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Athens > for Archaeology and Art lovers July 29, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.
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Greece, the land of the twelve Gods of Olympus has inherited a sophisticated culture and a language that has been documented for almost three millennia. You are welcome to explore it.

Athens > A treasure of monuments
Athens gives visitors the unique opportunity to enjoy some of the most interesting sights and monuments in Greece.

Acropolis, the sacred rock, has been the symbol of Athens for thousands of years. The Parthenon, unique for its beauty, harmony and grace, was dedicated to the goddess Athena-protector of the city. The glorious entrance to the Acropolis, the Propylaea, the temple of Athena Nike, a temple erected to commemorate the victories of the ancient Greeks, the Erechtheion where goddess Athena gave her most sacred emblem, the olive tree to sprout and so many other priceless finds await to be explored.

Ancient Agora
Ancient Agora used to be the town square of Athens from the 6th century BC. A commercial, political, cultural and religious centre. Monuments of different periods ranging from the Classical to the 11th century AD can be explored at this site.

Plaka, the area between Syntagma, Ermou Street and the Acropolis, is the oldest and the most picturesque neighbourhood of Athens. One of the few parts in Athens with charm and architectural merit, its narrow winding streets and stairs are lined with the nineteenth-century Neoclassical houses. The squares are full of cafes, restaurants, night clubs, and many shops selling souvenirs. The best place to begin exploring Athens.

Athens Museums
A big number of Museums, covering all different periods and topics can be found in the Greek capital. Some of the most important are:

The National Archaeological Museum is one of the largest museums, housing ancient Greek treasures such as the finds of the Mycenaean antiquities. It could take days in order to see it properly, so if you intend to visit it, make sure that you have plenty of time at your disposal.

At the Athens City Museum, paintings and engravings related to the history of Athens, mainly from the beginning of the 18th century and the 20th century are exhibited.

The Cycladic Art Museum exhibits Goulandris’ private collection of cycladic art as well as the Athens Academy’s collection of ancient Greek art.

Textiles, embroideries, costumes, silverware, folk paintings, wood and stone carving which cover the period from 1650 to the present can be found at the Greek Folk Museum.


Visiting Corfu > our recommendations July 29, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Ionian.
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Corfu (Kerkyra) is the best known of the Ionian islands. Corfu is believed to be the wooded isle of the Phaeacians, Odysseus’ last stop on his long journey home, to Ithaka.

Corfu owns its sophistication to the different civilisations that have occupied it. The island’s favourable position between Greece and Italy attracted powers from east and west. It was only in 1864 that Corfu was ceded, with the other Ionian Islands, to Greece.

Kerkyra, the main city, port, and capital of the island, founded in 734 BC by the Corinthians, lies on a peninsula on the east coast. Corfu is a cosmopolitan island and is considered as an international tourist centre. Full of natural beauties, in Corfu one can combine relaxation and an exciting nightlife.

Here are our recommendations >

Corfu Island Tour

Spend one day visiting the picturesque fisherman’s harbour of Kouloura. Close by is Kalami. Continue, passing through Nissaki, Ipsos and Dassia to the Venetian influenced Corfu town. After a short exploration of the town, you head for Kanoni from where you can enjoy the famous and panoramic view over the Pontikonissi (mouse island) and the Vlacherena convent. Continue your tour with a visit of the Achillion Palace, built by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Visit the Museum dedicated to her from the Kaiser Willheim II. You continue to Paleokastritsa, the most popular and picturesque area of the island. Visit the 13th century Greek Orthodox monastery. You then drive to Bella Vista. Travel through Troumpeta pass.

Paxos Island Cruise

Spend one day to visit Paxos. First head to Parga where you can spend a few hours to see the town, to swim and to have lunch at one of the local tavernas. Then depart from Parga to go to Antipaxos. The ship takes you as close as possible to the island and you can again have the chance to swim. Depart from Antipaxos to go to Paxos. The ship remains there for a few hours, so you will have enough time to go around Paxos, to have lunch or swim again. Early in the evening, return back to Corfu.

Diving in Corfu, the emerald isle July 29, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Ionian.
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Known as the “Emerald Isle”, Corfu (Kerkyra to the Greeks) is one of the Greek Ionian islands off the north-west coast of Greece.

It is known as the Emerald Isle because of its lush vegetation, with olive, cypress, and citrus trees dotting the landscape. Corfu produces 3% of the world’s supply of olive oil, and also is the only place in Europe where the cumquat, a small Asian version of the orange, is grown. It is known internationally for its breathtaking views and wonderful natural beaches.

Under Venetian control for over 400 years, with a period of English rule during the peak of the British Empire. Corfu presents an interesting mix of European culture; the capital, Corfu town, is one of the best preserved examples of Venetian architecture and contains the only cricket pitch in Greece.

Although the effects of rampant commercialism over the last two decades has reduced many of the beach areas into hotspots for European package deals, much of the local culture has been preserved in the island’s interior villages, where women can still be seen wearing traditional dress. With Greece’s increasingly open views about recreational scuba diving, Corfu presents the perfect place to start exploring diving in the Mediterranean.
The Diving

Greece is not really known for its scuba diving. Until recently, the government warily restricted diving due to it’s paranoia of ancient artifacts and important archaelogical items being removed from underwater sites. Thankfully, the Greek government has loosened many of its regulations on scuba diving, although it is still restrictive for specialty dives like night and wreck dives.
Because there hasn’t historically been much recreational diving, much of Greece’s underwater expanse is largely unexplored. This is quite exciting because there are dozens of islands scattered around Greece in the Ionian and Aegean seas with hidden gems yet to be discovered.

Diving in Corfu (and most of the Meditteranean) centers less around the abundance and variety of fish and more on interesting rock formations, swim-throughs, and exploration of wrecks. The visibility is surprisingly good (averaged around 50 ft) and octopus, squid, starfish, and fire worms are quite common. Diving centers tend to be very informal operations, with a traditional Greek approach to planning dive trips. The local divers are very friendly though, and make up for their lack of organizational skills with their zest for diving. Most of the good diving in Corfu is along the western coast and north-eastern coasts; picking accomodation close to where you will be diving is highly recommended.

The attraction to Corfu doesn’t focus primarily on diving, but on the wonderfully green landscape, sunny beaches, and fascinating history. Many come to Corfu simply to lie on the beach and party the night away, but miss its subtlety; with a little bit of effort to uncover its treasures, a trip to Corfu can be a very rich experience.

Like most of Greece, civilization on Corfu is ancient, with the Corinthians of ancient Greece being the first to seriously settle there in the 7th century BC. As Greece faded into a backwater, Corfu was successively controlled by the Byzantines, Franks, Venetians, and English. Much of the imprint left by these empires has been preserved, and provides insight into what life was like in Europe during these different periods of occupation.

Corfu has many coves and inlets; the terrain leads up sharply from the water to a mountainous interior. Kanoni is a famous beach on the east coast south of Corfu town known for a pretty Byzantine chapel, Pandokrator, standing on an island near the coast. Paleokastritsa is a gorgeous set of coves and beaches along the north-west coast with an incredible view from a lookout called “Bella Vista”. Benitses is a party beach, but can be visited during the day to avoid the revelers and examine the Roman baths and ruins. Dozens of small villages seem to hide themselves along the coast, and provide an opportunity for picturesque day trips.

Corfu has long been considered a world-class walking/hiking destination. Recently, the Corfu Trail (http://www.corfutrail.org/) has been established and provides organized literature for those interested in a walking holiday on Corfu. Over 200 km in length, the trail is varied, with special segments that can be hiked as a day trip. Two stops worth considering are Angelocastro, a Byzantine castle near Paleokastritsa, and Mount Pantokrator, the highest point on the island.

The hub of activity on the island, Corfu town is a bustling area on the east side of the island. With an international airport and scooters and cars whizzing down the streets of the confusing New Town, it can initially be a dizzying experience for visitors. However, it is definitely worth a trip, with its charming Venetian “Old Town” and two forts providing exquisite views of Agni Bay and the Garitsa. The old fortress is the more interesting of the two fortifications, standing on the point in Agni Bay on the east side of town. From its ancient walls, you can take in views of the whole Esplanade, a park that runs along Old Town and where cricket matches can frequently be seen. The streets of the Old Town are narrow and maze-like, and contain many little shops hawking jewelry, leather goods, and local specialties. The tower of Spyridon, patron saint of Corfu, is nestled in one of the little squares hidden throughout Old Town.

How to sail the Greek islands July 29, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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To sail the Greek islands, you don’t need to charter an entire boat and hustle 10 friends to fill it. You don’t even need to know how to sail.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of holding the wheel on a 49-foot cruising yacht, watching the gentle roll of the waves below and peering across the horizon to the hazy silhouette of a distant Greek island.

I’d always wondered what it would be like to sail the Greek islands. Yacht buddies speak of sparkling islands that shimmer among the blue waters, easy passage from port-to-port and tempting culinary offerings at every taverna. Every word was true.

The only challenge with this style of holiday is finding the yacht. Marinas at Kos or Santorini, for example, cater for hundreds of vessels, so knowing the name of your boat before arrival can be useful.

Once on board, you have a maximum of eight passengers plus an experienced skipper who also acts as your guide.

A cruising yacht is more than just transportation for it doubles as accommodation. Below deck, the living quarters are cosy yet comfortable, but step up to the cockpit and you have the entire Mediterranean to play in.

Making passage from island to island is a relaxing affair. For those who wish to get more involved, however, this is a golden opportunity. Steering a modern yacht is easy, and with a skipper aboard to trim the sails and navigate you are always in good hands.

Pulling into the small harbour of Vathi, on Kalymnos, you are greeted with three tavernas, a handful of fishing boats and a pair of white-domed churches that sit high above the cliffs. Next to the boat-builder’s yard, patrons are treated to the kind of home-cooking you could never replicate.

The menu on any given day is determined by Yannis and his mother, who cook according to what they had yesterday and what remains in the vegetable garden. When you’ve had enough to eat and drink, or possibly too much, it’s a short walk back to the boat. Ios earned a less-than-salubrious reputation for drunken youths in the ’90s, but on the far side of the island lies a sheltered cove with two tavernas, one beach, and no pier to speak of.

It’s a simple matter to throw out the anchor and take a rubber dinghy to the beach but, if you’re in a hurry, then just jump in and swim.

The gentle pace of the islands is what gives them character. It seems that the further you sail from Athens, the more pleasant the locals are, and the less attention anyone pays to their watch.

Luckily, many Greek islands are not filled with tourists because they can’t get there in a hurry. Those lucky few who own a yacht, or were smart enough to buy a week on one, have it all to themselves.

At the end of my cruising adventure I caught the next ferry back to Athens. Shuffling along with hundreds of backpackers I could hardly be further removed from the intimate luxury of the sailing boat.

Now, when I hear someone drifting back to their days of sailing the Greek islands, I simply smile and drift with them.

The Greek islands are a haven July 29, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands, Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Islands Ionian.
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Rich in history, culture and good food, no wonder the Greek islands are a haven for the visitors.

  • Picture this: The beach is crammed with bodies beautiful and fringed by power boats and luxury yachts. The restaurant has a shabby-chic look with white walls, simple wooden furniture and a DJ mixing ambient tracks. Lunch begins with a glass of champagne, then moves on to sea urchin soup and salmon, accompanied by a delicate local sauvignon.
  • Now this: At sunset, the locals gather at the harbour for the nightly volta, or promenade. Mustachioed men with weathered faces finger worry beads; elderly women in print dresses stand and gossip as the light fades. Half a dozen backpackers sit drinking beer at a cheap cafe, chatting.

You might think that these two scenes took place on two different Greek islands, or at least many years apart. But no: this was Mykonos on a single day this year. As I made my way back to my hotel, I paused to reflect on what so many years of travelling in the Aegean has taught me: the more Greek islands change, the more they remain the same.

And it seems tourists, can’t get enough of the Greek islands.

The picturesque fishing villages, the stunning scenery, thousands of years of history and the amazing food are all part of the appeal. I think curiosity brings people to the Greek islands. Most people have some sort of image in their heads about the islands, but their point of view generally changes once they have actually experienced it.

Tourism arrived here in unusual circumstances. In the 1960s, the construction of the country’s first resort hotels on Corfu was encouraged. At the same time, in Crete, itinerant hippies were taking up residence in the caves at Matala. Celebrities such as Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens joined them, and ushered in a country-wide invasion by independent travellers. Even today, visitors divide neatly between resort/villa types staying in one place and backpackers/wanderers on the move.

In the early days, the backpackers probably had the best of it. Greece’s resort hotels were bland affairs modelled on those of Spain, but with comparatively poor facilities. By contrast, the wanderers thrived on the very lack of organisation. They island-hopped by local ferry, staying in the suddenly ubiquitous “rent rooms” hastily added on by locals to their own houses, and eating at village tavernas. Greece in those days was an exotic, if exasperating place. (more…)

Island hopping > hop on a cruise July 29, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands, Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Islands Ionian.
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Louis Cruise Lines offer a four-night Greek Island Cruise which departs Athens and visits Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini before returning to Athens.

All meals are included on board the cruise as well as most on-board activities. There are also optional shore activities on most of the islands. 

More: contact your local travel agent or http://www.louiscruises.com/

Island hopping > 5 of the best July 29, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands, Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Islands Ionian.
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A sprawling, rugged island with a down-to-earth attitude to tourism. Motorised watersports are permitted on one beach only, a different one each year. Skopelos Town and Glossa, on the west coast, are two of the most atmospheric towns in the Greek Islands; the former overlooked by two convents and a monastery, the latter famous for its architecture, with intricate wooden balconies and slate roofs.

Far enough away from Corfu to escape that island’s excesses, Paxos has a quiet charm. The olive trees that cover most of it have grown unchecked for hundreds of years, forming a dense grove threaded by ancient paths. The west has dramatic cliffs, the east pretty beaches, and you can walk between the two in an hour. There are only three villages; the smallest, Loggos, is ludicrously pretty. The presence of yachties and Italians in summer ensures above-average dining.

Right on Athens’s doorstep. But day-trippers who get no farther than the wonderful harbour (arrival, as the writer Henry Miller famously described it, is like sailing through the streets) miss out on a surprisingly large and varied island. The northern section, known as Kalavria, is covered in pines, with the ruins of a sixth-century BC Temple of Poseidon and a coastline dotted with tiny beaches. In town, houses tumble down the hillside to the waterfront, where the harbourside buzz is the liveliest in the Cyclades.

Wind-blasted hills give it an austere, eerie aspect, belied by the most attractive island village in the Cyclades. There are two adjoining plateias, shaded by almond and pepper trees and lined with tavernas, and a kastro (castle) with a maze of alleyways. Excellent beaches exist at Anglos and elsewhere, but Folegandros is still very much a working agricultural island.

Rich in both natural attractions – mountains, beaches, gorges – and historical sights – Knossos and PhaestosCrete is also at the leading edge of Greek island tourism. The half-dozen boutique hotels in Chania and Rethimnon are superb, and their larger five-star equivalents grouped around Elounda are world-class. Best of all are the people: occasionally fierce and unpredictable, always hospitable.