Friday, October 23, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Random Notes

So, another Sunday. Spent time at the Lighthouse yesterday going over use cases for software engineering: requirements gathering, UML (Unified Modeling Language), etc. It's moderately interesting, in that it can be applied to anything. (I've modeled a use case on my cat's eating behaviors... that's one complicated, ugly chart). Last week it was iterative and agile frameworks for software development - again, all very theoretical if you ask me. But kind of intriguing -- unless you are actually forced to use it, like, for work or something. Ew.

Google finally waved at me (thanks, B. Green) and I'm still trying to figure the thing out. Maybe I need more friends. Not sure it can help with that...

That's it for the tech front. I'll have more next week after Pop!Tech and trip to Maine (please let there be some foliage to ogle).

Happy Birthday, Monica McLeod* (Oct. 22), wherever you are.

Trip to Athens is back on. Yay.

* from Pilgrim Lodge summer camp, 1975.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Corfu Again

I guess the reason it took so long to post this is that much of my trip to Greece felt so quickly like a dream. A good dream, yes, but a dream. Hazy, not quite real and, in retrospect, really hard to capture.

Maybe it's the light, maybe it was the book I was reading*, maybe it was the too-good-to-be-true encounters... Who knows. I think what I'll do is just transcribe the notes I took from my little blue notebook bought in the only deli-type storefront mini-market I found in Old Town Corfu.

Lawrence Durrell's Prospero's Cell -- a "guide to the landscape and manners of the island of Corfu"

First, though, the romantic and true beginning. I'm not exaggerating and while it now feels really like a dream, this is what happened. After uneventful flights JFK to Paris to Athens to Corfu (phew) I dropped my bags at Hotel Astron (near the New Fort) and walked up through somewhat familiar windy streets to the cafe I thought G (from last trip, captured somewhere in this blog, nothing terribly important) might be. He was there, standing at the cafe where he works, back turned to me. Almost exactly like I had left him a year before.

I called his name and a little later we were zooming via scooter to Kanoni, arguably one of the more romantic places in Greece, a little island with a little church under the moonlight in a huge bay.

We canoodled for a bit and took off again through the streets of Corfu.

Because my friend worked a lot (mostly at night) the rest of the trip revolved around my obligatory solo site-seeing day trips (including to what --I was told -- is one of the most beautiful beach areas of Paleokastristas, which was ... nice.. pretty. Hills tumbling into the ocean. That kind of thing. Lovely.)

I'm not sure that the best part (worst? well, most real) for me wasn't trying to find the bus station (Blue. Or... Green. Can't remember but just that wonderfully simple) in the seedier, "realer" part of Corfu... downtown, perhaps? And then traveling with the locals, with stops to pick up and drop off piles of newspapers. The ticket man smelled quite ripe but won me over with his astonishingly impressive knowledge of NYC (he'd never been there but knew all the boroughs by name and racial makeup). All in all, a nice day trip (and for under 3 euros vs. 25+ for a cab. Yay me.)

There was also a super-long walk to what I was told was a very interesting historic place, the birthplace of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and father of Prince Charles, a mansion poised above the large harbor of Corfu). The place was nice but nothing rivaling the Spreckles (sp?) in SF or a million French chateaux... But the Corfiots do seem very proud that PP was born there... and good on them.

As a side note, I nearly died there. The sidewalk ended at one point past the long and beautiful curve of the harbor and walking up a curvy road at twilight meant cars came THISCLOSE to wiping me out, for nearly half a mile, so... not so fun.

The best night for me began with G and I and three of his friends (truly nice guys). I found myself with them zooming by car to god knows where (and yes, I had a moment of wtf am I doing?) but we ended up in a bar featuring the most amazing George Michael impersonator. So dancing, drinking... what more could an American girl possibly ask for on a warm, starry night in Corfu?

Solo meals were a delight and a trial (see notes below) and usually centered around La Spianada, the expansive esplanade that serves as the focal point of Corfu Town, with its Italianate architecture and French-inspired boulevard-ness). Moments of pure touristic wide-eyed wondering combined with inward-looking moments of vacation-tempered contemplation. How happy I was.

High points of my al fresco dining included dealing with stray cats (one actually jumped on my table as I tried to eat sardines). Pigeons were also a problem, as were wasps, and ubiquitous African peddlars of bootleg DVDs. No biggie though.


Breakfast - Greek salad (they contain no lettuce! and believe it or not, too much feta. Oh, but the olive oil... mmm)

Dinner: Resto Rex on Kapo St. Very good. Taramasalata! Finally! I thought there might be a shortage.

Changed hotels from Astron to Cavalieri (more stars, for whatever that's worth) as the former smelled bad. Sorry.

I try so hard not to be perceived as an Ugly American that I sometimes forget to have fun. Hey, look at my shoes, people! Not ugly. And NOT American...

Definitely hearing a few American voices (nice, actually). Wonder if I'd ever recognize a solo female U.S. traveler like myself. Sad that I'm not sure I would. Or that there ever are any...

Great mussels a la Grecque (tomato base with melty feta). Waiter spilled water on my iPhone. Insult to probably imagined injury.

What to do with myself tomorrow? Albania?

Had to ask for water again It's ok. I need to cultivate 3 new attitudes while dining alone. 1) I'm alone. I'm that cool and I know it. 2) I'm alone and I don't give a shit. 3) I'm simply superior to you because of either #1 or #2.

Serbian beeyotches at next table. Older man with stance and pants. Cream-colored jeans take some balls to wear at that age.

Americans ARE loud. Wine + jetlag = BAD

One night. Amaze (think that's the name of the place) on the water in the shadow of the Old Fort. Lights glimmering on rippling waves. A moon. Sitting on outdoor couch overlooking a small section of what is the Ionian sea. Idle talk, questioning glances.. filakias.. moments I'll never forget.

Neat to meet M. on Hotel Cavaliere balcony. 70-something man from DC (wife, Carol, inside getting ready for bed). He'd wisely purchased a small, plastic (4 euro!) chair for the tiny balcony he and C had enjoyed every year for the past 10. He apologized for his bare knees; he wasn't wearing pants. (!)

How much to tip. "Whatever you want" is NOT helpful. I settle on 10% or slightly more for waiters if they are nice. Cab drivers are NOT to be tipped. I hear. However, I tip Mario because he's nice. Though I thought maybe he'd pick me UP from the beach he dropped me off at (a sad beach, nice water but sad slightly dirty sand). It was a nice dream.

Met an ex-Air Force guy, 55, on the magical and deserted (that night) rooftop restaurant of hotel when I thought I was alone. A simple cough from the far corner of the roof and an amber glow alerted me to him. I called out hello and he invited me over to chat. He flies Gulf Stream planes now, for a very wealthy Lebanese fmaily.

He showed me cell-phone pics of his knee (he'd had a recent operation to repair it following a series of combat wounds. It was fixed up to the tune of a quarter million $ of government money with titanium rods and a ball and socket mechanism.) So I got to see the inside of a man's knee under operation (graphically) and after. Cool. Gross but cool. He's a walking modern medical miracle, actually. A mere 90 days after this amazing operation he had hiked up to the top of Corfu's Old Fort. Incredible.

Maybe the most interesting thing, to me, was the man's utter amazement at his own life. He was humbled, he said, by his own fortune and nearly overcome, every day, at his luck. He was quick to point out, however, that it didn't come overnight. He had worked hard for many years, had sacrificed family time and personal safety and .. was honored to be able to pass that experience and wisdom to his daughters.

I climbed up to the top of the Old Fort, too, alone on a clear blue day -- and with inappropriate high-heeled sandals. So there! Neat views, lots of tourists, quintessential Kerkyra experience.

Beware: it's much harder coming down.

More pictures here

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