Corfu: European Old City and Greek Island Beaches- Best of Both Worlds!

Corfu: European Old City and Greek Island Beaches- Best of Both Worlds!

Since you can’t really visit Greece without stopping by an island, when Simone and I ran out of things to do in Saranda, we decided to part ways a day early so I could spend a couple days in Corfu. Beyond being an island accessible by ferry from Saranda, I didn’t know too much about it. Simone filled me in a little bit: it’s a massive touristy island, even equipped with an airport. It’s infamous for “the Pink Palace”, a backpacker’s paradise that brings “party hostel” to another level. We met an American the previous day because he missed his bus to Tirana recovering from a Pink Palace toga party, where they baptized him by smashing two plates over his head. “Hmmmm… I don’t think I’ll be staying there”, I replied, thinking about how I’ll have to rush back to Tirana so a plane can take me to Turkey. She replied, shrugging, “I was eighteen. It was even too much of a party for me back then. But you do get a free pack of playing cards.” She paused, “Yes, I don’t remember much about Corfu. Except that the guy at reception was named Sypros. All the guys from Corfu are named Sypros. And they’re HOT. Find one for me”, she said pointing her finger at me to emphasize the importance of my new assignment. Arrival in Corfu Once she imparted her remaining wisdom, we parted ways. Upon arrival in Corfu, I met up with Henrik, a wanderer like me who was taking advantage of his freedom to work from anywhere. The son of German diplomats, his parents had a house in Corfu so he planned to crash there before heading back to Istanbul (where he currently lives), planning to stop at many of the cities I just came from to get there. We chatted over overpriced coffee in the main square and I listened to him share stories about growing up in Bolivia, Pakistan, New Zealand and Japan. I wanted to keep this source of worldly wisdom close by so I took him up on his offer of a place to stay. Boy, was I glad that I did! His dad designed a three-story home in the heart of the Old Town, complete with bunk beds, spiral staircases and an attic loft… he wanted to have a rooftop terrace too but the laws governing the historic homes in the area forbid that. Even better, the walls were covered in his mom’s photos from foreign lands. Just another example of how couch surfing is amazing! After I dropped off my backpack, I grabbed a map and decided to explore the Old Town. This very European corner of the island was filled with a labyrinth of streets where you walked below laundry drying, dodged past vespas and popped out next to stores selling olive oil soaps, carved olive wood toys and countless cafes. Eventually, I escaped to walk by the sea, trying to avoid the buses full of Italian tourists by sauntering through gardens, looking up at the Old Fort. From there, I circled back to the New Fort, which you can enter for free, for incredible, panoramic views of the ports and the town. Henrique and I met up again later for some World Cup watching at an outdoor café where you could find Corfu Beer. After two months of drinking generic country beers, the Real Ale from the local microdistillery tasted absolutely incredible! (If you have more time than me in Corfu, you can visit them in the Northern town of Arillas). After Germany’s victory, we headed to a local restaurant where we split mezzes of kalofagos (roasted eggplant and feta cheese), kolokythokeftedes (zucchini and feta cheese balls) and beets (Simone raved about how deliciously Greeks prepared beets… however, ours were a bit anti-climatic). Yes, I could get used to this Greek Island leisurely living! Day 2: Corfu through a Local Lens My second day in Corfu was supposed to be my beach day. The forecast predicted that the sun would break through early morning drizzle so I headed to Dassias to meet up with another couch surfer: a Corfu native, who was, coincidentally, was good-looking and named Sypros! (He taught me that the patron saint of Corfu is Spyros so the jackpot of similarly-named people isn’t entirely a coincidence).  I had originally planned to enjoy the beaches and strip of restaurants/tavernas until his siesta break at 3:00 but when the weather showed no signs of improving, I headed to his shop to hang out. Like many people in Greece, he worked his family store (which sold lottery tickets) and despite its touristy location, he knew...

Walking Tour of Thessaloniki Attractions, Greece: ruins, churches and seaside cafes galore!

Walking Tour of Thessaloniki Attractions, Greece: ruins, churches and seaside cafes galore!

Big hair, statement lips, neon colors and overalls… Landing in Greece was like traveling back to the 80s in a cloud of cigarette smoke and whiffs of pasteries. It was quite the combination! People with bold gestures, exaggerated mannerisms and loud personalities, plopped in cafés by the sea for hours at a time, nursing frappes. It wasn’t hard to imagine why Greece is in an economical crisis, when it’s people spend all day slowly sipping coffee and refusing to sacrifice island holidays, but as I spent more time there, that’s all I really wanted to do too. Thessaloniki chose me more than I chose it. Well, Simone (a girl I traveled with in Granada, Spain) and I wanted to meet in Albania and taking a bus from Greece was the cheapest and easiest way to do it. The more I travel, the more I realize that the quicker I get out of cities, the happier I am. It’s easy to get to cities, they often contain a high concentration of attractions and have better public transportation but they’re never my favorite part. I like nature and locals who slow down and want to get to know you. Thessaloniki surprised me with delivering a relaxed and more authentic Greek experience, with a pleasant seaside location that diffused the claustrophobic feeling that I sometimes get in other metropolitan areas. I’m glad I’m not the only traveler that shares this adversity to populated places- Paul Theroux, one of my heroes has a similar perspective: “I hate big cities, probably for the same reason many city people hate wilderness (which I love) because I find them vertiginous, threatening, monochromatic, isolating, exhausting, germ-laden, bristling with busy shadows and ambiguous odors. And the mobs, and all the shared space. Cities look like monstrous cemeteies to me, the buildings like brooding tombstones. I feel lonely and lost in the lit-up necropolis, nauseated by traffic fumes, disgusted by food smells, puzzled by the faces and the banal frenzy” -Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star Anyway, back to Thessaloniki: it has all the benefits of a city (accessibility, walkability, a large number of college students, plenty of stores/services) with such a relaxed vibe that makes you feel like you’re on summer vacation on the coast… without tourists!  It’s incredible!  Even better, the city is easy to navigate (sandwiched between the sea and a castle overlooking the city) and you can easily do a walking tour in a day. Walking Tour of Thessaloniki I recommend you start your walking tour, as I did mine, at the White Tower monument and museum, which is a well-known symbol of the city.  I didn’t actually go inside because it operates under an erratic and mysterious schedule, as do many attractions in the city.  It’s a free attraction, allowing 75 visitors at a time, supposedly open from 8:30-3 PM (except for Mondays) with exhibits that give an overview of the city.  You’ll soon realize that given timetables in Greece are more guidelines than anything- throughout the day, I lucked out with my timing and actually could go into the visitor’s information booth at Aristotle Square and the rotunda, but they were closed an hour or so later, even mid-day, for no good reason (except someone probably wanted a coffee break).  From a stone’s throw away from the white tower, you can also catch a free harbor cruise, which depart periodically throughout the day. Local Markets/Commercial Hubs From the harbor, walk along the seaside path up to Aristotle Square, one of the central hubs of the city and the location of the tourist info booth (which probably won’t be open).  The Electro Palace is one of the city’s fanciest hotels and even if you’re not staying there, you can splurge on a coffee or a cocktail to enjoy amazing views from their top-floor terrace. Alternatively, you could keep walking all the way to the port.  On your righthand side, there’s a really neat old-market area that I wish I had more time to explore.  Ladadika translates as “shops that sell oil products” and it used to be the central city market until it was destroyed by a fire.  Now it’s filled with cute tavernas, coffee shops and bars and a hot-spot for night-life and entertainment. Speaking of markets, right near Aristotle Square on Egnatia Street, you can experience some of Greece’s modern markets.  You can find vegetables, fresh fish, flowers shops and  cheap clothes but also an assortment of artisan crafts: woodwork, fine jewelry and metal products.  It’s a good stop if you’re looking for hand-crafted souvenirs from a traditionally run market with a more contemporary twist.  It’s also a good area...