If you didn’t start reading on Day 1, you might want to start from the beginning …
Wide awake at three in the morning seemed like a great opportunity to get up and go online, but no such luck. The gateway was down. Nothing is more frustrating than choosing a hotel because it has Internet and then not having it when I want it. It’s bad enough to wake up too early knowing I’ll be tired later), but tack on not being able to get online and jet lag is that much worse.
I sat on the balcony and wrote in my journal. At about 5:00 I heard bells ringing from the monasteries up on the cliffs. Shortly after, roosters around the town started their crowing (in Greek, of course) and, finally, the sky became lighter. I woke up Mikayla and we got an early start on the long drive. Seeing the monasteries last night meant we could get in several extra hours of driving during the early morning hours and make it to Corfu in one day. Mikayla had been eager for the beach since Day 1 so she was excited. We left early and grabbed breakfast at a fruit stand down the road.
Choosing an island to visit was tricky given there are literally hundreds to choose from. Mykonos, Santorini, and Crete were all high on the list. In the end, we chose Corfu because it is so green (rather than the desert theme of the others), a short ferry ride (compared to 12 hours to Santorini), and has excellent snorkeling. And rather than spend a quick day on one island only to hop to another, we decided to spend a solid four days relaxing on one tropical paradise.
The drawback to the lush color of Corfu, however, is it does take rainfall to make it happen. It is further north and has a different climate. September is less crowded and cheaper, but also cooler and wetter. But the extra rainfall feeds the thick foliage that covers the island and the chance of the lush landscape, beaches, and sunshine was just too alluring. I planned our trip in a modular way so we could watch the weather and hit Corfu when it was, hopefully, warm and sunny. The reports all suggested now was the time and we set off as the sun crested for our long drive. In the end, we got it all. We were told the days we were on the island were some of the very best of the summer: warm waters, mid 80’s temperatures, and clear skies!
The drive would have been tons faster had the TOMTOM software on my phone known the difference between the old mountain roads and the new tunneled highways. At one point I saw the highway but old Tom said turn right and I said to Mikayla, “I wonder why it isn’t having us take the Highway?” We turned right and effectively added a good three hours to our trip. But we wouldn’t have been able to wind up and down the crazy roads, squeeze through the little towns whose buildings clung to the mountains like the hornets nests on the side of my house, or find ourselves surrounded by 10 angry massive dogs protecting a large herd of sheep (they actually tried to bite the car).
The drive was a thrill. Mikayla got tired of me saying “this road would be perfect for a James Bond chase” as I’d step on the gas and gun it around another sharp corner. Over a four hour period we only saw a couple of other cars, several hunters, many goats and sheep, and several small towns. I loved the towns; the old buildings, narrow streets, people sitting at small tables watching us curiously, hilly roads winding around old churches…I never got tired of it. We stopped at one point on the top of an isolated mountain and, out of nowhere, a dog came out of the trees, tail wagging and head down like he was scared but too hungry for attention to stay hidden. In the trees below I could hear cows freaking out and a bunch of dogs harassing them, not sure what was going on but it sounded rather crazy. I’m not sure if the friendly pooch I met was part of that raucous group or not.
After climbing, dropping, climbing, dropping, climbing, and dropping over mountain after mountain, I was starting to feel queasy. On the last drop I saw the highway again and decided that it was time to shorten our trip. The road looked brand new (not even on my GPS) and the signs said we’d end up in the right place so I veered from the safety of the GPS. After hours of switchbacks it felt strange to drive in a straight line through the heart of the mountains (some tunnels were several kilometers long). I had never realized Greece was one huge set of mountain ranges. We zipped along at about 120 kph which was a nice change and had to turn off Austin Powers (the voice I had selected for our navigation) because he was going crazy trying to get us routed correctly.
I will never again complain about Seattle traffic. Not even about parking at Pikes. The picture is of a more calm area but the waterfront of Igoumenitsa makes Pikes Market look like an empty Wal-Mart parking lot. Cars were parked so tight I bet they used olive oil to help squeeze them into place. But that’s not the worst, just circling for a spot will shoot up your blood pressure as vehicles move fast, impatient, and aggressively through streets so narrow you sometimes have to fold in the side mirrors to squeak through. It’s no wonder Greece has the highest accident rate in Europe. In retrospect, I should have listened to Austin Powers (we turned him on once he was playing nicely again) and drove right to the ferry terminal. But being the nervous cautious person I am, I decided to park first and inquirer as to where and how to use the ferry.
Turns out you just drive right in, park, buy your pass, and get on the boat. No ferry line. Easy enough. But it took me almost 2 hours to get that answer (which is how long I expected the ferry line to be so I guess it all balances out). We parked on a back street, which made me nervous since all our stuff was in the car, and walked the mile to the ferry terminal to ask (with a stop for lunch). It took a while to find the right place, a helpful attendant gave me the simple instructions, and we walked back to get the car. Way more work and stress than it needed to be. Lesson learned.
The ferry ride was quite pleasant: sunshine on our faces, water, sailboats, the mainland on one side and Corfu on the other. I had scoped out a place on the island that was very affordable at 25 Euros a night, but ideally, I wanted to stay in the Paliokastritsa area. The pictures of this area were just plain dreamy.
We drove to Paliokastritsa (shown in this pic) to see if we could find a place and checked several “vacation apartments” (not much different than a Bed and Breakfast). Prices were very decent but the few we checked had no internet. Before we committed, Mikayla wanted to ask at the huge, gorgeous, and luxurious Hotel we passed right on the beach. I’d seen it on Expedia, I knew what its rates where, and it was way more than I wanted to pay. But I gave in and we looked. It was slow and she quoted me a rate much lower than Expedia had (but still 3X the cost of the vacation apartments a couple blocks away).
One of my regrets from Aubree’s trip last year was that I clamped down on finances like starving dog protecting its last bone. Everything was so expensive in Italy my wallet nearly got sucked right in to my tight arse, but still, I feel my level of frugality was a mistake and I told myself I’d relax a bit about finances on this trip (not tons, but a but a little more). I felt bad because Aubree was such a good sport and ended up roughing it a lot more than she wanted to. So I kept an open mind and took the ride up the elevator to check out the room. The view from the balcony shattered my miser willpower and Mikayla was so excited. I was helpless and took the room.
We hit the beach for a while (that’s our hotel in the background) and soaked up some sun. I bailed sooner than Mikayla since the last thing I wanted was a sunburn, and later we walked around the little town for a bit and bought some fruit and drinks for the fridge.
Dinner in the hotel restaurant was yummy and we had fun talking about life, religion, school, and Mini Coopers (Mikayla loves them). I finally really felt relaxed, even finding peace with the crazy Greek driving. I’d been in the country long enough to feel at home and not so much like a confused stranger. Plus, who couldn’t be relaxed knowing the next four days would be filled with sunshine, warm beaches, and tons of fun. There are beaches on both sides of the hotel (one of the buttons on the elevator even says “beach”). Out the north door is a sandy beach for laying out and playing in the bay (the sandy beach above). Out the south door is a rocky beach (the other two pictures) perfect for snorkeling. I finished off the day with a shot of ouzo (don’t know what they see in it, it tastes like paregoric) and slept like a baby while Mikayla fed the mosquitoes all night long.
Continue to Day 4…