Monday, August 19, 2013

Greece - Arriving in Corfu

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Photo credit: Sarantis Travel

55 miles - Tuesday, October 25

We spent the night aboard a ferry bound for Greece. Most passengers upgraded to indoor reclining lounge chairs, while we happily snuggle inside sleeping bags on the top deck between belching diesel stacks. Despite the rumbling engines and fumes, Andy and I are already exhausted from the train ride. We enjoy stars dancing around a half moon, then easily fall asleep.

At 6 a.m. it's still dark when a high pitched voice sings “Kerkyra, Corfu!”, announcing the ship's brief stop at the island of Corfu before continuing on to Patras. Since it costs the same whether we stay on-board or catch a ship two days later for the trip to the mainland, we preferred to break up the voyage with an introduction to Greece in daylight, rather than evening arrival, where we'd be pressed with currency transfer plus scrambling for overnight accommodation.

Old fortress. Photos credit: Corfu

We eat breakfast in the terminal, discover a hostel and campsite, all before leaving at daylight, pedaling up a hill past a 200 year old fortress walls, entering Kerkyra's bustling central square. As with every approach to a new country, I inspect faces, listen to language. Dark eyebrows, brown eyes and prominent facial hair adorn the islanders; women sport a faint mustache. But, skin coloring varies. There are blond-haired Greeks too.

Tiropita. Photo credit: Gardens and Flavors

Ever a hungry cyclist, we spy a storefront selling pastry and bread, tiropita (cheese pie), spinach pie, and donuts. Signs are in English, confirming what an acquaintance on the ferry said regarding everyone speaking a little of our native tongue. But frugal pockets must show restraint. We only buy cappuccinos. Shortly afterward a woman approaches, offering inexpensive rooms, but we must refuse. We need time to absorb and adjust.

It was then, as we sit on a bench, sipping our drinks that we spy a familiar sight – another bike tourist (eating two donuts)! We go over and introduce ourselves. Bruce breaks into a grin when we explain we grew up not far from his home: Montreal. He's been on the road since April, starting in Morocco, and now on Corfu for 10 days, mostly recovering from a nasty fall in Sardinia that injured his hip and elbow. Wanting to compare travel stories, but also Andy and I want to explore the island, we leave our fellow traveler to attend to a broken spoke on his rear wheel. However, we promise to meet him later or the following day. Bruce knows a free place to camp. This is enticing after exceeding our daily 30.00 budget, blown on hopping aboard numerous Italian trains.

Itching to ride after two sedentary days, we set off northward. We ride through small coastal communities. It's the off season yet it's perfect riding weather: sunny, little traffic, and 70-75 degrees. We couldn't be more delighted. There are dark-skinned topless women with tanned mates, beach side. And then for contrast, pearly skinned Caucasians, fully covered in one piece suits, lounge next to potbellied men.

Rugged Albanian coast, impossibly close.

The roadway climbs gradually through olive groves. Scraggly, gnarly, twisting trunks cling to the hillsides, while their lacey-leafed canopy whispers in the wind. And oh, the aroma! Olive oil contrasts with comforting scent of heated pines. Growers must be closing in on harvest; workers unroll long snakes of black mesh into circles around the olive trees, presumably to catch falling fruit. At the summit there's an intriguing view of the aqua Mediterranean, Greek mainland to the east, and hazy, brown, barren rugged Albanian coastline. An Italian navy boat patrols just off Corfu's shore.

Photo credit: SuperStock

Daylight is growing short, so we beeline south from Roda inland. Again the countryside is full of dry, rolling hills, covered with olive groves. On hills there are still spectacular ocean views, east and west, plus descents through villages, narrow streets. Locals sit on porches. Relax. Or, older folks work fields, wearing threadbare wool and cloth garments. All women don skirts with cloth wound around their heads. We passed elderly females riding sidesaddle on donkeys, positioned on wooden frame, or walking, leading animals burdened with firewood and kindling. It's an old world peek into island life compared with touristy beach communities.

We pick up food and arrive at the campground/hostel in time to shower, eat, and set up camp. We fall asleep by 8 p.m.

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