I haven’t had much luck photographing churches lately. Most of the churches on our Balkan Bonanza tour didn’t allow photos, and even in London cameras were forbidden in places of worship. Yet there’s one kind of church that I can always photograph, despite the fact that I can’t explain it: the roadside “altars” (shrines?) in the form of a church.
Can anyone explain what these are? Do they mark a site where someone has died? Are they simply a way of expressing religion? Or is there some other explanation? I might write about churches every week, but I must confess my complete ignorance when it comes to these roadside wonders.
They remind me of spirit houses in Thailand, but I’m certain that they don’t play that role in Orthodox Christian nations. I don’t have many photos to show as examples (we’re usually past them before I can whip out my camera) but I do love to look at them. I’ve seen in them in Greece, Macedonia, and occasionally in Serbia. Some have tiny bouquets of flowers or crosses inside. They have a dollhouse quality that I find appealing, though I’m sure they play a more serious role than religious dioramas.
We thought we knew what to expect from Corfu: lovely beaches, relaxed attitudes, and all the dolmades we could eat. However, there was one unexpected delight in Corfu. Kumquats!
I tasted my first kumquat this year and was instantly hooked. Kumquats aren’t often found in Serbia, but a friend somehow found them and offered them to me at the end of a meal. I picked up the grape-sized citrus fruit and popped one, whole, into my mouth. The rind was a bit sour, but the inside was a delicious mixture of sweet and tart. Where had these delicious goodies been all my life? All too soon, kumquat season ended and I was left with visions of buying them at a D.C. Whole Foods for $10 a pound.
Kumquats are often found in Asia or South Africa, but Corfu received its first trees in the early 1900s. The plant thrived in its new terrain. Today, Corfu is one of the only places in Europe that has achieved “mass kumquat cultivation.” Sounds like an awesome band name. You’re welcome.
Kumquat season was over in Corfu, but the tiny tart treats are preserved as candy and liqueur. We stopped by a shop in Corfu’s old town for a taste test. Though most of the shops here seem to be selling the same things, we were drawn in by this store’s focus on kumquats and their less-cheesy bottles. Plus, isn’t the shopkeeper adorable?
The candied kumquats were fantastic. The sugar heightened the kumquat’s mix of sweet and tart, making it an easy, if not healthy, way to enjoy the fruit year-round. We picked up a box for Muz’s office as I kept sneaking samples. The proprietor then asked us if we wanted to try the kumquat liqueur. Lady, does the Pope wear a big hat? We played it cool, though. Muz waited a solid three seconds before he said yes.
There were several kinds of liqueur available, but we only tasted two. After the shopkeeper learned we liked rakija she dismissed the first two because she thought we would find them “too sweet.” The third bottle from the left was so sweet that I wondered how the other liqueurs didn’t induce diabetic comas. The last one, with the crystals inside, had the mix of bitter/tart/sweet that I like in the kumquat’s original form. And let’s face it, it was also the prettiest bottle.
It was also the most expensive one. As Muz scowled at my “champagne tastes” the woman told us that we could refill the bottle with vodka when it’s empty (When? Five years from now?) and still enjoy something similar. Aha! I insisted it was the more economical choice. A Real Housewife has to think of finances, you know. We purchased a small bottle, secure in the knowledge that my crush on Corfu–and kumquats–could continue in the comfort of our Belgrade home.
I’ve almost completed my posts about Balkan Bonanza ’11, the road trip Muz and I took in August. After driving through Bosnia, Montenegro, and Albania, we finished our adventure on the island of Corfu in Greece.
Corfu had almost everything we could ask for, like this
The only thing Corfu lacked was a good internet connection. (Don’t get me started on why “nicer” hotels have bad or overpriced wifi. That could be a whole other blog.) Most people wouldn’t care about hotel internet connection, but between my obsession with posting Sunday-Friday and Muz preparing to return to work, an internet connection was a priority. So when we read that the Corfu Starbucks had one of the best views in town, we drove over to check it out.
I’m not the slightest bit ashamed to say I love Starbucks. Yes, they might give home-grown coffee shops a run for their money (or not). Yes, the shops may contain an odd menagerie of yuppies, hipsters, and homeless people. Yes, sometimes the coffee tastes burned. Yet Starbucks also has fast, free wireless and fancy large coffee drinks on steroids. GO AMERICA. Starbucks is a beacon to this travel blogger. In Corfu, it’s a beacon with one of the best views on the island.
This is Mouse Island, a.k.a. Pontikonisi. The building on the island is Pantokrator Monastery, which was built during the 13th Century. The island is named Pontikonisi because the Monastery’s staircase is supposed to look like a mouse’s tail. From our vantage point, it just looked like heaven. Sugary, caffeinated heaven.
Maybe I should have been ashamed that I was sitting on a canvas director’s chair instead of a fortress wall. Perhaps I should have felt guilty that I wasn’t exactly soaking in Greek culture. Mostly, I just felt relaxed by the gorgeous view, a little sick from drinking a frappuccino, and comfortable knowing that good travel memories can happen anywhere.