Corfu: Armchair Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

A view of Corfu with its multi-colored buildings and tree covered hills. I took this photo looking down from the Old Fort.
A view of Corfu on a misty day with its multi-colored buildings and tree covered hills. I took this photo looking down from the Old Fortress.

Seven years ago, Peggy and I made a trip to Europe and cruised the Mediterranean along with her brother John, his wife Frances, and two of their friends Lee and Kathi. Now that our wings are clipped due to coronavirus, I decided a little armchair travel might help satisfy my thwarted desire to travel. Instead of ‘wandering through time and place,’ I am wandering in place. You are invited along…

“The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of spring.” Lawrence Durrell

I was visiting the Pioneer Bookstore in Placerville when I was first introduced to Lawrence Durrell and the Greek Island of Corfu. The bookstore was a favorite hangout of mine during my senior year in high school in 1960 and George Yohalem, the owner, had become a mentor, helping guide my 17-year-old mind to a number of good books.  He and his wife Betty had retired to the foothills of California after long careers in Hollywood where George had worked as a screenwriter and she as an actress.

I had picked up a new book that had just arrived and read the first couple of pages. Since it looked interesting, I carried it over to George for advice. “It’s quite good,” he had told me, “but don’t tell your mother that I recommended it.” That caught my attention.

The book was “Justine” by Lawrence Durrell. The quote above is the first line in the book and Durrell is describing Corfu. He had lived there from 1935-40 and fallen in love with the island. “Justine” became one of my first ventures into serious literature and definitely my first venture into erotic literature— thus George’s admonition. The book transfixed me, not so much by the sex (well, maybe a little), but by the sheer mastery of the language and the sense of the exotic. I was picked up and dropped into Corfu and then Alexandria… the main setting for “Justine” and the other three books in the Alexandria Quartet. It was magic.

Durrell wasn’t the only author to find Corfu a touch exotic. Homer had the ship wrecked Odysseus land on the island during his long journey and Shakespeare used it for the setting of Prospero’s magical realm in The Tempest. In Corfu’s long history Corinthians, Romans, Venetians, French and English had occupied the island as a gateway to both the East and West. At one point, the feared pirate Barbarossa laid siege to Corfu and succeeded in enslaving a substantial portion of its population.

Corfu’s location in the Ionian Sea sets it apart from its Greek cousins Santorini and Mykonos in the Aegean Sea. We found no more sparkling white washed buildings perched on treeless terrain. Corfu is an island covered with over a million olive trees and its buildings are multi-hued with a well-lived-in look. Two massive forts serve as bookends for its main town, also known as Corfu. We wandered through its winding narrow streets, visited an Asian museum housed in a colonial British mansion, checked out a Greek Orthodox Church, and climbed the steep hill to the top of the Old Fortress overlooking the town.

The most magical place for me in Corfu was the Old Fortress. Dating back to ancient times, the Venetians updated it in the Fourteenth Century. In this photo, Kathi Saage walks around a corner of one of the tunnels leading through the fort.
The most magical place for me in Corfu was the Old Fortress. I was fortunate to capture Kathi’s silhouette as she walked through the tunnel entrance. Dating back to ancient times, the Venetians updated the fortress in the Fourteenth Century.
I loved how the fort seems to be an organic part of the hill.
I loved how the fort seems to be an organic part of the hill.
This photo and the next, both by Peggy, also capture the ancient feel of the Old Fortress on Corfu.
This photo and the next, both by Peggy, also capture the ancient feel of the fortress.
This probably served as a a gun placement in the fort.
This room probably served as a gun placement in the fort. The clock tower peaks out on the right. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
The clock tower located on the Old Fortress of Corfu.
The clock tower. The sky provided a dramatic backdrop.
A final view of the Old Fort. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
A final view of the Old Fort looking Irish green. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
A Corfu Street scene. Once again we enjoyed the narrow, car-free streets as we did time and again in Europe.
A Corfu street scene. Once again we enjoyed the narrow, car-free streets as we did time and again in Europe. Peggy’s brother John and his wife Frances are walking in front of us.
Another view of Corfu buildings with their shutters and balconies.
Another view of Corfu buildings with their shutters and balconies.
Peggy found this pigeon hanging out on the broken shutters of an abandoned building.
Peggy found this pigeon hanging out on the broken shutters of an abandoned building.
Lamp posts don't get much strange than the one we found outside of Corfu's Asian Museum located in an old British mansion.
Lamp posts don’t get much more strange than the one we found outside of Corfu’s Asian Museum located in an old British mansion. Does it qualify as art, or just weird?
The Asian Museum, BTW, includes an excellent collection of art, as represented by this painting.
The Asian Museum, BTW, includes an excellent collection of art, as represented by this painting.
The adventure involved in travel is experiencing new sites and cultures. This was a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church we walked into.
Part of the adventure in travel is experiencing new sites and cultures. This was a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church we wandered into.

There are some things that I am almost guaranteed to photograph when I travel…

Gargoyles...
Gargoyles…
ColorfulfFruit markets...
Colorful fruit markets…
My obligatory cat photo. I caught this guy sleeping on the seat of a motor bike at the entrance to the Old Fort on Corfu. It may be a new definition of contentment.
And animals… I caught this kitty sleeping on the seat of a motor bike catching some rays at the entrance to the Old Fortress. She may be a new definition of contentment. It’s a good place to wrap up today’s post.

FRIDAY’S POST: We made it up to Crater Lake National Park last week, practicing social distancing the whole way. Snow added to its natural beauty.

31 thoughts on “Corfu: Armchair Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

    • Yes on both counts, Ray. There are few things that I cherish more than the places I have seen and the adventures I have had— except the ones I am still looking forward to! (And Peggy, of course. :)) –Curt

  1. Kerkyra, s’agapo. Yes, I got to love this island and its people. Its diversity in
    landscape – from golden beeches to steep Olive tree hills.
    I don’t know how many times I have gone back there and it would be to long
    to talk about.
    I am so glad you got to visit and see some of its beauty.
    You do get around, that is so inspiring.

    miriam

  2. Thanks for this, Curt. I was not yet blogging, hence not documenting, when we all visited Corfu and my photos are an undocumented electronic pile.

    • You are welcome, John. It was a great trip. I’ll post several more blogs from our adventure depending on how long we are locked up. 🙂 And I know all about the black hole of digital photographs! –Curt

  3. Like the Corinthians, Romans, Venetians, French and English, I too occupied Corfu – for a couple days in 1980. Memories from that long ago are vague, but I remember getting around via moped, enjoying the views, and picking up a serious sunburn on the ferry heading back to Italy. What I know of Lawrence Durrell is more from the semi-fictional side, via the PBS series The Durrells in Corfu. I have heard good things about The Alexandria Quartet – another potential for the ever growing stack of unread books.

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