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Amazing Mykonos February 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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The soft strains of the guitar and the bouzouki thrummed across the pool deck of our ship. The rhythm slowly built up to the stirring high of Zorba the Greek as two young Greek men, flanked by an older but equally agile man dressed in a white shirt and black trousers with a cummerbund and a peaked cap that shaded a furrowed face, started to dance.

Arms resting on each other’s shoulders, they whirled, twirled and threw their legs up, always in unison, seemingly caught up in the pounding swirling beat, which had the audience on the ship’s pool deck roaring their approval.

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The Greek night, complete with local delicacies and unlimited ouzo, gave us a sneak preview of Greece before our ship cast anchor the next day at Mykonos, the most popular of the Cyclades Islands situated in the Aegean, 14 miles from the historic isle of Delos.

We disembarked the next morning at sun-dried Mykonos, and felt assaulted by the bewitching light that reflected off the freshly whitewashed churches and houses. A swarthy old sea dog hawking sea shells on the pier gladly posed for our cameras. He wore a knotted black cap set over a face marked with deep lines and a day’s growth of beard. He seemed as old and solidly built as his peeling little boat moored nearby.

Mykonos, the smallest island in the Cyclades group, has a resident population of 5,000, woefully outnumbered by the 900,000 visitors who swarm ashore annually! We became a part of the drove that explored the island’s narrow cobblestone alleys called the Hora that wound around the island town.

The streets led into glittering designer boutiques, selling everything from exquisite jewellery to touristy kitsch, or simple local shops where wizened women sat at looms weaving traditional shawls. The confusing maze of streets was to deter pirates who preyed on Mykonos’ legendary wealth in the old days and this enabled villagers to ambush them.

It was summer and the chic bistros and designer bars wedged between the shops were full; yet Mykonos seemed placid and unhurried. We strayed into the simple confines of a Greek Orthodox Church crowned with a typical blue glittering dome where a long-bearded, elaborately robed priest prayed silently. We lit a candle and the frescoes on the wall and on the domed roof glowed with an ethereal light.

Further ahead, on a once-fortified spit of land, stood Panagia Paraportiani, probably the most photographed church in Greece. It is, in fact a cluster of five chapels fused into what has been described as “an organic masterpiece of accidental architecture,” and is a Byzantine jewel.

One of the chapels on the ground floor is open to visitors and we stepped into the dim interior where there was no altar and very little adornment reminding us of Christianity’s beginnings. When we stepped out, golden sunshine fell on white-washed homes around us and all was simplicity, romance and charm.

Despite the proliferation of eateries, craft shops and hotels, Mykonos was not drained of colour. The lilt of the bouzouki was everywhere and life in summer is lived mostly outside on the beaches, in the bars and taverns. Food served in the restaurants is of a high standard and draws a faithful clientele. Katrine’s for example was a favourite of Aristotle Onassis who would sail there in his yacht when he felt the urge to sample some of its delicacies.

Little Venice is a charming area where homes with sun-lit patios, cantilevered over the ocean, have now been converted into restaurants. We stepped into one that languished under a Grecian arbour, beyond which unravelled the sea dotted with fishing boats. A friendly waiter recommended we try a salad with local cheese.

In a corner sat a quartet of Greek men playing “tavli” backgammon while one clicked his worry beads. Around us rose homes built in the Cyclades style with slatted windows in blue, green and grey against startling white facades over which trailed blood-red bougainvillea and clouds of other blooms. As we sipped foamy beer and watched the bluest of blue seas, the surreally glassy Aegean, rubicund tourists in shorts sat around us, proudly displaying and comparing tans recently acquired on Mykonos’ beaches.

Indeed the beaches of Mykonos have distinctive personalities, someone mentioned, and all you have to do is find the one that suits your mood or taste. If you crave solitude, choose those furthest from Mykonos town: Kalo Livadi, Lia, or Panormos. For topless or nude sunbathing, there is Paradise with its dusk to dawn clubs and Super Paradise. There are family beaches too and others where one can enjoy active adventure sports.

Stroll wherever possible in Mykonos for this island has the gift of surprise. A garden is filled with multi-level gazebos where children climb about like acrobats; as one rounds a corner, a lady on an upper floor carefully lowers a red wicker basket in which someone deposits a dozen oranges. One can do splendidly without a car here since everything including the iconic windmills, which have now been converted into houses and museums are within easy reach.

As the sun set on the glassy Aegean with a kind of flagrant abandon, and the shadows gathered, we were quiet in the manner of people who have eaten and drunk too much. But Mykonos had one last surprise in store for us before we headed back to our ship. As the lights came on, the island seemed decked in a sequined gown, seductive yet coy. At night this fabled Greek island acquires another persona, that of a party animal.

Indeed Mykonos is the ultimate “party destination” and the international vagabonds head for Hotel Phillipi and Alefkandra. The Alefkandra section has an abundance of night spots, bars, and tavernas, and it is here that you can “taverna hop” with ease.

A popular place is The Mykonos Bar, famous for Rhembetika music and where one can watch spontaneous, Greek dancing. At night, Mykonos comes out of the closet and reclaims its title of being a hot spot for gays who cruise around its bars and tavernas looking for fun, as they put it.

We, however, headed back for our floating home, dazzled by Mykonos, marooned like a jewel in an azure sea, its mix of sophistication and unspoilt seclusion and movie star good looks tempting us to go back another time.

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Marcos Baghdatis wins Zagreb Open February 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Tennis Squash.
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Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis won his second career title Sunday by beating defending champion Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4 at the Zagreb Open.

Cypriot tennis star Marcos Baghdatis  Marcos Baghdatis from Cyprus holds the trophy after defeating Ivan Ljubicic from Croatia in their final PBZ Zagreb Indoors ATP tennis tournament match in Zagreb, Croatia, Sunday, February 4, 2007.

The second-seeded Cypriot saved four break points in the opening set, one with an ace and two others with service winners. In the tiebreaker, Baghdatis took a 5-1 lead, but Ljubicic rallied to close the gap to 5-4.

“Ljubicic is a tough player to break, but I was concentrated and served well when I needed to,” Baghdatis said. “It’s not easy to beat Ljubicic in front of his home crowd in Croatia.”

Ljubicic, who lost in the first round of the Australian Open nine days after winning the Qatar Open, broke Baghdatis in the fifth game and won the second set.

“I missed some good chances against him, but he is a very strong player and it is not easy to turn the match around against someone of that quality,” Ljubicic said.

Baghdatis saved another five break points in the final set, including one in the opening game. After lobbing Ljubicic, Baghdatis hit a backhand that clipped the net on match point to secure the Cypriot’s third straight win over Ljubicic.

“I played well all week and my confidence is on the rise,” Baghdatis said. “Sometimes, like in the last point, you need a little bit of luck.”

Bravo Marcos! You made us proud again! Thank You!

Messenger of love February 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Cyprus.
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A new exhibition details angels in all their shapes and forms

Ah, love is in the air. Yes, it’s approaching that day, awaited by all loved up couples with glee and which all singletons wish didn’t exist. Oh but that’s a big fat lie isn’t it? All single females actually pretend they don’t care about what day it is but when, in the privacy of their own homes, the sun rises on February 14, the reality is ever so slightly different.

I’m sure we’ve all done it. The alarm rings and even before we’ve had a chance to yawn, we’re manically sprinting for the front door in the secret hope that there’s a beautiful bouquet of 12 red roses on the doorstep.

But there’s usually no roses, and once the letter box has been opened, doormat lifted, next door neighbour’s porch checked, we realise that we officially hate Valentines Day and vow to cross the date out of our diaries next year. We then shamelessly enter the office with our head held high and declare that we just don’t ‘do’ Valentines when asked if we’ve got a date for the evening. Don’t they know that such traditions are just so pass?

No matter how you view the occasion, at least there are a few things that come with the whole shebang that can brighten up your evening. Out come the romantic movies that you love to hate, out come all the delicious chocolates you hate to love, and somehow out comes a dramatic declaration of how important and precious all your single friends are after you’ve just poured every last drop out of that second bottle of red wine.

But maybe this year is the time to get off the couch, show your face in public and go along to a great event that you don’t have to be a couple to enjoy. This year, Gallery K in Nicosia is celebrating the occasion with an exhibition about angels, in which 30 Cypriot and foreign artists come together to show their paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics and photography. It’s an eclectic and exciting collection of work where each artist has interpreted the dynamics of the theme, bringing to it their own fascinating ideas. Lovebirds can take their partner along for a little angel gazing, while single ladies or gents can take their friends along and discuss all the reasons why angels may really have nothing to do with Valentines Day whatsoever. After all, no one even knows for sure whether the day is even related to the sacred Saint Valentine.

Whether truly associated with Valentines or not, for millennia angels have been a recurring image in the visual arts of many civilizations and cultures, from the earliest Sumerian images of 4000BC to the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. The symbolism is at its most elaborate in the Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths. As supernatural winged deities in human form, they appear in many different roles, as god-like messengers of divine orders, as the personification of inspiration, ecstasy and love, the sacred or profane.

In today’s world, where even angels are viewed as money-making attractions, there are cheesy song lyrics that declare ‘you’re my darling angel’, there are perfumes called ‘angel’ with half naked models sprawled across the advert, and there’s even a namesake TV show that has more to do with vampires and all things horrid than divine creatures. Yet, despite all the rather crude commercial usage, the angel as the embodiment of purity prevails and still has the power to evoke awe and wonder.

The current exhibition at Gallery K contains something for everyone in a captivating collection of imaginative, poetic and powerful images. And don’t think of all those tacky distasteful designs with angels holding big red hearts that you’re likely to see gracing shop windows this time of year. Actually, some of the paintings don’t even depict an angel at all, but somehow still convey a feeling of purity and the world of spirituality.

“I’m interested in ideology and symbolism,” says one of the exhibitors, Toula Mala. “Angels for me mean hope, love and creativity. In one of my sculptures, I’ve carved a man with giant wings while a woman holds a child tightly against her chest.” Painter Mattheos Christou, on the other hand, uses deep reds on canvas to express compassion and love, while blue hues depict spirituality and all the things that can’t be seen with the naked eye. “Angels have concerned and fascinated the human race for a very long time and my own work is just an example of how I personally perceive them,” says Christou. “The main difficulty for me was showing something spiritual in a more concrete and human form. So I chose to make the characters in my works slightly dream like with curved bodies and hands pointing upwards towards the heavens. It’s all about peace, calmness and simplicity.” Among the other exhibitors are Emmaneul Baudin, Zenon Zepras, Mychael Barratt and Miriam Butler.

So here’s a thought. Get the girls together, enjoy a glass of wine (just one), and take a wander down to Gallery K and maybe you’ll find some unique pieces of fine art that would look fabulous in your apartment. And here’s the best bit. You don’t have to spend hours convincing your other half that the empty wall over the double bed desperately needs some exceptional art to give the whole room a new look. Spending Valentines with the girls doesn’t seem so bad after all!

The Angel > 30 artists exhibiting drawings, paintings, ceramics, sculpture and photography. Opens February 14, until March 10. Gallery K, 14 Evrou Street, Strovolos, Nicosia. Monday-Friday 10am-1pm and 4-8pm. Saturdays 10am-1pm. Tel: 22-341122. www.gallery-k.co.uk. email: galleryk@cytanet.com.cy

Carnival > the ancient Goat Festival in Skyros February 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean, Greek Culture.
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Carnival in Skyros island  If you have ever yearned to travel back in time, now is your chance with a visit to the ancient Goat Festival in Skyros, to beckon the beginning of Spring, a traditional celebration during the Carnival Season.

People say they want to experience the real Greece and here it is in Skyros as the earliest signs of Spring beckon. The ancient Skyros Goat Festival is an extraordinary celebration, leaving the privileged few non-Skyrians who have the chance to be part of it spellbound and enchanted by its mystery and potency.

Skyros Holistic Holidays has organised this very unusual holiday from February 14-21 on this idyllic island. This company, who pioneered health and well-being holidays in Europe over 20 years ago and now specialise in stress-busting holidays for the 21st Century, offers something very different to world-weary travellers, the chance to rest and recuperate in convivial surroundings with like-minded people. Alongside a Writers Lab this February with Peter Guttridge, author of ‘Cast Adrift’, teaching fiction and comic writing, there are dancing, song-writing, visualisation workshops with experienced facilitators Hazel Carey and Jim Gallagher.

The highlight of the trip is the 5,000 year old Goat festival, which culminates during the week in a heady mix of non-stop partying by day and by night, a 48 hour explosion of revelry and a carnival parade. Villagers in fantastic costumes, half human, half animal, dance in the streets in an ancient, wild and primitive pagan abandon.

The bizarre masks, the pantomime and the parodies identify the carnival on Skyros with the ancient Dionysia. Young men wrap themselves in goatskins and 50 kilos of goat bells and whirl frenetically round, in order to release Persephone and bring on the Spring. Valentine holidaymakers will have never seen anything like it. You can even join in the mask-play and dancing if you want to.

The price of this trip is £495 excluding flights and transfers. Accommodation in comfortable village rooms, visit to Goat Festival, all courses and two daily meals are included. Flights from £145 (excl. taxes, Olympic Airways 0870 606 0460).

Couples, singles and groups of friends are, of course, all welcome on Skyros Holidays, which attracts both gay and straight holidaymakers. To book online and for details of all vacations go to www.Skyros.com. Enquiries e-mail office@skyros.com or call +44 (0)20 7267 4424.

Are we ready to act on climate change warnings? February 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Environment, Movies Life Greek.
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Winning the battle against climate change due to global warming was the theme of a lecture by European Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas, organized by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and Cultural Heritage at the Bank of Greece late last year.

Three months later, the subject is suddenly on the front pages of all the world’s newspapers. Former US vice president Al Gore’s documentary with David Guggenheim, “An Inconvenient Truth,” is being seen by audiences around the world, and in Athens at the Goulandris Natural History Museum this Sunday and next.

In the Hellenic Society’s journal (Volume 24), its President Costas Carras writes that “if such a change has resulted from increased gas emissions from the activities of the some one billion people on the planet who are relatively well-off, what will happen when the 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians manage to reach our level of economic prosperity?”

Carras believes it is correct that the state gives environmental incentives and counterincentives, such as those for renewable sources of energy.

Traveling to Greece in winter time February 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece, Greece Athens, Greece Islands, Greece Mainland.
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A week in Greece during winter time offers history and bustle on a budget

View of Athens, Lycabettus Hill as seen from Thission and The Attalus Arcade 

Lycavittos or Lycabettus Hill, Athens’ highest point, offers 360-degree views. A short fenicular (tram) ride gets you to the top.

Tell someone you’re vacationing in Greece in the winter and you’re likely to get some questions: “So, um, what’s the weather like?” Answer: Cool but comfortable. “Do people go to Greece in the winter?” Answer: Yes. “Why not wait until July? Their beaches are famous, you know.” Answer: It’s affordable in winter.

Greek civilizations began more than 5,000 years ago, so with a little planning and flexibility, a visit to Greece can be an unforgettable experience in ancient history and modern culture. Here are seven secrets for a memorable winter Greece experience:

Spend a week > Many travelers to Europe plan multi-country hops, but considering that western civilization began in Greece, why skip an opportunity to experience this amazing country? Sure, two to three days in Athens can get you a quick sampling, but that’s just one city in a beautiful country.

Do spend three days in Athens > Take in the awe-inspiring Acropolis, fallen Temple of Zeus and ruins of the Agora and enjoy a 360-degree view from Athens’ highest point,  Lycavittos Hill. Swing by Syntagma Square to watch the hourly changing of the Greek Guard at the Parliament Building’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Take in a night in Plaka, where you’ll find numerous cafes and restaurants.

Plan ahead > There are hundreds of archaeological sites and temple ruins to see in Greece. Do your research. Many ancient sites are just a footprint of once-majestic temples. Sometimes what you go to “see” isn’t really much to see at all.

Take the midnight train to Thessaloniki > Head north to the hills of Macedonia, where the nation’s second-largest city provides a full day of historical sites and modern experiences.

The Archaeological Museum and Museum of Byzantine Culture provides a detailed review of ancient western civilization’s early start and the impact of Christianity spreading into the Middle East. Don’t miss the Arch of Galerius (A.D. 297); the five-story-high ruin marks Caesar Galerius’ victory over the Persians. Step inside the White Tower (15th century), the Ottoman Death Row where Janissaries carried out notoriously gruesome executions, and finish with a healthy hike to the top of the city, where ancient walls, five stories tall, protected the town’s original Acropolis from foreign invaders.

Ride a ferry > Hourly ferries shuttle locals to and from Athens to Aegina Island, a bustling fishing village. Order dinner from one of the small restaurants and witness the chef walking into the market to buy fresh mussels for your meal. Feeling adventurous? Try octopus, grilled tableside for all to see and enjoy.

Take a day trip to Delphi > The center of intellect, the Oracle at Delphi greeted ancient worshippers and wisdom seekers until 800 B.C. Though the temples have mostly crumbled, the ruins continue to inspire and intrigue.

Dive into the culture > Fortunately, most of the places you’ll visit are touristy enough that the Greeks will speak English. But don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path to discover local restaurants and markets that offer a more authentic culture. Greeks take pride in their hospitality and may even approach you if you seem a bit confused or lost. If offered a sip of Ouzo, Greek national liquor of choice, drink up and always say thank you.

Travel Tips
* Use your ATM card. Any Visa or MasterCard ATM card can work in Greece and give you euro currency. You’ll find in most cases you get a better conversion rate than going to exchange booths at the airport. Get as much as you will need the first time, though, because your bank will charge you a transfer fee. Feel free to pay for meals and other expenses with your American credit card to conserve cash.

* Buy a seven-day unlimited Athens metro pass. At 10 euros, it’s by far the best deal in the city. Athens has a tremendous transit system of trains, buses and trams that make getting around easy and cheap.

* Get up early. Historical sites tend to open by 8 a.m. and close by 4:30 p.m.

* Don’t plan to shop, plan to socialize. A weak dollar against the euro leaves limited bargains in Athens. Certainly shopping is bountiful, but trinket souvenirs provide the most value. Save your euros for enjoying Athens’ restaurants, Greek wines and late nights in the city’s numerous cafes.

Evagoras Lanitis Centre February 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Cyprus.
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The Evagoras Lanitis Centre comprises one third of the Carob Mill, which is one of the largest, if not the largest, listed industrial building in Cyprus.

This area of the building was originally used for the storage of Carob products that used to be processed through the carob crushers. The milling equipment is situated in the central bay of the building and has been restored as a carob museum. This large expanse of over 1400 sqm unobstructed space was ideal for housing this multi-functional centre. The centre consists of a main entrance hall West of the Medieval Castle, a second entrance from the parking area, storage space and washroom facilities.   

The renovation works aim at retaining the original form of the building with it’s stone walls, pitched roofs and skylights, while at the same time integrating the new elements of lightweight construction in such a way that they can be removed without affecting the original building fabric. The only major modification to the space was the removal of a central row of concrete columns, which were constructed to support the weakening trusses. The existing corrugated steel and asbestos roof sheeting was removed, and new, imported, laminated timber trusses were installed to take the weight of the new roof covering, which is designed to offer a high standard of thermal and acoustic insulation. All areas are equipped with environmental control systems.

The aesthetic concept and the re-utilization of the various areas was developed with the invaluable cooperation of our associated colleague from Greece, Antonis Stylianides, Architect. It is our aspiration to present the cultural and historical heritage of our town in relation to the professional occupations of Limassolians from the beginning of the century, through a harmonic integration of both old and new cultural and social events, which have been integrated into the building. The project was made possible with the involvement of many other associated consultant professionals, but chiefly by the brave decisions and generous contributions of N.P. Lanitis.

Related Links > http://www.lanitisfoundation.org/article.php?id=13