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Southern Pelion > where the finest beaches are May 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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If you want fine beaches on the Greek mainland, southern Pelion is your best route away from the tourist trail

We had just arrived in paradise. It was the view from the terrace of the villa that swung it for all of us. It took in the blue expanse of the Pagasetic Gulf, framed by green and grey hills, its water ruffled by a slight evening breeze, with arrowheads of wake marking the return of fishermen to the harbour.

We had arrived at Pelion, one of the more unspoilt parts of mainland Greece. A peninsula that lies on the east coast, it is about halfway between Athens in the south and Thessaloniki to the north and overlooks, on its seaward side, the islands of Skiathos and Skopelos. Compared with much of coastal Greece, it’s quiet.

If not untouched by tourism, it has relatively modest visitor numbers. The countryside includes lush, forested, mountainous slopes near the northern end of the peninsula, and drier, rocky hills in the south that become green with olive groves. Here, the folds of coastline hide secluded sandy coves, the odd house, some fishing boats and a taverna.

Our villa was a two-storey, whitewashed affair, lived in by the owners for some of the year. It was simply furnished and decorated in pale colours with antique rugs lending an air of comfy, understated chic. And it was robust enough to cope for all of us.

pelion.jpg

Our nearest village, the charming but faded Horto, was a mile or so south. Milina, a mile or so farther along the coast, seemed to have grabbed what local glory was going. The street that ran along the seafront was lined with slightly garish cafés, tavernas and shops selling ice cream and espadrilles, but you could walk the length of it in a few minutes.

These villages were originally the ports for local hill hamlets and are still joined to them by paved paths known as kalderimi, great for walking. The routes from Horto to the market town of Argalasti were unclear, but Milina has two paths to Lafkos, a fine Pelion hill village with narrow streets and stone, slate-roofed houses. The main square is shaded by two huge, ancient plane trees and the high fronts of the surrounding cafés.

Not far from where the cafés is one of Lafkos’s main draws, a wood-fired bakery, now a rarity. The shop has a wrought-iron canopy to keep the sun off customers eating their pastries outside. It was a poorer day when we didn’t buy our lunch here; the spinach and feta pies were succulent, the bread was warm from the oven and the proprietor liked us. 

The walk home was along the paved track. Halfway down is a small church which, though closed for spiritual refreshment, had built into its back wall a shady bench, and beside that a spring. From this shady spot it was easy to imagine the generations of errand-runners who had charged up and down this path carrying shopping home or breathless messages down to the fishermen.

A similar walk can be made at the tip of the Pelion peninsula between the small hill village of Trikeri and the relatively unspoilt Ayia Kyriaki, a small fishing village with a working boatyard. Reward yourself on the way home with a swim in the bay.

On a two-week holiday somewhere new there is always a worry that one may have missed the most unspoilt beach or the best preserved monument, or that you may have inadvertently chomped through lunch in the local equivalent of the Athenian GB Corner’s. Anyone lucky enough to make friends with our next-door neighbour in Pelion would have no such anxieties.

John was a retired company executive and, over a drink, he spread out a map of Pelion and in under half an hour had guided us to all the places most worth a visit. The rather classic Mediterranean charms of southern Pelion are contrasted with the countryside farther north. The central spine of the Pelion peninsula increases in height as the peak of Mount Pelion is neared. Here the variation between the coast and the inland countryside and villages is even more marked than it is farther south.

In villages such as Kissos, there is a distinctive local architecture, the best examples of which are the tall merchants’ houses with their overhanging upper floors and elaborate wood carvings around the doors and windows. Here, we were often the only visitors. That was not the case in more famously pretty hill villages such as Milies, but it was as much fun to walk in busy squares as it was to potter in peace among the narrow cobbled lanes of Neohori and Argalasti.

The best way to visit Milies is to take the small-gauge train from its terminus on the coast. The railway was completed in 1903, and once ran between Volos and Milies, its narrow trucks carrying olives and other goods from hills and farmland to the markets and ports below. After the war, it began to fall into disrepair. Now the line has been restored from Ano Lehonia to Milies, and trains run twice a day. The belle époque station buildings reflect the Italian heritage of the engineers and era of its construction and the carriages are smart, varnished wood and the windows are without glass. At the hill-top terminus the locomotive is readied for the descent to a turntable, powered by nothing more than the shoulders of the driver and the fireman.

On the other side of the hill, down on the coast, are some of the Pelion’s best beaches. They face the Aegean and are wilder than those on that face the Pagasetic Gulf. Those towards the north of Pelion, such as Damouchari and Mylapotamos, are busier because they are nearer to Volos, and are backed by pretty villages.

Farther south the beaches are good, too, and as far as we could see, mostly empty. Even at Potistika beach, home to the good Climax restaurant, which looks bohemian but is surprisingly pricey, we shared the place with about four others.

Icaria, Kos and Patmos islands in the Greek Dodecanesse May 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Icaria Island > Moving between the islands in the months of April to September is relatively easy, with many ferry services leaving daily to nearby islands where you can enjoy day trips or island hop to the furthest of the islands, Icaria. Legend has is that this is the island where the mythical Icarus fell from the sky after flying too high with his waxed wings to escape from the island of Crete. He and his father had been imprisoned by the King Minoas because his father was such a good architect and the King such a jealous soul that he did not want other kings to have palaces as grand as his.

Icaria is one of those places that can really take you back in time. In fact, the locals seem to have their own time there and it is not unusual to find the town square full of children and families at 3.00am . Shops don’t really close and are open until 1.00am. The locals are completely trusting and don’t lock their shops; they simply go home to sleep whenever they get tired. So if you need a bottle of water from an unattended shop, simply leave the money on the counter and take what you need.

Although this is no tourist island, you can find reasonable accommodation. From a visitor’s perspective, the unpredictability of the lifestyle and surrounds make me feel like a detective in a mystery film, it’s as if you can never really be sure when something is supposed to take place or what will happen next.

Kos Island > The island of Kos lies a few hours boat trip to the north-east and is a pleasant metropolitan town with many restaurants surrounding the beautiful port. Kos is famous as the birthplace of Hippocrates, said to be the father of modern medicine. Doctors today still take the Hippocratic Oath.

Patmos Island > Another fascinating island is that of Patmos, which is said to be the holy island of the Aegean. On the hillside adjacent the port of Skala lies the cave of the apocalypse, where the disciple of Christ, John the Baptist, was exiled during the Domitian’s persecution of the Jews and Christians from 81–96AD. It is here that St John is said to have had divine visions that inspired him to write the Book of Revelations. As you would expect, the island folk are devout Christians and both moral and modest in their dress and demeanour.

Getting to Rhodes is a short flight from Athens airport. From Rhodes, the door is open to venture and island hop the Dodecanese, the historical birthplace of Western culture and a connection back to the divine ages where gods were the reality of living and living was the root for an inspired existence.

Rhodes island in the Greek Dodecanesse May 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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When thinking of travelling to Greece, one immediately conjures up romantic images of pristine waters, smooth pebble beaches, deck chairs by the Aegean Sea and fresh fish and calamari served at a beach taverna under the setting sun.

rhodes.jpg  Anthony Quinn Beach, Rhodes Island

This is the lifestyle of old; when things weren’t so hectic and you would often see a little ninja, the little elderly Greek lady dressed all in black, sitting on a cane chair in the street in front of her stone house crocheting a delicate tablecloth for her granddaughter’s dowry. To experience some of the great Greek traditions of the oldest Western culture, there are places that still exude the charm of yesteryear. It’s not that the city folk aren’t so hospitable, it’s just they are a little busier these days.

The outer Dodecanese islands are a series of twelve islands that flank the south-west Mediterranean coast, and are a part of Greece. The largest island is Rhodes, which in summer hosts a variety of Italian, English, Dutch and German tourists flaunting their pale white bodies in the warm Greek sun in an attempt to produce the coveted tan as a holiday trophy to take back home. However, many fail and end up like the lobster that they will be enjoying for dinner in the many waterfront tavernas.

Rhodes Island > The town of Rhodes is at the northernmost tip of the island, with plenty of old world charm and a fascinating history, being the only European medieval city built by the Knights of St John still intact. Traces of the 400-year occupation of the Ottoman Empire still exist in the construction of mosques that are now used as tourist shops selling all manner of things, from fashion jewellery to traditional food. It’s a great place to spend the evenings and your hard-earned cash if you have a penchant for shopping.

The walk along Ipiton Street on the original cobblestones transports you back four centuries ago when the knights and their horses travelled to the Grand Master’s Palace to report their news of conquest. Dating even further back to 1900BC are archaeological artefacts of Greek settlement. Exploring the city of Rhodes and further abroad, you become witness to a long, magnificent history.

The City of Lindos > Fifty-five kilometres south of Rhodes on the east coast is the city of Lindos, located on a mountain cliff top with spectacular views of the Aegean Sea. Lindos is a smaller city than that of Rhodes and many tourists choose to take the journey from Rhodes either by boat or car. While most of the younger generation on the island speak Greek and English, I discovered that many tourists taking the boat to Lindos actually thought they were travelling to the adjoining Greek islands. The boat captains tend to be a bit older and when sober are great sailors; however, a younger local is probably a better option when seeking directions and transport information.

At Lindos, I recommend taking a Lindos taxi, which in my case was a donkey named George, up to the castle. George knew his way pretty well and didn’t really put up with mingling tourists mulling over paying 10 euros for the return trip. It was well worth the experience and at least alleviated any potential seizing of muscles in my legs.

There are plenty of local eateries for lunch, including souvlaki and local seafood, and also plenty of buses and boats back to the main town of Rhodes before sunset. One of the quaint boarding houses can be rented fairly cheaply, though a day trip to Lindos will have your camera full of wonderful and happy memories.

Rhodes’s Beaches > Between Lindos and Rhodes are some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, including the infamous Anthony Quinn beach where the movie Guns of Navarone was filmed. The actor fell so in love with the place that he purchased it off the Government with the promise to develop it into a world-class resort. The promise was never kept and ownership was retrieved by the authorities. However the beach still keeps its namesake and its unique protected inlet remains an exclusive retreat available to the public.

How was the Marathon concept introduced May 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology.
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World history states that the Marathon concept originated in ancient Greece when Athenian messenger Phidippides ran 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens.

He announced the victory of the Athenian navy over the Persians, and he died on the spot.

Free Museum entry on Friday 18 May May 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Museums.
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Entry into all Museums around Greece will be free of charge on Friday, May 18, in commemoration of International Museum Day, the Culture Ministry announced.

The day was first established by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in 1977 in order to highlight the role of Museums in modern society. The message for this year revolves around the theme of “museums as an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, co-operation and peace among peoples”.

The Greek section of ICOM has decided that the “honoured” museum for 2007 will be the National Glyptotheque of the National Gallery, Alexandros Soutsos Museum, whose permanent collection, located within an east Athens park, was inaugurated on June 27, 2006.

Go Greek in Anaheim May 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Diaspora Festivals.
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O.C. Greek Fest begins Friday at St. John the Baptist > Today, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church has a membership of about 500 families and continues its annual O.C. Greek Festival with a three-day event beginning Friday.

On the menu will be traditional Greek fare, such as souvlaki (grilled meat and vegetable on a skewer), moussaka (layered dish of lamb, eggplant and tomato) and baklava (a sweet phyllo dough pastry).

Several Greek dancers and musicians will also entertain. Past years have seen about 10,000 people attend over the three-day event, said festival chairman Bobby Klentos. “The purpose here is to eat, drink and be merry,” Klentos said.

The 46th annual O.C. Greek Festival will feature traditional food, music and goods of Greece during the three-day festival that starts Friday.

When: 3-10 p.m. Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday; and noon-10 p.m. Sunday.

Where: St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 405 N. Dale St. Parking is available at the Wal-Mart behind the Buena Park Mall.

Cost: Entry is free with tickets printed off the Web site, or $3 at the gate. Seniors get in free from 3-4 p.m. Saturday.

Information: www.ocgreekfest.com 

Aldemar Knossos Royal Village > a 5 star resort in Crete May 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hotels Greece.
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This family owned 5-star resort hotel is a half hour transfer from Heraklion airport and has 364 rooms and 40 deluxe villas by the sea.

The low rise buildings that make up the complex are surrounded by landscaped gardens and 13 pools. Facilities are plentiful including a 43 metre water slide, beach volley, tennis courts, games room, giant sized chess board and more.

Five Star Aldemar Knossos Royal Village, Hersonissos, Crete. The on site restaurants are great and guests can also try out the restaurants at the sister property the Aldemar Royal Mare Village. For more information > www.aldemarhotels.com 

Near-by attractions include > The island of Spinalonga > A short and scenic boat ride away from Elounda harbour, lies Spinalonga island, a former leper colony which attracts thousands of visitors every year. The island is renowned as being the last active leper colony from 1903 – 1957 and despite it now being derelict it has retained a certain air of sadness and doom. The day trip also takes you to a beautiful bay where the boat docks for a couple of hours, offering the perfect opportunity to sun bathe and have a swim before indulging in a delicious Greek lunch prepared by the boat crew.

Palace of Knossos, Hersonissos > They say you haven’t seen Crete until you have visited one of its most fascinating sites, The Palace of Knossos. This extraordinary ancient city dating back 4000 years to the Minoan period is steeped in Greek mythology and offers visitors an insight into Minoan culture and history.

Food > The island of Crete is renowned for its high quality food and the majority of the tavernas serve excellent Cretan cuisine.

Loukoulos Restaurant, Korais Street, Heraklion, Crete > Set in a renovated house this is one of the classiest restaurants in the area and is famous for its beautiful interior and good quality food.