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Corfu

As ridiculous as it may sound, I feel in dire need of a holiday.  Travelling, as opposed to holidaying, can be quite exhausting.  Moving towns every two or three days, long bus journeys, sleeping in dormitories with as many as eight people in them (in some cases up to 14, but I try to avoid those); sleep isn’t as deep as it should be and every day you are up and out and on the go, seeing the sights to be seen, many of which are down very long paths and up very steep hills.  Many nights there are new people to talk to, to drink with, to eat with.

I’m not complaining.  I’d never complain about doing what I’m doing.  After all, when the day comes that I don’t enjoy it any more, I’ll go home and find a job.  Then I’ll have something real to complain about, alright.

I do need a re-charge though.  Although I’ve not stayed in a dorm since Tirana, Albania was such a different world that although I loved it, it could not really be described as relaxing. Nothing worked as I expected it to work, every hour (or so it felt) a new surprise, so many friendly people.  Talking to strangers is not something that comes naturally to me – even though I’m getting better at it, I find it sometimes tiring.

As a treat, I’m staying in a tiny self-catering apartment in Corfu for two nights.  I have a private balcony with a sea view, two comfy chairs and a table.  I’m sitting at it now, typing.  The road winds down the hill below me, another hill rises to the left, lush with trees, jutting out into the sapphire sea; the rock that according to legend is Odysseus’s ship clearly visible beyond the headland.  Last night, I cooked my own dinner in my own kitchen, listening to my music through a speaker, singing along.  It was like being at home.  This morning I ate Crunchy Nut Cornflakes on the balcony in the soft sunlight.  Crunchy Nut Cornflakes have never made me smile quite so much before.

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Here endeth the burek diet (temporarily at least).  No more filled filo pastry for a few days.  Thank all the gods.

This morning I went on a short walk through the olive groves, accompanied by Rudy, the dog belonging to the owner of the apartment.

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Rudy trotted back home when we hit the main road, but I walked around the cliff tops and down to a beach, where the Ionian sea lapped at my ankles as I stood gazing out to the horizon, jeans rolled up around my knees, the sea breeze tangling my hair.

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I have come back to the balcony for lunch and a beer in the sunshine, listening to the whisper of waves on the beach 500 metres away.  Later I might head out again and dip my toes in the water.  Or I might stay here in the sun and read.  Paleokastritsa is tiny.  There’s nothing pressing to do here, other than stare at the blue, blue sea.

Thessaloniki – with thanks to Jaya The Cat

Ever since I decided to include Thessaloniki on this trip, I keep getting Jaya the Cat songs stuck in my head; particularly, not surprisingly, Thessaloniki.

…and as the sun comes up I wander to the sea, and I wash away my sins away in Thessaloniki.

That said, you wouldn’t want to wash anything away in the sea by the city centre.  There are things in there that don’t bear thinking about, let alone writing about.  You might manage to wash your sins off, but you’d probably catch something far nastier.

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Anyway.  Thessaloniki.  That’s where I am… and I love it already.  I loved it after only 15 minutes of walking around it.  It shot straight up there to my top three cities, jostling for second position behind Berlin with Granada.  Like both Berlin and Granada, it is scruffy and down-to-earth but steeped in history.  There is a labyrinthine old town on the hill overlooking the city below and the sea beyond.  There are Grecian ruins dotted around the city; a palace here, an arch there.  It is a very liveable city – apartment blocks fill the centre, plants spilling over balconies.  I don’t know where the office blocks are, but they’re not in this part of town, that’s for sure.

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Thessaloniki has a laid-back attitude; a lot of people hanging around in sun-filled parks and on the sea front, just relaxing while drinking beers and frappés.  There is a multitude of cool and quirky cafés, dingy bars, alternative clothing boutiques, second hand book stores, street art… it’s full of all the kinds of things I like, basically.

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Funny – for a while now all I’ve wanted was somewhere I could relax.  That’s why I built Corfu into things.  I did relax there.  It was lovely.

Even though I’m now back in a hostel dorm (in one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in thus far, which helps), I feel more relaxed here than in Corfu, simply because Thessaloniki already feels like home.

Day Three

In Thessaloniki, I have made a conscious decision not to go into churches or museums unless I really, really want to.  I’ve seen so many churches that they all blur together.  I’ve been to ethnographical museums all over the Balkans.  Missing out one here won’t matter.  All I have done since I’ve been here is relax on the hostel roof terrace in the sunshine, drinking copious amounts of free filter coffee and reading.  I’ve done some clothes shopping.  I’ve posted some winter clothes home.  I’ve sat on the promenade with the sea slopping at the wall below me, my legs dangling over the edge of the boardwalk, my feet bare in the warm sun, reading my book and listening to buskers.  I went to a photography exhibition at the port; the only gallery or museum I’ve visited here.  I’ve chatted to my dorm mates, sitting in the hostel café, drinking herbal teas and local wine in the evenings.  I’ve caught a few early nights.  I’m currently half-watching the most dramatic thunder storm I’ve seen in a long time.  There is a river running down the cobbled street, the occasional orange rushing along with it, carried down the hill after being knocked off a tree by the torrential rain.

I must remember this.  Travel does not have to be about rushing here and there, seeing everything a city has to offer.  Travel should also be about taking time to soak things up, rain and sun alike.

Paradoxically, travel should be about sitting still once in a while.

Click here for photos of Corfu and Thessaloniki

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