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A decade later, columnist finds America has invaded Greece November 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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A decade later, columnist finds America has invaded Greece
By KIRSTIN FAWCETT For the Blade-News

Following an intermittently rainy week in Geneva, Switzerland, I was quite ready to trade drizzle for dry heat, fondue for fried calamari, and Lake Geneva for the Aegean Sea. Lucky for me, such a dramatic change of scenery was not only a part of my travel itinerary, but was also a mere three-hour plane ride away.
The world is different and beautiful in so many ways. Switzerland is starkly scenic, with rugged mountains scraping a pristine Alpine sky. However, as I descended down my plane’s tinny metal stairs and firmly stood on Greek soil, all I could see was blue. Everything in Greece is blue, from the sky to the mountains to the incredibly clear and salty water. The cerulean sunlight is brilliant yet blinding, even when shrouded by the layers of smog and pollution that hover above the Athenian cityscape.

As waves of heat hit my sweater-clad body full force, I started to realize in those first few Grecian minutes a fact which I would soon hold to be a universal truth: Everything in Greece is warm, from the weather to the sandy beaches to the noisy, inquiring, hospitable people. Everything is warm, that is, except for the sea. The Aegean is cool, though not cold. Rejuvenating, not bracing. The mild breeze and brisk water is a striking and delicious contrast. A less lovely, yet equally interesting juxtaposition is the seaside Temple of Poseidon’s white marble pillars silhouetted against nearby modern chrome hotels. Standing on the cliff where the temple was erected thousands of years ago, one could almost imagine Athena or Zeus lazily descending from the sky to recline amongst the temple ruins. Staring down at the beach below, infested with half-clothed European tourists, one could almost imagine Girls Gone Wild: Mediterranean Style. However, Greece’s largest disconnect had to be its Americanization. Once homogenous in its cultural ways, the country had been infused with a hefty dose of my home country since my first visit nine years earlier.

Despite my wide-eyed wonder towards Greece’s beauty, I am quite familiar with the country. I visited Athens, along with the islands of Santorini, Mykonos and Crete, at age 11. Most families go on vacation to Disney World or Ocean City. My family chose to haggle with gypsies in the outdoor market of Plaka, to order strange meats called souvlaki off of all-Greek menus, and to decipher the guttural, broken English of cab drivers. Nearly a decade later, I was ready to re-enter this unusual yet wonderful world. However, a foreign invader had proven to penetrate the strange, exotic cultural shield of Athens in recent years. Whow as said-conqueror? An American clown named Ronald McDonald.

Plaka, the oldest open-aired market in Athens, was the fiendish clown’s most formidable victim. When I was 11, the cobblestoned streets of Plaka had been littered with stands containing items both intriguing and illicit. I had been mesmerized by porcelain perfume bottles and silver jewelry, whereas my then-13-year-old brother had hankered after the illegal throwing stars and nun-chucks sold by shifty-eyed men.

In September, I was privileged enough to stroll through Plaka once more. However, the only similarity that I now noticed between the Plaka of past and present was its location. Swiveling my head back and forth, I realized that several stone streets had been paved over with smooth black concrete. A Starbucks was nestled among traditional Greek cafes and gyro stands. The gypsies and stray cats that had once yelled and yowled in the background were silent in their absence. The most noticeable change, however, had to be the McDonald’s standing next to the area’s subway station. The lunchtime line pouring out of said building was twice as long as the crowds swarming around a nearby Greek restaurant’s entrance. Plastered on the fast-food joint’s windows, the face of The Clown seemed to mock the presence of outside patrons.

Chewing on a gyro bought from a street vendor, I pondered Greece’s rapid globalization (or, should I say, Americanization?). Yes, Athens, an international hub of business and travel, is surely not immune to America’s pervasive influence. However, I was baffled as to how home had permeated such a culturally and historically distinct area of the city. My mind then flashed back to the 2004 Olympics, which the Athenians had proudly hosted in its city of origin. Obviously, once sketchy areas of the city had been “cleaned up” by the Greek government and officials for the sake of visitors and TV cameras. Talking to a nearby restaurant owner about Plaka’s evolution cemented my conclusion: Athens’ most historical district had been modernized (and Americanized) for global appeal.

My first reaction after the aforementioned revelation was resentment. America’s grubby, far-reaching fingers seemed intent on reshaping the rest of the world in its image. Nevertheless, after much thought, could I really resent a country for developing both economically and structurally? Plaka’s tourist population was obviously strong enough to support coffee chains and Big Mac habits, and the revenue from said-chain stores was most likely the reason that Plaka had undergone such a makeover. Maybe the crowds of hawkers selling illegal items had benefited from Plaka’s revived economy, allowing them to abandon a life of contraband for more honorable pursuits. Perhaps the residents of Plaka had longed for a paved street, and the international attention focused on the city had spurred the area’s reconstruction. Maybe more tourists now visited Plaka due to its comforting Western influence, thus increasing the neighborhood’s business, prosperity and calorie intake. Maybe Americanization wasn’t really bad for anybody, except for me, an American tourist, who was hell-bent on having an “authentic cultural experience.”

Toward the end of my stay in Greece, I had reconciled myself with the country’s evolution. I even grew to appreciate American stores and restaurants, as souvlaki and moussaka slowly yet surely lost their taste-bud charm. However, the best part of globalization, which I had previously overlooked, had to be that English was now spoken frequently among the population. The Greek people, whom I had been unable to talk with at age 11, could now hold whole conversations with me. During the course of our dialogues, I learned stories, opinions, and facts that ended up shaping, and making, my Greek experience. Maybe globalization prevented me from truly knowing Greece. However, a positive aspect of America’s far-flung influence had to be that I could now finally understand the most invaluable aspect of Greece: Its people.

Editor’s note: The writer is a Bowie resident and student at St. Olaf University in Minnesota. She is traveling abroad. Published 11/01/07.

Copyright © 2007 The Bowie Blade > A decade later, columnist finds America has invaded Greece

Reflections on a trip to Greece July 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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Sometimes it takes a trip outside this country to get a better, fuller perspective of what it truly means to be an American.

Recently, my fiance and I had an opportunity to travel to Greece for 10 days. The trip entailed stops on the islands of Crete and Santorini, as well as three days to explore that ancient, gritty and wonderful place, Athens.

Perhaps the first and most searing sensation I can report on was the heat. Though the country is always hot at this time of year, we had the misfortune of experiencing Greece during the middle of a heat wave. The temperatures in Athens topped out at 46 degrees Celsius (that’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit). I can honestly say that before hiking and traipsing around the mountains, gorges and ancient ruins of Greece in those conditions, I never truly understood how unbelievably exhilarating and satisfying (and life-supporting) drinking cold fresh water or swimming in a clear blue sea could be. Ice will never have so much value for me as it did for those 10 days.

One of the most wonderful and convenient things we found as we traveled about was how much the Greeks go out of their way to make communicating with people from other countries less difficult. Unlike most Americans, the Greeks obviously don’t feel threatened by making speakers of other languages feel at home. Almost all the signage is bi-lingual, and serviceable English is spoken by just about everyone who lives in the cities, and even by many in the countryside. Watching their desire to make tourists from the United States and other countries feel comfortable makes me embarrassed to observe how so many here in America think it’s a sign of weakness, or worse, to offer bi or multi-lingual opportunities to non-English speaking people.

Another of the great experiences of visiting Greece was the opportunity we had to explore and experience Greek food. While I had not previously been a big fan of Greek food, my preference has always been Italian, I was amazed at how delicious and simply prepared the food was. Walking around the markets of Athinas Street in Athens, we could readily see why. Everywhere one looked there was fresh and locally grown produce. Never a bland or pulpy piece of fruit or vegetable; each item sampled off the stands was juicy and flavorful. Unlike here in the States, the produce of Greece isn’t genetically altered, nor designed/engineered to stay “fresh” for the great distances that must be traveled to bring the produce from where it is grown to where it will be consumed.

Each of the three places we visited was wonderful and distinct, but Crete was the most rugged, and most like what it has always been. An island approximately 150 miles long by 50 miles wide, it has mountains rising 8,000 feet that drop right down to the sea. There are numerous gorges that bisect the mountains and which are ideal for hiking, though don’t do as we did and attempt to hike through one on the hottest day of the season. Here the wildness of the countryside is only a short distance from the energy and activity of the cities that are mainly located along the coasts. It was not unusual to have to stop on the side of a steep mountain road as hundreds of goats would pass with the only sounds being their bleating cries, clanging bells and the calling voice of the goat herder.

While politics and thoughts of war and peace were purposely put aside for our trip, it was impossible not to be reminded of the negative effects Bush’s war in Iraq is having on how Europeans view the United States. Fortunately, and to a person, we found that the Greeks, and the many others who have immigrated there, loved Americans, but hated the war. Remarkably, we talked with some Americans that were so embarrassed by Bush’s policies that they actually claimed to be Canadians. And one Iraqi immigrant, a waiter at a restaurant in Chania, Crete, felt compelled to inform us in great detail how so many Iraqis, at first happy about having Saddam removed, now are worse off than before the invasion.

Perhaps the most unexpected sight we came upon occurred while driving up through a mountain pass in western Crete. In some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever gazed upon, rounding a sharp corner, an array of nine huge wind turbines stood majestic along the ridgeline of the mountaintop. How ironic it was to be in the home of the 3,500-year-old ancient Minoan civilization, one of the sources of modern western civilization, only to see a more advanced technology than some Cape Codders seem even willing to consider.

Wonderful as our experience in Greece was, the country and its great monuments and ruins suffer from much stress. The monuments, always a target for destruction by invading marauding armies and Christians looking for marble and stones to build their churches and monasteries, today are suffering from the toxic effects of environmental pollution.

As so many Greeks were keen to observe, even when compared to only a couple of decades ago, the country has lost some of its unique distinctness. Like so many of the major international tourist destinations, Greece is becoming more internationalized, homogenized, and yes, even more Anglicized. Unavoidably, the world is becoming smaller and more interconnected. While in many ways this is a good thing, showing that we humans have more similarities than differences, it does tend to create a sameness about each location with the intrusion of all the worldwide corporate images and products.

Inexorably time moves on, and obviously nothing can stay the same. But still it is sad to think that as modern high-speed and accessible transportation and communications make the world an ever-smaller place, there will be fewer and fewer locations like Greece to explore that are so completely different than what we know and are used to here at home.

Source and Copyright > Article By Richard Elrick, Publication Date 07/27/07 at > From the Left – Reflections on a trip to Greece

Landfall on Mykonos > memories of the Seventies July 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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The crush at the Piraeus ferry port took your breath away. Not just because of the 38-degree-Celsius heat, nor the toxic pong of Athenian lunch debris decanted straight from restaurant bin into harbour.

No, what was shocking was the fact that everyone doing the pushing and jostling for position looked just like us: students in long hair and blue jeans, with pasty white cheeks and sand-coloured shorts, all carrying Greece on £5 a Day and copies of John Fowles’s Hellenic phantasmagoria, The Magus. It was like boarding a ferry with 399 clones of yourself.

It was 1973, and my first holiday to Greece; also my first holiday (at 19) without my parents and sister: my first leap into freedom. I knew the Greek word for it: eleutheria. But all I knew of the islands was second-hand. The back cover of Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room, with a grainy photo from the old groaner’s Hydra love nest, with his beloved Marianne sitting in a towel before his typewriter. The mysterious island where Nicholas Urfe gets a sentimental education in The Magus. Dim memories of Zorba the Greek, with the Englishman Alan Bates becoming de-stiffed by Anthony Quinn’s noisy island hedonist. And the speeded-up bouzouki dance we used to perform with the neighbours every New Year’s Eve, at the end of which we collapsed in a heap. That was all I knew of Greece. It was enough.

Just look, I thought distastefully, at all the clones (the clowns) thronging the SS Aegean ferry, the weekend groovers, the suburban hippies with their bleached-blonde hair (both sexes) and naked white shoulders under dungarees. As the boat surged through the grey choppy water, leaving the baked wasteland of Athens behind, one of them swigged from a bottle of Teachers, and handed it round. His every gesture said: “Christ, I am so Bohemian”. Another strummed a bashed-up Yamaha to some birdbrained London girls (he sang “Starman”, it was all David Bowie that summer).

I muttered to my girlfriend, Gail, how I couldn’t stand being among these “terrestrials”. “Don’t be such a snob,” she said. “They’re probably thinking, ‘What an Oxbridge prat in his bellbottoms and sandals’.”

The journey took hours. Spiky rocks stuck out of the water like broken milestones, failing to tell us how far we’d come. The Scotch-swigger was violently sick over the side. The strummer switched to Cat Stevens’ gloopy “Moonshadow”. Gail and I ate the last of our sandwiches. Night came down, and she slept on my shoulder. It was too dark to read, so I dozed off as well and …

Suddenly we were jolted awake. Lights were shining in my eyes, hurtfully bright, like Klieg lights at a film studio. “Mykonos!” shouted voices. “Mykonos tickets, you are here!” I don’t remember how we got to the beach, some rowing boats must have come out to meet us, but it too seemed floodlit. All the studenty clones on the ferry seemed to have melted away. I was flooded with a sensory joy I’ve seldom encountered, like a returned exile, as if, like Ulysses, I were arriving home to Ithaca: the white breakers in the dark night, the frond-strewn path from the jetty, the way the whitewashed walls curved at the bottom to become pathways, as if made of the same material like white silk drapery, pulling you further into town, wide-eyed and dreamy like cattle in the dusk. In the distance was music, the cries of dancers. “It’s a film set,” breathed Gail. ” It’s completely unreal. All these whitewashed houses and streets.” But it was real. A whiff of roadside souvlaki hit my nostrils. I was starving, just two minutes away from trying the first of a hundred of the world’s most delicious savoury snack …

It was a fab holiday. I could tell you about a thousand things: meeting university friends (everyone went to Mykonos that summer, before it became almost exclusively gay), acquiring a taste for Ouzo-and-Coke, marvelling at how my friend Rob could bisect wasps in mid-air with his breakfast knife, reading Tristram Shandy (the worst-ever beach read) on the rocks, finding new tavernas, learning to snorkel, spinning round, shockingly drunk, under the stars, travelling to Ios and other islands.

Sure, I could tell you about it all, as if I were showing you holiday snaps. But nothing bettered that first moment when I stepped on to the beach at Mykonos, miles from home, family, university, all the baggage of being 19, English, bourgeois and uptight; and discovering, beyond the beach, the kebab-scented paradise of the Cyclades, the music on the night air, a sense of infinite possibilities at the end of the white path. A whiff of true freedom. Nothing bettered it when I was 19. In a way, nothing ever has.

Article by John Walsh. Copyright The Independent > Sunshine, swimming costumes and the Seventies: Three writers share their seaside memories

Self-loathing and the American tourist in Europe July 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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At first, I was curious what an American “tourist” had to say about visiting Greece. So, I started reading the article. I felt a bit uneasy, after reading the first paragraphs, especially the one about photography and filming in Greece’s Museums. Yes, what I said to myself was simply, “another one bites the dust. another negative comment, oh, well, turn the page!”.

I was wrong. I apologise for reaching quick decisions and for making my mind up, before reading further. If I am not mistaken, one of my ancient ancestors, Themistocles, once said: Hear me first, judge me later (Akouson men, pataxon de).

To make it short, after concluding reading the complete article, I understood what was the authors’ message to his readers. I have to say thank you for putting it into such an effective way.

Well, here’s some abstracts from the article, by Steven Winn, published Wednesday, July 4, 2007 at San Francisco Chronicle. Click the link below, to read the complete article >

Oh, and by the way, Happy fourth of July to all my American readers!

It happened to us over and over on a family vacation in Greece last month, at the Acropolis Museum the day we arrived in Athens, at the National Archaeological Museum the next morning and then later in the week at the Benaki Museum. It was the same thing in the Palace of the Grand Masters on Rhodes, at the Byzantine Museum in Thessaloniki, even in the cliff-top monasteries at Meteora, where photography and filming are explicitly forbidden.

There’s nothing quite like being an American tourist to fill you with contempt for American tourists. I could feel my lip curling with disgust one afternoon on the island of Hydra, when a swarm of college women from Michigan stormed past me in pursuit of designer handbags at some waterfront shop. Didn’t they know, as I did, that the way to experience the essence of Hydra was to hike up the whitewashed steps in the midday sun, get hopelessly lost and nearly pass out from heat exhaustion in order to watch a group of Greek children play hide-and-seek on some narrow street?

It could be the eternally all-American, apple-pie reason that so many of us travel to Europe and elsewhere, as exhausting, pricey and sometimes futile as it can seem. The harder we try to vanish into another culture, to innocently and naively lose our own national identity, the more American we become. All those centuries of history that are so plainly visible in Greece (or Italy or France) take the measure of us as a very young and still very wide-eyed country. We Americans are never more curious and clumsy, more eager and obtuse, more self-critical and self-absorbed than when we travel.

Walking into the cool subterranean tombs at Vergina one beastly hot afternoon, I was instantly dismayed by a horde of English-speaking college students clustered around the exhibits and feverishly taking notes and sketching. Every glittering gold thing, masterly frieze fragment and silver shin guard from the Philip II of Macedonia excavation was obscured by a mass of American backs and sunburned bare shoulders.

I’m happy to be home on this Fourth of July. I know my quest for the essential Greek experience was touristic folly, every bit as much as the search for designer purses in Hydra or the compulsion to see every potsherd is. But I also hope I can hold onto that sweet sense of dislocation that travel brings, that way of seeing your world back home that is both woozily out of focus and oddly acute. Our bodies really just go along for the ride. It’s our minds and our imaginations that make the journey.

Article by Steven Winn, Copyright by San Francisco Chronicle > Self-loathing and the American tourist in Europe.

First Baptist Church youth travel to Greece June 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials, Tourism.
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First Baptist Church student ministries in Centerville, Houston County, have participated in Eagle Leadership Training for four years.

The culmination of the training was celebrated with a trip to Greece to follow the Journeys of the Apostle Paul. The trip began in Thessaloniki, Philippi, and Delphi.

Next the group went to Athens and spent some time on Pnyka Hill in Athens where Apostle Paul presented the gospel to the Athenian philosophers.

After Pnyka Hill the team boarded a cruise ship for three days to tour Mykonos, Rhodes, Lindos, Ephesus and Patmos. The journey ended with a graduation ceremony in Corinth.

Holidays In Greece June 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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One of the most wonderful holidays that I have ever had was in Greece. There is something about this country that just takes your breath away and makes you come back to visit it every year.

Greece is a land of history, a land of beauty, culture and just one of the most amazing places that you will ever find on this planet. Every stone, every piece of land, every inch of the sea is history and when you lay your eyes on the amazing landscapes of this country, you know that you are about to experience one of the most wonderful holidays of your life.

When you choose a place to spend your holidays, you should make sure that you receive more than you give and from this point of view Greece is the place to go. Now a member of the European Union, Greece is a very prosperous country that is has very elevated standards, but somehow remains true to its origins and beliefs.

I am not the only person who has declared that one of their best holidays was in Greece. Like me are thousands, maybe millions, that have fallen in love with this amazing country, with its people, with its culture and most of all, with its beaches. If ever you decide to take some time off and plan one of the best holidays you will ever have, then I am sure that Greece is the destination. I do not have the smallest doubt because I know that every one of you is more than curious to see those white ruins, see the places where people first cried or laughed together watching a theatre act and most of all I know that the Mediterranean and the sandy, warm beaches will steal your heart. I forgot to mention the hospitality and the amazing food that the Greeks are known for….this I’ll let you discover for yourselves.

By: Groshan Fabiola
Submitted by Adrian Dunbaker on June 19, 2007

Read this testimonial at source > BestSyndication.

My kind of town: Athens, as seen by a British visitor June 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens, Testimonials.
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Paul Johnston loves Athens for its frenetic energy and capacity to surprise

Why Athens? > I first came in 1976 to work as a tour guide and now spend much of each year in the city. Back then, I was a Classicist, entranced by glimpses of ancient columns between streets. Soon, I became fascinated by the modern city and its people. I grew up in Edinburgh, the Athens of the North, and fitted surprisingly easily into what was an exotic place, with palm trees, coconut vendors, and a distinctly Middle Eastern air. The city has inevitably been Westernised, but it still has the capacity to surprise.

The new Metro is world-class, as is the airport. Athens has a frenetic energy, not ideal for long stays, but great for short breaks. I love the topography of the city. Walk or take the teleferik (funicular railway) up Lykavittos Hill for stunning views of the Acropolis, the mountains that cradle the city, and the restless, shade-shifting blue of the Aegean. But the small things also stay with you, the ubiquitous periptera (kiosks) festooned with newspapers, the smell of bitter-orange blossom in spring, and the lilting melodies of street musicians.

What do you miss most when you’re away? > The weather. Apart from the inferno of high summer, Athens is comfortably warm and dry. There are often refreshing, northerly breezes. Blue skies are the norm, even in winter.

What’s the first thing you do on arrival? > Drink a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, nectar of the ancient gods.

Where’s the best place to stay? > The refurbished Museum Hotel (16 Bouboulinas Street; 0030 210 3805611; www.hotelmuseum.gr; from £40) is next to the National Archeological Museum, as well as round the corner from the lively Exarcheia Square.

Where would you meet friends for a drink? > There are numerous cafés and bars in Exarcheia Square, the haunt of students, anarchists and arty types. The quietest is Vox, with its own bookshop. Kolonaki Square is Exarcheia’s mirror-image, business people, diplomats, the gilded youth, and inflated prices. Not my cup of Greek coffee.

Where is your favourite place for lunch? > The old-style mageireio, where you inspect the food before ordering, is dying out. A good one is To Diethnes in Nikitara Street, off Themistokleous Street and near Omonia Square. Although the waiters wear white jackets, it’s not the kind of place that does reservations.

And for dinner? > The best-known souvlaki place is Baïraktaris in Monastiraki Square, (210 3213036), with outdoor seating year-round. An excellent old-fashioned ouzeri is To Athinaïkon (2 Themistokleous Street, near Omonia Square; 210 3838485).

Greeks pay more attention to food than drink and you don’t have to order ouzo, there’s good wine from the barrel. More up-market for mezedhes, the variety of starters that easily becomes a whole meal, is Alexandra (Alexandras Avenue and 21 Zonara Street; 210 6420874).

Where would you send a first-time visitor? > The Acropolis and the National Archeological Museum. The Kerameikos, the city’s ancient cemetery, is a contrasting place of calm (Ermou Street, near Thission metro station).

What would you tell them to avoid? > Fish restaurants on the coast, plus nightclubs, they are ludicrously expensive.

Public transport or taxi? > Both. The Metro, suburban railway lines, trams and buses are cheap and reliable: you buy tickets in advance from a kiosk and cancel them on board. Taxis are good value, just make sure the driver starts the meter when you get in.

Handbag or money belt? > Athens is pretty safe, apart from the backstreets around Omonia Square late at night. As in any city, don’t flaunt it. Pickpockets do operate, particularly in tourist hotspots like the Flea Market in Monastiraki.

What should I take home? > Five or seven-star Metaxas brandy is good, as long as you aren’t expecting Cognac-quality. You can find traditional Greek cheeses, cured meats, vine-leaves, olives, and olive oil in any supermarket, as well as at the airport. Don’t be shocked if prices are on a par with those back home. The cost of living in Greece has risen drastically.

And if i’ve only time for one shop? > Politeia Bookshop (Asklipiou 1-3 and Akadimias Streets) has discounted prices and a good selection of English books. There are also high-quality coffee-table books covering many aspects of Greece and the Greeks.

Paul Johnston has been visiting Greece for more than 30 years. His latest crime novel, The Death List, (Mira, £6.99) is out on Friday 15th June 2007.

Source and Copyright > The Telegraph, United Kingdom.