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Athens: A modern marvel > traveller’s guide June 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.
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GETTING THERE

British Airways (www.ba.com), Olympic Airlines (www.olympicairlines.com), The no-frills carriers are easyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Globespan (www.flyglobespan.com). Check for more details at your travel agent. 

STAYING THERE

The cheapest place to stay is probably the International Youth Hostel at 16 Victor Hugo Street (210 5232049). A bed in a dormitory costs a very reasonable €14, excluding breakfast. There may be less expensive places, but you probably wouldn't want to stay in any of them.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Periscope Hotel (210 7297200; www.periscope.gr) at 22 Haritos Street in Kolonaki, where double rooms start at €150, including breakfast.

EATING THERE

Café Avissinia (210 3217047; www.avissinia.gr), on Avissinia Square in Monastiraki.

Ouzadiko Restaurant (210 7295484), Lemos International Shopping Centre, Karnadeadou Street, Kolonaki.

MORE INFORMATION

Greek National Tourist Organization:  www.gnto.gr

To download the writer's podcast on Athens, visit  http://exodus.interoutemediaservices.com/?id=1b65203b-6547-4cb3-bff0-d8694da3e172&delivery=download

or right click on the link to save it.

Athens: A modern marvel June 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.
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A decade ago, Athens was a smog-choked metropolis with scant regard for its ancient treasures. But the Olympics were the catalyst that turned it into one of Europe's most alluring capitals.

For a couple of millennia and more, "Athens" and "civilisation" were synonymous; at some stage, they became antonyms; the Greek capital became a city choked by both traffic and its effluent, the foul blanket of smog known as the nephos. Not any more.

The tip about arriving early to see the architectural miracle of the Parthenon still holds true. Yet in a decade, Athens has transformed from a place where "all the indices of urban unpleasantness are out of control" to an alluring, vibrant and indulgent city. And largely thanks to a sporting event.

Barcelona and Sydney certainly reaped an Olympic dividend, but nothing compared to the capital of the nation where the ultimate test of human prowess originated. "Suddenly every Greek was so proud of his country," says Sofia Ignatidou, who writes on music and nightlife for Capital A magazine. "It was a great victory for our self-esteem." 

At times, the task of following Sydney as host to the world's greatest sporting event looked almost beyond the reach of one of the EU's smaller member states. Athens had far more work than most venues to make itself ready for the Olympic party. But the city succeeded. And during the event, something else happened: the city, previously one of the most mono-ethnic of Europe's capitals, opened up to ideas from all over the planet. "That proved very stimulating," says Ignatidou. "All the things that started with the Olympics are moving on: from design shops opening to more festivals and events."

Those with credit-card limits of Olympian proportions will head for the Kolonaki area. Upmarket stores in this wealthy niche just off Syntagma Square are proliferating in response to increasingly prosperous locals and visitors – including one man who has done much to make Athens more accessible: Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of easyJet.

"As a Greek I felt very proud the other day, when I landed in Athens without having made arrangements for anyone to pick me up," he says. "It was such a pleasant, civilised experience that one would not have expected even 10 years ago. I walked from the airport into the Metro, sat on the train for less than half an hour and I was in the centre of Athens next to the Hilton Hotel."

Rather like some of Britain's over-running Millennium projects, not all the fruits of infrastructure projects ripened for the Olympics. While the new airport opened in good time for the Games, the rail link to the centre has only recently been completed. It was well worth waiting for: the Metro is wonderfully swift and your €3 ticket remains valid for the rest of Athens' public transport system for a further 24 hours.

The Metro has other pleasant surprises. At Acropolis station, you are confronted with a sight that will be strangely familiar to anyone acquainted with the highlights of the British Museum: sculptures from the east pediment of the Parthenon, better known as the Elgin Marbles. These are, of course, replicas. But if the designers of the new Acropolis Museum have their way, the originals will be home soon.

Unlike the gloomy structure up on the hill that it is to replace, the new museum is designed to allow in plenty of natural light. It will have room for 10 times as many pieces as the present museum – including some that are currently absent. "It's going to have gaps where other museums have works of art," says Kiriakos Karseras, an archaeologist and writer. "The pressure will be on other governments to send things back."

The climb to the top of the hill is demanding and, initially, disappointing. To see the Parthenon in something like its original glory, you should go west to Nashville, Tennessee, which, bizarrely, boasts a full-sized replica of the structure. But the diminished original is still the greatest.

The magnificent structures on the Acropolis endured centuries of upheaval; the Parthenon became a Christian church, then a mosque until 1687 – when it was being used as an ammunition store during an attack by the Venetians. A shell struck the Parthenon, and the rest is ancient history. The next blow was clumsy restoration work, and much of the present scaffolding is putting right that unhappy chapter. But look beyond the steel skeleton and you witness a miracle.

The Parthenon appears even more spectacular than its scale – eight columns by 17 – would suggest. Astonishingly, it has no straight lines. The base curves upwards, the columns slant inwards. The full weight of Classical mathematics, science and architecture was applied to create the world's biggest optical illusion. The subtle curves are designed to make the structure look even taller, defiantly rectangular and more alive, than the reality of the old stones.

While the builders are in, treat yourself to an inspection of the Erectheion – the temple to Athena Nike in a fold of the hilltop just north of the Parthenon. Its fragility is belied by its antiquity. The slender Ionic structure, predicated upon six caryatids, bestows a grace and elegance that transcends even the supreme temple. Looking outwards is equally rewarding. The 360-degree view reveals a city whose time has come once again. Your gaze skips along the red roofs huddled below the Acropolis, then has to hurdle over the concrete cubes that are strewn across the suburban carpet. Yet few cities have so spectacular a backdrop: muscular mountains protecting the north of the city; the sheen of the Aegean, from which (on a good day) islands emerge through the mist, and the corrugated horizon of the Peloponnese.

No city has a greater sense of time than Athens: as you walk through it, the centuries peel back. Other cities can make claims for the world's greatest museum – the Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in St Petersburg – but none can claim such command of antiquity as the National Archaeological Museum. The collection stops around two millennia ago, but by that point it has been celebrating 7,000 years of human achievement, back through Mycenaean and Cycladic eras to Neolithic times. The museum closed for nearly three years before the Olympics and re-opened triumphantly shortly before the Games. Gone is the plodding, stuffy chronology; today, the principle is to provide plenty of light and space to intensify the achievements of the ancients.

How best to make sense of the collection? Hire a licensed, English-speaking guide for €70; I was tutored by Irene Pavlou, a guide diplomée, who in the course of an hour revealed secrets that most visitors miss. Such as fragments of ceramics known as ostraka, on which Athenians could inscribe the name of a citizen who was considered a danger to the city. If 6,000 such votes were cast, the man was duly ostracised.

The sculptures of gods and humans made long before the birth of Christ possess extraordinary vigour. Irene Pavlou's favourite is one of a beautiful young woman " who died before she could properly live". It dates from 550BC and was discovered in 1972, not far from the site of the new Athens airport. The original rich colours have been preserved, along with a wealth of sculptural detail – and a heartbreaking epigram that, in the land of Eros and Aphrodite, roughly translates as: "I met death instead of love".

Some of the young of Athens still live each day as though it were their last. "Most people stay up until six in the morning," says Sofia Ignatidou. The current centre of indulgence, whether you are looking for jazz, techno or a taverna, has moved to the formerly run-down Psiri neighbourhood just west of the centre. It is around here that you will also find some of the new Athenians – workers from the Indian sub-continent and the former Soviet Union. Two immediate consequences for the visitor: plenty of internet cafés, and the prospect at last of a decent curry. Yet to opt for a chicken tikka masala when the city has so much else to offer would be a sin worthy of ostracism.

At the Cafe Avissinia, which is about as central as any restaurant can get – on Avissinia Square in Monastiraki – you have to battle with the locals for a table. Choose the ground floor to appreciate the robust, friendly architecture (the same terms describe the service, and the food), or the first floor for a view of the Parthenon to accompany the encyclopedia of Greek flavours: dakos from Crete (dried barley bread with tomato and goat's cheese) followed by meat dishes from Macedonia, accompanied by salads as verdant as spring in the foothills of Mount Olympus. Elementary, and superb.

The land of Bacchus has yielded some excellent wines, especially young whites; try Savatiano, from Spata, for a very reasonable €14. Countless holidaymakers have also discovered that Greece also produces some potentially dangerous drinks based on aniseed and pine resin. Ignatidou says the traditional complaint about the after-effects of ouzo or retsina (or, in extreme cases of recklessness, both) has a simple remedy: "You are drinking too much, and too fast. If you drink slowly, you will not have any problem."

To appreciate the local liquor, seek out the Ouzadiko Restaurant in the unlikely location of the Lemos International Shopping Centre in Kolonaki. The name means "the ouzo place", and besides excellent food, it offers nearly 700 varieties of the aniseed drink.

Even so, you may still be the sort of traveller who wakes up not knowing where you are. What you need is a room at the Periscope Hotel, one of the new breed of boutique lodgings. A dozen rooms, a dozen aerial photographs of Athens on the ceiling that enables you to slip off to sleep with a vision of the city, and wake with a day of urban adventure. To delve more deeply into the corners of Athens, you can descend to the stylish bar and take command of the "periscope" (a rotating television camera) on the roof that display images of the city on plasma screens. You won't find this sort of facility at the Athens International Youth Hostel, but you will find a comfortable bed where you could stay for a month for just €200. The Hilton charges about that for one night. It is one of the few Sixties structures that has architectural merit. But to the credit of the city authorities, much of the damage of the latter 20th century has been repaired.

Around the Acropolis, the roads that once intimidated the visitor have been replaced by walkways, lawns and flowerbeds. Man is on the way to displacing motors, allowing you to appreciate in a degree of tranquillity the achievements of the ancients. View the Parthenon from every angle. In the foreground you will walk through flowers, past neo-classical villas with freshly scrubbed façades, and into the tangled lanes of Plaka.

"Mother of Arts and Eloquence" was John Milton's verdict of Athens in Paradise Regained. The utopia was, for a time, lost, but is now re-establishing itself.

Once, you went to Athens exclusively for the old. Now you should go there for the new, or the re-born. Close to Syntagma Square, the former stables of King Otto (later the Nazi HQ in occupied Greece) has become the Attica department store. Hermès, Dolce & Gabbana and Nike are here – but home-grown retail offerings include a number of Greek designers plus a store specialising in homeopathic cosmetics. City, heal thyself.

"Try to breathe, and the air poisons you", warned a couple of years ago. "Try to cross a road, and a conspiracy of cars prevents you. The Greek capital puts you in a bad mood as soon as you arrive." Oops.

"It's a really friendly, liveable city," counters Kiriakos Karseras, the archaeologist with an eye for the future.

Do you speak soccer? June 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Football.
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The following is a primer for first-time World Cup viewers:

Football: Term used for soccer in countries outside of North America.

FIFA: Acronym for the Federation Internationale de Football Association, the world governing body for the game. Based in Switzerland.

Pitch: Some countries use this term for the soccer field.

Striker: An attacking player whose job is to finish attacking plays by scoring a goal.

Midfielders: The players responsible for linking play between attackers and defenders.

Defender: A player whose job is to stop opponents’ attacking plays before the ball is moved into the goal area.

Sweeper: A defensive player whose job is to roam behind the other defenders. A sweeper is the last line of defense before the goalkeeper.

Goalkeeper: Player who is positioned between the goalposts and who can control the ball with his hands within the goal area.

Zone defense: A defensive system where defenders mark a designated area of the field of play instead of tracking players across the field.

Man-to-man marking: A defensive system in which defenders are designated one attacking player to track continuously.

Goal kick: A goal kick is awarded to the defending team when the ball is played over the goal line by the attacking team.

Offside: A player is offside if he is nearer to his opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the defender in front of the goalkeeper. He is not offside if he is on the defensive half of the field or is level with the second-to-last opponent or level with the last two opponents.

Offside trap: A technique used by defenders to put attacking players in an offside position. Defenders move quickly away from their own goal to create a situation in which attackers are ahead of the ball.

Push up: Moving the defense toward the offensive half of the field.

Foul: Any illegal play.

Free kick: A kick from a stationary position that is awarded to a team when an opponent has committed a foul. There are two types of free kicks, direct and indirect.

Direct free kick: A goal may be scored by the player striking the free kick.

Indirect free kick: A goal may not be scored from an indirect free kick.

Goal area: The lined rectangular area in front of the goal where the goalkeeper may handle the ball. Known as the 18-yard box because of its dimensions.

Penalty kick: Awarded when a foul has been committed within the penalty area in front of the goal area. A penalty kick is taken by one player opposed only by the goalkeeper.

Corner kick: A free kick taken from the corner flag by a member of the attacking team when the ball has passed over the goal line after last touching a defensive player. Taken from the corner nearest to where the ball went out of bounds.

Obstruction: Blocking an opponent with the body. Penalized by an indirect free kick.

Dropped ball: A method of restarting play used after an injury stops play – or after play has been stopped without the ball going out of bounds. When the referee drops the ball it must bounce once before it can be played.

Throw-in: The continuation of play after the ball has crossed the touch line. A player taking a throw in must have both feet on or behind the touch line, must maintain contact with the ground, and must use a two-handed throw made from behind the head. A goal cannot be score directly from a throw-in.

Cross: A lofted pass, played across the face of a goal.

Nutmeg: Passing or pushing a ball between another player’s legs.

Tackle: To take the ball away from the opponent using the feet.

Slide tackle: A tackle in which the defender slides along the surface of the field of play before making one-footed contact with the ball.

Header: Use of the head to pass or control the ball.

Volley: Striking the ball in mid-air with either foot.

Bicycle kick: A spectacular move in which a player throws his body in the air and with his legs moving as if pedaling a bicycle, strikes the ball backward over his head.

Bending the ball: Striking the ball with an off-center kick so that it travels in a curved path.

Dribble: Controlling the ball while running.

Dummy run: A run by a player without the ball to lure defenders away from the ball carrier.

Yellow card: A yellow card held up by a referee to signal that an infringement of the rules meriting a caution has occurred.

Red card: A red card held up by the referee signaling that a player is being ejected from the game. A player who receives a red card cannot be replaced on the field of play. A red card is issued to a player when that player has committed a serious infraction or has been issued with two yellow cards within the same game. 

2006 FIFA WORLD CUP

When: June 9-July 9

Where: Germany

What: Teams from 32 countries in eight groups (A-H) play at various venues with top two teams from each group qualifying for playoffs beginning June 24.

On the Web: Visit www.fifaworldcup.org for more on the World Cup.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup is kicking June 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Football.
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Soccer enthusiasts can’t wait for World Cup

The most-watched sporting event in the world takes place in the hearts, minds and souls of soccer enthusiasts from all over the world.

“To me, the World Cup is everything,” said one of the enthusiasts. “When you’re a kid, waiting for the World Cup is like waiting for Christmas, only it comes every four years. I still feel the same way. It is a special thing, momentous.”

“For soccer fans, it’s bigger than the Olympics” added another.

First televised in 1954, the World Cup is now the most widely viewed sporting event in the world, far exceeding even the Olympic Games. In the last World Cup in 2002, the cumulative world television audience was estimated at 28.8 billion, with 1.1 billion fans tuning in for Brazil’s 2-0 championship game victory over Germany.

By comparison, the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, drew nearly 4 billion television viewers worldwide.

How crazy?

In Duesseldorf, Germany last Wednesday, more than 42,000 fans watched the German World Cup team go through drills at an open practice. It was the largest crowd ever for a German team practice.

The 2006 World Cup kicked off Friday evening in Munich, Germany, one of 12 German cities hosting the 32-nation tournament. Brazil, a five-time World Cup champion, is considered the favorite this year at 5 to 2 odds, followed by Germany, England, Argentina, Italy and France.

WORLD CUP WINNERS*
1930: Uruguay 1934: Italy 1938: Italy 1950: Uruguay 1954: W. Germany 1958: Brazil 1962: Brazil 1966: England 1970: Brazil 1974: W. Germany 1978: Argentina 1982: Italy 1986: Argentina 1990: W. Germany 1994: Brazil 1998: France 2002: Brazil *-No World Cup in 1942, 1946 due to war.

Posidonia maritime exposition June 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Shows & Conferences.
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The largest Shipping Fair

The Posidonia maritime exposition, the world’s largest shipping fair, opened in Athens on last Monday with over 15,000 exhibitors from 78 countries scheduled to participate.

Bringing together companies representing every sector associated with shipping, the five-day biennial event is expected to attract more than 16,000 visitors through to June 9.

“Posidonia is an indispensable component of world shipping, the leading trade event that sets the pace in the multi-billion dollar maritime industry, contributes to the world shipping agenda and helps shape the sector’s future trends,“ Posidonia Exhibitions SA Chairman Themistocles Vokos told a June 1 news conference.

“The show has grown to become a benchmark of the global shipping industry,“ he added. “This year we expect visitors from more than 80 countries as the show has attracted participants from 11 countries and territories exhibiting at Posidonia for the first time.“

The list of first-time entrants at the 20th edition of the event, named after the ancient Greek god of the sea Poseidon, includes Australia, Belgium, Ireland and Italy. A total of 25 national pavilions will be represented, among them Austria, Belize, Cayman Islands, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Japan, Liberia, Malta, the Netherlands, Panama, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Vokos argued that the global shipping community’s “strong interest“ in Posidonia is also linked to the renewal program of the Greek shipping industry, which is implementing a private investment strategy aimed at decreasing the average age of its fleet, currently standing at 15.3 years.

The Greek merchant marine sector generated 12.3 billion euros ($15.6 billion) in revenue in 2004, constituting a seven-percent share of the country’s GDP, Hellenic Chamber of Shipping chairman George Gratsos told the conference.

The industry also directly employs 50,000 people and provides an additional 250,000 jobs in shipping-related activities, he added.

Posidonia exhibitors cover the full range of shipping sectors, including shipbuilding and repairyards, banking, insurance, port authorities, classification societies, surveyors, suppliers and publishing companies.

This year’s participants included the Japanese Marine Equipment Association, the Irish Maritime Development Office, Vivodi Telecom, Thrustmaster of Texas and Flanders Investment and Trade of Belgium, in addition to local players such as Elefsis Shipyards, Neorion Syros Shipyards, Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, Hellenic Shipyards SA and Chalkis Shipyards.

Art curator declared not guilty June 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News, Police & Crime, Religion & Faith.
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Christos Joakeimidis was declared not guilty by a court of law and said that he had not intended to “offend the Orthodox faith and public decency by including a controversial painting in a major Athens contemporary art exhibition in November 2003”.

“Asperges Me” (“Sprinkle Me”), by Belgian artist Thierry de Cordier, shows an erect penis ejaculating over a crucifix. Its showing at the state-funded “Outlook” exhibition, at the Athens School of Fine Art, outraged conservatives and Church officials.

The painting was taken down but it fuelled a debate on art and censorship. Shortly afterward, a vandal attacked an artwork at the same exhibition showing a naked man copulating with a watermelon.

The Board of the Cultural Olympiad and the Director, Christos Joakeimidis, decided to withdraw the work.

Physicist Demetris Nanopoulos honoured June 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Science.
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Thessaloniki’s Mayor Vasilis Papageorgopoulos honored academician and physics professor Dimitris Nanopoulos with a gold olive branch, at a special ceremony held at the Thessaloniki City Hall on Thursday.

Papageorgopoulos, addressing professor Nanopoulos, said that the eminent physicist enabled Greece to pride itself that one of its children had conquered the highest summits of knowledge, which he continued to broaden, and expressed the belief that the country will repay him for everything he has done.

Professor Nanopoulos stated characteristically that these are times of epochal importance in terms of acquisition of knowledge and scientific discoveries.

The distinguished professor at Texas A&M University is the author of over 540 referred articles, 13 books and over 30,000 citations. He is the chairman of the National Council for Research and Technology, National representative to CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) and the European Space Agency (ESA).