Wanderung 24

Spring Fling

From March to May 2011

Monday April 11: Corfu, Greece


We were not scheduled to arrive in Corfu until shortly after lunch, so except for the mandatory disembarkation lecture at 11:00 (English version), we had the morning free. Monika had found out that there were 800-odd English-speaking folks on the Atlantica, which was a bit less than the 960 German-speaking folks. So either English or German people had an easy time finding others to talk to on board the ship, whereas the other linguistic minorities like Ari and Truus, who were Dutch, had more of a problem. Fortunately for all concerned, Ari and Truus both spoke English (and German, as it turned out), so they got along fine at our table.

After breakfast and walking four laps on Deck 10, we returned to our cabin to once again take turns on the computer to catch up on our writing and download and backup pictures. By 10 a.m., however, we were already cruising through some of the Greek islands and it was just an amazing experience to sit out on the balcony typing away on the computer and have the rugged, wooded slopes of the Greek archepelago slowly slide by the starboard side of the ship. Such fun and SOOOO relaxing!

Since we were on the right side of the ship, I was looking at the islands of Paxoi and Andipaxoi, and we were close enough that I could not only make out individual houses on the slopes of the island, but I could also see enchanting details such as fishing boats, the smoke plumes from small brush fires, roads zig-zagging up the sides of the mountains, and suchlike. I always enjoy watching those small signs of life glide quietly by while I watch from the deck of a ship.


The morning saw the last arts and crafts, again it was ceramic painting. Bob felt a little guilty, since he already had painted a creamer. I was just going to go up to say Hi to Jimena and who ever was there from our table. Sandy and Bill were there and had reserved seats and creamers for us. So I sat down and painted another little creamer, this one with flowers in a meadow. I may not be an artist, but I was having fun!

After this came the disembarkation talk. I had checked that our plane was leaving at 1:30, so we did not have all that much time to get to the airport. What I had not counted on, was that we had even less than I expected: at the beginning of our cruise, all we non-Europeans had to hand in our passports. Now we found that we would not get them back on the morning in Venice, until AFTER the Italian authorities had come on board and stamped every passport. It seemed, we probably would not disembark until after 10 AM. That left little time to get to the Piazza Roma and catch the bus to the airport, which goes only every 30 minutes. So we decided to buy the ship transfer to the airport and hurried down to the excursion desk. We managed to snag the last two seats on the 11:00 bus, which should give us enough time.

By lunch time we were getting closer to Corfu and I remembered the shape of the coastline from our last trip to Corfu two years ago (Wanderung 19).


We had scheduled a bus trip to Achilleion, a royal vacation residence built by the Austro-Hungarian Empress "Sissi" in 1890. From the dock our bus wound its way along narrow streets into the outskirts of Kekyra (English: Corfu Town) and then South along the hilly spine of Corfu to Achilleion.

Although not huge and ornate like the royal palaces in Vienna, the house was clearly fancy and ornate enough to be a royal residence. Built atop a hill above the Ionian Sea, the rear gardens offered great panoramic vistas to the North all the way over to mainland Greece and Albania, and East out over the sea.


We had opted to go on an excursion to the palace that empress Elizabeth (Sissi) from Austria had built, named Achilleion. Sissi is known in the German speaking world of people of my generation through a set of movies with Romy Schneider, an ingenue from the 50s, playing the role of Sissi. Ruth and Chris were also on this excursion so we could chat on the bus.

The trip took us through some pretty little towns to the height were the Achilleion was located. It was a pretty palace with a statue of Sissi next to the entrance of the palace.



The gardens were also graced with a plethora of statues. Various marble copies of the original Greek statues were scattered around a one acre or so formal garden. The centerpiece was a huge bronze statue of Achilles, after whom the palace was named, about 20 feet tall and weighing 6 tons as I recall.

One unusual thing was that the wisteria was in full bloom the day we visited and the main walkway through the gardens was in a veritable tunnel of wisteria blossoms--the smell was pleasant and so strong and pungent as to be almost overpowering.


But the best part was the gardens. Wisteria was blooming everywhere and smelled wonderful. The views were spectacular. There were quite a few statues in the garden.

Interestingly, both Sissi and William II had commissioned statues of Achilles; the one that Sissi had commissioned showed the dying Achilles with the poisoned arrow in his Achilles heel, whereas the one commissioned by William II was a larger-than-life statue of the warrior Achilles in full battle panoply. To each his own. There were also statues of the muses and fates, and to balance things one of a Christian woman reading the bible tucked back in a corner.




The interior of the palace was very pleasant--high ceilings, beautiful patterns in the tiles and woodwork, and more statues, busts, and so forth. Seeing how royalty lived is pleasant, in a way, except that I can't help thinking of how many people had to sacrifice to have the very few afford such luxury. That wouldn't even bother me if the ruling royalty had been halfway competent, but so often they were disastrously incompetent. The Empress who built the palace was sufficiently incompetent to have her children taken away from her to be reared by relatives and in the end ran off to Switzerland on a lark and got herself killed by an anarchist assassin. The second owner of Achilleion, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, destroyed much of the younger generation of Germany, France, England, and Russia in one fell swoop in the absolute horrors of World War I.


The interior displayed some of the furnishings of both Sissi and William II, so there was some picture taking to be done.



From Achilleion our bus took us back North to the airport on the outskirts of Corfu Town and then South along the peninsula to a scenic overlook. We stopped long enough to take pictures of "Mouse Island", which had a chapel, and another island with an old nunnery on it. The nuns had abandoned their nunnery after the airport was built and they found themselves on the final approach path for all the international jet flights into Corfu! Who could blame them?


The bus then took us down to the sea, past excavations of the harbor the Romans had built and over to a terrace overlooking two little islands and the airport. One island had a nunnery. But when the airport was built, the approach was directly over the nunnery and the nuns moved out because they had a hard time concentrating on prayer.


Our final stop of the day was in the middle of Corfu Town proper. We could opt to return to the Atlantica on the ship's shuttle bus system, which we did in order to have some time to wander around the old city center. Since we had visited Corfu on Wanderung 19, it was kind of "The Return of the Tourist", but I find that visiting a place for the second time is more relaxing because I don't feel the pressure to go, go, go, and take pictures, pictures, pictures to document it all. Instead, we had a relaxed walkabout where we revisited the central church with the town's patron saint in it (in a tasteful and nicely polished silver coffin) and then went window shopping.

Monika found a chess set with metal pieces emulating ancient Greek gods and soldiers, so we picked that up and I found three tiny boats to fit inside the ornament I had made in arts and crafts: a rowboat, a sailing sloop, and a fishing boat. We also found a ceramic spoon rest for the stove and a nice bread basket somewhat like the one we had picked up in Italy when on Wanderung 19 with Lois and Phyllis.


The trip ended in Corfu Town, which gave us some time to walk again through the narrow streets of the old town and indulge in some shopping. I found a very nice chess set with metal pieces representing the old Greek gods and goddesses, so we picked that up.



So far the day was just gliding along peacefully, but surprisingly that all changed when we returned to the ship. The wind had picked up into something like a 30-40 knot breeze from directly out to sea, and it eddied around the ship so strongly that when I stopped to take a picture of Corfu Town from across the marina, my sunglasses blew right off my head and went skittering down the concrete wharf. I ran after them of course, but the wind was so strong they continued to skid along the wharf as fast as I could run. I was lucky that they fetched up against a small curb before sliding off the end of the wharf into the water, but I was very out of breath, the camera and I were covered in salt spray, and I was very much afraid that the lenses of my sunglasses would be scratched after sliding on concrete for 100 yards or so.

The wind was so strong I was hit on the back of my head by some flying debris, and when I finally retrieved my glasses and got back inside the ship my eyes really started to burn and water, probably because the wind had thrown some grit in my face.

Thank goodness I'd brought eyedrops with, but after all that I was exhausted and we just had dinner up on Deck 9 at the buffet. By the time of the first performance of the evening show, which was another song and dance spectacular, I had recovered enough to go to the show and even try to take some non-flash pictures. I found that the best split-second to do that was at the end of a number when the ensemble would strike a pose and hold it for the final note of the song. Trying to take a picture at any other moment was an exercise in frustration as the exposure time was typically 1/8 of a second or so, and the constant movement of the dance routine would cause unacceptable blurring. We were both more tired than usual after an exciting day, so we turned in right after the show and were soundly asleep by 9 o'clock.


We took the shuttle bus back to the ship. It let us off at the terminal and we had to walk along the pier to the ship. The wind had freshened and sometimes it was hard to walk. I suggested that Bob take a last picture of the city. Unfortunately while doing this his sunglasses fell off and skidded along the pier. I saw him run after them before a bus obscured my view. When I had walked around the bus, he had indeed been able to grab the glasses before they went swimming. They were safe, even if a little scratched.

Watching us ease out from our pier was interesting, since the wind came from the side and tried to push us back onto the pier. The captain pirouetted us out and went a little backward and we were worried that the bow would hit the pier. But he finally had enough sea room to swing back into the direction we needed to go and our ship sailed on to Dubrovnik.

By then it was 6PM and we were just too tired to dress up for dinner. So we just went up to the Lido. The buffet was not yet open, but salad and pizza was available which suited us just fine.

Since we had a relatively quick meal, we could go to the early (7:30) production show usually meant for the second seating. It was all about dance, with little vignettes of different dance styles: 19th century ballroom, Spanish Tango, ballet, Moulin Rouge, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers numbers, musical theater and so on. Very entertaining and by seeing the early performance we could get to bed by 9PM.


Copyright 2011 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt
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