Tuesday, 27 June 2017

All Greek To Me - Beautiful Paleokastrítsa

I know what you're thinking...what on earth is she doing writing a blog post hours after getting back from Greece? Trust me, after this morning's 1.30 am start, a taxi, a plane, two trains and another taxi I'd like nothing more than to snooze in front of the telly in my pants, drink tea and get reacquainted with the cats but there's a brigade of workmen up cherry pickers, scaffolding and ladders, chipping away at the exterior of the house, so I'm doing my best to stay awake.

Anyway, on to Corfu and our first European Summer holiday in over a decade. 

Linking to Patti & the Gang for Visible Monday

After hours of research we chose Paleokastrítsa in the northwest of the island, described by many as the most beautiful spot on Corfu and by some, in the whole of Europe.  One of the first to fall for its charms was Sir Frederick Adam, British High Commissioner to the Ionian islands in the early 19th century. Paleokastrítsa's appeal lay in her deep wooded slopes, blue sea and bathing beaches but the problem was the relative inaccessibility so Sir Frederick had a road built to the village, with the ostensible purpose of erecting a military convalescent home there. It was never built but Sir Frederick found it a lot easier to take his regular picnics in Paleokastrítsa.

Be warned, if you're not physically fit then Paleokastrítsa might not be the place for you. The streets are very steep and there's lots of - often rather rickety - steps involved. 

Identified as the Homeric city of Scheria, where Odysseus was washed ashore and escorted by Nausicaa to the palace of her father, Alcinous, King of the Phaeacians. You'll find references to these tales in the names of the bars and tavernas all over the village.

During the peak months of July & August, Paleokastrítsa is unsurprisingly heaving with tourists but for our mid-June visit it was perfect. Busy with trippers during the day but never overwhelming or claustrophobic and by night laid back and low key with just enough tavernas to ensure a buzz. 

 The three and a half hour flights cost £80 return with Ryanair from Birmingham airport. We opted to pay an extra £15 for 15 kg of hold baggage so we could take sun cream. I did consider only taking hand luggage and buying our sun protection locally when we landed but, on further investigation, it would have cost us over 50 quid (we pay £5.50 a bottle for it at home, Greece ain't cheap!)

Here's where we stayed, one of the ten studio apartments at Natassa & Spiros, costing £180 for the week. In a quiet spot surrounded by olive groves, with all mod cons (including A/C, which we both hate and refuse to use - preferring an open window and plenty of insect repellent) plus a balcony with a mountain view.  

Off for dinner via the olive grove

We didn't cook but took full advantage of the fridge (and the nearby supermarket) by breakfasting on fresh fruit and Greek yogurt every morning and downing an ice cold Mythos (or Alpha or Hellas) beer after our evening shower with a night cap of Albatross white rum, cola and a wedge from lemon foraged from the groves overhanging the pathways.

Paleokastrítsa harbour

Although undeniably pretty, the main town beaches with their rows of sunbeds and parasols for hire, amplified music, water sports and cocktail bars just aren't our thing.

Walking past the tourist hot spots and investigating some rickety steps led us to discover this quiet little cove where we'd spread our blanket and, for hours at a time, we'd be alone with nothing but the sound of the Ionian Sea gently lapping the bleached shingle and the chirp of the cicadas.

 By 2pm the area beneath the steps are in shade and perfectly timed for our picnic of rustic bread, tangy feta cheese, spicy olives and misshapen locally grown tomatoes as big as tennis balls picked up from the supermarket on the way to the beach. 

Much as I love sea swimming the waters around Corfu were icy. The locals told us to come back in September when the Ionian Sea is as warm as a bath. 

In fact September and October seem like the ideal time to visit. The sea's warm, the heat's less intense and the roads are safer and quieter as the bulk of the tourists have gone.

 Overlooking Paleokastrítsa on a rocky bluff high above the village is the Byzantine Theotókou Monastery, believed to have been established in the thirteenth century. 

Open daily from 7am - 1pm and 3pm - 8pm (but best around sunset when most of the day trippers have left) it's a wonderfully peaceful way to spend an hour or two, petting the many cats that seek sanctuary there and drooling over the velvet embroidered Orthodox priest's jackets and bejewelled head dresses in the on site museum.

Admission is free but donations are welcomed (and help keep the cats in fresh fish). 

 It is requested that visitors dress modestly (I never travel without my shawl) although there's a stock of particularly hideous granny skirts, voluminous trousers and smock tops scantily clad tourists of all sexes are forced to wear if they turn up half naked.

Brace yourselves, there's loads more to share (the food, a road trip, Corfu's capital city and what we wore) but in the meantime I'll leave you with a video of La Grotta, possibly the bar with the best view in all of Corfu.

In the meantime the workers have just knocked off so I can finally strip off the sun dress I've been wearing since the early hours, have a bath and phone for a pizza.

 See you soon!

Monday, 19 June 2017

So Many Dresses...Such A Tiny Luggage Allowance

For a woman with a wardrobe stuffed with backless, slash fronted, halterneck, gloriously impractical dresses it's a crying shame I was born in a country where we can count the number of gloriously hot days suitable for wearing them on the fingers of one hand.

Vintage 1970s Bernshaw maxi (pressie from Curtise), African tribal choker (inherited from Mum), 1970s sunglasses (50p, Age UK), Massive hoop earrings (50p, Sari stall, Walsall market)

When the perfect opportunity for wearing strappy summery dresses comes along (a week in Greece) we've only got a piffling 15 kg luggage allowance between us (which is why our return flights are less than £80 each). We could pay for more but we're out and out cheapskates. What with the sun cream & mossie repellent, toiletries, the beach blanket, a few choice pieces from my bastard massive jewellery collection and our flip flops that leaves around 3 kg each for our clothes. Five cotton dresses, a couple of bikinis, two pairs of knickers (that's only because some of my dresses are a bit on the see thru' side), a rayon wrap, a shawl and that's my lot. 

Our packed bag weighs in at 12 kg...phew! 

Which means that there's lots of dresses that can't come, such as this '70s Bernshaw number*. Happily, since Saturday, the UK's been enjoying temperatures of 30 degrees meaning that not only have I made a good start on my tan but I get to flounce around the lawn in skimpy clothes swigging cans of pre-mixed G&T and generally getting into the holiday spirit.

*I think I usually wear it with heels hence the reason why it's pooling around my bare feet (unless I've shrunk).

We haven't been completely lazy. As usual, whenever I go on holiday I have to clean the house from top to bottom (trust me, that's not a regular event) and donate a shed load of stuff to the charity shop (mostly paperbacks, I read like a maniac when the sun's out). In addition, the decorators start work tomorrow so we've had to shift all the plants from the front of the house and move them elsewhere (easier said than done in our tree-filled wilderness). Luckily I'm not a high maintenance woman so getting myself holiday ready consists slapping some colour on my roots, painting my nails and shaving my legs in the bath later. 

Keeping the boys in food (and cat litter) is a full-time job. Jon's been on a lettuce run for Jacob so often this weekend the checkout lady in Lidl is beginning to think that he's stalking her. 

Linking to Patti & The Gang for Visible Monday.

Kalinychta (as they say in Corfu!)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Baddesley Clinton - Knights Have Dwelt Within Their Walls, Fugitives Fled To Their Secret Chambers, Cavaliers Knocked at Their Oaken Doors

A National Trust visit was long overdue, so yesterday armed with cheese sandwiches and the camera we jumped in the van and headed south across the border to Warwickshire.

A home has stood at Baddesley Clinton since before the Norman Conquest. Set in the heart of the Forest of Arden, although the moat surrounding the manor house dates from the 13th Century the house wasn't built until the middle of the 15th Century. Baddesley Clinton was acquired by Edward Ferrers in 1526 and the property remained in the Ferrers family for over 500 years until being acquired by a distant relative in 1940. In 1980 it was bequeathed to the National Trust and opened to the public two years later.

Over the course of its history Baddesley Clinton has provided refuge for those seeking escape from the outside world, never more so than during The Reformation, when the house offered shelter to persecuted Catholic priests escaping the 1559 Act of Uniformity. Harbouring priests was seen as an act of treason and owner Henry Ferrers faced certain death if it was discovered that he'd rented out the house to the ardently Catholic daughters of Lord Vaux who'd installed priest hides (see photo below) within the house to hide Catholics. 

As the centuries passed, the house developed to suit the needs of the occupants.

Some of the most radical changes happened in the late 19th Century. By then the house was occupied by a group of Bohemians collectively known as The Quartet. The story goes that Rebecca Dulibella Orpen lived in County Cork with her aunt, Georgiana Chatterton and was courted by the wealthy Edward Dering. Her 53 year old aunt was somewhat deaf and when Edward asked for her niece's hand in marriage, Georgiana misheard him, thought that he was proposing to her and accepted. Apparently very chivalrous, Edward didn't correct the mistake and married her despite the 25 year age gap. 

Marmion (what a brilliant name) Ferrers, the last in the line of direct descendants, married Rebecca in 1867 and all four moved into Baddesley Clinton. Both couples remained childless and inseparable, devoting their lives to the restoration and refurbishment of Baddesley Clinton & to painting, writing and religion. Georgiana died in 1876 and Marmion in 1884 leaving Edward to marry his true love, Rebecca, in 1885.

Baddesley Clinton was closed earlier this year for maintenance work. The kitchen, a Victorian addition, was one of the rooms restored.

Although rather dark, Baddesley Clinton felt welcoming and cosy, with lots of the personal possessions of the Ferrers family on display.

We loved the creaky floorboards and the strong smell of beeswax.

Henry Ferrers used the Great Hall for a reception room and entertainments. When the carved heraldic chimney piece was installed on 2nd March 1629, Henry was recorded as saying Work in the great chamber have finished and set up the chimney piece....which I like well but the unicorn is not set up for the crest, and is as I think made too big and the horn too big, and too upright, and the eyes ill set and sidelong.

Typical me, touching up the curtains to see how they'd work as a frock.

The stain below the fireplace is rumoured to be blood from the grisly murder of a priest in 1483.

Runners in this vibrant print cover much of the floor at Baddesley Clinton. Isn't it gorgeous? 

You know me, I can't walk past a rail of clothes without taking a closer look. 

An illustrated article on Baddesley Clinton appeared in the first edition of Country Life in January 1897 where writer John Leyland described the house  as A truly quaint and beautiful domestic survival of the English country life of the olden time

He continues Mailed knights have dwelt within their walls, fugitives in troublous times have fled to their secret chambers, cavaliers have knocked at their oaken doors...... 

About seven miles from Warwick… all amid the silent woods, its grey walls and timber gables reflected in a lake-like moat, stands the old Hall of Baddesley Clinton. Its aspect carries you back hundreds of years. You will readily, if so disposed, conjure up an old-world history when you look at it, and if you have any antiquarian interest – and who has not at least a tinge of it? – you can easily forget for the time that you are living in the Nineteenth century.

The gardens were gorgeous. Many of the visitors already knew each other and the names of the gardeners, they must picnic there every week.

Many National Trust properties have second hand bookshops in the grounds but the one at Baddesley Clinton was incredibly well stocked and staffed by a very knowledgeable gentleman. We found an amazing post-war guidebook to Greece for just £1.

After we'd eaten lunch we strolled around the estate accompanied by some very friendly ducks.

Despite being issued with a map on arrival we still managed to get hopelessly lost in the vast grounds much to the disdain of the estate's livestock.

We did manage to find our way to St Michael's, Baddesley's medieval church. Aren't the baby skeletons on the gravestone odd?

Rising Lane, Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire, B93 0DQ

Open daily (except 24 - 25 December)

See you soon.

Thinking of everyone affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy.