Posted by: travelrat | February 22, 2018

Corfu Town

Church of St. Spiridon

Corfu: 17th October 2017

Corfu’s city ‘blue buses’ all terminate at San Rocco Square, from which most parts of the town are accessible … with careful navigation … on foot. Your way may well take you past the church of St. Spiridon, which, in the narrow streets of the Old Town, is barely distinguishable apart from its tower, and from enough candles burning outside to make toast.

The saint’s preserved mortal remains are inside (we didn’t go in) for he’s the island’s patron saint. He gained that honour by conjuring up a storm, which dispersed the forces of the invading Ottomans. In fact, the island was one of the few parts of Greece the Ottomans never occupied, and this may have been due more to the fact the town was heavily fortified. There are two forts; the Old Fort on an island in the bay, and the New Venetian Fort, overlooking the Old Port.

The ‘island’ was, in fact, originally a peninsula, but was cut off from the mainland by a canal constructed by the Venetians during their occupation from the 14th Century right up until the 18th. But, even before this, the Byzantines had a fortification here dating from the 6th Century.

You can cross the canal by way of a footbridge, and it only cost 3 euros to enter, explore and enjoy some great views.

Venetian Fort, Corfu

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Posted by: travelrat | February 20, 2018

Downsizing?

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‘Why are you still toting that bulky thing around?’ someone asked me the other day. He was referring to my Nikon DSLR, and I thought, don’t times change? I’m not quite old enough, though, to remember a time when the owner of a new-fangled 35mm camera might have said the same thing to someone carrying a Speed Graphic, or something.

After all, you can get extremely good results from a compact you can just slip into a pocket … but ‘Old Nick’ still accompanies me almost everywhere I go. Note, though, that I said ‘almost’ … on one or two occasions, I’ve left him behind, and just relied on my tablet and my GoPro, and still got some presentable pictures. The GoPro is, of course, primarily a video camera, but it will take reasonable stills, and, if need be, you can ‘rip’ a still from your video footage … and its main advantage is it’s about the size of a matchbox, so is extremely convenient to carry.

I’m thinking about buying something smaller than the DSLR, but it won’t wholly replace it. It’ll probably be a slow transition; it took me about five years of running ‘dual fuelled’ before I abandoned film completely in favour of digital.

I’ve put together a slide show of pictures taken with the GoPro; they’re slightly distorted, but that can usually be either lived with, or minimised with a little cropping.

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Posted by: travelrat | February 18, 2018

Llamas and Alpacas

Llama

I remember an early lesson from school:

‘One L, two legs; two Ls, four legs’

In other words, a llama was the South American pack animal, and a lama was the baldy-headed guy in an orange robe, who lived in Tibet.

It used to be, if you wanted to see a llama, you went to South America or the zoo, but nowadays, quite a few people in this country keep llamas on their land. I’m not quite sure why; maybe they keep the grass down; maybe they just like having them around.

More common is the alpaca farm; where the animals are bred for their superior wool. I once visited a nearby alpaca farm, to research a feature for a local magazine, and was lucky enough not only to speak to the owner, but to an itinerant shearer who came round to clip them.

(I was delighted to discover that I went to school with his father … but that’s another story!!)

From these two gentlemen, I learned several things. The shearer said it was a different skill to shearing sheep, as alpaca wool contains no lanolin, so he had to stop to lubricate his shears more often. I wanted to know if any other products could be obtained from the alpaca. Milk or cheese? … no; an alpaca doesn’t produce much milk, and that’s all for the cria, or young alpaca.

Cria

How about meat? I said. Well, we don’t, I was told … we don’t know what they do in South America, but we’ve never really thought about it. We’re only interested in the wool.

It was in Peru that we found they did eat alpaca. Not unpleasant, but, given the choice between alpaca and mutton, I think I’d have chosen the latter.

The following day, a group of Peruvian kids showed us their alpacas. The kids were all dressed traditionally, in bright, woollen clothing, so obviously the Peruvians, too, mainly breed them for their wool. But, they probably eat them, too … after all, they also eat guinea pigs!

Alpaca

Posted by: travelrat | February 15, 2018

The Achilleion/Mon Repos Slide Show

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Corfu: 16th October 2017

Here’s a slide show of the two lovely buildings we visited on Corfu

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Posted by: travelrat | February 13, 2018

A Bit About A Book

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Before I go anywhere, I like to read up on the place as much as I can. Not necessarily guide books; they’re really for randomly dipping into for the information you need, rather than reading from cover to cover. Narrative … even fictional narrative … is more welcome.

When I returned from Corfu, in my library browsings afterwards, I found Greek Walls, by John Waller, and I really wish I’d found it before I went. It’s an account, spread over four decades, of how he and his wife built a house on Corfu … or rather, had it built for them. Not that I intend building a house on Corfu; I already knew of the labyrinthine procedures involved from Blue Skies and Black Olives by John Humphrys. However, I’m not going to discuss Greek building regulations here. Just take my word they make soccer’s offside rule seem childishly simple.

Where the book excels is giving some idea of how the island developed since he first arrived in the 1960s. Then, it was almost like Gerald Durrell portrayed it in The Corfu Trilogy.

There’s only one thing that disappointed me slightly. I was really proud of the picture I took of the Xalikiopoulos Lagoon and Mouse Island from Kanoni. The book informed me that, even as far back as the 60s, it was regarded as clichéd, and that’s something I try to avoid, if I can. But, in this case, I don’t care … I like the picture, anyway.

Kanoni

Posted by: travelrat | February 11, 2018

Machu Picchu Video

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Machu Picchu: 17th February 2017

What else is there to say about Machu Picchu without coming out all scholarly and professorial or, worse, resorting to guide-book cliché? How about I just show the video?

 

Posted by: travelrat | February 8, 2018

The Achilleion

The Achiileion

Corfu: 16th October 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the Empress of Austria, Elizabeth of Bavaria, familiarly known as ‘Sisi’ visited the Mon Repos Palace in 1863, and fell in love with Corfu. So much so that, in 1889, she started to build her own palace, the Achilleion, which she visited at least twice a year, having pretty well dropped out of court life in Austria.

Line 2 of the ‘hop on/hop off’ bus calls here, but we rode down on the regular KTEL ‘blue bus’ (Service No. 10) which leaves from San Rocco square, and costs a fraction of the price.

At least three tourist coaches were at the gate when we arrived; we thought there must be a cruise ship in. We found out later that there wasn’t, so goodness knows what it would be like if there was. But, a helpful attendant beckoned us through the aimlessly milling crowd to the ticket office. The fee included use of an audio guide … but only on production of ‘satisfactory identification’. We’d left our passports back at the hotel, and hadn’t brought driving licences, for we didn’t intend to drive in Corfu. And, nothing else we had was ‘satisfactory’ … so no audio guide!
In the first room we visited, a tour group of around fifty people had assembled, being screeched at by a tour guide. To avoid them, we went up to the top floor, and worked our way down. Thankfully, we never saw them again. The rooftop balcony led to a terraced garden, where all is peaceful and tranquil. The garden is presided over by a gigantic statue of Achilles, erected by Kaiser Wilhelm II … ‘Kaiser Bill’ himself! … who had bought the palace from Sisi’s daughter, who had inherited it on her death in 1898.
He arranged it so he could see the tip of Achilles’ spear from the deck of his yacht when he arrived … and knew he would shortly be in his ‘holiday home’.

Achilles

Posted by: travelrat | February 4, 2018

Shooting the Moon

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Whenever something happens in the sky around here, be it eclipse, meteor shower, aurora or whatever … you can usually guarantee there’s going to be 8/8 cloud cover. So, it was quite a surprise that, on January 31st … the sky was almost completely clear.

On that night, the moon was in perigee. That’s when its orbit takes it closest to the earth. ‘Supermoons’ aren’t all that rare, but each one is greeted with statements in the Press and social media that this will be the closest the moon has been to the Earth since umpteen umpty-ump … and cameras are clicking all over the world. It was also a ‘blue moon’ … one in which the full moon occurs twice in a calendar month. That doesn’t happen ‘once in a blue moon’, either; the next one is in March.

(There was an eclipse of the moon, too. but this was only visible in the Southern Hemisphere)

Anyway, next day, of course, photographs appeared all over the Internet … and some were very good. I did try; just around dawn gave the best results, but my efforts fell well short of the best. On such occasions, I miss my favourite zoom lens, ‘Long Tom’. Sadly, when I ‘went digital’, it wouldn’t fit on my new camera. But, I’ll keep trying!

Posted by: travelrat | February 1, 2018

Machu Picchu Slide Show/ Old Dickie

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I had the weirdest dream the other night. I dreamt I was just leaving Machu Picchu when I met my old English teacher.

‘Write an essay on what you have just seen’ he said ‘but do not use the words ‘iconic’ or ‘breathtaking’.

Now, if Mr Dickenson was still around, he’d be about 140 years old by this, and, what he would more probably have said was ‘Do it in 500 words, or less’. Because ‘Old Dickie’ was a great lover of the précis; he’d give us a screed of about 3000 words, which we had to condense to a much shorter article, which still covered the important points.

I think it had to do with his ‘previous existence’ as a journalist. He usually had to file his stuff by telegram, and since you paid for these by the word, the shorter the better … as long as it covered the essentials.

So, Sir, I did my précis on Machu Picchu last week … maybe if I show a few pictures it will give a better idea of what it was like?

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Posted by: travelrat | January 30, 2018

Mon Repos

Plaque at Mon Repos

‘I’ve travelled far; I’ve travelled wide but ne’er can I recall

Of ever hearing of a Duke born halfway up a wall’ (Benny Hill)

When I wanted more information about the Mon Repos Palace, Google directed me, at first, to our hotel, which is also called the Mon Repos Palace. But, it’s so called because of its close proximity to the Palace proper; it’s only a short walk away. Or, it’s on both the City Sightseeing and KEM No 2 bus route, if you don’t feel like walking.

Mon Repos

It was built in the early 1800s by Frederick Adam, the British High Commissioner to the Ionian Islands as a gift to his Corfiot wife. However, shortly after its completion, he was posted to India. His successors only lived in it ‘on and off’, although it did receive a fair quota of distinguished visitors. One of the most noted of these was the Empress Elizabeth of Austria … ‘Sisi’ … who visited in 1863. She had been ill, but made a miraculous recovery; some say because she was free of the constraints of the formal Austro-Hungarian court. Anyway, she loved Corfu so much that she had built her own palace nearby, the Achilleion .

In 1864, the Kingdom of Greece was established, and the palace came into the possession of the Greek Royal Family, who used it as a summer residence until King Constantine was deposed in 1967.

The palace is set in extensive gardens, which contain the ruins of the former capital of Corfu. The gardens are free to enter, but a small charge is made to enter the house, which is now a museum. On our first visit, it was locked up, and nobody seemed to be in attendance. But, when I stopped by a couple of days later, I found it was open, and contained a lot of interesting displays about the history of the house and the island.

Ruins at Mon Repos

And, of course, much is made of the fact that this is the birthplace of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.

The grounds make for a peaceful walk … but beware! The extensive paths are poorly signposted, and, as far as I could find, there are no maps available. But, if you have a couple of hours to spare, and don’t mind ‘being uncertain of your position’ for a while … why not?

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