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Summer Holidays August 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Editorial.
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Sorry, Homeboy Media News Blog will be closed from Monday 6th August to Monday 27th August 2007 for the annual summer holidays.

See you soon > after our summer vacations August 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Editorial.
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greece_sail.jpg Dear Readers,

It’s that same time of the year again. Homeboy Media News will be closing for a while, for our Summer Vacations.

As from tomorrow, Monday 6th of August to Monday 27th of August, your Editor and Host, will be on his annual summer vacations. It’s time to relax on a beach and on a mountain, fill the “batteries” and return back stronger!

So, for the next three weeks, there will be no updates nor any news at all. If however, we have the opportunity to make a post or two, during those days, we will!

Enjoy your summer vacations and most of all, enjoy a good life! Be happy and do keep browsing our blog for past articles to read, especially those you did not due to luck of time.

See you soon! Take care!

Cyprus > for the body and soul August 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus.
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Take a trip to Cyprus where, legend has it, if you have a dip in the sea off Paphos where the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, rose from the waves the years will simply melt away.

Sound far-fetched? Well, a trip to the goddess’s reputed birthplace truly can be good for body and soul. Our trip to Cyprus, the third biggest island in the Med, began at the luxurious InterContinental Aphrodite Hills Resort Hotel at Kouklia just 15 minutes drive from Paphos airport.

This sprawling, yet stunning, 290-room resort with low-rise buildings and fabulous views of the sea to one side, and mountains to the other, has simply everything you could need, even its own wedding chapel. In between the golf course, the tennis academy and the Retreat spa, you could be tempted to spend your entire trip “on site”. And that would be a mistake. This island has lots more to offer.

We also visited the stylish Annabelle Hotel at Paphos and the Columbia Beach Resort at Pissouri, both the last word in luxury. Spa breaks seem to be flavour of the month, though, and where better to indulge yourself than a sunny Mediterranean island only a few hours flight away that offers not only pretty well all-year-round sunbathing weather but a wealth of culture.

Cyprus’ history, ancient and modern, is fascinating. The island, advantageously situated at the crossroads of east and west, has been invaded many times and the result is a blend of cultures. It’s predominantly Greek, but its north area is currently under Turkish military control and occupation, and as a former British colony, with RAF bases on the island, English is widely spoken. They also drive on the left.

And as the only divided country in the Western world, it’s culturally interesting in terms of 21st century European politics. Turkey are the last invaders in July 1974. A trip to the capital Nicosia underlines the split. The green line couldn’t be more defined > if you head for the 11th floor of the Hermes department store in Ledra Street, a glass-walled observatory offers superb, panoramic views of the entire city, including the occupied area of Nicosia, the last divided city in Europe. 

The capital, however, is at once cosmopolitan and traditional, high fashion stores next to traditional restaurants. We enjoyed a super lunch in one of the many tavernas. But if you opt for the meze, small dishes similar to tapas, be warned: the courses just kept coming.

Culture vultures won’t be disappointed. The island, which was part of the Byzantine Empire for 1,000 years, has a wealth of excavation sites, ancient monuments and fortifications, and splendid churches and monastries.

Kourion is the most important archaeological site on the island with excavations dating back 140 years. It is perched on the cliffs above Limassol and nowadays in its restored open air theatre, plays and concerts are performed against a stunning seascape backdrop. Nearby, at Kolossi, the medieval Castle of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem is also worth a visit. Younger members of the family will be enthralled to see where boiling oil was poured onto invading enemy soldiers.

And it’s not all sunbathing on one of Cyprus’ excellent beaches or hot, archaeological sites. In the cooler months there’s excellent walking to be had in the Troodos mountains and, in January and February, skiing too on Mount Olympus.

It’s in the mountain villages that the true taste of Cyprus can be experienced. We had lunch at a superb taverna in Omodhos village. Its rustic charm, home killed meat, carafes of pretty passable local wine and again a seemingly never-ending rolling meze menu meant it was the perfect place to while away an afternoon.

The experience of the stunning beauty of the scenery, the excellence of the food, and the friendliness of the people will be unique to you too!

Related Links >
http://www.aphroditehills.com

http://www.visitcyprus.org.cy

Order in the midst of Chios island August 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Chios is so unique, so genuinely odd, that at times you don’t feel like you are in Greece at all. Centuries as an economic and cultural power house in the north Aegean, plus a string of invaders and colonial powers, have given the island an identity completely at odds with the stereotype view of Greece.

Its architecture, its food, its tragic history, even its isolation, make it an island apart with a sense of pride and purpose absent on its more famous neighbours. This is where Greek islanders come to get away from the mass. Few tour operators go to Chios and most of the foreign tourists there, are squeezed into a resort called Karfas, a couple of miles south of the airport.

Chios town feels more like a mainland port than a maritime dot on the map. It has plump 19th-century civic buildings, a thriving market, a park, green suburbs and busy coffee bars. Local teenagers blast around the harbour on customised Honda 50s with white-leather quilted seats and chrome engines for that Flash Gordon look.

But for all the island’s chutzpah, talking to local people you quickly get a sense of unease with their Turkish neighbours. A rebellion against the Ottoman rulers in 1822 resulted in 25,000 Chians being either slaughtered or sold into slavery. Then 100 years later, some 25,000 ethnic Greeks were expelled, destitute, from Turkey, during a spot of ethnic cleansing. Many of the refugees found homes in the old walled city of Kastro, now part of Chios Town, in tiny one-room houses pinned to the city walls. Quiet during the day, at night many of the larger houses reveal themselves to be tavernas. Far and away the best is Jacob’s House, inside a roofless ruin.

Chios has done well over the centuries, first with wine, then ship building, silk, furniture, citrus fruits, leather and mastic. The latter, a white gum extracted from short twisted trees that grow in the south-east of the island, is used in everything from medicine to a strong liquor called arak. It is reputed to reduce cholesterol, stimulate the immune system and make you horny.

The most impressive of the mastic towns, one of the most remarkable villages in the whole country, is Pyrgi. Here, every available bit of wall space, even the local church, is completely covered in black-and-white geometric patterns in a scraping technique known as xysta which uses layers of white lime and black sand bought from nearby Mavra Volio beach. It is as though MC Escher, the Dutch tessellationist, had got wrecked on ouzo one night and transformed the entire town into a beautiful mathematical conundrum.

The best time to see Pyrgi is at night when the old men come out to play tavli, backgammon, and look grumpy in the tiny town square. I ordered a frappe coffee and sat with a man and a small dog enjoying one of those conversations where he did all the talking. Then he signalled to another man who led me through a dark vaulted alleyway in the north-west corner of the square to the 12th-century Church of Agios Apostolos. He turned out to be the caretaker of this tiny church, and while I inspected its frescoes he nipped back to the game. In the early evening, the decorated buildings glowed in the amber light.

If anyone was under the impression that Tuscany is in Italy, it’s not. It’s in Chios, and its Greek name is Kampos. The citrus orchards, cypress avenues and red-brick Genoese farmhouses are more Tuscan than the real McCoy. This is the agricultural heart of the island, with the sort of imposing ochre stone farmhouses that would not look out of place in northern Italy. Behind streets of high stone walls stand grand, Italianate mansions and citrus groves, each with an elaborate irrigation system employing a large wheel-well.

Needless to say, it is extremely fashionable and many of the finest homes cost millions. Fortunately though, a few have been converted into small hotels. Perleas Mansion is a citrus-scented sanctuary with modern accommodation as good as any five-star boutique hotel.

Hidden behind heavy stone walls, the 14th-century village of Mesta is a maze of silent grey-stone tunnels and alleys leading into silent cul-de-sacs. I got lost, everyone gets lost, but I rather enjoyed the way local people don’t bat an eyelid when bemused visitors turn up on their doorstep.

If you can find the small town centre, there are a couple of good tavernas, Morias and Messeonas, which will present you with a complimentary glass of heart-warming souma, a strong local hooch made from figs, at the end of your meal. There isn’t much to see: two churches and a handful of local crafts shops. But it is the perfect place to chill out in the heat of a Chian day.

The island is bisected by mountains. To the north and east, the landscape is parched and barren, but to the west and south it is green and sheltered, and this is where you’ll find the best beaches. If you don’t have a car or moped, and you’re staying in Chios Town, your only option is the arch of sand and shingle running north of the suburb to Daskalopetra. You can reach it on foot or by local bus, and there are some great waterfront tavernas that only cook what the fishermen bring in that day.

Lithi Beach has soft sand and shallow water ideal for families, and there is no shortage of cheap rooms and tavernas. I prefer it a bit further north at Agia Markella by the Monastery of Markelas where you can rent the former monks’ rooms. I had the beach to myself and one of my best meals on the island at the self-service taverna.

Where to stay > In Chios Town, The Grecian Castle, tel 22710 44740, grcastle@compulink.gr. In Kampos, Perleas Mansion tel 22710 32217. 

Further information > The Chios Tourist Information Centre, 11 Kanari Street, Chios Town, tel 22710 44389 and 22710 44344. 

Related Links > http://www.gnto.gr, www.visitgreece.gr

htttp://www.chiosnet.gr/tourism/

http://www.aegeanweb.gr/English/Chios/enchiostour.htm

Zakynthos > take a trip for the turtles August 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Ionian.
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They’ve been coming here for 90 million years, and know a good beach when they see one

There’s something about turtles and their prehistoric little faces that captures the imagination. Whereas nearby Cephalonia is the ‘Captain Corelli island’, Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz were filming there a few years ago, Zakynthos, also known as Zante, is very much the turtle island. Its reptilian connection is celebrated everywhere, from turtle merchandise at the airport to turtle-themed days out and turtle-spotting trips in glass-bottomed boats.

However, as my friend and I arrived at the airport for a short break, we knew the island’s most famous residents, the endangered loggerhead turtles, would be making our acquaintance. They are in town, or, more precisely, in Laganas Bay, from June to August, when their egg-laying sojourn coincides with the arrival of package holidaymakers intent on living it up a Bacardi bottle’s throw from the turtles’ nesting zones. Our hotel, the Louis Zante Beach, overlooks the very beach where they nest; it is just a few hundred metres’ walk to the turquoise waters where the turtles swim.

Refurbished a couple of years ago, the Louis Zante Beach is part of a 26-strong chain of hotels across Cyprus and Greece owned by the Louis group. The hotel staff are friendly and helpful; it’s spotlessly clean and the setting is idyllic. 

 Laganas Bay is both beautiful and serene, helped by the fact that it is strictly monitored by the National Marine Park of Zakynthos, an organisation on permanent turtle watch. Maintaining a balance between the needs of the turtles, who’ve been here for 90 million years, and those of the package tourists who’ve not been around for quite so long, is an onerous task, but it’s one that the National Marine Park and local businesses are desperate to make work, the beach doesn’t permit water sports, is closed at night and is patrolled by wardens.

Sitting on the beach just outside the hotel, it is easy to forget that the major tourist hotspot of Laganas is just a few minutes’ walk away down a slightly treacherous unlit road, but ranks of tourists lured by the neon lights make the trek even outside the main tourist months.

Laganas is much as you might expect, an unexceptional strip of bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants, but inland Zakynthos remains an arrestingly pretty island. It has had a colourful set of owners, having been passed from Alexander the Great to the Romans, all the way through to Napoleon. But it was the Venetians who, during a 300-year sojourn, made the biggest impression architecturally, earning the island the tag of the ‘Venice of the south’. Tragically, a massive earthquake in 1953 destroyed almost all of the Venetian and Byzantine architecture, all that remains now are frescoes preserved in the town’s Museum.

My friend and I decided for an excursion. We chose the turtle boat excursion because it also promised a serene cruise around the smugglers’ caves, one of the island’s top tourist attractions. The turtle boat trip proved to be an opportunity to float round the island taking in breathtaking sights including the Mavratzi beach.

Zakynthos has charm, welcoming residents and beautiful beaches but it clearly faces a Herculean challenge in trying to reconcile the demands of package tourism with safeguarding its natural assets. For the turtles’ sake, I hope it succeeds.

Related Links >
http://www.nmp-zak.org (National Marine Park of Zakynthos)

http://www.louishotels.com/greece_zakynthos/hotels_zakynthos_zanteresort.htm

In Cephalonia > looking for Odysseus August 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Ionian.
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The Greek hero’s final journey has been shrouded in mystery, but on a canoeing trip to Cephalonia, we found the pieces falling into place

It’s 1200BC, and after 10 years of war the Trojans have been vanquished. Helen’s catastrophic flirtation with Paris has come to an abrupt end and she is now playing the dutiful housewife with her husband, Menelaus, back in Sparta. Meanwhile, Agamemnon, the Greek commander, has returned to Mycenae only to be murdered by his adulterous wife, Clytemnestra. But what of Odysseus, master of plots and teller of tall tales? How is he to explain to his faithful wife, Penelope, that instead of spending just a week or two on the voyage home from Troy, it has taken him another 10 years to return to his Palace on Ithaca?

It wasn’t because he left his sat nav behind. Odysseus is literature’s most famous philanderer: he hardly has to set foot on a deserted island before its resident goddess summons him to her bed. Circe transforms his shipmates into pigs, and only by withholding the comforts of the couch does Odysseus persuade her to undo her magic. Calypso is so besotted that she offers him the gift of immortality if he will agree to pleasure her, for ever. It takes a personal message from Zeus to free him from her embrace and to bring him back to his homeland in western Greece.

Corfu, Lefkas, Cephalonia, Ithaca, Zakynthos… the islands Odysseus lingered on are still there, and our journey to reach them is a little swifter than his. The flight from Athens after just less than 45 minutes, you’re fastening your seat belt for the descent into Argostoli airport. This is the small capital town of Cephalonia, devastated by an earthquake in 1953 and later immortalised in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. But behind those beautiful beaches and majestic mountains, there lies a mystery that is more than 3,000 years old: to which of these islands did Odysseus return from his fabulous adventures?

Homer seems to spell it out for us. Odysseus is on an island called Scheria, which is thought to have been Corfu. He is speaking of his homeland to its King, Alcinoos, and he describes it as follows >

I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son, world-famed for stratagems: my name has reached the heavens. Bright Ithaca is my home: it has a mountain, leaf-quivering Neriton, far visible. Around are many islands, close to each other, Doulichion and Same and wooded Zacynthos. Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea towards dusk; the rest, apart, face dawn and sun. Odyssey 9.1926

So where’s the problem? After all, today’s island of Ithaca has long been regarded as Homer’s Ithaca: it even offers day trips to landmarks listed in the Odyssey. But what about those last two lines, which describe Homer’s Ithaca as lowlying and furthest out to sea towards dusk, ie to the west? How can we make any sense of that as a description of Ithaca, which is mountainous and lies to the east of Cephalonia, towards the mainland of Greece?

Did Homer simply get it wrong? That has been the reluctant conclusion of most scholars over the ages. But in 2003, a radical alternative was proposed. Could it be instead that geological changes in this earthquake-afflicted terrain have altered the landscape since the Odyssey was composed? Could the western peninsula of Cephalonia, which is today called Paliki, once have been an independent island, separated from the rest by a narrow sea channel? Because if it was, then Homer’s Ithaca was not today’s island called Ithaca at all. It was instead Paliki, which is indeed lowlying, furthest out to sea and facing towards the western dusk, just as the poet described it.

Our guide, Pavlos Georgilas, has taken us to the northern end of this ancient sea channel, to a bay called Agia Kiriaki. It is late August but we have the place to ourselves. Things change slowly here: the family who run the fish restaurant, the Apergis, have lived here since parish records listed their name in 1264AD, and perhaps for long before that. Along the beach to the east is a wall that is being excavated every winter by the waves: its style has been diagnosed as Mycenaean, the period of Odysseus. We help Pavlos to unload the sea kayaks off the trailer and he gives us a briefing: none of us has done a trip like this before.

Before we know it, we are in the water and paddling past the jetty into the open sea. A light swell, brilliant sunshine, an open sky. I have sold this outing to my friend, as a tough adventure and now he is battling with the reality in the front seat of our canoe. It’s not that the paddling is difficult: it’s simply that we have another seven hours in front of us and eight more miles to go. But the magic has already begun, because if the theory is right, then we are retracing the route by which the shipmates of Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, evaded a watery death on his return from mainland Pylos.

While her husband was away, suitors wooed Penelope, intent on seizing the crown of Ithaca: but first they needed to dispose of the young prince and his inconvenient claim to the throne. To escape from their ambush, Telemachus disembarked on the western coast of Paliki while his crewmen sailed round to Agia Kiriaki and the narrow sea channel to the south. That took them precisely along our route, but in the opposite direction.

We gaze up at the sheer cliffs, at the landslides that have catapulted countless tons of limestone into the ocean. Was this the view that greeted those sailors more than 3,000 years ago?

Great flocks of sea birds swoop and dive in our wake, and as we round Agiannis Point, we are greeted by a deserted beach to die for. We swim, but it’s not yet time for lunch. We paddle on with Pavlos and Lee, an expatriate Brit who has seen the light of Greece and can never work in an office again.

Poseidon the earth-holder is relentless, in anger for the son Odysseus blinded, The godlike Polyphemos, mightiest Of Cyclopses. His mother was the nymph Thoosa, daughter of the sea-god Phorcys, Who mated with Poseidon in a cave. The earth-shaker does not wish to kill Odysseus, But keeps him wandering far away from home. Odyssey 1.6875

The cave appears slowly from across the sea, like the entrance to an alpine tunnel. We draw closer and now we are dwarfed at its mouth. Inside, the waves beat against its jaws and the suction bares its gums. Pavlos kayaks in and we follow. We paddle against the swell and twist around to face the opening. This sea space is vaulted like a church: Poseidon could well have had his watery way in here with Thoosa. Is that why he was called the “earth-shaker”: did the earth move for her?

We lunch at a bay inaccessible by foot. Then we canoe past wild headlands convulsed by geological upthrusts. This is the most tectonically active landscape in Europe: only 12 miles to the west, the seabed drops from 300 to 3,000 metres. If you drained the sea, you would find yourself standing at the edge of the African continental plate, while in front of you the cliffs of Europe rear up, and they are two miles high. That is why Cephalonia experiences so many earthquakes, because the African plate is pushing it up like a springboard, and this island is at its tip. Homer was not fanciful in his description of Poseidon: the earth-shaker remains with us today.

We are five hours into the trip and I’m starting to realise that exercise matters. The experts are gliding along effortlessly, but we have rounded the northern point of Kakatos and now the wind and the currents are working against us. To the west, past the next headland, there is nothing but open ocean for 200 miles until the toe of Italy: enough reach for a serious swell. But we are at last on the course that Odysseus took on his final journey home > 

As soon as that most brilliant star arose Which is sole herald of the light of dawn, Then the seafaring ship approached the island. On Ithaca there is a bay of Phorcys, The old man of the sea: in it, two headlands, Projecting, sheared off, crouching from the harbour, Shield it from waves whipped up by blustering winds Outside… They rowed inside: they knew the bay of old. The ship ran up the beach for half its length At speed: such strength was in the rowers’ arms. Odyssey 13.93115

Odysseus is asleep and the crewmen are bringing him back on a direct route from Corfu. Their landfall is today called Atheras Bay. Homer’s description is exact, and this landscape matches it exactly. We pass the outer headlands to find two inner ones that are “in” the harbour, just as the poet observed them. The rough waters are behind us: this bay is well shielded from the waves. On the final stretch, we accelerate and run the kayaks up the beach for half their length. Maria waits for us in the Land Rover like the patient Penelope. She is greatly welcome, and so is the simple meal that greets us there. We have followed Odysseus across the sea, and now we match his footsteps on the land. He has returned at last to Ithaca. He sleeps on through the night, and so shall we.

Where to stay > the Paliki peninsula is much quieter than the main tourist areas of Cephalonia. The aptly named Odyssey Villas has low-cost rooms in beautiful but remote Agia Kiriaki, tel 26710 85076, www.ionion.com/odysseyvillas, while, for the well-heeled, the Emelisse Hotel, tel 26740 41200, www.arthotel.gr/emelisse, in Fiskardo provides luxury and a breathtaking view.

Sea kayaking > Monte Nero Activities, tel 6932 904360, www.monte-nero-activities.com, provides a range of marine adventures, from a single day’s outing to a week’s kayaking between different islands. 

Limassol Wine Festival in Cyprus August 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Cyprus, Arts Festivals.
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28th of  August – 9th of September 2007 > Limassol, Cyprus’ wine-growing capital, celebrates the country’s rich viticulture with the annual grape harvest festival.

Scores of the island’s wineries and vineyards converge on the town’s stately Municipal Gardens to share some of the fruits of their labours during a veritable feast of buffets and wine tastings which attracts 100,000 visitors.

Cyprus has been making wine for about 6000 years (from 4500-3900 BC), so Cypriots have had considerable practice with the harvest celebrations. One of the most commanding spectacles of this annual event is to witness the traditional pressing of the grapes that signals the beginning of the festivities.

Visitors then take the opportunity to tuck into some of the island’s gastronomic specialities alongside Muscats, pine-flavoured Retsinas, and not to forget some of the island’s renowned dessert wine, Commandaria, all against the backdrop of music and dancing at the Gardens’ open-air theatre.

Venue Details > Limassol’s Municipal Gardens

Directions > The biggest park in the centre of Limassol. You can’t miss it.