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Patmos > an open book of revelations April 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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The island of Patmos has all the Mediterranean charm without the crowds. Over the centuries it was a shrine to John the Divine, now it’s one to sun, sea and cuisine

I first discovered Patmos in the late 1990s on an island-hopping cruise. I was with my family, and we promised ourselves we’d be back for more than a whirlwind afternoon tour. Recently we did just that, renting a whitewashed cube of a house above Meloi Bay for what was possibly the most relaxed two weeks of our lives.

Long a blip on the tourism horizon, Patmos, a rugged volcanic outcrop in the far-eastern Dodecannese islands, is emerging as a new favourite for people looking for sun, sea, culture and cuisine without the crush and commercialism of traditional Greek hot spots.

These modern-day seekers follow in the path of countless pilgrims over the centuries who made their way to the “Jerusalem of the Aegean,” as Patmos is also known. They came because, in the words of Hail John, a folk song popularized by the Rooftop Singers in the 1960s, “They put John on the island.” “They” were the Romans who used Patmos as a handy dumping ground for Christian troublemakers from the ancient cities of Asia Minor.

“John” was St. John the Divine, author of the Book of Revelations, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, the last book of the New Testament. Exiled to a cave on Patmos for preaching the Gospel in the pagan metropolis of Ephesus, a major Roman centre in what is now Turkey, John experienced a vision in which Jesus described the ultimate victory of good over evil, the end of the world and the creation of a new Heaven and Earth. Apocalypse is the Greek word for “reveal.”

John’s cave very quickly became a shrine, and all of Patmos considered hallowed ground. More than 300 churches are scattered from one end of its 14 kilometres to the other, some of them barely large enough to hold two or three pilgrims. Looming on the mountaintop above the cave is a huge fortified monastery, begun in the 11th century, that contains a wealth of art and religious treasures.

But while day-trippers from the cruise ships still board the buses for the run up to St. John’s cave, many more pour off the ferries every summer looking for simple creature comforts and tranquility in a traditional Greek setting.

Some take rooms in the small hotels or family-run pensions in the gently bustling port of Skala or in the town of Chora, which surrounds the monastery. Others head for more remote villages or beach resorts. Still others head to the wonderfully serviced campground just outside of town, with its excellent beach, swimming and snorkelling on Meloi Bay. Meloi is one of more than a dozen unspoiled coves and bays around the island recently discovered by yachtsmen from around the world. 

We read a lot. I’d brought one of my favourites, The Greek for Love by renowned Toronto author and food critic James Chatto. He touchingly chronicles the joys and tragedies of raising a family while renovating an abandoned house in a remote village on Corfu. The book added meaningful perspective to our much less challenging adventure.

But there were parallels. On Patmos, as in Corfu, water is a precious commodity. It must be captured during the winter rainy season and husbanded carefully during the long hot summer. If the cistern in your house runs out, the only remedy is an expensive delivery from the Patmos water seller’s tanker truck. That ominous possibility moved us very quickly to adapt to short showers, washing our dishes in shallow basins and collecting and recycling the grey water for the few plants that struggle to survive the arid months.

We mustered our energy to take some wonderful day trips to beaches around the island. Some were pebbled, others sandy, but, in every case, the water was crystal clear and as brilliantly blue as the sky.

Our favourite was Psili Ammos beach on the southwest hook of Patmos. You get there by either a 45-minute commute in a water taxi from Skala harbour or a mildly demanding half-hour hike across the craggy heights from Diakofti Junction, which keeps all but the most adventurous confined to the lesser beaches. The legacy of Patmos as a holy site is reflected in the warnings prohibiting topless and nude bathing, but by and large, naturists are left alone on their stretch of Psili Ammos.

Nightlife is definitely subdued here compared to real tourist spots such as Mykonos. Only one disco is listed in the tourism pamphlets. But countless small tavernas and estiatoria, restaurants, have offerings for every palate and budget. All encourage long, lingering meals, whether it’s a simple Greek salad and a Mythos beer, or a more elaborate spread with mezedes, souvlaki, moussaka or giant sardines, all of it washed down with Ikaria wine.

And, of course, a Greek meal that doesn’t end with a slab of honey-soaked baklava simply isn’t complete. Sitting in a cliffside taverna watching a silvery moon rise from the edge of the world far below, we were happy we had taken the road less travelled.


Public holiday > May 1st April 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Transport Air Sea Land.
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Flights, public transport to be disrupted as staff walk out

Flights and public transport will be disrupted on Tuesday as staff stage strikes and work stoppages to participate in traditional May Day rallies.

Olympic Airlines will be conducting just one flight per destination as civil aviation staff strike. Passengers due to travel with OA should call 210 9666666 for details.

The Kifissia-Piraeus urban electric railway (ISAP) will not operate at all, as staff stage a 24-hour strike.

Buses and trolley buses will stop running from the dawn shift until 8 a.m. and from 10.30 p.m until the end of the night shift.

The metro will suspend services between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m.

The airport bus service will run as normal.

Happy May Day!

Hotels and ferries offer off-peak discounts April 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Tourism.
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Hotels and ferries offer off-peak discounts of up to 50 percent to lure clients, mainly from domestic market

Tourism companies are offering dozens of promotions or discounts that could reduce family spending on vacations until mid-July by up to 50 percent, compared with August, when prices are higher across all tourism services.

Informed travelers can save money and enjoy better service, particularly if they choose to holiday outside peak periods, such as August, Christmas and Easter. There is a number of little secrets which can secure cheaper vacations.

Negotiating the price of accommodation when the booking is not through a travel agency is always a good method. By booking early, you can secure better prices, or more nights if this is about a long stay. A key feature for families is the discount for children: These can be up to 60 percent, or even free for children up to the age of 12 years old. In practice, bargaining with the owners of small or medium-sized hotels in off-peak season has proven to be to the greater benefit of the customer.

Crucially, offers that only mention the destination and the price of the package without specifying the category or the name of the hotel must be thoroughly checked first.

Big hotels often offer free parking for stays of more than three or four days. They also make several economical offers but require a minimum number of nights’ stay to make the booking. Quite often they will offer an extra night for a stay of more than six nights. Accommodation prices may also vary depending on whether a room has a view of the sea or not.

The range of offers varies according to the destination and the category of hotel. Many big hotel units offer all-inclusive vacations.

Coastal shipping companies have introduced a series of passenger and vehicle fare discounts applied successfully in recent years. Yet competition has led ferry companies to a relatively new form of discounts: They offer attractive travel packages which, along with transport via a luxurious vessel, include hotel accommodation at lower rates. They have also made deals with car rental and coach companies.

Virtually all coastal shipping companies have joined in this race and provide discounts ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent, depending on their size. The main battlefield is the Aegean and the Greece-Italy route. For instance, ANEK and Minoan Lines offer 30 percent discounts on return fares between Greece and Italy. They also give 10 percent discounts for families and people over 60 years old. For children between 4 and 12 years old they offer discounts of up to 50 percent. Hellenic Seaways also offers a multiple-trip ticket, which gives passengers a 20 percent discount when buying a block of 40 tickets and 10 percent off with the purchase of 20 tickets.

Bargains are often easier to find on the Internet. A recent Kappa Research survey has found that the Internet is the second source for choosing accommodation, 35 percent, from 27.9 percent in 2006 and just 11 percent in 2003, behind friends’ recommendations, 46.4 percent.

The same survey has shown that the main priorities for the improvement of tourism should be the upgrade of tourism service quality, cleanliness and better behavior toward tourists.

Popularity of maisonettes rises April 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece.
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House buyers are turning to detached houses in the northern and eastern suburbs of Athens

Detached houses and maisonettes are gaining an ever bigger share in the capital’s real estate market, as more and more people move to more remote areas to find properties at lower costs. A recent survey by Aspis Real Estate of 51,475 prospective buyers found that 34 percent of them are interested in buying a maisonette or a detached house.

The eastern suburbs are the focus of maisonette demand, as 49 percent of potential buyers opt for a detached house or a maisonette, up from 47 percent last year. Areas such as Paeania, Pallini, Artemida, Porto Rafti and Rafina have seen great developments, with building restrictions favoring detached houses. As a result, the population flow to eastern Attica has grown steadily in recent years.

A similar swing toward maisonettes is being seen in the northern suburbs, too, although prices are not affordable for everyone. Some 41 percent of buyers are looking into maisonette options, up from 28 percent a few months ago. Interest in the southern suburbs has doubled from 8 percent last year to 16 percent now. As for the rest of Attica, outside the capital, maisonettes comprise a commanding 86 percent of interest of the potential house buyers surveyed.

There is a notable shift in the buying interest recorded, as two years ago the lion’s share went to flats. However, their soaring prices, particularly in 2005, and to a lesser extent in 2006 have grown closer to those of maisonettes, so that there are many buyers now who are choosing to spend more money to acquire a maisonette, as in some cases the difference in price between that and a flat is negligible.

The advantages of a maisonette as opposed to a flat are obvious, as apart from the greater surface area and autonomy it offers, it usually comes with a garden or some plot of land at least. When going to buy a maisonette, one needs to be careful on the final cost, as one of the market’s unwritten laws says that basements are included in the final price even though in the building permit their use is deemed supplementary to the main house.

The cost per square meter is not particularly high, thanks to the large surfaces. Yet total costs rarely drop below 300,000, with the average being at 400,000. Among the most expensive areas are Palaio Psychico, Filothei and Ekali, where the cost per sq.m. exceeds 2,500 euros by far. Rates are lower in other northern suburbs, such as Dionysos and Stamata, where costs rarely exceed 2,000 euros/sq.m.

On the contrary, it is much easier to find a cheaper maisonette in the eastern suburbs where there is plenty of supply. A case in point is in Paeania, where the price of a maisonette ranges between 1,700-1,800 euros/sq.m., which means a final cost of 350,000-400,000 euros. This may not be affordable for everyone, but compared to the usual cost of a maisonette, this is considered quite attractive.

Paeania has the feeling of a village, as its development is around the existing settlement. Quality of life is improving all the time and is on a par with that of any Athens suburb, as it has all the infrastructure required as well as excellent access through Lavriou Avenue and the Attiki Odos. Buyers come from all over Attica and they usually are upper middle class families. One can find similar bargains in other areas in eastern Attica, such as in Marathonas or Nea Makri, where a maisonette costs just 1,600 euros/sq.m.

Other lesser-known areas of the capital are also seeing a significant growth in this type of housing, such as Adames, close to Kato Kifissia, and Ippocratios Politeia, in the foothills of Mount Parnitha.

Adames is adjacent to the Athens-Lamia national road, but on the side of Parnitha, so its main feature is its green spaces, while the national road makes access to it easy. The only drawback is the lack of public transport, but that is the price one has to pay for moving away from the city. All Adames plots are split per 400 sq.m. with their cost coming to 235,000-250,000 euros. Newly built maisonettes range between 2,400-2,600 euros/sq.m.

Ippocratios Politeia is an area acquired by members of the Medical Association, some of whom later sold their plots. Today there is a modern settlement there that draws significant demand. Access is easy via the Attiki Odos, while a Proastiakos suburban train station is quite near. Newly built maisonettes range between 2,650-3,000 euros/sq.m.

Greek internet access data April 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Internet & Web.
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One in five Greek households have Internet access, as compared to four of 10 households in the European Union on average, according to the results of a Eurobarometer poll.

The Dutch and the Danes are EU leaders in this area, with 80 percent and 77 percent of households, respectively, having Internet access. Greece ranks just above Bulgaria where 14 percent of households have access to the Internet.

Nicholas Egon’s ‘Hymn to the Greek Landscape’ April 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece.
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Wildflowers, proud lilies against a backdrop of blue skies, sunsets, fog on Kastoria Lake, paths flanked by poppies and flowering clover are just some of the 57 images in the hymn to the Greek landscapes, a declaration of love for Greece, ancient and modern, by internationally renowned artist Nicholas Egon in an exhibition that opened on April 24 at the Benaki Museum.

The Athens diplomatic corps was out in force, people who have visited the greatest Museums in the world and who recognize Egon as a unique talent. Curator Fanni-Maria Tsigakou spent five months conferring with the artist in London and Athens on his biography for the exhibition catalogue. This is Egon’s first major exhibition in Greece, his “new homeland since 1949” when he married his Greek wife Matti. Along with her daughter Stamatia Kottaki, Matti was there in a beautiful dress that recalled the starry night sky over the island of Chios.

At the Benaki Museum, Koumbari Street, Kolonaki, Athens. The exhibition lasts until May 20.

Elpida’s vision is becoming a reality April 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Health & Fitness.
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Celebrations took place this week to mark the culmination of 17 years’ work by the Elpida Foundation, its President Marianna Vardinoyianni, board of directors and members to found a cancer hospital for children.

Their efforts over that time have included the founding of a bone marrow transplant unit and a hostel for recovering children and their parents. This week, standing before a model of the first Children’s Oncology Hospital in Greece, Vardinoyianni spoke of that long struggle, the obstacles overcome with the help of the state and medical science as well as the encouragement of the public that responded generously to a Telemarathon.

“Our organization’s great vision, a project that we have been working for over the past few years, is becoming a reality with the founding of the first Children’s Oncology Hospital in Greece,” she said this week at the laying of the foundation stone at the site where the hospital is to be built. The stone was laid by Greece’s President Karolos Papoulias.

Among government and other officials, were also the heads of the Onassis Foundation, which has donated 1.5 million euros for the hospital fund. Vardinoyianni thanked the state for donating the site and all the sponsors, most of whom were present at the ceremony. In a message to sick children and their parents she said: “I want them to know they are not alone in their struggle. All of us here and millions others are ready to rise to this challenge, so that the first Children’s Oncology Hospital will be finished as soon as possible.”