When people look at the giant map-of-the-world mural plastered on my office wall (it takes up the entire wall) they are impressed at the 125 countries I’ve seen, each designated with a pin, but always in shock when they discover I’ve yet to see such a popular destination as Greece.
Fellow “extreme” travelers have noticed my “backwards” approach to counting countries as well. Most people trying to get to every country in the world knock out the easy ones, like Greece, first; leaving the tougher ones for the end. But between being truly intrigued by some of the harder-to-get-to and harder-to-get-into nations, plus a desire to put the hard work in first—I would hate to have hold ups at the very end—yes, I am doing it backwards, for lack of a better term. I know plenty of travelers who saved the tough countries last and it was to their demise. For example, had I waited on North Korea (I went in 2017), I might not have been able to get in at all, since the US now forbids Americans to travel there. The same with Venezuela: While going to Caracas in 2017 was a risky proposition, you’re almost guaranteed to be refused entry today if you’re American. So while some people have the attitude of, “I’ll wait ‘til it gets better,” I carry the “I better not wait, ‘cause it might get worse” attitude. So far it’s paid off.
But alas, here came the summer of 2019, and after completing over half of Africa (which contains 54 nations in total), much of the Middle East and almost all the “you are crazy for going there countries” like Somalia and the others mentioned above, I thought it was time for a break, and a visit to handful of European countries, starting with Greece.
I actually chose Corfu (as opposed to Athens, etc.) because it was one of the few places I could get to in June with minimal air miles. Summer is high season for Europe and I was coming up empty looking for cities to fly into at a reasonable (mile) redemption rate. I finally hit a city with a 57,000-mile price tag for business class and that was Corfu, Greece. Before that day I’d never even heard of Corfu, but one Google search showed me that the island was beautiful. So I clicked “purchase,” and I was on my way.
I’d have two nights on the Greek island, the first one spent pretty much recovering from the long day of travel and not much sleep. My hotel was right in the center of Old Town and felt more like an Airbnb than an actual hotel. There was no sign on the building; no receptionist and no one to even let me in when I arrived. A fellow guest on the balcony saw me at the front door with my bag and phoned the owner to come meet me. After waiting ten minutes in the heat, a young lady showed up with a key to my room and a code to the building. I liked the digs: it was small, but had everything, including a little kitchen and even jam and biscuits for the morning, and most importantly, it was near all the action of Old Corfu. It was a good score. (You can see the hotel HERE.)
The town was touristy, but very charming, with cobblestone streets filled with sidewalk cafés, souvenir shops and a few of those places where you stick your feet in a big fish tank and the fish nibble off your dead skin. I was ready for bed but starving, yet too out of it to properly search for a great Greek restaurant. I stumbled around for a few blocks before I settled on an Italian joint called Rosmarino. I felt defeated I wasn’t dining on Greek food, but I was so punchy I didn’t care. Just needed fuel, then sleep. The focaccia croccante was a stellar choice and would be my favorite meal of the entire six-country journey.
I got a little more “local” for breakfast the next morning, trying a Greek specialty called loukoumades, which are pastries made of deep fried dough and stuffed with sweet or salty treats. I had the chocolate and strawberries. It was like having dessert for breakfast, but that was okay with me. I figured I was sure to burn off the calories today.
I spent a decent amount of time researching Corfu beforehand, but realized the island was a little more spread out than I’d imagined and transportation wasn’t cheap.
RAMBLIN’ TIP: There aren’t many countries I’d consider renting a car in, but if I had to do it again, I would have definitely reserved a car in Corfu.
The 45 Euro taxi cab to Palaiokastritsa soured me a little, but soon I’d forget about it, and most everything else in life, as I arrived at a picturesque sandy cove: a small bay full of restaurants, little boats and swimmers and sunbathers enjoying the sun, sand and oh, that beautiful aquamarine water. It was just stunning. Ever since I was a child, that clear ocean water had always been one of my favorite things in the whole world. I remember seeing seeing postcards from The Bahamas and the turquoise water looked totally different than the solid, dark brown oceans I was used to in California. The water in Corfu was clear like the Caribbean, but had a deeper, darker blue-green tint to it, and the big rocks and coral below formed breathtaking patterns. I couldn’t wait to get in.
I spent a good 90-minutes, maybe two hours, in the water, swimming completely out of the bay and then back in. The trip back to the shore was ten times tougher than my swim out, but I enjoyed every second. I also needed to work off those loukoumades! Unlike the Caribbean, Greece’s water was cool, but not bone-chilling cold like California’s…right in between, and absolutely perfect on a hot day like this. So refreshing! I wished I’d have brought (or bought) snorkel gear, but the water was so clear, I really didn’t need it. A couple times I was able to stand up on the big rocks, even though I was pretty far from the shore. There were natural stone caves and coves along the way and I explored those, too. I was so far out that some of the passing boats would wave and give me the “thumbs up” so make sure I didn’t need assistance. Nice people here.
RAMBLIN’ TIP: Bring swim/reef shoes to Corfu, you will need them! The beach is full of pebbles and there are plenty of rocks in the water you will step on, by accident and on purpose. Swim shoes are a must and will save your feet!
After that glorious swim—really, one of the best swims of my life—I relaxed and dried off at Yialos Beach Restaurant, sipping on a fresh orange juice while the sun slowly retreated. Most of my trips are pretty fast paced and hectic. This was a complete 180 and I loved it: a lazy, relaxing day at the beach. The water, temperature and even my chair were all just perfect. Palaiokastritsa was a great way to kick off the trip and I’m so glad I chose it for my only day in Corfu.
I had a little trouble finding a taxi back to my hotel, but it was for the best: I soon discovered there was an hourly bus to and from town, for the bargain price of 2.50 Euros, much, much better than the 45 Euro taxi ride. Now I was in an even better mood!
RAMBLIN’ TIP: Save yourself $100 and never take a taxi to Palaiokastritsa! Instead, take the “Green Bus!” It’s a nice bus and very comfortable! Pick up and drop off locations are right in the center of Old Town and at the foot of Palaiokastritsa beach.
I spent the rest of the evening exploring Old Town, including a walk over to The Old Fortress. Admission was free, I think because it was late.
For dinner, I tried the Greek lasagna at an outdoor café called Ta Kokópia and washed it down with an ice cold Mythos; the perfect meal for a growing boy like myself.
Corfu was the perfect first stop to this summer’s face paced dash through Europe, and I will absolutely return to Greece. I want to see Athens, Santorini and maybe a couple out-of-the way Greek islands and towns, and definitely need to submerse myself in that heavenly water again.
And Now…The REST of the InsaStory:
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