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Friday, June 10, 2005

ISLANDS IN THE SUN #3: LEFKADA

Scorpios Island, home of the Onasis family

"Men have to construct their own destiny." Aristoteles Sokrates Onasis 1906-1979

We've been on the island of Lefkada since yesterday enjoying some relaxation. Lefkada is the fourth largest Ionian islands. In ancient times it was joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus until the occupying Corinthians dug a canal in the 8th century B.C. Now the 25 mile strait is spanned from the mainland by a causeway at the town of Lefkada (Lefkas). The island lies north of Kefalonia. We intended to reach the southern port of Vassiliki, but couldn't make the right ferry connection, so ended up at the mid-eastern port of Nidri (Nydri. pronounced Needree)
The island is mountainous with several peaks over 1000 metres. It's fertile and has cotton fields, olive groves, vineyards and fir and pine forests. The Lefkadians are extremely proud of their island and some of the older women still wear traditional costumes.

The little fishing port of Vassiliki, which I visited on my first trip here 4 years ago, is one of the best wind-surfing locations in Europe. The west coast of Lefkada has excellent beaches including Porto Katsiki and Egremeni (reached by caiques or excursion boats). It was on the beach of Egremeni, under the sheer high limestone cliffs where the poet Sappho lept to her death, that I first conceived my idea of "House of the Muses", the play I'm working on about her life.
There used to be a sanctuary to Apollo on the western promontory of Cape Lefkatas and one for Aphrodite near the spot where Sappho lept off. I had hoped to return there this time to see if the Muse would speak to me again. No such luck. Well, at least we are in Homer's territory, not far from Odysseus' kingdom of Ithaka. In fact, one of the old archaeologists insisted that Lefkada, not Ithaka, was Odysseus home.

Lefkada has 10 satellite islets off-shore which include Meganisis, Kalamos, Kastos, Madouri (a private island, once home of the Greek poet Aristoteles Valaorites who died there in 1879)
Skorpidi, Skorpios (the private island owned by the Onasis family/foundation: only one of the family surives and that is young Athena who lives with her French father and rarely comes to Greece, much to the chagrin of the Foundation and Greeks.) The other islets are Thelia, Petalou and Kythros. Ferries and private launches or caiques and excursion boats visit these islets and there are many interesting tours around. Last trip I went around Skorpios and we were permitted to land at one of the small beaches there to swim. (I wrote a story called "Swimming with the Rich and Famous" about that trip.)

We arrived at the pretty little port of Nidri yesterday noon and found an excellent studio apartment with all the amenities to rent for 35 Euro a night, owned by a Greek/Canadian family from Winipeg. Today I spent most of the afternoon swimming and lounging at the pool until the wind came up and it clouded over, turning quite chilly. Nidri was once a sleepy little fishing village, built by a Bay that scoops in between low tree-covered mountains. It's a popular port for yachts as well as fishermen and is a busy tourist resort, though fortunately it's not too crowded at this time of year so we are enjoying the tranquility.

We've been spending a lot of time just sitting on the balcony enjoying the beautiful panoramic view of the Bay and outer islets (including Skorpios) and watching the tourists pass to and fro below on the sea walk. We went for a walk last night up to the one end of the sea walk and considered renting bikes today as it's pefect cycling area - flat! There's an impressive statue of Aristotle Onassis on the quay from which I took the quote. Today we cruised the one main street, did our tourist thing, bought a few trinkets, and tonight went for pizza and wine. We both regret that we must leave here tomorrow to return to Athens.

We're catching an early bus up to Lefkada town which will take us down the mainland coast and across to the north Peloponnese, new sights for Ingrid to see. I'll write a new blog after our return to describe the last part of our journey together.

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