Corfu: Ionian Beauty

The ship’s final port of call was at Corfu, an island off mainland Greece’s northwestern coast and situated tantalizingly close to the Albanian coast. Locally known as Kerkyra, Corfu is the second largest of the Ionian Islands and its most popular, having had roles in the works and lives of literary giants — whether it be Homer, Shakespeare or the Durell brothers. It’s not hard to see where the fame comes from: idyllic beaches, neoclassical architecture, and the signature Greek filoxenia (hospitality).

But unabated development and a steady rush of visitors into the island threaten to overwhelm Corfu’s superb vistas and traditional culture. McDonald’s and tacky souvenir stalls immediately greet visitors upon descending the tender boats at the port, and the lack of a central tourism office means once you arrive in the early afternoon (nap time!), it’s next to impossible to rent a private vehicle to get away from the kitsch and to Corfu’s more secluded parts and return just before sunset.

Our ship stopped a few kilometers off the coast late in the morning but the tender started after lunch, so we arrived at the port shortly after 2pm. With no recourse but to explore the main town on foot, we didn’t get very far, instead settling on haggling in the marketplace and browsing a few colonial architecture and a Greek Orthodox church.

Nearby, Greek men screamed their lungs out as the national team struggled in their latest World Cup assignment, while stall owners persistently called out to passersby, advertising their items that range from olive oil to “I Love Corfu” shirts. Ate Sean came along, carrying two bottles of 1-liter Coke while Joseph proudly displayed a shirt with Greek phrases and their English translations written on front.

“It’s a bargain,” he said.

“Where did you buy it?” I asked. I realized I haven’t bought any souvenirs in Greece yet. Not that I needed one.

It’s just that… this is Greece. And I WANTED a souvenir.

Joseph pointed me to an alleyway two blocks from McDonald’s and I quickly descended into the cobbled streets and disappeared into the waves of crowds. I emerged a few minutes later into a shirt shop manned by a young woman who spoke in serviceable English. I browsed the store and my gaze landed on a dark blue shirt with the Greek flag and the word “ELLAS” written in Greek letters on it. I forked out five euros for it and quickly returned to the crowds.

The shirt is some sort of a compensation to the fact that we didn’t get very far in Corfu.

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