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Greece to be featured at the Nye Beach Gallery March 16, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean, Hellenic Light Americas.
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Hillside buildings at Fira, Santorini. Typical architecture on the island begins in caves and extends outward to terraces overlooking smaller islands of the volcanic crater.

Photographs of the Greek Islands and the Acropolis by Elizabeth Atly will be on exhibit at the Nye Beach Gallery and paired with a Greek wine tasting featuring Santorini wines for the gallery’s weekly wine tasting. An artist’s reception will be held at the same time, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, March 15. Nye Beach Gallery is located at 715 NW Third St. Atly’s exhibit will be on display through the month of March.

Through several vocations as a French professor, residential designer/architectural historian, and filmmaker, Atly, who recently transplanted from Portland to Newport, has avidly pursued the avocation of photography, with occasional one-artist shows and inclusion in group shows.

16-03-08_santorini.jpg  The photographs on exhibit at the Nye Beach Gallery were taken in Greece in 1996.

Santorini is the only volcanic island in the Aegean, said by locals to be the site of the sunken city of Atlantis. Prior to visiting the island, Atly considered only black and white photography, nurtured to life in the darkroom to become “art.”

On a walk through the colorful Fira neighborhood the morning after embarking from the ferry, Atly returned to her room and put away the black and white film. This show is a result of that decision.

Atly is a founding member of the For ARTSAKE Gallery, soon to be open at 258 NW Coast St. in Nye Beach. Her work and that of the nine other For ARTSAKE members will be on display at the new gallery. Watch for opening information.

The first thing you notice about Santorini is the whiteness of the buildings, all massed on the ridges of the crescent-shaped island, with green and rocky hills and fields between the villages. Just as the white shapes up close reveal a kaleidoscope mingling subtle and outrageous color, the fields reveal various phenomena. Olive trees and even prickly pear cactus grow, seemingly out of rock, and in springtime, one sees fields on rolling hills, full of what appear to be crowns of thorns. These are the starts of the grape vines from which the remarkable Santorini wines are cultivated. Training them into circular patterns on the ground protects the starts from the harsh winds that can tear through these islands.

Santorini cuisine for the traveler on a budget consists of variations of souvlaki, chicken and potatoes roasted together, Greek salads and spaghetti cooked in a thinner tomato sauce than its Italian counterpart, subtly spiced with bail. Lobster and other seafoods are plentiful, served up with orzo pasta and local seasonal vegetables; and what would a Greek meal be without olives, feta, olive oil, Greek bread, all accompanied by ouzo, or retsina, or best of all, one of the delicious Santorini wines.

For more information contact Wendy Engler at the Nye Beach Gallery at 265-3292.



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.

A Greek island hopping September 23, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Islands Ionian.
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The beautiful Greek islands are just perfect for a spot of hopping, as many will tell you. But you don’t need to live out of a backpack and navigate your way round the island’s hostels, hop aboard a luxury liner for a tour of the very best places in Greece.

Santorini > One of the world’s most dramatic backdrops of cliffs, sea and sky in the world was sculpted by a volcanic eruption during the Bronze Age. The explosion caused the middle of this once-circular island to sink, leaving an enormous sea-filled crater flanked by mammoth cliffs. This cataclysmic event is the reason for many of the island’s remarkable features, from its black-sand beaches to exquisite wines grown from the fertile volcanic soil.

The town of Fira, located on the island’s west end, is perched on the edge of sheer 260m cliffs. Wonderful views combine with quaint streets filled with souvenir shops, jewellers and fine restaurants. To truly appreciate this cliff-clinging spot, descend by cable car to the port of Athinio below. If you’re truly daring, zigzag down the face of the cliff on a donkey.

Rhodes > Rhodes is said to be the sunniest place in Europe, with an average of 300 days of sunshine a year. Inhabited since prehistoric times, the island has a rich history spanning millennia. The Old Town’s character is greatly influenced by Italian architecture and this well-preserved society still maintains its charm of a medieval town with Venetian and Ottoman influences. This ancient harbour is where the famous Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood. There are also ruins of the ancient acropolis and the Temple of Apollo.

Buy fine pottery, leather goods and painted vases in the winding streets of the old town. Savour some local olive oil, homegrown fruits and vegetables and well-reputed Rhodian wine. Tour Sokratu Street for the best shopping and cuisine choices on the island.

Mykonos > Mykonos is a dazzling destination filled with whitewashed houses, blue-domed churches and beautiful beaches set against an equally striking blue sky. The Hora, or main village, of Mykonos is filled with a maze of tight-winding streets. With over 20 accessible sandy beaches, you’ll discover secluded locations and family-oriented beaches.

Mythology cites Delos as the birthplace of Apollo, son of Zeus. Visit remnants of temples dedicated to Apollo or take a stroll to the Sanctuary of Artemis, dedicated to Apollo’s sister. The House of the Dolphins and the House of the Masks showcase superbly colourful mosaic pavements. The Terrace of the Lions, a row of marble lions erected in the 7th century BC, stand as eternal guardians of the sanctuary.

Corfu > Although most of the Greek islands are located in the Aegean, Corfu is in the Ionian Sea. Lush and fertile with a cooler climate, Corfu is dotted with olive groves, orange and lemon orchards, and graceful cypress trees. Explore living history in the streets of Corfu’s old town and take in the old and new fortresses, or citadels, surrounded by delightful gardens. Narrow, winding streets, wander past quaint village squares, and richly decorated churches and homes.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria built the Palace of Achilleion. Adorned with statues and motifs associated with Achilles, the palace features a dramatic statue, the Dying Achilles, by German sculptor Herter. The palace grounds feature lush and tropical terraced gardens with sweeping views of Corfu Town and the countryside.

Finding bliss on a Greek island > Skyros September 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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The games people play on the Greek island of Skyros have nothing to do with fitness, stamina or winning medals. Instead, they’re all about conquering your fears, freeing your spirit and having the sort of fun you probably haven’t enjoyed since you were a small kid.

Skyros is a tiny dot in the Aegean sea. Bypassed by most backpackers on the island hopping route, it retains a kind of gentle, old-fashioned charm which is a definite drawcard. But that’s not why some people come here. Every two weeks over the summer months, and now also in winter, scores of people come searching for something far more potent: the secret of how to enjoy life.

Skyros contains Europe’s oldest holistic holiday centre. Perched on top of a hill overlooking the sea, the Skyros Centre celebrates its 27th birthday this year. Speaking as one who’s been to the Skyros centres in Greece, I think they should come with a caution: “Warning! This holiday could seriously change your life.” It’s serious fun. Uplifting, joyful, raucous fun. The sort that makes you want to kiss waiters, dance on tables, run naked into the sea.

I balked at the naked swimming, but there was plenty of dancing, and even a spot of very nice kissing. I also rolled down a hillside, plunging through scraggy gorse bushes and smelly goat droppings, laughing hysterically alongside Marina, an English lawyer in her 30s. When we reached the bottom, we both wanted to rush back up and do it again.

It’s easy to see why people are tempted to go. The Skyros brochure is crammed with courses run by experienced and sometimes famous tutors. Creative options like poetry, film-making, or short story writing fill up quickly, especially when names like Margaret Drabble, Steven Berkoff and Louis de Berniere run them. You can strut your stuff at a salsa class, try your hand at wood carving, practise clowning, jewellery making, singing and cooking.

The next day I’m horrified to find myself putting my initials firmly next to the Understanding Relationships course. The next two weeks are a revelation as I begin to shift old patterns and dump excess baggage that has weighed me down for years.

Our facilitator is an experienced family therapist who leads us towards greater self-awareness and self-acceptance. It’s powerful stuff (a box of tissues never lasts long) but we laugh as much as we cry and the friendships we forge are a source of lasting support.

The Singing For The Scared class has people harmonising like professionals; the phrase “sing to your heart’s content” suddenly makes perfect sense. I attend a couple of Greek classes, skip them when I’ve learnt how to order a glass of wine, and no-one minds. It’s up to you how much you want to join in.

This isn’t advertised as a singles holiday, but of the 26 of us there’s only one couple. Women outnumber men, and our ages range from early 20s to mid 60s. There’s a wonderful assumption at Skyros that anyone can do anything.

Accommodation is shared (unless you pay a single supplement) and it turns out to be better than expected. As for food, think yourself lucky if all you gain is 5kg. It’s freshly prepared, and there’s lots of it. Breakfast and lunch are taken in the courtyard, seated beneath the shade of an old pomegranate tree, with sweeping views towards the ocean. At night we all get together for a meal in one of the local tavernas, and we’re hard-pressed to spend more than $20 each, no matter how much we eat or drink.

We all discover we have hidden talents, and they’re evident on the last night when people sing, dance, read poetry and perform in a light-hearted cabaret that marks the end of an astonishing two weeks.

One of the last things we’re encouraged to do is write a letter to ourselves, which the staff promise to post six weeks later. Mine is sitting in front of me as I write. “Dear Me,” it says. “I never knew therapy could be so much fun.”

Where to stay: Overnight in Athens on Friday night is at the Dorian Inn Hotel. Travel to the island next day by coach and ferry. Accommodation on Skyros is pre-allocated and shared with one other. Contact: www.skyros.com for details.

Island of Santorini > A shining arc in the Aegean September 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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The beauty of the Greek islands lies in the light, unlike any other in Europe. It is fiercer, stronger, sharper and silhouettes the mountains and the whitewashed houses in stark razorlike patterns against the sky. The sun plays havoc with the nooks and crags of the ocher landscape, tossing out long shadows that ripple across the arid soil. It turns the sea from opal in the morning to sapphire to gold, to silver and finally to dross before descending swiftly in a bright red ball.

santorini_oia.jpg  A crumbling church in Oia, on the island of Santorini.

It is the light of sculptors, not painters, who love the soft diaphanous hues and tones of Italy or France. Out of that light came not only the great statues of ancient Greece and the long, clean lines of the Parthenon, but the precise vocabulary for abstract ideas that gave birth to Western philosophy. The light is all. And in the Cycladic Islands it remains, along with the sea, a primal and overpowering element of daily life.

Of the many islands that lie scattered off the southern tip of Greece, perhaps none is more famed for its beauty than Santorini. Its present shape, an arch surrounding the volcanic peaks of Palaia Kameni and Nea Kameni pushing up out of the sea, was formed 3,500 years ago when an eruption wiped out all life on the island along with all the cities on Crete, obliterated in the towering wall of water that followed. About three-quarters of the land mass of Santorini vanished. Plato believed that it was the lost Atlantis. Today the island, 63 miles north of Crete, has a land mass of 30 square miles and 13,000 inhabitants in about a dozen villages. The population swells in summer, so that parts of the island are crowded and traffic clogs the narrow streets.

The rain of lava and ash that fell over the landscape for at least four days and blotted out the sun can be seen in the red, gray and brown layers in the cliffs that plunge dramatically some 900 feet into the sea. The eruption formed the caldera, the sparkling water-filled crater, seven miles across, that rests in the outstretched arms of the island that is now a harbor. The volcano, still active, huffs gently in the center of the caldera, its sulfurous jets spitting out from the porous rocks. There was a series of heavy eruptions from 1925 until 1950 that threw molten rocks into the night sky. The bays of the islands of Palaia Kameni and Nea Kameni have hot springs, popular with tourists, heated by the activity brewing beneath the water.

Certainly an advanced civilization, a worthy precursor to ancient Greece, was destroyed, as can be seen from the archaeological excavations on the island. The magnitude of the event haunts the island, from the ancient pottery shards found along the beaches to the layers of volcanic rock.

But that said, there are two Santorinis, each very different. One is for the backpacking, beer-guzzling students who in summer turn the capital Fira into a gigantic fraternity party until dawn and then crash in self-induced stupors on the black sand of the beaches of Perissa and Kamari. Fira has the feel of many such towns along the Greek coastline where developers have not been kept at bay, too many buses clog the streets and cruise ships disgorge thousands of sunburned tourists at regular intervals.

The beauty here has been marred by too many hostels and bars and the detritus of tourism, aided by the expansion of the local airport in the early 1990’s that permits direct charter flights. Hotels and villas line the beaches of Kamari and Perissa. 

Fira is cheap and it looks it. It must be hard to sleep there, given the heavy nocturnal activity. Bars don’t close until after the sun comes up. When I left for the airport shortly after dawn, having spent a week on the island, young men and women were still drinking in the central plaza or just beginning to saunter home. It looked like Florida during spring break.

But the other Santorini is quiet, refined and centered on the northern town of Oia, where the town fathers had the foresight to prohibit live music, keep the bars to a minimum and create zoning laws that catered to a different clientele. Most important, they did not allow the local population to be driven out. Oia is the most beautiful town on the island, and each night hushed tourists gather on the ramparts of a 13th century castle that was built by the Venetians to watch for pirates.

Through tourism, the town has recouped the prosperity it had in the late 19th century when it was a thriving port. The wealthy merchants and captains built large neo-classical homes out of red and black stones, with large verandas overlooking the sea. Many were heavily damaged in the 1956 earthquake. The modest, traditional homes built by the sailors on the island were barrel-roofed caves hacked out from the pumice. Long, narrow and with vaulted roofs, they are hundreds of years old.

The main street of Oia, Marmara (marmaro means marble), was paved in the 19th century with white marble flagstones. The street still separates these two quarters, of the sailors and fishermen and the elite. But all was in sad repair until 1976 when the Greek government began to restore historical and tourist sites.

The work in Oia was supervised by Voula Didoni, an architect who protected the harmony and beauty that makes Oia the crown jewel of Santorini. In the last two decades, most buildings have been lavishly refurbished as vacation houses and rental villas, and Oia is one of the most fashionable vacation spots in Greece.

In this village with fewer than 1,000 people, I saw mostly older couples. They strolled along the narrow, smooth marble street, past the white-washed cubes and blue domes or sat holding hands in the cafes. Oia’s jewelry and carpet shops are pricey, as are the restaurants that serve until after midnight.

But repose was what I sought. And in Oia it was possible to find privacy and solitude, as well as unmarred vistas of the sea. I had time to read, bask in the sun and dine on two meals a day of fresh bread and coffee and, late in the afternoon, fresh fish, tomato salad and the slightly bitter and inexpensive white wine that is the hallmark of the island. The cuisine is simple, consisting mostly of fresh fish, olives, bread and tomatoes.

Santorini is desolate. Its arid soil offers little other than tomatoes, eggplant and grapes, and even then the vines grow no more than a foot from the ground. They are kept low to the soil to absorb the dew as there is no rain for at least six months. The fresh branches are plaited in autumn between the older branches, making the vines look like upturned wicker work. This formation protects the plants from the winter storms. Most of the men on the island made their living as sailors or fishermen, although tourism is now the largest industry.

The sun in summer is as unforgiving as it is beautiful. Shade was hard to find in July and the town shut down in the blistering waves of heat each afternoon. There were slopes outside Oia on the walk down to the beach where under foot I was able to scoop up ancient pottery shards, some with black lines of paint slashed across the ocher chunks. I steered clear of the major tourist spots and was willing to walk, so I always found desolate stretches of rocky coast where I spread out my towel, smothered myself in powerful sunscreen and read away the day. The rocks on most of the coast line are large and uneven but the water is clear and inviting..

I stayed in a whitewashed villa carved out of the rock that belonged to Triantafyllos Pitsikalis, a former Greek seaman, who owns the Chelidonia Traditional Villas with his Austrian wife, Erika Moechel-Pitsikalis, and their three boisterous boys. My villa was simple and clean, with a small kitchen, sitting room, domed bedroom and two patios with umbrellas and tables, one completely out of public view, that looked over the caldera. It had a new air-conditioner, and although it was smaller than others, it had more privacy. 

Each morning, I had my coffee with fresh bread and honey on the patio. I heard nothing but the noisy chatter of seabirds. I made my own breakfasts and usually ate a late supper at one of the fish restaurants.

There is no shortage of places to stay on the island, up to the exclusive Tsitouras complex outside of Fira where rooms cost more than $600 a night. I found the Chelidonia Traditional Villas through friends who had stayed there. It is best to deal directly with owners or rely on guidebooks with establishments that have been checked out in advance. I loved the simplicity and intimacy of the Chelidonia villas, as well as the care taken by the owners over detail, despite their keeping a respectful distance. When I needed a new clothesline, Erika told her husband to make sure it could be taken down so as not to mar the view. But when I came home that night, after walking the five-mile ridge from Oia to Fira, I noticed it indeed had hooks so that, when not in use, the line could be removed.

Chilling out on a volcanic island in the Aegean

Where to Stay > During the off-season, in the fall and spring, rates at villas drop by about 25 percent. At Chelidonia Traditional Villas, tel 22860 71287, fax 22860 71649, www.chelidonia.com, the nine villas run by Triantafyllos Pitsikalis and Erika Moechel-Pitsikalis do not have some of the amenities that other more upscale villa complexes have. There is no pool and there are no telephones in the rooms or breakfast or bar service. But the villas offer a good location, efficiency and privacy, as well as a reasonable price. The villas have daily maid service and air-conditioning. Each also has a kitchenette, bathroom and terrace overlooking the caldera.

The 20 units at Fanari Villas, tel 22860 71007, fax 22860 71235, www.fanarivillas.com, are clustered around a small swimming pool with a bar that serves breakfast and a light lunch. It has amenities of most upscale hotels, including color televisions, safe-deposit boxes, coffee makers, hair dryers and kitchenettes, and some rooms have a tub or Jacuzzi. It is located at the tip of Oia, where many tourists gather to watch the sunset. 

Canaves Oia, tel 22860 71453, fax 22860 71195, www.canaves.com, like Fanari Villas, is a more upscale collection of accommodations. There are about 35 villas overlooking the sea that come closer to traditional hotel service. It has a small pool, a bar and breakfast and lunch service. Tastefully furnished rooms have telephones and minibars. 

Where to Eat > Restaurant 1800, tel 22860 71485, www.1800.gr, in Oia, is in an old ship owner’s stone mansion built in 1800, with authentic decorations, Mediterranean cuisine, and a roof garden with view of the caldera and sunsets. Reservations are required. Also in Oia, Restaurant Skala, tel 22860 71362, has a huge terrace with caldera view and a kitchen that uses mostly local products. 

Restaurant Sunset, tel 22860 71614, is at the small fishing port of Ammoudi. The tables are at the pier, and it is very pretty at sunset. It specializes in fresh fish and seafood, and delicious appetizers. 

Cafeteria Pelekanos, tel 22860 71553, www.pelekanoscafe.gr, is on a terrace with a 360-degree view. It serves coffees, drinks, sweets and light meals. It has a nice veranda that overlooks the caldera.

There are various simple taverns in Oia, such as Thomas Grill, tel 22860 71769, which offer meals for economic prices. Souvlaki or chicken (from a coal grill) with potatoes, salad and wine. They pack meals to take out.

Sightseeing > Boat trips, including the sunset tour with Bella Aurora, tel 22860 24024, are very pleasant. The boat is a replica of a 19th-century Greek schooner. You board at the Port Athinios at 3:30 p.m. and return about 8. Tickets and information about other tours are available at tourist offices.

In Oia, it is worth visiting the Naval Museum, tel 22860 71156, a restored ship owner’s villa in back of town hall. It honors the maritime history of Oia with ship models and old photos. Books about Oia and naval history are available.

Beyond town hall on the way to Naval Museum, the Traditional Weaving Mill sells handmade carpets and curtains. Visitors can watch girls weaving. The carpets are priced by the meter.

Sigalas Winery, northeast of Oia in the middle of wine fields, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in spring and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. June through September. Take a guided walk through the winery with wine tasting or enjoy a glass of wine, and do taste various local cheeses and local specialties served per plate.

Day and night on Mykonos, Greece September 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Gay Life, Greece Islands Aegean.
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The hottest Greek island offers a host of beautiful beaches as well as the promise of an exciting night out after the sun goes down. 

mykonos_view.jpg  The Cyclades, after the Acropolis, is what Greece is famous for. Picturesque and unique, each of these islands in the Aegean south of Athens has a different flavor and landscape.

Mykonos is known for its wide sandy beaches; its large, cruisy gay population; and the quaint town of Hora, with windmills and designer shops. Santorini is spectacular, with its volcanic terrain, whitewashed villages stacked on a mountainside, and infamous mules lugging supplies up the hundreds of stairs from the old port to town. Folegandros is one of the last sleepy and nontouristy islands left in the Cyclades. You can hike for miles on its rugged hills and not see another soul, and you can lounge on beaches where only a handful of visitors venture each summer. So close to one another yet so different, these islands offer a very unique experience. Combining the three would give you an incredible Greek island vacation.

mykonos_caique.jpg  Super Paradise Beach, the gayest on Mykonos, is the second stop on the caοque from Platis Yialos

Mykonos: Decadence & Debauchery Unlimited > So you’ve heard of Mykonos, the quintessential Greek island, the jewel of the Cyclades with its windmills, whitewashed villages, and outstanding beaches. You’ve probably also heard of the nude beaches, the dancing in the streets, the all-night parties at Super Paradise Beach, and the infamous 12 Gods circuit party that goes on day and night for almost a week in early September. Mykonos is all that and much more.

Gays from all over the world (very few lesbians) converge on Mykonos, men of every shape and size, of every age, race, and profession. Germans are statistically the most frequent visitors, followed by the British. This is a very seasonal island—nothing is open before Easter or beyond the end of October. The best months are May, June, September, and October, when the island is at its gayest, the weather perfect, and everything less expensive. July and August are very crowded with a mixed tourist crowd. Hip young Athenians escape the city and come here too, and it gets so crowded that walking in the small village of Hora is immensely frustrating. Some travelers complain of the noise and traffic; others say the gay scene is too much like an endless circuit party. But the great thing about Mykonos is that with so many beaches, all large and sandy, with sparkling blue water, you can still find some peace and quiet if you want. But in the end, Mykonos isn’t about reading a book under a beach umbrella, it’s about decadence and debauchery (you’d be better off reading somewhere cheaper, anyway). The rhythm is party until dawn, sleep until noon, then hit the beach, dine at 10 p.m., and repeat.

EXPLORING MYKONOS > You don’t come to Mykonos to soak up Greek culture. There really isn’t much here in terms of archaeological sites except the sacred island of Delos nearby. Mykonos is for the hedonist looking for sun, sea, and nightlife. The main attraction is the men. Men from all over the world, old and young, blond and dark, single and married, and certainly the curious. Men hold hands and even kiss in the tiny streets while old Greek women out shopping for vegetables pretend they don’t notice. Or if they do, they roll their eyes ever so slightly, knowing there’s not much they can do.

On several occasions throughout the year, the U.S. Navy brings its ships, and its randy seamen, for a weekend getaway on Mykonos. (Don’t ask and I won’t tell why they picked Mykonos.) But you can imagine the mayhem of locked-up “straight” boys and the confusion they and their hosts endure. Yes, Mykonos does get zooey. And everything seems to be about sex, gay and straight and whatever. There’s a feeling, especially on midsummer weekends, that the town is overrun and everything is out of control. You wait for a table at restaurants, you wait for a drink at the bar, you wait to take a few steps trying to walk in the streets, and then wait for a taxi.

However, barely a few miles away are empty stretches of beach waiting to be discovered. You can have the best of both worlds on Mykonos: You can enjoy the cruising and the dancing. You can watch the queens posing in the square and the navy boys chasing local girls (not many of those). But right outside of town you can spend an evening on a quiet beach just listening to the waves and counting the stars with the man of your dreams.

mykonos_windmills.jpg  Windmills line the hilltop to catch the breezes.

You’ll probably hear of Super Paradise Beach, the gayest on Mykonos, long before you arrive. The second stop on the caοque from Platis Yialos, it’s a secluded stretch reachable only by boat or four-wheel-drive vehicle (and scooter, if you’re into potential suicide and permanent back damage). If you arrive on the small boat, you’ll notice that on the right side of the beach the scene is a hetero and partly nude meat market and the left side almost exclusively gay and mostly nude. You can just imagine what goes on at all hours among the rocks and cliffs and trails behind the beach (of course, you’re not interested in that, are you?). The music blares, it gets real crowded by early afternoon, and the boys like to stare. Don’t expect any seclusion, just lots of cruising action. The Super Paradise Restaurant and Bar (open daily 11 a.m.–9 p.m.) is right above the beach on the rocky cliff and has a small freshwater pool. In addition to all kinds of cocktails, the bar serves fresh fruit juices. The restaurant is a bit overpriced for its mediocre food; expect to pay 9E ($8) for drinks and 19E ($20) for a meal.

 mykonos_beach.jpg  The boys in the sand.

PARANGA > A 10-minute hike from Platis Yialos or the first stop on the caique if you request it when you buy your ticket, Paranga Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand big enough for you to choose the spot you want according to your mood. The south side is calm and sedate, with many people reading and lounging in the nude. Here you’ll find many returning visitors and local gays who don’t want to deal with the crowds at Super Paradise. You can rent a chaise lounge for 3E ($2.75) and an umbrella for the same price. It’s a very mixed beach, with equal numbers of gays and straights. On the north side, the tavernas play music and serve drinks. The Barbra & Yannis Restaurant and Bar (tel 22890 23552; open daily 11 a.m.–9 p.m.) serves excellent homemade Greek food at amazingly reasonable prices. Have lunch at one of its tables in the shade of the grapevine before venturing back to your chaise for an afternoon of swimming and sunbathing.

PARADISE > Between Paranga and Super Paradise, Paradise Beach is the second stop (sometimes the first) on the caique (or buses run several times a day from the south bus stop). This is the hetero version of Super Paradise. Here music blares, and the young and the seemingly straight party day and night. You’ll find mostly northern European tourists and American college students, beer in hand. It’s a fun, boisterous crowd if you’re into the Mazatlan-meets-Mykonos spring-break scene. A large complex with a beach bar, pool, and restaurant, Cavo Paradiso (22890 26124; open daily 10–2 a.m.) is on the hill above the beach. There’s also a gym where you can pump it up with the college boys. On midsummer nights, parties are held here, and the whole beach resembles one huge disco, with people dancing on the rocks, on the sand, around the pool, and on the cliffs around the beach. The dancing and drinking continues until way past sunrise.

AGARARI & ELIA > Side-by-side Agrari and Elia beaches, the third and fourth stops on the caοque (or take the bus to Elia during high season from the north bus station), are large and sandy and perfect for a quiet afternoon of swimming. Agrari is mellow, and Elia has a variety of tavernas and bars and offers windsurfing, water-skiing, and parasailing. For lunch or drinks, the Desire Restaurant & Bar, at the northern end (22890 71207; open daily 10 a.m.–9 p.m.), has fresh salads and cute waiters. Expect to pay 8E ($7) for drinks and 12E ($11) for a light meal (the octopus salad is delicious). Watermania, on a hillside behind Elia (22890 71685), is a huge aqua park where a party atmosphere reigns daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. There are two huge pools, a variety of slides, and boat rides. Admission is 12E ($11) for the day.

KALAFATI & KALO LIVADI > You’ll need a scooter or car to get to the less-crowded Kalafati and Kalo Livadi beaches, but there’s limited bus service from the north bus stop. On days when the Meltemi winds blow hard, Kalo Livadi is your best bet, since it’s one of the few pebbly beaches on Mykonos. In Kalafati you’ll find the new Paradise Aphrodite Beach Hotel (22890 71367), with 148 rooms and a large pool; doubles begin at 150E ($138). Despite its hugeness, it’s a good place to have lunch and a swim. The beach is sandy and over a mile long and has the cleanest water in Mykonos.

ORNOS > The closest good beach to Mykonos Town is Ornos Beach, where buses from the south bus stop run every half an hour. Lined with tavernas, restaurants, bars, and hotels, it can get packed in high season. This beach is usually overrun with families and tourists on package vacations, and there’s absolutely no nudity. But it’s still possible to have a nice swim and people-watch while you relax on your chaise, costing 3E ($2.75) for the day.

PLATIS YIALOS > Platis Yialos, to which buses run every 20 minutes from the south bus station, is the hub of beach life in Mykonos. This is where the buses bring hordes of people every half an hour to catch the caοques to the outlying beaches. The sandy beach is jammed with taverna after taverna and hotel after hotel. Only visitors staying in hotels seem to swim at this beach, for it’s just too busy most of the time. If you’re staying here and have asked for a seafront or sea-view room from any of the hotels, be prepared for noise. Many visitors hoping to hear the waves from their beach hotels end up with screeching scooter noise and clanging dishes instead.

OTHER BEACHES > The beach closest to Mykonos Town on the north side is Aghios Stephanos, with many hotels and tavernas. It’s too crowded to be enjoyable. Farther north, accessible only by car or scooter, are several pretty beaches. Take the road north heading to the town of Ano Mera (the only other town on Mykonos apart from Hora) to get to Panormos, the largest and most popular of the northern beaches. The Panormos Restaurant, on the hillside (22890 25182; open daily noon–11 p.m.), serves fresh fish. Close to Panormos are many small coves and secluded beaches. Aghios Sotis is the farthest beach north reachable by car and is gaining popularity with the local gay population; nudity is permitted.

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT > On Mykonos, there’s a thin line between straight and gay. You’ll always find gays at the straight bars and vice versa. Even the patrons at the gay bars are usually only about 70% gay. As Jody, co-owner of the Montparnasse Piano Bar, put it, “There’s always enough variety that my mother feels comfortable here.” Until midnight, that is. Midnight is the magic hour, when anyone with any gay interest heads to the “square,” in front of an old church, one street in from Taxi Square on Matoyanni Street. There are three bars: Pierrot’s, Manto’s, and Ikarus, the three most famous gay bars in all Greece. Most of the posing, cruising, and drinking actually happens right outside the bars, on the square. By 1 a.m., the crowd is so thick it takes quite a bit of shoving and pushing to squeeze through the Lycra T-shirted boys to get inside to the bar for a drink (talk about a contact sport).

Where are the gay men before midnight? There’s only one happening place, and that’s the Montparnasse Piano Bar in Little Venice. It’s most fun between 10 p.m. and midnight, before the boys start thinking of going dancing and looking for other pursuits.

Note > All indicated prices are in Euro (equivalent in US$) and were good at time of before going on publication only. Please check before making any arrangements.

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