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Meteora > Suspended in the air October 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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It was to be lengthy journey to reach Meteora. The name means “suspended in air” and encompasses the entire rock community of 24 monasteries.

We’d slept over at Tsangarada on the Pelion and left early enough to miss the morning traffic in Volos, arriving on the Plains of Thessaly by 7am.

These ancient plains were the prize of many battles and you can see why. We abandoned the highway and instead used the side roads passing tiny villages and farms. Here were lush crops and fields as far as the you could see. We rejoined the road at Larissa, dodged Trikala and headed for Kalambaka.

I knew little about Meteora other than that it was a clutch of cliff-top monasteries and I also remembered the scene in which James Bond escaped from one of the precarious monasteries in a paraglider.

As we approached it from far off, we could see the giant Pindos Mountains stacking up in front of us, closer still, tall columns of stone detached themselves from the mountain background. At their feet, like white confetti from a distance, lay the town of Kalambaka.

The Roman historian Livy, in 167 BC, called it Aiyinion. In the 11th century it was known as Stagi and you can still see references to Stagi around.

I was impatient to get to there so we battled through the winding streets following the signs to Meteora, broke free from the town and found ourselves in the curious stone forest of the Meteora rocks, a landscape we had only seen in books and then only half-believed. One cannot help being overawed, driving between these bald rock towers 130m above Kalambaka.

One theory is they were formed eons ago in a ancient delta which has washed away leaving the towers 40 storeys tall. Then suddenly, we were at the foot of Saint Nicholas.

There was only one other car and a sign in half-a-dozen languages told us we were in the presence of a World Heritage Site and that short pants, short sleeves, ladies in pants and bare shoulders are a no-no.

So we turned around to find a hotel. The first one we came to, the Kastraki Hotel, looked perfect. The old aunty sweeping the driveway confirmed that she had a room, she then handed us a key. The room was spartan, all in white furnishings but what sealed it, for me was the French door opening onto the balcony with a vista of the stone skyscrapers. All this for €55 a night.

St Nicholas is a mere 16 storeys high. For the first five, you wind through thick bush leaving a mere 10 or 11 levels to go. Up we toiled, stopping to admire the view, in reality to catch our breath, a few times. Until 50 years ago you could only ascend by a “Heath Robinson” cable car. Now you have to hump the stairs. The space at the top is restricted and anything but flat which has forced the design onto a number of levels. The entrance is small and convoluted, hardly more than a passage.

We climbed some steep stairs to the hoisting platform where originally you would have been pulled up in a box. Here, there’s a monk who collects the €2 fee. 

At this level is the jewel of the monastery, the Church of Saint Nicholas. Said the guidebook: “The Divine and all-venerable Church of our Sainted Father Nikolaos… it was decorated in 1527 by the hand of Theophanis of Strelitza in Crete known also as Bathas”.

The church is a perfect Byzantine cross, four equal barrel-vaulted arms surmounted by a dome, but small, only space for about 12 monks and the half of them would have to stand. (more…)

Leros > a blend of art deco and Bauhaus October 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Greece Islands Aegean.
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At a glance, Leros looks like any other Greek island. When you arrive on the ferry at the fishing village of Ayia Marina, the first thing you notice is the pastel-coloured plasterwork of the small cafés that line the harbour.

Clusters of elderly locals are sitting at tables outside, swapping anecdotes that have lasted them more than 60 years. At the quayside opposite, minty-blue fishing boats bob about under a cloudless sky, while fishermen work with their bright yellow nets. The only interruption to the peace and quiet is the occasional moped sputtering past with no particular sense of urgency.

Everything you see here suggests that Leros is little different from the other islands in the Dodecanese. It’s only when you drive 15 minutes down the road, to the town of Lakki, that you realise things are not what they seem.

In contrast to the quaint little harbour and hotchpotch of cottages that you see in Ayia Marina, Lakki has an art deco seafront that looks more Miami than Mediterranean. To be precise, it’s a blend of art deco and Bauhaus, known as “Rationalism”, which was championed by the Italian fascist regime. Most of the buildings in Lakki were constructed in this incongruous architectural style, courtesy of the island’s Italian occupiers in the 1930s.

Back then, Leros’s location, in the northern part of the Dodecanese group of islands, meant it was ideally placed for controlling the trade routes between Europe and Africa. Not only that but Lakki has the safest natural, deep-water harbour in the eastern Mediterranean; this makes it perfect for building a naval base.

And so it was that the Italians arrived on the crest of an expansionist wave, and set about building a flagship city for their Greek empire. At that point, the whole island had around 4000 inhabitants, with Lakki itself being home to just a few hundred. Under orders from Mussolini, the Italians transformed it into a bustling town called Porto Lago, capable of housing 30000 people. While nowhere near that number live here now, many of the buildings are still standing, and if you take a closer look at them you’ll see signs of the town’s turbulent and tragic past.

After arriving in the late afternoon, I took a stroll along the semi-circular promenade that borders the sea. The opposite side of the street is lined with various buildings erected by the Italians, all of them displaying the clean lines and smooth curves that typified the Rationalist movement.

The thing that’s special about Lakki is that you won’t find a town built in this style anywhere else in Greece. Indeed, along with Sabaudia, just outside Rome, it’s the only town in the world to be purpose-built in this style.

One of the finest examples of the buildings you’ll find here is the old cinema, which is currently being renovated thanks to a European Union grant. Amazingly, despite being bombed heavily by British and German forces in the Second World War, it was still in use until last year.

Ignoring the missing chunks of brickwork and flaky paint, Lakki’s locals would regularly gather here to watch films while the real stars winked at them through holes in the roof. It was rather like a Greek version of the cult Italian movie, Cinema Paradiso, in which an old movie theatre forms the cornerstone of a small community.

In spite of its current dilapidated state, Lakki’s cinema still oozes a sense of faded grandeur. Next door is the old town hall and fascist headquarters; its white-painted cylindrical tower and balcony area form a voluptuous silhouette against the electric blue sky.

This building was used during the war for giving speeches to thronging crowds of white-uniformed sailors, who would gather for news of the Italian campaign in Europe. You can almost hear the echoes of highly-strung Italian voices resounding off the crumbling plasterwork. Meanwhile, in the street directly behind the cinema is one of the town’s most evocative buildings: the white, square clock tower with its minimalist numerals and characteristic thin column of windows up one side. (more…)

Hydra > Walking in Leonard Cohen’s footsteps October 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands, Music Life.
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The Greek island of Hydra has many claims to fame. Although covering just 56 square kilometres it has supplied Greece with five prime ministers.

It has one of the most gorgeously picturesque harbours in the Aegean. And, astonishingly for a place only 64 kilometres from Athens, its primary mode of transportation remains the donkey.

But for those of us of a certain age, whose teenage years were spent listening to mournful music in bedrooms darkened by dint of a red popsock over the lightbulb, Hydra, pronounced Ee-dra, can mean only one thing. It’s where Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet-turned-singer, has a house.

A living legend in gravel-voiced lugubriousness, Cohen was a near-permanent resident on the island in the 1960s and still visits occasionally. Ironically, the British climate can claim much of the credit for his decision to move to Greece.

On a dismal rainy afternoon in April 1960, after spending three months in a boarding house on Hampstead High Street completing a manuscript, the 25-year-old “grocer of despair” found himself wandering bleakly around London’s East End, his spirits further depleted by raging toothache.

Then he spotted a Bank of Greece sign on Bank Street, entered the bank and saw a cheery clerk sporting a deep suntan and a defiant pair of shades. Cohen asked what the weather was like in Greece and was assured it was already springtime. On the spot, he decided to pack his bags.

Arriving in Athens on 13 April 1960, Cohen took a steamer to Hydra, a five-hour journey in those days. The destination wasn’t random, he’d heard from friends that there was a flourishing group of expat artists and writers on the island. In that respect it was an obvious destination for an itinerant poet. But, for a city-dweller, living conditions could hardly have been more different.

There was little electricity, plumbing or running water. Houses were lit by kerosene or oil lamps; water was collected in cisterns, or drawn at the Kala Pigadia meaning “good wells” site above the port; records were played on a battery-operated player. Cohen loved the simplicity of the island. The quality of the light delighted him: “The sun’s all over my table as I write this… I can taste the molecules dancing in the mountains”.

He felt re-energised. Island life was also engaging. Cohen embraced traditions, even keeping cats despite an allergy because he believed it was his duty to adhere to local custom. Perhaps because of this feline bridge-building, he was readily accepted by the locals, and he soon began getting visits from the dustman and his donkey (the motorised dustcart was still a distant prospect), the badge of belonging on Hydra.

Cohen found himself drawn to the island’s colony of English-speaking artists. As is the way with such communities, they adopted a local establishment as a hub. This was not a cafe but a grocery shop on the harbourside.

The bohemians crowded round six wooden tables, carousing, declaiming and arguing into the night, amid lengthening columns of empty wine bottles. It was here that Cohen performed his first formal concert. And it was here that he met Marianne Ihlen, the beautiful Norwegian who was to become his partner for most of the decade. Their parting was commemorated in the classic anthem So Long Marianne.

In September 1960, when he bought his own house on the island, she moved in with him. A photo on the back cover of the album Songs from a Room shows her typing at a table on Cohen’s battered Olivetti, smiling in half-embarrassment at the camera.

At the time of the album’s release, British travellers were beginning to break free of domestic austerity. The Jumbo was still a year away, but by taking the new hovercraft service across the Channel and hitching through Europe it was possible to reach the promised land of Greece. (more…)

The Acropolis > a Greek classic not to be missed October 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Architecture Greece, Greece Athens.
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A genuine sense of surreality can sometimes set in at the first glimpse of an emblematic monument, whether it’s the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, St. Peter’s Square or the Great Wall of China. In fact, in this age of widespread virtual reality, the real thing often can feel decidedly unreal. And so it was, during a recent visit last Sunday, to The Acropolis and The Parthenon in Athens.

Turning the corner of a busy street in the modern part of the city, I suddenly looked off into the distance. And there it was, the Parthenon, perched high on that flat-top hill called the Acropolis or the Sacred Rock. This glittering, white marble temple, the iconic structure I’d seen in countless paintings, photographs and films since childhood and which I’d visited hundreds of times, looked for all the world like a little miniature model of itself. And on that particular Sunday, with a dazzling blue sky for a backdrop it couldn’t have been more beautiful.

Of course this was the real thing, the building with perfect proportions and magical light that was built over a period of nine years in the mid-5th century B.C. Here was the place that not only served as the centerpiece of a great ceremonial complex, but came to embody all our notions of ancient Greece, with its thriving democracy and a cultural flowering that would become the bedrock of Western civilization

To reach the site itself you must follow a long, winding path through a beautiful park. Along the way you can peek into the cavelike prison where Socrates was held on charges of “corrupting youth”. And you can stand beside the “bema” or speaker’s platform on Pnyx Hill where such iconic orators as Pericles and Demosthenes once gave their political speeches to the citizens of Athens. You also can stop at two theaters carved into the slopes of the Acropolis, one the remains of the Theatre of Dionysus, and the other a handsome Roman arena, the Theatre of Herodes Atticus, which is still used for performances such as the Athens Festival.

These days, when you arrive for a close-up inspection of the Parthenon and its beautiful companion piece, the Erechtheion, whose columns are in the shape of women, the Karyatides, you will find it imprisoned in scaffolding. There is even a little on-site railway whose cars are used to carry huge blocks of stone to whichever pillar or section of the foundation is under reconstruction.

Well, even architectural monuments require parts-replacement. And there is the larger picture to consider: Here is the place where religion, democracy and theater coexisted in unique synergy, with all the tensions and harmony we still recognize as necessary and productive.

Welcome Paros Paradise! October 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Editorial.
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One of the good things (or should I say the nice things?) in blogging is that you have the opportunity of making new friends on the net. Plus the fact of exchanging ideas and opinions as well as, in the case of other fellow bloggers, exchanging links. One of the best moments in a bloggers’ life is when he/she reads such flattering comments about his/her work.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me to cordially welcome on HomeboyMediaNews the Paros Paradise blog and its creator and my friend Michael Shepherd from Parikia, Paros, Greece!

Here’s what he wrote about HMN in his Paros Paradise blog >

Sunday, October 08, 2006
Modern Greece and Cypress

While trying to get Technorati tags to work (have you noticed my attempts?) I came across an excellently written blog post describing a brief visit to Paros. Now that blog is listed on the right under other Greece blogs as HomeboyMediaNews.
This is from Homeboy himself:
What I am trying to do with my blog is mainly to increase reader’s awareness about modern Greece and Cyprus and to make them know that our countries are not only sun and sea. As I see it, its my venture to transform (and change to the maximum within my power) their, in many cases, negative picture about our Nation, its people and countries. Many things have changed, especially after the 2004 Olympics plus the facts of our rich history, culture, customs and traditions. That is the purpose of my blog, in a way its a gateway to learn more on modern and today’s (maybe also future) Greece and Cyprus.

So if you want to learn more about modern Greece than the sun and sea life on my blog, bookmark HomeboyMediaNews.

Here’s a direct link to Michael’s post >  http://parosparadise.blogspot.com/2006/10/modern-greece-and-cypress.html

PS > I should have added this entry in our NEW page “HMN in the News” but last moment I decided to add it into our Editorial’s category.

Driver, fasten your seat belt! October 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Transport Air Sea Land.
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Greek traffic law changed

Under the new traffic law, drivers not wearing a seat-belt will now be subject to a €350 fine, whereas currently the fine is only €83. The driver may also lose their license for 10 days. Any driver caught running a red light will be fined €700, this is a massive increase from the currently €167 fine.

Bus lanes will also be policed more strictly with car drivers facing heavy fines for driving in the bus lanes. To help the police with the new fine system, pocket cards will be issued with details of the new fines.

Although controversial it is hoped that the new measures and penalty system will help cut down traffic accidents, as Greece currently has one of the worst road accident rates in Europe. The new fines as well as the stricter dedication of bus lanes only being used by city buses aims to make public transport a more attractive alternative.

Greece dogged by castoff pets October 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Lifestyle.
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Many pet owners continue to abandon their cats and dogs in the streets despite a scheme to tag domestic animals, veterinarians and animal lovers said on the occasion of World Animal Day celebrated on 3rd October.

According to estimates there are currently some 100,000 stray animals wandering the city of Athens and 300,000 in the whole of Greece. “This shows the practice of abandoning animals that do not suit us anymore has not disappeared,” said Liana Alexandri, the director of the Greek Animal Lovers Society.

Greece now enforces a law that requires pets to be tagged but only some 90,000 animals have had a microchip implanted. About 2 million Greeks own pets. “In the first few months, quite a few people submitted their pets to the process but now the only people who come forward are the new owners of puppies,” said Lambros Antoniadis, a member of the Greek Veterinary Association.