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Off the beaten track > Alonissos June 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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There are few roads on the island of Alonissos and only a handful of hotels, making it perfect for those who prefer the simple life rather than smart villas with all the trimmings.

A Greek hippy first told me about Alonissos. It was years ago and the hippy in question had a summer job skippering a traditional wooden caique for tourist day trips in the Sporades, a small collection of islands in the northern Aegean, the most famous of which is Skiathos.

When I asked him which island he came from his eyes glazed over dreamily and he described a place I’d never heard of – a place of mountains and hidden bays, of pine trees and olive groves, of donkey tracks and fishermen. Alonissos, he told me, was simple, laid-back and beautiful, with none of the trappings of mass-market tourism.

It sounded too good to be true, but I promised myself that one day I’d go. My worry, when I finally managed to get there, was that the intervening years might have radically altered the island. I feared the promise of untainted simplicity would be an empty one. But my fears were unfounded. Alonissos was, and is, a gem. Locals will tell you that the island has changed. Tourism, inevitably, has begun to make a bigger imprint, and the second-home market is gathering pace.

A routing into mainland Thessaloniki now provides another access point to the island, tying in to ferries to the Sporades. It’s still difficult to get there, but it’s certainly getting easier. There are a handful of hotels on the island and numerous rooms and studios to rent, but most visitors, particularly families, take the villa option.

We found ours through our tour operators who specialise in off-the-beaten-track Greece for people who love nature and the simple life over and above smart pads with cooks, nannies and all the trimmings. Villa is the wrong word to describe our humble abode. Fanari House was more of a fisherman’s cottage, perched above the sea with rough steps tumbling to a small jetty where we could sunbathe, swim and moor a boat.

We had two bedrooms (both air-conditioned), two shower rooms, a tiny kitchen and sitting room, but a vast, breezy, shady terrace with heart-stopping views across the blue, blue sea to the uninhabited island of Peristera. Luxury it was not, but charm it had in spades, with figs, peaches, plums and pears in the garden, basking lizards at every turn and that wonderful, almost-deafening Mediterranean hum of a million hot cicadas.

Fanari House came with a rental car, which we used on our occasional forays into town, but Alonissos, essentially, is not much of a driving island.

In fact there are really only three surfaced roads – otherwise there are rough tracks, clinging to steep hillsides, which wind their way to secluded houses and secret bays.

Roads were a phenomenon of the 1990s, the decade that signalled the swiftest period of modernisation for Alonissos to date. Payphones arrived in 1994, but it was 1996 before there were enough cables for islanders to have private phones.

The most forward-thinking move of the decade, however, was the creation of the National Marine Park in 1992, an area that incorporates Alonissos and several deserted islands nearby. Both Skopelos and Skiathos, the region’s two busiest islands, fall beyond the park’s perimeter. The park was created to help protect the near-extinct monk seal. The creature features in Homer and its image was depicted on the coins of ancient Greece. But there are, of course, more indirect benefits, too. Motorised water sports in the area are banned and the uninhabited islands are now safely preserved as the domain of shepherds and wild goats.

Apart from our car, we also had a boat – nothing fancy, just a slip of a thing – but it became the key to adventure and complete freedom. From Fanari House, halfway up the east coast, we could chug two minutes south to the tavernas of tiny Kalamakia.

Five minutes farther took us to Steni Vala, a picturesque harbour teeming with boats, where we could stock up on rations and buy ice creams and postcards. Our favourite lunchtime spot was Agios Dimitrios to the north, a fantastic spit of pebble beach jutting into perfect swimming water, with a small kantina (one notch down from a taverna), where we ate Greek salad and feta pie beneath a pergola of grape-laden vines.

We also fell in love with Leptos Gyalos, a gorgeous bay with dense pine forest framing a scoop of beach and the nearest thing we found to a chic taverna. But best of all were our late-afternoon outings to Peristera and the deep, tranquil inlet of Peristera Bay. We rarely encountered other boats and had the calm, clear water and tiny beach to ourselves.

We took picnics of fresh bread and peaches, we jumped off rocks and dived for urchin shells. On our last evening we walked up a donkey track from Patitiri to the Old Town, and from there to the top of Mount Kalovoulos to watch the sunset.

On our way back into town in search of supper we passed a small cemetery, crammed with flowers and photographs, its tall crosses gazing out to sea. In our few brief minutes there we failed to find a single gravestone for anyone under 80 – longevity is obviously a feature of island life. It’s clearly hard to let go.

Alonissos basics

A week’s stay at Fanari House in Alonissos from €500 per person (based on four sharing), including seven nights’ self-catering, car hire and maid service. Child reductions apply.

Villa Tassoula above Lefto Yalo Bay, where a week’s stay costs from €500 per person, based on two sharing.

Fathers Day June 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology, Editorial.
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Day of the dad: family holidays

Tragic Greek myths have nothing on the dramas encountered when taking children abroad.

Theseus forgot that Aegeus, king of Athens, had told him to change the black sails on his ship when he came back from Crete after killing the Minotaur. He had better things on his mind than listening to his father who – then believing his son was dead – promptly threw himself off a cliff. It is often said that the classical myths hold lessons for us today, so you may not be surprised that Theseus's name came up in the Leonard family hire car as we spent the half-term break in Crete and the small, hot passengers in the back demanded stories.

Forget the labyrinth and the ball of thread, it's surely a parable about the importance of filial obedience. Ditto the story of Icarus, who tried to flee the same island using a pair of artificial wings built by Daedalus, his DIY dad. Son ignored father's advice and fatefully flew too close to the sun.

For some reason, dysfunctional father-child relationships are the dominant theme in Greek myths set on Crete – particularly the only other famous one, about Zeus being born and raised in a Cretan cave to hide from his baby-eating father, Cronos. I don't think I told that one. There didn't seem to be a particularly appropriate moral – Zeus later overthrew his monstrous dad – but I like to think the if-only-you-listened-to-your-father message of the other two registered with our children somehow.

But I doubt it. Fathers tend to get ignored on holiday and not in the way they might hope. Our main role is as a beast of burden – bearer of heavy bags at the airport, only slightly less heavy bags to the beach, and bearer of the wallet, the road map and the guidebook (drawing out from the last of these those "quiet, laid-back but elegant" restaurants that cease to be so within 30 seconds of our arrival).

Dads who are new to family holidays shouldn't believe that line about them never being relaxing. They can be, but in the way that a packhorse's life can be relaxing – utterly predictable and with zero scope for independent action. This confinement reaches its apogee in the ordeal of being buried in the sand – a rite of passage for holidaying dads even more arduous than looking for cowries on a beach that obviously doesn't have any. This time round, I lay there and decided that the experience could be a metaphor for fatherhood – helpless and immobile, you grit your teeth and just hope that your children will be merciful. And they're not. Even as you scream "Not the face! Not the face!" as they do in Mafia movies, your daughter is patting down a bucketful of wet sand to pour into your eye sockets.

The most unfortunate occasion on which my children scorned my pleas occurred when Joe ignored my advice about the inadvisability of getting into fights with bigger boys. Ironically, despite his four years' existence in London, it is only when he arrives on a seemingly peaceful Greek island that he gets into a fight. And then another, the following evening.

After the first fracas – a minor skirmish that ensued after his sister said "Good throw" to a local lad who promptly stopped skimming pebbles, turned around and kicked her – I took Joe to one side and told him that stuff about how it was sometimes better to walk away and fight another day.

Evidently, he regarded this more as a ringside pep talk than a warning because, 24 hours later, he was on the floor in the first round after pushing another big boy in a dispute over a polystyrene cube. Finally, I came into my own, jumping up and dashing to the rescue, hoping that merely looking daggers at the assailant was enough to convey anger that wouldn't have come across in my Greek vocabulary of just a few pleasantries.

But at least I was able to see a side of Joe I had never seen before. Either holidays bring out new behaviour in children or parents finally have the time to notice it, but we were also struck as their shyness fell away and their energy levels soared.

They usually complain bitterly about walking up three flights of stairs at home but, like mountain goats, they did a five-mile hike down a rocky gorge in Crete with barely a bleat of protest. Needless to say, they ignored me when – echoing Daedalus's warning – I told them they were going to burn themselves out. And, needless to say, I was wrong.

49er World Championships June 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Aquatics.
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Gold to Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks at 49er 
Impressive final results for the British team who put two crews on the podium. Briton’s Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks took Gold at the 49er Worlds in Aix-les-Bains, France, the Silver went to Athanasios Pachoumas and Athanasios Siouzios (GREECE) and the Bronze to the second GBR team Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes.

For this last day of race three legs were competed: 28 races for the whole championship with an average of seven per group which is satisfying for the organisation committee. The only regret were the wind conditions which were exclusively light wind.

Finishing in second place in six of the thirteen races, and within the top five in ten of them, Draper and Hiscocks were in pole position heading towards Sunday’s final medal race for the top ten boats, which was abandoned when the wind dropped during the starting sequence.

‘It was always going to be a long series, and we had in the back of our minds that we might not get all the races in because of the wind conditions, so we were pretty conservative even when we were up on the fleet,’ Draper explained,

‘There were some races where we could have taken a gamble and pushed for higher places, but at the same time, with the points being so close, we could have lost everything and that was something we had in our minds,’ he continued. ‘Generally we were very quick this week, and started really well throughout the week which meant that we were able to cover the fleet and were then in a perfect position to defend.’

‘We’re well chuffed!’ said Draper on reclaiming the world title. ‘Everything for us has been geared towards this, which is the first of the three big events in three months – this, the Europeans and the Pre-Olympics, which we’ve been really working hard towards.’

The bronze medal for Exmouth duo Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes marks their best ever result, their first podium finish at a World or European Championship, so they and local boys Draper and Hiscocks will be ones to watch closely when the 49er European Championships are held on home waters at Weymouth next month (22-29 July).

Malav Shroff, President of the international 49er Class commented: ‘The organisation was perfect; it will become a reference for the future championship. The wind was hard to deal with, but every one has done the best they can. The racing was fair, the best sailors are in the top ranking. I’m not surprised about the performance of the Greek team. They have been ahead in the light wind the last six years! They are known for their capacity in the world fleet.’

49er World Championships results
1. Chris Draper-Simon Hiscocks, GBR (2,1,6,(7),3,2,4,2,2,2,(24),5,2) 31pts
2. Athanasios Pachoumas-Athanasios Siouzios, GRE (2,3,2,(9),2,1,3,6,6,3,12,7,1) 36pts
3. Stevie Morrison-Ben Rhodes, GBR (1,2,8,2,10,(15),2,7,5,1,3,2,(16))
Other GBR
19. John Pink-Alex Hopson, (5,7,2,1,7,6,(9),17,16,10,(21),17,19) 107pts
21. Ian Martin-Ben McGrane, ((11),8,10,11,1,2,4,18,17,14,(23),15,12) 112pts
24. Paul Campbell James-Mark Asquith, (4,(9),1,6,5,3,8,23,19,(DSQ),9,22,17) 117pts

Music > Massive Attack set for two shows in Greece this week June 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Live Gigs.
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The band that redefined pop music returns

Massive Attack, the innovative Bristol group that spearheaded the trip-hop movement in the early 90s and which has continued producing impressive work, plays in Thessaloniki this Thursday and Athens the following night.

It has been quite a while since they generated any news, and three years since their last performance here, but the pioneering act which spearheaded the trip-hop scene, as the British band’s style was dubbed in the early 90s, is preparing for two shows in Greece later this week.

The band struck instant success with 1991’s debut album «Blue Lines» and, since then, they have never faltered. Their unwaning popularity has developed into something of a paradox, considering Massive Attack’s apparent disinterest in musical formulas and love of undecipherable lyrics, a never-ending game of words.

Even so, Hollywood producers are often at the band’s heels for soundtrack contributions. «Dissolved Girl» was used for «Matrix» as well as «The Jackal». «Inertia Creeps» is heard on «Stigmata» and «Angel» on «Snatch». That’s quite an accomplishment for a band of extremely humble roots. Massive Attack’s founding trio – one member has since departed, were raised in a strictly working-class environment where dignity had become a luxury item.

Rewinding to their roots, Massive Attack’s embryonic years date back to the early 80s in Bristol. At the time, 15-year-old Andrew Vowles was nicknamed «Mushroom» because of his job at a pizza parlor. Grant Marshall worked a daytime job at a local record store and DJ’d at night as Daddy G. Robert del Naja, who liked to spray graffiti, he was once charged with damaging private property, and attended subsidized seminars for the unemployed. Amid all this, the trio, victims of social exclusion, formed a soundsystem, or group of DJs, which they called Wild Bunch.

Fortunately for the three youngsters, Bristol then ranked as the UK’s most multicultural city. While punk and new wave were the most popular styles elsewhere in the country, dance-oriented styles such as extreme forms of funk, or reggae, a favorite at local pubs, dominated Bristol’s airwaves.

Wild Bunch developed into Massive Attack, and other local budding acts such as Portishead, Tricky and Morcheeba began hanging around the prospectively fertile scene. By the early 90s, the British music press began talking of a Bristol circuit.

Massive Attack weren’t musicians in the conventional sense, but managed to produce an interesting musical hybrid containing elements like dub and reggae, as well as dashes of dark new wave and hip hop. As long as the music technology of the time was used innovatively, music-making was possible without instrumental dexterity.

When the aspiring Bristol trio remixed the song «Mustt Mustt» by the celebrated Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Coca-Cola bought the song and used it for one of its ads. Massive Attack proved to be masters of instrumentation and surprise when selecting collaborators. Their song «Weather Storm» is based on a theme by Debussy, played on piano by DJ Craig Armstrong. The Bristol trio brought back neglected reggae singer Horace Andy and put him up as one of the group’s main singers. They picked some of the indie scene’s best female vocalists, such as Shara Nelson and Tracey Thorn, whose group Everything but the Girl was not doing too well, Elizabeth Fraser of the forgotten Cocteau Twins, and the eccentric Sinead O’Connor.

The band’s second album, 1995’s «Protection» reached No. 4 on the UK charts, while the following two, 1998’s «Mezzanine» and 2003’s «100th Window» both topped the charts. The success, however, has not been unblemished. Co-founders Mushroom and Daddy G both distanced themselves from the band. Del Naja has carried on with permanent collaborator Neil Davidge for support in arrangements.

During the first Gulf War, the band cut its name to Massive until the campaign’s end. Del Naja became closely affiliated with the anti-war movement following the invasion of Iraq. Fans that attended the group’s previous performance in Athens three years ago will surely remember the anti-war messages, translated in Greek, on a giant screen as a stage backdrop.

Massive Attack are not an everyday act. They have definite opinions about world affairs. The band is set to release a new album, «Weather Underground» a tribute to the radical left organization in the US in the 60s. Besides more success, Del Naja and friends can expect to have to visit Scotland Yard.