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To the Achilleion and spotting airplanes at Corfu

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Monday 08 June, to the Achilleion and spotting airplanes at Corfu

Looking around in Benitses The sea at BenitsesToday we go to Kerkyra or Corfu town, but on the way we stop first in Benitses, a small town on the east coast of the island, surrounded by green forests and olive groves. Originally it was a fishing village but with the rise of tourism it has become one of the most popular destinations in Corfu and most inhabitants earn their living with it. Today it is still quiet but in the summer it must be quite busy here.
Colorful flowers in Benitses The port of BenitsesBecause we are early in the year, we fortunately avoid the large masses of tourists, but there are also many flowers and shrubs flowering. Corfu is called the flower island of Greece and you can see it all around you. Beautiful shrubs that are in full bloom with the colors red and purple predominating. May and June are the best months to see the island in bloom, from July it just gets too hot and dry and the flowers will wither.
Remains of a Roman bathhouse Monument for the fallen heroes of BenitsesWe follow a sign to the Roman baths but we arrive at an overgrown ruin and a large part of the site, where the remains of a Roman villa can be seen, is closed by a rusty fence. We had already noticed this phenomenon last year, not all archaeological sites are well maintained. However, most war memorials are. On the ground in front of this monument is written the word Oxi (pronounced as Ochy), the Greek word for no. On October 28, 1940, a Greek general, told Mussolini Oxi when asked to give Italian soldiers access to Greece, and thus Greece became involved in the 2nd World War. Oxi-day is still an important holiday.
Close to Benitses is the Achilleion (or Achillion), better known as the palace of Empress Sissi. Empress Elisabeth van Austria had the palace built here as a second home because of her poor health. She dedicated the palace to Achilles, one of the greatest heroes from the Iliad, who played an important part in the victory over Troy, hence the name Achilleion. After Sissi was murdered in 1898, the German Emperor Wilhelm II bought it and had a gigantic image of Achilles placed in the garden with the inscription: To the greatest Greek, from the greatest German.
The Achilleion on Corfu A selfie in the AchilleionThe palace is located on a hill near the village of Gastouri. It is now owned by the Greek traffic agency and since 1983 it is a museum that attracts many tourists. The palace was built by an Italian architect in neoclassical style and has 3 floors. When we enter the building, we are surrounded by statues and murals, a motley collection of art objects. There is almost no wall that has not been decorated in any way.
On the 1st and 2nd floor, the rooms of Empress Elisabeth and Emperor Franz-Joseph are decorated with the original furniture and personal objects. Before a big mirror we cannot resist the urge to make a selfie.
Achilles drags Hector along, Achilleion Statues in the AchilleionThe most impressive art object, however, is the large painting of Achilles, who is dragging the dead Hector behind his chariot around the walls of Troy. It stands on the wall of the stairway gallery and is very impressive, no matter from which direction you look at it. The whole building is spacious, I can imagine that someone would like to live here.
On a balcony with an Ionic colonnade are the images of the 9 muses and busts of great philosophers.
Achilles in the Achilleion The warrior AchillesThe palace is surrounded by a large, well-kept garden with many more sculptures including one of the dying Achilles. Because his mother had plunged him into the river of the underworld, the Styx, he was invulnerable except at his heel where his mother had held him. Paris, the Trojan prince who initiated the whole war by abducting Helene, managed to shoot him in the heel with the help of the god Apollo and Achilles died. And that's how we get the word Achilles heel for a weak or vulnerable place.
Taking a break in the AchilleionEven though the palace is a big tourist attraction, it is certainly worth a visit, if only because of its location.
From the palace garden you have a fantastic view over a large part of Corfu and the sea and we look for a place on the terrace, it is just as if we are sitting on a balcony to the Mediterranean Sea. We are right along the flight path of the many planes that take the tourists to the island and regularly we see one flying at the same height as we are now. We already know what we will do next: spotting aircraft.
Aircraft spotting at Corfu airport Aircraft spotting at Corfu airportJust south of Kerkyra, near Perama, a concrete dam leads to the other side of the lagoon and the airport has been built in that lagoon. We park the car not too far away and walk down to the bridge that goes to Kanoni, the village that used to be the capital of Corfu. We see planes passing by every few minutes and jee, they really fly low! At first we remain a bit on the side, but later we walk further and further to the middle. I hate flying but find it fascinating to see that those heavy machines can linger in the air.
Aircraft spotting at Corfu airport Aircraft spotting at Corfu airportAt one point we are right under the flightpath of the planes and it is exciting to see such a metal bird appear; first as a small dot in the distance but quickly getting bigger and it seems like the plane is coming right at you. Then the noise starts to swell and the device rushes over your head. Less than 200 meters further the wheels hit the runway. I can not get enough of it and we make a lot of pictures and videos. Unfortunately there is a lot of noise from the wind on the movies otherwise we could have placed one here.
Aircraft spotting at Corfu airport Aircraft spotting at Corfu airportThe airport is one of the smaller airports in Europe and only has one runway of 2.5 kilometers. Nowadays almost a million tourists come to Corfu every year, 5 times as much as 10 years ago. Somewhere we read that in the lagoon there would be the wreck of a crashed plane but that is nowhere confirmed. But it seems that it truely happened that an airplane could not brake fast enough and on the other side shot through the gate, onto the road.
We walk for two hours back and forth across the dam, looking for the best place to take pictures before we move on to Kerkyra. We do not do more than just walk around the city and past the imposing castle. It is quite warm and we quickly find a terrace to read more about the city. It is now almost half past three so we decide to come back here again tomorrow, we did not expect to watch those planes as long as we did.
The coast at VitaladesWe therefore drive back to Vitalades, 35 kilometers from here but more than an hour's drive, and go to the beach where only a few people are enjoying the sun. We are lucky with this spot: few tourists and a nice sandy beach while many beaches on the island consist of gravel. At the restaurant we later eat something and enjoy the setting sun that colors the beach and the rocks beautifully. I like it, such a relaxing holiday.


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