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Views from the Vardiola at Skala, Kefalonia
Skala, Kefalonia
Views from the Vardiola at Skala, KefaloniaOnce in a while I get a bit arrogant about knowing everything there is to know on the island. I don't mean the usual tourist fare, I mean those it places that make the difference. Fortunately, once in a while I get to eat humble pie -sweet and served up by an old timer, nonetheless. Take the small lookout point over Skala Beach, next to the Roman Villa. I've passed by dozens of times, have seen dozens of tourists posing for pictures, and, I've driven on, not giving it a second thought. Just another miniature square overlooking the sea, right? Let them folks go about doing their business and I'll go on doing mine.
That was my perception of the spot till 2 years ago in mid July. I had the privilege of being given the grand tour of Skala by one who knows it well. Mr. Panagis Travlos, a native of Skala, had served  as an officer of the local community and was all too eager to show me anything and everything I could endure to see before succumbing to the imminent heat stroke. Of course he treated me as a visitor; being a mere Kefalonian - in general - did not qualify me as a local!

"Naturally, you know the Vardiola, where Skala's future was decided," he asked in the most casual way.
Now, I can be as quick on the uptake as the next person - even under grueling temperatures - but this one had me baffled.
"Yes, of course," I stuttered, trying to figure out what he was referring to.
A vardiola is a Venetian term for "observatory" and there are quite a few ruins of vardiolas in Kefalonia, dating back to the Venetian Era. They are of discernible architecture and are usually perched high over the sea, to serve needs of observing the seaways (Pirate vessels, perhaps?). In modern times, locations offering a vantage, protected view of the sea are also referred to as vardiolas - but I didn't know this at the time.

So, back in Skala, on that hot July day, I was trying to envision whether I had seen a construction in the area that fit the bill. Mr. Travlos must have noticed my perplexed look and went on to explain as we made our way to the spot I had over-passed so many times. Prior to the devastating earthquakes of 1953, the village of Skala was quite a bit farther up the hillside, it was not a waterfront settlement. Most of the land around the village, including its present location, were potato fields!! Yes, at the time, this was Skala's most renowned product as the proximity to the sea and the sandy soil make for the most delicious potato variety. As the earthquake left no stone unturned, the citizens of Skala had to decide how and where to rebuild their village. Some wanted to rebuild at the pre-earthquake location so they could be near their fields and stock. Others argued that the village should be moved to the beachfront as this provided ease of access to the water for - among other things - bathing their herds of sheep before the annual shearing!!!. Plus, the threat of a pirate attack was a thing of the past, an advantage not negligible in itself!

According to Mr. Travlos, around the time of the impasse, Skala was visited by the then Minister of Public Works (and later PM and President of the Republic), the late Konstantinos Karamanlis, as head of a commission for the reconstruction of the island.
As he sat to rest at the vardiola's present location and overlooked the span of Skala Beach, he (according to witnesses) said "You see where the sheep are running free now? I predict that in a decade or two, people from all over Europe will come in hundreds to enjoy this beautiful sea. Yes, the future of Skala is on the water, it is decided."  
And so it was decided, and so it was done.
Views from the Vardiola at Skala, Kefalonia
Overlooking the sea from the Vardiola at Skala, Kefalonia
Next time you're in Skala you may want to stop at the Vardiola and try to imagine potato fields behind you and where the Main Street is today, and sheep sunbathing ahead of you - sans the beach chairs, umbrellas and sunscreens. Try to visit the old settlement, there are some interesting ruins there, a fountain, and some old churches of charming interior design. Though removed from the seafront, the old settlement offers a much better, panoramic, view than present day Skala does. And, don't forget to get chummy with a local, he may point you to an establishment that still serves those yummy Skala potatoes. Though the fields have been developed into the modern settlement, there is still a limited production, saved to be consumed by family and close friends.Views from the Vardiola at Skala, Kefalonia

P.S. At the danger of dating myself, I'll share with you my first encounter with Skala. I remember hitching a ride with some of my schoolmates, on the back of an open truck that was going to Skala to pick up sacks of potatoes. My first view of its waterfront was that of sheep sleeping on the beach and under the pine trees. We did get scolded upon our return for going, without permission, to a place so secluded that we could never find our way back home, had we missed the truck's departure! Ah, time flies.....

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