Corfu awakes from a winter slumber to take you
away from life's stresses and strains...


Despite the fact the calendar says it is spring again it seems the weather Gods are trying to confuse us, and again we seem to be having a bit of difficulty in telling some days! True, the weeds have gone berserk and swathes of wildflowers have at last started to carpet the olive groves but the exceptionally long wet winter has meant the cranes bill is very late, and the almond trees which have usually finished their blossom by mid February are still in full bloom now, in almost mid March. It has not been at all cold; unlike most of you in Northern Europe we have had no cold snaps. Again we ask ourselves is this the new normal; longer wetter winters and longer hotter summers? Certainly everything is more extreme, standing talking outside the post office in Acharavi one day at the end of November, our attention was caught by a twister over Sidari way, not totally uncommon here, but a bit exciting all the same, and back in November when the weather was at its worst, we were at least luckier than Taranto in Italy where a tornado created havoc, we caught the tail end of it , and it was very unpleasant and you would have wanted to be on a ferry coming from 
Venice that day, but we suffered no structural damage.  It did play havoc with telephone and internet connections and many parts of the island had long power cuts as trees fell on lines. How spoilt are we, when not so long ago none of us had any phones at all, and it was normal to wait on the list for a new phone for up to 10 years. Running an office in Acharavi was fun with the only public phone was the one in the kafeneion on the back road.  Now if we can’t instantly check our e mails, look something up on Google, play on Facebook or ring someone at the drop of a hat we feel deprived! The good thing is, open door hospitality lives on, which means if you have a power cut you can just turn up  at a friend or neighbours, and you know you will be welcomed and there is always enough food and drink and the log fire will be roaring away. We have had a rude reminder of how fragile our electricity supply is lately when the main undersea line which brings us power from hydroelectric plants the mainland broke and left the whole island without power for several hours, and daily we have short cuts as they mend it. 

Having just heard on the UK news about pot holes, it makes us feel less alone in our lack of road repairs as we have pot holes that I swear would swallow a donkey, click the link to see how some have kept a sense of humour! They work better than sleeping policemen and traffic calmers though! I think last winter Germany had the right idea getting people to sponsor a pot hole and having their name engraved on the new surface.

Regardless, one thing that is sure, is that our summer is guaranteed! We don’t have to worry, or bemoan the fact that we have had bad weather because we can still unpack the beach gear and get the shorts and swimming cozies out knowing it won’t be long before we are wearing them! The longer days and the warmer sun have brought the paint brushes out again as people start the annual spring clean ready for the forthcoming season. It seems everyone's heart is lighter with optimism this summer, after the depression caused by financial cut backs everywhere, it is good to look ahead to getting back on track. Judging by the rush of bookings Travel with Friends  had this winter, it would seem that many of you are tired of wondering if maybe Britain and northern Europe will surprise you and have some a proper summer. We know there was a lot of uncertainty last year; people were worried that Greece would come out of the Euro and protests in Athens were constantly on the news. Now, with a new government safely in power and fear of going back to the drachma averted, confidence has been restored. Greece is old news this year; the press has moved on to more newsworthy areas of the world , not that there has been a lot to report other than a dogged but successful campaign to catch the fraudsters who have evaded tax, many in influential and political office!  It has been sad to see many small businesses especially in Corfu town close their doors and more and more young people without work, but showing a stoical resilience, many others are opening in their place. Corfu families on the whole are still able to produce some of their own food, be it vegetables in the garden, keeping chickens or selling oil. Olives are a winter crop, but this year’s was not as good as other years, mainly due to the wet weather and high winds, but the plus side for the farmers, (including Carole’s Spyro!) was that an oil shortage means they were paid more for their produce. Some of the 
shortage was caused by very low price previously being paid for oil giving little reward for long hours of back breaking work, in rain or shine. So people drastically pruned their trees, which needs to be done periodically anyway for the health of the tree, encouraging the growth of lots of new productive new branches, and to produce firewood now that heating oil is so expensive and people are still struggling financially. Sadly extraordinary as it may sound, it has also brought about olive tree theft... for firewood. Exchange and mart bazaars are becoming frequent ways for people to help stretch the family budget.

Whilst business for all of us was well down over the last few years, it is encouraging so see how much better this summer looks, still, I doubt Carole or Sue will be able to give up their day jobs anytime soon! Some of Corfu’s popularity revival may be attributed to the Channel 4 documentary “Corfu a Tale of 2 Islands”. For those who missed it click the link to watch all 8 episodes! For those of us living here it was fun to watch people we know, and for those further away many enjoyed some of the beautiful scenery shots, reliving past holidays and looking forward to upcoming ones. Substance was a bit thin on the ground but it did what is said on the tin and showed Corfu’s two extremes, an upmarket holiday area in Ag Stephanos on the North East coast and the young party village of Kavos.  Kavos spawned a spin off programme just on Kavos itself, not for the feint hearted, and that has certainly meant a huge boost to its waning popularity. Luckily being way down on Corfu’s southern tip the rest of the island wouldn't even know it exists!

 

Along with spring comes Easter, this year Greek orthodox Easter is 6 weeks later than yours, on 6th May, very late. Many of you will know from us in the past, that this is the biggest celebration in the Orthodox calendar. We have the build up of three Sundays of carnival, the word comes from the Italian carne vale.... put away the meat, marking the beginning of a Lenten fast.  For us the plus side will be that our favourite picnic/kite flying day; Clean Monday, which is on the day after the last big Carnival celebrations, will be that much later so , in theory, we have a better chance of having beach picnic weather. This picnic must be without meat and the taint of blood, we love the prawns, crab, taramosalata, squid, sea urchins and scallops, actually we don’t, Sue does, Carole doesn't do fish, but she doesn't go hungry, she tucks into all the other special Lenten dishes such as baked Gigantes, spicy giant beans like butter beans baked in a tomato sauce, and the Lagana, special unleavened bread, without which no meal would be complete. The down side is that the summer season will have started and we will all we be working for the event itself so won’t be able to let our hair down as we normally do! We are sure that the few early season guests we have here then will love to this hugely important feast and join in with some of the traditions. Easter itself is the time when families come together from afar to meet up to spit roast their lamb and to celebrate with lots of wine and laughter . Corfu is renowned for its celebrations and bizarre Easter traditions. Thousands of Greek people come from Athens and all over the mainland to watch the processions on Good Friday accompanied by the soulful music of the famous Corfiot brass bands. On Easter Saturday in Corfu’s main square, the excitement of the crowds is tangible as they wait for the pot smashing from high balconies and windows all over town but mainly on the Liston at 11.00 on the dot; this is unique to Corfu and is pagan in origin and many say is symbolically the casting out the devil, others say it is like spring cleaning; out with the old in with the new.... The finale is the truly moving and magical candlelit midnight vigils which take place all over the island on Easter Saturday night, which culminate with the ringing of church bells, firing of rifle shots and crowds saying the words “Christos Anesti” (Christ has risen), followed by big firework displays. Then the Lenten fast is broken late on Easter Saturday night, with a special tripe type soup, Magiritsa, and the first cracking of our red dyed eggs, which we prepared on Maundy Thursday. A meal designed to gently let ones digestion back into meat after a 6 week fast and before the over indulgence to follow on Sunday!

May marks the beginning of bank holiday season! A few days before Easter, we have the 1st of May bank holiday, Labour day, when everyone goes out for a drive with spring flowers tucked under their windscreen wipers and most tavernas have opened their doors to summer and will be packed on this day. They will have made a ring of wildflowers to adorn their front door before they left, which will remain there until next year. For those of you who love Greece, and hadn't though of the possibility of seeing these things and having a summer holiday don’t forget Ryanair and Easyjet will be running regular flights from a huge network of airports, get in quick while the going is good! You won’t be disappointed. Later in  May on the 21st we have a local bank holiday celebrating  the British protectorate ceding the United states of the Ionian islands back to Greece in 1864. The choice of date must have been expedient as the actual treaty of London was signed on 29th march 1864! It so happens that 21st May is the date when those with the names Eleni and Konstantinos celebrate their saints day, known as a name day, these are celebrated more than birthdays, and involves the giving of gifts and much eating and drinking!

The other major saints/name day holidays are Maria; 15th August which is Assumption day, (actually there are several Maria name days and I am not quite sure who decides which date you celebrate!) 23rd April St (George) Georgios, 26th October Dimitrios, 25th November Katerina, 30th November Andreas, 12th December the biggest hooley of the name day calendar in Corfu, St Spiridon; our patron saint. For those who celebrate St George's day, if their name day falls within Lent, as it does again this year, they have to wait until after Lent to celebrate it. Those with the name Anastasios/Anastasia are unlucky as their name day IS Easter Sunday so they kind of lose out on a party day! I digress, then we celebrate Pentecost/Whitsunday and we then have to wait until August for the next one!

 


Something of import to Corfu but as probably not reached international news, an area on the North East coast, Erimitis, is attracting a lot of attention. As part of the agreement with the Troika, Greece has to repay some of its debt by selling off whatever it can, airports, ports, tracts of land… So this beautiful and very special wetland area has gone under the hammer and a New York investment company, who it seems mainly invest on behalf of Russians, has bid for the 99 year lease. It is probably too little too late to try and get this area declared part of the Natura 2000 project to protect many of the rare bird and mammal species including otters, that live there, but we try. Many of you who have rented boats from Kaminaki, or Kassiopi will have pootled along this coast calling in to these deserted pebble beaches with their beautiful clear seas.  Inevitably there is  a lot of speculation and rumour at the moment as to what is actually going to be built, which ranges from a Bijou Hotel and luxury villas, to huge all inclusive complexes with hundreds of beds, in any case one has to think that island will gain, both in income and employment. Meanwhile the Emir of  Qatar has just bought 6 Greek islands , having fallen in love with Greece whilst cruising here last summer, as do many, he then set out to buy his own piece of Greece, which many still dream of doing! On Corfu rumours abound, so we cannot deny or confirm what is happening here, but watch this space or follow us on Facebook , or Twitter where we will try to keep you abreast of the times.
 

Vangelis in Agios Stefanos carries on with his usual winter job, fishing, and collects olives with his wife, Anthoula. The village is very, very quiet in the winter with only 8 families living there. Even Spyro from the Nafsika stays in Corfu town, but Theodora and George do remain in the village, as does Margarita and family from the mini market. This is one of the many resorts that really do “close down” in the winter. There is no taverna, shop, school or mini market open. Nearly all the families are dependent on fishing both as income and a food source. The children go to school in Avliotes a few kilometers away, and the local bus is the lifeline for doctor visits, shopping and all everyday things. It is sometimes easy to forget in the busy summer months, how truly quiet these villages are in the winter months, very much night and day. Early season is a joy for people who really want “to get away” and like early nights, long walks and relaxing moments watching the world go by as the village stays very sleepy until end of May!

Kaminaki will be opening slightly earlier this year, with the tavernas up and running by May 1st just in time for May Day. The mini market will remain closed, but bread is delivered daily, and groceries can be ordered from Aphrodite on the main road. We are happy to organise a welcome pack for you to set you up for your first day, or in case you are arriving on a late flight. E mail us for details. Anna and Asterios are well, and will have their boats available for rental by May.

Acharavi by contrast does not close up completely for winter though it is a very different place to that you see in summer, but we have some tavernas open as weekends and the supermarkets bank and post office ensure that there is always something going on, with the benefit that everyone has time to stop and have a coffee in one of several coffee bars, with the friend they bumped into in the post office! Which reminds me! Its now official! Alex (son of Papa Niko and his wife Julie) and Dora (Kosta of the kafeneion’s daughter) who run the Tete a Tete bar near Castaway Travel have announced their engagement.Talking of engagements Georgia Captain Aris' daughter has announced her engagement to Nikos, known to many from his days working at Monolithi, we wish them both well and look forward to a good knees up at her wedding!

The village itself is still dormant so difficult to tell what will change, nothing major has been talked about! Vangeli  and Irini still have a balancing act looking after elderly parents and Irini’s mother was not well earlier in the winter meaning Irini went to Crete to help out for a while. Thankfully she is doing well and attention is now turning to the usual spring cleaning. Katerina is busy in her other role as grandmother and babysitter. Spiros from Irene apartments is as usual in Athens but will soon be back in his Corfu home to get ready for summer.

Theo is busy getting the Captain Aris ready for another summer of cruising the Ionian seas , handicapped by the weather there have been a lot of expletives as another day of rain has dawned and the pressure is on, as we start very early this year with some groups of French visitors, and to bring the feeling of summer a little nearer....

During the early winter dramatic storms and power cuts Fanis at Odysseus had a close shave when his generator blew up causing a fire in the kitchen which luckily was quickly contained and damage was not too great but it did mean him closing for a few weeks to refit.


The winter as usual has flown past, but it was nice for Carole to be able to celebrate her mother’s 90th birthday in London in January, 

and she is hoping to be back in Corfuas usual in the summer. Carole’s animals are all well, Izzy the very senior donkey continues to thrive, much to the vets amazement, Spyro believes its all the apples! On one  of the visits to the donkey sanctuary in the winter, Xenya spotted a tiny puppy running around. This puppy had been dumped and was looking for a home, so yes; of course it came home with them! Despite being a Jack Russell cross and a fraction of the size of the Alsation and Lily the Collie cross, he now rules the roost at the house, and amuses himself by hassling the cats. Spyro was very understanding and said it was probable better a puppy than another donkey! 


 

Sue’s winter flew by too. Elena is now happily settled in Swansea and working hard on her Psychology masters and is doing really well, so mother is VERY proud! She 

came home for Christmas and then Sue went to visit her in Swansea… a first!I was a bit taken aback when Bodyshop asked me for 5p for a paper bag and they got the rough end of my grumpy old woman tongue until I realised it was a nationwide policy! Well done Wales imposing a 5p charge for each and every bag you ask for when shopping,  Go Wales! I would love to see that happen in Greece! Driving around the UK in the snow was not great, but it did look pretty!  I found the road signs in Wales confusing, with having Welsh written at the top of the sign, by the time I worked out where the road went I was long passed! It felt like being on a real foreign holiday! I am glad they don’t get guaranteed good weather though; why would anyone go abroad with beautiful places like the Gower peninsular on their doorstep if it came with sun?! Actually, I know the answer to that! It’s not just the weather is it? Its being away from all the hassle of home, not seeing the same TV, hearing the news and same grumbles wherever you go. There is a special bubble which is a holiday abroad, that takes you away from the stresses of everyday life. It is the outdoor living of tavernas by the sea, fresh food, ice cold wine that you can afford to drink…... bright light, different landcsapes....

 

Despite the weather I managed to get out and do lots of the mountain walking, my favourite winter pastime, as too for my canine companions. A quick trip for a weekend in Zagoria  on the mainland with friends was a last minute bonus , and sooo lucky with the weather then, before winter set in, in November, walking in T shirts, with fabulous views and seeing the forests all the autumn shades of yellows and russets. We stayed in Koukouli in a lovely restored house owned by Perikles of Nikolas Taverna Agni. There is a youtube video of the area which may tempt the walkers among you to try it, and shows what a different beauty has.

             
           

Just one more photo to reassure ourselves that spring IS here and as surely as day follows night, summer follows spring;


 

Our aim in our newsletter is to keep you up to date with snippets of local life from your favourite place and to tell you of anything new in our programme with the hope that you will then feel that little tickle in your mind that wont let you go until you book another holiday. We cannot help too using it as a platform to introduce you to the many things that we love about Corfu, Greece and the Greeks, we hope we convey our love of Corfu and have been able to give you a little insight into life here beyond the beach.

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We still have some availability throughout the summer so its never too late! Contact us soon, we look forward to hearing from you.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!
Sue and Carole

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