Our day started refreshingly cool as the rising sun did not hit the west side of the island until later. Taking advantage of the cooler air, we walked over to the local agent at our little village at Aghios Gordis and rented a car for the day. My reading of Greek printing was still limited, so I was glad that most of the road direction signs on Corfu were in both Greek and English.
The history of Corfu is a colorful mélange of conflicts with many occupying armies, resulting in a unique mixture of architecture, cultures and languages. One day while having lunch, we enjoyed an interesting discussion with the restaurant owner, and she complemented me on my attempts to speak Greek. I told her I had been trying to practice, but almost everyone I talked to spoke English. She smiled and replied “Yes, people here speak some English and very bad Greek.” Considering the variety of occupying armies, together with the more recent hordes of tourists that have invaded Corfu, it is not surprising that Greek is almost a secondary language here.
Our rental car was a great idea, providing a lot of stop and go freedom as we headed north along the western coast through the villages of Sinarades, Pelekas, to the up-scale tourism area of Paleokastritsa. Glad we were not paying the room rates they were asking there, we moved on. As we continued around the north end of the island, we felt like we had gone through a kind of time-warp. The roads became narrower and we carefully passed an old woman riding a donkey along the road with a load of straw. Just as I commented on the narrow roads, we saw a large tour bus ahead of us, also trying to navigate through one of the villages. Creeping at a snail’s pace, the monster maneuvered around corners past the stone buildings, in some cases with only a few inches to spare! In another village, a man and his wife were loading their donkey with two large baskets of grapes . . . no doubt to take home to make wine.
Speaking of wine, as we enjoyed our slow drive through the country, a local man came rushing out to the road, ”Hallo, hallo”, flagging us down. Apparently he did this all day, running out, stopping tourists, giving directions, answering questions, then inviting each one back to his establishment to sample his wine. Always looking for something new, we pulled over and followed him into his shop/home/winery? He had a substantial collection of homemade wines, both red and white, while his wife had a selection of local crafts and souvenirs for sale. We tasted several, but decided to pass on the wines and instead bought a tapestry/tablecloth made by his wife. We later agreed the crafts she made were better than the wines he made.
Continuing eastward past Roda and turning south to head back to Corfu town, we stopped at a high lookout point overlooking the straits between Corfu and the coast of Albania, just a couple of kilometers across the water. A Greek warship cruised the straits, intercepting illegal immigrants trying to cross the short distance. While we were stretching our legs and taking a few photos, we noticed a wonderful smell all around us. It was familiar, yet illusive, not being where you expect it. It was the fragrance of oregano, all around us! The entire hillside was covered with wild oregano, so as you walked, its heavenly scent surrounded us.
Our appetite stimulated, we decided to stop for lunch. Before long, the opportunity presented itself, a little restaurant on the side of the road, a pleasant looking place with outdoor seating . . . “very Greek” we thought. We pulled over and were soon sitting outside their little establishment in the warm sunshine, sipping on a cold glass of Kourtaki, a popular brand of Retsina, the famous (or infamous) resinated white wine, very popular in Greece. My wife and I had acquired a taste for this wine many years before, so enjoying it in Greece was perfect. The distinct resin flavor is definitely different, but excellent when enjoyed with tasty Greek food.
When our lunch arrived, a large, colorful Greek salad dominated the plate. The luscious, bright red tomatoes, freshly picked from the owner’s garden were still warm from the Mediterranean sun. Biting into a piece, the sweet, ripe flesh released the juicy sunshine stored within. Feta cheese? Of course . . . real sheep’s milk feta, rich and creamy with a slight salty tang. Not just a sprinkling of cheese like we get in North America, but a huge slab laid across the top of the salad, sprinkled with a little fresh oregano and drizzled with a generous portion of olive oil. As I was learning a few Greek words and phrases at the time, I was interested to learn the word “feta”, or φέτα in Greek actually means “slice” or “piece”. . . so much for the crumbled bits we get here.
This is one of the examples of enjoying the local foods – really local – tomatoes, cucumber, peppers all grown in the owner’s garden, picked fresh as required in the warmth of the sun, oregano from his back yard, possibly his own olive oil as the place was surrounded by olive trees, and feta from a local supplier (we did not see any sheep).
We stress to our friends and relations that when they travel . . . try local food, made from fresh, seasonal ingredients . . . like our little roadside restaurant here, a simple meal that will stay in our memories forever. I always say, if your mouth starts to water each time you think about it, it must have been good!
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