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Wine touring in the Peloponnese February 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland, Wine And Spirits.
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The Greek spirit of kerasma, sharing gifts of food and drink with strangers, is alive and well in the heart of the ancient world, Nemea, on the Peloponnese isthmus.

The wine producers are eager to share the remarkable wines that have emerged in the last decade, offering virtually unparalleled diversity and originality, coupled with the killer combination of quality and value.

Nemea is a leisurely one-and-a-half-hour drive from Athens along a modern highway. The scenery is timeless: pine and cypress trees dot the skyline of the gently undulating landscape, punctuating neatly tended rows of vines and vast, sweeping olive groves.

The best is yet to come
Gaia Wines (pronounced ‘yea – ah’)
is a joint venture between Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. Their search for a great red wine terroir led them here in 1997 to the commune of Koutsi. The superb Gaia Estate Nemea, produced from old vineyards at the ideal altitude of around 1,800 feet, reveals the deft touch of Yiannis’ genius. “We are where Tuscany was with Chianti 20 years ago,” he says, certain that the best is yet to come. When they purchased the vineyards, their first move was to prune the vines to yield much lower amounts of fruit. The locals thought the pair was crazy. Yiannis remembers one local winegrower who even approached them to warn that low-yielding Agiorgitiko would produce “nearly black, tannic wine: far too concentrated.” Yiannis and Leon knew then they had chosen the right place.

The Greek Chardonnay
Stylistically different but equally compelling are the wines of veteran Thanassis Papaioannou. The strength of this winery lies in its parcels of organically-farmed vineyards, the crowning jewel of which is a small plot of ancient 70-year-old Agiorgitiko vines from which the outstanding Mikroklima Nemea is produced, a dense wine with great ageing potential. Several of the indigenous-international variety blends reveal modern styling, such as the highly aromatic Sauvignon Blanc-Malagousia white blend, and the Sauvignon-Roditis, a grape which George calls the ‘Greek Chardonnay.’

George Skouras’ new winery sits on the edge of the Nemea appellation. Chardonnay and Viognier are produced here alongside the native Moschofilero and Roditis, Cabernet and Merlot crafted alongside St. George. These are clean, fruity wines, and generally excellent value. His top wine is the ambitiously named Megas Oinos (‘Great Wine’), a blend of mostly St. George with some Cabernet Sauvignon. Whatever your preference, the winery promises to be a Mecca for wine tourists, with an impressive modern facility complete with tasting rooms overlooking the vineyards and a demonstration kitchen for megas meals.

Greek wines
The indigenous Agiorgitiko vine takes its name, “St. George,” from the former name of Nemea, Aghios Georgios. Grapes grown close to the valley floor exhibit full, fat, sweet fruit characteristics, while those grown nearly 2,300 feet higher up reveal a fine acid balance and fresh red berry fruit flavors.

The finest examples are in line with most modern wine drinkers’ ideal red wine: a deep purple-red color, aromas of ripe red raspberries, cherries, and plum lifted by sweet baking spices like cinnamon and clove. The grape has a great affinity for ageing in oak barrels, further adding to its appeal.

Did you know…?
The Peloponnese
produces 35% of the country’s olive oil, almost 6% of the world total, most of which is the finest grade extra-virgin.

Lion’s blood
Ancient Nemea, on the Peloponnese isthmus,
is where the legendary Nemean lion’s cave is supposed to be located. This is where Hercules was said to have performed the first of his 12 labors: killing the terrible Lion of Nemea, the terror of the local population. Images of this exploit depicted on a multitude of Greek artifacts show the hero wearing the lion’s impenetrable skin while enjoying a cup of its blood.

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The Holy Meteora February 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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Here’s one way to escape from it all > become a monk in one of the monasteries at Meteora. This one is Agia Triada, or the Holy Trinity.

meteora.jpg  As we drive through the Thessalian plain in central Greece, stark, rugged masses of rock rise before us as far as the eye can see. The clusters of surreal black crags stand guard over the towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki. On their giant pinnacles, disciplined communities of monks and nuns live in isolated monasteries known as the Holy Meteora.

At first, the monks resided in clefts in the rocks, exposed to the vagaries of weather so as to “feel closer to God” but by the end of the 15th century, 24 monasteries had been erected. The monasteries served as a repository for Hellenic culture and a retreat for philosophers, artists, scholars, and writers. Painters covered the walls with frescoes and monks copied ancient manuscripts, carved crosses, and decorated icons. Until the 20th century, when steep steps were cut into the rock, a system of ladders, baskets, ropes, and pulleys over an abyss transported food, building materials, and the monks themselves. Religious faith would be needed, the ropes, the story goes, were only replaced when they frayed and snapped.

Do not look down as you climb the 140 steps to Agia Triada. The Monastery of the Holy Trinity’s lofty perch on a narrow spire is not for the faint of heart but does offer a breathtaking panorama of Kalambaka, the Penios River, and the Pindos Mountains. The steps are cut into the rock, taking the visitor past the circular Church of Saint John the Baptist, with its dome cut into the rock and wall paintings that date from 1682. This is where scenes from the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, were shot.

The Roussanou Monastery, also known as Saint Barbara, covers the crest of a slim mountain tower accessed by a pocket-sized bridge. Founded by two monks in 1529 on the ruins of previous structures, it has a wealth of wall paintings, iconostasis a wood screens that divide the sanctuary from the main body of the church, and icons. Donations are thankfully accepted. Abandoned after World War II, it was resettled by 23 nuns.

By the 17th century, the population of monks had fallen to one-third of its size a century earlier. Today, six monasteries remain in the Meteora and are open to visitors. UNESCO named the Holy Meteora Monasteries a World Heritage Site in 1988.

Getting there > Kalambaka is 220 miles northwest of Athens. Visitors stay in the towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki.

By train: From Athens: Larissa Station to Larissa (regional capital of Thessaly), then to Kalambaka (approximately eight hours of travel time).

By car: From Athens: Take the Thessaloniki national highway north to Lamia, then the highway northwest to Kalambaka.

Tel. Monasteries 24320 22649, Admission: 2 euro. Conservative dress required (long skirts for women)
Opening hours:  Holy Trinity – 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m., 3 p.m.–6 p.m., closed Thursdays.
Roussanou > 8 a.m.–1 p.m., 3 p.m.–6 p.m., daily. Hours may change; check by telephone.

The romance of Rhodes February 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Best village on Rhodes? Lindos, with its whitewashed houses overlooked by the castle. Best way to get to the castle? Donkey.

The island of Rhodes offers pebbled mosaic pathways, old windmills, cascading waterfalls, even a park filled with rare butterflies. I think there’s something for every romantic taste on this popular Dodecanese island.

Most visitors to the island begin in the main harbor town, also called Rhodes. Mandrake Harbor is best known for the legend of the 93-foot-high Colossus statue that stood astride the harbor, guarding it. When the statue collapsed in an earthquake, 900 camels were needed to cart it away. Today statues of a deer and a buck, the symbols of Rhodes Town, have the honor of protecting the harbor.

My favorite place in town is the medieval Street of the Knights, where the pebbled way leads past the marbled coats of arms marking each knight’s inn.

If you’ve already taken in the island’s aquarium, gambled away your change at the casino, and need a break from museum-hopping, busy Socrates Street is the place to head. It’s where passengers aboard luxury cruise ships come to stock up on gold, leather, and furs. Tucked among the trendy boutiques and designer shops are dozens of eateries.

The island’s bus system reaches out in all directions, so you can explore the rugged coastline and tiny fishing hamlets. Lindos, a village on the island’s eastern coast, is not-to-miss and I suggest you use the traditional means to get up and down its hills, donkey taxis. No, not a cute name for a small taxi cab, but donkeys that hee-haw their way up and down the hills of Rhodes. A few of the captains‘ residences are open to the public and Lindos is known worldwide for its ceramics.

In Rhodes town you can choose to stay at The Grand Hotel > www.mitsis-grandhotel.com/index.htm

Take a submarine trip to Atlantis February 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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The Santorini Submarine is a unique attraction.

It takes visitors 30 feet below the surface, into the caldera of the dormant volcano that all but destroyed the island of Thira 6,000 years ago, giving rise to the legends of Atlantis and the Flood.

You wouldn’t be able to see the ocean floor from a normal military submarine, but the Santorini Submarine was purpose-built by Subibor, in Spain, with a bubble for the pilot and large observation portholes for the passengers to look out.

And there is much to see on the sea bed. There are still amphorae, columns, and statues allegedly from the old city. Sunken fishing boats are more recent additions. And, occasionally, there’s a diver, feeding the fish to attract them for the visitors.

The trip is surprisingly inexpensive, about $50 will buy a three-quarter-hour trip. 

Stop at Leros Island February 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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On the island of Leros, Agia Marina is where the inter-island catamarans and hydrofoils dock, if you happen to sail from Lakki. Most of the best hotels and restaurants are located around this bay but it’s still a working fishing port, so it’s not uncommon to see an impromptu fish-market whenever a catch is landed.

The harbor’s main landmark is a traditional Greek windmill by the water’s edge, untouched since it was last in use. Head for this windmill if you want a good meal, an ouzo taverna I recommend called Neromilos “Watermill” is beside it.

Heading north past the windmill brings you first to Krithoni, then to Andoni, which was the first part of Leros to be promoted as a resort, not quite as brash and bustling as Agia Marina, but pleasant nonetheless.

You may staye at the Hotel Ara, named for the owner’s children, which stands on a low hill above Andoni, ask for rooms 18 or 19, for the view of Agia Marina Bay from their balconies.

Related Links > http://www.hotelara.com/default_homepage.htm

Pigeons are bad for your health February 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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pigeons.jpg  Reader Yiannis Kinias photographed this sign in London.

Supreme Court lawyer Yiannis Kinias sent us this photograph of a sign on Oxford Street in London, which explains why our friends and allies the British won’t give us back the Parthenon Marbles.

Kinias wrote: “In recognition of the sensitivity you have shown for social issues, let me tell you about a recent experience that made a great impression on me, about how the City of Westminister, Britain’s first municipality, deals with our friends the pigeons. Walking down busy Oxford Street I was astonished to see a sign erected by the City of Westminster saying that too many pigeons are bad for the health… I send a picture of the sign so that your readers can see how our friends and allies the English, who will not allow the Parthenon Marbles to return to the place where they belong, treat sensitive issues that are an indication of one’s culture and education.”

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Aquaworld aquarium February 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Living.
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aquaworld.jpg  A Caretta Caretta is pictured yesterday recovering in the Aquaworld aquarium in Crete, the largest of its kind in the Balkans, after receiving medical treatment for swallowing a fishing hook.

The sea turtle is to stay at the aquarium until it is healthy enough to be released back into the sea. Aquaworld, on Crete’s Hersonissos peninsula, takes in sick and injured marine mammals for treatment and accommodates abandoned pets.