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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

ISLANDS IN THE SUN #2: KEFALONIA: Capt. Corelli's Island

Plateia Gialos, Kefalonia

This is the island where the writer Louis de Berniere wrote his novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
This last time I was here, they were filming the movie over near the town of Sami and had rebuilt a whole village to resemble what Argostoli used to be like before the 1953 quake.

You might also know that it's Juan de Fuca's island. (read my published story about this on
http://www.magiccarpetjournals.com/ In fact, the first time I came here it was because I'd read about a regatta that was being held here in his honour. His Greek name was Iannis Focas, and he went to sea for the Spanish king, and was sent to find the Northwest Passage. So there is a real B.C. connection here and if you saw the island, the green forested mountains, you'd see some similarities.

Kefalonia is the largest of the 7 Ionian Islands off the west coast of Greece. It is an island of rugged mountains, uniqur fir forests, many wild flowers and scented herbs and beautiful beaches. All the island towns were reduced to rubble in 1953 after a major earthquake. Very few of the original buidings were left standing. The beautiful Venetian architectures was destroyed so the towns have mostly been rebuilt. Once Argostoli was a town of gracious Venetian buildings, an opera house and splendid mansions. Now it's a lively,modern port set on a peninsula with a cobbled walk along the sea and an impressive shopping area, with a marble-paved pedestrian mall.

We arrived here on Monday and found ourselves a nice hotel by the sea. The weather has been perfect for sightseeing, not too hot, some cloudy periods and some refreshing wind to keep things cooled down. On Tuesday we went to the beautiful Platis Gialos Beach for a swim and sun tanning. The surf was a bit too high for swimming but it is so lovely, all sandy with turquoise water. We laid on the sun cots for a few hours then caught the bus back to Argostoli. Later we took a taxi out to the Fenari Lighthouse. It is a Venetian style lighthouse built by the British in 1853, later destroyed in the quake and rebuilt exactly as before. We arrived there in time for sunset and got some good photos. Right up the hill behind the shore is the place where there is a memorial for the Acqui Division, the regiment of Italian soldiers who were gunned down execution style by the Nazis after they refused to join the Germans when Italy had ceded defeat to the Allies. This was part of the Captain Corelli story that was true. Over 10,000 soliders were killed. The first time I went up to see the monument, I came down later and sat by the Fenari at sunset listening to Andreas Bocelli sing "Time to say Goodbye". It was a moving moment and brought me to tears.

Ingrid and I walked along the sea road to this very nice taverna where once Anna Britt and I had gone for lunch. We had a delicious dinner there, then walked back to Argosoli in the dark, along the oleander-lined path into town.

This morning we were up early to meet the tour bus for a tour of the entire island. This island is so big you would never feel island-bound. There are hundreds of village tucked away inthe mountains and along the shore as well as the resort towns, and larger towns like Sami, Argostoli, Luxouri (across the Bay and accessibly by a frequent ferry service) and Fiskardo in the north.

The tour started at a famous underground stream called the Katovothres where there is a big mill wheel. Some years ago geologists explored the source of this stream and discovered it goes under the sea (the sea bed was disturbed by the quake and the water table was disturbed) and comes out across on the other side of the island where it pours into the sea. Quite a phenomenon!

The bus goes along the winding mountain roads overlooking the sparkling turquoise sea where the steep cliffs run down to the sea. There are groves of eucalyptus and many deciduous trees as well as the special firs that grow on Mt. Ainos, the highest peak at 1620 meters. There are many types of flora and fauna on the island including some almost extinct wild horses that roam on Mt Ainos.

The island has a long history dating back to prehistoric times, and during the Mycenean civilization it was heavily populated. (It was part of Odysseus' kingdom). In 200 BC it was a Roman naval base; later it belonged to Byzantine Empired and was once of the defences on the coast f the Mediterranean against pirates from North Africa. The Ottoman Turks ruled here breifly in the 1400's and in 1809 the British occupied Kefalonia and it became one of the protectorates.

The oldest village is Assos. A1593 Venetian castle was built on the promontory there to protect the village from pirates. Near Assos is one of the finest beaches in Europe, Myrto Beach, brilliant shades of blues and white sand, accessible by a long winding road down from the highway.

We stopped at the lovely fishing village of Fiskardo on the north end of the island. Fiskardo was the only village that was not destroyed in the earthquake and although it's dolled up for the tourists, there are some beautiful old buildings there and a yacht harbour inviting sailors from all around the Mediterranean to anchor there. The town was named for Roberto Fiscard, a Norman raider (pirate) who died on his ship off-shore.

From Fiscardo, with a lunch stop along the way, the bus tour continued down the length of the island, stopping at the spectacular Melissani Lake, which is a subterranean sea-water lake in a Cave (Mellisini is named after a nymph so this is The Nymph's Cave. We went into it on little boats. The sun shines through the opening in the cave's ceiling lighting the water's many shades of blue and reflecting up the walls that are hung with stalactites. I thought it was even more beautiful than the Blue Grotton on the Isle of Capri.

Then we went to the Drogoati Cave, which has 120 steps down into the caverns. It was first discovered in the 1800's and opened to the public in 1963. One of the chambers is used for the occasional concert. Mikis Theodorakis and Maria Callas have both performed there. We headed down the many steps and as we entered the cold, damp cavern it became very slippery. I took off my sandals but it was even like slick ice under my bare feet. So rather than risk a nasty fall, we only went as far as the first entrance then returned up the stairs. All this hiking and climbing is sure to make us fit (I hope) and is a real test of our endurance and cardio!

The rest of the trip was around by some of the lovely beach resorts, then back to Argostoli.
We've just been out shopping. I bought a CD of Kefalonian cantata music and lots of goodies for my apartment. Tomorrow we are heading up to Fiskardo to get the ferry over to Lefkada Island. Once we are settled there on Friday I'll post another island blog.

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