Old photos and memories from Corfu

Today, I thought I’d share a couple of photos that my author friend Stephanie Wood sent to me recently. One day, Stephanie saw one of my posts about Moraitika, Corfu and the name rang a bell. Next, she was going through old photo albums and found evidence that confirmed her suspicions: she’d spent a holiday there back in the 80s but, over the years, had forgotten the name of the Corfiot village she stayed at. When she wrote to let me know, and to send the photos she found, I felt delighted. If I could re-acquaint her with such a blissful part of her past and, what’s more, stir in her the desire to return there one day, I felt my work was done.

It’s been a year now that I’ve been shouting it out from the rooftops of Twitter and Facebook that I am mad about Moraitika and Messonghi, the villages I set my romance trilogy in, and called them Vassilaki and Messi respectively in the books. It gives me great pleasure when people write to me to say they’ve been there in the past and that my posts caused them to start dreaming about them again, spurring them on to return!

So, to keep the fire inside your hearts kindling, this post is for all of you who, like me, adore these two quaint, heavenly corners of the world. Those among you who’ve been visiting since the 80s may enjoy remembering how these villages looked back then. You’ll need to forgive the low resolution, of course. These are grainy, as they should be, otherwise they wouldn’t be so precious, right?

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This picture from Stephanie was easy to identify as a picture of Moraitika beach.

 

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Now, this one gave me a hard time. It took me a while to identify the place and finally I realized it’s the road heading towards Moraitika as you come from the river bridge. Actually, this spot is very close to the bridge but it’s missing the big roundabout that’s in the middle of this road today. Back then, there was no roundabout and, depending on when in the 80s this photo was taken, there’s a chance the Messonghi river bridge wasn’t even built yet!

 

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Throughout the 80s, there were many restaurants offering live syrtaki dancing every night in Moraitika but only one had its dance floor by petrol pumps! And that was Paizanos petrol station on the main road (a petrol station still operates there today, and it’s situated near the bookshop/post office).

 

Corfu 4

This one is the last of Stephanie’s snaps and it’s my favourite, simply because it’s a picture of Martaouna, the pyramid-shaped mountain on the right that I can’t get enough of marveling at when  in Moraitika or Messonghi. Visible from both the villages, it houses the village of Spilio. Next to it, the Chlomos mountain is missing the two tall masts that are visible on the top today.

You can see a similar view of these mountains from the 80s in another picture courtesy of another Messonghi lover, my friend, Julie Reeves:

Messonghi beach 1982 by Julie Reeves

This was an utter delight for me when I first laid eyes on it. At the time, there were few touristic businesses in Messonghi and this photo reflects this. I used to stay at my aunt Rini’s house (aunt Rini was the sister of my grandfather, Spyros Vassilakis) for a few days at the time back then and would spend the whole day with my cousins Rini and Sofi Tsatsani. The house was just behind the building in the foreground. Seeing this photo caused a myriad of precious childhood memories to flood into my head.

Thank you Julie Reeves and Stephanie Wood for bringing back these memories!

I hope you’ve also enjoyed this short trip down memory lane. If you have similar old photos that show how these villages used to be in the 70s or 80s feel free to contact me as I’d love to see them. If I have a nice selection, I’d love to post a similar post in future again.

Before I go, to let you know that the terrific site Tripfiction asked me to contribute to their blog and, you know me, I came up with an article about my favorite place in the world – Corfu. Read it here and find out, among other things, what is the best time in the year to visit Corfu town and where on the island you’ll find freezing cold waters even in the summer! Ok, so I’ll spoil the surprise on the second one because I feel compelled to share the below pictures! Just look at these gorgeous views of the bay at Paleokastritsa that Julie Reeves took the other day:

In case you haven’t heard of Tripfiction before: If you search for your favorite locations in the world on this site, it will show you books set there! Nifty, huh!

Have you holidayed in Moraitika, Messonghi, or anywhere else in Corfu? Leave a comment and tell us all about it!

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Saint Spyridon, patron saint of Corfu: his life and miracles

Today, December 12, The Greek Orthodox Church commemorates and honors St Spyridon. In Corfu, it is a special day of joyous celebration, seeing that St Spyridon is the patron saint of the island. As you may know, Greeks don’t just have birthdays; they also celebrate their name days with parties, offering sweets and receiving gifts. If I tell you that every Corfiot family has at least one member called Spyridon (Spyros) or Spyridoula (Loula), you can imagine how much partying goes on around the island on December 12!

My family always had my granddad, Spyros Vassilakis, to honor on this day, and so, it’s always been a special day for me, and even more so now that Granddad has passed away. I thought I’d blog about St Spyridon this year and share a few facts and legends surrounding his name…

Who is St Spyridon?

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St Spyridon was born circa 270 A.C. in Askeia, Cyprus. He was a pious man and a shepherd. When his wife died, he entered a monastery and, later in life, became Bishop of Trimythous. He died peacefully of old age in 348 A.C. It doesn’t sound like much, I know, but what if I tell you about the miracles performed by this legendary  man, both when he was alive and centuries after his death? In his life, he performed many miracles and even brought people back from the dead with the fervor of his prayers!

St Spyridon was present in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325 A.C.) where he took an active role. It is said that he converted a pagan philosopher into a Christian there and, according to legend, he performed a miracle in the process. While talking with this man, he took hold of a potshard to make a point that one thing can be three things at the same time (like The Holy Trinity can be Father, Son and the Holy Ghost). As he held the potshard, it is said that it burst into a flame, water dripping down his hand. It is said that all that was left from the shard of pottery in his hand was dust (while others say he held a brick). It is because of the specific account that St Spyridon is regarded the patron saint of potters (as well as Corfu).

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This story is just one of many that testify for this pious man’s sanctity; some of them date from when the saint was still alive and others began whole centuries after his death.

For example, when the Arabs took Cyprus (648 A.C.), St Spyridon’s remains were disinterred with the purpose of taking the sacred bones to Constantinople. However, to their surprise, the Cypriots saw that the relic was intact, and a scent of basil emanated from the grave. They took this as a sign of St Spyridon’s sanctity. The relic was taken to Constantinople and when the Turks took the city in 1453, a Corfiot monk called Kaloheraitis took the relic to Corfu and that is where it is still held today, in St Spyridon church.

The Corfiots adore their saint, and that is no surprise, seeing that he has saved their island and its people many times. For example, when a plague swept through the village of Marathias in the 1600s, it is believed that St Spyridon was sighted there and performed a miracle to drive out the plague. There is a big mark like a cross on the ancient walls of the Old Venetian Fortress and, legend has it, that the plague made this mark out of spite for being made to leave the island. The locals know where this mark is and point it out to tourists, although nowadays it’s not as clearly visible.

Another legend related to the plague has it that St Spyridon was sighted in the air dressed as a monk. He was chasing the plague that looked like a cross between a lion and a monkey with bat-like wings. The saint chased her away while beating her with a cross. When they reached the Old Fortress (Capo Sidero), St Spyridon made the plague scratch the sign of the cross on the wall and swear she’d never return.

The Old Venetian Fortress in Corfu Town that is said to carry the mark the plague made on its way out of the island…

This miracle is commemorated on Palm Sunday. The church procession stops in Corfu Town on high ground, faces the south towards Marathias and sends a blessing as a thank you to the saint.

This is the side of the fortress that bears the plague’s mark…

 

I asked Gran Antigoni about it the other day; she said the mark is visible on the wall under the cross from the Mouragia side (Mouragia is the picturesque coastal way lined with ancient Venetian buildings that leads to the old port). The other interesting bit Gran said is that the plague killed all but one man in the village of Marathias. In time, he had children with many different women, spreading his name across the village over the generations. She couldn’t recall the name but says many people in Marathias still carry this man’s surname today.

Another legend about St Spyridon…

During the second siege of Corfu by the Turkish fleet in 1716, rumors spread among the Turks that St Spyridon had manifested as a monk holding a lit torch and threatening them, something that increased their panic. When the Venetian fleet that defended Corfu finally overcame them, rumors spread that St Spyridon had played a part in saving the island. On another occasion, St Spyridon is said to have saved the island from famine. How? He created a storm that made three boats filled to the brim with a cargo of wheat to change course and come to Corfu to save themselves. The precious cargo saved the people of Corfu from starvation and everyone knew it was a miracle because the men on board reported they saw a monk in a vision speaking in a booming voice, urging them to drop anchor at Corfu. This miracle is commemorated annually, again around Easter, this one on Holy Saturday – perhaps the  most greatly sought after day for a Corfu holiday because of the pot-breaking custom that follows the procession.

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And this is where the legends about St Spyridon end.

The following are actual events that happened without a doubt, some in my lifetime, and which were relayed to me. They are well-known all over the island:

The steeple of St Spyridon Church in Corfu town

  • A man was working on the top of the steeple of St Spyridon church once… He lost his balance and fell to the ground but stood back up, unscathed. I’ve heard this so many times that every time I look at the steeple I almost see that poor man fall and I cringe – LOL
  • Corfu airport is situated very near the sea. As the planes approach to land, if you look out the window, it almost feels like you’re about to land on water – it’s that near to the runway. Back in the 80s, this was out in the papers: a plane was having a hard time landing on Corfu airport (weather or technical trouble, cannot remember) and it was so scary and such a near miss that when the passengers landed safely they headed straight to St Spyridon church to light a candle and thank the saint for saving them. It was also reported that when they next opened his casket in the church, they found seaweed inside…
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This is the private place in the church where people are periodically allowed to come in and pay their respects to the saint. Most of the time you leave a kiss on the casket, but I’ve actually kissed his velvet slippers many times too – a rare occasion where the priests actually open the casket and let you get that close to the saint!

 

  • A little girl who couldn’t walk was taken to St Spyridon’s church to attend Mass. Her parents had brought her from afar, hoping for a miracle. All of a sudden, the girl stood in a trance and began to walk. Her parents were overjoyed and after their excitement had subsided they asked their girl what had happened. She said a monk had come to her in the church and asked her to stand up and walk…
  • Back in the 40s, Corfu town was bombarded numerous times by German planes. My grandmother Antigoni was a teenager then, and she and her loved ones ran to St Spyridon church for protection one fateful morning. It was daytime. Gran said to me the Germans used to drop bombs in the day and fire at night… That morning, as the bombs dropped, the church was full. The people were huddled together, terrified, their eyes pinned to the ceiling as they listened to the bombs dropping and exploding. All at once, they saw the ceiling open up, down its whole length. They saw the blue sky for split seconds and then… just like that… the ceiling was restored. The locals still talk about it in Corfu town. My grandmother, at 91, still remembers it vividly as if it were yesterday…

The Corfiots think of St Spyridon as a living being who walks among them, listening to their troubles, protecting them, providing for them. This is why many jump at the chance to own a tiny piece of his velvet slippers… Periodically, the church replaces the slippers placed at the saint’s feet and the fabric of the old ones is fragmented and offered to the people as a ‘fylakto’ – i.e. a protective charm, if you like. It’s the tiniest bit of red velvet inside a paper envelope with a drawing of St Spyridon on it.

The remains of St Spyridon are carried out of the church and taken around town during many religious processions throughout the year. The most famous perhaps is the one on Holy Saturday just before The First Resurrection (of Christ) at midday – a joyful pot-breaking celebration all over Corfu town.

I hope some of you will leave this page feeling a little enchanted today. If this is so, then my work is done. I am lucky to have experienced this kind of magic all my life and still can’t get enough. I love St Spyridon with all my heart, and like every Corfiot, I speak his name every day. “Agie Spyridona!” is something I tend to say when surprised, annoyed, amused, but especially when needing comfort.

To any of you who have a Spyros or a Spyridoula in your lives, Chronia Polla! I’ll be lighting a candle for my beloved granddad today.

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Gran Antigoni and Granddad Spyros Vassilakis photographed in Mandouki (a picturesque area of Corfu Town near the new port) back in the late 80s

 

For me, it’s no surprise I wrote about St Spyridon and his miracles via my character Mrs Sofia, in my debut novel, The Necklace of Goddess Athena. Below, you will find a short, exclusive excerpt from the book that was originally included when the book was first published but was edited out in the second edition. I thought it was apt to publish it here today for posterity.

I hope you will enjoy it.

Mrs. Sofia’s face brightened. “Spyros? Your christian name is Spyridon? Oh, psyche mou, what a beautiful name you have!” She was ecstatic to hear the boy was named after her protector saint. It was a name that had followed her all her life, like every other inhabitant of Corfu.

Everyone on the island has a bunch of family members called Spyridon or the female equivalent, Spyridoula. As baby names in Greece are carried from grandparents to grandchildren, they’re always reminiscent of precious members of one’s family, some of them—as in the case of Mrs. Sofia—no longer living. In Athens, the name is not as common, so it was a special treat for her to hear it, and to be able to savor its sound again, so far away from home. She didn’t let the chance go wasted. She loved to talk about her beloved saint, and when she offered the boy information about him, both he and his mother stood eagerly to listen. Soon, she was telling them about the two miracles he’s mostly revered for on the island: the one where he saved the city from the plague, and the other where he turned his cane into a snake. She told them he still appeared through apparitions to cripples and other patients who prayed to him, curing them beyond any logical explanation. She looked into their eyes, saw wonder, and so she carried on, telling them this time about the miracles she’d witnessed herself in the town of Corfu.

She relayed the story of the worker who’d lost his balance while on the steeple of St Spyridon’s church. He fell to the ground and stood again, unharmed. Then, she recounted the story of that terrible day during the bombarding of the city by enemy planes in the 40’s. She and many others had rushed to St Spyridon’s church for refuge, praying to him to save their lives, their eyes pinned to the ceiling, brimming over with terror. For one terrible moment, they all saw the roof of the church blow up. They saw the sky, and then, miraculously, the roof closed in again within split seconds. Shocked, they asked each other and, to their amazement, they’d all seen the same thing.

The little boy’s mouth was now gaping open, and his mother seemed equally fascinated, her eyes huge and glazed over. Mrs. Sofia had a melodic voice and the unique talent of storytelling. It charmed her listeners and her two new guests couldn’t have been an exception.

 

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A Lifetime of Corfu Summers

The other day, I was browsing photographs from Corfu on Facebook experiencing the familiar melting feeling inside. Nothing else causes that; over the years, despite having traveled extensively around my beautiful country, no other place can make me ache with such nostalgia. And then, I started to wonder: what is it that makes one so passionate about a certain place? Often, I hear my fellow Greeks talk about their beloved village where they were born or brought up and sometimes these places are nothing but a cluster of houses on a mountain top with a plane tree in the middle of a small square. As a visitor, you’d take half an hour tops to go around and see everything and chances are when you leave it behind, you’ll never think of it again. And yet, to the people who hail from it, it has the quaintness of Mykonos and the allure of Santorini; every square foot of soil or concrete a treasure in their eyes. So what is it that makes it so special?

The obvious answer is, it’s their love inside – the memories they hold.

And so, it is with me. From Corfu, and especially the villages of Moraitika and Messonghi, I have a multitude of memories that often flood my mind as I walk past a lane or sit on the beach or saunter along the Messonghi river – some dating back from 40 years, some involving people who are now gone, being sadly missed.

So, here I am today, a bunch of old, yellow photographs in hand, blogging about a few of those memories. To the readers of my trilogy, some may be interesting for the real-life facts behind The Ebb, and for the rest of you, perhaps they will still be of interest, simply for being a glimpse of a bygone world.

So come, walk with me down this memory lane as I unfold my passion for Corfu…

 

During my childhood, I was forever in Corfu town for a long holiday, staying in Garitsa with my aunt Stephanie (my mother’s sister) and her family or with my grandparents in a rented house. In the early 70s photograph below I’m having a bit of trouble going down the steps of St Spyridon’s church – Gran is holding my hand. Gran was always around when I was little. It’s no surprise I used to call her ‘mama’ back then. I simply refused to fall asleep unless she was holding my hand and it was difficult for her as the moment she’d withdraw her hand I’d snap my eyes open, which meant she had to do this all over again. A few years ago in Moraitika, in my presence, a local lady called Angelina, impressed by the kind way Gran always spoke of me asked her: ‘Oh Antigoni, you love your Frosso, don’t you?’ (Frosso is what people call me in Greek). Gran turned to her, smiled an angelic smile I’ll never forget and said, “Angelina mou, if you were to open my chest and look inside, you’d find a picture of my Frosso there”. My heart swells just thinking about it. Gran’s love for me has always been a blessing and a compass.

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Early 70s, St Spyridon’s Church, Corfu town

I still remember my very first visit to Moraitika where I met many of my great-aunts and uncles for the first time. I couldn’t have been older than ten or eleven and that’s when the love of a lifetime began. This is when my grandparents converted the old storeroom of the original Vassilakis house (the part of it Granddad inherited from his father) into a little home for themselves.

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This is a photo of me from the early 80s on the beach in Moraitika. I was about fourteen. This is when the tourism in the village began to take off. Back in the late 70s the sea was so pure that if you dipped your hand in the wet sand near the water you’d get tiny clam babies. I remember looking for them for fun after my swims around the age of 11-12, then putting them back in the sand.

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In the early 80s, summers were a blast. Other than my grandparents and sister, I was in the company of aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, a bunch of cousins and local children. The lane you can see in the picture above was always hectic! I am the girl in the blue top. My sister is second from the left, the other girls are cousins. Great Uncle Stamatis is holding up a hedgehog that happened to pass by (of course, we let it go shortly later!). Gran Antigoni is having a chuckle sitting on the step outside my great-grandfather’s house that was divided among his children (now owned by his great-grandchildren). My great-grandfather’s name was Stefanos Vassilakis. He used to be the teacher and the priest of the village at the turn of the 20th century. His, is the only grave remaining today in the old cemetery by the church on the hill (in the old quarter of Moraitika).

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The 80s where paradise on earth for me as then I’d spend three-month summer holidays in Moraitika nearly every summer. There was fun to be had all day and well into the night. Swimming in the morning, long walks in the afternoon with my cousins and, often, my grandparents would take us out for a meal and dancing in one of the many restaurants who had a dance floor back then. Dancing the Syrtaki was a big thing and I loved it. Everyone had trouble getting me off the dance floor. When I was little especially, big British and German family men would sweep me up off the floor and dance with me in their arms, then buy me ice cream. It was great fun and I still remember it fondly – the ice cream especially!

People were very light-hearted back then, very open. The tourists loved to dance the Syrtaki and there was lots of cheering, lots of laughing going on. A great night out.

 

aunt Rini 1967

My beloved Great Aunt Rini Tsatsani from Messonghi, holding her first granddaughter, my cousin Rini, who was named after her as per the Greek tradition.

As a little girl, I’d often stay in Messonghi as well. This is my late Great Aunt, Rini Tsatsani. She made a cracking good bourtheto, I’ll tell you that! It burned like hell but it was so good I couldn’t stop myself. Bless her soul, she was an angel. Her son Thanassis used to run a corner coffee shop in Messonghi on the main road to Lefkimmi. Their house was just off the seafront by the river mouth. Me and my sister used to stay at Aunt Rini’s house often to spend time with our cousins Rini and Sofi. We used to go to the restaurant across from their house and dance with the tourists every night – often barefoot. The song ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon’ was very popular back then (it was the mid-late 70s) and everyone danced to it. I remember a young British girl holding me by both hands and dancing to this with me one night. I loved this song and used to run from Aunt Rini’s yard to the restaurant to dance to this whenever the song played – which was a lot. The restaurant owner used to shoo me away but I kept coming back for more. Back then I didn’t speak a word of English, of course. When, later in life, I got to learn the language and was able to decipher the beautiful words to this song, it was like reuniting with an old friend… its nostalgia so relevant to mine for those long-lost carefree days of my childhood on the beach at Messonghi.

Back in Moraitika, the best places for Syrtaki dancing in the 80s were the Paizanos restaurant on the main road (now a petrol station), the Romantica restaurant where Lefteris used to bring out a donkey on the dance floor every night and a pizzeria where the roundabout on the way to Messonghi now is – can’t recall its name but its pizza was exquisite. Often, we’d get a takeaway from there for our annual ‘pizza night on the beach’ under the August full moon – a memory so precious it found its way into the Ebb.

Speaking of fond memories that found their way into the Ebb, here are some more facts for my readers:

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This aluminum fork with dented prongs has been indispensable on the table over the years. Often, it would be somewhere else than the drawer when you needed it to set the table. Gran and I would go looking for it. It was unimaginable for me to have a meal without it. Whenever I came to Moraitika for a holiday, Gran would hand it to me with a wide grin at lunch time.

In the other photo you can see Gran’s little kitchen. She used to make meals to die for in there (she’s now 91 and no longer able to do much. Granddad Spyros Vassilakis died in 2010 at the age of 97 and she’s been ‘slowing down’ rapidly ever since, bless her.

As for the last photo above, it’s a blurry glimpse of me being the real Sofia – including the blue swimsuit and straw hat mentioned in The Ebb. The hat was a gift I was given back in 1987 by a departing British tourist, who looked and acted very much like Danny in the book. In the trilogy, love triumphs, but in real life my young heart crashed and burned, LOL

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Other people that inspired characters in the Ebb include my sister, Antigoni, who inspired Loula, as well as my cousins Olga and Spyridoula, who inspired Dora and Nana respectively. Olga passed away too early and too suddenly which was a loss to the world because she was an angel on earth, sharing laughter as much as she could and protecting her own like a lioness. Her kind, giving heart inspired me to create Dora in The Ebb, and Olga in The Necklace of Goddess Athena to honor her memory.

 

This is “Caldera” (a bar/restaurant) on the beach in Moraitika. It is the inspiration behind “Karavi” (Ship) in the Ebb. Back in the 80s it was called “Kavouria” (Crabs). Run by cousins of mine, and with an able cook in the kitchen that makes delicious homemade food, it naturally inspired the family restaurant atmosphere I wanted to create in the book. In the story it is situated next to a hotel and across from a sports pier but these are a short walk away in real life. I refer to Delfinia Hotel and the pier in front of it; the latter was very busy in the 80s & 90s – offering paragliding and lots of other rides.

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From the early 80s till the early 90s my family ran a small business of room rentals. Back then, tourism in the village had reached a zenith, bringing wealth and prosperity to everyone among the locals, who made sure to build all sorts of businesses on their land. Every summer I’d return to Moraitika to find new businesses had sprouted everywhere. In the old days, as you went down the main road towards Messonghi there was nothing but fields after Paizanos restaurant (now the petrol station) and Fontana supermarket. As of the mid 80s, slowly, the roadside on either side was filled with businesses all the way to the river.

Anyone interested in the area may also be intrigued to hear that the river bridge to Messonghi didn’t exist before then. To get to Messonghi from Moraitika you’d have to turn right at the roundabout (towards Lefkimmi) all the way to Melissa (the location of the Council Office) where a narrow, cemented bridge would allow you to get to Messonghi (the bus from Corfu town could only just about cross that narrow bridge – that was always scary!). It was a long walk between the two villages that wasn’t easy to do – that’s why before the mid 80s people preferred to walk to Messonghi along the beach, then cross the river in the little row boats. Naturally, the building of the new bridge over the river brought a considerable decline to the business for these little boats at the river mouth.

Before I end this long-winded walk down memory lane, I’d like to show you a handful of photos by my Facebook friends and readers, Julie Reeves and Jayne Strange. They are just two of many lovely British friends I made on Facebook last summer, who share with me their love and passion for Moraitika and Messonghi. I hope you’ll enjoy the photos they kindly sent me to enrich this post as I didn’t have any images to post from Messonghi in the old days. Thank you ladies!

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These first two snapshots from the early 80s are by Julie Reeves. I love the first one! I can almost taste my Aunt Rini’s bourtheto just looking at it! Her house is just behind the one in the foreground. Also, I chuckled to notice there are no antennae on top of Chlomos mountain!

I remember the boat rides with nostalgia. I used to enjoy the walk along the beach from Moraitika on the way to Messonghi to visit Aunt Rini and her family before the bridge was made.

 

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These three photos are by Jayne Strange. She stayed in Messonghi Beach Hotel in the early 80s. You can see views of the river from the hotel and Jayne on the beach. It’s wonderful to catch in these a glimpse of the serenity of the river bank in the old days. Now, with the paved walkway alongside it and the bigger excursion boats moored there it seems like a different place all together.

Martaouna, the ‘pyramid-shaped mountain’ described in the Ebb.

Thankfully, some things don’t change over time. One of them is Martaouna, the lush, pyramid-shaped mountain beside Mount Chlomos. Today, it looks as endearing as in the old days – standing tall like a faithful sentinel of the serene Corfiot villages graced by its presence.

For any among you who may have fond memories of dancing the Syrtaki around Moraitika and Messonghi in the 70s and 80s, here are three of my favorite songs from back then. See if you can remember them!

And because there’s no Syrtaki without Zorba’s Dance, I felt compelled to add it here. This infamous, ageless piece of music by Mikis Theodorakis gives me goosebumps every time.

Thank you for taking the time to share these old fond memories from Corfu with me! Have you visited Corfu? What has been your experience? Are you a passionate holidaymaker in the villages of Moraitika or Messonghi? I’d love to hear anything you wish to share so please add a comment below! Also, you may want to check out my humorous post, My Corfiot Granny And a Bunch of Strange Tourists. If you’re planning a holiday in Corfu, make sure to visit my guide to Moraitika and Messonghi on this website!

 

Would you enjoy a book set in Moraitika and Messonghi? Check out The Lady of the Pier trilogy today! For book trailers and FREE excerpts, go here

Can’t wait? Visit Amazon now (kindle/paperback)

Alternatively, order the paperbacks at your local bookstore, or ask at the library.

Thank you for your visit!

 

 

An interview with travel writer, Richard Clark

Today, I’m pleased to welcome Richard Clark, an award-winning journalist who enjoys traveling around Greece, then publishing books to share his experiences. Anything that promotes my country is a great thing in my book, so I was thrilled when Richard accepted to do this interview. Richard’s writing is peppered with intriguing historical facts and vivid descriptions. I have read his book on Corfu and learned a lot about the island that I didn’t know. Stick around to hear more from the man himself!

 CorfunotebThe Ionian Islands stand at the gateway to Greece, with Corfu its gatekeeper. For so much of its history Corfu stood as protector of the Adriatic and its Venetian rulers, but now the island has turned its gaze south towards its Greek homeland. On reaching Corfu, something happens to the light, as if some celestial switch has been flipped, changing everything…

Corfu – A Notebook is a series of snapshots of places, the people and culture of those who inhabit this beguiling island and some of its neighbours in the Ionian group. More of a travelling companion than a guide, this is the fourth of Richard Clark’s books about the Greek Islands.

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cretenotebIn 1982, on a whim, the English journalist Richard Clark upped sticks and left the country of his birth to go and work as a teacher in Crete. So began a love affair with the island to which he still returns as often as possible.

Crete – A Notebook is a series of snapshots of his experiences on an island he has grown to cherish. It is less of a travel guide and more of a travelling companion.

Whether a regular visitor or a first-time traveller there, this book provides an invaluable insight into life past and present on this exquisite island.

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RhodesnotebLittle more than a stone’s throw from the Turkish coast, Rhodes was the final piece in the jigsaw of what is modern Greece. The island has changed its clothes so many times throughout history that it can be difficult to pin down what best reflects its character, and herein lies the Island’s charm. The variety of its architecture and the wealth of myth and legend combined with an ever-changing landscape makes for a destination which can hold the interest for a lifetime.

For many it is the Crusader Knights who prevail, for others the lost wonder of the fallen Colossus or the Doric columns of the temple celebrating the Ancient Greek cult of Athena Lindia which presides over the maritime gem of Lindos. Whatever memories it leaves us with, it is an island full of surprises.

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greekislandsnotebIn 1982, on a whim, the English journalist Richard Clark upped sticks and left the country of his birth to go and work as a teacher in Crete. So began a love affair with the Greek Islands, to which he now returns on a regular basis.

The Greek Islands – A Notebook is a series of snapshots of Journeys and Places, Culture and History, and People and Island Life on Greece’s enchanted triangle of islands – Corfu, Crete and Rhodes and the islands in between.

Whether a regular visitor or a first time traveler there, this book provides an invaluable insight into life past and present on these beautiful islands.

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Hello Richard and welcome to my blog!

Hello, Fros. Thank you for the invitation.

I love the sound of all your travel notebooks! Tell us more. How did they come to be?

My first published work was The Greek Islands – A Notebook, which really came about as the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition just to actually write a book. In fact, it was not my first attempt; I had written a children’s book (which has since been published in paperback) whilst living in Crete in the early eighties as a gift for my newly born niece at the time. Journalism kept me going over the years with newspaper and magazine articles being published on a regular basis so when I eventually found the time and discipline to embark on working on a book I did not come to it cold. I wrote about the Greek Islands following the much given advice about writing about something you know and you are passionate about. I was a teacher in Heraklion in Crete in the early 1980s and, since returning to England and journalism, had travelled extensively in Crete and other Greek Islands. I still regularly visit Greece three times a year.

Sailing Greece

Richard enjoys sailing in Greece

What was the first thing you ever wrote and how old were you then?

This probably sounds precocious, but the first thing I remember writing was for a literary competition at the age of 5. I have always enjoyed the creative process and was brought up by a father who was a successful crime writer, so I suppose it’s in the genes. Anyway, this competition was run by the local public library service and was open to children under the age of 16 and my primary school got all its pupils to enter as part of their day-to-day lessons. Low and behold, I won and was awarded with a fistful of book tokens, which came in very handy as even at that age, I was an avid reader.

What other writing have you done? Anything else published?

To date I have seven books published, and a Greek translation of my most successful book, Crete – A Notebook, is in the pipeline. In terms of journalism I have written across a wide range of subjects from politics to travel, sport to cookery and celebrity interviews for a wide range of national newspapers and magazines in the UK.

Any hobbies or interests that you enjoy in your spare time?

I love to read; it is one of the greatest pleasures in life. While commuting from my home to central London daily, I have plenty of time to indulge my passion. Other than that I enjoy music and try to play the guitar, although my son, who is a professional musician, will confirm quite how dreadful I am. I love to cook and do so on a daily basis. I also enjoy sailing, watching rugby and walking with my dogs.

Oh, they’re so cute! Thank you for sharing these photos; doggies are particularly welcome in this blog! What are you working on at the moment? Tell us a little about your current project(s).

I have been in hiatus over the last six months or so, but having just returned from a break travelling to some of the less well-known parts of Crete, I have started writing another book about the island with a working title of ‘Hidden Crete’ which I hope will encourage people to get off the usual tourist trail and discover other parts of this extraordinary and beautiful place. I have also got a couple of other ideas bubbling under, but they are not fully enough formed to talk about yet.

A picture from Elounda, Crete

Which are your favorite authors, and what do you love about them?

We are walking on shifting sands here as my favorite authors keep changing, and the list is always being added to, although there are some constants that remain the bedrock of my reading list. Unsurprisingly, I do read a lot of writers with Greek connections and of course I love Kazantzakis. Weirdly, I first started reading ‘Zorba the Greek’ whilst waiting to board a ferry to Crete from Piraeus on my very first visit to Greece. Coincidence or not, I have loved his work ever since but, if I had to choose one of his books, it would be ‘Report to Greco’. Of course I like Patrick Leigh Fermor and I also like Lawrence Durrell’s Greek travel writing. His ‘Alexandria Quartet’ is also a favorite of mine, although I find some of his later novels a bit impenetrable. There is a beautiful little book Durrell wrote which I think is now out of print, and I gave my copy away to a friend. It is called ‘A Smile in the Mind’s Eye’. I keep waiting for it to be reissued. Of the contemporary authors writing about Greece, of course I like Victoria Hislop, Sara Alexi is also making a well-deserved reputation for herself and in terms of non-fiction, I like the work of Marjory McGinn.

I also love Kazantzakis and Victoria Hislop and have enjoyed Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals since it’s set on Corfu. I’ve also enjoyed the travel memoirs of Marjory Mc Ginn and recommend them highly. What genres do you read mostly, and what are you reading now?

Over the last few years I have started to enjoy crime fiction, something I had steered clear of before. It started when a friend recommended the Stieg Larsson Books and from there I moved on to Henning Mankell and Andrea Camilleri. I have just worked my way through C.J. Sanson’s Shardlake mysteries. For crime with a Greek theme I really like both Anne Zouroudi and Jeffrey Siger’s books.

I don’t read much crime fiction but I’ve read Anne Zouroudi and she’s wonderful. Tell us, what do you enjoy the most as an indie author that you imagine you wouldn’t if you were traditionally published? If you had a choice would you still go indie?

When I started writing the first Greek book I really hadn’t thought about the publishing process; I just wanted to see if I could sustain the discipline to write a book. Being a journalist, I am used to seeing my work in print on a regular basis so that side of it didn’t excite me perhaps as much as it should have. When I neared the end of that book I began to think about the publication and was reading a lot online about indie publishing and it seemed to me the obvious way to go. I am in the fortunate position of having access to designers and editors who I know through work so the preparation of the manuscript and the cover was not a problem. I also employ an excellent formatter to prepare the eBook editions and design the interior of the paperbacks. For the most part I love the process, I am in total control and the timescales are much more acceptable than those operated by traditional publishers. The royalties are also far superior and I can put out however many books I want on my own schedule. The difficult part is the marketing. I am not a natural extrovert, so find selling my work hard, but the fact is that most ‘legacy publishers’ do little or no marketing for most of their writers nowadays. For me the stigma of whether I am taken seriously as an indie writer is borne out by the level of sales I have achieved, much more than many traditionally published authors. Ironically, for me to go down that route would be ‘vanity publishing’, as I would only be doing it to bestow on myself any kudos that might bring.

Oh yes, the marketing is always the difficult part for all indie authors… What are the things in your life that you’re most grateful for?

That’s an easy question to answer. My wife, Denise, and children Rebecca and James. Every day I feel blessed to have them.

Oh, that’s sweet… and good for you, Richard. Who is your favorite poet? Quote a couple of lines from your favorite poem.

Difficult, but I think T.S. Eliot just shades it, although, if I am allowed to include Bob Dylan as a poet…

Be my guest! I can think of a multitude of songwriters that I personally regard as poets!

Well, there’s a line in Dylan’s song ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ which I cannot hear without thinking about the famous beach sirtaki dancing scene from ‘Zorba the Greek’. This personal connection I have made evokes such wonderful images whenever I hear these words…

‘Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow’

That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with us, Richard, and for being here with us today! Happy travels!

Thank you Fros, it’s been a pleasure.

 

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Richard Clark is the author of six books about Greece, his first The Greek Islands – A Notebook was published in 2011 followed by books about Crete, Rhodes and Corfu. A new edition of his best-selling Crete – A Notebook was released in the summer of 2014 and a Greek translation of this book is in the final stages of publication. Each of his individual ‘Notebooks’ has achieved No1 status in their individual listings on Amazon both in the UK and USA. Richard holds a BA degree in English Literature, is an award-winning journalist and is the son of the late author Douglas Clark.

In 1982, on a whim, the English journalist Richard Clark upped sticks and left the country of his birth to go and work as a teacher in Crete. So began a love affair with the Greek Islands which he frequently returns to.

His books are a series of snapshots of his experiences on the islands he has grown to love. They are less travel guides and more travelling companions.

The author is a writer, editor and journalist who has worked on an array of national newspapers and magazines in the UK. Currently he is Group Deputy Editor of the mass-market consumer magazines TV Times and TV&Satellite Week. He is married with two grown up children and lives in Kent in South East England.

The books are available in both paperback and as eBook editions from Amazon and other major retailers.

Visit Richard’s Amazon page

Visit Richard’s Facebook page

 

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My latest news (and a cover reveal!)

Hello All! Back from Corfu and, alas, despite the persisting heatwave, there’s no time for the beach any more. Keeping busy with a couple of projects (no rest for the wicked…) In this post, I’d like to share with you my latest news.

First of all, to say I am thrilled to have been accepted in the Author Social Media Support Group, commonly known as ASMSG. I am looking forward to familiarizing myself with its resources and making new friends.

Secondly, I spent a good part of this week revisiting my personal image archive for the past ten or so years, looking for various images from my annual holidays on Corfu. With my findings I have put together a travel guide on Moraitika, Corfu (my grandparent’s village that inspired my trilogy). The guide is now live on this website. During my recent holiday in Moraitika, I went around the tourist businesses of family and friends, taking photographs and noting down their contact details. The guide is my personal recommendation to you for the perfect beach holiday. Therein you will find everything you need to know: where to stay, where to dine, what to do and see and plenty more. You can visit the page directly here: TAKE ME TO MORAITIKA!

Now for the big news! One of my open projects this month involves a major re-edit on The Necklace of Goddess Athena. I am quite concerned by the lack of sales for this book so I decided to give it some special attention and then to relaunch it this September with a brand new, awesome cover by 187Designz.

I am very excited about the cover and hope it’ll work its little magic to attract new readers (fingers crossed!)

Here it is. What do you think?

goddess athena fb ad graphic 2 coming soon

goddess athena 3d book 2

Before I go, to say, if you’re a Twitter user and feeling generous, please take the time to search for #eNovAaW on August 8-10. This is the hashtag used solely for cross-promotion by the members of eNovel Authors at Work where I am a member. We are doing a Tweet Fest on those dates and tweeting about each other’s books en masse. We would greatly appreciate it if you took the time to RT a tweet or two containing this hashtag. If you like to pay it forward, you already know the universe will repay you this kindness ten fold. Thank you for your time and generosity!

 

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A post about summertime!

Hello All! Today, I’m on a holiday mood, seeing that I’m off to Corfu for a week soon, so before I go, I thought I’d write a little post about my favorite season… Every year, I tend to hibernate during the winter and start coming alive in the spring. But, I love the summer more than any other time of year, and this is no surprise, seeing that I’ve spent most of the summers of my earlier life in an earthly paradise.

This is a a photo from the old quarter of Moraitika, my grandparents’ village on Corfu; this very tree and the lanes around it were my stamping ground where I played dodgeball, hide-and-seek, and a few games of cards with my cousins and friends as a child and teenager. Mind you, I even hung up my gran’s sheets from that very tree one year–couldn’t have been older than thirteen–to create a scene and a curtain as to produce a little play that I wrote. The other kids and I never advertized it and only did the show for our own pleasure. One of the village boys, Pakis, offered to participate as spectator. Before the show, I asked Pakis to pay his ticket. He reached inside his shorts pockets and handed me all its contents: 11 drachmas. After the show, we all went to the shop at the square and I used that money to buy everyone sweets. I believe Pakis had the most! That is just one of the myriad sweet memories I have from my childhood in the village, a place I love so much that I had to write a book or two set in it.

cfu 1

And, after showing you my favorite village corner, on the right in this picture, you can see my beloved pyramid-shaped mountain that is mentioned in The Ebb (book 1 in my trilogy). The locals call this mountain Mataouna. You can also see the sports pier on the beach at Moraitika – now you know what Sofia’s pier looks like in the book!

I will spend a week there as of this Friday, and hope to catch up with lots of people I love, but most of all, with my beloved 91-year-old grandmother, Antigone. She called me yesterday to say my aunt Danda brought her a cabbage from her garden knowing grandma would love to treat me to my favorite meal, Lahanodolmades (cabbage leaves stuffed with mince and rice in egg and lemon sauce). If you haven’t tasted this meal, take it from me, you haven’t lived! If you’re ever in Greece, try to find a restaurant that serves it… your taste buds will be grateful.

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Speaking of food, I’d love to share another of my favorite Greek summer recipes that I recently posted on Effrosyni’s blog: GEMISTA (peppers and tomatoes stuffed with rice). Another yummy Greek meal I can’t get enough of!

Before I go, a little announcement about my trilogy, The Lady of the Pier:

The paperback for The Flow (book 2) has just been released! Just like all my other paperbacks, I’ve made this available everywhere, including libraries and major stores worldwide. (For example, in Greece readers can order it and receive it within a few days from large stores like Public.)

 The Flow-back coverthe flow-front cover

Check out the paperback on AMAZON US

Check out the paperback on AMAZON UK

Well, this is it from me! If you’re going on holiday this summer, whether it’s the sea or the mountain you’re headed for, make sure to relax and unwind, connect with family and friends and not so much to the internet! Our lives are always so hectic, we deserve to unplug from the greater world every now and then, if anything, for old times sake.

Till we speak again, have fun this summer whatever you get up to!

 

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Discover The Lady of the Pier trilogy

ladyofpier2

Today, I am pleased to announce that I am launching The Flow on June 26. This is book 2 in my trilogy, The Lady of the Pier. If you are pining for a beach holiday and looking for a read that’s the next best thing, then this trilogy is perfect for the job. What’s more, now, you can drift in your mind to a Greek paradise at a minimal cost!

The Ebb is currently only 99c and The Flow is on preorder for 99c too, but only for a limited time!

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What is The Lady of the Pier trilogy about?

The Lady of the Pier trilogy tells the stories of Sofia and Laura – two girls from two different worlds who have a mysterious connection. In book 1, although similar in some ways, the two stories are seemingly unrelated. In book 2, they begin to merge and in the concluding volume, The Storm, they become one story. I recommend to start reading from book 1. The Storm is in the editing stage and will be published in December 2015.

For free excerpts, visit http://effrosyniwrites.com/books/

Book 1

lady of the pier, ebb no strap 533x800

LOVE WILL GO ON FOREVER, SEEKING A SECOND CHANCE.

BRIGHTON, 1937

Dreaming of wealth and happiness, Laura Mayfield arrives in Brighton to pursue a new life. She falls for Christian Searle, a happy-go-lucky stagehand at the West Pier theatre, but when she’s offered a chance to perform there, her love for him is put to the test. Charles Willard, a wealthy aristocrat, is fascinated by her and pursues her relentlessly. Will Laura choose love… or money?

CORFU, 1987

On a long holiday with her grandparents, Sofia Aspioti meets Danny Markson, a charming flirt who makes her laugh. Although she tries to keep him at arm’s length, worried that village gossip will get back to her strict family, she falls desperately in love. That’s when strange dreams about Brighton’s West Pier and a woman dressed in black begin to haunt her. Who is this grieving woman? And how is her lament related to Sofia’s feelings for Danny?

 Only 99c on Amazon!

 

Book 2

lady of the pier, flow,533x800

She won’t find peace until she finds redemption.

But it’ll take more than love; it’ll take two worlds, to merge into one.

BRIGHTON 1938

Laura and Christian enjoy a blissful summer, while Charles watches from a distance, waiting for the right time to intervene. This time, he’s prepared to do something truly vile as to leave nothing to chance. WWII breaks out, and Laura does her best to settle in a new life, having paid a terrible price. Will she find happiness at last, or will the past continue to haunt her?

CORFU 1988

Sofia arrives in Vassilaki brokenhearted over Danny. Just as a new boy comes into her life, the strange dreams start anew. Now in Brighton, she meets Danny again, but he blows hot and cold. When she sees a female apparition on the West Pier, she finds out the locals call her ‘The Lady of the Pier’. Is this the woman in her dreams and why is Sofia the only one who can see her?

 Official launch date: June 26, 2015

Available on preorder – only 99c for a limited time on Amazon!

 

 Book3

Lady of the Pier, storm 533X800

The concluding part of the trilogy, The Storm, is currently in the editing stage.

It will be released in December 2015.

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