With our Italian and Montenegrin stops out of the way the remainder of the ports of call for the Royal Princess on our Mediterranean cruise were all Greek, starting with the island of Corfu where we’d arranged an excursion to see Achilleion, a palace constructed towards the end of the nineteenth century by Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria.
The architectural design was intended to represent an ancient Phaecian palace. The building, with the classic Greek statues that surround it, is a monument to platonic romanticism as well as escapism and was, naturally, named after Achilles: Achilleion.
With timezone changes we arrived at the port of Corfu before the sun had risen. Breakfast downed (after some poor service from the buffet area staff, a common theme on this particular cruise with Princess), we met up with our tour group and made our way to the waiting coach as the sky began to lighten.
Achilleion is set on the top of a hill with commanding views out over the island of Corfu; indeed, the location was the reason for building the palace there in the first place. The road to Achilleion is narrow and winding. Coaches are wide and inflexible. This made for an interesting and somewhat concerning trip up the hillside. Cars coming the other way often had to reverse suddenly as we approached and there were numerous examples of chipped stonework and scrape marks along the walls of houses and other buildings we passed indicating that not every vehicle made the journey without damage. I’m happy to report, remarkably, that our driver had no such incidents although the occasional gasps from other passengers on the bus said it was a close-run thing at times.
Our guide bought tickets and we entered the palace grounds. Us and maybe two dozen other tour groups at the same time. There was a bit of a wait to get inside the building but the temperature – as it was still early – wasn’t too bad, the skies were bright, and the chance for some photographs was appreciated by me.
Once inside the palace it was even more crowded and very noisy. It was practically impossible to hear the tour guide with all the other tour guides speaking too; some were using radios to talk to the groups but others were simply speaking loudly in a variety of languages. As we shuffled from room to room we would occasionally gather close to hear a description of what we would see and then disperse briefly to muscle our way amongst the many other groups, have a nose at what had been described, then return to move off to another room. The crowded insides didn’t make for the greatest visual experience but it was still fairly interesting to hear about the history of the place.
The gardens were far more relaxed and far more photogenic. There were some wonderful, bold colours on show and some great examples of architecture in the Pompeian style which was a nice connection back to our first stop on the cruise in Naples. The gardens had some lovely views out across the island of Corfu.
The German sculptor Ernst Herter‘s famous statue Sterbender Achill (“Dying Achilles”) was bought by the Empress of Bavaria and forms the centrepiece of the gardens at Achilleion.
Time for a rant intermission…
Taking a picture of the statue of Dying Achilles took a long time because I’ve found that people on cruises are, by and large, really, really inconsiderate. I’m not, which is why before I take a photo I look around to see if I’m in someone’s way or, like on this particular day in Corfu, I move out of the way to let other people take their photographs first so that I can, if possible, take a little bit of extra time to compose the shot (I don’t often get a chance because of time constraints but I do my best); most other people taking photos on holiday take a snap and move on. Great. However, some people don’t. Can I make a request? If you’re taking a photo of something then take the photo and take a look around to see if someone else wants to do the same, and if they do then please, please, please move the fuck out of the way. I shifted back from the picture I wanted to take to let a small group of Americans shuffle along in front and take their shots first. They then proceeded to just stand right there, right in front of the statue, listening to the tour guide without a second’s thought for anyone else. People, eh? And if I clubbed them out of the way with a nearby rock somehow I’d be to blame.
Another large statue of Achilles guarded the gardens, looking northwards, and it formed another point to gather as a group and hear some more about the location.
We finished our visit to Achilleion with a walk back through the gardens and briefly into the top level of the palace. We then had a few minutes to wait for those who needed to empty their bladders before leaving the palace and hunting down our coach. There was a bit more of a wait as some people had got lost between the toilets and the coach. There was a bit more of a wait after that as our coach was blocked in by numerous other coaches. But eventually we headed off down the terrifyingly narrow and twisting road towards the city of Corfu itself.