Country 12: Greece – 1st visit, May 2006

16 to 19 May – Corfu (Kerkyra)
Accommodation: Hotel Frini, Corfu

Another early rise, we piled into the bus ready to depart at 5:30am as the sun was still rising over the hills. This would be our first decent break outside the usual travel one day, sleep one night, travel next day routine which was getting tiring. We were given the usual Contiki briefing i.e. where to sleep, how to get around, when meals were, where the bar was etc. The annoying parts were no internet and 12 Euros for each bag of washing. 12 Euros! What is this, a Hilton? We were soon to find out it was far from it.
Another Contiki group arrived before us and got choice of rooms, so we got caught in these rundown concrete slabs with 150 well-worn stairs to climb to our rooms, then off into town for orientation and supplies. Corfu town itself wasn’t overly exciting, lots of tacky tourist shops. For some reason I bought kumquat liqueur, probably because it sounded so obscure that I’d never try it again, and I like trying new things. Other people bought things like matching straw hats, big rubber balls for the pool, postcards. Apparently a few of the girls got a free shot of liqueur just for using their charm. Girls can get away with anything. I remember the local supermarket, had a 6 pack of 1-litre bottles of water for only 1.50 Euro, and so was a 6 pack of beer, so our group snapped up as much as we could carry as well as some snacks.
By now it was about 2pm and very sunny and warm, so the upstairs pool was the plan. Lots of girls sunbaking, some people swimming, some were propping up the bar as it had 2-Euro beers and 2-Euro frozen vodka drinks. By 2pm some of those people who didn’t go shopping had been drinking for a couple of hours, and things when a bit downhill after that. I spent the next day relaxing on the beach and catch up on all the sleep I’ve missed over the whole tour.

One thing I noticed is the mosquitos were crazy! I actually got woken up by the sound of one mosquito flying next to my ear, and when I got up I had several bites on my arms and legs which were the only parts of my body exposed other than my face. Lots of people got sick here as well. Dale got some sort of ant bite that proceeded to make one of his toes swell up dramatically, Jacinta had to go to a doctor for some sort of medication, Rick had to call in a doctor after picking up an ear infection, Kendra got so severely sunburnt that her whole back was bright red and she could barely move (the front desk of the hotel told her yoghurt was good in helping it to heal which I thought was bizarre), and I picked up a cold on the first day we arrived that didn’t go away for a few days. One night it was so bad that I actually couldn’t taste my dinner, which was souvlaki skewers which I was told was really tasty but not being able to taste it was frustrating.

One of our optional days that a lot of people had been looking forward to and I’d heard a lot of good things about was George’s Boat.
I think all but 2 or 3 people on our tour didn’t take this option. Tash had been saying a few days in advance that George was a nice funny guy but a pretty dirty old man so we already had some expectations. The bus took us down to the harbour and the boat itself was pretty tiny but in the end it fit 30 of us well with a bit of room to spare. George was at the helm, an overweight balding 50-something man who was loudly welcoming us all onto the ship already, so we all climbed on. George was a pretty friendly guy and we were to find out that he loved the sound of his own voice, he loved girls in bikinis, he loved to make people laugh with dirty jokes and references, and he liked to swear. He had a great personality and we were cracking up laughing a fair bit. He was always offering us something to eat, something to drink (he made a pretty mean espresso), and constantly told us about the lovely scenery all around us. He took us to places where we had the chance to swim in beautiful waters, and he was constantly telling us each time he stopped that everyone had to jump in or we weren’t leaving, especially the girls, and most of the time it worked. It was great to just sit and watch the scenery go by, lay around and sunbake or chat to people or even have a bit of a sleep. Lunch was fairly decent, lots of cold meat and salad and dips and fruit.
About halfway through we all stopped and got out for some water activities. I had a go at parasailing which I’d done in New Zealand before but the climate here was a bit warmer than over there. It was lovely sitting up there in the harness looking over the scenery, then as we came down I got dumped in the water and seeing I already had a mild cold it didn’t help my head and I came out with an earache and stuffed up sinuses, so I couldn’t go for a jet ski ride as I’d hoped I could. Colds suck. Others tried the jet ski, some tried this inflated banana boat thing that was only connected to a jet ski, which meant any major bump on a wave would basically flip the whole thing over, dumping all on board into the water.
After plying up most of us with drinks, things got a bit dodgy. George stopped at a lovely little swimming area and encouraged people to go skinny dipping, mostly the girls. The 4 Canadian girls went for it, and all the guys stayed in trying to catch a glimpse. George was also selling some vulgar t-shirts and singlets, a male version had a fork and knife on the front with a cat with the caption ‘eat pussy’, and a female version had the same cutlery with a rooster on it with the caption ‘eat cock’. Being as classy as our tour was, about a dozen of them bought one.
After some 7 or 8 hours on the water relaxing, we got back and headed up to the pool again. Tonight there was going to be a toga party held and people were excitedly talking about it. I opted out. The next day I’d heard there was random nudity, some by choice, some not. Staying upstairs near the pool was for the best. Four of us just had a few drinks and chatted with some music, and had a bit of a swim.

Last day in Corfu and bus driver Ben had offered to take a few of us to a decent beach on the other side of town so I went along with it, as it would be my last chance for a while to swim in warm clear waters. About 15 to 20 of us took the trip over to a little shop that sold blow-up airbeds (or lilos) and other assorted blow-up toys to use to float on the water with. We spent a good 2 or 3 hours just sunbaking and relaxing on lilos, and while it was warm in the sun when I jumped into the water it was still pretty cold at first although got better once I got in. It was so clear I could see the sand on the bottom some 5 to 10 metres down, yet it felt like freshwater rather than saltwater, although you could barely tell there was salt in it if at all. I even clearly saw a car tyre at the bottom. After a while we sat down at a quiet little cafe and ordered fruit cocktails until Ben felt like driving us back. This was the moment of relaxation I was hoping to have for days. Back to the upstairs pool for the last time, and back to an early start next day to catch a ferry.

20 May – night ferry from Corfu to Venice

We had an early night the night before as we all knew we had to get up at (gasp) 4am this morning! Basically the ferry was leaving at 6am and Tash wanted us to be at the bus just before 5am to make sure we didn’t miss the ferry back to Italy. It was going to be a very long trip all through the day and night so we had to get there on time or risk missing a whole day. Thanks to the laidback nature of workers in Greece, our ferry arrived closer to 7am than 6am, although we were told we were lucky as some groups in the past have had to wait until 8am or 9am! That would suck trying to stay awake after a 4am wakeup.
As we got onto the bus at least half of us were coughing and sneezing at regular intervals, including myself, and most of us were healthy before we got to Corfu. The bus sounded like a hospital ward of death. Something more annoying happened to me though and it actually woke me up when it happened. A mosquito bit me in the middle of the night ON MY TOP LIP! Even worse was the fact that it swelled up to 3 or 4 times its size! It was really embarrassing and a few people were commenting on it. It looked like someone had punched me in the face. Luckily it went away about 2pm but I had trouble eating, drinking, and closing my mouth. It was a bit like coming out of the dentist after anaesthetic when your mouth is all numb, except I at least had feeling in my lip. I’d never experienced it before so it was very unusual.
Anyway, our ferry was a much more upscale ferry compared to the one we’d previously caught from Brindisi to Corfu, and the cabins were nicer too. This was similar in ways to over Dover to Calais ferry. Lounges with TVs, a duty free shop, a nice relatively inexpensive dining area, and lots of outside decks on a few levels for taking in the views. After dumping our bags in our cabins I decided to catch up on a bit of sleep. I eventually woke up around 1pm or so and went exploring the ferry. I found most people sitting in a quiet place to relax or outside watching the sea, and some people were having a quiet drink in the large seated area. This was a Contiki tour after all and there’s always time for alcohol.
Janice introduced some of us to a fun little game where we started off with a water bottle and a pack of cards, and we would go around the table one by one balancing a card on the top of the bottle. Gradually as we went on we were expecting the cards to all fall over, especially on a rocking boat, but somehow we managed to balance the whole pack on there, and it miraculously stayed balanced on there until someone knocked it over in boredom.
Then Corey decided to teach us a drinking card game called Up And Down The River. I can’t remember the exact rules, but it involved things like if your number came up you had to take a sip of beer or vodka mix drink, and as the game went along you had to take two or three sips, or have the option of giving sips to other people, and at the very end if you had the special card you had to take 5 sips. Some people got tipsy pretty fast and after a while we had to stop as it was going straight to our heads way too fast.
After a while we gave up and ditched the cards just for normal drinking and chatting, then we went to dinner which wasn’t all that bad. It was somewhere in between restaurant quality and Contiki quality. Then back to the lounge. I decided to try out my kumquat liqueur from Corfu Town. It was pretty smooth but at 20% alcohol it barely tasted like alcohol at all, so I downed it fast, and it was more of a novelty than something you’d buy to drink regularly.
From there the group split into two groups, one watching Eurovision and another playing charades. Coming close to actually attending Eurovision in person I was watching it with excitement, and I was surprised and happy that the ferry could get free-to-air Greek TV so far out from land. I was trying to explain it to the Canadians who didn’t get it on TV like us Aussies do at home but gradually more people were becoming disinterested in it and eventually I was the only one left watching the voting. It was the only night on tour where I was the last person to go to bed, and after I laughed at the ridiculous viking-inspired mask-and-makeup-wearing rock band from Finland winning (go Lordi!) I went to bed myself about midnight or 1am.

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