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Greece allows Nia Vardalos film to shoot at Acropolis September 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life, Movies Life Greek.
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Winnipeg comedian Nia Vardalos has been granted a rare permission from the Greek government to shoot a film on the ancient Acropolis.

The star and writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding reportedly wrote Greek authorities seeking permission to shoot her new comedy, My Life in Ruins, at the site.

The Acropolis Hill, famous for its 5th-century BC marble temples where the Parthenon is, is Greece’s most popular ancient site and draws more than a million visitors annually.

“This film has a quality team and has secured a broad distribution network,” Culture Ministry secretary-general Christos Zachopoulos told state-run NET television Wednesday. “It will go to the ends of the earth and will be an advertisement for Greek culture.”

Vardalos plays a guide escorting tourists through the historic sites of Greece in the comedy, which begins shooting in October and will also feature the ancient sites of Epidauros and Delphi.

The government has been leery of granting permission to shoot on the site, fearing damage to the archeological ruins. It will be just the second feature film to include scenes in the Acropolis. The only previous film shoot to take place there was Francis Ford Coppola’s Life With Zoe, a segment of the 1989 movie New York Stories.

“Greece is making a great effort to bring foreign films here,” Zachopoulos said. “This will mean investment, jobs and international promotion.”

Vardalos burst onto the world stage when she turned her stage act into the independent film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which grossed close to $400 million worldwide after its release in 2002. It remains the highest grossing independent comedy of all time.

A subsequent television show called My Big Fat Greek Life was cancelled in its first season, however, and her second film, Connie and Carla, faired poorly at the box office. Like her previous films, Tom Hanks is producing My Life in Ruins.

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Crete’s Great Expectations September 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands.
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This lovely Greek jewel will not fail to delight and surprise

Imagine waking up in the morning to the sound of the Aegean sea, gently lapping on the golden sands immediately below your room. Throw open the shutters, step onto the verandah and as the sleep slowly clears, your eyes adjust to the alluring sight of the water reflecting the clear blue sky.

Nearby, the early risers are having a pre-breakfast swim in the sea or one of the four large pools, and there are no beach towels jealously guarding empty sunloungers. Sounds like paradise? Well it is and we’ve just experienced it on the magical island of Crete on a week’s holiday that will never be forgotten for contrasting reasons.

Switch off, totally relax and be a couple of slowly toasting sloths.

Well, that’s what I was thinking as I buried my face in the DaVinci Code, OK, another brain cell needed for that one, as we took the fourty minutes flight from Athens to Heraklion airport. But we hadn’t been on the island long before being seduced by it’s history, the warmth of the people and a desire to explore.

We had chosen the Aldemar Cretan Village on the north of the island, just a 35-minute coach trip from the airport. It’s a self-contained complex of apartments nestling on the edge of the sea, offering panoramic views. Our spotlessly clean double room apartment had a king size and three single beds, ideal for families.

For those actively inclined, there’s a daily helping of sports, such as beach . volleyball, football and aquatic aerobics, organised by a bunch of enthusiastic multi-lingual youngsters.

The same group put on a show every night in the main terraced bar and although they try their best, I would rather listen to a Chic Young commentary than hear Agadoo and YMCA again.

We were slightly apprehensive about being on a half-board deal, normally we like to eat in local restaurants, but any worries we had were quickly dispelled. The range of buffet food was quite staggering and the quality was excellent. One night I counted eight different hot meals as well as numerous mouthwatering salads and there is also a kids’ menu. The same variety is available at breakfast where one of the choices was rice pudding with fruit salad, a local favourite.

There are three other restaurants, including one on the beach where lunch cost about 15 euro each for a main course, a couple of glasses of wine and a coffee. After three days of lounging by the pool and soaking up the sun we decided to hire a car and do a bit of exploring.

The island is steeped in history I and our first port of call was the ruins of the Minoan palace at Knosos which was built about 3500 years ago. Raised walkways have been erected around most of the site to protect it from the wear and tear of countless visitors.

It’s a mind-boggling fact that all these years ago the Queen’s rooms came complete with a flushing toilet.

Our next trip took us to the beautiful village of Elounta near where the BBC series Who Pays the Ferryman was filmed. Life here centres on the cafes and tavernas dotted around the harbour with breathtaking views over the bay to the mountains.

The food and drink is reasonably priced, but it is the surroundings which are priceless.

We had to drag ourselves away from our waterside table to take the 20-minute boat trip from the village to the island of Spinalonga. It houses a fabulous Venetian fortress, but is probably remembered for being a leper colony for 40 years until 1957. Sadly, when it was closed and the patients were taken to a hospital in Athens, some of them tried to make their way back to the island as it was the only life they had ever known.

From there we drove 3000ft up into the mountains to view the stunning Lassithi plateau, a lush and fertile farming area dotted with wooden windmills and villages which are a throwback to another time.

Aldemar Cretan Village > http://www.aldemarhotels.com/page/default.asp?la=2&id=38

Semiramis > The colour of money September 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens, Hotels Greece.
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No expense has been spared, no shade of the rainbow overlooked on Athens’ one of the latest designer hotels

From the moment you approach the building, the Semiramis Hotel embraces you in true Miami style. From the citric yellow glass balconies glittering across its white facade to the light-filled lobby decorated by lounging couples and chic women sipping coffee to the shiny happy staff, it’s a cotton-candy coloured destination that overwhelms the visitor with feelgood factor 25.

There’s just one problem. The Semiramis is not in South Beach but Kefalari, Kifissia. And no, you won’t have heard of it. Kefalari is Athens’ poshest northern suburb, an area of neo-classical villas and tree-shaded streets where women in (real) Chanel tweed jackets walk small dogs and beautiful young people with perfectly modified noses and the very latest mobile phones languish on the street corners. Imagine if Ian Schrager brought his latest Philippe Starck-designed hotel to Hampstead, or Wilmslow, and you’re half way there.

The Semiramis has nothing to do with Schrager, though it owes not a little to the Schrager/Starck heritage in terms of design, and to the Hotel W chain when it comes to service. While the latter’s motto is Whatever Whenever Wherever, the Semiramis is the first in a chain of Yes Hotels. “That’s the answer we’ll always try to give our customers,” says a representative.

The hotel’s designer, New York-based Karim Rashid, has a zest for self-promotion that makes Victoria Beckham’s approach to the business of being out there look lazy and unstructured. He is tall and gangly and has dressed head to toe in white since the year 2000 when he gave away all his black clothes to charity. His willowy girlfriend, the artist Megan Lane, has adopted the same palette, and together they can be said quite literally to swan into a room.

Rashid was the choice of the hotel’s owner, Dakis Joannou, who is an important though remote Athenian figure. Joannou, a rich Cypriot-origin industrialist, is a serious art collector and the man behind the Deste Foundation, a major private gallery in Athens. His collection of contemporary art is among the best. He has the largest collection of Jeff Koons, and some of the most desirable Chris Ofili’s and he is allowing a number of works to be hung in the hotel on a six-month rotation. Currently you can sit beneath a vast Jeff Koons photograph in the bar, and admire an abstract by Christopher Wool while you wait for the lift. The first selection is based on people and sex. The next will be about service and cleaning, and include the famous Jeff Koons vacuum cleaner, taking pride of place in the lobby. “That’s what people think of first with hotels. Sex and cleaning,” says Rashid.

You wonder if Naomi Campbell appreciated the proximity of the art when she arrived at the hotel on August 12 last year, two days after its opening. To the understandable consternation of hotel staff, Campbell was to be the first guest in the best suite. By all accounts she was no trouble, her special requirements including a fruit platter with bananas, a lot of ironing, and the slightly unusual need for access to secretarial services at three in the morning. Perhaps she, too, was charmed into sweetness by the hotel’s twinkly design. Artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster, whose work figures large in Joannou’s collection and in the hotel lobby in the form of a huge, flashing YES, also came to stay for several days during the summer. Rashid says they never left the hotel. It is that kind of place, out of context in its leafy suburb maybe, yet utterly seductive in itself.

The hotel Rashid inherited was a standard early 20th-century building that had seen its share of glamour in the 40s and 50s when this part of Athens was still an outlying suburb favoured by the rich in the summer months. (It’s a good 12km from the centre, but only 15-20 minutes by metro.) He wasn’t able to change the number or size of the rooms, though he has changed just about everything else. The ground floor is glazed, front and back, in fruitily coloured glass, making it completely seethrough. Internal spaces are generous, and with as many internal walls as possible also being glass, you get long layered views. The Athenians are obviously taken with this permeable internal architecture – on Friday and Saturday nights you won’t get a restaurant or bar table without booking, queueing or knowing the right people.

At the back is a sensational swimming pool which is pure 50s Americana in its slinky shape and stripy tiled bottom. By night, as one of my party pointed out, it looks like the polar bear pool at London Zoo.

Up in the rooms, the candy colours prevail; apricot and primrose carpeting, acid green and raspberry glass, banana yellow rubber flooring in the bathroom. There are palest pink leather armchairs and Rashid’s own translucent plastic artefacts everywhere.

The only dent to the feelgood factor comes at night. Those brilliant yellow balconies are illuminated throughout the night, and if you are staying at the front of the hotel it’s like having a car parked outside your room with full beam on. For once the reception staff had to say “no” when asked if it was possible to turn them off. They said it so apologetically, it clearly wasn’t the first time.

Rashid believes in a seamless, person-oriented hotel experience, and he has got many things right. He wants it to be about the total experience, rather than individual elements, and indeed it does all wash over you in a delightful wave of colour turned up to volume 11.

“I was working on a hotel in Miami that never got built when I got the call,” he says, talking about the day Joannou gave him the job in 2001. He’s now working on a myhotel for both Brighton and Paddington. Will we get Miami, or maybe this time it will be Athens?

If you go

Rooms at Semiramis (www.semiramisathens.com, 210 6284400) start at €200; bungalows €265. Breakfast is €15 continental, €20 for hot.

Where to eat: At Gefseis Me Onomasia Proelefsis (317 Kifisias Avenue, 210 8001402) every ingredient is sourced from regional farmers, and then treated to exquisite preparation. The restaurant itself is in a perfectly restored mansion with garden to match. Vegge (9 Kolokotroni street, 210 8080009) is the city’s only decent vegetarian restaurant, with a lovely veranda, too. The food is good, though hardly radical. Ya hala (37 Kolokotroni street, 210 8015324) is surprisingly cheap for Kefalari where restaurants err on the pricey side. The food is Lebanese and the atmosphere easy going, right down to the after-dinner hookah smoking.

Thessaloniki > Under the influence September 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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Athens hogs the limelight, but there are other cities. Try Salonika as the locals call Thessaloniki

Despite a chill in the air, the pavement tables were full. Overlooking the Thermaikos Gulf, Nikis Avenue has a bewildering array of stylish bars that wouldn’t look out of place in Manhattan; some (Tribeca, Elvis, DaDA) sound as though they were imported brick by brick. You wonder how they can be so popular during the day. What do these people do? Don’t they have jobs to go to? But, as my friend Mihalis told me: “We live to go out. And when the money runs out, we find a way of borrowing some more.”

The bars add to the sense that there is something almost un-Greek about Salonika; less surprising when you learn that much of it was rebuilt after a fire in 1917, with French architect Ernest Hébrard adding wide avenues and a grid plan. Athens may be the biggest village in Greece, but Salonika is a modern city in a European style.

The 20th-century reconstruction hides a fascinating, multicultural past. It has been ruled at various times by the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, with Venetians, Normans, Catalans and Brits all making cameo appearances throughout its long life, each leaving their own physical or psychological footprint.

Much of the Ottoman influence has been expunged, though there is something of Istanbul in the central bazaar, with stalls selling anything from sweets and spices to live animals and handmade furniture. The old Jewish Modiano meat and fish market attests to the former presence of another important community, sadly no longer to be found in any significant number.

Vassilis, a local artist and filmmaker, offered to show me around. We started off with dinner at the Dore-Zynthos followed by a beer at Elvis, where DJ Pale Penguin (also known as Gregory) played house music. Then it was next door to Thermaikos, where the furniture is imported from Camden Market and the mojitos could be straight out of Havana. After that, Art House, where students nodded their heads to electronic beats.

By then it was 5am and our beds beckoned, but for many the night was just getting started. Vassilis recommended a number of clubs in Xyladika, near the old railway station, where old warehouses and factories have been converted into multi-venue complexes. Whether we wanted pop, funk, jazz, house or something more traditionally Greek, he was sure we would find it.

Next morning, our hangovers demanded the restorative powers of some quiet contemplation in Salonika’s numerous museums. The modernist red-brick of the Museum of Byzantine Culture conceals a classical treat of sculptures, frescoes, mosaics and icons. Over the road, the Archaeological Museum houses more gold ornaments than P Diddy’s dressing table. The Costakis Collection at the State Museum of Contemporary Art consists of 1,275 works of avant-garde Russian art, all the more remarkable given that Costakis himself worked as a driver at the Greek embassy in Moscow.

Older sights occasionally pop up out of nowhere: walk along the busy Egnatia Avenue and you’ll find the third-century arch of Galerius and the Roman Rotonda.

Later we dined on politiki kouzina (like traditional Greek food, but with added Anatolian spice) at To Peran. Delicious kebabs with yoghurt, soutzoukakia (Smyrna sausages) and all manner of stuffed vegetables were matched by a Macedonian red wine. For all Salonika’s modernity, sometimes you need reminding of how things were when the line between east and west was a little more blurred.

Getting there:

You can reach Thessaloniki from Athens by train, by bus or car and by flying via Olympic Airways or by Aegean Airlines. 

Where to stay:

City Hotel (11 Komninon Street, 2310 269421, www.cityhotel.gr), doubles from €149, singles from €135. Orestias Kastorias (14 Agnostou Stratiotou street, 2310 276517), doubles from €50, singles from €40.

Where to eat:

Dore- Zynthos (7 Tsirogianni street) Mediterranean cuisine without breaking the bank. Tre Marie (13 Palaion Patron Germanou street) feels like a Viennese cafe, but the food is top-class Italian. Ta Koumparakia (140 Egnatias Avenue) cheap and full of locals; ask for the mydia saganaki (mussels cooked in a traditional Greek sauce). To Peran (22 Iktinou street, Politiki kouzina), great, spicy food and local wines. To Spiti tou Pasa (35 Apostolou Pavlou street) open late, friendly service, great Anatolian-style food.

Cafes and bars:

Elvis (21 Nikis Avenue), stylish DJ bar. Thermaikos (43 Nikis Avenue), often open late; popular with Salonika’s arty crowd. Kitchen Bar (Warehouse B, Salonika Port), American-style diner, a good place for staring out of the window over breakfast. Ethnik (1 Proxenou Koromila street), great coffee, laid-back service, Brazilian music and decor. Gazia (corner of Karolou Deal and Stavrou street), a short walk from Tsimiki Avenue, Salonika’s Oxford Street, so head here for a coffee when you’ve done your shopping. Playhouse (3 Proxenou Koromila street), rent a board/strategy/card game from the bar’s large collection and while away the afternoon. Mikro Cafe (12 Vogatsikou street), jazz in the background and the lights down low.

Clubs: The best places are found in Ladadika and Xyladika, but ask in the bars and record shops for the latest on who’s playing where. For starters, though, try the multi-venue complexes Vilka (21 Andreou Georgiou street) and Mylos (56 Andreou Georgiou street).

Reading: Wandering in Byzantine Thessaloniki by E Kourkoutidou-Nikolaidou and A Tourta (Kapon Editions); Salonica, City Of Ghosts by Mark Mazower (Harper Collins).

Further information: Greek National Tourist Organisation (www.gnto.gr).

Thessaloniki > Greece’s ‘showpiece’ city September 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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“We have nothing against Athens being the capital because we have been given an even bigger honour – living in the most beautiful city in Greece,” taxi driver Nikos Papazoglou jokes about the rivalry between the country’s two main cities.

Driving along Thessaloniki’s waterfront promenade overlooking the Thermaic Bay with the city’s landmark, the 15th century White Tower in full view, one instantly understands why it is celebrated as the “mother of Macedonia” and “the city whose praises are sung”.

Shaped by centuries of outsiders, Thessaloniki is a city whose former occupants have left a definite imprint – from the Roman ruins dotting the numerous squares and markets to the Old Town with its Turkish flair and a downtown core so overloaded with Byzantine churches and chapels that it has been designated a World Heritage Site.

Once glorified as an important commercial centre and port during the 18th and early 19th centuries, Thessaloniki has suffered countless disasters over the years, including a devastating fire in 1917 that miraculously left most of the monuments and buildings standing – including a large section of the Byzantine city walls.

While Thessaloniki was never quite rebuilt according to the grand plan of French architect Ernest Hebrand, namely because of the 130 000 Greek refugees from Asia Minor that flooded the city between 1922 and 1923, the city was still developed into a more liveable metropolis than Athens; stimulated by its University, International Trade Fair and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival held in November.

It is surprisingly easily accessible by foot with central avenues running parallel to the seafront and cross-streets densely planted with shade-providing trees.

A good place to start is Aristolelous Square, a pedestrianised strip lined with beautiful buildings, trendy bars and outdoor cafes. From there you can walk to all the main sites of Thessaloniki without much effort.

You can catch glimpses of the city’s ancient Roman influence at the Roman agora which is still being excavated and where an odium and two galleries have been discovered, as well as at the Arch of Galerius, constructed in the fourth century to celebrate the Roman victory over the Persian army.

Nearby lies the church of Saint Demitrios, the patron saint of the city, with its 13th century crypt and mosaics, and the church of Saint Sofia, modelled after the world-famous one in Istanbul.

One should also not miss the magnificent Rotonda: A circular construction that was originally intended to serve as the mausoleum of Emperor Galerius but instead has served variously as a church and mosque.

Turkish influence is still very much evident today in the walled Kastra quarter, otherwise known as the Ano Polis, located on the hillside beyond the modern slew of streets.

There pockets of Ottoman buildings which miraculously survived the fire still stand, as well as a Byzantine fortress complete with seven towers which later served a prison.

For most visitors, one sight which should not be missed is Thessaloniki’s exceptional Archaeological Museum as well as the smaller Museum of Jewish Presence. The latter is intended to reflect the important past of the Jewish community in this city since the 15th century, who were the victims of deportations during WW2.

Also interesting is the Ataturk Museum, where the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was born in 1881 in this house on Apostolou Pavlou Street.

Thessaloniki’s ancient sites may be the basis for visiting this city, but the food and Anatolian-inspired eating establishments will also delight.

The Ladadika district, the only part of town to survive the great fire, once served as storage and trading place for olive oil. Today, its tiny buildings have been beautifully restored to host an array of traditional and gourmet restaurants as well as trendy bars and cafes.

Dominating an entire corner of the Ladadika is the charming Bristol Hotel. This neo-classical building has been restored with old-time finesse to operate as one of the city’s fine boutique hotels.

Also worth trying is the Modiano Old Market, a lively bazaar filled with meat and fish restaurants or the “Louloudadika” or “flower shops” that now host dozens of unique tavernas.

Thessaloniki is accessible by air directly from most European cities and can be reached by train from cities in Europe like Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Sofia, Moscow and Ljubljana. Visitors can also travel to and from Istabul with a new overnight sleeper that takes a little over 11 hours.

Ben Gazzara to present film at Opening Nights Festival September 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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US actor Ben Gazzara stars in ‘The Shore,’ a film by Greek-American Dionysius Zervos.

Athens’s 12th Opening Nights International Film Festival, which officially kicked off with Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver” last night, has a pleasant surprise in store for the Athenian public. Acclaimed American actor Ben Gazzara will visit the capital tomorrow as a guest of the festival and the Association of Greek Directors and Film Producers.

Gazzara, who started off his film career with an impressive debut in Otto Preminger’s 1959 “Anatomy of a Murder,” became one of the most well-known faces in 1960s American films. His great career was marked by his long-term collaboration with distinguished filmmaker John Cassavetes and he starred in some of the latter’s greatest films, such as “Husbands,” “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” and “Opening Night”, which is where the Athens film festival got the inspiration for its title.

Gazzara is still very active, though his acting career started off in the early 1950s, and has participated in films by world-renowned directors including the Coen brothers, Spike Lee and Lars von Trier. He will honor the Opening Nights Film Festival with his presence by presenting “The Shore,” a film by Greek-American director Dionysius Zervos, and in which Gazzara stars. The screening will take place at the Apollon cinema (19 Stadiou Street, Athens) at 7.30 p.m. on Friday night.

In the film, a reckless mother leaves her 5-year-old daughter with her own mother, unaware of the fact that she will never see her daughter again. Using a decadent, seaside resort as his backdrop, the 30-year-old director has created an atmospheric drama, focusing on his characters and following them into the depths of the sea, where it all began.

It should be noted that Gazzara also participated in the production which will close the festival, “Paris, je t’aime,” which bears the mark of 20 acclaimed filmmakers.

Old olive mill’s new lease on life September 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece.
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Museum of Industrial Oil Production on Lesvos, funded by Piraeus Bank, is now open to visitors

The mill’s equipment is on display along with records mapping the island’s production activity.

The Museum of Industrial Oil Production on the northern Aegean island of Lesvos is the fourth such achievement by the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation, which has launched a network of museums focusing on technology and industry. The network’s projects kicked off with the Silk Museum in Soufli and then continued with the Water Power Museum in Dimitsana and Sparta’s Olive Museum. The Lesvos museum was recently inaugurated by President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias.

The ambitious program has more museum openings on its agenda: The Brick and Tile Factory in Volos is scheduled to open at the end of the month; the Marble Work Museum in Tinos’s Pirgos is to open in December, while the Museum of Traditional Trades, at Lake Stymfalia, is expected to open early next year.

The Museum of Industrial Oil Production is situated on a 5-hectare site in Lesvos’s Aghia Paraskevi. It is based in the old community olive mill, which was built in 1910 with the help of both locals and those who had left the island to go abroad. What is interesting is that the old mill functioned on genuine community spirit, with the participation of all the locals, who joined forces to promote their common interests. According to Aspasia Louvi, general director of the Piraeus Group Cultural Foundation, a law existed in Lesvos which stated that all the so-called tagarelaia – meaning the oil that remained in the mill – had to be used for the common interest. The profits made from this community mill were used to finance many other projects, such as the building of the local primary school, which is the region’s pride and joy.

The olive mill stopped operating during the Giorgos Papadopoulos dictatorship (1967-73), but those wishing to pay a visit now (admission costs 3 euros, 1.50 euros for those entitled to a discount) will find all the old equipment. Louvi explained that all the machines, which include pumps, presses and much more, as well as the building’s architectural details, have been restored to their original form.

The museum also features the bates, storage rooms that anyone could rent after paying a small sum, for his yearly crop. These rooms now host all the material regarding the cultivation of olives and related activities (such as the commercial aspect), as well as the olive mill’s archives, which provided an incredible amount of information.

The Museum of Industrial Oil Production on Lesvos is equipped with a hall that can be used for a number of different purposes, a multimedia venue, a cafe and even a small amphitheater where events can be held.