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The “goddess” who took us to “heaven”

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Originally published: February 2006

Corfu was to be our stopover on the way to Albania from Brindisi, Italy. We planned to spend one night there before taking on Albania, a country no one recommended. All that changed when we debarked in Corfu and were greeted by Aphrodite, a buxom, loud, talkative business woman who spoke non-stop English and looked nothing like the Greek goddess.

Aphrodite was at the port to pick up tourists and talk them into staying in Pelekas at her pension. She promised us paradise in Pelekas, a village that she boasted was literally heaven on earth, or at least in Corfu. It had beaches, shopping, wonderful restaurants, and views surpassing any on the island, (by the time we arrived I wondered if we would be greeted by any other Greek gods) and it was only 45 minutes away by car. Of course, there were four or five buses daily to Corfu Town and many buses to the three beaches, all very near Pelekas. Always ready for adventure, we agreed to take a chance, but didn’t count on Aphrodite’s continuous babble about the virtues of Pelekas during our drive there. Why, we worried, did she have to convince us? Weren’t we already prisoners in her car?

We were exhausted and hot and ready for anything when she finally parked in the middle of the village, which looked lovely indeed. We had warned her about my knee — that I could not, under any circumstances, climb up any winding narrow alleys (her English was flawless so she did understand me). She responded that we would be thrilled with the room for only $30.

We got out of the car and started climbing. I asked Irwin if he thought she had understood. He shrugged. He pulled me up rocky, winding, twisting alleyways, higher and higher, till I protested. “How will I ever get down from here,” I whined. “It can’t be much farther,” he responded, not really knowing what else to say. Finally we arrived to see Aphrodite’s little room, not yet cleaned up from the last residents, and she proudly showed us the spectacular view. “I’m terribly sorry,” I said “But I cannot stay here. It will be almost impossible for me to walk down this hill to the village. And how will I get back at night?” She looked glum but accepted the $10 we offered her for the ride.

Gingerly, I edged my way down the hill to the centre of town with Irwin carrying the bags in front of me to brace any potential slips or falls. I immediately noticed a white-washed pension of sorts in the middle of the village and we decided to leave the bags there on the terrace while we searched for a room. I asked the owner for a room there against all hope. It seemed like too perfect a place to have a room available in the middle of July. Irwin trudged on to check out other rooms on the little expanse of street that was obviously Main Street Pelekas. At this point we were willing to pay anything to get a shower and a rest as long as my knee could handle it. The village did seem incredibly picturesque and compact.

The owner of this too-good-to-be-true pension did have a room on the main floor for us and after he cleaned up after the last customers, we immediately paid him $60 for two nights ($30 per night for a double with air-conditioning and terrace overlooking what seemed like the entire island), and relaxed! “Aphrodite has brought us to paradise,” I told Irwin. Too bad she had to go back to the port to look for a more able-bodied customer for her little nest on the cliff. We never did understand why she thought I could manage the steep trek up and down the hill.

We discovered a wonderful restaurant right next to our pension and ate all our meals there. I still remember the fresh taste of the taramasalata and tsatziki. I’ve eaten Greek food hundreds of times, but this was like nothing I had tasted. The tomatoes and cukes were so fresh and plentiful, the calamar so… well… fresh… and crisp. Were we in paradise after all?

The next day we took the bus to Corfu Town to spend the day walking around the Old Town, parts of which were too touristy for our liking. We discovered the rather dilapidated Jewish Quarter and the synagogue and had a young man who had the keys show us around briefly. It was a beautiful little synagogue, very old and quite ornate. We read the names of Holocaust victims on a plaque. We continued our walk through the Old Town, found the port and ordered our tickets for the two hour ferry trip to Albania the next afternoon for a hefty $60 each including some extra taxes and charges. Corfu Town is bustling with tourists and townspeople. The food was overpriced and underwhelming so we held off for Pelekas.

Then we happily returned to our little piece of heaven, which by the way is just across the island from Corfu Town. I urged Irwin to try out any of the three beaches, all a few kilometers from Pelekas by bus, but he was tired and wanted to lounge around the village with me rather than go it alone until, that is, I discovered the shops! I should explain that by this point on the trip I had decided to avoid beaches if possible given that I couldn’t swim or sit on the sand because of my knee. We walked up to the next level of the village where I promptly found my favorite jewellery store in all of Europe, bought Greek silver necklaces and bracelets for family, and friends, and engaged in an hour long conversation with the owner and his 85 year old mother (long after Irwin left). He told me a little about the history of Pelekas – how his mother had seen the Jews of Corfu Town taken away by the Nazis, how houses had been destroyed and families never seen again. He was planning to marry a Dutch doc tor, a second marriage, but she was debating about what she would do in Pelekas, not knowing a word of Greek.

After our last lunch at our wonderful outdoor restaurant, we said goodbye to our new friends, including the Albanian waitress who was the only one to be pleased we were traveling to Albania, and set off for the tug boat ferry that would take us to Saranda, Albania’s most popular resort town on the shores of the Ionian Sea.

For more information on Pelekas, google Pelekas! You’ll find many accommodations but not the one we stayed at. Alas, I don’t remember its name or the name of the restaurant next door, but you can’t miss them, should you ever wish to venture over to the isle of Corfu, on your way to Albania.

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At January 27, 2010 at 3:48 AM , Anonymous Tim said...

Arr...memories of Pelekas. The waitress is Alexandra by the way. I'd imagine you may have stopped at Tellis & Brigittes apartments just a little down from the square. But think the place you were initially offered is where is "lived" for 3 months during 2003. Still, the village can not be recomended enough. If you like your 5 star luxury - stay away though!!


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