|Cunard Queen Victoria 2018
Mediterranean Cruise part 11 - Corfu
Corfu, the second largest island in the Eptanisa, a group known as the "Seven Islands," is special. Most of the Greek Islands are located in the Aegean, yet Corfu is in the Ionian Sea. Corfu also possesses a far more temperate climate than Greece's other isles. Corfu is dotted with cypress and olive trees, and the air is perfumed with the scent of orange and lemon groves.
On our first visit in 2007 to Corfu on the QE2 we had been at anchor and used tenders. Then in 2014 we had visited twice, the first time was Corfu in October on the Queen Victoria and then in November the Queen Elizabeth was docked in the same part of the New Port. We caught the Cunard shuttle buses to the Old Port Square, which were included in our standard Cunard Fare. Buses parked near the Spilia Gate into Old Corfu Town just below the New Fortress. The pictures which follow are a mix of 2014 and 2018 because of the weather. The Old Town spreads between the New and the Old Fortresses and we had visited both in October 2014, as well as the Roman Catholic cathedral of St James, the Greek Orthodox cathedral, the church of Aghios Spiridon, the Town Hall, the Palace of St Michael and St George, the Mandrakina, the Byzantine Museum, and looked inside lots of other churches. The town is full of cafes and souvenir shops selling cheap clothes, olive and kumquat products. We checked prices and then did a comparison at the supermarket in Solomou. Jars of kumquats in syrup are 8 to 10 euros, and are heavy, so shopping will be at the end of our walk.
The New Fortress was free on our last visit, and had a bar and restaurant based in the barracks at the top. The views from the top are excellent although the last climb up a flight of steps is not easy. Unfotunately it was closed due to lack of staff, and it was also a Monday this time in 2018.
There are many different routes to go from the New to the Old Fortress. There was plenty of time for a leisurely stroll through the narrow cobbled streets, instead of a rush down the main Nikiforou Theotoki street which is the direct route to the Esplanade. At the end of Paleologou the street narrowed and we searched for the bakery selling specialty local cakes and sweets which we found in 2014 and now know is called Rosy's Bakery. It was too early for snacks but we promised ourselves that we would return later. For future reference, the narrow street continued and emerged at Sp. Arvanitaki and the shop which opens at 10.00 is at Paleologou 71. Turning left along Evgeniou Voulgareos we passed the Town Hall which was built in 1663 as a private club for the elite. We emerged at the Liston with its colonnaded cafes. The Liston was built by the French, modelled on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The Liston looks out onto the Esplanade which was used to play cricket, but the grass was far too rough for that now.
We walked across the grass of the Esplanade, passing the Mandrakina, to the Old Fortress. Entry to the Old Fortress is only 3 euros if you are 65+ and is across a bridge over the sea moat, which is a narrow canal used as moorings for small craft. Passing through the Main Gate there is a Chapel on the right which has some mosaic floor framents and a display of religious pictures and votive items, before crossing the land bridge and being confronted by the British barracks. The form of the fortifications is due to the Venetians who ruled Corfu from 1386 to 1797, although the twin peaks of the rock had been fortified much earlier, when Corfu was part of the Byzantine empire. Indeed the name of Corfu was given in the 6th century and is derived from Koryfo, meaning Summit. After the Venetians, the British were here from 1815 to 1864, until Corfu became part of Greece. Old buildings were destroyed during the British Protectorate and again during WWII. The site is therefore very empty, with the exception of one occupied building which contains the Music Department of the Ionian University. The British Hospital is derelict, and restoration of the Church of Saint George with its row of ornate pillars has been completed. Prince Philip was christened here. We climbed up steps from the lower level to the fort, and then joined the slow climb up to the light house. It was harder going down than climbing up because the stones were slippery.
As we left the Old Fortress the thunder increased. There was a good view across from the Bosketo Garden named after the Durrell family who lived in Corfu. We reached the Palace of St Michael and St George and the Museum of Asiatic Art on the north side just as it started to rain. The building was the town residence of the British Lord High Commissioners, and is made of Maltese limestone. The Palace was built by Sir George Whitmore between 1818 and 1824. In 1864 it was given to the King of Greece and became known as the Royal Palace. Prince Philip would have lived there. Displays of cloaks and medals for KCMG and DCMG reminded us of the system for recognition of the Order of St Michael and St George. This visit we had to pay the same price for student entry as for 65 years old, whereas previously it had been free. The museum opened in 1927 as the Museum of Sino-Japanese art with the donation of the Gregorios Manos collection. Manos (1850-1928) had been a Greek ambassador to Austria, and had purchased over 9,000 Chinese, Korean and Japanese artefacts at art auctions. As a condition of his donation he insisted the artefacts be displayed in Corfu. Further donation combined to make the collection over 11,000 pieces. We had no great interest in the art, but enjoyed looking at the interior of the building and the State rooms. From the peristyle on the first floor there is access to three Official Halls that were also used as seat of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. They are the circular room, the Rotunda, which is adorned with statues in niches, and the Throne Room on the left and the Banquet Room on the right. The Throne Room is dominated by the English Commissioner throne and portraits that relate to the Palace histpry. The Banquet Room is decorated with frescoes depicting insignia of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. In the wings to the east and west of the Official Halls, which used to be the private rooms of the Commissioner, there are exhibitions of the Museum of Asian Art. The art is displayed on new internal walls so in order to see the original rooms it was necessary to look behind. Unfortunately it was Monday and only the Senate meeting room was open downstairs; the other impressive State rooms were closed. As we concluded our visit it was still raining so we walked through the Liston, sheltered by the colonnades and the arches overhead.
We were now ready to find something to eat and ducked under canopies of shops to protect from the rain, and went back to Rosy's bakery where for 15 euros we purchased a large box full of local sticky cakes. There are two shops now and one is run by Rosy and the other by Rosy's daughter. After more shopping for kumquats and nougat to take home at the supermarket in Solomou we sat in the park near the Venetian barracks and started on our box of sticky cakes. Nearby there is a sculpture to remember the jews of Corfu who died in the gas chambers of Auschwitx and Birkenau. It is not far from the Synagogue. The park was close to the shuttle bus station but now the sun was shining we decided to go back into the city and visit more of the sights.
The main street is Nikiforiu Theotoki which leads to the Iroon Square. In 2014 we had visited the Banknote Museum which is here. The Ionian Bank had the privilege of printing paper money from 1839 to 1920, and the building is the Museum of the Ionian Bank. In 2014 we were welcomed by the lady curator who explained the displays in english, and gave us a free brochure and a book printed in 2014 to celebrate 150 years of the union of the Ionian Islands with the Greek State. It was a very interesting visit, much more than we had expected and it was surprising that we were the only visitors at the time - the custodian said there were many schools visits during the week. The restored building was the first Main Branch of the Ionian Bank and dates from 1845-46. The two churches in Iroon Square were closed but it was not far to the church of Aghios Spiridon, the patron saint of Corfu and a bishop from the 4th century. The church was built in 1859 and contains a large silver casket containing the relics of the saint. It was busy and although we able to join the line to see the casket, we were quickly surrounded by people touching the casket and praying. This is the most famous church in Corfu town, being the town's patron saint and also having a distinctive campanile bell tower.
In spite of being lunchtime all the souvenir shops in the narrow surrounding streets were open. It was not far to our favourite icecream shop which is at Nikiforou Theotoki 24 where Pete tried an ice cream flavour he had never heard of namely "Kaimaki Tsoureki" which turned out to be a famous and unique recipe of ice cream (Kaimaki) with added 'Easter cake', the Tsoureki part with extra dried bitter cherries - a lucky choice.
Another place to visit west of the Esplanade is the Roman Catholic cathedral of St James, next to the Town Hall. It has a very simple interior compared with the orthodox churches. On previous trips we visited the Byzantine museum which is near the Old Port. It is in the 16th century church of Antivouniotissa, which is famous for its icons. We have also visited the Greek Orthodox Metropolis Corfu cathedral, dated 1577, Inside it was smaller than we expected. When we walked around in 2007 we admired a solid silver casket which contained the relics of St Theodora. Finally, looking down onto the Bus pickup point we decided there was just time for a couple of nice glasses of local Special Red and Bitter Dark from Corfu Beer before getting our free shuttle bus. There was a convenient bar next to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis Corfu cathedral. On the outwards bus journey Pauline had admired the watch of the lady despatcher and on her advice had gone to the Swatch shop in Corfu. She had been searching for the right watch (clear and luminous enough to read in the dark) for many years and finally has her slightly late birthday present.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 2nd Noveber, 2018