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Surprises abound on cruise to Greece July 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.
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ATHENS: Blissfully warm and a bargain in the off season

Our recent trip to Athens was a surprise on many levels. It was less expensive than we’d feared and, by staying in the old part of town, we even felt insulated from much of the traffic of the modern city.

With off-season pricing, Greece was a bargain. It was blissfully warm in late October, not the head-pounding scorch of summer and there were no crowds.

Hotel prices were a surprise. Of course, you can pay more but it didn’t take much research to find a reasonable hotel near the Acropolis and Parliament Building for about 65 euros per room, per night, including breakfast for two, taxes and a balcony. We stayed at the Hotel Carolina (renovated in December 2003). Our room was small but clean and the location couldn’t be better for exploring the Plaka areawww.hotelcarolina.gr

We ate every meal in a sidewalk cafe, which was a better bargain than shopping in a supermarket for picnic fixin’s and a lot more fun. Beer was as cheap as pop (about 2,50 euro for a Heineken), a good stand-up lunch of gyros could be gulped for a couple bucks while a full meal for two was less that 20 euro.

Transportation costs from the airport and the seaport were down 30 per cent from what we were told to expect and easy to come by with just a bit of haggling. One excellent piece of advice we followed was to step away from the main door of the cruiseship terminal to hail a cab.

We’d assumed that shopping was out of the question but found interesting and unique things to buy that wouldn’t break the bank. We shopped for clothes and luggage at prices that were lower than we could find here. We even bought fabric for a home project and hauled it back!

Part of the pleasure of shopping was slipping into narrow labyrinths of goods to haggle with hand signs. We found the locals friendly and helpful and rarely pushy.

The one expensive item we consistently ran across was a cup of coffee or tea in a sidewalk cafe. At an average 4 to 6 euro per cup you are basically renting a table to see and be seen. As incurable people watchers, we thought it well worth the price!

How I learned to love Greece again July 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Ionian.
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A disastrous Greek island holiday led a broken-hearted Louis de Bernières to write his Cephalonian bestseller. For the first time, he exclusively reveals how the country ‘wounds’ him but still holds him in its thrall.

Greek Nobelist George Seferis begins one of his most famous poems with the words: ‘Wherever I travel, Greece wounds me.’

He wrote as a Greek at a time when his country was in great turmoil, and he was wounded by Greece in a way that a foreigner like me cannot be. Writing in 1936, he saw Greece as a place where ‘we don’t know anything, we don’t know we’re all sailors out of work’, a place which is nowhere, that people just can’t wait to leave, but which is ‘travelling, always travelling’.

He cannot have known that Greece was travelling towards a world war and foreign occupation, a civil war, and a long period of discrimination against the left, culminating in military dictatorship. One can be sure, however, that he was wounded by all of it. I think, however, that he would have been delighted by Greece’s incorporation into the EU, its contemporary determination to pull itself up by the bootstraps, its democratic evolution and its success in staging the Olympic Games, even though the whole world was eagerly anticipating the pleasures of schadenfreude when it all went wrong. The fact is that Greece has stopped simply travelling and has begun to arrive.

My own relationship with Greece is one that has changed my life in ways that amount to much more than the fact that I got one novel out of it. It is a relationship that has involved both love and difficulty, exasperation and pleasure. Like most foreigners, I first went there as a tourist. I was 28, and it was with a woman who, unbeknown to me, was thinking of a way to leave me. We spent two weeks in a horrible part of Corfu, infested with horseflies, where the discos thumped all night and the dogs barked along with them. Our neighbours in the apartment were a father and son from Glasgow, both butchers, who had come to Greece because they had worked out that, even taking into account the price of the airfare, it was cheaper to be drunk for two weeks in Greece than in Glasgow. They only went out at night, and spent the days sleeping off their hangovers. They were pasty faced and as pale as vampires.

The stony beach was strewn with cigarette ends and beer cans. I did enjoy the wine and food, however, and that was a beginning.

On the last night my inamorata gave me the bad news. I learned that I was dumped, and, sitting on the edge of the bed as the dogs howled, we talked about what we really wanted from life. It was at that devastating moment of despair that the muse tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me of what I had known since I was 12. I said, ‘What I really want is to be a writer.’ My first published novel appeared seven years later. The one I wrote when I got back from Corfu will never see the light of day but it was good and necessary practice.

I had sworn never to go back to Greece but realised eventually that there had to be an exorcism. I spent a blissful two weeks on my own in a lovely part of Corfu, sunbathing naked at the end of a long deserted beach. I befriended Nikos, a Greek waiter who was really a farmer, and he eagerly encouraged my enthusiasm for the music that he played every night in his taverna. He wrote down the names ‘Hadjidakis, Xarhakos, Theodorakis’. He said not to buy the tourist stuff but to go to a proper record shop. I was to discover that for years Greece had enjoyed the best quality popular music in the world because all the best composers were setting to music the lyrics of the best poets. It was something that cannot be imagined in Britain, where our composers are all up their own backsides trying to impress other composers, and the poets won’t or can’t write lyrics. Through the music I got to the poetry, Seferis, Sikelianos, Cavafy, Elytis, Ritsos, Gatsos, and their writing has become so much a part of my intellectual and literary framework that I cannot now imagine living without it. I don’t think we have anything to equal them.

This was some compensation for the disappointment of discovering that Greece is not the land of philosophers and sages that I imagined when studying classics at school or philosophy at Manchester. People like me went to Greece expecting everyone to be dressed in togas and carrying scrolls. Greece, however, has no significant modern philosophers, and, while it names streets after its ancient luminaries, it does not have any present engagement with them. For a golden age, modern Greeks look back not to Periclean Athens but to Christian Byzantium. The Greek Orthodox Church still has an absolute monopoly on historical and metaphysical truth and the people have a sentimental attachment to it. It’s mostly myth but the Greeks remain profoundly grateful to the church for saving their traditions from the savage Turk. I find their priest-worship positively horrible, and although the country produces great poets and musicians, it can’t nurture original thought.

The positive side of the church is that the rituals and festivals are completely integrated into Greek social life and are a part of the way Greeks have fun, which is something they excel at. People often ask about my relationship with Greece, partly because there was some controversy a few years ago about whether or not I had been fair about the left-wing partisans in World War Two. This was cooked up by the Guardian, who sent a journalist to Greece to inform ex-partisans that I had insulted them, and to report back on their outrage (he also found yet another person claiming to be the original Captain Corelli; I think there are about six of them now). One Greek newspaper picked up this story and reported it under the line ‘The Mandolin of the Gestapo’. I was so insulted that I vowed once more never to go to Greece again, a resolution I stuck to with great determination for about a fortnight.

One of the problems of Greece in the 20th century was that its politics were extremely polarised. You were either very left or very right, and there was no centre. Because I had criticised the leftist partisans, the leftists accused me of being a fascist, while those on the right assumed I must be on their side. I felt a terrible weariness at the thought of trying to explain to both sides that, as a fanatical centrist, I disliked them equally, and wished them equal discomfort in hell. In retrospect I think it was a mistake to have missed out of Captain Corelli the period known as ‘the White Terror’, when leftists were heavily persecuted in the right-wing backlash after the civil war. It wasn’t relevant to my story as it unfolded on the island of Cephalonia, but it left an imbalance.

As the island is very leftist, I think I can safely assume there won’t ever be any statues of me erected in the public squares, despite the tourist boom. Greek communists have a yobbish habit of painting slogans and acronyms in huge ugly red letters in all prominent places, including beauty spots, and that’s how I know they don’t really love their country. But Greece is at last developing a strong political centre, and that will be its intellectual as well as its political and social salvation.

As for Cephalonia, I did take my parents there on a holiday, but I found it annoying being recognised, much as that pleased my mother. I have a guitar-playing friend who runs a cafe in Fiskardo, and I will have to go back just to see him, but recently I have been going to another island, about which I shall probably never write, but which has played a far more important part in my life. One of the intriguing things about Greece is that it isn’t really a country in the usual sense; it is thousands of places linked and separated by the sea. One has only to imagine what Britain would have been like if it had consisted of a small mainland and hundreds of islands roughly the size of the Isle of Wight, each with its own, but interrelated, dances, traditions, dialects and cuisine, and separate histories of foreign occupation, to get an inkling of what I mean.

Even the names give you an idea of this. For example, anyone whose name has the suffix ‘-akis’ probably originates in Crete, whereas ‘-oglou’ probably came from Asia Minor. After a disastrous and misconceived war in which they were roundly defeated by Kemal Ataturk, the Greeks had to accept into exile almost the entire Orthodox population of Asia Minor, while Kemal’s new Turkish republic took in most of Greece’s muslims. It seemed a good idea at the time, but it has left behind it a terrible nostalgia for lost homelands. Because identity was decided upon religious grounds it meant that Turkey received many Greek-speaking people with Greek habits, and Greece received many Turkish-speakers with Turkish habits. Ironically, the descendants of both sets of exiles think of the other country as a lost paradise, as a paragon of civilised and sophisticated life.

I see the two countries as Cain and Abel, each taking its turn to be Cain. They have each had a war of independence against the other. There was a massacre of Greeks, for example on Chios, but then the entire Muslim population of southern Greece disappeared in the War of Independence.

It is interesting to list what Greece and Turkey have in common; Turks and Greeks are both extremely nationalist, something I find irritating in both. They have the same cuisine, even though the Turkish is at present (and probably temporarily) more sophisticated. They have the same touchy and exaggerated sense of personal honour that the Greeks call filotimo and which leads them into all sorts of problems, but which also explains why they have a fanatical sense of hospitality to outsiders, while not feeling obliged to be nice to each other.

It is well-known that Greek and Turkish musicians have no trouble in improvising with each other, and they have the habit of stealing each others’ pop hits and putting new words to them. The traditional songs are really the same, just as an English version of ‘Barbara Allen’ is essentially the same as an American one. All this is because, during Ottoman times, Greeks and Turks cohabited for 400 years.

In the past I have been appalled by Greek Turkophobia, it always took the form of ‘One of my best friends is a Turk … but they’re barbarians’. One of the ways Greeks can’t help defining themselves is as not-Turkish. This was always bizarre in view of the common history and cultural affinity, and it is not constructive to define oneself in terms of a negative. This is all changing slowly thanks to a new generation of more sensible politicians on both sides, but there is still a great unwillingness in Greece to consider for even a moment the idea that any Turkish point of view might have a rational basis.

The explanation is invariably in terms of ingrained barbarism (even though Turkey has never done anything to Greece as atrocious as what the Greeks did to each other in their civil war), and Greece always sees itself as little David heroically facing up to a grunting, incoherent, and probably smelly Goliath. The Turks generally think of the Greeks as like itching powder in one’s underwear; not very dangerous but marvellously irritating. They greatly enjoy overflying the Greek islands, so that the Greek airforce has to scramble. By the time the Greeks arrive, the humorous Turks have usually gone. If they haven’t, then they have mock dogfights, which must be fun, and excellent training for both sides. One wonders why they don’t arrange it all more formally, a sort of aerial capoeira.

What really divides them more than anything else is religion. Islam is very puritanical and the Turks are consequently more dignified but much less high-spirited and pleasure-loving. It has also hobbled them artistically, and they can’t enjoy their own wine without feeling guilty. Unfortunately, both Islam and Greek Orthodoxy are patriarchal, authoritarian and absolutist, and have a vested interest in maintaining clear divisions. They do this by deliberately cultivating and celebrating the memory of martyrdoms and historical wrongs.

In Greece the church thinks you can’t be a Greek at all if you are not Greek Orthodox, and in Turkey there has been a long history, now coming to an end, of either suppressing or marginalising anything that doesn’t look strictly Turkish. You get told that 99 per cent of Turks are Muslim, but that ignores the high proportion of people who are Alevis. They are, well, kind of Muslim. They typically run businesses because they can’t get jobs with the civil authorities.

So far I have had no negative response from Greece about my latest novel, Birds Without Wings. One academic told me it made her cry, because of ‘the pain of demythologisation’. As far as I know, no one thinks me a traitor for switching my setting from Greece to Turkey, not least because Turkey was at that time full of Greeks. At any rate, the Turks are thrilled and my Turkish publishers tell me they are getting many letters of gratitude.

It must have occurred to most Greeks that when Turkey finally comes (?) into the EU they will once again have the right to take up residence in Turkey. I remember weeping when I saw on television the destruction of the Berlin Wall. I think it will happen to me again when I see footage of Greek families moving back to Izmir, and Turks buying holiday homes in Crete. I will be wounded by joy, I suppose. I will also be very apprehensive because neither side is short of troublemakers, and troublemaking is a satisfying occupation, especially when masqueraded as righteousness.

The Greeks have the word xenitia, meaning exile, and this state gives rise to the most poignant feelings of nostalgia. I may be a Brit, and Greek Stalinists may hate me, but it is something I feel in myself whenever I have been away from Greece too long.

Some of my longing is shamelessly cliched, for a meal in the Plaka, for instance, or a stroll down to the ever-deteriorating Monastiraki market. Some is more refined, for an hour in the music shop of Philipos Nakas, or a visit to the Moschophoros in the Acropolis Museum. Some is purely sensual, to stand in a valley of thyme and oregano that is so loud with bees that it is hard to hold a proper conversation, or to go out in October and get drenched in a rainstorm that goes on for three days.

I will never feel nostalgia for the world’s worst taxi drivers, the cruelty to cats or the Turkophobia, but from time to time I feel the real thing coming on. It’s like being on the end of one of those dog leads that reels you in on a spring. It’s a physical longing in the stomach. It’s what stops me in my tracks as I think, ‘Why am I here when I could be there?’ This is chiefly how Greece wounds me; I live in a state of xenitia without even being Greek.

· Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernières, is published by Secker and Warburg.

Greece by letter > Alpha, beta, gamma, delta … July 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece.
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From Armani (the Grecian Beckham) to Zorba (the dancing Cretan), this is the spellbound by the New Greece.

A is for Armani.
Not just Michelle Pfeiffer’s favourite designer but also the nickname of footballer Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Greece’s equivalent to Beckham. Impress fellow holidaymakers by telling them he earned the title by strutting his sultry 6ft 3in stuff on the catwalk as a fashion model. More inexplicably, in January he traded in his place on Greece’s sunkissed Panathinaikos team for a stint in Glasgow with Rangers.
B is for Boutique chic.
Greece isn’t just about quaint villas, multi-storey hotels and privately rented rooms. Boutique hotels are breeding, especially on what has become the coolest island, Mykonos. The Mykonos Theoxenia (00 30 22890 22230; www.mykonostheoxenia.com) is cream of the crop, with retro orange and turquoise interiors, four-poster sunbeds and Venetian-style cocktail bars.

C is for Camping.
Combined with island-hopping, this is the classic way to do Greece: generations of students have slept on beaches or locals’ roofs. Backpackers are keeping the tradition alive but risk being moved on by police. Thomas Cook’s Greek Island Hopping 2005 (Thomas Cook Publishing, £12.99) is the bible, and you can now book ferries in advance with ViaMare (0870 410 6040; www.viamare.com), crossings from £10. (more…)

Hop to it > a tour of the islands July 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Don’t get hot under the collar when there is a stress-free way to take a tour of the islands.

As holidays go, Greek island hopping spells ultimate freedom. That last minute detour to a full-moon party; the thrilling hubbub as you nose into a new harbour; scouting for that secret beach.

But between the happy holiday snaps is the painful reality of getting from one destination to the next, such as being at the mercy of erratic ferry schedules. I must have clocked up days sweltering inside a concrete shed on Paros docks, eyes glued to the horizon. And I’ve slept in so many gangways and docksides that most of my clothes think they are pillows.

There’s bad news also for backpackers on a budget. The new high-speed catamarans may halve journey times, but tickets cost double. Sadly, also, the carefree elements are being eroded: you can no longer dive on at the last minute because stricter European Union laws now forbid sales of onboard tickets (on major routes). The last of Greece’s romantic old rustbuckets, such as the Skopelitis, have floated off to the scrapyard.

So here are some ways to cut out the stress and island hop in style.

Day one

Despite the massive improvements at Athens Eleftherios Venizelos airport, there’s generally a half-hour wait for a taxi. But the newly launched Holiday Taxis (holidaytaxis.com) arranges for a smartly dressed (and silent) driver to greet me, and off we speed to the nearby port of Rafina.

Catching a flight that touched down at 4.15am meant arriving in good time for the SeaJet 2 catamaran. It leaves at 7.40am, arriving in Mykonos two hours and 10 minutes later.

Tempting as it is to linger for morning coffee in the most photographed port in Greece, it is a tad early, so we hop into the waiting minibus and head off towards our hotel, the Mykonos Grand.

Day two to five

Being the most stylish of Greek islands, Mykonos is not short of luxurious hotels, or villas for that matter, but the advantage of the Mykonos Grand is that it is located directly on the deep semolina-like sands of Ag Yiannis beach and just a 4km taxi ride from the throbbing action in Hora, or Mykonos Town.

After checking into our room, with that coveted view of the sacred island of Delos (sunset is the main event), we park ourselves on the terrace for breakfast overlooking the enormous pool.

Our beach is the one that was used in Shirley Valentine, and has a taverna adorned with photos of Pauline Collins posing with Tom Conti some 14 years ago. This is the perfect spot to recline on marble slabs littered with white canvas cushions, and savour a platter of fresh prawns and avocado. When the beach becomes crowded, we amble across to a small sandy cove called Kipari, which is very in with the locals. There’s nothing here, but the water is gin clear.

Come nightfall, the hedonistic lure of Hora is too much for anyone to resist. No matter how tempting it is, girls, don’t wear kitten heels because the cobbled streets of Hora mean you can spend valuable time gawking at your feet instead of the human parade that around 10pm shoehorns itself into Matoyiannis, the main drag. If you fancy something a little more sophisticated, shoot the breeze over a cocktail or two at Caprice in Little Venice, then indulge in a fish dinner at nearby Sea Satin, which is literally within arm’s length of the Aegean waves.

Day six

Pity those poor folk huddled around the port. We head to the airport for our next hop, to Santorini in the southern Cyclades, which is hours away by ferry and chaotic bus or taxi transfer, but only 25 minutes via Olympic Airways.

Day seven to 10

During summer, the Cyclades are bathed in a white light of magical quality, but the domed blue and white buildings perched on Santorini’s cliffsides take the prize for picture postcard quality.

Our home for the next few days is the chic Hotel Vedema, in the medieval village of Megalohori. Originally the Eliopoulos Mansion, this is definitely not one of those cookie-cutter type of places that are jammed into the main town, Thira. Our two-bedroom villa has its own terrace overlooking a vineyard. The interior is simple but spacious with a canopy bed, sitting room and kitchen.

The food is unbelievably good, so most days we take a leisurely lunch by the pool – island specialities include fava bean salad, keftedes (meatballs) and excellent crisp white wines.

Most bathers head for the black sands of Kamari beach, which boasts a kilometre-long stretch of lively bars, cafes and restaurants. And thank heavens for Vedema’s private beach shuttle, avoiding the hell of returning from our favourite beach, Perissa, by overloaded bus or scarce taxi.

Any day now, Athenian spa Cocoon will open a new branch inside Vedema, along with a “mini spa” on Perissa in the form of massage tents that will utilise surrounding volcanic hot stones for massage as well as island honey and grape seed products.

Day 10 to 14

How decent of Aegean Airlines to operate a mini route from Santorini to Crete, a mere 20-minute flight rather than hours on a ferry.

The Elounda Gulf Villas sends a private taxi that whisks us eastwards from Heraklion airport to our lavish suite overlooking the stunning Bay of Mirabello.

Surrounded by hi-tech comfort in Aegean-style architecture, it is hard to leave, but with such staggering history on our doorstep we are encouraged to visit the archaeological museum (68 Palaiologou Street) in Agios Nikolaos, the main hub of activity. Treasures include early Minoan pots found in nearby Sitia and Olous (now Elounda).

After an excellent fish lunch in Pelagos (Koraka and Katehaki), we drive off in a hire car along the east coast towards Vai beach. We stop off briefly to admire the 15th-century Moni Toplou monastery before arriving at a dense forest of around 5,000 palm trees on a long, sandy – and busy – beach. Further north, we find three quieter beaches near Erimoupoli, one near the ruins of ancient city, Itanos.

Our overall favourite swimming spot is the gorgeous stony beach of Plaka facing Spinalonga island, which has the added attraction of two faultless fish taverns right on the water.

Week three

If you can squeeze in an extra week, do the unthinkable – a speedy switch to the Dodecanese, which are a group of 12 islands located in the far south-west Aegean, nudging up against the Turkish border and linked by air (Heraklion to Rhodes with Aegean Airlines).

Explore Rhodes Town as well as the neighbouring islands of Symi and Halki, by spending a week based at the Miramare Beach, a collection of luxury bungalows set in lush gardens.

Way to go

Getting there: Olympic Airways (www.olympicairways.com) and its subsidiary, Olympic Aviation, flies from Athens to 37 destinations. Bookings can be made through Olympic’s main reservation number. Aegean Airlines (210 9988300, aegeanair.gr) has special one-way fares, from €45, on 12 domestic Greek routes. Hellas Flying Dolphins (dolphins.gr) has a near monopoly on ferry and hydrofoil routes around the Greek islands. Check schedules at www.gtp.gr

One week, with three nights’ B&B in a deluxe room at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens and three in the Vedema Hotel Santorini or Santa Marina on Mykonos costs from about 1,800 euro. Mykonos Grand Hotel (22890 25555, mykonosgrand.gr) charges 150 euro B&B per night per room until July, spa suites from 180 euro.

Four exotic islands on the edges of Greece July 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Everyone knows something about famous Greek islands likes Mykonos, Crete and Santorini. But Greece actually features over 2,000 islands, all with unique natural and historical aspects. Today we introduce the reader to four small and forgotten islands that lie on the very extremities of the Greek nautical world. They are some of the little paradises that have much to offer to the intrepid visitor.

Othoni

The first islet is Othoni, situated in the westernmost part of Greece, close to the renowned island of Corfu. It has a surface are of only 10 square km., and a coastline 17 km long. It is about 37 miles from Corfu’s port and 7.5 miles from the northern cape of Corfu. And it is also just 47 miles across the Straits of Otranto to the Santa Maria Di Leuca area of Italy. Historically, Corfu is well known for the fact that it was never blighted by Turkish occupation, remaining a part of the Venetian state for around 700 years, and thereafter a part of the British Empire until 1864, when it was united with the Greek state.

This foreign interest over the centuries owes to the strategic importance of Corfu and especially its outlying islands like Othoni, which is situated at a strategic crossing point in the Straits of Otranto that dominate the entrance and exodus from the Adriatic Sea.

Some of the oldest island families started arriving in the late 16th century. Today, only about 300 people reside on the island, and the climate is of course Mediterranean, but also marked by the rainy periods for which Corfu and the Ionian islands in general are known, contributing to its lush and green landscape. The island is known for its sandy beaches, caves, Venetian castle and Byzantine churches.

There is a ferry service from Corfu to Othoni twice a week, taking around 4 hours to reach the islet. Visitors to the island include mainly yacht owners from Italy, Austria and Germany that spend each summer a few tranquil days in one of the most serene sceneries of the Mediterranean Sea.

Zourafa

Another notable and even more unknown islet is Zourafa, situated in the northeastern-most part of the Aegean Sea. It is 14 miles south of the mouth of the River Evros, and 6 nautical miles from the island of Samothraki. Zourafa is known also to local fishermen by the name Ladoxera (oil island). it is inhabited. There is only one automated lighthouse, and the area in proximity of the islet is extremely dangerous because of the many scattered rocks that dot the sea around it, making a constant hazard for seafarers.

Due to its small size, sea erosion is causing the islet to get a little smaller every year- something that ultimately will lead to its extinction. The surface of the islet is only 0.9 hectares and has 465 meters of coast, making Zourafa more or less a big rock in the Aegean. However, despite this reality, many Many archaeological discoveries have been made there, including ancient marble columns and remains of ancient dwellings- still further reasons for the necessity of protecting this outpost of Hellenism in the farthest corner of the Aegean.

Stroggyli

In the very southeastern corner of Greece lies the island of Stroggyli, located 5 nautical miles south of Kastellorizo. It is 75 nautical miles off the coast of Rhodes, and 170 miles from Cyprus. It is actually a springboard to Asia and it has a surface area of 5 sq. km. Today, only 5 people live on Stroggyli, mostly sheep owners and fisherman that live most of the time there and also take care along with the coast guard of the automated lighthouse that exists.

The scenery of the island is fascinating. Deep blue waters and high rocks that one views with awe are everywhere. A very notable fact about the island is the existence of the Monachus-Monachus Mediterranean seals that live in the surrounding area. The waters of Stroggyli make an ideal place for scuba diving, where one can watch apart from the seals many types of coral. Stroggyli presents Mediterranean sea life at its best.

Gavdos

Last but not least we have the enchanting islet of Gavdos, located dead south of Crete (20 nautical miles south). Crete is renowned for being the southernmost part of all Europe. Its surface area is 33 sq. km and it has less than 100 permanent residents, though the more adventurous of Crete’s tourists visit in the summer by ferry (from the ports of Chora Sfakion and Palaeochora).

Gavdos is famous for having been the home of the nymph Calypso in the Odyssey of Homer. Later, in the middle Byzantine period, it boasted 8,000 residents, but these finally dwindled to around 500 during two centuries of Turkish occupation. In the mid-20th century, many “Gavdiotes” relocated to newly available land in Crete itself.

The island has crystal-clear sea, almost deserted sandy beaches and overhanging rock formations. Especially near the beginning and end of the long season (the sun shines down on it over 300 days of the year), one gets the feeling sometimes of being on their own private island.

Because of its proximity to Northern Africa, the climate on Gavdos is very hot during summer, and it has a very low rainfall level. The scenery is pure Mediterranean: rough terrain, full of scrubland and arid. But it is also well-forested with cedars and pines.

The strategic importance of Gavdos is its proximity to the major sea route between Gibraltar and Haifa and Beirut in the Middle East. The ships that pass just a few miles off the island in their hundreds can be seen 365 days of the year.

Due to its unique fauna, Gavdos has been declared a protected area under the EU program Natura 2000, something respected by the island’s adventurous and eco-minded tourists.

For more information on these and other island destinations, visit the website of the Greek National Tourist Organization www.gnto.gr 

Related Links >

http://www.omogenia.com/othoni/othonisl.htm

http://www.greece.org/poseidon/work/islands/dodekanisa/strogili.html

http://www.answers.com/topic/kastellorizo

http://www.monachus.org/profiles/mediseal.htm

http://gavdosisland.tripod.com/

Greece out! > Head to the islands July 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Itchin’ to get to the Aegean? There’s more to Greece than Athens. Come with us to three island idylls > serene Santorini, party-hearty Mykonos and Lesbos, the other L-word.
 
This summer, Greece is getting lots of buzz. 

The natural choice for a getaway is Mykonos, where a hot gay scene rocks the island during the warmer months. But if you’re craving serenity, relaxation and subtle elegance, head first to Santorini for a little R&R. That way, you’ll arrive in Mykonos well rested and ready to tackle the party scene — where the boys dance all night and hang at the beach all day.
Santorini
Santorini is stunning.
The main town, Fira, hangs from a cliff, with a spectacular view of the Mediterranean and a volcanic crater. Santorini is a good place to slow down, relax and take long, meandering walks while you take in some heavenly views, then sample innovative Greek cuisine in panoramic settings. Romantic and laid-back, it’s mostly frequented by couples, gay and straight.

The Astra Hotel (Imerovigli; 22860 23641, fax 22860 24765; www.astra.gr; 175-285 euro) is the most spectacular gay-friendly option, with a breathtaking infinity pool that seems to hang off the cliff. It’s in the charming small village of Imerovigli, about a half-hour walk from Fira. If you’d rather be right in town, the Hotel Kavalari (Fira; 22860 22347, fax 22860 22603; www.kavalari.com; 121-148 euro) is your best bet. Gay-owned and managed, the clientele is mixed and the price is right. There is no pool, but the location can’t be beat.

Santorini has some excellent restaurants. Vanilia (Firostephani; 22860 25631; 17-27 euro) is the top choice on the island for its incredible views, gay-friendly management and innovative cuisine. Angelina Jolie dined here while filming the “Tomb Raider” sequel. Ask the very friendly (and handsome) owner, Dimitri, what she ate, or just follow his advice. Selene (Fira; 22860 22249; 18-34 euro) is the priciest and fanciest option, with unrivalled full sea views. The atmosphere can be a little staid compared to Vanilia; it feels like most diners are deep in meditation here. This is a good place to sample a typical Santorinian dish served with locally grown giant capers. Nicholas Taverna (Fira; 22860 24550; 6-12 euro), right in town, serves delicious homemade Greek grub at amazingly affordable prices. The stuffed peppers and tomatoes are outstanding.

There are far more gay guys (many of them couples) on the island than lesbians, and there’s only one truly gay-friendly place to meet them. Everybody gathers at the breezy Tropical Bar (Fira; 22860 22881) for sunset drinks. Late at night, it gets really crowded; sometimes there’s even dancing on the bar. But be warned: This is not a gay bar, so refrain from any same-sex physical action so as not to offend the locals. Both the Koo Club (Fira; 22860 22025) and Enigma (Fira; no phone), the two main (mostly straight) dance clubs, can be found along the main shopping street in the heart of Fira.

The two beaches where gay men gather are Vlihada Bay (where nudity is tolerated, and the first stretch of beach is straight), and Cape Exomitis (where it can get quite cruisey, though it’s never crowded). Both are a 20-minute bus ride from Fira.
Mykonos
The ultimate party island, Mykonos
is all about decadence and extreme hedonism, exquisite beaches and indulgent nightlife. Mykonos is a (mostly single) gay man’s paradise; very few lesbians venture here. The men hail from around the world, and the island is at its gayest in late August and early September — perfect for a post-romp this year. Note that the town (where all the nightlife is) has no beaches. You reach the outlying beaches by buses or small boats, but even the trip out to the beach provides ample opportunity to make new friends.

The gayest of the plethora of gay and gay-friendly accommodations is the Elysium (School of Fine Arts; 22890 23952 or 24210, fax 22890 23747; www.elysiumhotel.com; 140-258 euro), just a five-minute walk up a steep hill from town. Ninety-nine percent of the guests are gay men, mostly European. There’s a great pool and bar with nightly parties in summer. This is the top choice for single gay men who want to meet other men. For a little more luxury and serenity, the Semeli (Mykonos Town; 22890 27466, fax 22890 27467; www.semelihotel.gr; 112-382 euro) can be either very straight (in July and early August) or very gay (in late August and September); either way, it’s a great choice in a perfect location, just steps away from all the nightlife.

The best bargain is the Carrop Tree Hotel (Platis Yialos Rd; 22890 22038; 68-115 euro). It’s a short walk from town, but every room has a little terrace overlooking the sea and the bar, and poolside areas are drop-dead gorgeous. For the price, you can’t go wrong, and the clientele is about half gay (mostly northern Europeans).

There’s a dizzying choice of restaurants, all gay-friendly. Foremost among them is Chez Maria (27 Kalogera St.; 22890 27565; 28-36 euro) with its romantic garden seating and really yummy Greek dishes. Avra (10 Kalogera St. 22890 22298; 14-24 euro) is less expensive and gay-owned, serving homemade Greek cuisine in a very lively setting. Ask for a table in the lovely garden. Interni (Matogianni; 22890 26333; 28-36 euro) is outlandishly expensive, and the food is nothing special. But the place itself is oh-so-very-trendy, the terrace area is achingly beautiful and the waiters are tremendously hot.

You’ll be playing and meeting everywhere on Mykonos — on buses, on the streets, on the beach, in the cafés. The atmosphere is convivial and fun, especially at the Montparnasse Piano Bar (in Little Venice; 22890 23719), where all gays and lesbians stop for a drink at least once every night. The drinks are strong, the music is live and the waiters are nothing short of Adonis.

After midnight, all the action concentrates on Manto Square, with its three clubs. Boys in tight shirts pack in like sardines, and the dancing sometimes spills out on the square. Pierro’s (22890 22177), the island’s most popular gay disco , Icarus (22890 22718), which has a pleasant rooftop terrace, and Manto’s all share the same building. The cover charge for each varies, up to a hefty 14 euro, and includes a drink. Around 4 or 5 a.m., the boys head to the Yacht Club, which is open 24 hours, for more drinks and dancing.

The gayest beach is the notorious Super Paradise, though one area is straight and nude. It’s a loud party scene with rock music blasting all day and boys drinking and meandering off into the rocky mountainside. If you want a mellower but still very gay-friendly beach, head to Paranga, Agrari or Elia. To reach the beaches, you must jump on a caique (a little wooden boat that serves as a water taxi) that leaves from the pier at the Platis Yialos Beach, a 15-minute bus ride from the town of Mykonos. Getting to and from the beach is very much part of the Mykonos experience — many a friendship has been struck before even hitting the sand.

Lesbos
Despite its name and reputation, Lesbos
(known locally as “Lesvos”) is not full of actual same-sex-loving lesbians. In fact, it’s quite the contrary: Besides expatriates, you’ll very few “out” lesbians live here. That said, gay women and men who visit are warmly welcomed by businesses and locals. Along with the gracious reception, gay and lesbian visitors can expect a relaxing, enjoyable holiday in a breathtakingly beautiful, unique and remote destination. Skala Eressos is renowned for its three miles of jaw-dropping unspoiled beach. (The northern end of the beach is a nude bathing area known as “the women’s beach.”) This part of the island is both a mecca for the international lesbian community and a wonderful family destination abounding in cultural history. Eressos counts among its children the famous Sappho, who, though married and the mother of a child, composed moving, homoerotic love poems to her female students.

Women-only Sappho’s (22530 53233, fax 22530 53174; www.sapphohotel.com; 52-56 euro) is a lesbian-owned and lesbian-run hotel with a popular restaurant. Just a few yards from the beach, this is one of the very few lodgings offering rooms with a sea view. The large reception room opens into an interior bar and restaurant, sometimes used for parties and dances. The covered terrace is cleverly divided into the outdoor restaurant, where guests can enjoy a huge variety of European home-cooked dishes, and a less formal area for those wishing to sit with a relaxing drink or snack. All rooms have private bathrooms.

Right in town, the popular Galini Hotel (22530 53138; fax 22530 53137; www.hotel-galinos.gr; 45-60 euro), on a quiet side street, offers cozy rooms with balconies and air-conditioning. This family-run hotel, though not exclusively gay, welcomes droves of gay and lesbian visitors each season; it’s a great bargain.

If you’re looking for a resort, the Aeolian Village Hotel (22530 53585, fax 22530 53795; www.aeolianvillage.gr; 62-150 euro) has a large swimming pool, tennis courts and beautiful landscaping. Though it’s primarily straight, you’ll find a few lesbian couples staying here. The location is great — right on the beach, a 10-minute walk from town.

For additional (mainstream) lodging choices, visitors should consider booking through the very capable lesbian-owned Sappho Travel (22530 52140 or 53077, fax 22530 52000; www.lesvos.co.uk, sappho@otenet.gr), a company that works tirelessly to put Lesbos on the gay map. For detailed information about Lesvos for women, Sappho Travel also manages this Web site: www.sapphowomen.com.

The following gay-popular restaurants, bars and clubs are near the main square or along the beach. The restaurant/bar/café at the Sappho Hotel (see above; 9-13 euro) is one of the most popular dining spots in town. Grab a light meal and get oriented to the “gay scene” at the Tenth Muse (6-10 euro) — named for Sappho, who was called that by Plato — the most popular women’s bar and lounge. Grab a seat on the large terrace or on one of two very popular “muse sofas” right on the square, where customers can enjoy breakfast, snacks and drinks, with music in the evenings. The bar stays open until the early hours, hosting parties and theme evenings throughout the season. Nearby, Fuego Café (5-12 euro) is loved for its late and loud nights of music and dancing at the bar, which has a large oceanview terrace with comfortable seating.

Of all the places to eat, Friend’s Bar (4-12 euro) is tops for a good meal on Lesvos, along with great music and a relaxing atmosphere. The extensive menu caters to all tastes, and you can get a full English breakfast here while most other dining spots are shuttered down. 

No eating in silence July 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
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Customers are encouraged to be loud, have a good time

If the only noise in a Greek restaurant is the polite clang of forks, then you’re in the wrong place, according to Greek Islands Restaurant’s assistant manager George Stergiopoulos.

“If you walk into a Greek restaurant that’s quiet, walk back out,” Stergiopoulos advised. “We’re loud people, and we bring out loudness in others. People . . . come here to have a good time.”

His family’s often boisterous restaurant was started by his parents, Elias and Fofo, in 1987. Greek music sets a lively tone, augmented by belly dancers on Fridays and Saturdays.

Angela Stergiopoulos runs the kitchen, whipping up such Greek dishes as saganaki, souvlaki and pasticchio. Her Restaurant Week offering is a four-course affair that is an extensive tour of the menu. One entrιe alone offers tastes of six Greek Islands dishes, all made from scratch using family recipes.

“She learned straight from mom and dad,” George said. “You know there’ll be no surprises when you walk through our door: The food’s going to be good, and the atmosphere’s relaxing. It’s like coming home.”

Greek Islands Restaurant

• Where: 906 S. Meridian St., (317) 636-0700

• Atmosphere: Casual, family-friendly.

• Entrée cost: $7 to $9 lunch, $11 to $22 dinner

• Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.