Greece is famous for its diverse islands and apart from the acclaimed ones of Mykonos and Santorini, I have always wanted to visit Corfu, Lefkada, and Kefalonia. Originally, I was supposed to stay for 5 nights in Corfu and for another 5 in Lefkada but I decided to change my plan due to the latest happenings. I cancelled Lefkada altogether and brought down the number of nights I was supposed to spend on Corfu from 5 to 3. And I was able to do that without losing any more money on cancellation fees! Thank God!!
Now Corfu was quite expensive, even hostels were not that cheap. A less expensive and even a better option was Airbnb. It was my first experience with Airbnb and it was such a great one. I was able to find a nice studio with a very great location for less than what I would have paid on the hostel!
Going to Corfu from Athens is not really an easy task if you decided not to fly and since I didn’t want to waste a lot of time on the road to reach my destination, I settled on flying. At the airport before boarding, I run into a Jordanian family who were on their way to Corfu as well. Giving the fact that I absolutely love Jordan, I couldn’t help but tell them about the affection I have for their country. I landed at the airport and instantly felt the humidity, I thought to myself that might be even worse than Athens!! It took me a little while to figure out where to take the bus to my Airbnb which was located in Benitses and I actually needed to change buses in Corfu town. Luckily, the local bus stops just outside my accommodation and it took me a little less than an hour to be there! The buses in Corfu are a little tiny and they don’t display the stops’ names and with a bus full of tourists, luggage, and people going to the beach it was difficult to reach for the driver to ask him when I should get off!
I ended up alighting a stop earlier needing to walk in the noon heat of a July summer day to find the accommodation. I was feeling so hot and sweating like crazy when I passed by a car rental and decided to ask for directions. I was greeted by a very welcoming lady who called the accommodation on my behalf so someone would come and show me the way. Actually, it was just the building next door 😀 Ilias, the owner of the Airbnb, was the one to come for the rescue and he happened to be such a nice host. The reception staff were as nice as well and very helpful too. I checked in and loved my room instantly, it was small and cozy just the way I like it to be. It came with a balcony that offered me pine-trees-covered hills from one direction and the sea from the other, just super!
It was quite hot by that time; I was so tired and didn’t feel like going out again not even to the beach. Instead, I showered, turned the AC on and took a nap so I would go out for lunch later before I head to Corfu town for a walk. What a great decision that one was as it turned out that I really needed the rest! The tavern owned by my host was where I had my lunch which consisted of my first ever grilled octopus tentacles. It was super delicious that you could taste the freshness of it, YUM! The tavern overlooks the sea and has access to a beach, all the food I had there was so good and the people working there were really friendly. I miss that place now that I’m reminiscing about it while writing this post.
I took the bus to town and fell in love with it once I stepped into the pedestrian only area. The old stone buildings, the souvenir shops and boutiques, the cafes with their outdoor tables, how the tiny allies partied before they joined forces again at a clearing that overlooked a park which leads to the Old Fortress of Corfu town. I adore small European towns and wasn’t disappointed at all by where I was at that moment. I was simply entranced. I would have loved to walk around a little more but I had to go to the fortress so I can catch it before it closes. I was lucky enough when I didn’t need to pay for the entrance fee!
The views of the town and the harbor from the top point of the fortress were mind-blowing. The light of the setting sun had them painted with a pleasantly looking glow so I lingered and took my time looking at them from all angles. On my way down I passed by the clock tower which read 8 though it wasn’t 8 at the time! I wondered if setting it on 8 has any significance like with the clocks in the Dolma Bahca Palace in Istanbul. The descent was accompanied by a distant jazz music and with the faint colors of a cloudy sunset, it wouldn’t have been any better. I had a little less than two hours before the last bus leaving town took me back to Benitses so I wandered through catching the last glimpses of the sunset and treated myself to some ice cream while doing so.
The lady at the ice cream parlor thought I was Indian, maybe because of those baggy colorful yoga pants I was wearing, hmm! Her second guess was Israel and that was even more interesting. She didn’t seem to recognize Egypt when I finally told her where I’m from but I hope she did after I mentioned the pyramids. The ice cream was toothsome. I had mastic, yogurt with honey, and the Corfu famous kumquat. Choosing Greek flavors made the lady so happy 🙂
The bus ride back was extremely crowded but I managed to get off at the right stop that time and was rewarded by a Zorba’s dance in the nearby tavern. I thought I will be listening to that music everywhere once I land in Greece but that night in Corfu was the first and only time I did! At that moment I really felt I was in Greece! It was an unexpected perfect ending for my day.
I woke up early the following day and had breakfast in the balcony while enjoying the morning sea breeze from across the street and thinking about how to spend the day.
Corfu has lots of beaches and nice places to visit, not to mention the surrounding islands of Paxos and Antipaxos and the famous caves as well. I had two full days to spend in Corfu and going on a day tour to the caves was tempting but at the same time didn’t feel right as it meant less time to explore the island and for some reason this is what I wanted to do, to see as much as I can of Corfu. I might have been wrong but it was late anyway to book myself on a tour and so I decided against it and thought I would try my luck with renting a car so I would explore the island according to my own pace and wishes.
It was July and renting a car on the spot was a little difficult and quite expensive if I may say specially that I don’t drive manual gear! James, from the reception, tried to find me one but it wasn’t possible since automatic cars are not that popular in Europe so he suggested I rent a quad instead! Quads and motorbikes were very popular in Corfu and since I don’t know how to ride a scooter, a quad was pretty much my only option. Now I have been on desert tours in Egypt where I drove a buggy but only for a couple of hours where I drove on sand and not for a full day on asphalt roads with cars! Talking about doing things for the first time, that was definitely a first and I was agitated like hell as much as I was excited.
I went to the rental shop James recommended and the guy there said he might be able to help with a car through his neighboring rental shop. What a relief, phew! I was totally ready to rent that small automatic car for two days and drive the whole length of the island! Woo Hoo! But then it looked like my wishes and reality were mutually exclusive proceedings at the moment. I was refused the car because, first my international driving license “didn’t have an expiry date” thought it clearly states that the license is valid for one year from the issuance date! Second, because it was issued from Egypt and couldn’t be used in Greece though the license itself says I can. In addition I didn’t have a problem using it in England last summer-not an EU member according to the guy at the rental office (not just yet at least)-nor Iceland a few months earlier! Third, because when the guy ran out of excuses he called his insurance company to be sure if they can cover an Egyptian international driving license and that was when I got the final big fat NO!!
I left the shop speechless, enraged, and with renting a quad as my last resort! The guy at the quad rental shop was puzzled by what happened and despite not being able to rent a car, he said I wouldn’t have a problem renting a quad using the very same license!! (baffled face).
Quad it was then and after a quick crash course on how to ride one, I took off to explore the southern part of the island based on the recommendations I had from James. The first stop on my list was Issos beach which is located on the other side of the island near Lake Korission. I had to cross to that side through the hilly roads of the center passing through Chlomos. Riding those winding cliff roads on a quad was freaky specially when I took a wrong turn and had to reverse because I didn’t have any room to turn the quad around to the correct direction. Thank God that barking dog was tied up!!
I relied on a paper map and road signs which were quite useful actually but then, I occasionally looked at my offline Google map to make sure I was on the right track. Offline Google maps are my new best travel friends now 😀 The road to and from Chlomos was scenic. The views of the island were just mesmerizing. It was a beautiful sunny day which added to the prettiness of the scenery I was quad-ing through. I went for a walk in the village trying to find a view point where I can enjoy the sights that surrounded me and the tiny twisting hilly paths of the town were deserted!! I hardly saw anyone but me walking down the streets and I thought to myself, it could be the heat!!
TIP: that view point happened to be near to Balis Taverna. The place has a terrace overlooking a marvelous view of the island.
Before I continued to the beach in Issos, I needed to ask for directions and refill my water supply. So I decided I would do that at the nearest open vendor which happened to be a bar. The door to the bar was opened but no one was to be seen so I went inside to see if I can find somebody and as I was going in the owner’s little boy was going out and at the sight me he screamed in utter horror compelling me to freeze in my place!! I have never seen someone that scared as that kid was, his facial expressions spoke of terror and fathoming that he was scared of ME made my heart sink!!
I didn’t know what to do or say and I doubted that talking to him, in English, would have made any difference so I turned around to exist and at that moment the father was coming in to aid the screaming son! The father kept on telling me it’s ok inquiring about what I wanted while trying to calm down the kid! I told him I just wanted to buy some water and ask for directions to Issos and even with the presence of the father, the kid was still terrified! The dad tried to ease the situation by claiming that the boy has been wanting ice cream since morning but he refused to comply! Yeah, right!! I got my bottles of water and directions and as I was leaving, the rest of the family waved me good bye with big smiles on their faces. Even though the kid was sitting on his grandmother’s lap, he still eyed me with fright as I walked past them!
I have to admit remembering that incident and writing about it here right now is not easy on me. I have never in all my travels experienced such an encounter and it left me with an aching heart. I was numb and in denial as I walked back to my quad thinking how can a kid, just a kid, be scared of someone in the way that one did! Is it just because I’m different or could it be because of something implanted in his head?! That situation left me gloomy and hurt wishing I was somewhere else but there!
I continued on my way to Issos with a heavy-heart hoping for some solace on the beach! There was a long stretch of a beach there and it wasn’t difficult to find a quite spot which was what I actually needed at the moment! I didn’t want to be around anyone and surely wasn’t keen on more judgmental looks for what I was wearing! I kept on walking till I found a less crowded spot then went swimming in that glittering blue sea. Nonetheless, the stares and puzzled looks followed me especially when I got off the water! I thought I would take a walk but even that wasn’t so enjoyable since the stares continued particularly from occupant who were very “comfortable” with their surroundings!!
I left the beach and as I was heading back to the main road I found a sign that lead to a view point of Lake Korission. I parked the quad and went on foot, I wasn’t really sure if the quad wouldn’t get stuck in the thick sand and I didn’t want to risk it! It was a short walk till I found a view kiosk that overlooks the lake and next to it was a picnic pavilion. The path continued but I didn’t know where it will lead to and the sand was too hot to handle with my slippers so I retreated to the quad to continue on the way to my next stop, Lefkimmi.
Lefkimmi turned out to be a very small and quiet place with nothing in specific to see! I walked around trying to reach the port or a view point but I was unsuccessful! But since I was there already, I thought I would have lunch before I move on with my day. Again, that wasn’t an easy task since the town felt a little desolate as well but I was able to find an open tavern that was willing to serve food! I was wishing for some sea food since I was on an island but I didn’t have much of a choice with availability so I ordered steak pasta in red sauce. A Corfu dish as I was told!
It was a little difficult to exit the town into the main road. I stopped to check my map and a friendly local came to my rescue and though she disagreed with her non-English-speaking father, they both managed to put me on the right track!
I was heading back to Benitses, where I was staying, but wanted to make a stop at Notos beach first, another recommendation from James. I got a little lost trying to find my way to the beach from Lefkimmi but I was lucky enough to run into a couple of friendly people who helped me with the directions! Once I reached the main coastal road which would lead me back to my destination, I found myself driving through Lefkimmi Bay. It looked absolutely beautiful so I decided to park and go for a quick swim just like that! Actually that was one of the things I liked about Corfu, you can swim almost anywhere along the coast, just park, find a way to the shore then Voilà!
I walked a little further away for a nice spot, crossed the short fence and I was ready to dig in. That swim was exactly what I needed to invigorate after all the quad-ing I did through the day! I would have stayed longer if I didn’t need to keep on going. I got off the water and came across a Greek lady who was drying herself up while waiting for a ride back to her village! She was curious to know where I came from and we had a small talk which of course included how Muslims were being perceived in the world recently.
The little incident I had earlier that day puzzled her and left her speechless! She thought I was being reckless for driving a quad, dangerous she said, and wondered how it felt swimming in a burkini and not in a regular swimsuit! I told her how the crickets drove me nuts and she replied that she grow up camping in pine trees forests where she used to sleep like a baby without minding the noise caused by them! We walked back to my quad together and parted ways after such an enjoyable chat.
Notos beach was great, a little small in space but it was nice. It’s a free beach with availability for an outdoor shower but there is also another access point through a café that overlooks the shore. I took a quick swim and went to the café to grab something to eat and to my liking, there was a hammock so I spent my time rocking from side to side, reading, eating, and enjoying the scenery. Perfect closure for the day I believe! A hammock is always a good idea. I enjoyed the short drive back to Benitses. I had the sea and a setting sun on my side and though it wasn’t the best sunset ever, it was still a nice wrap up of the day.
I made it back to the quad rental on time and the guy told me I can have it back again if I needed it the following morning. I had to decline though because I wanted to go up north the following day and that wouldn’t have been easy on a quad. So in the comfort of my room that night I started googling car rentals hoping to find a small automatic car for the next day. Only one company replied to the inquiries I sent telling me they have a car for me, yaay!! I had to ask them though whether my license would be accepted or not and I was told it should be fine, I just needed to pass by them in the morning to see how it will go. Another good ending for the day and a hopeful start for the next one 🙂