Traveling Classroom Foundation
Monday March 27th 2023

Voyage to Kefalonia

After eating breakfast in a small outdoor cafe near the Patras waterfront, we spend the morning exploring more of the city and then return to our room to gather our gear. As promised, our hike to the dock is short and the ferry arrives soon after we do. After the arriving passengers disembark, we are able to board and find comfortable seats with a table (there are advantages to arriving early).

Kephalonia ferry prepares to load cars in the port of Patras

During the first hour of our voyage to Kefalonia, we are in the Gulf of Patras passing some historic coastline. This is scene of some major events in the War of Independence. An uprising of Greek patriots in Patras led to immediate action from the Ottoman rulers. As it happened, however, the Ottomans had their own problems. Ali Pasha, an Albanian who ruled the northern region of Epirus for the sultan, planned to break away from the Ottoman Empire. After 400 years of foreign Ottoman occupation, the Albanians had developed a national consciousness, and increasingly rallied for independence. Ali Pasha used this nationalism to further his own goals.

Turks tolerated Pasha’s behavior because they found him useful, but when he ordered the assassination of an opponent in Constantinople, the Ottoman sultan sent troops to depose him. Turkish troops were diverted from fighting Greek rebels in the Peloponessos in order to capture Ali Pasha. In a strange way, he played a vital part in the independence of Greece from the Ottoman Empire by engaging the Turkish troops when they might have been putting down the Greek rebellion. This enabled the Greeks to gather more troops, organize and become stronger.

Bishop Germanos of Patras rallied Greek patriots to revolt

The Greek struggle for independence attracted the interest of nations who wished to see an end to the Ottoman Empire, and many individuals who wanted to see the Greeks – who created the first democracy – finally throw off the chains of slavery. Some of these supporters became directly involved in the struggle, giving their wealth and their lives to the Greek cause. The most famous of these was the romantic poet and adventurer George Gordon (better known as Lord Byron), who organized a battalion of British sympathizers and led them into battle alongside the Greek fighters.  However, the battle did not go well.

“Exodus of Messolongi” (by Vryzakis) depicts the battle of 1821

As our ferry continues westward, we can barely make out the city of Messolongi on the northern shore of the gulf. It was here that 10,000 Greeks were killed battling the Ottoman and Egyptian forces, or trying to flee to freedom, and it is where Lord Byron died. Because of its heroism and sacrifices during the early days of the revolution, Messolongi was named Hiera Polis “Sacred City” by the Greek people. Those who perished are remembered in the Garden of Heroes, near the entrance of the city.

The entire coastline is slipping beneath a thin veil of mist, which persists as our ship passes into the Ionian Sea.  Small islets appear as pale shadows in the dark blue sea, and for a time there is nothing to see before us. We go into the lounge and play gin rummy to pass the time. In another hour we look out to see the huge mass of Kefalonia drawing nearer. With an area of 780 square kilometers, it is the largest of the largest of the Ionian islands. However, we are unprepared for the massive appearance of the island. It is a mountain range trusting out of the sea, with forested peaks as high as 1628 meters (very rare in a Greek island).

Mist clears as we approach Kefalonia

Kefalonia grows larger as we approach, and we realize we are also seeing a second island, Ithaki (Ithaca), the legendary kingdom of Odysseus. To reach the bay of Sami, the town where we will stay, the ferry passes through a wide channel between Kefalonia and the southern end of Ithaki. It is easy to see that Ithaki is very different from Kefalonia. It is a rocky island with little vegetation, and no towns visible along this coastline. Vathy, the main town, is on the eastern side of the island.

Nearing the dock at Sami, we are delighted to see a small, colorful town stretched out along the shore, with olive groves and forested hills rising only a short distance inland. By “colorful” I mean many colors. In most Aegean towns nearly every building is white, often with traditional blue-painted shutters and doors. In contrast, Sami is an explosion of warm colors – yellow, peach, salmon, vermillion – topped with red tile roofs. This is the influence of Venetians, who ruled here for a long time.

Arriving in the port of Sami

We halfway hope to find someone waiting when we get off the ferry. Because our friend Nikos regularly visits this island, we asked if he could find us a small apartment. He phoned a few people, made the arrangements, and gave us a telephone number to call when we reached the island. Since our mobile phone needs recharging, we go looking for a public phone. When we make the call, there is no answer. We walk across the street to a small cafe along the waterfront and order two iced coffee frappes meso gliko (medium sweet). We wait and call again, then sip frappes, and phone again.

Fishing boats and cafes along the Sami waterfront

When we reach the apartment manager, we are given directions on how to find the place. It is only a short distance away (nothing in this town is too far to walk), and we are at the front entrance of the apartment building in ten minutes. The manager shows us to our new residence, which is a perfect little studio with kitchen, bedroom and a nice balcony looking out to the tree-covered hillside behind the town. What makes it even better are the market and bakery conveniently located a few minutes away.

After shopping for supplies and unpacking our bags, we take a nap. In early evening the hills shade the town of Sami, and a steady breeze cools the air. We cook supper in our apartment and go out after dark, like most folk, for an evening volta (walk) around town. The waterfront street is closed off to traffic and the restaurant tables on the quay are all filled with late customers. As we are walking we hear music and singing voices. The local men’s choir, with an accordion and guitar to accompany them, has decided to serenade the town. It is a wonderful way to end a busy day of traveling, and so we let ourselves slip into the mood of Sami.

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