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New spa ready at Astir Palace Hotel complex May 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hotels Greece.
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The first stage of the prestigeous Astir Palace Hotel’s investment program at the Athens seaside resort of Vouliagmeni has been completed, with the construction of a state-of-the-art spa occupying 1,000 square meters at the Arion Resort and Spa, The Luxury Collection.

The budget for the spa renovation totaled 3 million euros and forms part of the 50-million-euro investment program to be realized by early 2009. The new spa is arranged on two levels, featuring a heated pool complete with full massage and jacuzzi facilities, saunas, steam rooms etc.

Astir CEO Anthimos Thomopoulos stated yesterday that the positive impact of the company’s cooperation with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., will become apparent from this season. The aim is to double the turnover of Astir, in what is the third year of cooperation with Starwood, he said. He clarified that there is no interest in operating a casino at the hotel complex, but the hotel does want to include in its facilities the Vouliagmeni marina, currently managed by the state Tourism Development Company.

His deputy, Chronis Griveas, said the next stage of the investment program includes the renovation of the bungalows and the modernization of the Aphrodite Hotel unit that will operate next year under the name “W Athens.”

Related Links > http://www.astir-palace.com

Cypriot soccer player joins Glasgow Rangers May 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Football.
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Young Cypriot soccer player Yiorgos Efrem, 18, who spent the past three seasons with Arsenal’s youth team, has signed a deal with Glasgow Rangers, the Scottish team announced yesterday.

“I’m elated to have signed a professional deal,” said Efraim. “I’m moving to a team with great players and big demands, so I need to work to establish myself.”

Top architects MVRDV reveal urban vision > exhibition showcases structures in a dense future May 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Exhibitions.
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The image of the Brabant Library project in the Netherlands designed by MVRDV in 2000 can be seen at “The Hungry Box” an exhibition of the utopian works designed by the celebrated Dutch architecture group, is currently being hosted at the Benaki Museum on Pireos Street, Athens.

When it comes to the Dutch radicals MVRDV, turning conventional architecture on its head takes on a whole new literal sense. Like a perimeter housing block tipped on its end, all with a giant hole in the middle as a courtyard, the famous Mirador, MVRDV’s architectural tour de force built in 2005 in Madrid, is one of the works featured at the Pireos Street Annex of the Benaki Museum in Athens.

The exhibition “The Hungry Box”, a display of 10 MVRDV projects designed between 1997 and 2007, highlights the characteristically Dutch theme that dominates the work of the experimental Rotterdam-based architecture group: density. Their unconventional, if not utopian, projects aim to maximize density by seemingly swallowing endless interiors.

It’s no surprise that the buildings of MVRDV are often described as “hungry boxes”, stuffed with large chunks of complex data that translate into boxy shapes that can accommodate shifting interior possibilities. At the frontline of a more ecologically conscious generation, MVRDV seek to create a more fluid relationship between indoors and outdoors, inhabitants and nature. For that purpose, light and the surrounding landscape are incorporated in the design.

Children of the golden age of Dutch architecture that peaked in the mid-1990s, Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries set up MVRDV, the name is an acronym of the founders, in Rotterdam after a career with OMA, the studio of Dutch master Rem Koolhaas.

MVRDV have a utopian quality even though critics would be tempted to slam some of their plans as Le Corbusier-inspired modernist dystopias. Their urban vision is best reflected in their KM3/3D city project. Presented in the late 1990s, KM3/3D is a proposal for a global urban grid with cities sitting in 5-kilometer-sided cubes, each 100 kilometers apart, leaving the natural surroundings untouched.

Visitors to the Benaki exhibition, which is organized by the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi), can examine a series of colored scale models of MVRDV projects, including the Villa VPRO in Hilversum, the Dutch Pavilion for the World Expo 2000 in Hanover and the Brabant Library in Eindhoven.

Items too form a box-shaped room and visitors can take a tour of the exhibition making their way through large curtains covered with images of the building interiors intended to give an in-looking-out feel. But the trick does not always work.

MVRDV is not just about the style. It’s about the future of architecture at large, hence the manifesto-mongering with polemical exhibitions, films, software and books, against more conservative architectural trends like the new urbanism movement across the Atlantic.

“New urbanism in the US is highly politicized and very successful, and there’s the retro architecture in Europe which is like an oil spill going over the European landscape,” Maas said in a recent interview with icon, the architecture and design magazine. “We have to compete with quite heavy opponents.” High ambitions from the flat Netherlands.

The Exhibition “The Hungry Box – The Endless Interiors of MVRDV” runs through July 25.

The art which reappraises society May 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece.
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The United States of America, as seen through the eyes of a group of contemporary US artists

A 1939 Hollywood melodramatic movie, “Dark Victory” starring Bette Davis, follows the gradual transformations in the character of a glamorous, socialite-heiress who learns that she has a terminal illness. At the end of the film, the heroine dies, but in the painful course if her illness she gains the love and redemption that her former, frivolous life lacked. Her sight becomes blurred, as a symptom of the illness which deprives the heroine of every sense of security and certainty. Ironically, that same symptom makes her more aware and appreciative of everything around her.

The film implies that times of crisis and uncertainty can liberate people, perhaps even societies or a social class, from stifling conventions, also rendering them more humane. Disaster brings victory, a “dark victory” that gives a sad but hopeful end to the story.

In the view of artist Dimitris Antonitsis, the film’s connotations can also be applied on a societal level. The heroine represents the norms of the American haute bourgeoisie which the impending crisis calls into question. Using the film as a reference, Antonitsis has created a curatorial project that looks for an analogy of a “redemptive, dark victory” in contemporary American society as well as the art establishment.

In “Dark Victory,” a curatorial taking place at the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center, he has invited eight contemporary, mostly New York-based artists whose work he considers to be subversive of ensconced values and, in some cases, critical of issues of American politics, society or art.

Antonitsis, who closely follows the New York art scene, he has shown his own work internationally, including in New York, has included some of these artists in his annual curatorial projects held on the island of Hydra. For the current exhibition, he worked closely with the artists, discussing the works and the project’s concept. The exhibition’s catalog, beautifully designed to echo the concept of the exhibition and its references to the film, reflects the creative process leading up to the exhibition and underlines the idea of a dialogue, a concept which also prevails in the show. The actual display is spare and elegant with the works of each artist occupying the outer sides of each wall, as if to suggest that their work supports issues that are on the margins, outside convention.

On the whole, the exhibition shows the dark side of a contemporary, mostly American reality. The works of Scott Campbell speak of a deceitful superficiality. A sought-after tattoo artist, Campbell has designed, using a laser technique, tattoo motifs against the surface of leather-bound books which are arranged together in different shapes. These are the sort of books that people buy by the pound to decorate their bookcases. The work of Campbell suggests that beauty and ornament can be deceiving, mere luster without depth or content. The analogy is made with social role-playing, as in pretending to be an intellectual, and conventions.

Marco Brambilla’s video makes a more direct attack, this time on US political hegemony. Based on footage showing the first American satellite on the moon, his video “Sea of Tranquillity” makes the satellite and American flag slowly dissolve. The work is a melancholy take on the vain ambition for power.

In a drawing and painting installation by Wes Lang, Abraham Lincoln is repeatedly portrayed as a black of the American south. Other works in the installation make references to the Ku Klux Klan, which, according to the artist’s research, had funded the making of a major statue of Lincoln. In a bust, a tear is shown falling down Lincoln’s cheek. By suggesting a link between Lincoln and the Ku Klux Klan, Lang’s work targets what is presented as a dark moment in American history. Nearby, a collection of drawings, silkscreens and photo-based paintings by Nate Lowman, recycles images, mostly related to mass culture, that appear in the American press. Lowman uses the images in a way that hides their original content. His work suggests that the media indoctrinates people, manipulates information and constructs news. It also suggests an underlying violence in American media and mass culture.

A series of mixed-technique works by Michael Bevilacqua are among the exhibition’s most aesthetically pleasing works. Pencil drawings combined with collages are built layer upon layer and constitute a palimpsest of imagery drawn from pop culture, art, animation, fashion, anything that forms part of contemporary, visual culture. Bevilacqua’s work feels both aggressive and tender. It paints the image of a dizzying reality that is comprised of a bombardment of disconnected imagery but also captures the familiarity that many of those images bring to mind. Bevilacqua suggests that visual stimuli can be deconstructed and recombined in new, personal ways. Not far from Bevilacqua’s drawings, a headpiece that looks more like a piece of sculpture hangs from the ceiling and above a round pedestal. The piece is by Three as Four, a New York fashion collective which participates in the exhibition with their latest creations made especially for the show. Experimental and subversive of mainstream fashion, their work has been included in the show to indicate yet another expression of a questioning culture. The inclusion of fashion in the curatorial project is also a way of suggesting the openness and flexibility of American culture and society.

On the gallery’s ground floor, at the exhibition’s start, a huge wall-painting by Aaron Young alludes to the powerful imprint that belief systems make on our minds. By focusing on the center of the image long enough and then closing one’s eyes, the image of Christ appears on the retina. This optical trick is a reference to the dimmed sight of the heroine in “Dark Victory.” However, unlike the film, Young’s work does not necessarily suggest that we see clearer in darkness but that those images that are embedded on our subconscious are often cultural constructs that have been imposed on us. Hannah Liden’s neo-goth pictures also bring to mind religion and belief systems. Interestingly, they are shot in the area of upstate New York where the protagonist Judith in “Dark Victory” retreats at the end of the film. The rather morbid atmosphere tin the pictures evokes the film’s sad ending. A disheartening, yet strangely encouraging, end that shows how life’s obstacles can often lead to self-fulfillment.

In “Dark Victory” Antonitsis transfers that message to a societal level. He considers art that takes a critical stance as a force of resistance in a society that breeds ignorance and manifests political arrogance. In many ways, the film’s heroine can be interpreted as the personification of American society: conceited and self-absorbed, yet also naive and protected. Perhaps, the contradiction would not withstand probing political analysis. After all, this is an art exhibition, not a presentation of a profound political statement. It is an exhibition that plays with our conceptions of American society but, more importantly, an exhibition that suggests that a man should reappraise the way he lives.

Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center, 48 Armatolon and Klefton Street, Athens, tel 210 6439466. To June 30.

ELIA archive and NBG join forces May 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life Greek.
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Two of the country’s most esteemed cultural institutions, the Greek Literary and Historical Archive (ELIA) and the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation (MIET), have recently become partners, according to an announcement by the National Bank of Greece.

ELIA’s significant archive of historical, literary and photographic documents, and its expansive library of Greek 19th century books and other material have now come under the umbrella of MIET’s activities.

The unification process has already begun and its completion is expected by early 2008. ELIA will hand over its entire assets, archives, collections, library, publications stock and a privately owned building, to MIET. For its part, the National Bank of Greece will increase its funding to MIET, allowing ELIA to continue its activities as part of MIET.

«ELIA will continue giving what it has always done. The reciprocal gains are clear» said MIET Director Dionyssis Kapsalis. «On the one hand, the agreement ensured ELIA’s survival and, on the other, MIET will receive an enormous amount of new material. This collaboration will give rise to projects that were impossible before, such as, for example, taking better advantage of ELIA’s treasures. The people of ELIA are highly skilled in their work and let us not forget that it was the first open archive of its size in Greece and it showed an enormous amount of generosity in sharing its material with the public. This philosophy, of having the archive open to everyone, will continue. Furthermore, we can also use ELIA’s archive as the subject of exhibitions, increasing its dynamic,» he said, adding that these projects would not be feasible without the support of the bank.

Nothing will change essentially at ELIA and its founder Manos Haritatos will keep his position at the archive’s headquarters at 5 Aghiou Andreou Street in Plaka.

ELIA has been on the brink of financial ruin for several years now, bending under the burden of having to maintain its existing and growing collections.

Greece to welcome huge wave of tourists May 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Tourism.
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Greece is bracing for an unprecedented influx of visitors this summer in a boom that is cheering the tourism industry but causing concern among environmentalists, who warn that overbuilding along the country’s pristine island seafronts would mar their beauty and create environmental risks. The International Herald Tribune reports.

The number of tourist arrivals this year is expected to increase by 7 percent to 16 million visitors, according to the Institute for Tourism Research and Predictions. Santorini, which is one of hundreds of Aegean islands, expects a million visitors, 20 percent more than last year, despite the sinking of a cruise ship off its coast in early April.

At least a third of arrivals will come from Britain and Germany, Greece’s most loyal markets. But the biggest increases are expected from the United States and Russia, with arrivals set to rise by 50 percent and 20 percent respectively, bringing in about 1.7 million tourists. A marked increase is also expected from residents of new European Union member states in the Balkans.

“Greece is this year not just a popular destination but a preferred one, which is a big difference” said Tourism Minister Fani Palli-Petralia. Tourism is huge in Greece, accounting for one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product and one in five jobs. Last year, tourism registered revenue of €11 billion, or $14.8 billion, a record that is expected to be broken this year despite fierce competition from Mediterranean rivals.

But memories of a tourism slump that began after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and continued up to the 2004 Athens Olympics have not faded; so the government has taken steps to prevent a repeat. A drive is under way to extend the traditional May-October season and bolster the country’s tourism infrastructure.

Tens of millions of euros have been invested in promotion to add religious tourism, spas, golf, agrotourism, mountaineering, and yachting to Greece’s traditional attractions of sun-drenched islands and ancient monuments. This year’s advertising campaign, “Explore your senses” aims to attract more tourists during the low season, particularly wealthy visitors with specialist interests.

The local authorities have been cooperating with officials of the Greek Orthodox Church to attract residents of neighboring Christian countries like Italy and the countries of the former Soviet Union to sites of religious significance. An effort to promote the wanderings of Saint Paul, from the island of Samothrace in the north to Corinth in the south, has attracted much interest.

Alternative forms of tourism like agrotourism are gaining in popularity, too, with local the authorities in northern and central Greece promoting workshops that offer first-hand experience of the local culture and gastronomy while supporting the agricultural economy. The initiative has flourished, largely because of EU subsidies that also promote the renovation and construction of traditional village settlements.

Lesser known but geographically spectacular parts of Greece are also being promoted to attract visitors interested in combining mountaineering, rafting, or diving with a fresh insight into the country’s natural charms.

“Tourists are increasingly seeking specialized vacations,” said Yiannis Machairidis, the Prefect of the Dodecanese islands, which include Rhodes. “If we fail to grasp this, we will struggle to survive in this market.”

Another initiative, aimed at attracting wealthier tourists all year, has provoked debate. The government’s “land zoning” plan foresees the creation of luxury tourism complexes, including holiday homes for long-term lease or sale as well as golf courses and spas. Two such complexes, on Crete and in the western Peloponnese, are already in the works.

The Environment and Public Works Minister, Giorgos Souflias, who presented the plan this month, envisions “one million Europeans interested in acquiring a second residence in Greece.” But there has been a mixed reception for the plan, which offers incentives for construction in less developed areas and allows building up to 50 meters, or 165 feet, from the coastline, in areas protected by the EU program Natura and on uninhabited islets.

Stavros Andreadis, President of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises, says the plan will be “a catalyst for tourism development” if it is followed by legislative action to curb bureaucratic hurdles that have discouraged investors.

The Technical Chamber of Greece, an association of civil engineers, has condemned the plan, and environmental and conservation groups have warned against coastal “concretization” that has marred the Spanish coast. They also object to the creation of water-guzzling golf courses when much of Greece is on red alert for drought this summer.

“The authorities are desperate to sell off prime pieces of coastal land for hotels,” said Nikos Charalambides, Executive Director of Greenpeace Greece. “This might bring in short-term financial gains, but in the long-term it will downgrade these areas, as we have seen in Spain.”

But Palli-Petralia, the Tourism Minister, dismisses such fears. “We are not going to turn Greece into Spain,” she said at a news conference this month. “The destruction of our environment will finish us off as a tourist destination.”

Greece is also seeking to increase year-round tourism by promoting Athens, Thessaloniki, and other major locations as “city break” destinations. The Athens campaign has coincided with hotel and Museum renovations and a widespread revamping of the city’s historic center. The authorities are promoting an enriched cultural program, including the Athens Festival with open-air operas in ancient theaters. Seminars in good manners are being held for the capital’s notoriously surly taxi drivers.

“Athens is on its way to becoming a leading European destination for both tourists and business travelers,” said Panagiotis Arkoumaneas, General Manager of the Athens Tourism and Economic Development Agency, the capital’s official tourist body.

The agency observed a 20 percent increase in tourists visiting Athens in 2006, with an 8 percent rise in the first quarter of this year. Last week, when the Champions’ League soccer final took place in Athens, was one of the most profitable in Greece’s tourism history, netting about €26 million, according to preliminary industry estimates. There has also been an increase in conferences and exhibitions in the greater Athens area as authorities start exploiting expensive Olympic venues, many of which have lain idle since 2004.

To show it is serious about upgrading its tourism services, the government has stepped up checks on hotels, threatening 800, or nearly 10 percent, with being shut down unless they get fire safety certification. But industry officials say cramped harbors, congested provincial airports and badly maintained roads also need attention.

There has been some progress. Works completed before the Olympics, the extension of the Athens Metro, the new Athens airport, road and rail network improvements, and the upgrading of passenger ferries, laid the foundations for robust growth in tourism.

This year, €800 million has been earmarked for revamping provincial airports. Harbors are being enlarged to accommodate large cruise ships, and the scheduled opening in June of southern Athens’ renovated marina at Flisvos is expected to lure a large crowd of wealthy yachting enthusiasts.

You will always wish to return back to Cephallonia May 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Ionian, Hotels Greece.
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From the sun terrace, the Ionian sea, blurred only by a slight heat haze, seemed to stretch on to infinity. The silence was broken only by the lapping of water on the rocks below, and the occasional clink of a wine glass.

If peace and elegance are what you are looking for, the Emelisse Art Hotel, in Fiskardo, Kefalonia (Cephalonia), surely has it in spades. The hotel is just one of many handpicked places to stay, checked and graded to ensure exceptionally high standards of comfort and service. And now, taking the personal touch even further, the Emelisse, a designer boutique hotel, provides you with round-the-clock concierge service to make travellers feel even more pampered.

To sample the concept we visited two distinctively different but equally luxurious properties on Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian islands.

The first, Villa Costa, in Skala, benefits from the personal stamp of its owner Marios Kourkoumelis. From the individually designed rooms, meticulously kept gardens and fine cuisine, nothing is left to chance. With just seven rooms, all on the theme of Greek goddesses, the Villa stands, with its own pool, whirlpool and sundecks, just yards from the beach on the southern tip of the island.

Skala is very popular with the British. It has a Roman villa with mosaics, open to the public, and a thriving nightlife with bars, tavernas and restaurants aplenty. Villa Costa, exclusive and immaculately presented, offers a unique atmosphere, like being in your own private villa, but with top class hotel facilities on hand. Marios’ eye for detail is evident everywhere, from the fine furnishings, to the monogrammed slippers and bathrobes.

Visitors can chose the exact room they want to stay in. We stayed in Hermione’s room, which certainly lived up to its “luxurious and romantic” description with soft tones, cool furnishings and a large patio overlooking the gardens and the sea. The restaurant offers a wide range of dishes from Greek to international. Dining al fresco with the sun setting at a candlelit table for two proved impossibly romantic.

Villa Costa’s visitors’ book bears testimony to its popularity with entry after entry insisting that the writer will return. And they do, despite being just a few years old, the property already enjoys a very high proportion of return bookings.

From Skala it was a fascinating drive over the island’s central mountains, past herds of wild goats and hilltop tavernas, to the vertiginous west coast and the second property, the Emelisse Art Hotel, at Fiskardo, on the northern tip of Kefalonia. Run by the Tsimaras family, the Emelisse is a larger but no less welcoming hotel with 63 rooms, ranging from doubles to suites and apartments, arranged in small separate buildings, many with balconies.

Set on a headland, with stunning sea views, it features two outdoor swimming pools with sundecks, a buffet restaurant offering local dishes and an international restaurant looking across to the nearby island of Ithaca. Again it has a unique atmosphere. After parking in a secure car park, you are taken to your accommodation in an electric golf cart. Rooms are very contemporary, with stylish but comfortable minimalist furnishings.

Service is warm and friendly but very discreet. Whether it is by the pool, in the hotel lounge or by the bar, Emelisse Art has a feel of sumptuous serenity to it. At night the hotel grounds are illuminated with dozens of candle-lit lanterns enhancing the peaceful and tranquil ambience. A sandy beach is only a short walk away, with the clear blue waters very popular with snorkelers.

The hotel operates a frequent free minibus service for those wanting to look around Fiskardo, especially handy in the evening if you want to enjoy a glass of wine or two with dinner in town. Fiskardo itself is the only town to have escaped damage in the great 1953 earthquake which caused extensive damage to the rest of the island. It features one of the most picturesque working harbours on the island, with a flotilla of yachts, and tavernas clustered around the waterfront. It has recently become a highly fashionable holiday spot, attracting its fair share of the jet set along with more traditional visitors.

Fiskardo is also well placed to visit Assos, possibly the prettiest of all the villages on the island, and the internationally renowned Myrtos beach with its impossibly blue waters and steep road descent. Both Skala and Fiskardo offer a range of boat trips, such as a day on a chartered catamaran or a marine adventure, stopping to explore a sunken shipwreck.

The concierge service means you are greeted at the airport, given advice and assistance throughout your stay and met again on return, with guidance on returning the car and getting the right flight home. Just a phone call away, 24-hours a day, your concierge, using his or her local knowledge, can also help recommend places to eat and places to visit.

This was one of the most relaxing holidays we had ever been on. The attention to detail, level of service and quality of accommodation was of a very high standard. In the end it was that and those “little touches” that captured our hearts and made us sure that we too would wish to return to this jewel of an island in the Ionian sea.

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