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Cruise Diary: Corfu, Greece

HAL guest George Labecki and his family sailed aboard Nieuw Amsterdam’s Mediterranean Tapestry cruise throughout Europe this past July and documented his experience in a journal. Below is an entry from their call at Corfu, Greece. Enjoy!

July 15th
Adding to the Weave

Corfu is an island in the northwest of Greece. As we sailed toward the town of Kerkira, we could see the sun rising over the mountains. In fact, we could count six distinctive lines of mountains to our east. What we didn’t realize is that the first line of mountains was Greece. Everything beyond that is Albania. Sometimes to the American traveler, the relatively compressed nature of European borders is surprising.

After breakfast, we caught up with our tour bus, and we began a trip across the island to its west coast, toward the Greek Orthodox monastery of Paleokastritsa. We looked at sheer rock faces that seemed as though they could be in the western part of the United States. I’m not sure what the rock composition was of these cliffs, but some had huge caves open in the face, so huge that we could see those openings from our roadway miles away.

We rode past some stunning beaches. Again, the predominant color today was emerald. The beaches were small by American standards, just spits of sand tucked into rocky cliffs that jutted from the sea to the land, but the water was the most amazing color and absolutely clear. When Nick was very young, he had tub tints for the bath. Mixing the yellow and blue tints created an incredibly green color. I always thought the color to be unreal — that is until I saw it live today.

The monastery at Paleokastritsa sits on a mountaintop above those beaches and green waters. It has been there since 1928. It once housed as many as 25 monks but today has only five. According to our guide, they are all young men in their 30’s and 40’s. They have all the modern conveniences, but their lives are devoted to their monastic existence.

We did get a bit of surprise when suddenly the sounds of Mass were piped outside, right by our ears, via loudspeakers. At that point, a fellow in his 40s with the long dark hair and full beard of a monk walked into the garden. I’m not sure what his role really was as he was wearing casual clothes and shoes, but he walked up to a board hanging in the garden and began pounding rhythmically with a hammer. He then walked to the ropes and rang the church bells, again in a rhythmic manner. Our guide later told us that this, including the board, was how they announced various parts of the monastic day to the Brothers.

Most of the area has buildings that have rich, earth-tone colors that one would expect of much the Mediterranean but not of Greece. Most of Greece has white buildings, often with blue roofs, to better protect from the heat. Corfu gets cooler weather for much of the year, so the colors of Corfu are rich orange and brown tones. The monastery was a light yellow, and that was visually stunning as it contrasted well with the bright magenta flowers, green grapes and blue skies. This was the second-most visual place we’d seen this trip.

Being Sunday, the monks were having mass. Being an Orthodox church, everyone was invited in, just with the stipulation that you take no pictures. Of course, that meant nothing to some of the tourists who came in snapping away. Fortunately, they were few, and none of the Brothers or worshippers seemed bothered. We visitors were able to focus on the contrast of light and dark within the church, light being predominant around the cross in front; the Greek chanting of the Monks, and the sweet scent of incense.

We then made a quick run through the museum that they had just opened. I have to admit that we were moving quickly, and since everything was in Greek, it meant little to me (disregard the all-too-obvious Shakespearean reference). The museum had many old pictures of kids with Monks, a lot of old priestly garb, and some bones from a Sperm Whale. That’s probably an interesting story in and of itself, but it’s one that’s going to have to wait for home and a little research time to figure out. Mostly we just had time to take some photos in and around this truly wonderful little place of peace.

Our tour took us back again to the other side of the island for a photo stop. We paused at a café that overlooked a monastery, the Pontikonisi and Vlacheraina monastery, sitting just into a small bay. What made it particularly of interest was the runway that sat several hundred yards away. This quaint monastery sits directly in the flight path of the island’s airport. The photos that we took made for an interesting juxtaposition of the centuries: an old monastery with a modern jet seeming to hang over it.

Then we made it back to Kerkira. We had time to walk through winding streets and to see the churches, the cafes, the wandering singers. We met shop owners offering free samples. We bought some ice cream to enjoy as we explored this very different town. This was a great little town to explore.

From there it was back on board for what has become a relaxing routine: we eat lunch, take a nap, get dinner (tonight in the Pinnacle Grille), watch a movie, and get ready for another day in another place.

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