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Taking a city break in Athens March 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.
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Still one of the most historically significant of all European cities, the eight hills surrounding Athens encompass some of the world’s most important archeaological sites.

The Acropolis, of course, is the iconic heart of the city and is best visited early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds. Its crowning glory is the Parthenon, the symbol of ancient Greece’s power.

Temples to Athena, the patron Goddess of Athens, were here for hundreds of years before Pericles built what you see today in 432BC. The Parthenon is remarkably well preserved, despite Lord Elgin pinching its Marbles, and will look its best this year after some expensive sprucing up for the Athens 2004 Olympics.

The old Plaka district underneath the Parthenon is fairly traffic-free and thus a pleasant place to wander around, stopping to eat in one of the scores of restaurants along its narrow streets. Around every corner there’s yet another archaeological site with broken ancient columns strewn around like pieces of seaside rock.

The market district of Monastiraki sells everything from lace to antiques alongside an awful lot of tat. However, it’s a pleasant enough place to browse and the prices are low. There are some good Greek cafes and bars here.

Athens has more than 130 museums and if you’re only here for a few days you’ll never get round them all. Make time for the Benaki Museum, in the Syntagma area, a stunning private collection including gold jewellery from ancient Thebes .

However, you must not miss the National Archaeological Museum (admission is 6 euro), near the Viktoria Metro station. This impressive building contains the world’s finest collection of Greek antiquities, including the gold death mask of King Agamemnon.

The best way to have lunch is to buy fresh olives, feta cheese and a bottle of wine and head for Lykavittos Hill, the city’s highest point, for views across to Cape Sounion.

For dinner, head for Aigli in the Zappeio Gardens in the centre of the city (tel 210 336 9363-4 http://www.aeglizappiou.gr/main.html). The setting is superb, especially on a warm spring evening.

And for staying we recommend the three star Philippos Hotel just below the Axropolis! (3 Mitseon Street, Acropolis, Athens, Tel: +30 210 9223611 http://www.philipposhotel.gr/homepage.asp e-mail philippos@herodion.gr)

For more information visit the Greek National Tourism Organization > www.gnto.gr

Santorini > a Grecian gourmet March 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean, Greek Taste Local, Wine And Spirits.
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santorini_sunset.jpg  It’s hard to find the words to do the food and wine of Greece justice. Take the pale red-gold wine called Vinsanto, the product of the island of Santorini.

Made from sun-dried grapes, it is served slightly chilled, a refreshing aperitif as the island houses shimmer in the last of the day’s heat. It’s semi-sweet, with rich tastes of spice and musky honey and a bit of citrus. Like the place it’s made, “the holy wine” of Santorini defies description.

Certainly, the best place to drink it is in the tiny village of Oia (pronounced EE-ah), at the northern end of the island, during the daily ritual of watching the sun slip into the Aegean Sea. It’s no wonder crowds start forming early to watch the spectacle. Tables fill quickly at tavernas and restaurants along the side of the cliff with the best views as the intensely blue sky begins to turn red.

A steep rock face rises from the water along much of the coast of Santorini, created when a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in 1650 BC caused half of the once-round island to sheer off and tumble into the sea, leaving a submerged caldera at the centre.

In Oia, narrow, sharply angled cobblestone streets snake down from the rim, winding to deadends, terraces and switchbacks, all packed with snow-white buildings that seem carved from the rock. The classic small houses of Oia, intimate hotels and chapels, some with bright blue-domed roofs, seem to tumble down the impossibly steep face.

Small wonder even today that the only way to build here is by using sure-footed donkeys to carry supplies. The tinkle of their bridle bells can be heard throughout the day. They also ferry those who don’t want to make the steep 15-minute walk down and 30-plus minute walk up the 200 or so steps to the tiny fishing port of Ammoudi at Oia’s base.

Walk or ride, a visit to Ammoudi is worth every step. It provides yet another dramatic view of Oia, from the bottom up. A small taverna with tables on a terrace facing the sea serves fresh grilled fish while a group of skinny cats laze on the warm stones, hoping for a treat.

Because the Greeks are so passionate about food and Oia is a luxury destination, you won’t find much for less than $300 a night and rates can easily double that, there’s some very good dining to be experienced here.

Tender octopus baked in Vinsanto wine, grilled prawns finished with Vinsanto and a touch of cream, whole fish, splashed with olive oil and grilled over a wood fire and salads made from ruby tomatoes and white slabs of creamy feta.

At the high end, the pricey 1800 Restaurant is in a former sea captain’s mansion, the image of a snail pressed into the stucco gate heralding that the owner is a follower of the international Slow Food movement, believers in making the most of local, seasonal foods.

You can also dine simply, discs of white eggplant and pale zucchini fried to a golden crispness in deep cast-iron skillets full of bubbling olive oil, served hot and liberally salted, to be washed down with a glass of crisp white Assyrtiko, another excellent wine that Santorini is famous for.

Oia is also home to several wineries and wine tourism is becoming more popular on the island as more winemakers take their products to international shows. Many of the wineries offer tastings between April and October, the island pretty much shuts down in the winter, and you can see the unusual method of growing grapes.

Given that wine is such an important part of life in Greece, it’s no surprise that it’s used so liberally in cooking. So, too, are the leaves from young vines, eaten most often as dolmades, rolled around cooked rice, sometimes with the addition of pine nuts and raisins, served with a swirl of olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon.

See www.olympic-airways.com or www.aegeanair.com for more information on how to get to Oia from Athens.

Hera statue follows Zeus find March 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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Archaeologists yesterday hailed the discovery in ancient Dion, near Mount Olympus, of a 2nd century BC statue of Hera, the ancient Greek goddess of marriage and wife of Zeus, a few years after a matching statue of Zeus was found on the same site.

The headless statue of Hera, which is virtually life-sized, had been used by the early Christian inhabitants of Dion as filling for a defensive wall, according to Dimitris Pantermalis, an Aristotle University of Thessaloniki professor who has been leading excavations at Dion for more than 30 years.

“We have concluded that the statue of Hera stood next to that of Zeus in the temple,” Pantermalis said. This is the first time statues of two different gods have been found in a single ancient temple in Greece, he added. He said it was also possible that a statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, could have also stood in the same temple.

The statue of Zeus, identical in size to the one of Hera, was unearthed on the same site in 2003.

Read also this related post > Greek archaeologists find Hera statue

An ancient silver coin March 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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silver_coin.jpg  An ancient silver coin is shown yesterday on a site in Athens’s coastal suburb of Voula which, archaeologists believe, holds the remains of an ancient marketplace and religious center. Finds such as pottery, coins and lead weights date to the 4th or 5th century BC.

The complex unearthed at Voula, at the heart of the ancient city of Athens covers an area of about 1,500 square meters (over 16,000 square feet). Archaeologists believe the massive site containing 12 rooms around a courtyard, littered with fragments of pottery and ancient coins, was “very probably” the main marketplace for the neighborhood.

Discovered ruins in Athens may be an Ancient Market March 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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athens_voula.jpg  Archaeologists have discovered extensive remains of what is believed to be an ancient marketplace with shops and a religious center at the southern edge of Athens, the Culture Ministry said Friday. The finds, in the coastal neighborhood of Voula, date from the 4th or 5th century B.C.

“It is a very large complex,” the Ministry said. “It was a site of rich financial and religious activity, which was most probably a marketplace.”

Marketplaces, or agoras, teemed with shops, open-air stalls and administrative buildings, and were the financial, political and social center of ancient Greek life. Archaeologists believe the complex belonged to the Municipality of Aexonides Halai, among the largest settlements surrounding ancient Athens.

The main building was a hollow square with a rock-cut reservoir in the center. The building had 12 rooms, probably shops, and a small temple with an open-air altar. Finds included large quantities of pottery, coins and lead weights that would have been used in transactions by traders.

Last month, archaeologists discovered an ancient theater in the northwestern Athens suburb of Menidi.

God Of War II March 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Games & Gadgets.
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Anti-heroes don’t come much more anti than Kratos, the bald and burly Spartan warrior who slices, swings and sexes his way through mythical ancient Greece in God Of War II, the follow-up to what was widely hailed as the best game of 2005.

Does the sequel live up to expectations, you ask? Does a minotaur poop in the labyrinth? Does a cyclops have depth perception problems? Hades, yeah, it delivers.

Centered around an appropriately epic quest for vengeance, God Of War II sees Kratos betrayed by his fellow deities, stripped of his powers and murdered by Zeus. But he’s plucked from death’s doorstep by Earth-momma Gaia, who tasks Kratos with unravelling the thread of his own fate and reshaping his destiny.

Sounds kind of highfalutin’, and the production values on God Of War II certainly rival those of a big-budget movie, but let’s not mince words here. There’s a whole lot of killin’ going on in this game. A whole, whole lot.

Fans of the original will be thrilled with the new combat moves, new weapons, new magic, a new roster of sort-of-based-on-Greek-myth characters and a new set of even more intricate deathtraps and head-scratching puzzles.

Though it keeps a lot of the slick flow and intuitive combat mechanics from the first game intact, God Of War II does introduce some new wrinkles. Not only will you ride the flying steed Pegasus and rip Griffins to shreds in mid-air but you’ll make death-defying leaps from swinging chains, freeze time with a magical amulet and glide along with the help of wings stolen from Icarus during a savage, free-fall beat-em up.

The game is ruthlessly and unapologetically violent, with blood-drenched finishing moves that literally rip opponents limb from limb. At one point, players must frantically tap a controller button to make Kratos pound a scholar’s head into a crimson pulp against a lectern. So much for the meek inheriting the Earth.

But there’s nothing meek about God Of War II, and rightly so. It’s an over-the-top mix of action, drama and spectacle that’s intense and engaging from start to finish, save for a few puzzles towards the end that are more tedious than challenging.

And although the ending lacks the clear-cut resolution of the first game, it leaves the door very deliberately open for a future installment on the next-gen PlayStation 3. Just enough time to catch your breath. And maybe rent Clash Of The Titans again.

Complete the game on any difficulty setting and you unlock the much talked-about fish costume, one of seven available alternate outfits. It almost warrants playing through the game a second time just to see Kratos dressed like a mascot for Red Lobster and dealing death with his twin fishhooks.

Grappling has wildly varied results, depending on your foe. Trying to grab a minotaur before you’ve worn him down is folly, but grappling is the easiest way to dispatch smaller critters and it spells instant death for anyone who gets too close while you’re climbing a wall or shimmying across a rope.

The safest way of beating the first of the Sisters of Fate is to use the Amulet of Fate (L1 and R1 together) to yank a ball of energy from her, and then deflect it back with the Golden Fleece (tap L1 just before it hits.) Get a few licks in while she’s knocked over, then rinse and repeat until she’s, temporarily, had enough.

Aside from a few frustrating spikes in difficulty and a slower-paced final act, God Of War II is about as perfect an action game as you could ever hope for and a worthy sequel to one of the PlayStation 2’s crown jewels.

Watch out for Loki March 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Games & Gadgets.
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To make a mark in today’s gaming era the game has to be kick-butt, it has to be original, it has to be something that no one else is doing at the moment and it has to be ambitious. Loki is one of those games. The trailers and recently released screenshots definitely make the game look like a real contender in today’s competitive market.

This hack and slash action-RPG is a no-holds barred battle for the ages. Gamers will slice and dice their way through the ancient lore of Greece’s fictional history. Upgradable weapons, specials and a cooperative/competitive multiplayer mode could be just what this game needs to not make a quick trip to the dreaded Tartarus of video games: the bargain bin.

You can check out the kick-butt screenshots at the link provided below, and try not to get blinded from Zeus’ large rod, lightning rod, that is. For more information you can visit the Official Loki Website. The game is scheduled to be released this summer for Windows.

Related Links > http://www.loki-game.com