Monday, 31 August 2015

Venetian charm and cobblestones in Corfu Town

The island of Corfu is the second largest island of Ionian sea. Her history is entwined in the bewildering turns of Greek mythology. According to a legend Poseidon, the god of sea, fell for the beautiful nymph Korkyra, brought her to the island which, at the time was still unnamed, and named the place after his sweetheart (Men- take note. Girls like that sort of things. I wouldn't mind having an island of my own. I might go on a date for less, though. Like... after having a rock named after me. Not fussy, me.)

The island has been settled at least since the Paleolithic era (70 000 - 40 000 BC) and was a significant centre for commerce and economy already before the Trojan war.

Corfu has had its fair share of conquests and wars, too. Owing to its strategic location it was at the forefront of European defence as the Ottoman empire sough to expand to the Adriatics and it was one of the most fortified places in the continent. 

After the Napoleonic wars Corfu fell under the British rule. In 1864 it as united with the rest of the Greece. The capital of the island is Corfu town. 

Corfu town is less than 40 kilometres from our base, the village of Agios Stefanos, but in the narrow serpentine roads of the mountains the journey takes at least 1,5 hours. The bus ticket costs €4,50 each way. 

The last green bus from Corfu town to Agios Stefanos departs already at 4pm, so if you intend to be on that and have a seat, start sharpening your elbows now. Taxi ride to Agios Stefanos would set you back about €60.

Corfiot architecture differs from traditional Greek one, result of its unique history. Between 1386 and 1797 it was part of the Republic of Venice and showcases the features of the Venetian architecture at the time: candy-coloured, multi-storey townhouses towering over narrow alleyways.

Italian influence is evident in Corfu in other ways too. Up until the mid-20th century Veneto da mar, a peculliar Venetian language was spoken here. Many Venetian and Italian words have found their way into the Greek spoken in the island today. 

In 2007  the Old Quarter of Corfu was added onto UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

If you fancy a bit of shopping, head over to the cluster of tiny streets located between Kapodistriou and Guilford streets.

In addition to souvenirs of varying degrees of tackiness ("My boyfriend went to Corfu and all I got was syphilis and this lousy T-shirt", anyone? A collection of shot glasses decorated with glow-in-the-dark-map of Corfu?) there are shops specializing in something else, too. Like jewellery. I had to make do with window shopping though that 1,5- carat princess-cut aquamarine ring with diamond halo would have been just the perfect souvenir for me. Too bad the 4-figure price tag wasn't...

The area is also bustling with small cafes and tiny tavernas with terraces to provide shade while you hydrate (and perform frantic calculations on how many not-so-vital organs should you need to sell on the black market in order to get enough money to by, well, let's say... a 1,5- carat princess-cut aquamarine ring with diamond halo.)

The more traditional goodies to lug back include loofah...

... and anything from the olive tree. Olives, oils, soaps and creams made of the oil and all sorts of artifacts carved out of olive wood.

If you'are after a bit more relaxed atmosphere, space to breathe and tavernas favoured by the locals, head over to the area nestling between Velissariou and Agia Sofia streets.

Pergola for instance, located on Agia Sofia has a good selection of seafood, bountiful salads and local specialties. 




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Friday, 28 August 2015

Sun, sea and sand at Agios Stefanos, Corfu

My recent impromptu trip to Greece was a first for me, a life-long backpacker. It was the first package holiday of my adult life. Travelling alone I was aware I 'd probably be accommodated together with another loner. As I was waiting for the boarding I scanned the crowd, trying to spot potential roommates. The only woman travelling alone was a sensible looking woman in her 50s-60s, dressed in practical beige and reading Bible. In Greek. "Giddy with excitement2 are not words I'd use to describe my sentiments at the time. 

Luckily I was paired with a fellow spur-of-the-moment-world-traveller and together we wondered which part of the island of Corfu (or, Kerkyra as the locals call it) fate would throw us. It threw us to the small village of Agios Stefanos in the North East part of Corfu.

Don't let your romantic imagination run too wild, though. It was a small village tucked away in the mountains alright, but not one of those tiny picturesque villages where time stands still, inhabited by stray cats, monks and hundred-year-old grannies. Though how could it have been - places like that don't exactly have hotels now do they? But, compared to the larger tourist haunts on the island; those English breakfast served all day long- party hellholes the village was rather serene.

And I'm sure had I really wanted to, I would have found those cats, monks and grans within a brisk 20-minute-walk to one of the neighbouring villages. But in 40+ ºc temperatures the thought of a pool, cold beer and a stack of Swedish detective novels sounded so much more attractive.

Most of the tourists in Agios Stefanos are Brits, which means that the choices for having fun are geared for their tastes. Yes, that means Premiership football, karaoke nigts, pub quizzes and Boy George impersonators. 

Some of the restaurants do have genuinely good food, too, though. Here are our picks, should you ever find yourself in Agios Stefanos:

For meat and wine lovers:

Olympia, on the sreet leading to the beach, right before the beach

Excellent for meat dishes. Especially slow roasted lamb shank and a Corfiot specialty  of sofrito are worth a try (or three!) Selection of interesting (and reasonably priced!) Greek wines, too - my favourite is this wonderful Grenache Rouge rosé from Peloponnese in the mainland.

For a meze feast:

Zorbas (how else...), on the main street

Great selection of appetizers - have fried white bait and calamari. Their keftadakias (Greek meatballs) are probably the best I've ever had. Slow-cooked stews are very good too.

Octopus and then some more octopus:

2 stars restaurant on the street  leading to the beach

Mezes are their strong suite, too, other than that the food is nothing special. This is, however, the only place in the village where you can get marinated octopus, a specialty of the Greek isles and quite possibly the best thing I had all trip. Make sure to have their skordalia, too!

Fish and seafood with a view:

Fantasea, on the hill overlooking the beach

Best views in the village. Good for fish and seafood. Another interesting wine list - especially this Amethystos (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Assyrtiko blend) by Domaine Costa Lazaridi from the region of Drama in Eastern Macedonia is worth a try.

The week flew by quicker than I thought, though at the same time it seemed to go on forever. My travel companion pointed out that towards the end of the week the pace of my steps was significantly slower and I actually seemed to relax. God knows I needed it. Holiday, that is. 

Waking up in the morning to the sound of the waves crashing in the shore, lounging by the sea with nothing more to worry than which beer to sample next, lunching on fresh seafood, sipping chilled wine and gazing at the view overlooking the sea...

Enjoying the siesta, swimming, admiring the sun: the sizzling golden ball setting over the mountains painting the evening sky gloriously purple...

Having the cooling breeze caress your skin, still glowing from the sun at dinner time, marveling at the starry sky, quite unlike anything I've ever seen outside the desert. A pitch black sky draping itself over the sea, its velvety darkness pierced by millions and millions of bright stars hanging so low you'd think you could just reach out and touch them...

Then, on the penultimate day it happened. The wind came, out of nowhere, the way it does in the South this time of the year, riotously announcing the summer is over. And so was our holiday, too. But that new life... that's only just beginning.




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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Greek treat for garlic lovers: skordalia

Mediterranean meze tables are full of wonderful dips and spreads, each more scrumptious than the next. Hummus, baba ghannoush, muhammara... Same goes with the Greeks. But forget tzatziki and give taramasalata a day off - I have something new for you! If you love garlic, you are going to adore this. Skordalia, ladies and gentlemen!

During my Tour of Turkey a couple of years back I got to know a rather entertaining Italian fella;  the moment I got off the plane, actually. His spontaneity was in a league of its own. As was his painfully poor judgement: the very first night he set out to find drugs ("just look at that man! He looks like someone who would at least know someone who'll have some!") A couple of days later he'd decided to move to Istanbul and had even found an apartment there.

"The neigbourhood is full of cops, all the time!" he complained one night we were having dinner on the rooftop of one of the many, many meze restaurants of Nevizade Sokak. "You know, because the house is full of beaches." I and an American girl I'd befriended looked quizzically at each other, trying to keep up. "You know: beaches!" No, we didn't. 

"Ah, perhaps he means beeches?", we, ever the ethymological experts wondered, though couldn't quite figure out what kind of an anarchist tree it would take to take over an entire house to a point even police were helpless. "No, beaches!!!"", the Italian kept repeating, increasingly frustrated by now. Then it hit us. "Bitches?" The Italian's face melted into a smile. "Yes, yes, beaches!" The boy had managed to take up residence in the local red light district.

Well, now I actually do have a house full of beaches. As I unpacked my suitcase upon returning from my Greek getaway I noticed I've accidentally also brought back enough sand to build a beach of my own. Getting rid of that will be the next stop on my to do- list. Right there along with laundry marathon and photo editing endeavour. But you know what? I managed to get reacquainted with my kitchen first!

Skordalia is a Greek potato and garlic dip. Much like the country itself, it's cheap and doesn't take much work. And hey, there's no need for crucifixes after feasting on this baby - the vampires won't come anywhere near you!

It only requires a couple of ingredients (that I bet you already have in your fridge!) and it's gluten-free too. You can make it well in advance, too. Have it as it is with, say, toasted pita bread, as a dip for veggies or as a dressing for grilled or fried fish. Or meat. Or anything else your heart/ stomach desires. 


500 g potatos 
4-6 cloves of garlic (depending on their size and your palate)
1,5 dl cooking water from the potatos
1,5 dl (olive) oil
2 tbsp white vinegar
1-1,5 tsp salt (depending on how much salt you add into the water) 

Peel the potatos, place in a pot and add enough water to cover them by about an inch. Season with salt. Boil until very tender. Drain, reserving the water.

Measure into a food processor all of the ingredients apart from potatos and salt. Start with 4 cloves and then add more according to your taste. Blizz until smooth, then add potatos. Blizz again until velvety. Check the taste and season with salt. 

Chill and serve.

If you want more mellow garlic taste, use roasted garlic cloves (see here for how-to) or boil the cloves in milk for about 5 minutes,

PS. For a home-made pita bread recipe, just click on here!




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Saturday, 15 August 2015

Holidays and chick flick cliches

I mean, you know them, too, right? All those hashtags that social media newsfeeds have been full of in the past months, declaring how this is the #summerofmylife? #bestsummerever? Well, not so much for yours truly. #shittiestsummerever or #hatemylifevenmorethissummer might convey mine, though. But hey ho, only 10 months until the next try. Totally doable.

For the first month of the summer I was fighting bronchitis,  the following was spent healing a broken heart. Next thing you know it was mid-August. Kids were starting schools and new lives as I was trying to bury them remains of my old... not having even had the first ice cream of the summer!

So, I had two choices, each suck chick flick clichés. I could either stay in my bed, hiding from the world, wait for the life to continue and dream of The Right Person to come along. Or get out of the bed, face the world, decide to move on my life and be The Right Person myself. You want to get shit done? Do it yourself. Hah! How's that for empowering thought of the day, Paolo Coelho?

Luckily there's internet. Which is not just full of chick flicks, but also travel agents. I didn't want much: sun, sea and octopus. Five minutes later I was staring at the booking confirmation on my laptop screen. Destination Greece and Albania. Departure tomorrow.

I will fill my suitcase with bikinis, bling bling, a couple of books, a hat and diving shoes (well of course I have diving shoes! You can't imagine my shock upon learning in Egypt there were shoes I did not yet own!). My plan is to not have any plans and screw my usual minute-to-minute schedule and just relax. Overdose on octopus, lie in the sun and dive a little. To actually holiday, for the first time in years (though I probably wouldn't mind avoiding robbery, rape and murder, too)

Do join me on Instagram @andalusianauringossa and on Twitter @andalusianablog! Bring your friends, too! 



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