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Cunard Queen Victoria 2014
Wonders of the Mediterranean Cruise - Part 2
On our previous visit in 2007 to Corfu on the QE2 we had been at anchor and used tenders. The QV was to be docked at the New Port. There were shuttle buses to the Old Port Square, at a price, so we decided to walk into town instead. It is straightforward and only involves following the path along the waterfront until we reached the Square and the Spilia Gate into Old Corfu Town. The Old Town spreads between the New and the Old Fortresses and we planned to visit both. The town is full of cafes and souvenir shops selling cheap clothes, olive and kumquat products. We checked prices and then did a comparison at the supermarket in Solomou. Jars of kumquats in syrup are 8 to 10 euros, and are heavy, so shopping will be at the end of our walk.
The New Fortress was free to visit, and had a bar and restaurant based in the barracks at the top. The views from the top were excellent although the last climb up a flight of steps was not easy. Except for rooms used by the cafe, the fortress was empty.
The route across from the New to the Old Fortress was along NikiforouTheotoki, a busy street full of tourists shopping. At the Iroon Square signs pointed to the Paper Money Museum and the church of Aghios Spiridon, the patron saint of Corfu and a bishop from the 4th century. The church was built in 1859 and contains a large silver casket containing the relics of the saint. It was busy and although we able to join the line to see the casket, we were quickly surrounded by people touching the casket and praying. This is the most famous church in Corfu town, being the town's patron saint and also having a distinctive campanile bell tower. As we walked around the outside the bells rang for noon.
Just south is the Dimarchiou Square and the Town Hall and the Roman Catholic cathedral of St James, with a very simple interior compared with the orthodox churches. The Town Hall was built in 1663 as a private club for the elite.
The next visit was towards the large central park edged with colonnaded cafes, the Liston. It was built by the French, modelled on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The Liston looks out onto the Esplanade which was used to play cricket, but the grass was far too rough for that now. On the north side we reached the Palace of St Michael and St George and the Museum of Asiatic Art. The building was the town residence of the British Lord High Commissioners, and is made of Maltese limestone. In 1864 it was given to the King of Greece and became known as the Royal Palace. Prince Philip would have lived there. Displays of cloaks and medals for KCMG and DCMG reminded us of the system for recognition of the Order of St Michael and St George. To our delight museums were free for students, and Pete had a reduced price combination ticket which included entry to the Old Fortress. We had no great interest in the art, but enjoyed looking at the interior of the building and the State rooms.
We walked across the grass to the Old Fortress, passing the Mandrakina. Entry to the Old Fortress is across a bridge over the sea moat, which is a narrow canal used as moorings for small craft. Passing through the Main Gate there is a Chapel on the right which has a display of religious pictures and votive items, before crossing the land bridge and being confronted by the British barracks. The form of the fortifications is due to the Venetians who ruled Corfu from 1386 to 1797, although the twin peaks of the rock had been fortified much earlier, when Corfu was part of the Byzantine empire. Indeed the name of Corfu was given in the 6th century and is derived from Koryfo, meaning Summit. After the Venetians, the British were here from 1815 to 1864, until Corfu became part of Greece. Old buildings were destroyed during the British Protectorate and again during WWII. The site is therefore very empty, with the exception of one occupied building which contains the Music Department of the Ionian University. The British Hospital is derelict, and restoration of the Church of Saint George with its row of ornate pillars has been completed. Prince Philip was christened here. We climbed up steps from the lower level to the fort, and then up to the light house. It was harder going down than climbing up because the stones were slippery. Having been everywhere and seen everything it was time to head back towards town.
Our museum ticket also gave access to the Byzantine museum in the 16th century church of Antivouniotissa, which is famous for its icons. We were now almost back to the Old Port, and inland we reached the Greek Orthodox Metropolis Corfu cathedral, dated 1577, and more friendly cafes and souvenir shops. Inside it was smaller than we expected. When we walked around in 2007 we admired a solid silver casket which contained the relics of St Theodora.
We walked through Lemonia Square then back to the supermarket for final shopping. We passed a number of ferries disgorging their vehicles and passengers as we walked to the entrance of the port, and back on board.
Dubrovnik is one of the prettiest cities we have seen and one we were looking forward to re-visiting. Our first visit was in 1998 not long after war in 1991/2 had split the old Yugoslavia asunder and the city was still showing the scars. Most had been healed by our second visit seven years later, andwe visited again in 2007. For the first time, we were moored in the New Port at Gruz Harbour, instead of being anchored off the old harbour allowing a short tender ride and the finest approach to the town. Dubrovnik has a remarkable history. An independent, merchant republic for the 700 years up to 1806, it traded with Turkey, India and Africa - it even had diplomatic relations with the English court in the Middle Ages. Its status was such that even the powerful and rich Venice was envious of this Croatian-Slav city. The shuttle bus from the ship to the Pile Gate, about 2 miles, was free because we had purchased a standard cruise - those who had cheap tickets were charged.
Our priority was to try something new. The original Dubrovnik cable car was built in 1969 so that visitors could enjoy the view of the Old City fromthe top of Srdj Hill. It was destroyed in the war in 1991 and remained in disrepair until it was restored and re-opened in 2010. Therefore we had never had the chance to use it on previous visits, and did not know of its existence until we read about it in one of the QV tours. The drive into town passed the cable car station, but looking up towards Srdj Hill we were not optimistic that the trip was sensible or even possible as the top of the hill was covered in low cloud. Fortunately there was no wind. Having changed £40 into local kuna (rate was approx 9.5) we asked about the cable car and the helpful information guides rang to find out if it was running. By now we had seen a cable car but it was only the first trial run of the day. Walking up to the the cable car station the weather began to clear and we purchased tickets and joined the queue (under 15 mins wait). As we went up a QV tour group came down. Their tour involved a return trip, followed by a coach journey to Cavtat. The views from the top were good by that time, and there is also a museum which has details and photographs about the 1991-92 war. The barracks at the top of Srdj Hill were an important part of the defenses of Dubrovnik. It was only because they held that the surrounding forces started to fire on the world heritage area inside the old town walls.
Instead of entering the city in the usual way, from the Pile Gate or from the moorings on the southeast side, we now entered the city through the gate on the east, just below the cable car. The old town was completed in the 13th century and remains virtually unchanged to the present day. The port's sea fortifications rise directly from the waters edge, and a massive fort dominates the city. Tall ramparts surround the city that is a maze of narrow twisting streets with two 14th-century convents at the ends. Dubrovnik has a wealth of cultural and historic monuments and is sometimes described as one of Europe's greatest outdoors museums. In 1991/2, the Serbs shelled the city during the homeland war causing considerable damage, but thanks to local efforts and international aid, the old town has been restored to its former beauty. We checked the map which indicated those properties which had been destroyed during the war, or had their roofs destroyed. The few bullet marks on the buildings which we reported in 2005 have gone. It is a remarkable reconstruction. On our first visit many of the roofs were missing but they have now been replaced and the city gleams with bright clean walls and glossy roof tiles. The churches are now open once more - we could see virtually no sign of damage in any of them much to our surprise. The unchanged character of the town and the intact medieval walls has led to the old city being included as a whole in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The ramparts are one of the most visible features of the town. Construction started on the ramparts and forts in the 12th century and continued for 500 years. The walls are 20 feet thick and soar to 80 feet. One can still walk the entire circumference of 6,350 feet past and through the various towers and fortifications and enjoy magnificent views over the port, out to sea and into the town. The route is narrow and the steps often steep and it is essential to get there before noisy guides start to drive their flocks of tourists in slow moving herds round the ramparts. It was quiet and there were not many people walking along the ramparts, perhaps because the price is now 100 kuna. At least they have now made it one way.
On the east side narrow streets, so narrow one can reach from one window across to the other, lead up so steeply that they quickly change to steps. Check to jowl with these houses, unchanged for hundreds of years, one finds garish signs and Internet access, tourist junk and street cafes full of tired visitors take vicarious enjoyment emptying their wallets in the belief they are absorbing the true atmosphere - such is progress. We soon reached the main wide street, the Placa, which leads directly from the Pile Gate to the Town Hall and harbour, and looked in both directions to decide where next to go. To the left was Luza Square with the Sponza Palace, the clock tower, Orlando's pillar and the Town Hall and Theatre. Turning right led back towards the Pile Gate and the Franciscan Church and Monastery. Here it was quiet and we sat inside, then emerged opposite Onofrio's Great Fountain. It was built in 1438 and the 16-sided fountains carved heads still dribble water. There was a cafe-cum- icecream stall immediately behind which served good cones for 10kuna, then we wandered along the narrow side streets, browsing in the windows. The supermarket was still there and we purchased some muesli just as in our last visit- QV only has Alpen and Pauline prefers something more crunchy. We continued south and then visited the Church of St Ignasius, near to the Jesuit monastery.
On previous trips we had visited a selection of the museums, and when we reached the small harbour we noted more new bars and restaurants. Artists were selling their paintings and old women were selling hand made embroideries. Dubrovnik has found even more ways of parting the tourist from their spending money. After getting damp feet as we walked onto the breakwater we climbed up to the city walls and the entrance to the Maritime Museum in the Fort of St Ivan. It is our favourite. There is now a Museum card costing 80 kuna (only 25 for students) which gives entry to 9 museums. It is a real bargain and enabled us to visit the Maritime Museum and then the Studio Pulitika nearby. It is only a small museum and art display. The local Cats Protection group has a souvenir stall in the square outside, and there was an eating area for wild cats in a small garden below. We remembered that Dubrovnik had many cats from our previous visits. Following the map on the ticket the next museum was the Dulcic Masle Pulitika Museum, which was on two stories and adjacent to the city walls.
Eventually we emerged in the Placa, near the Cultural Museum and Rector's Palace. The building was designed in 1435 and is said to be the finest building in Dubrovnik and is a mixture of museum and art gallery, set on two stories around a central courtyard with an impressive stone staircase and a maze of rooms full of interesting artifacts. Next door is the National Theatre, and then the Town Hall with its proud flags billowing in the breeze. Beyond them we were facing the 16th century Sponza Palace, also once the residence for the Rector. It is Dubrovnik's oldest building and is now the home of the State Historical Archives. With limited time we decided to visit more of the "free" museums, so did not go into the Cathedral or the Treasury which contained a number of relics including St Blaise's skull. According to legend he saved Dubrovnik from Venetian attack in the 10th century.
Our next museum was the Archaeological Exhibitions/Fortress of Revelin so we walked around the walls and the harbour which gave a good view back across to the Maritime Museum. There are a lot of excavations in the area and useful information about what has been found. After wandering around the narrow streets we eventually found our final museum, the Natural Science Museum. We had spent a complete afternoon and then only visited 6 of the 9 museums.
After a final icecream we set off to the Pile Gate and our shuttle bus. The crowds were thick, the temperatures high and the main sights had been seen in the town so we took the shuttle bus back in time for the afternoon tea ceremony before we risked becoming disenchanted. The first visit in 1998 had been truly memorable - one saw a proud people rebuilding the city and their lives after war, despite not really ready for tourists. This time we felt just slightly disappointed as the character and culture is being eroded by the need to pander to and exploit the tourists - even so it is an absolute must to visit if you have not previously had the opportunity.
This was our first visit to the small island of Korcula, and its main town, also called Korcula just a few hours cruise from Dubrovnik. The QV was at anchor so it gave the crew the chance to demonstrate their skills with handling the tenders, which were dropped into the water before dawn, they were neatly rafted up when Pete went to the gym at 0600. As Commodore Rynd said, those people on 4 Deck with restricted ocean views which are only of a lifeboat will then have the benefit of a full view. After a busy day visiting Dubrovnik today started late for most people and we only had to wait for 5 minutes after collecting our tender tickets before being taken to the tenders.
The town is walled, with four towers "kula", and the tenders arrived on the west side, near the Kula Kanavelic. The town is very compact and after just a few minutes walk, passing the Hotel Korcula, we reached the Tourist Information Office and then climbed the steps up to the Cathedral of St Mark. After paying to go inside we then paid to go up the tower. Be warned. It is a very narrow climb and not suitable for large bags - which are best left at the ticket desk at the half waypoint. Indeed the final part of the climb to reach the platform with the bells is quite difficult and you need to be slim to move round the outside, but the views from the top are worth the effort. We met a tour guide at the bottom who expressed surprise we had been up - she said she had been up once and might try again once more in her lifetime! The 14th century Bishop's Palace next door again had a small charge and contained the Cathedral Treasury with a display of relics, church plate and vestments.
The main street led downhill, passing shops and cafes, to the steps and gate at Veliki Revelin, passing the church of Saint Mihovila (Saint Michael) and the Trg Antuna i Stjepana Radica. We had hoped to find a market in the square beyond but it was a car park; perhaps the market is only weekly. According to the scale on our map, to walk all around the walls of the Old Town was only 700 metres, and so it was going to be a short visit. Continuing along the walls to the Velika knezeva kula, gave a good view across the harbour to the QV at anchor. We sat in the shade in the large circular Trg Pomirenja and then walked back to the other side of town to continue our circular stroll. The base of the wall had attracted a row of souvenir stalls, followed by cafes around the Kula Svih Svetih, the third of the four towers. The maps showed a fish market but it would have been very small and we did not find it - it should be next to the Only set of public toilets in the town, available with, surprise surprise, a small charge and big queues. There are beaches marked on our map along the east coast, but that only means there are steps down to the water where there are rocks and pebbles. It may be fine for swimming but nowhere for lying on the beach. However there were good views from the bars and cafes along the wall and it was tempting to stop for refreshments. We climbed up the road to reach the fourth tower, Kula Zakerjan, and we were then level with our tenders.
When we had visited the cathedral we had not visited the Town Museum, Gradski Muzej, because the tours were all going there. It was now quiet. It is housed in the Gabrielis Palace and concentrates on important local history, and the industries of stoneworking and shipbuilding. There are also ceramic and stone artefacts from the 3rd century BC, found in the area. A video showed local sword dancing, which has been re-established as a folklore festival, and also seemed to include the ceremonial re-enactment of the traditional beheading of a bull. The brochure for the folklore group festival, which took place from 8 to 15 July 2014, showed 8 groups from 7 different villages in the island - "Kumpanjija" from Smokvica, Blato, Pupnat, Zrnovo, Saint Cecilija, Vela Luka, Cara and Moreska Korcula .
There are other churches and museums which we did not visit - the church of Sv. Petra (Saint Peter) next to the cathedral, and the Ikon Museum next to the church of Svih Svetih (All Saints). There is a possibility that the famous explorer Marco Polo was born in Korcula and there are five shops , including the Marco Polo Museum and the House of Marco Polo which exploit that connection.
Overall, a pleasant contrast to all the people and congestion in Dubrovnik, with the chance to travel by tender and do some souvenir shopping - if that appeals -and then have a drink at a cafe. Cunard ships have added the island to their regular itineraries so we expect to visit again. We were back on board after visiting almost everything but without a cafe after three hours in plenty of time for lunch and a lie in the sun.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
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