Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Monday, 2 November 2015

A botany quiz ...

They are everywhere … almost as omnipresent as the olive trees. And like the olive trees, they are protected: the cypresses of Corfu. On our day out, a few kilometres south of the capital Kerkyra we enjoyed this beautiful scenery.

Click twice to enlarge and see the details.

Still the perfect tour guide, Dimitris stopped by the side of the road giving us ample time – and some useful photo tips – to shoot this view. He explained that the trees were protected and that there were penalties for anyone cutting them down. Having said this, he stepped out of the car and went to examine a small specimen (about 1.5 metres tall) that was growing by the side of the road. He examined it very closely, inspecting the trunk, by lifting up the tree’s lower branches, as if he was peeping under its skirt!

“This one is just right. It’ll make a perfect Christmas tree.” He said with a satisfied smile on his face. “I’ll mark this position on my map and come back in December to get it.” I was flabbergasted. Hadn’t he just said that it was forbidden by law to cut the cypresses? When I expressed my astonishment, he shrugged and laughed. “Everybody does it. And it’s only a tiny little thing. Nobody will notice …”

Before I could say more, he quickly changed the subject. “By the way, do you know why some cypresses are fat and others are slim?”

A fat and a skinny cypress tree, side by side, in the hotel gardens.

None of us knew the answer at the time. We do now. Do you?

Monday, 26 October 2015

A seven minutes’ stop light

On May 28th, the day of my arrival on Corfu Island, I met up with the tour operator’s representative, a young man called Jonas.

We had a nice chat which lasted about half an hour before him sending me off with a warm handshake and heading over to his next clients, a French speaking couple that had arrived on the same flight.

During our conversation he mentioned that there were stop lights on the island that remained red 7 up to 12 minutes. That seemed like an awful long time. And the next day I was about to find out how long that really is.

On our way into the mountains we were stopped twice … by a stop light that seemed to be stuck on red. Luckily there was a digital clock showing drivers how much time was left before the light would jump to green.

 Not a good photo (through the windscreen of the car)
showing one of the stubborn red lights.

On both occasions, Dimitris, cool as cucumber, shut down the car’s engine, pulled up the hand brake, sat back and started humming the tune of the bouzouki music that was coming from the car’s DVD player. ‘Relax and enjoy the view’ he said. ‘The road ahead is too narrow for vehicles simultaneously driving in opposite directions. So we wait …’ After five minutes or so a convoy including several huge tourist buses came creeping towards us. Two minutes after the last car had passed, the timer on the digital screen sprang to 00:00 and the light turned to green.

Part of the narrow mountain road.

Now it was our turn to creep up the mountain road towards the village of Lakones and the bakery where we were to have lunch … By the time we reached the top, a queue of cars and coaches had lined up at the stop light on the opposite side of the road … waiting for the green light to appear. Wonder what would happen if the Brussels’ traffic lights were programmed that way … Chaos, a lot of swearing and honking horns would be my best guess … What do you think?

Friday, 23 October 2015

A farmers’ lunch

All through our day out with Dimitris I tried to follow our itinerary on the map he had given us in the morning. Although I consider myself as a fairly good map reader, thanks to my friend C., the winding roads on Corfu Island and the unfamiliar road signs somehow confused me. However, looking at the map today I can more or less work out our route.

We started out towards the west, drove up into the mountains and stopped to admire some spectacular views: an old fortress stooped on a rock facing the sea, a turquoise sandy bay, …

However, before we knew it, it was noon and time to have lunch. Dimitris never asked us where or what we wanted to eat. We weren’t especially hungry given the sumptuous ‘all you can eat’ breakfast buffet at the hotel. Yet, we could do with a little something, some snack … and this is where Dimitris’ knowledge of the island was more than welcome. As I mentioned, he never asked us what we wanted to eat but took as straight to a road-side mini-market/bakery for a typical farmer’s lunch. Nothing fancy, nothing grand but straight forward healthy food.

The tavern (if that’s the name for it) was located in the back room of a small bakery. The place smelled of freshly baked bread and something ‘tangy’, which soon turned out to be home-made lemonade. We didn’t have to do anything; just walk onto the balcony to admire the view and shoot photos of the dreamlike bay down below and enjoy the moment. 

The haze you see in this photo lasted all through my short stay on the island.

By the time we got back inside – the place had a nice outside seating area, but the northerly wind from the Albanian mountains was too cold to enjoy a meal al fresco – our lunch was served. A large plate with a fresh lump of feta cheese, covered in local olive oil and oregano, black olives and, with on the side, a basket of home-made bread and for each of us a large glass of chilled home-made lemonade.

The lunch was not included in the tour (as we knew beforehand). However, there was no reason to fuss, because we each payed 3 euros, for a thoroughly enjoyable and fresh meal in unique settings. 

Back on the road – while waiting for one of Corfu’s notorious stop lights (more about that later) to turn green- Dimitris explained that our lunch has been an olive grower’s staple food for as long as there have been olive groves on Corfu.