Venice

Lord, I am overwhelmed by all the amazing places we have been able to visit, Paul and me, humble missionaries, seeing the most lovely cities in the world.  We are in Venice and I have fleeting memories of this astonishing city from my only visit in 1971 with my family.  I remember the canals and I think I remember the hotel and I remember watching a glass-blower.  And of course, I have seen many pictures and scenes of Venice, from slides of Canelletto and Guardi’s paintings to scenes in movies.  

Typically, we hadn’t put a lot of time into planning and researching the city.  I had found an adorable, new bed and breakfast in a tiny side-street near St. Mark’s Square.  It is perfect—a king size bed, decorated in Venetian material and style, private bath, clean and a very comfy breakfast area right across the hall.  It’s called Dimora Marciana and it’s on Calle Bologna.

We made it to Venice by a little after six, found the Tronchetto car park—an island created by man uniquely to park cars and a port for the vaporetti (ferries transporting passengers).

We rode a vaporetto down St. Mark’s Basin—called Canale della Giudecca—a tourist type ferry that zigzags across this wide canal, making stops at different little spots.  First thoughts:  enchanting.  The late afternoon sun on the water, the different hues of pastel on the ancient buildings, the water that licks the doorsteps (and sometimes filters under the doors).  Yes, enchanting.  I am thrilled to be in Venice.  I haven’t stopped smiling since we got here.















We docked at the stop by St Marco’s and pulled our two green bags along the cobbles as we watched the tourists enjoying their gelato as they meandered along to the canal front.  Got our first glimpse of the Grand Canal in front of us.

Last night after we checked into the bed and breakfast, we showered and took to the streets and wandered through the tiny ruelles—Paul can spread his arms and touch each side, some are even narrower, like our b and b’s street.  It is one surprise after another, you turn a corner and voila, a little step bridge over a canal, where gondolas are navigating, one after another, their plush interiors filled with tourists.  On one, a man sang opera.  I am so happy just walking in and out to the streets of Venice with my lover, discovering niches and corners and canals and gondolas and gelato and so much more.

Navigating the Grand Canal seems dangerous.  You’ve got vaporetti, traghettas (retired gondolas that take locals and tourists across the Grand Canal for 50 cents a ride), gondolas, motor boat taxis, ferries and more.  We have yet to see an accident, but evidently, they occur.  

We ended up that first night by the Rialto Bridge, and starving, slipped into a little hole in the wall and had a calzone and a turkey sandwich and watched the tourists.  Then we walked onto the Rialto Bridge and took pictures of the canal.  It is beautiful, no matter how many tourists (and I had the distinct feeling there were less than usual). 












 I just can’t quite describe the joy of being here and walking, walking, walking—past the waiters almost begging you to eat at their ristorante by the canal, past the shops filled with masks for the Carnaval and fake glass blown not on Murana and then beautiful little boutiques selling expensive beautiful colored glass in all shapes and sizes, hand blown on the island of Murano and trinket stores and gelato places and geranium covered-window boxes and pink-hued little houses and in and out of the tiny streets; sometimes we were the only ones there.














We walked to St. Mark’s Square and listened to the beautiful music offered up at Florian’s, the first café to offer coffee in Europe.  They have a small musical ensemble playing classical music and other more popular songs—a flutist, oboe, accordion, violin and piano.  Many tourists stood and observed and did not sit down and pay the crazy prices.  We thought of getting an ice cream at the competitor across the square and found there was a 5,70 euro charge for the music and the hot chocolate costs 10 euros—that was the cheapest thing!  We stood back up and just listened to the music—they even played “Oh when the saints go marchin in.”  Classical, popular and folk mixed together and a happy camaraderie as we stood around and listened.











And today, we rode a traghetto (cheap taxi-like gondola) across the Grand Canal to visit the church Santa Maria della Salute.  Oh I really loved the open air of this white stoned domed church.  And the altar of Mary and Christ (the church, like Fourviere, was built to thank Mary for saving the city from the plague in the 1600s), and I went into the Sacristy where I saw Tintoretto’s Wedding at Cana and Tiepolo’s amazing ceiling paintings of David and Goliath, Abraham sacrificing Isaac and Cain and Abel.  Later we walked along the little streets and canals on the other side of the Grand Canal.  Often, as we encountered other tourists, we smiled at them, handed each other our cameras and posed for pictures on bridges over the canals—I think there are 400 of them.  

After this, we walked to the Peggy Guggenheim museum, but we’d had enough of museums, having spent 2 hours at the Accademia that morning—delighting in the Venitian painters—Tinteretto, Tiepolo, Titian, Veronese, Bellini, Mategna, Giorgione, Guardi, Caneletto—oh, how well I remember studying these painters all those many years ago at Vanderbilt.  I enjoyed having the head set and relearning about them, watching the styles change from Medieval art—Veneziano and del Fiore to the early Renaissance of Bellini and Mantegna and Giorgione and Venetian High Renaissance of Titian and Veronese and Tintoretto and then Tiepolo and Canaletto and Guardi with their views of Venice.  

Afterwards, time for Gelato

I was thankful that the b and b let us borrow Rick Steve’s guide to Venice.  I read about a neat little restaurant a few bridges beyond St. Mark’s Square.  I knew Paul was hungry and ready for a good meal and, as we walked along the cobbled streets and up and over the little bridges, peering at the gondolas and the tourists seated in them while the driver, in his black striped shirt, stood to one side and maneuvered the long skinny boat, that we needed to find this place quickly.

The weather had been gorgeous all day, in spite of predictions of rain.  But now, the skies were gray and at one point over by the Salute Church, we saw a waiter dismantling the outdoor tables, holding about 15 wine glasses in one hand.  Anyway, we stopped outside a cute restaurant that did not over look a canal, but nonetheless was quaint, had a covered outside long terrace and a yummy menu for a reasonable price.  Paul thought we’d already missed the other place, so we decided to ‘go for it’.  No sooner had we been seated than it began to rain, big drops, slowly dropping, then harder, then a real downpour that was drenching the couple seated closest to the entrance of the restaurant.  Then hail!  Hail falling from the sky and landing on the awning of the bar across the street.  Our waiters went to the edge of their trattoria and tossed the hail back across the cobbled street to their neighbor’s ristorante.  Delightful—the Italian waiters playing baseball with the hail.  It came down harder and harder, pounding on the roof, bouncing crazily off the cobbles and into the terrace.  I picked up a piece in my hand.  It reminded me of watching that movie, The Day After Tomorrow, with the boys a few weeks earlier.  Freaky.




(Look closely, that's hail at the waiter's feet)





But we were cozy under the wooden awning, happily eating our lasagna and spaghetti, our veal cutlets and salads and fries, sipping our house wine.  I thought that nothing could be more romantic than this.  Here we are in Venice, stepping into a little trattoria and escaping the storm while watching other tourists rush along to find shelter under a bridge.  A happy complicity instilled among all the clients.  Delightful.  Delightful.  And Paul and I there together.

By the end of dinner, the skies had cleared and we strolled hand in hand through the little passageways—Paul can touch both sides of most street walls—until we came to the Piazza St. Mark—splendid in the evening with crowds surrounding the café with the orchestra playing.  Every tribe and nation and language listening.  And gelato and pigeons and that amazing church (which also qualifies as a basilica and cathedral) behind us, with its spires and domes and all the looted treasure tucked into every nook and cranny from the looters travels in Constatinople. 

Here’s what Rick says about the Grand Canal—two miles long and 150 feet wide, it is the city’s largest lined with its most impressive palaces.  It’s the remnant of a river that once spilled from the mainland into the Adriatic.  The sediment it carried formed barrier islands that cut Venice off from the sea, forming a lagoon.  Venice was built on the marshy islands of the former delta, sitting on pilings driven nearly 15 feet into the clay.  About 25 miles of canals drain the city, dumping like streams into the Grand Canal.  Technically, Venice has only three canals, the 45 smaller waterways are called rivers.  Venice is a city of palaces dating from the day when Venice was the world’s richest city.  The most lavish palaces formed a grand chorus line along the GC.  

For much of our 40 hours in Venice, we avoided the biggest crowds, but on Saturday morning, we headed to St. Mark’s, complete with covered shoulders and a skirt and slacks for Paul.  The line looked long as it stretched out to the right.  Reminded me a little of St. Peter’s in Rome, but moved much more quickly—well, the Pope wasn’t there!  And the piazza was alive with every imaginable language, tour groups and lovers, school trips where the kids all wore yellow hats, and pigeons playing with frisky little boys.












The cathedral is amazing—it shimmers when you enter.  And rightly so, the upper walls are made of mosaic.  Ah, I know this!  Tesserae—little uneven tiles, painted gold to reflect light.  The exterior and interior are an eclectic collection of Venetian plunder—humorous to think about all the different things they incorporated into this ornate church—and somehow made it work.  

Frescoes on the outside, mosaic, and the most famous spoil—the four bronze horses.  They are copies and the originals are inside.  We walked through the church admiring the mosaics in which many pictured scenes from the Bible, not venerating Mary but adoring Christ.  I’m so thrilled that we went up to the balcony level—the view of the golden mosaics, shimmering and looking amazingly three-D, was worth it, plus going outside and the view!  Ah, the view of St. Mark’s and the canal and the people everywhere.  Wonderful.

One last gelato before we headed back to the b and b and changed and pulled our bags to the vaporetti #2 and took a lovely and crowded ride back up the Grand Canal and I imagined scenes from a novel I will one day write.

The Ferry Ride to Kephalonia

I guess I should actually say the boat rides to Kephalonia, because there were two.  Ah, the adventures we take!  We debarked from Vaporetti #2 at the end of the Grand Canal, stop Tronchetto and headed to the parking lot that was man made—an island just to park cars so that there are no cars in Venice=)  We found the car in fine shape and drove a short distance to the Minoan Lines where we were to embark on the ferry.  After waiting in line, I received our prepaid tickets and the lady instructed us to wait for her colleague to show us the way.  It took a while and we were finally lined up in long lines of cars and moved from one spot in the enormous parking lot to another, and then waited and waited until one line by line, we were led to the port of Maestra to board the ferry.

I am always amazed at Paul’s mind and how he handles these practical issues—he got in line first and was happy to lead the way, and ready at every moment to start the car and go flying after the leader.  He is so good with directions and figures out quickly where we are and where we’re going.  I am a happy camper to follow.

At last we drove up onto the ferry and our Hyundai was in one of the first spots on the lower level of the boat.  No way we’d be getting out of there in a hurry.  We covered up our stuff, brought out our bedding and clothes for the 30+ hour ferry ride and I was delighted that both of us went together to find a spot.  We’d heard from Brigitte that we needed to hurry and pick a spot while the other parked.  
Anyway, the boat was very nice—like a cruise ship—and we saw people blowing up their air mattresses in the big open spaces by the stairways.  But we headed out onto the deck and found the perfect little spot tucked under the lifeboats and behind some metal supports.  We laid out our mattress and then began blowing up our rafts and I immediately loved it all. The people all around with their children, speaking every imaginable language, the comfort of just putting our bags down, surrounding our spot with a few deck chairs and then lying down and reading.  Reading!  30 hours to do nothing but read!  Surely this is vacation!  
















View of our spot from two decks up

The ferry seemed quite full—people in the cabins, in the airplane type chairs and all spread out on the deck and in the open corridors.  But a very orderly crowd, everyone very civil.  The ferry was well equipped with many comfortable sitting places.  Little round tables with comfortable swivel chairs overlooking the sea, several bar areas with places to order food and drink and more comfortable sofa and chairs, a nice cafeteria (self service) with a gorgeous sunset view, a real restaurant with full service, a bar and eating spot out on the deck by the pool area.  











Definitely UNO won as the game of choice.  Loved seeing all the different families and teens playing that game.  But other card games too—Paul and I went back to old faithful, Spite and Malice, both evenings, there was even Bingo one night.

The bathrooms were cleaned regularly, but still, with that amount of people, well, they got a bit yucky at times.  I scouted out a rather hidden, small bathroom that I used as often as possible.  The toilets can’t accept toilet paper, so all is thrown in little metal trash cans—can get smelly—and yet, people obey and it is really very civil.  Yes, civil=)

So we laid there and read—I read Not a Sparrow Falls by Linda Nichols and thoroughly enjoyed it.  She writes for Bethany—has a similar style to mine but more romantic suspense, I suppose.  It was very good and I loved losing myself in a novel.  Reminded me of high school and reading all those Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart mystery romances.  In fact, I so wanted to read This Rough Magic while on the way to Greece.  It takes place on the island of Corfu, I believe.

So with ear plugs and eye blinders, I actually slept that first night, huddled in the sleeping bag, wearing my Vandy sweats and socks.  It was very windy that night, but Paul had tied sheets to metal posts and ladders to block the wind and we were snug as a bug in a rug.  Very fun.  The noise of the ship was loud, but constant, as opposed to being inside with people coming and going.  I kept thinking that I could really get into this camping stuff.  I guess it’s about time, at almost 50!  What a fun adventure and something we would never have tried if not for Brigitte’s suggestion.  I thought, “Well, if John and Brigitte do this, surely we can, too.”

We’d eaten at the restaurant and Paul didn’t feel great during the night.  I awoke at 6:45 and he slept until 9:30.  I was a bit worried but he eventually felt better.  Between lounging and reading, we walked the deck, watched the swimmers, ate pizza or spinach pie or veal cutlet, drank our water and bought big cold liter bottles on the boat (best deal) and even found a plug up high to heat our water for tea and coffee.  We felt very debrouillard!  Most of the experience was completely delightful.  The second night was very short—and I didn’t sleep much.  We were awakened at 3:30 am and debarked around 4:30.  Everyone again orderly.











But being out at sea, watching the blues of the water change from deep and dark to teal, seeing the long wide wake behind the boat, glimpsing islands in the distance, seeing a beautiful sunrise (Paul) and sunset (both of us), well, Lord, all I can say is ‘Oh Lord our God how majestic is your name in all the earth!”  I kept thinking of how vast was the sea and as I occasionally saw another ferry or cruise ship far out at sea, I thought, “We are not afraid of running into them because there is plenty of room in this huge sea (unlike in the Grand Canal in Venice where the gondolas and traghettos and vaporettis and motor boats dodged each other in happy confusion) and that is how it is in the sky too.  There is plenty of room for all the planes in your vast expanse.

I started reading Holy Habits—the devotional by Mimi Wilson that we received at WOTH Croatia last year.  Appropriate to read as I pass Croatia in the ferry.  She focused on Psalm 90 in the first chapter and it struck me again how my times are in your hands.  I had just read Psalm 90 the day before.  I am constantly amazed by the way you are so intimately acquainted with all my ways.  All my ways.  You know that I will read the psalms through and be at psalm 90 and by chance pick up Holy Habits to take on the trip along with many other books and will pick it up to read the day after I have read Psalm 90.  Amazing.  Such a tiny thing and so huge.  

You are Holy and Huge and Awesome in Thy sanctuary.

We are now here on Kephalonia, in the village of Spartia, at John and Brigitte’s spanking new little villa with the cicadas chirping all around, the olive trees giving shade and the deep blue of the Ionian Sea just off in the distance.  This, dear Lord, is a gift we didn’t even dream of praying for.  It is a taste of heaven, and as Brigitte pointed out, this island remains much as it was in Jesus’ time and we look around and see the olive trees and the fig leaves and the trees grafted and the sea and we understand the deep truth and great simplicity of Your Word.  Oh, open my eyes that I may learn wonderful truths from Thy Word!

Kephalonia—Spartia

We are here at the MacGregor’s house in Spartia, Kephalonia.  It is mid-morning; a refreshing breeze flows through the house; we are protected from the mosquitoes by the screened windows.  The cicadas are calling to us, the constant hum rather soothing, I think.  Outside there are olive trees and beyond, the Ionian Sea.  The Sea is magnificent here and I don’t have enough vocabulary to describe the different hues of blue.  In the morning it looks gray which turns to a light turquoise and by night a deep, deep blue.  
















We arrived in the port of Patras at 5 a.m. in the morning.  We put down the mattresses in the back of the car and slept.  Around 8 we got up and Paul went to see about buying tickets for the ferry from Patras to Kephalonia and the port of Sami.  After some confusion, we were able to buy tickets and drive our Hyundai onto the ferry, the very last car, surrounded by big trucks.

Upstairs, thrilled to be on the boat, we collapsed in the only chairs we found—the boat was full, mostly with Greeks.  The ride took about 2 hours, and outside in the sun with the water spraying us, how relaxing!  Seeing the island of Kephalonia in the distance.

We arrive, but it is like a herd of cows getting off the boat and we know that our car is blocking everyone.  Too bad.  We have to wait in line.  At last we break through and Paul gets the car and John and Brigitte are waiting and smiling.

We follow them in our car from the port of Sami up and twisting around the mountainous roads, passing a flock of goat which baa and bray and lazily cross the street, no shepherd in sight.  We pass the vegetation so reminiscent of Mediterranean cities—oleanders, olive trees and many shrubs and bushes familiar also from Montpellier.  And my memory drifts back to that wonderful trip to Athens and Crete back in 1995.

The Greek houses are simple, tiled roofs, bright colored shutters and pastel-painted walls.  Sometimes you see the replica of a little chapel in the yard.

We walk to a tiny beach from the MacGregors—ten minutes down hill and then down a steep path to arrive in the bottom where the cliffs surround us and we walk to the chilly water—water so clear that you can see straight through to your toes.  
















But getting to the beach, you see the Sea peeking through the olive trees, the bougainvillea and the lauriers bright with deep pink color.  And then you step onto the path and round a turn and it is breathtaking, the contrast of the cliffs and Sea, the shimmering blues, the colors and rocks and the sun high above. 

The beach has sand and lots of seaweed that has dried that looks like shredded paper.  The sand is hot, hot on the feet.  We wade out into the sea and the salt buoys us up so that we are carried along and it is not difficult to stay afloat.  Our first taste (and we did taste its saltiness) of the Sea was a 7 pm, the sun low down and the water cold!  But Brigitte dove in and then John waded carefully and so we followed.  Freezing, but finally diving under, we stayed in for a while.  Cold, but so refreshing after having been on that ferry for 30 hours and then another and not having bathed in 2 days.  Ah, refreshing!

With little sleep, I was fading, but the evening was so pleasant, eating a late dinner of pasta and lentils, eggplant and zucchini and olive oil.  And fresh little pears from the tree.  And then a time for bed.

The next day, John and Brigitte left early for the capital of Argostoli to buy provisions.  Paul and I slept in, went to the beach at noon, complete with tomato sandwiches and water and peaches and pears.  It was hot, hot at the little beach.  We parked our stuff and swam.  What a delight, swimming in the cool Sea, held up by the salt, both of us just doing backstroke and sidestroke and breast stroke.  We swam out to a large rock fairly far away and perched there until the waves crashing around (well, not really crashing) chased us off and we swam back, ate and read.  Really, it was so peaceful and refreshing.  I’m not used to a tiny beach where you can’t walk, but it was great, being able to swim peacefully and then reading.

That evening we took a 2 hour walk to watch the sun set.  We walked from Spartia toward the southern tip of this part of the island called Liakas, where their English friend Sheila lives in a little house with a stunning view of the sea—but where is there not a stunning view, perched up high, cliffs below and then, the teal colored sea, or is it marine, or dark blue or azure or clear?  We walked along the coast and then cut up through the brush and walked north west through another village (between the towns of Kaligata and Kourkoumelata) and into the wild and climbed up in time to see the sun a very crimson red and hanging just above the land, slowly descending behind the mountains in the distance into the Ionian Sea (or so it seemed.)













Beaches

Pesada—absolutely beautiful, we got there late in the evening and it was completely quiet, the water changing colors from deep blue to lighter and purple and violet and the boats coming in.  Just Marine, Brigitte and me.  Walking down a steep stone stairway, we have a gorgeous view of the sea.













Trapezki Beach—a longer beach, white sand and very shallow where you can walk out quite far.  

Spartia beach, lots of sand and shallow out far, very calm, view of the cliffs off to the right.  

Yummy restaurant behind—the Panas where we ate with John, Brigitte, Charles and Marine.

Meat Pie
Macaroni and Cheese
Mousaka
Stuffed Peppers and Stuffed Tomatoes
Greek salad 




The setting and company was magnificent and as we sat under the straw canopies and looked out at the sea, we heard the disco music from the Welsh bar up the road, the sound muffled by the distance.  Gloria Gayner was belting out “I will survive”. Ah, the fun of it all! 













One day Paul and I ate lunch at the Waterway Café at Spartia Beach (in search of internet which didn’t work) and had a yummy Greek salad, French fries and fried feta cheese plus a dip made of codfish, garlic and olive oil—delicious.  Then we went in to Argostoli to do a little tourist shopping.  So fun to be with Paul alone, walking along the little sidewalks and side roads and slipping into the air-conditioned shops and buying Robolo wine, and a few other things.

Charles and Marine are great.  It’s neat to see cousins who get along so well together.  Paul is having a blast teaching them new games.  We’ve played Missionary Manners, Killer Scrabble, 5s and 1s, chess, 20 questions, 

The constant chirping of cicadas becomes the background music for our stay in Kefalonia.  Sometimes they chirp louder than at other times, but it is nearly constant and I love it.  Cicadas, olive groves, fig trees, bougainvillea, laurier, this is Kefallonia, and how it reminds me of our trip to Crete when the boys were young.

Bright white houses with bright blue shutters, or pastel houses in ochre and soft yellow and pastel blue.
 
Ah, Paul and my two week vacation is coming to an end.  It has been so heavenly—I cannot imagine more breathtaking scenery or more romantic places to visit with my lover and husband.  I have honestly enjoyed every minute of it.  I am in awe again that we get to do these things together and I can only say a huge MERCI for the funds, the time, the friendship with the MacGregors which made the whole thing possible.

It is late and I need to get to bed, but I wanted to mention a few highlights of the past day—playing ‘Missionary Manners’ with the MacGregors and seeing Brigitte burst into uncontrollable laughter, playing the ‘guess who’ game with them too, having a sweet share and prayer time on Sunday afternoon with them and hearing Charles and Brigitte and John express their thoughts.  Paul and I taking a last swim on the ‘plage des anglais’, my feet buried in the sand and the cool Ionian Sea lapping onto them as I sat in that little Nike chair by the seaside, then swimming out in the sea with Paul, a kiss, a look through the snorkel, floating on my back.

A drink with the Macgregors at the little hotel/café near where we watched the sunset, getting a ‘frappe’ in spite of the fact that it was soooo windy outside that we were suddenly cold, and watching the sun set over the sea there with them, surrounded by huge olive trees.

Monday we left around noon from the MacGregors, drove out of Spartia, near the Enos forrest with the tall, spindly firs—very pretty and famous in the region—and wound around to Sami, where we had a few hours before getting on that ferry.  We ate our sklovki chicken giro—delicious, got ice  cream and did a little more shopping.  I even put my feet in the sea once again before we headed across the water from Sami to Patros.  We sat in the comfortable plane chair seats, then went up on the deck and oh, I was able to watch a perfect sunset from up there as it slowly came toward the sea.  We debarked before it fully set, so looking back from the pedestrian street in Petras, ah, we saw it, red, fiery and absolutely beautiful.  

An ice cream with Paul and then we drove the short distance to the Minoan Tour boat and were able to load.  Quite early.  We had the pick of the boat and we picked the same location on the other side.  The floor was still wet from them washing it down, but Paul took care of that and got it all ready for us and we’ve nestled there, feeling like young lovers.  We are again young lovers.

Today, we slept, read, watched the sun rise, watched it set, watched dolphins leaping in shimmering grey arcs alongside the boat.  Watched every type of people, listened to Greek families and French students and Germans and Austrians and English and Americans and many others and I am again impressed with the order, with the levels of society represented here, all happily going about their business.  I have loved this adventure of ferry riding and sleeping on deck.  And of course, to share it with Paul.


















From the guide book on Greece: Ionian Islands: Corfu, Paxi, Lefkada, Ithika, Zakynthos, Kefallonia, and Kythira.  The last is more accessible from the Peloponnese.  The islands differ from other island groups and, geographically, are less quintessentially Greek.  More reminiscent of Corfu’s neighbor, Italy, not least in light, their colors are mellow and green compared with the stark, dazzling brightness of the Aegean.

These islands receive a great amount of rain and consequently, the vegetation with the exception of the more exposed Kythira, is more luxuriant.  Corfu has the nation’s highest rainfall.  Overall, vegetation combines elements of the tropical with forests that could be northern European:  exotic orchids as well as wild flowers emerge below spring snowlines, and eucalypts and acacias share soil with plane, oak, and maple trees.  The islands do not experience the meltemi, and as a result, they can be extremely hot in summer.  (Meltemi is a warm wind that blows from the sea to the earth or vice versa). 

The culture and cuisine of each Ionian island is unique and differs from the Aegean islands and Crete.  Influences from Mediterranean Europe and Britain have also been stronger yet have developed with special individuality on each island.  

History and Mythology

The origin of the name Ionian is obscure but is thought to derive from the goddess Io.  Yet another of Zeus’ countless paramours, Io, while fleeing the wrath of a jealous Hera ( in the shape of a heifer), happened to pass through the waters now known as the Ionian Sea.

If we believe Homer, the islands were important during Mycenaean times; however, no magnificent palaces or even modest villages from that period have been revealed, although Mycenaean tombs have been unearthed.  Ancient history lies beneath tones of earthquake rubble—seismic activity has been constant on all Ionian Islands, including Kythira.

According to Homer, Odysseus’ kingdom consisted not only of Ithaca (Ithaki) but also encompassed Kefallonia, Zakynthos and Lefkada.  Ithaca has long been controversial.  Classicists and archaeologists in the 19th century, concluded that Home’s Ithaca was modern Ithak, his Sami was Sami on Kefallonia, and his Zakynthos was today’s Zakynthos, which sounded credible.  But in the early 20th century German archaeologist Dorpfeld put a spanner in the works by claiming that Lefkada was ancient Ithaca (etc)—who knows.

By the 8th century, the Ioanian islands were in the clutches of the mighty city-state of Corinth, which regarded them of value as stepping stones on the route to Sicily and Italy.  A century later, Corfu staged a successful revolt against Corinth which was allied to Sparta, and became an ally o Sparta’s archenemy, Athens.  This alliance provoked Sparta into challenging Athens thus precipitating the Peloponnesian Wars, which raged from 431 to 404 BC.  The wars left Corfu depleted as they did all participants and Corfu became little more than a staging post for whoever happened to be holding sway in Greece.  By the end of the 3rd century BC, Corfu along with the other Ionian Islands had become Roman.  Following the decline of the Roman Empire, the islands saw the usual waves of invaders that Greece suffered.  After the fall of Constantinople, the islands became Venetian.

Corfu was never part of the Ottoman Empire.  Paxi, Kefallonia, Zakynthos, Ithaki and Kythira were variously occupied by the Turks, but the Venetians held them longest.  The exception was Lefkada, which was Turkish for 200 years.  The Ioanian Islands fared better under the Venetians than their counterparts in the Cyclades.

Venice fell to Napoleon in 1797.  Two years later, under the Treaty of Campo Formio, the Ionian Islands were allotted to France.  In 1799 Russian forces wrestled the islands from Napoleon, but by 1807 they were his again.  By then, the all-powerful British could resist meddling.  As a result, in 1815, after Napoleon’s downfall, the islands became a British protectorate under the jurisdiction of a series of Lord High commissioners.

British rule was oppressive but, on a more positive note, the British constructed roads, bridges, schools and hospitals, established trade links and developed agriculture and industry.  However, the nationalistic fervous in the rest of Greece soon reached the Ionian Islands.

A call for enosis (political union with Greece) was realized in 1862 when Britain relinquished the islands to Greece.  In WWII the Italians invaded Corfu as part of Mussolini’s plan to resurrect the mighty Roman Empire.  Italy surrendered to the Allies in September 1943 and, in revenge, the Germans massacred thousands of Italians who had occupied the island.  The Germans also sent some 5000 Corfiot Jews to Auschwitz.

A severe earthquake shook the Ionian Islands in 1953.  It did considerable damage, particularly on Zakynthos and Kefallonia.

There are 5 Venetian buildings and narrow streets in Corfu’s old town.  Skorpios Islet near Lefkada was once home to Jackie and Aristotle Onassis.

The white sand beach of Myrtos is the perfect spot to drink the unique Robolo white wine from Kefallonia.

Odysseus’ homeland was near the picturesque fishing villages of Frikes and Kioni on Ithaki.

Kephalonia (or Keffalonia as it is spelled in the Greek transliteration)has quite a history that dates back hundreds of thousands of years.  Evidently in 1953 a terrible earthquake completely devastated it and many were killed and most of the people had to leave the island and search for work other places—they went throughout the world.  Now, many have come back and the island, which before lived from olive oil production and shepherding, is mostly supported by tourism.  It is a lovely spot, with breathtaking views of the Sea from all different directions and many small apartments and rooms to rent.  It seems very clean and the islanders quite friendly.  All signs in Greek and some translated into English.

Specialties are olive oil and feta cheese and also meat pies and skoralia (a garlic dip which accompanies fish) and the island’s famed Robola wine which is expensive but wonderful and comes from grapes grown in stony, mountainous soil. 

A Few Words We've Learned

Hello—yasas (formal), yasu (informal)
Goodbye—andio
Good morning—kalimera
Good afternoon—herete  
Good evening—kalispera
Good night—kalinihta 
Please—parakalo
Thank you—efharisto 
Yes—ne
No—ohi
Sorry (excuse me or forgive me)—sighnomi
How are you? ti kanete? (formal) ti kanis? (informal)