he saw that the tour was taking place. What followed was a boring dissection of the trials and tribulations of beekeeping. Most normal people would have been able to detect that this was clearly a discussion that wasn’t interesting to the rest of the party and that others were, in fact, laughing at him. I was surprised that his wife didn’t stop him but no he ploughed on regardless such that I am now an expert in the differences in treatment for the vine weevil between Scotland and Corfu… At least I will now have something to talk about at future dinner parties.
There are many things that one goes on holiday to avoid and in my case rain is pretty high up on that list. Leading up to us going away there had been rain predicted for the day we were due in Santorini but fortunately the forecasters were spectacularly wrong and we had a beautiful day. Rain was also forecast for this week but until late this afternoon we had been pretty lucky and then the heavens opened. Of course I have seen rain in the volume that landed here today before, I live in the UK after all, but there was a lot of rain in a very short space of time. In a traditional hotel this wouldn’t have been too much of an issue as you could walk down the corridors to reach the restaurant but not here where all the rooms are separate units with a long walk to the main buildings.
To make matters worse we had booked a special meal at the al a carte fish restaurant by the beach at the bottom of the hill and the funicular lift was out of order. Fortunately the hotel laid on cars to take people from their rooms to either the top or the bottom restaurants. Of course all the water was running down the hill and there were rivers of it across the entrance of the restaurant on its way back to the sea. None of this detracted from the meal, which was excellent.
Although we have a hire car we decided that it would be better to take the bus from the hotel to Corfu Town today. It seemed that everyone else from the hotel had also had the same idea as the bus was packed and we seemed to get shuffled from being at the front of the queue to the back – what happened to a nice bit of orderly queueing? Anyway taking the bus proved to be a smart move as parking seemed to be in short supply in town.
The first thing to do was to find out exactly where we were as we needed to be able to make our way back to the bus stop. This was more challenging than it sounds as our map had the road names in English and, of course, the signs were in Greek! Once Helen had found her bearings we were set.
Corfu Town is a pretty place with lots of narrow streets with shops selling gifts and the usual sort of tat you find at holiday destinations. If you receive a holiday gift from us it won’t have been bought in one of these shops, obviously, just in case you were wondering.
Unfortunately the weather has taken a turn for the worst and there was light rain all day, but “warm rain” as my father would say. At the Old Fort, which curiously looks newer than the old fort, it was blowing a gale so we were glad to get down.
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The hotel we are staying in is very nice but isn’t a single building but lots of small units scattered over the side of a hill – it’s a little bit like a hotel version of Centreparcs. It is a steep climb from the bottom of the hill to the main building at the top where the restaurants, reception etc are so there is a funicular lift to take guests from the beach at the bottom to the top. It is the slowest and least reliable form of transport I have ever had the misfortune to use. It is quicker to climb the steps and there are hundreds of them. Just to add to the excitement the lift has two separate compartments served by two doors but only certain ones open on different levels. So, for example, only door one opens at beach level but at level four where our room is only door two opens!
The restaurant is all buffet dining and the food excellent. When I leave I will particularly miss the Greek yoghurt, honey and banana for breakfast! The only problem with the restaurant is that in order to reach your table you have to be guided there by the most obsequious maitre d’ I have ever met. Once past his slimy toadying it is fine.
We got out and about in the hire car today. We decided to visit Mount Pantokrator, the highest point on the island at 906M, as it had been recommended both in the books and by the local guide.
You can drive right to the very top of the mountain and as it is a very steep ascent the road is very winding. As I have previously stated the drivers in Greece are not the best and there are few road markings meaning that it is not uncommon to find a driver appearing round a blind corner on your side of the road. Fortunately it is also out of season and so the traffic was light.
The lower part of Mount Pantokrator was tree lined and offered great views down to the sea below but the higher we climbed the bleaker it became. I’m told that on clear days you can see as far as Italy, today it was a challenge to see too far into Corfu.
We didn’t stay long at the top as, to be honest, it was dull and chilly, so we travelled back down and headed along the coast to some of the towns before finally landing in Kassiopi for lunch. I ordered Kalamari and a whole octopus arrived!
After a long day exploring we started to make our way back to the hotel. Corfu is a small island and the majority of roads here are what we would classify as B roads in the UK. Many are pitted and uneven in a way that makes the UK roads look as smooth as a billiard table, although that doesn’t excuse Wokingham from sorting out the roads in Earley.
It also quickly became clear that roads are not a big priority for the Greeks as not only had no money been spent on road repairs, road signs were also in short supply. I guess that they must be spending Germany’s money elsewhere. Anyway, even though we were armed with a map it was almost impossible to navigate around as no towns introduced themselves and we frequently came to a junction with no signs whatsoever. In the end we found ourselves in Corfu Town, a long way from where we wanted to be and the only landmark we could find was the airport. At least we could navigate to the hotel from there having done it a couple of days before. Tomorrow we’re taking the bus!
Try as you might it is impossible to escape the fact that this is a package holiday, one of the very few we have ever taken, perhaps only our second. This means that there is a rep here in the hotel and this morning there was a welcome meeting for all the new guests. While this was ostensibly an opportunity to sell organised tours it also did highlight a couple of things that wouldn’t have been available otherwise. The first was a series of organised and included activities, more of which later, and the second was some sheets with suggested local walks, one of which we did this afternoon.
The walk was billed as “moderate” but that is somewhat meaningless as one mans moderate is another’s bloody difficult. There was also no distance given which was ominous but it did say that it was under two hours so couldn’t be that far. It was a beautiful walk but was rather steeper than we had anticipated. Also there was the additional challenge that some of the markers given to look out for telling us when to turn were missing so at times we weren’t sure if we were on the right track. And in some places it really was a track that looked like it was only passable by mountain goats! The reward for the walk were some stunning views over the cliffs to beautiful clear blue waters – it really is a wonderful place.
As I mentioned there are a number of activities organised by the tour operator that are included – today that included a demonstration of how to make Tzatziki. I had always thought that the main ingredient was yoghurt but from what I saw today I know think it must be garlic! Anyway, it tasted great and the local wasps thought so too as they were certainly attracted to it.
So that is week one of the holiday done and we move from ship to shore as we transfer to a hotel.
In some ways I will be sorry to leave the ship behind. It is a great way to see a number of destinations in a short space of time, which is exactly why we chose it in the first place. Also the service is excellent, which you would expect with a ratio of pretty much two passengers to every crew.
Interestingly there seemed to be a very distinct hierarchy of crew with those in senior and entertainment positions being white Europeans, those in the front line of customer service, such as the waiting staff, Asian and the rest from the Indian subcontinent. I found all the front line staff to be happy, obliging and most of all smiling – I dread to think what a ship crewed by 100% British staff would have been like: surly, bad tempered and grumpy no doubt, or is that just me?
The downside of being off the boat for me is that I still feel the movement of the boat even on dry land – it feels very much like vertigo which is a little odd to say the least.
From the ship we went via the airport to collect a hire car and make our way to the hotel. We don’t often stay in hotels on holiday, other than the odd city break and when I arrived at this one I was reminded why, lots of sun loungers set around the swimming pool meaning lot of people – me and people don’t mix well. However, once we had been taken to our room and found our way around the hotel things didn’t seem quite so bad. The room was great and had its own private garden – it also smelt lovely. It must be the first hotel I’ve been to where they pump scent into the rooms, the very appropriate Kouros if I’m not very much mistaken. It is like staying in the hotel equivalent of Hollister.
As you can see from the picture below the hotel is in an idyllic setting and I’m warming to Corfu.
And as if by magic Helen was better again meaning that we could do something together today. We actually had nothing planned and had already decided to see what the port destination was like before deciding.
Katakolon is pretty but tiny and with very little in the way of diversions. The reason the boat stops here at all is because it is the closest port of Olympia, the birth place of the modern olympics. There were organised trips but we had decided that if we went we would do so independently. There is a direct train from Katakolon to Olympia and €10 for a return ticket seemed like a bit of a bargain. So that was decision made.
The train takes 45 minutes and drops you at a tiny station where only the town centre is sign posted and not the main attraction. However, the large number of coaches at the end of the street was a bit of a give away.
The entry free to the archeological site was €6 bringing the total cost to €16, about £13.50 compared to the £42 it would have cost us to take the organised tour from the boat. Of course for that we missed out on having a guide (actually I think that’s a bonus but others may disagree) but you could always buy a guide book.
We had read online that there wasn’t much to look at on the site so were pleasantly surprised to find that what there was covered a large area, although admittedly not much of it rises above ground level these days. We spent an interesting couple of hours wandering through the grounds marvelling, in my case, at the size of what must have been one of the world’s first sports centres.
We arrived back at Katakolon with a great sense of achievement having navigated our way to Olympia and back – something else that
you wouldn’t get it you took the tour.
Tomorrow is our last day on the boat and then we transfer to a hotel on Corfu for a week.