10 August 2008

Albanian Disappointment and Corfu Treasure

On the 23rd of July we anchored just outside of Sarande, Albania shortly before 7:00 am.

We were very excited about our trip to Albania. First and foremost, the ancient site of Butrint is considered an amazing archaeology site. First established by the Greeks, then the Romans and finally a Byzantine location, it was eventually abandoned and is now an amazingly well preserved example of the civilation and architecture of all three. Don't know if I have mentioned it, but I simply cannot get enough of the archaeological sites. I love 'em!

But we were also looking forward to Albania because, I admit it, we were considering it a good way to "collect countries." How many people do you know who have ever been to Albania?

Which is why we were disappointed by the ship's announcement a short while later.

Because Sarande is a new cruise port, they have not yet finished their dock. Which means ships need to anchor off the coast and tender passengers to shore with smaller boats. As soon as we had anchored, the Albania port had sent a boat with Immigration and Customs officials to inspect the ship's documents and allow the passengers to come ashore. The water that morning was so rough that the officials were unable to tie up and board the ship. Which also meant it was too dangerous to try to get the ship's passengers to the shore.

So the ship pulled up anchor and we headed towards the Greek island of Corfu early. The original schedule had been Sarande in the morning and Corfu in the afternoon. The destinations are close enough to see each other across the short stretch of sea between them. In the photo of the ship above, you can actually see the Albanian coastline behind it.

As we sailed away I longingly watched the Albania coast growing smaller. So close, and yet so far away...

About an hour later we anchored in the harbor of Corfu Town, which is a cove and therefore somewhat protected from the still rough seas.

The history of Corfu (Kerkyra in Greek) begins in Greek mythology. Poseidon, God of the Sea, fell in love with Korkyra, a beautiful water nymph. In the typical method of the Greek gods, he kidnapped her and brought her to an island to begin their wedded bliss. He named the island Korkyra in her honor. Eventually the name evolved into Kerkyra. None of the stories mentions Korkyra's view of the events.

Because of its strategic position, it has a turbulent history of battles and invasions dating back to Anicent Grecian times. During the relative peace of the Roman Empire, it became known as a resort island. Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony were known to holiday here. And throughout its history it was always prized as a most excellent place for a vacation. In between the battles and wars, of course.

We immediately realized the real "Treasure of Corfu" and why it is one of the most popular tourist destinations among the Greek Islands. The weather was perfect! Mid-70's (22C) with a cool breeze and a beautiful landscape. And the weather varies only slightly throughout the year, never too hot and never too cold. Of the Greek Islands, this is where the Rich and Famous come to party, as evidenced by some of the private yachts we saw docked here.

Note: The not so rich and not at all famous party on Mykonos, which we visited later in the trip.

We tendered to shore and walked towards the Old Town section of Corfu Town.

Where we discovered that the Rich and Famous apparently also like to shop here. Every other shop was an extremely expensive jewelry store far beyond the means of most. And would someone please explain why you would travel to a Greek island, where it never gets cold, to buy enormous fur coats?

We spent a few hours window shopping and exploring the town before having lunch at an outdoor cafe. We asked about Corfu specialties, which turns out to be veal in a variety of ways. Since I cannot endure the thought of eating a baby cow which has been tortured, we got the generic Greek specialty platter to share instead of the Corfu specialty platter which included tortured baby cow done 5 different ways!

After lunch we wandered along the shorefront towards the Old Venetian Fort. Because, of course, the Venetians were also here.

Which involved another climb to the top...

But we didn't mind because the weather was so pleasant and breezy and it wasn't nearly as steep as the Acropolis! Not to mention that although the town itself was quite full of people, very few people had come to the Old Fort. Which seemed a shameful waste, but made it nicer for those of us who were there.

After the fort we explored the practically empty, but very interesting and worthwhile Archaeological Museum of Corfu. There were less then 10 people in the museum, and most of them were employees. I guess people don't come to Corfu for the history. Then it was back to the ship for another overnight sail.

Next up? The site of the Ancient Olympics! My own most anticipated destination on the itinerary.


Kirk said...

That's too bad about Albania. Every time I hear about it, I think of the scene on Cheers where Coach makes up a song about Albania...

Jessica said...

I love reading your blog. I am another Zurich blogger. I hope you stop by!

Enjoy the Olympics!