NoeHill: Venice to Malta in 2002

Friday 7 June: Kefalonia, Greece

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Mediterranean 2002: Kefalonia

Kefalonia The Adriatic Sea
The Road from Fiskardo to Assos
The Road from Fiskardo to Assos
Kefalonia was introduced to millions as the setting of Corelli's Mandolin, the 1994 novel by Louis de Bernieres. But, like all of Greece, its history goes back several millennia. The largest of the Ionian islands, it is known for its striking natural beauty: craggy mountains, sandy beaches, white cliffs, rugged forests, endless blue skies, deep caves, wonderful views, and crystalline turquoise water.

There is little beauty, however, in Kefalonia's man-made structures. A devastating earthquake in 1953 destroyed almost all of the island's buildings and what has been built since is pedestrian at best. We were fortunate that our ship dropped anchor in the harbor off Fiskardo, the only locale on the island to survive the earthquake. It is a port village with an intimate harbor and many picturesque 18th century homes and shops. We had little time, however, to savor the town's beauty as we were immediately herded aboard a bus for a short tour.


Fiskardo, Kefalonia. Fiskardo, Kefalonia.
Fiskardo, Kefalonia. Fiskardo, Kefalonia.


The Village of Assos, Kefalonia
We stopped briefly at Assos, another small port village, and then drove along the coast to Myrtos Beach. The famous blue sky and crystalline waters were nowhere in sight today. Not a ray of sunshine the whole day. The cloudy weather we experienced all this week was at the front edge of a great storm that wracked Europe for several days, causing flooding in some cities. We had sailed just in time. The storm followed us down the Adriatic, but the Wind Surf stayed just ahead of the worst of it.


The Village of Assos
The Village of Assos, Kefalonia. The Village of Assos, Kefalonia.
The Village of Assos, Kefalonia. The Village of Assos, Kefalonia.


Melissani Cave was a delightful stop. This is an underground lake and cave discovered just fifty years ago when the roof of one of the caves collapsed and fell into the underground lake, leaving a gaping hole. We walked down a long apti (underground tunnel) to a dock where we crowded into a small boat. The boatman rowed us around the first cave which had no roof and then continued on through a narrow tunnel, pulling the boat along by means of a rope attached to the wall, until we reached a second cave. This one was covered and very dark, with stalactites hanging above us. The splash of his oars in the water echoed as we circled the cave. Our boatman waited for another boat to enter through the narrow passage and then we returned to the dock. It was a short ride, but quite enjoyable. I have read that during the high tourist season, the lines are long and the boats very crowded. I'm glad our group was only about two dozen.


Back on the bus, we were driven through the small port town of Sami which didn't look too interesting. Then it was back to Fiskardo and the Wind Surf. During our four hours on the island, not a ray of sunshine broke through the drab, gray cloud cover. After reading so much about the brilliant colors of Kefalonia, it was a somewhat disappointing visit.

The Wind Surf sailed westward toward Sicily in semi-rough seas. The ship's stabilizers kept our ride pretty smooth, although some waves managed to reach up to our porthole. It would have been a fantastic ride on the Star Clipper!

Venice flooded today. We later learned that the great European storm had finally reached Venice, causing much of the city to flood. Wooden platforms were erected for pedestrians in many parts of the town, but most tourists were probably marooned in their hotels. I'm sure glad we left when we did.


Webmaster's note on the atypical grayness of the Ionian Islands.

During our voyage, the Adriatic was often unsettled. The sky was overcast. The sea was hazy. Venice was flooding. The weather will surely be different when you visit.

In his beautiful, elegiac novel, Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernières wrote of the Cephallonian light:

"The choice of Apollo as a Cephallonian cult is both the most and least mysterious. It is the most inexplicable to those who have never been to the island, and the most inevitable to those who know it, for Apollo is a god associated with the power of light. Strangers who land here are blinded for two days.

"It is a light that seems unmediated either by the air or by the stratosphere. It is completely virgin, it produces overwhelming clarity of focus, it has heroic strength and brilliance. It exposes colors in their original prelapsarian state, as though straight from the imagination of God in His youngest days, when He still believed that all was good."

And that is reason enough to set sail for Ionia.

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