Corfu

Monday 21 My 2018

Korfooo! as our American sailing friends pronounce it, was a bit of a fizzer. Michelle and I had been coughing for a few days and it reached a point today where Michelle decided to stay state-room bound while I went and ‘did’ Corfu. Trouble was, Corfu did me. Alone and without a map, I took off to the right of the wharf, walking along the coast, with the plan to circle inland and end up in the old town, far left, which is supposed to be charming.

Once I moved away from the coast, I became lost in a maze of streets. I found a highway and caught a random blue bus, paid the fare and did a nice trundle through the burbs with a lucky finish in the old town. After enjoying a leisurely walk along the gracious, tree-shaded streets I stopped to sip lemonade in a narrow alley restaurant, claimed a user pees, and asked the waiter for directions to the port. “Ten minutes. Down the street and turn right,” he said. He lied. I found myself headed towards a mountain that I took for the one behind the FAB when, in fact, it was the one on the other side of the island. Needless to say, I got lost again, this time deeply so. I followed some touristy looking people into a bus station with green buses but was told I needed another blue bus that stopped across the road and it must head in the opposite direction to my walk. I waited on the bus stop for half an hour. No blue bus. Then I spied a taxi sitting under a tree.  I pleaded my case to the driver. “You would never have got back to your ship the way you were going,” he said to establish his superiority, “but today God sent me to find you.” You’ve got to love the Greek philosophy.

If you want to eat extra upmarket on the FAB you go the Pinnacle Grill, via a surcharge of course. There, on the drinks menu, cocktail subsection, you will find the revered name of the master ‘mixologist’. He has a degree in general and specific mixing, and is qualified to mix other products such as paint, cake ingredients and Araldite. My friend Bob (a retired photography professor) tells me that American universities offer degrees in all kinds of subjects. For instance, you can become a bachelor of driving instruction. At the Pinnacle Grill (where nothing is actually grilled) I ordered Devon sole. When the waitress brought it, she instructed me not to start eating it until I got a boner. I was mystified by this exciting prospect until a nervous waiter appeared and announced he was the boner, but this was his first time. A virgin boner, no less. With a few flourishes he removed the bone from the sole – well, most of it anyway. I’m sure he will do better next time.

Kotor, Montenegro

Tuesday 22 May 2018

The mountains dwarf the FAB

It was worth getting up at sparrows to witness sailing into Kotor, surrounded by towering wooded mountains diving straight into the sea. The FAB was able to run close to the shore so that we could watch the city, with its typically Mediterranean buildings and houses, and its people, waking up to another day in paradise. Most of the buildings huddle near the shore because of the construction challenges as you go up the mountain sides. We saw one quite substantial house that had slithered down the slope during a heavy rainstorm, and now clung to the rocks like a surreal work of art.

Of all the ports we’ve visited aboard the FAB, Montenegro impressed me the most. With its huge hillsides that finish in picturesque villages, this is probably the place I’d come back to first. We hired a driver for a four-hour excursion which took us over (and through) the tall mountain that dominates Kotor, and then on to the capital, Cyrillic, where there is the presidential palace (the president doesn’t live there and it’s not much of a palace, in spite of a couple of fancy-dressed guards in the doorway), and the mausoleum housing the bones of the last royal family. Montenegro has had bits of it taken away and returned, but today is an independent, democratic country with a relatively tiny population of 624,000 – and dropping, except for the 15 per cent of Muslims who are quickly pushing in the opposite direction.  It gained independence in 2006 and its culture is a blend of its neighbours Croatia, Serbia, Italy and Turkey. It can’t afford armed forces but relies on its membership of NATO to be looked after by big brothers. UNESCO also has a say in how the country is run and its heritage preserved.

Our driver, Nicholas, was born in Montenegro. He drives his taxi during the tourist season and becomes a deck officer on a container ship for the rest of the year. He is passionate about his small country and wants to increase tourism – already its main industry. Sensibly, there is a big road building program under way, with some of the major projects being managed by the Chinese. The Riviera style foreshore has already become a playground for the rich and famous, who can hide away from public stare. We walked past a row of private motor yachts that probably totalled a hundred million dollars. Novak Djokovic, although now a Serbian citizen, was born in Montenegro. When he got married he booked out the famous Saint Stefan Hotel, the dearest on the strip, and invited his guests to stay there for the nuptials. The hotel sits on its own island, joined to the mainland by a single narrow road which can be patrolled to turn away the uninvited. But the hotel buildings themselves are not spectacular. They look more like a military garrison or a prison.

Nicholas told us about some dietary practices in Montenegro. Olive oil is a staple remedy for many ailments. True believers take a shot of it every day. If you are planning to do some heavy drinking, you should down a tumbler of olive oil before you start. If I did that I’d never get to the grog. His grandmother, who reached the age of 92, was not only an olive oil enthusiast but started each day with a shot of homemade grappa with a fearsome alcoholic content. She also favoured smoked pork or goat. A specialty was cheese made from donkey milk. Donkeys are not great milk producers, making rarity the chief attraction of the cheese.

Now we go to sea and should arrive in Venice tomorrow – a long as the captain hasn’t lost the map..