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Flashback > Greece putting on its best face for the Olympics June 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics, Greece Athens, Greece Mainland.
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EDITOR’S NOTE > Please note that this article is dated back to 2004 and is reposted herewith, today in June 2007, after the request of a friend. This article is reposted from my personal archives. I apologise if this sounds a bit of out-dated, however, it brings some light as to the pre-Athens Olympics situation and how this city was rapidly changing during that time. On the other hand, the particular article, can also enlight you about what to see in Athens and Thessaloniki, during your visit.

Lastly, let’s not forget the fact that Greece and Athens will be staging the Special Olympics in the year 2011! Read more about it, at our category titled “OLYMPIC GAMES”. Thank you for your attention.

Greece putting on its best face for the Olympics > It’s the land of the gods and the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Whatever the time of year, Greece is a wonder to visit, but never more than this summer (2004) when the Olympics return to Athens.
The games taking place this summer (2004) in Athens will include 28 sports taking place in 38 venues. That’s a lot, and spectator fatigue could quickly set in. Fortunately, visitors will also be able to explore some of the wonders of this ancient city.
Whenever I was driving around Athens, I was struck by the extent of construction and by the sheer energy the Greeks were putting into preparations for the event. They have been eagerly awaiting this since the first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896, and they are intent on being at their best for the world.
Aside from the game sites, one major project has been the extension of the subway system, the hub of which is the station at Syntagma Square in the centre of downtown Athens. It is extending across Athens from Syntagma Square located in the centre of downtown Athens. The station is a state-of-the-art conception, and includes a range of boutiques. Artifacts uncovered in excavating are displayed at suitable points, all spotlessly clean.

Not far from the Syntagma Square station is the newly renovated Benaki Museum, which houses a grand array of art, artifacts and jewellery extending from Neolithic times to the present. You can follow the course of history by moving from level to level.
A more concentrated and easier to manage Museum is the Cyclades Museum, just around the corner. It houses artifacts, mainly from Cyclades Islands, that are up to 5,000 years old. Of course, there are other Museums in central Athens but after an exhausting visit to the games, you may wish to concentrate on the Syntagma area.

Try to catch the changing of the Guard in front of the Parliament Buildings facing the Syntagma Square. The guards parading by with rifles over their shoulders will be dressed in their traditional skirted “evzone” costumes.

Walk a few steps over to Kolonaki Square, where you will encounter some of the more upscale shopping boutiques in Athens. Browse and drool.
You can also head over to the Plaka, old Athens. Here tourists congregate and the shopping is more of the cheap souvenir variety, just what some of us expect to find in our travels to a foreign land.
For me, a visit to Athens is never complete unless I partake of loukoumades, hole-less doughnuts served with honey and chopped nuts. My favourite shop that sells these delights is located between Syntagma Square and Omonia Square. Ask the locals and they will direct you. In fact, the Greeks are a most hospitable people who love to give directions, particularly when they hear a “kalimera,” good morning, or the standard “yassou,” good life, in parting.
This brings us to another aspect of Greek culture, body language. If you ask a question and the response is a raised head accompanied by “Ohi,” that is an emphatic “no.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Greeks have been waiting for the return of the marble relief sculptures from the Parthenon that are now in the British Museum, hopefully during the Olympics. You will endear yourself to them if you refer to these as the “Parthenon Marbles” rather than the “Elgin Marbles.” They are most sensitive about this politically charged issue and appreciate everyone’s support.
If you are planning to use the bus system, don’t forget, as I did several times, to purchase tickets beforehand from kiosk vendors. Otherwise you may be fined on the bus for attempting to avoid payment. Fortunately a friend alerted me to this and I had my ticket when I was asked for it by the bus inspector.
Of course, there is more to Greece than Athens. Perhaps you might visit the islands to take in some of the most perfect beaches and clearest blue water in the world.  Personally speaking, during the high peak season, which is June to August, I avoid the more popular islands such as Rhodes and Santorini. My favourite islands, frequented mainly by locals, are Spetses and Hydra. They are more out of the way and have less of the hustle and bustle of most island centres.
You could also go north to Thessaloniki (Salonika), the second city of the old Byzantine Empire and the second largest city today, after Athens. The city is poised between east and west, traces of the Ottoman Empire linger here. Most activity is centred along the waterfront. Here stands the White Tower, which houses an outstanding Museum.
The Kentriki Agora, central market, is its own world of sights and smells, where you’ll encounter hanging carcasses, barrels of Kalamata olives and more. If you haven’t tasted Greek yogurt, this is a good place to do it. The Greeks swear that by eating it you can add years to your life.
Tsimiskis Street is the city’s Fifth Avenue, where establishments selling some of the most exclusive merchandise can be found. As for souvenirs, when I am visiting Thessaloniki, my friends expect me to bring them back loukoumia, sweet delights,  kariokes and bougatsa filled with cream triangles. The city is famous for such delicacies. To get the authentic product, ask to be taken to one of the factories, which are not far from the centre.
When it is time to head home, your flight will no doubt depart from the newly opened airport in Athens. Arriving early for your flight will give you the opportunity to spend some time in the airport shops. This may be a good place to buy Olympic souvenirs, as their price is being monitored by the government.

Then bid “yassou” to the land of the gods. Oh! and do come back soon, the Greeks would love to see you again, as I am sure that by that time you met a lot of interesting local people and that you made a lot of Greek friends!


The Olympic experience April 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics, Testimonials.
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It is an account of my experience watching my sister play softball in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. Vanessa now teaches math and is the head softball coach at the high school we attended, Riverside Poly.

It didn’t hit me until I was sitting in a small bar in what is called the centre of Athens. As I sat and watched the Opening Ceremonies on a Greek television station, the Olympic rings emerged from the manmade lake that filled the middle of the Olympic Stadium. The rings were aflame, as were my emotions. Just miles away, my sister, Vanessa Czarnecki, was awaiting her time to march in as an Olympic athlete for the Greek softball team.

The search started long ago for Greece when my sister was still in high school. While her traveling team was representing the United States at a softball tournament in Canada someone approached her, knowing that my mother was born in Greece. At the time, the International Olympic Committee for Athens 2004 stated that Greece, the host country, needed to have a team for softball, a very new event, in order for it to qualify as an Olympic event. USA Softball began searching for more Greek-Americans like my sister to make up the roster. My sister said she was interested in playing for the Greeks, and the rest is history.

After more than 200 countries had passed through the stadium, it was finally Greece’s turn, or “Hellas” as Greece is said in the Greek language. My oldest sister Scarlett and I searched the television, hoping to spot Vanessa. There she was, smiling ear to ear, screaming with her softball teammates as one camera zoomed in on them. Vanessa’s Olympic experience had begun, and so had mine.

People I run into ask me about my time at the Olympics and I’m speechless. There are so many fascinating things on my list of events. We attended gymnastics, basketball games, volleyball matches and went sightseeing. All of it was fun, but not important. What was important was seeing my sister in her greatest moment, ending her career in the best way any athlete could.

It was the Olympics in its birthplace, Athens. It was what most regard as one of the most exciting sporting events.

Read the rest of this article > The Olympic experience

Speaking of “games” and “gods” January 23, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics, Culture History Mythology.
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Speaking of “games” and “gods” usually makes one think of the Greeks and the Olympic Games.

The original Olympic Games began in ancient Greece in 776 B.C. According to Greek mythology, Hercules started these games. After a great victory, Hercules made sacrifices to the Olympic gods and founded the Olympic games.

The Olympic games were held every four years and lasted five days. During this period, general peace was declared all over Greece. Before beginning and after completing the Olympic games, plentiful prayers and sacrifices were made to Zeus.

One interesting aspect of these games was that the main winner was crowned with laurels. Laurels were wreaths made from the leaves of the laurel tree. They were placed on the heads of the victors. It was the highest honor that a Greek could reach.

Yeah, that’s right, a leafy wreath. That was their award. No money. Not even a gold medal! Boy, times sure have changed. Now lots of these Olympic stars get rich endorsing merchandise and doing commercials. And many athletes get a free college education. I guess the Greek Olympians were just happy to “rest on their laurels.”

Another interesting thing about the original Olympic games is that they offered prayers to their god, Zeus. Nice to know that they did, at least, believe that their deity deserved some thanks and homage, and they were willing to ask for his blessings before and after their games.

Olympic site auctioned January 3, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Athens 2004 Olympics.
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Only one bidder was able to satisfy Olympic Properties’ requirement that the canoe and kayak slalom course be preserved for sports purposes.

The consortium made up of construction companies J&P Avax, GEK, Vioter and Corfu Waterpark has been announced as the winning bidder for the commercial development of the former canoe and kayak slalom venue at the former Athens airport site at Hellenikon.

The winning consortium was the only remaining bidder after the bid from the Audio Visual – Allou Fun Park consortium was deemed “technically insufficient” by Olympic Properties SA, the company set up to manage the sites used for the Athens 2004 Olympics, with the exception of the main Olympic complex and the Peace and Friendship stadium’s indoor arena.

The winning consortium will lease the canoe and kayak site for 30 years, with the express undertaking, a request made by international sports authorities, to allow it to be used as a sports venue during certain periods each year.

The consortium’s original bid included a first-year rent of euro 3,120,000. Following negotiations with Olympic Properties, this was raised to 3.5 million. The rent is to increase each year, reaching 4,618,176 after the 15th year, in constant 2006 prices. The total amount to be paid to Olympic Properties is 129,799,594. The state will be relieved of maintenance costs that reached 2,629,614 last year.

With this bid, four former Olympic installations have been turned over to private developers and three more bids, for the beach volleyball and tae kwon do sites as well as the sailing center at Aghios Cosmas, are under way. The four concluded bids have secured for Olympic Properties, and, by extension, the state, revenues reaching 661,047,945. The annual rents will start from 14,360,000 and will reach 18,947,715, in constant 2006 prices in 15 years. The annual cost of maintenance for these sites totaled 9,215,037 last year.

When running was not just sport but spectacle December 31, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics, Culture History Mythology.
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Running is among the oldest of all competitive sports, in fact, for the first centuries of the Olympics, it was the only sport in the games. Ancient Olympic competitors either sprinted or ran for distance, but the similarity to today’s events end there. Ancient poets and writers tell tales of runners, barefoot, bare and slick with oil, tripping each other, cutting corners, pulling competitors’ hair to get ahead and even of all-out fights erupting over who crossed the finish line first.

In the first Olympic games, back in 776 BC, the title of winner went to a man named Koroibos, a local cook who won the games’ benchmark 210-yard race. Koroibos and his fellow Olympians ran naked except for a layer of olive oil, which they slathered on from head to toe before and after any workout. This ancient locker-room oil was a grade or two lower than the stuff used in kitchens at the time. The oil prevented dehydration, and produced a nice, deep tan after a day in the sun.

Glistening with oil, the athletes would parade before the judges in a precontest display of fitness and beauty. In later years, after other sports were added to the games, some athletes would powder themselves too.

Evidently, the ancient judges cared as much about looks as they did about performance: An ideal runner, they felt, should be tall, but not too tall, have slim legs but well-built arms, and hands of average size. To the music of a flute, the runners stretched and warmed-up while spectators in the stands snacked on bread and wine.

Races began at a marble starting line, still visible in Olympia today. The runners’ starting postures would seem odd to most modern runners and spectators. They began races from a standing position, arms spread wide, toes hooked into grooves in the marble, putting one bare foot just inches in front of the other.

A rope was stretched taut at chest-height along the row of runners to keep them in line. Archeologists still haven’t quite figured out how it was released to signal the start of the race.

In the earliest games, runners sprinted west toward a temple to Zeus, to whom the games were dedicated, and who was reputed to have been a pretty good athlete himself. In later games, long after the temple was in ruins, runners continued their symbolic run to the west.

In longer races, they ran back and forth along the straight track, but they always ran their last lap in the direction of the god of gods. Even those long races capped out at a few miles, three, to be exact. In fact, the only “marathon” ever run in ancient Greece was done by a messenger who had to carry news of war from the city of Marathon to Athens, 26 miles away.

It was the one-lap sprint, called the stadion, that stole the show for the ancient Greeks and conferred immortality on its winner: The year’s games were named for the man who finished the stadion first. The winner also received pine branches and victory ribbons encircling his arms, a crown of olive branches cut from a sacred tree, a hail of music and flowers and an elaborate feast.

And then, of course, he had the knowledge that he had been smiled upon by Nike of Samothrace, long the ancient winged goddess of victory before she became the inspiration, thousands of years later, for a running shoe.

Development of Olympic venues draws many bidders December 16, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Athens 2004 Olympics.
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Three contracts already signed, with four more tenders under way

Officials at Olympic Properties SA are quite satisfied with the progress achieved in the sale of Olympic venues for development, as three tenders have been concluded, while four more are in progress.

Olympic Properties was set up to develop all the venues used for the 2004 Athens Olympics except for the main Olympic complex, the Peace and Friendship indoor arena and the soccer venues.

Olympic Properties’ management is also satisfied with the interest expressed by private investors, making for competitive tenders and satisfactory bids. Real estate companies have been at the forefront of the bidding, a fact explained by the prime location of Olympic venues.

Olympic Properties’ commitment to deliver the properties to private developers free of any legal claims or conflicts with town-planning regulations makes its portfolio even more attractive to private developers.

“Competitive tenders began in July 2005. During these months, with seven tenders having begun, and some completed, I think we are on schedule. We conducted the tenders as fast as we could. In this respect, we are happy with developments so far,” Olympic Properties’ President Christos Hajiemmanouil said.

Beach Volley: The tender for the seaside venue that hosted one of the Games’ most popular events is at its first stage, in which interested bidders have been invited to express interest, but not binding bids. The interested parties are three Greece-based groups (Village Roadshow Operations Hellas, the Everest/ATESE consortium and the GEK/J&P Avax/Vioter consortium and France’s Altarea and SEPI groups).

However, a recent agreement between the Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works and the Municipality of Kallithea for the transfer to the latter of a nearby playground and buildings means that the tender must be called anew. The new call for expressions of interest will be published on January 8.

Sailing center: The installation at Aghios Cosmas is being leased for 35-40 years. The tender is at its final stage with the submission of binding offers by five bidders (Intrakat, Hellenic Technodomiki, Acropol Haragionis, Lambert Smith Hampton; Sirius Technical Commercial Industrial Auto Stations Development Company; the S.CAPE consortium made up of J&P Avax, GEK, Vioter SA and Autodynamiki; Aegaion Oil, Hellenic Environmental Center Oil Residue Management and Processing Company, Majestic Marine Company, Oceanic Cruise Corp, Gantzoulas Technical Co, Pantechniki; Waterfront SA).

Canoe Kayak Slalom: There has been considerable interest for this venue at Hellenikon, especially from leisure and catering companies. However, no big foreign firms have competed. The winning bid is expected to be announced early next year among two bidders: Audiovisual, in cooperation with Allou Fun Park and the J&P Avax/GEK consortium. Village Roadshow withdrew at the last moment, apparently because Olympic Properties insisted that the water course be preserved intact for sports purposes.

Faliron Convention Center: The arena that hosted the tae kwon do competition in the Olympics has also attracted a lot of interest, although the tender is still at an early stage. There are, potentially, over 20 bidders, mostly from the construction sector. Olympic Properties has said that the winning bidder must have significant experience in organizing conventions and conferences.

The badminton venue at Goudi has been leased for 20 years and an estimated total of euro 20 million to a consortium comprising Adam Productions, the owners of the Half Note Jazz Club and Allou Fun Park. They will invest euro 6 million in a 2,500-seat theater/entertainment space.

The Galatsi Olympic Center will become in 2008 a commercial complex to be developed by Sonae-Haragionis, which will initially pay euro 3 million annually for a 40-year lease. The developer will invest euro 78 million. Lamda Development will spend euro 60 million to develop a new commercial center at the site of the former International Broadcasting Center, leased for 40 years at euro 7.25 million per year.

Greek Olympic Games Museum to be built up November 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Museums, Athens 2004 Olympics.
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A contract for the setup of a Greek Olympic Games Museum in Athens was signed at the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland on Monday, according to the Athens News Agency.

According to an announcement, the technical details of the contract and the project’s implementation plan will be determined with a special legislative arrangement that will be tabled in Parliament by the Ministry of Culture.

The Greek Olympic Games Museum will be located alongside with the International Radio and Television Center in the Athens suburb of Maroussi, next to the Athens Olympic Stadium and Sports Complex.