23 August 2010
The largest, greenest and most often visited Ionian island is Corfu. It was our destination to officially check-in to Greece and obtain the documents that would allow us to begin meandering up and down the coast and Ionian Islands. We first stopped in Gouvia marina, where we'd heard the port authorities could manage the whole process. It is a very large and accommodating marina and with ½ hourly bus service to Corfu town, easy access to a large A&M supermarket and a self service laundry. We were tempted to pay the 67Euro/night fee, but it turned out we'd been misinformed and the Port Authority there could only process our 15 Euro, one time permit for sailing in Greece and we'd need to move on to the commercial dock and customs office to complete the immigration check in and obtain a "Transit Log". So we moved on to the little Mandraki Yacht Club in the picturesque setting just below the old fortress, paid 40 Euros for the night and the walked about two miles to the main Customs and Port Authority offices in the commercial dock. The walk was way too hot, but the process was hassle free and the Transit Log cost just 30 Euros and would allow visiting fifty ports over a three month stay.
Now, a fun but brief history is in order, as this place is so old, so tied to classical Greek literature and has had a rather tumultuous series of occupations.
In about 1200BC it is surmised that Homer's Skheria, the island home of the Phaeacians, was Corfu. Palaiokastrita is thought to be the site of the castle of King Alkinoos. It was the Phaeacians who ferried battle worn Odysseus home to Ithaka, and in so doing arousing the wrath of Poseidon who turned their ship to stone (the petrified ship now a nearby island).
Then from about 734 - 434BC Corfu is colonized by the Corinthians. Corfu, itching for independence from the mother city, called on Athens for support to fight off the Corinthians who had asked the Spartans to give them a hand quelling Corfu. Thus Corfu was indirectly the cause of the disastrous Peloponnesian War that effectively obliterated Athens and classical Greece.
Around 229BC Corfu was colonized by Rome - in 722 AD it passed to the eastern Byzantine Empire, went through a chaotic period from 1000 to 1386, when the Venetians took over until 1797, a period when several major assaults by the Turks were successfully turned back. French and British control followed the collapse of the Venetians and finally, in 1864, Corfu was ceded to Greece. (How's that for a really quick trip thru time!)
Today's Corfu is a bustling tourist center with myriad vendors selling olive soaps, kumquat liquors and the usual panoply of T-shirts and souvenirs to thousands of visitors from cruise ships and bus tours - yet it still retains many of the historic influences in its own special Corfiot architecture and culture. The red domed church of Agios Spyrodon, down the street where Craig is standing in the picture, houses a silver casket with the mummified remains of Corfu's patron saint of that name. The entire island is spotted with olive trees that date back to the Greek era - you can see this year's crop in the middle image, and they'll blacken for harvest by November. Top right in the montage is the British garrison church from the 1800's inside the Old Fort that started 1000 years before - talk about old and new! Finally, in the bottom right is the British era Palace of St Michael and St George with the high commissioners statue out front.
Cruiser's Notes: Anchorage south of Old Fort is excellent, although some roll from AM ferries. Dinghy to any of several steps.