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From Crete to Santorini > breathtaking displays of nature October 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands, Greece Islands Aegean.
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Santorini. The very name brings to mind shimmering images of white walls and blue domes rimming a curving shore, high above the blue waters of a caldera, where the sea filled the basin of a collapsed volcano when it erupted around 1600 BC.

santorini1.jpg  Mesmerising sunsets extolled in a hundred photographic displays crop up in the mind’s eye too. Any traveller would be dazzled long before setting eyes on this legendary pilgrimage of mass tourism among the islands of Greece. What could be a more passionate expression of the relentless wanderlust that drives today’s nomadic millions across the globe in an addictive search for the spectacular, the novel, the breathtaking displays of nature, spoilt or unspoilt, or of human habitation, past or present?

Crete was our primary destination for a week’s stay at the picturesque village of Koutouloufari, now a tourist village, located at a moderate height, about 23 km away from the capital Heraklion. It was from here that I proposed to make our visit to Santorini, like a minor general carefully plotting the conquest of a prized target after establishing himself on a larger base.

After some hesitation, we decided we would try to make a day’s excursion to Santorini from Crete rather than spend a night. There was too much see in Crete during the short stay of a week, and a night at Santorini would have reduced our stint. Of course, not stopping for the night meant missing the fabled sunset on the caldera, but we decided to sacrifice this for the sake of more time in Crete.

It was on reaching Koutouloufari that we discovered the ideal one-day excursion to Santorini. This was by catamaran, a high-speed ferry which made the journey between Heraklion and Santorini in less than two hours. The organisers arranged it so that the catamaran made both the outgoing and returning journeys on the same day.

The other normally advertised one-day excursions were by slow ferry involving a four-hour journey each way. Our organisers also arranged to have us picked up in the morning from very close to our resort and have us dropped back there at night. Above all, they had included in their package, a tour by coach on Santorini, all this at very economical rates.

santorini2.jpg  The weather was perfect, and the catamaran journey was remarkably comfortable and smooth each way. Much has been made by travellers, of the sight from the deck, when the white buildings on the rim of the caldera come slowly into view as the slow ferry approaches Santorini. But our ferry brought us swiftly to our destination, so that was that.

We alighted at the port from where the white buildings on the caldera rim appeared almost like wide smudges of chalk on top of the rising brown shoreline. With a waiting coach we were spared the trouble of seeking transport up the hillside and saved a great deal of time reaching the villages which make up the inhabited regions of the island. Up the winding road we saw the bay receding below and the expanse of the constantly blue Aegean Sea coming into view, as we rose towards our first stop, the village of Pyrgos.

Santorini has been linked culturally to neighbouring Crete as an island which hosted the Minoan civilization, and was in existence from 2700-1450 BC and whose centre was represented by Crete. But occupation in Santorini, known also as Thera, not only includes the Minoan period, but goes back further to 4th century BC. Crete too, has evidence of settlements going back much further than the Minoan age.

The massive volcanic eruption which occurred around 1600 BC caused the island to split up into three, with the present Santorini as the main island. The hillsides and boulders, the coast and the exposed soil of Santorini, all bear the mark of the island’s volcanic history in the darkness of their colour.

We came to our first stop of Pyrgos and climbed up the winding paths between small white recesses and enclosures, representing traditional houses and shops. Churches figured repeatedly along the way with beautiful stark white walls and blue domes, and small squares lay between them. From a square in Pyrgos we got a panoramic view of the surrounding land and the sea.

Returning to our coach, we drove further up to Oia which is perhaps the best known village in Santorini, at least for the tourist. The view is magnificent all round, but particularly so from the main centre which looks over the caldera. This is the place from where the famed sunsets are watched. But even during the day, lunch in one of the restaurants overlooking the caldera was a wonderfully exhilarating experience. On the narrow streets, the shops sold expensive jewellery and miscellaneous souvenirs, underlining the area’s fame as a tourism hotspot.

And so to our last stop Fira, the capital of Santorini. An impressive Museum in Fira displayed artifacts discovered in the archeological sites of Santorini of which Arkotiri is the most notable. Fira, lower in altitude to Oia, also overlooked the caldera and, as in Oia, the white houses descend in cascades down the hillsides, making for picture-postcard-perfect photographs.

Clicking and admiring over, we rode down to the port to take the catamaran back to Heraklion. It was 6 o’clock in the evening, and the sun was descending slowly behind the white houses of Santorini , behind us high up on the ochre coloured hillside. We managed to catch the sunset after all.


International conference on Philhellenism held in Geneva October 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Europe.
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A conference on the issue of “Perspectives on Philhellenism” was held in Geneva with the aim of promoting the development of the spirit of Philhellenism in Europe and its decisive role in promoting and supporting Hellenism. 

The permanent Greek delegation at the UN, the active Society of Swiss Philhellenes “Jean-Gabriel Eynard” and the Greek consulate general in Geneva jointly organized this cultural event.

The main speakers were Paul Schubert, Professor of Language and Greek Literature at the University of Geneva, historians Michelle Bouvier-Bron and Stella Ghervas, and George Prevelakis, Professor of Geopolitics at the University of Sorbonne.

International Melina Mercouri Prize awarded October 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Europe.
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International Melina Mercouri Prize awarded to Russian Federation’s Borodino Battlefield

At a ceremony held today at UNESCO Headquarters Mrs Françoise Rivière, Assistant Director-General for Culture, gave the award for the International Melina Mercouri Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes (UNESCO-Greece) to the Borodino Battlefield (Russian Federation).

This prize, named after Melina Mercouri, former Greek Minister of Culture, is financed by the Government of Greece and consists of a cheque for an amount of US $20,000 for the management of a cultural landscape. A special mention was also awarded to the Grand Bassin (Ganga Talao) (Mauritius).

Full details of the laureates and the prize can be found at > http://whc.unesco.org/en/melinamercouriprize/

A toast to late King Otto October 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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In keeping with the Greek theme, what better for the beer of the week than Alpha Beer.

It’s brewed by the Athenian Brewery in Athens, which also brews the Dutch Amstel brand under licence.

Beer is a relatively new drink in Greece, having been first brewed in 1850 for the first Greek King, Otto, a Bavarian Prince appointed to the throne after Greece obtained independence from the Ottoman Empire.

A refreshing, bitter lager at 5 per cent, is the perfect accompaniment to the myriad things Greeks seem to pop on their ubiquitous charcoal grills. The great thing about Greek beer is that you can buy it almost anywhere, even at the many newspaper kiosks that dot the footpaths.

So here’s a grateful toast to King Otto.

Related Links > http://www.athenianbrewery.gr

A self catering stay in Zakynthos island October 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Ionian.
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Beaches, sea, sand, plenty of places to explore and a great autumn climate are some of the reasons why holidaymakers love Greece’s many islands.

If you are looking to brighten up your autumn with a last minute Greek island break Opodo has a seven-night self catering holiday in Zakynthos, the third biggest of the Ionian islands, from £230 per person.

The break includes accommodation in the three-star Filoxenia hotel’s holiday apartments, which are close to amenities and around two kilometres from the beach. Flights depart from London Gatwick on October 14th 2007.

For more information see http://www.opodo.co.uk

Greece is still the word in Cambridge, UK October 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Europe.
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A venerable Cambridge tradition returns to the Arts Theatre next week when the Cambridge Greek Play gets its triennial staging.

The tradition of performing an ancient Greek play in its original language began in 1882 and it has come around once every three years since then. This year’s production, the 40th Cambridge Greek Play, is Euripides’ classic Medea. The title character has betrayed her family to join Jason in Corinth. But several years later he abandons her to marry a princess and Medea faces exile. She asks for one day’s grace so that she can enact her bloody revenge on her former lover, his new bride and her royal father.

The epic tragedy was written in 431BC and has become firmly imbedded in mythology down the ages. Passages from the play were recited by the Suffragettes who were inspired by the struggle of the central controversial figure. Rupert Brooke appeared in the Cambridge Greek Play in 1906 and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the music for Aristophanes’ Wasps in 1909. This year’s title role is played by Marta Zlatic, a junior research fellow at Trinity College who previously played the title roles in 2001’s Electra and 2004’s Oedipus. She has been reunited with director Annie Castledine for the production.

Medea opens on Wednesday and runs until Saturday, October 13. Tickets are £10-£20. Surtitles in English will accompany the performance. To book call (01223) 503333.

Greek Opera season starts with uncertainty October 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Ballet Dance Opera.
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Greek National Opera beginning its program this month, still in search of an artistic director > Verdi’s opera ‘Nabucco,’ staged last season too, will kick off the Greek National Opera’s 2007/08 season on October 14 and will run through the end of the month.

Shortly before his first meeting with new Minister of Culture Michalis Liapis, Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, Chairman of the Greek National Opera’s Board of Directors, stated that the organization wasn’t looking for “just anyone” to fill the post of artistic director. Kyriakopoulos tried to raise expectations but also to assuage concerns over the dismissal of former artistic director Stefanos Lazaridis last June, at the request of the Board. Nothing has been done to replace him so far, with the elections and the changes in the Ministry of Culture further contributing to the delay.

Although the program announced at a recent press conference by the National Opera for the new season was complete, there can be no guarantees for 2008-09 if the institution remains without an artistic director. Kyriakopoulos was very straightforward regarding the treatment that Lazaridis received from the state. “Mr Lazaridis agreed to move to Greece following an agreement with the Ministry of Culture. He was deceived and did not receive even half of what he had been promised. We don’t want these mistakes to be repeated. That is why we have to be careful.”

He was also clear when stating the criteria for the selection of a new artistic director. “We want somebody who will have some experience in administration, on top of his artistic quality. Lazaridis was very good artistically, but did not fare too well at administration,” he said. He was also quick to dismiss rumors of maestro Loukas Karytinos, also a former artistic director, returning to his old position. The only thing that can be said so far is that there will be no change in the legislation which clearly states the responsibilities of the institution’s different directors. The future artistic director will still have the final word, on the condition that he has some management experience and is a team worker.

As expected, the program for the new season brings no surprises and bears Lazaridis’s signature all over. Verdi’s opera “Nabucco” staged last season too, will make the start on October 14 and will run through the end of the month (16, 18, 20, 23, 25 and 27). As this is a Puccini Year, celebrating the 150-year anniversary of his birth, there will be four of his operas: “Gianni Schicchi” will be staged on November 25, 27, 28, 20 and December 1 and 2 as part of a three-bill production further featuring Stravinsky’s “Mavra” and Kurt Weill’s “Seven Deadly Sins;” “La Boheme” will go on stage throughout December and early January; “Tosca” will be performed next March and early April (March 21, 23, 26, 28, 30 and April 1, 3, 5) and “Turandot” will round off the season at the Herod Atticus Theater on June 1, 3, 5 and 7.

The operetta will also make a comeback with the tribute to Theofrastos Sakellarides. The program further features Manolis Kalomiris’s “The Masterbuilder” (January 25, 27, 29, 31), Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory” in February and on March 1 as well as Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra,” on May 4, 7, 9 and 11.

Lazaridis’s modernist approach is evident in “La Boheme” and “The Masterbuilder” and the balance is now more in favor of Greek opera singers over foreign ones. It should also be noted that ballet returns to the Olympia Theater, in more classic approaches.

Related Links > www.greeknationalopera.gr