Oh! The Places I’ve Been – “C” is for CORFU


Corfu sunset, photo by M. Reynolds
Corfu sunset, photo by M. Reynolds

As a student in Switzerland (1978-79), I had a two-month Eurail Youthpass, as did my classmates. It meant that during the six-week-long semester break in March/April, we could travel around Europe at will. Just pull out the orange Eurailpass and show it to the conductor. Many of us wanted to go to Greece, to escape the snows and delayed spring in Fribourg. Using the Eurailpass, one had to travel by train down the eastern coast of Italy and board the ferry that ran from Brindisi to Patras, Greece, stopping in Corfu on the way. The trip to and from Corfu was included on the pass; jaunts to the many other Greek isles were not. And since we were poor students with limited funds, most of us went to Athens and Corfu.

photo by M. Reynolds
photo by M. Reynolds
photo by M. Reynolds
photo by M. Reynolds

My friend Kathy and I traveled first to Athens and spent two sleepless nights in a hostel (Athens is noisy, the windows were open, and a sailor from Alabama was desperately trying to share a bed with a girl named Fiona from London). The following day we traveled by train back to Patras and boarded the ferry for Corfu.

At Corfu, we found a hotel on the beach. Six American dollars per night. Walked out the French doors and onto the beach. The bathroom was down the hall, and not very clean, but we didn’t care. Each afternoon we’d return from the beach, brush off the sand, nap on the lumpy bed, then walk to the tavern, where a shot of Ouzo cost ten cents and the owner brought us into his kitchen to show us the dinner offerings. Point to moussaka. Point to roast chicken. Point to a bottle of wine. We sat at a table outside until the inky sky was dotted with stars and the music died down. And the next day, we did it all over again.

The Greece I Remember


These are difficult days for Greece.  Riots, suicides, utter turmoil.  My heart hurts to watch video of the mess, especially because we have a dear friend who, although she lives in Zurich, is Greek by birth and has close family ties there.  And because I spent a week in Greece many years ago.

While a student in Switzerland, I had the opportunity to travel around Europe during a six-week semester break.  With Eurail Youthpass in hand, I planned trips with friends, pored over maps and train schedules, and wondered how much I could fit into a six-week vacation.  Paris, Rome, London beckoned to some, and others chose Amsterdam, Denmark, Vienna.  But almost all of us wanted to go to Greece.  Greece held an indescribable allure: blue seas, blindingly white buildings crammed into a hillside, olives and ouzo.  A respite from the chill of Alpine air.

The route to Greece for Kathy and me was through Venice.  Forgetting that it was Easter week, we ended up spending a night on the floor of the train station in Venice, with dozens of others who couldn’t find a hotel room.  Another sleepless night on the train down the eastern coast of Italy to Brindisi, and one more night sleeping in chairs on the deck of the ferry to Patras, Greece.  From Patras, we rode a train to Piraeus and shared a taxi to Athens with a sweet southern sailor who was looking to fall in love with a Greek goddess.

There’s a feeling you get when you’re in the midst of a civilization that has existed since long before Christ.  At the Parthenon, our guide Demetrius (I’d have called him Adonis) told us that it was built 400 years before Christ.  And still standing.  Made me think about our rush to tear down and rebuild, constantly.

After a couple of days in Athens, we tired of the crowds and the noise, and headed out to the island of Corfu.  Lots of islands to choose when you’re in Greece; we went with the one where transport was included on our Eurailpass.  Kathy and I spent the next four days at a beachfront hotel (price: six bucks a night).  A day in the sun was followed by a lazy afternoon shopping for long gauzy skirts and blouses, worry beads, and silver dangling earrings.  Each night we walked to the same local taverna, where the owner would take you by the hand and lead you into his kitchen.  Menu?  No, no menu.  He lifted the pot lids and opened the oven door.  See that chicken roasting in the oven?  You want that?  Point and nod.  Or the moussaka?  Point and nod.  No problem!  Wine?  Water?  Yes, please.

We ran out of money and had to go home.  I bought a bottle of ouzo for the ferry ride back.  Kathy and I sat on the sunny deck and shared a package of cookies and drank ouzo.  Tired and sunburned, we watched the peaks of Othonoi and Mathraki recede in the Ionian Sea.

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