We’re in Corfu, Greece, wandering the winding streets without the burden of having a particular destination.
Corfu’s Old City is a good place for aimless exploration. The labyrinthine layout defies common sense. A lack of meaningful addresses renders renders Google Maps useless. Since frustration in Corfu comes from trying to follow directions to any one landmark, we set intentions aside and let the streets lead us.
And that’s fine. With the sea on the north and southeast, the Old Fortress (built 600 years ago) on the east, and the New Fortress (built 500 years ago) on the west, straying outside the boundaries of the Old City is extremely unlikely. When we stumble on the sea or bump into a boundary, we simply double back, choose another street, and continue exploring.
Approached this way, the Old City unfolds for us the way it might for locals. Old men in wool caps and tattered sweaters sit at cafe tables, ignoring their oily black Greek coffees and punctuating their conversations with broad gestures. A young vendor with curly dark hair and a scraggly beard opens for the day, arranging bright fruits in curbside bins. A bearded Orthodox priest in whispering black robes vacuums the carpet in the entryway of his church.
Speaking of churches: around virtually every corner, we find another. In the Old City alone — a neighborhood you can walk from east to west in under twenty minutes — there are more than twenty churches. Most are tiny, barely large enough to accommodate a single chapel. One we enter is built to accommodate a congregation of exactly twelve. In this one and in others, the large-eyed, flat-faced Orthodox saints, stamped with gold and silver, peer back at us through the morning gloom.
We eventually stumble on Saint Sypridon, a good landmark for navigating the Old City because of its distinctive red and white clock tower.
Unlike the others, Saint Spyridon is bustling with activity. Tourists wander the aisles. Locals pray in the pews. Desperate-looking women light candles, trudge back to a gilded alcove in the back, and whisper anguished prayers before stooping to kiss a small silver casket.
We pass a tiny Greek bakery: Starenio. It’s barely big enough to accommodate an oven, a counter, and a window display. We’re lured in by the aroma of fresh-baked , a crumbly, lacy pastry dipped in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Because the bakery is about the size of a walk-in closet — and packed with locals buying breakfast — we eat it outside, finding ourselves immediately surrounded by a circle of hopeful pigeons.
Having had an appetizer, we decide to find Aegli, the oldest (and most highly rated) restaurant in the Old City. We try to orient ourselves using one of the Old City’s handy “You Are Here” maps, but this proves useless, as we find ourselves forgetting the twisting route as soon as we walk away. But that’s fine, because the street we get lost on leads us to the spot where I make my favorite Corfu photo:
And, as we meander back toward the bell tower of Spyridon, we end up in the spot where I make my second favorite photo of the day:
Soon, without really trying, we stumble on Aegli, one of the highest rated restaurants in Corfu. Clyde goes for the Greek lasagne, with its thick upper layer of fluffy cheese draped over the thick, meaty layer that serves as a foundation:
I go for the vegetarian spaghetti, which comes bursting with slices of tomato, zucchini, cauliflower, and bell peppers:
Stuffed and happy, we head back to the ship. On the way, we pass through the more touristy section of the Old City — street after street filled with tiny little shops, all selling the same trinkets and t-shirts. Out front of each one, vendors hawk tiny sample cups of a liqueur made with kumquats. Clyde pauses to try the stuff, which ends up tasting a bit like tangerine NyQuil. His expression tells you everything you need to know: